A Travellerspoint blog


The Oasis

sunny 27 °C

Fri 10.04.09 - Huacachina
Getting to Huacachina required 4 transitions – collectivo (mini van stuffed with people) from Lunahuana to Imperial, another collectivo to Canete, local bus from there to Ica (approx 2.5 hours leaving 2 seconds after we bought our ticket) then a short taxi ride to Huacachina. All told it was 4 hours but we avoided any waiting time which we were stoked about.
The place was crazier (landscape speaking) than Lunahuana. Our hostel was situated on the edge of a small lagoon, which was surrounded on all sides and for miles by great white sand dunes. The ‘town’ was originally built in the 1920’s as a holiday destination for Peru’s elite. The original hotel there still caters for that sort of crowd. We spent the afternoon looking around the town’s restaurants and hotels (quick tour, very small), decided that the lagoon looked far too green to be a safe place to swim for anyone other than the Peruvian kids and then hiked to the top of the western most dune to watch the sun set.
As we trekked up, we watched a convoy of dune buggies tearing around the sand dunes, following a sort-of track only barely distinguishable by the tyre imprints in the sand. The buggies launched themselves blindly over the dune buggy peaks, getting airborne before landing on the down-slope and extracting yells and screams from the passengers in the process. Sandboarders would be dropped off at the top of the steepest dunes and picked up again at the bottom. We were keen to try it, but not that keen on the price.
As the sun neared the horizon, we perched on the highest dune we could find and watched the light get deeper and the shadows longer to produce some fleeting images of seemingly endless desert and sky-scapes that we will remember for quite some time.
When the show was over, we turned tail and decided to run down the steep sand dunes in a unique combination of exhilaration, gravity, un-coordination and laughter that produced a buzzing smile until we reached solid ground and removed a cubic meter of sand from each shoe. As we write now three months later, the sand has only just stopped finding its way out of the shoes and socks that were worn on the day.

Posted by cromie79 18:35 Archived in Peru Comments (0)


Food, Wine & Pisco

semi-overcast 24 °C

Thurs 09.04.09 Lunahuana
Holy week got into fifth gear today – people came to the town in the hundreds and all day and at night a festival vibe pulsated through the town. It was great to have arrived the night before to appreciate the change, as now there were hundreds of people who filled the main plaza, drinking even in the early hours of the morning! The place was going nuts and so were we with the bloody car alarms. The Peruvian infatuation with horns and alarms was so frustrating. All morning, we’re trying to sleep in and every thirty seconds a car alarm starts going off just outside the window. Furthermore, they loved the sound so much that many people personalized their car horn with one which sounded more like an alarm. We figured the personalization was the only way they could figure out who’s tooting who. The air was just saturated with noise, people trying to get our attention, warning us of impeding danger, whatever – it was all around.
We hired some mountain bikes to visit some of the wineries and other sights up the valley from the town. We rode up the steady incline for about half an hour, passing the wineries we were to visit later before reaching our first stop – a suspension bridge where Limenos (People from Lima) were lining up for horse rides up to an apiary. It was nice enough, but generally unimpressive so we got back on our bikes, crusing down the hill to our first winery, or as it turned out to be, a Pisco distillery. It was a very honest and simple sort of operation and the amicable owner spent a good half an hour showing us around their facilities, explaining the process in Spanish and us doing our best to put together the pieces. The process for Pisco is exactly like wine up until its distilled. The grapes are hand picked and carried in wicker baskets up to their small crusher/de-stemmer which is over a concrete open-top fermenter (like a small pool). The grapes are plunged daily and spend two weeks on the skins, producing a very fruity sort of wine which is just let out of the fermenters by gravity into large plastic drums. When the vintage is fully ready, the wine is then siphoned off into the copper distiller, heated by a wood fire where the alcohol is boiled off and the clear liquid stored in old barrels until bottling. After this tour, the owner took us up to his bar/tasting room for us to sample his three different types. We were both surprised at how smooth Pisco is for a 40% spirit, making the task of finishing the massive tasting serves that he poured us rather pleasurable. They did make a wine this year too – a white one which he told me was their first time and after tasting it, through our tightened jaw we smiled at him and said, “Not too bad”. More than slightly emboldened by the Pisco, we tore down the road and had lunch at an outdoor roadside restaurant that looked busy enough to be safe. Andrew had the local specialty which was a kind of muddy freshwater crayfish bisque whilst most of those around us tucked in to the other Peruvian specialty, Cuy, or roasted guinea pig. We stopped in at another winery after lunch near the town and tasted around 6 wines, only one of which was any good at all.
We returned our mountain bikes and had a disco/pisco nap, waking up in the darkness with the buzz outside having grown into a frenzy. Being a carnival, restaurants were packed, so dinner was going to be from the local street food. We tried beef skewers, yuka (a cross between a yam and a potato), temales (steamed cornmeal parcel filled with spiced onion and meat) and local corn (with kernels twice the size of ours, served up with Greek feta).
We also tried a few Pisco sours from one of 20 or so outdoor bars which had sprung out of nowhere in the main square. Pisco sour is a mix of 3parts pisco, 2 parts lemon juice and 1 part sugar syrup, shaken with a tablespoon of egg white. They’re extremely delicious but dangerously potent, and it seemed that everyone was enjoying themselves on a warm clear night in the square. Meanwhile, a religious procession circled the town square and the neighboring streets, consisting of three statues standing on a table carried on the shoulders of four men each. The three statues were of Jesus, Mary and the Pope, all adorned in elaborate robes and flowers. A band followed the procession around, providing a fairly solemn sort of march music for literally hours. Every 10 minutes or so a bell would sound and the procession stopped to rest. The statues were put down and the band was silent, along with the following crowd until the bell rang again and the process repeated. No need to rush to Peru for Holy Week people.
With perhaps half a Pisco Sour too many, we retired to bed comfortable with our choice to leave Lunahuana early and head to the desert oasis of Huacachina.

Posted by cromie79 16:51 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lima - Lunahuana

semi-overcast 25 °C

Wed 08.04.09 Lunahuana
Got up at 4.30am in order to get to the airport for our flight to Peru. We thought we had plenty of time to spare but learnt at check-in that the flight had been brought forward a full hour. We paid our departure tax (on credit card because we’d used all our cash on the taxi), and rushed through customs, only to discover to our frustration that no-one checked our bloody departure tax receipt! If you have the time to spare in the airport at BA, we encourage you to try it on and save yourself a few bucks. Adding to the comedy and typical of South America, the plane was displayed as ‘on time’ but left over 45mins late, eventually carrying us northwards and over the Andes and the desert-coast of Peru into Lima. From the air, the suburbs of Lima looked like they had been run-over by a dust-storm – everything was one or two stories high and anything that was not mobile seemed to be covered in dust. We had been told that there was not much to hold us in Lima and a sight like this only seemed to confirm it. We needed to get a bus out of Lima to Canete (a town about 2 hours down the coast), the problem was that in Lima the city is so dis-organized there is no such thing as a central bus terminal. All the bus companies have their own, separate depots and terminals spread about the city. With our telephone Spanish not good enough to check which one we needed to get to, our only option was to take a punt that the first company we turned up at would operate our route. We hated taxis in South America – every time you get in one you feel like you could be held for ransom. The Lonely Planet doesn’t make you feel any safer either – saying that you should only ever call take a ‘radio taxi’, which is South American for a driver who is affiliated with an actual company. You see anyone with a car can be a taxi driver there, all they have to do is put a sign up on their window and get a sticker from the local taxi ‘registration authority’ – read corner store selling the sticker. Everywhere you go there is warning about getting into ‘fake’ or just dodgy taxis where drivers do anything from: demanding exorbitant fares, doubling the fare saying it was ‘per person’ and not total; taking you to a dodgy neighborhood and threatening to tip you out unless you pay an exorbitant bribe; and the worst of all, where random armed people jump in, blindfold you, steal all your things and take you to various ATMs to extort money from you, leaving you stranded (we heard of this actually happening later to an American couple who stayed at the same hostel as us in Arequipa). None of the cabs in South America, (apart from Brazilian ones) have meters, so to prevent getting ripped off you have to have some idea of what your trip is meant to cost before you jump in. As you could appreciate, this is extremely difficult when you arrive in a new country, with a new currency and little idea of how much things should cost, let alone how far your destination is from where you jump in. In the end and racked with fear on losing everything we had, we decided to take the safe option and pay for an official shuttle taxi from within the terminal, at a cost of US$25 (around 75 Soles)– which did not seem too exorbitant compared to home, even though we knew this was a lot more than what we would be charged if we risked a taxi out the front. We later learnt that a Lima local that a normal taxi from the city center to the airport should cost in the order of 10-15 soles, 5 times less than what we paid.
Nonetheless, we got to our first bus station and after working out they didn’t operate our route, were given directions to another bus terminal 5 mins walk away (from what we would tell). In our short walk, we were offered rides (read honked at) by no less than 10 different taxi drivers, lurking around all the bus stations to find a gringo to pick up. It occurred to me that this is the furthest possible place from Flemington Racecourse in November, where taxis willing to carry a passenger are as hard to find as a successful bet. Ignoring their incessant honking, we reached the a bus company who despite not operating the route, gave us directions and indication of reasonable taxi fare to the next place. We bargained with a swarm of drivers out the front and walked in the door of the next place and practically straight on the departing bus.
Once on the bus, in getting to Lunahuana we were struck by the moon-like landscape heading down the coast, south of Lima. The towns, the soil, the sea were all devoid of colour and it seemed to us that nothing could grow in this land. Then the contrast came as we passed through the numerous river valleys coming out of the Andes to meet the ocean where sudden lush green vegetation and widespread agriculture seemed to thrive off irrigated channels diverting water from the raging torrents. We jumped off the bus in Canete, caught a ‘collectivo’ minibus/taxi cramming ourselves and our backpacks in amongst 20 unimpressed Peruvians to Imperial, then another collectivo for about 35mins to Lunahuana when Kate and I had to share the front seat of small car. We tumbled out in Lunahuana and because of the holy-week (Easter) long weekend, were fortunate enough to find some basic accommodation close to the centre of town. We went out for dinner at a simple little restaurant and had our first taste of Peruvian wine – not the best, but then again we didn’t pay much either. Lunahuana itself was a small town (approx 3500 population) with white-water rafting, wineries and restaurants close by but with very little going on in the town… until Thursday…

Posted by cromie79 17:23 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

sunny 24 °C

Sat 04.04.09 BA
So I know this sounds a little funny, but apparently the most famous and popular tourist attraction in BA is a cemetery, namely Recoleta. To walk there from our hostel took around 45 minutes, where we saw some of the nicer, more established neighborhoods of BA. The cemetery had a large artisan market there on the Saturday, sprawling through networks of garden paths where there were some of the most massive and oldest Moreton Bay Figs (over 200 years old) we had ever seen. The branches were spread out so much, they were being propped up by numerous columns along their length and a restaurant used the canopy for alfresco dining.`
DSC02685.jpgAt the market, we bought a nice silver ‘wedding’ ring for Kate for 35 Pesos (A$17) to replace the coconut shell one which had broken weeks earlier. The cemetery itself is a little weird really. It’s choc-a-bloc with the marble clad and elaborately decorated mausoleums of the wealthiest and most noble of BA’s citizens. The most famous and most visited of these is of Eva ‘Évita’ Peron. Ironically, though everyone feels the need to visit it, most people’s coffins are in clear view through the doors of most mausoleums whilst Evita’s is not due to repeated grave robberies in the past. Apparently, after recovering her remains for the last time, she was buried elsewhere, not quite so ceremoniously under several meters of concrete.
With the dead people not able to hold our attention much longer and after weeks of nature and wildlife we were hungry to see something that resembled modern architecture. So we moved on through more parkland to the national library, a huge concrete, tree-like structure where all the books are kept ‘in the roots’ underground, whilst the reading rooms are located a few stories off the ground (in the ‘tree canopy’), leaving public place at ground level. A nice-idea, but an ugly building. The view however, from the reading room was good.
We walked through more parkland, via some relatively average sights which included a huge chrome flower with motorized petals which shut during the night just like a real one. With the purpose of this lost on us, we moved on quickly to find coffee and pastries to delay the need for dinner. On the way home, we fruitlessly (and somewhat desperately) searched for a good and cheap steakhouse for which we had sketchy directions from other travelers. But, dejected and famished from the search, we entered a place which looked okay, but more importantly was open. The menu was promising, but entirely misleading. We ordered many separate times to only have the waitress return a few minutes later to apologise and report that they had run out of all the items that we wanted and should try again. Tired of this game and ready to throw some furniture, we asked her to remove the ‘menu’ along with herself and to bring out whatever was actually available. Big-mistake people. Our desperation yielded a boot-leather-like, paper-thin crumbed ‘steak’ and chewy fries – all for the privilege of handing over the same amount of money that we were told could buy us all-you-can-eat steaks and luscious salads. The traveler’s stories of a land of good, cheap steaks and cheaper red wine was a world away now and seeming more and more impossible as evidenced by our budget for Argentina which by now was looking shell-shocked. Working off the Lonely Planet’s budget guide in US dollars, we had doubled our projected costs over a few days with no sign of relief soon. Maybe the money was getting in the way, but the ‘Paris of South America’ was fast turning out to be a load of hot air.

Sun 05.04.09 BA
With Maura and Andrew and on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning we walked to San Telmo for Sunday market. After a month in Brazil’s sun even Andrew’s skin was becoming less pink and more resilient to a spot of sun, however Andrew from New York with his Irish heritage had to endure quips about his ‘Legionnaires’ hat and Maura (also of Irish descent) just stuck to the shade to prevent having to utilize the layers of applied blockout sunscreen, full-length clothing and broad-brimmed hat. On the way to San Telmo we had to cross the dreaded Avenue 9 de Julio, or ‘The Julio’ (pronounced hoo-leo) as it had been dubbed by Maura. This 20-lane ‘avenue’ (divided in 3 arteries interspersed with greenery) is a remaining mark on the city left by one of Argentina’s many fascist governments or dictatorships over the years. Apparently, it’s construction and widening involved the merciless demolition of some of Argentina’s best 18th and 19th century mansions (similar in scale and grandeur to Paris’ best streets) which used to front the city’s most important boulevard at the time. We’re all for grand gestures, however the width of this street is ridiculous. We quickly learnt that if you wanted to get across in one light change, as soon as the traffic stopped you had to sprint (seriously sprint) across the hundred-or-so meters to make it to the other side. If you decided to take it easy, it would take you fifteen minutes at least with all the light changes. If you were an old man, you would be taking a packed lunch. After completing the Julio, we were soon in San Telmo, in our opinion, BA’s best suburb, filled with streetside cafes, bars and antique shops. Hungry from the Juilo, we sat and enjoyed BA’s best Mixto (Jamon con Queso - ham and cheese toastie) and coffee (to rival a German milch café) at a nice street corner café in the sun. We had headed to San Telmo for the market and the streets were bursting with stalls selling trinkets, crafts, art, food and antiques. Amongst so much else, Andrew found some really nice antique watches (for good money mind you) including Breitlings, Omegas, Rolexes and Raymond Wiels. The street performers were a highlight also with tango dancers, street bands, maestros and puppeteers adding yet more flavour to the street. We’d seen our fair share of street performers on this trip so far, but these were clearly the best – with original ideas and clever and talented performances, not just the guy who spray-paints himself in silver everyday, dresses up like the local historical hero and stands still on a box only to spring to life and surprise a hapless and un-aware tourist.
We treated ourselves to dinner at La Cadrera in Palermo, regarded as one of the better Parillas (Charcoal-fired, open grills) in BA without going too crazy and we weren’t disappointed. Entrée was a heart of palm salad with a grilled provolone cheese which had Kate wondering how she had managed so far with so little cheese. The cheese, as spine-melting as it was would pale in comparison to the steak to come though – we shared a 500g rib eye which was accompanied with 13 (yes thirteen) different small side servings including potatoes three ways, olives, pickled onions, butter beans, mushrooms with truffles, lentils and ratatouille to name a few. All were excellent. Andrew from New York (not a fan of steak) tried to order a pasta which never came, so they prepared a ‘half serve’ of chicken caeser salad that came in a bowl the size of a horse’s feed bag! Two nice bottles of Argentinian Malbec sealed the deal and for just less than A$30 per person we had just had the best meal in South America so far.

Mon 06.04.09 BA
Woke a little late and rusty from the previous day’s dinner and drinks but stuck to our guns and went for a run down to BA’s docklands, Puerto Moderno. Unfortunately its big attraction, the ‘environmental wetlands’ park was closed for reasons unknown. Interestingly, this park was the pleasant result of a monumental mistake by the government who embarked on a project to reclaim land from the river delta for a new, modern and more efficient port. After reclaiming a massive area, the project was scrapped due to spiraling costs and left to decay. Over 15 years or so, plants and animals colonized the new wetlands and the city declared it an ‘Ecological Reserve’, providing some walking paths through it and generally washing their hands of the matter. It was nice to see some open public space, but to be honest, it was under-maintained and looked rather shabby from the outside. This sort of thing seemed fairly typical of the past governments (and South America in general), plagued by corruption and instability. We ran on, trying to stick to the parkland and unsuspectingly ended up in a very dodgy looking part of the port area only to be almost run over by trucks and attacked by a pack of mangy dogs. We made our way out, not exactly smiling but nonetheless unscathed before actually enjoying a small modern park and a bridge by Calatrava (renowned Spanish Architect) on the way back to the hostel. Maura and Andrew were waiting for us when we got back and we took the metro to Palermo (a pricey but nice neighbourhood) where we had lunch at a café overlooking the main square. Maura satiated her desire for a ‘finger pick’ meal of ham, cheese and olive chunks and Andrew from New York took a liking a kid hustling very poorly designed cards. Walking on through the extensive parkland (including a poor attempt at a botanical gardens), Maura stepped in dog-shit* and insisted we leave her in peace to sort it all out.
We visited the Japanese garden (our main target for the day), which we didn’t really need to come to BA to see and decided home was more interesting. We had planned a night or two before to utilize the parilla (charcoal BBQ) at the hostel and so we bought ingredients and a bag of coals on the way home. We cooked up an Argentinian feast with an Australian twist – surf and turf. It was gorgeous, and though not quite as good as last night, we had spent significantly less.

  • This was strangely enough the only incident of stepping in dog litter in BA. We were constantly amazed (and therefore aware I guess) at the frequency of such land mines. No-one seems ‘big’ enough to pick up their dog’s shit. We appreciate that we do this well in Australia – we like that we can talk to friends, look up at the sky, trees and buildings without fear of such an incident, however admittedly this is possibly the least attractive feature of owning a dog in urban Australia.

Tue 07.04.09 Buenos Aires
Today we did nothing, seriously. We were so over BA that we couldn’t be bothered going out anywhere. We slept-in then said our goodbyes to Andrew and Maura who were heading to Uruguay for a night. They were kind enough to give us their private room for the night, which they had already paid for, so after we moved in there we caught up on some emails, blog and internet. The last task for the day was to call Millhouse Hostel to see whether Kate’s glasses had arrived by post from Rio, which they had not. Kate would be relying on her prescription sunglasses until Canada. We booked our Taxi for 5:00am and packed our bags for Peru.

Posted by cromie79 18:20 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

semi-overcast 25 °C

Okay, so there were some bad things about the bus. The departure was delayed by a half hour, and we were stopped by no less than 3 sets of cops for ages who were checking everyone’s passports and the luggage hold, including using sniffer dogs. We saw a girl the night before lighting up a reefer before getting on the bus and were pretty sure she would have been pretty uncomfortable about then but she wasn’t dragged out. To compound matters, in the morning the bus got a flat tyre which had to be changed at some very dodgy looking garage using basic construction and farming equipment. All this culminated in our arrival about 4 hours behind schedule. The bus trip was already long enough at 18 hours, without tacking on the delays. All I can say is that I’m glad we were on a comfy bus.
The intercity bus station in BA, called Retiro is very confusing – especially after a 22 hour bus ride and the walk between the bus station, passing the main train station and market to the metro station (our next chosen method of transport) was thronged with people going every which way. We found the metro and as we descended, Kate realized she had just been pick-pocketed. Just before the event, Kate had taken 14 pesos (A$7) out of her bag to get a bite to eat and that’s when it happened, by an older woman walking the other way just before descending the stairs into the metro. By the time she reached the base of the stairs she knew that she had had some hands in her pocket a few seconds ago but it was too late. We had been so careful about such things to date and found it ironic that the crime had a occurred in the city that was supposed to be the safest of the entire trip. Fortunately though, it wasn’t much and I had some other cash to get us to our hostel.
We met Moira and Andrew from New York for the first time back at the hostel and after getting a shit and relatively expensive meal, we joined them for a beer at what turned out to be a Cuban Theatre Restaurant. Our entertainment for the evening was a heavily made up and dressed up, ‘experienced’ Salsa singer. When she started singing almost everyone except us got up from their tables to the dance floor to dance Salsa. Some didn’t even bother going to the dance floor. Apart from playing cricket, I’ve never seen so many white pants assembled together in the one room. We went back to the hostel and shared a few more 1l Quilmes beers (6 pesos/ A$3) with Andrew and Moira before crashing.

Posted by cromie79 21:39 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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