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The journey ends in Buenos Aires!

01/08/2010

Styling it up in BA!

After 6 months of backpacking around South America we found ourselves back in Buenos Aires for one last hurrah before our 14-hour Qantas flight home to Sydney on the 17th July. Round 2 in BA was a rather more upmarket, indulgent 5 days than our San Telmo hostel experience back in January. We stayed with Em and Andrew in a great hotel in the Palermo district and whiled the week away shopping, sampling local cafes, restaurants and salsa clubs and on the odd occasion dancing til the wee hours!

It was a novelty to be able to hit the shops and update our wardrobes after 6 months of wearing the same dingy backpacking clothes and hiking gear. We found ourselves amidst the mid-year BA sales, much to our delight, and came home with some fine Argentinian clothes and leather goods.

Another night on the town in BA!

The end of our backpacking adventure was filled with much mixed emotion for us both. The past 6 months have been not short of exceptional – truly a once in a lifetime experience we are incredibly grateful to have been able to share together; and one which is very difficult to encapsulate in words. That said we were also very ready to embark on our next adventure in New Zealand and revert to a more routine lifestyle – cooking, getting healthy and fit again, and living out of a cupboard rather than a backpack.

After a brief stopover in Sydney, frantically catching up with family and friends, we flew to Auckland for a night before driving south to our new home in the Bay of Plenty. The city of Tauranga has welcomed us with plentiful sunshine, spectacular beaches and a great mountain to climb – what more could we want?

Our new home in NZ

Chris reluctantly suited up and dragged his heels into work last Monday morning as reality hit hard. Fortunately the laid-back atmosphere here has eased the transition. We have been lucky enough to find a fantastic apartment in the heart of Mount Maunganui looking over Pilot Bay. Visitors, you know where to find us!

So no doubt our blog entries from now on will be few and far between – not sure you want to hear about our working lives (or maybe that would be a bit easier to read?!). We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has taken the time to share our adventures with us. We have loved reading your comments and you have become a part of what has been the best 6 months of our lives!

Mount Maunganui, Bay of Plenty

Ciao, ciao amigos! xo

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¡Bienvenido Em y Andrew!

11/07/2010

Reunions in Punta del Este, Uruguay

Well the countdown is definitely on with less than 7 days until we leave the South American continent and face reality in NZ! We couldn’t think of a better way to spend our final 2 weeks than exploring Uruguay and Argentina with Em and Andrew. After an epic 3 flight transfer from Santa Marta, Colombia we reunited in Uruguay last Friday morning. We spent the weekend with Kathryn and Olaf Rothele who have recently moved to Carasco, Montevideo.

Yee-haaa!

The 6 of us piled into a hired van and drove to a typical estancia to enjoy the Uruguayan countryside, horse riding and mucho vino tinto for a couple days before hitting the posh seaside town of Punta del Este for a relaxing Sunday lunch.

On Monday Em, Andrew, Chris and I flew to the pretty town of Bariloche in the Lakes District of the Andes in southern Argentina.

Special times in Bariloche!

We have rented an apartment for the week and have been having a wonderful time wining, dining and catching up on the past 6 months – this has inevitably involved far too many late nights and we are beginning to feel the effects now! Chris and I have had to readjust to the late dining tradition in Argentina – if you go out to dinner before 10pm you are likely to be the lone diners in the restaurant! However, we are loving the quality bife de lomo after many less-than-pleasant experiences with food in recent months.

Hitting the slopes!

Yesterday we celebrated Em’s 30th birthday in fine style. We hit the slopes at Cerro Catedral Ski Resort, 20 minutes drive from Bariloche– it is apparently the largest ski resort in the Southern Hemisphere (not quite sure how they come to this claim though as NZ provides some tough competition!). We had perfect blue skies, spectacular views down to the lake and the snow was brilliant after a 50cm fresh dump the day before. After a post-skiing siesta we enjoyed a delicious degustation menu accompanied by divine Argentinian vinos at Butterfly Restaurant – suffice to say it was easily the best meal we’ve had in 6 months and a perfect celebration of Em’s 30th.

Wining and dining in Bariloche

Tomorrow we plan to hit the slopes again (if the present 100km/hr winds die down) before heading to Buenos Aires on Monday for the last hurrah of what has been an incredible 6-month long adventure.

Colombia

02/07/2010

Cartagena

It was always going to be difficult returning to the backpacking circuit after seven nights with Ian and Lindy on a live-a-board in the Galapagos. We arrived in Cartagena pinching ourselves that experiences of the last week diving were for real and not the result of some travel induced delirium. When we stepped off the plane in Cartagena the intense humidity smacked us back to reality. Without local currency we found the nearest ATM and withdrew a cool $400,000 Colombian pesos. There is something odd about bargaining a taxi driver down to $10,000 for an airport transfer.

Cocktails at Cafe del Mar

Cartagena is a beautiful, hot and humid colonial Colombian city that sits on the Caribbean coast line. We stayed in a small hostel in Getsemani just outside the walled inner city which we discovered is filled with cobbled streets and boutique stores. A highlight of our two night stay in Cartagena was having an evening cocktail (or two) at Cafe Del Mar bar which is situated on the fortified wall and looks over the old city and out to a stunning sunset over the Caribbean. Sipping Pina Coladas to the sweet tunes of Cafe Del Mar made all the effort of travelling to Cartagena worthwhile.

Playa Blanca (before the hoardes descended)

On our second day in Cartagena we, and 40 local Columbians (it was school holidays), crammed ourselves into a small motor boat and headed to the outer Islands of Islas del Rosario. We had planned to go snorkelling and had brought our own equipment. When we arrived at the snorkelling destination, with no reef in site, the boat driver refused to let us enter the water off the boat unless we paid him $20,000 in ‘security money’. White, tall, blonde hair – Ok Lise and I do not fit in, we know – but in Columbia at every opportunity they try to take you for a ride, a downside of travel that is wearing thin. Fortunately we were permitted to disembark the boat at the beautiful beach of Playa Blanca only to be over-run by beach sellers that outnumbered the swarms of tourists. “No gracias”  we do not want a vegetable oil / soap massage.

Cabo de San Guia, Tayrona NP

We left Cartagena and headed to Taganga, just outside Santa Marta. Taganga is a small fishing village that serves as the entry point into Tayrona National Park. We were attracted to Tayrona in search of crystal blue waters and white sandy beaches. Unfortunately there had been heavy rains in the region and the water was churned up. Whilst scuba diving was not an option due to poor visibility we headed deep into the national park and for three days did little more than sleep in a hammock, read, swim, eat and did I say sleep in a hammock.

Our hammock bungalow!

Our accommodation was located in a small open bungalow, with 20 other hammocks, on a jutting peak that overlooked the Caribbean beaches – it was a magical place. After four days of overwhelming heat and relentless mosquitoes we headed back to Taganga to the luxury an air-conditioned room and the benefits of wi-fi! Luckily yesterday afternoon we snuck in two fun dives with Poseidon Dive Centre. Our dive instructor Tama showed us the sites of two beautiful coral reefs off the coast.

Diving Taganga

Although the visibility is still recovering from recent rains it was a relaxing way to end our time in the Caribbean.

So our time in Columbia has come to an end and we are very excited about the two weeks that await. Tonight we take three flights, Santa Marta – Bogota – Santiago –Montevideo, and meet Emma and Andrew in Uruguay. We have missed our dear friends over the last six months and we are so lucky to be able to share the final two weeks of our South American adventure with them.  In the mean time, Vamos Argentina and Uruguay in the World Cup!

Scuba Diving the Galapagos Islands

23/06/2010

'Salut' to another great day diving!

We are still swaying back and forth after 8 days spent on a live-aboard diving boat in the Galapagos Islands with Mum and Dad.  It’s very hard to capture the week in words – the Galapagos Islands truly are incredible.

After 2 days catching up with Mum and Dad and exploring Quito the four of us flew to San Cristobal Island via Guayaquil (seemingly the gateway to everywhere in Ecuador).

Lise, getting up close & personal with a 15m whale shark!

Chris and I were a little apprehensive about the diving in the Galapagos as it is regarded an advanced diving destination (and some fellow divers entertained us with a couple horror stories en route to the airport doing little to quell our fears)! Well, it truly lived up to the title but was well worth the challenge.

We spent the week descending into the cold, deep ocean surrounded by strong currents and big swells – yet were rewarded with numerous 15-metre long whale sharks, sea lions, dolphins, manta rays, eagle rays, huge schools of hammerhead sharks and turtles to name but a few of the underwater highlights.

Baby sea lion ... aww, so cute!!!

We were lucky enough to be on a fabulous dive boat with a great group of 12 divers from all around the world. The skies were uncharacteristically clear for this time of year and we were spoiled with 3-course meals daily. Over the course of the week we visited several of the islands – diving, snorkelling and ‘land walking’ (on our sea legs!) to get up close and personal with the famous marine iguanas, penguins, fur sea lions and huge Galapagos turtles (including ‘Lonesome George’).

Galapagos marine iguana

On day two we had a long overnight transfer to the most remote outer islands of Wolf and Darwin and over the next 3 days we experienced the most challenging yet rewarding diving of the trip.

Chris scaring off the hammerheads!

The dives were deep, up to 30 meters, with strong underwater currents and big surges from the swells. Each dive you basically had to rapidly backroll off the ‘panga’ (small dinghy) and immediately descend down to the so-called ‘theatre’ platform at 25 meters, grab onto a rock, check to make sure your buddy was still with you and then watch the show as a multitude of huge underwater creatures cruised past. When a whale shark was magically spotted by the dive master – still mystified as to how they spot them so far off – everyone takes chase. During our 8 dives at Darwin’s Arch we swam underwater with more than 8 whale sharks, all between 12 and 15-metres in length – they are so enormous yet incredibly graceful and truly a sight to behold! An absolute highlight.

120 year-old Galapagos turtle! Poor ol' fella!

This morning we farewelled Mum and Dad and made our way north to the Colombia’s caribbean coast. We are now in Cartagena and looking forward to soaking up some of this intense heat and exploring the beautiful coastline over the

coming week.

Loving family catch up time!

The search for sun: Huanchaco, Mancora and Montanita!

11/06/2010

* Having ongoing difficulties loading photos into the blog (slow internet!). Check out our latest pics via the flickr link to the right of this post*

After 10 days of roughing it in the Andean Hills we were desperate to hit the coast of South America for a bit of r&r. As we took an overnight bus from Huaraz to Huanchaco we dreamt of endless stretches of golden sand, surfing, cocktails, sunsets and oxygen (having spent the greater part of the past two weeks above 4000m). Initially our dreams would remain so as Huanchaco, from a beach perspective, was a little disappointing. The grey sand reflected the grey sky, the littered streets were largely desolate and the waves far from inviting. Unfortunately too the ‘Bolivian Belly’ that has joined us on our travels for the past eight weeks reminded us again of its presence.  Luckily we had arranged some reasonable accommodation with cable TV and wi-fi so thanks to technology we wiled our time away resting our weary legs and tummy in the hotel. Needless to say we only spent one night in Huanchaco.

Our second attempt in the search for sun was a little more successful. From Huanchaco we took another overnight bus to Mancora in Northern Peru. Regarded as Peru’s best beach it naturally attracts travellers and, with varying degrees of success, attempts to satisfy their every need. For three nights we stayed in a boutique beach front hostel called ‘Casa Mediterranea’.  Over the first two days we were blessed with blue sky, a warm sun and lazy long days by the hostel pool. We watched the sun set whilst sipping pisco’s and beers and dined in some simply amazing local seafood restaurants. On day three the wind picked up and some world class kite surfers emerged impressing us with their twists and turns. Eager to get into Ecuador and a little sick of the wind after three nights we headed north on yet another overnight bus to the hippy surf town of Montanita.

Like Mancora Montanita is regarded as Ecuador’s best beach.  As we have come to appreciate though, it is rather difficult to impress an Australian with a stretch of coastline elsewhere. If Mancora attracts the backpacker Montanita takes it to a whole other level. The beach is filled with hung over gringos, want-to-be hippies selling their beads and bracelets and, customary to all South American towns, dogs. The sun has refused to stay out for long and so we have spent our days people watching, lazing in hammocks, sipping pina coladas and demolishing some of the best chocolate crepes South America has to offer.

Tonight we venture north yet again, on our final overnight bus, to the capital of Quito. We can’t wait to meet Lindy and Ian tomorrow when they join us for a long-awaited week of diving in the Galapagos Islands! It is set to be a once in a life time diving opportunity so we’re very excited. Ian and Lindy arrive late in Quito so we will hit the pubs in the capital to celebrate the start of the World Cup – Go the Socceroos!

Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit

04/06/2010

Siula Pass - 4800m

*Check out the rest of our flickr pics of the trek by clicking on the latest travel pics to the right or on the ‘more photos’ link*

Laguna Mitacocha - Room with a view!

We survived! We have just moved on from Huaraz after completing our 10 day trek in the Cordillera Huayhuash region on Sunday … and are still recovering! They were without a doubt 10 of the most physically gruelling days trekking either of us have had. Due to the altitude (between 4200m and 5100m) and daily, relentless steep ascents and descents we were constantly exhausted despite our nightly 11 hours of rest!

En route to Siula Pass

However, we were rewarded with incredibly spectacular scenery of towering snow covered peaks and glacial lakes making the hard work worthwhile.

Each day there was a high pass to cross; on days six, eight and nine there were two passes, the highest being 5100m. Hiking at altitude is difficult to describe. The mind is willing but the body does not always respond at times making the steep climb to the pass feel nearly impossible. It is inconsistent too in its effect.

Post-lunch slumber ... trying to fire up for the equally tough descent to Laguna Carhuacocha (Day 3)

Some days you feel fantastic only to wake the next day with legs that drag and lungs that sting. Yet the high altitude also makes it possible to hike breathtakingly close to the snow line and the thundering glaciars.

To get around the circuit trekkers use the assistance of a guide and pack animals (donkeys). We were lucky as our guide, Rosmel,  from Huascaran Adventure Agency, was a humble, young,  hard working (and super fit!) local with reasonable English who also happened to be a master chef. We were well fed – waking to apple pancakes and hot chocolate, for lunch he prepared salads on the mountain and dinners were a three course affair.

Our lifesavers - working very hard to climb Cuyoc Pass (5100m)

After 10 days though the quality of ‘fresh’ produce naturally deteriorated and we don’t want to see another potato for the rest of our travels! Our ariero (donkey driver), Isaias, was a jovial family man from the small village of Llamac (80 people). He had his own horse and had a knack, most of the time, for making his 4 donkeys work very hard. However, on day seven we woke to find the donkeys nowhere in sight. A 2-hour search by Isaias on horseback, scouring the entire valley and climbing back up to the 5100m Cuyoc Pass, were met to no avail. Only for him to return and find the donkeys had all along been ‘hiding’ (camouflaged) in amongst the rocks on the hillside directly above our campsite – smart animals! Our suggestion that maybe the donkeys should be tied up at night was only met by a ‘stupid foreigner’-type glance from both Rosmel and Isaias! Interestingly, the following day the donkeys were once again nowhere to be seen! No comment.

Spectacular views after tough climb up to Rondoy Pass (4735m)

On our ninth day we made a roundtrip climb to the final pass of Punta Rondoy at 4735m and looked back over the soaring peaks of the Cordillera Huayhuash we had just finished circumnavigating. Getting out of the tent that morning our bodies ached and all we wanted was to

be back in a warm bed with a hot shower and normal toilet. But climbing to that pass we didn’t want it to be over. It was a magical experience.

We have now returned to sea level (bliss for the lungs) and are slowly making our way up Peru’s north coast en route to Ecuador. Currently in the small fishing village of Huanchaco we are catching another overnight bus to the beach town of Mancora tonight. Hoping to chase down some sun – having had little luck with the thick clouds here!

Cordillera Huayhuash

A brief summary of our 10-day trek (campsites and daily climbs) follows for those interested:

Day 1 – Camp at Matacancha – 4150m

Day 2 – Punta Cacanan Pass – 4685m; Camp at Laguna Mitacocha – 4230 m

Day 3 – Pass – 4800m; Camp at Laguna Carhuacocha – 4138m

Day 4 – Siula Pass – 4800m; Camp at Laguna Carnicero – 4430m

Catching our breath at Cuyoc Pass (5100m). With our guide, Rosmel.

Day 5 – Portachuelo de Huayhuash pass – 4750m; Camp at Pumarinri Hot Springs – 4340m (ahhh, bliss!)

Day 6 – Cuyoc Pass – 5100m & San Antonio Pass – 4800m; Camp at Guanacapatay Valley – 4350m

Day 7 – no pass but briefly dipped into remote village of Huayllapa (3500m) & had to climb back out!; Camp at Huatiac – 4350m

En route to Rondoy Pass

Day 8 – Punta Tapuish pass – 4800 m & Punta Yaucha pass – 4840m; Camp at Laguna Yahuacocha – 4050m

Day 9 – Punta Rondoy pass – 4735m & Sambunya Pass – 4750m; Camp 2nd night at Laguna Yahuacocha – 4050m

Day 10 – Walk out to Llamac village & bus back to Huaraz!

Total Distance: 150km

Last day - 6am - so close to the finish line in Llamac!

Acclimatisation in Huaraz

21/05/2010

Catching our breath at Laguna 69

So, we’re locked in. Call us crazy (and I will be in a few days time) but we are all organised to set off at 3am tomorrow morning and hit the Cordillera Huayhuash region for the 10-day circuit trek – considered among many in trekking circles as the 2nd best hike in the world, after the Annapurnas in Nepal.

The Huayhuash Circuit will be the longest and highest trek either of us have ever done. The entire trek is over 4200m with the highest pass at 5100m. We will climb more than 9500m uphill over the 10 days, which is greater than the altitude of Everest (though no doubt FAR less technically demanding – so we won’t be laying claim to that one)! Needless to say, we are immensely excited yet somewhat apprehensive about the challenges that lie ahead.

We won’t be alone on this one. Due to the distance and altitude, few people walk without a guide or donkeys. We will be accompanied by a great guide, Rosmel, as well as an ‘arriero’ (donkey driver) and a few donkeys to carry all our gear and food.

Laguna 69, Cordillera Blanca

Yesterday we headed to the Cordillera Blanca region on a day-hike to Laguna 69 for acclimatisation. We had considered ourselves fairly well acclimatised after our month in Bolivia and hiking the Inca Trail. However, after only 2 weeks at sea level our lungs were suffering! Our walk to Laguna 69 began at 3900m and we hiked up to the impossibly-blue lagoon at 4600m before returning to Huaraz … so perfect re-acclimatisation!

Next time we write we’ll no doubt be a bit wearier, fitter (we hope!), acclimatised to altitude (again, we hope!) – and well and truly ready to head to the beaches in the north of Peru for some major R&R. A quote from the guestbook of our hostel in Huaraz – “Pain is temporary, pride is forever” – is a mantra we’ll try to recite when the trail gets tough. Hopefully the personal satisfaction of completing the Huayhuash Circuit will stay with us long after the pain disappears. Wish us luck! x