Today we found out why you see cars in the streets of Buenos Aires with dented bonnets.
Incidentally, this our 100th Megamoon post since we started our trip in November 2009. It could even be our last.
Today we found out why you see cars in the streets of Buenos Aires with dented bonnets.
Incidentally, this our 100th Megamoon post since we started our trip in November 2009. It could even be our last.
The building we live in in Buenos Aires has 14 floors. We just went up on the roof and took these pics at sunset (with a beer).
The second one is a 360 degree movie. Click it and then you can zoom in and out with SHIFT and CTRL buttons as well as moving around.
If you live here, you might have noticed a storm or two in recent days. Last night there was lurds of lightning so I filmed it and put together a wee video of the best bits, obviously set to music from Metallica’s ‘Ride the Lightning’ album. Click the pic.
And here’s Monday’s weather forecast. Wasn’t far off.
On the 17th November, we had another visitor arrive in Buenos Aires – Bert’s Dad. Unfortunately, Ali had to fly back to the UK a few days later but not before we’d all had some Buenos Aires fun. On 20th November, after waving Ali off at the airport, we set off to Salta in the Northwest of Argentina on an extremely posh coach. It wasn’t even the poshest one, but it still had meals with wine and business class seats. Just as well for a 20hr journey.
In Salta, we stayed at Las Rejas B&B for a night or two to get our bearings (Thanks to Fi and Dunc for the recommendation), see a bit of the city and to sort out hiring a car. We also went to a ‘Peña’, or folklore music and dance show over dinner. Then came that awkward ‘I’d like to be invisible’ moment of the evening when the dancers looked for partners from the audience. Bert and I, seeing all exits blocked, obliged and donned the necessary outfit in order to provide quality entertainment to the masses. We think our Dads were impressed!?!!
We then spent six days driving around the amazing landscapes of North Argentina, sampling empanadas and drinking beer in the square of every town we stopped off at. And eating llama. Oh, and visiting vineyards (Bodegas) where wine like Torrentes and Malbec is made. Apparently, the extreme range of temperature between night and day results in grapes with tough skins and intense flavours. We visited the organic ‘Nanni’ bodega as well as the ‘El Esteco’ bodega, both at Cafayate.
Our drive took us through stunning scenery; dusty orange rock formations, winding valleys with river crossings, steep gorges, enchanted valleys, cactus fields whipped by dust devils, stripy coloured rocks, wide open high altitude puna, salt flats… you name it. Los Cardones National Park has an incredible cactus field. The huge cacti have a hollow wooden structure that when dry is a fascinating material and we enjoyed seeing the endless examples of how the local people put this material to use: picture frames, roofs, bins, doors, lampshades, furniture.
The ‘Salinas Grandes’ were the first salt flats I (Bert) had ever seen. Vast white solid lakes of (a bit dirty) white salt. These were being harvested by having rectangular pits dug in them which seems to serve to crystallise purer salt. Amazing. One restaurant we went to had tables made out of massive slabs of salt. Bizarre.
The other cool place we went to was Purmamarca with a ‘Seven Coloured Rock’, in Jujuy. It’s true. There are seven colours. Or five. Or nine. Depends on how picky you are! You can count for yourself in the picture. We stayed in Tilcara, a town about 22km north of Purmamarca and whilst our accommodation was basic it had the BEST breakfast view ever. As we sipped our coffee, beautiful hummingbirds darted around the flowers in the garden. Unfortunately we didn’t catch them in a photo – we were too chilled out man.
The landscape was mind blowing. I (Bert) have made a 3min video of what it’s like to drive through the North of Argentina (very fast). We held a camera out of the window and took five and a half thousand photos, which we made into a video. Luckily it omits the loo stops… and the bit where Tania managed to beach the car on a sandy kerb and everyone had to get out… oops.
Doesn’t play properly? download it instead
On the 25th October, we finally returned to Buenos Aires from Ecuador, but not for long as we were expecting visitors! On 31st, Tania’s special birthday present arrived. Her Dad and Ali landed in Buenos Aires ready for adventures. On 2nd November we all flew down to El Calafate in the South of Argentina and then bussed ourselves further South to Puerto Natales in Chile. This was our base from which we set off to do the (fairly famous) ‘W’ trek in Torres del Paine National Park. This is where my friend Tom and I unfortunately failed to get to back in January due to fuel protests that meant we had to escape from Chile on foot!.
We spent two days in Puerto Natales preparing for the five day trek; renting equipment, pre-mixing and portioning our meals, finding the perfect trail mix and packing and repacking our rucksacks. Our hostel, the Erratic Rock, was run by a very nice American guy called Bill on very environmentally friendly principles. The hostel initiated recycling in the area and has a system for re-using everything possible from half-used gas cylinder to plastic bags. They even have shopping bags made from broken tents for you to use instead of plastic supermarket bags.
After our 2 days of preprartion, countless ‘debates’ about what food to take (food is a very emotive subject it seems) on the 5th November we were ready to start and we caught the bus to the National Park ready to take on ‘The W’.
Days one and two were spent hiking up the side of a valley to Glaciar Grey, which was an incredible sight. A condor was warming its wings just in front of the glaciar. Day three took us up into the French Valley, with views of the amazing ‘Cuernos’ (Horns) mountains and through a moonscape type forest. On day 4 we walked round to the ‘Torres’ (Towers) campsite so that we’d be ready for a 5am start the next morning. On the last day we walked up to the three towers themselves, starting in the dark but it was worth the very early start to watch the orange light hit the top of the towers and slowly illuminate them from top to bottom.
The trek was quite challenging, perhaps we should have prepared a bit rather than just eating tacos in Mexico for 2 months. We were particularly proud of Dadso and Ali’s fine performance. They may hold bus passes but they are a fine pair of fit fiddles. Other than endurance, the trek also tested us as couples. Ever tried putting up a tent with your nearest and dearest when you’re cold, super tired and unable to find a flat pitch. Luckily any tensions did not rise beyond a level that a hot cup of tea couldn’t sort out.
It just so happened that the lovely Cath, who we met at the Erratic Rock hostel, was also doing the same trek at the same time in the same direction as us. And she proved to be a lovely trail and campsite companion. Great to meet you, Cath, and we hope we can stay in touch when we’re back in the UK.
At the end of the trek we found a refuge with a (we thought) well deserved beer and lay around in the sun waiting for a shuttle bus to pick us up.
Then back to Erratic Rock for one last night and a celebratory dinner before heading back to El Calafate. From here we got a taxi to the incredible, blue and huge Perito Moreno Glaciar which despite us both having seen before is still mind-blowing. Fortunately, we had a friendly taxi driver who used to work in the national park where the Glaciar is so he became a sort of tour guide for us. For example, apparently the blue colour comes from total internal reflection inside the ice crystals and the older the glaciar, the larger the crystals and the bluer the glaciar. I’ve since heard there are competing theories. Anyway, the sun was shining on and through the glaciar and it looked amazing.
So, a fantastic adventure in Patagonia. After which it was time for us to abandon Dadso and Ali at an Estancia for a few days and head back to Buenos Aires to prepare for the next visitor’s arrival…
George sent us some of his photos from the Galapagos Islands that feature us. I thought it would be nice to put some up here on our Megamoon blog. I asked permission and he kindly obliged (with a couple of stipulations). Thank you, George.
Reviews of these photos:
***** “Terrific” – Empire Magazine
***** “Best photos ever” – Professional Snappers
***** “&*%£ing Ace” – The Sun
Hope you enjoy this little video of stuff we saw in the Galapagos Islands.
Things to note:
– Iguana spit as an aggressive gesture but also as a way to limit the salt content of their bodies.
– The two fins moving together through the water belong to a giant manta ray.
– The fluffy birds at the start are little fluffy baby boobies.
– Don’t miss Tania squeaking and swimming away right at the end when she realises she’s swimming over five sharks!
Well I never. Between 13th and 20th October we took one of the most amazing trips of our lives. Dave Spiller, a family friend, came up to us on our wedding day and simply said that we had to go to the Galapagos Islands. So that’s what we did, accompanied by our friend George.
The Galapagos Islands are part of Ecuador, 970km off the mainland, so you have to fly. There are 15 main islands and 3 smaller ones. 97% of the islands are national park and it’s very clear the effort that has been made to preserve this incredible place. Non-native species such as goats, cats, pigs, dogs and cattle were introduced. The native species were defenceless to new predators. Efforts to preserve the native species mainly involved hunting non-native species, including from helicopters. This has been successful and in July 2010, the World Heritage Committee agreed to remove the Galapagos Islands from its list of precious sites endangered by environmental threats or overuse.
Charles Darwin famously brought his ship, the Beagle, to the islands and saw the large number of species that are unique to the islands. Aparently, this helped him come up with his theory of evolution.
The actual land itself is incredible as the islands are all volcanoes and therefore made of lava. Lava flows during an eruption and the surface cools and forms a crust under which lava continues to flow. This forms tunnels which we saw and were able to walk through and sometimes gives the land a ‘liquid’ look to its surface. Our guide, Victor, saw the volcano on Fernandina Island erupting in 2009 and lava flowing into the sea.
Our boat, the Floreana, took us a 14 other passengers around its ‘North route’ which we’d chosen as it included Genovesa island and Fernandina island, both of which we’d heard were highlights. We typically did one land visit and one ‘snorkelling’ during the morning and then the same in the afternoon.
The snorkelling was absolutely mind-blowing – it was literally like being in a David Attenborough documentary and I’m intending to make a video to show you better what it was like. We swam with: Marine turtles, white tipped sharks, sea lions, jelly fish, huge schools of fish, marine iguana, giant rays, manta rays, penguins, flightless cormorants, eels, starfish.
On land we saw the classic ‘blue-foot boobies’ as well as ‘Nasca boobies’ and ‘red-footed boobies’. We saw carpets of smelly iguana, hundred of ‘Sally redfoot’ crabs, giant tortoises, one over 100 years old and 250kg, bloodsucking vampire finches, 500 year old cacti, pelicans, frigate birds, hawks and flamingos. We were very lucky, also, because from our boat, we also saw Bryde (I think) whales in the sea.
After our boat trip we visited the Charles Darwin Research Centre on Santa Cruz island where we met Lonesome George. Lonesome George is the last surviving Pinta Island Tortoise and is 100 years old. He has two young female tortoises in his compound who are, apparently, almost the same species as him. It has been hoped (for several decades) that he might get frisky with one of them. It didn’t look like he was going to get frisky. So, unfortunately, the Pinta Island tortoise may become extinct.
The wildlife on the Galapagos islands has evolved without human presence. When you wander up to a bird in the Galapagos islands, it just stares you in the face with a blank expression. Anywhere else in the world it would have flown away. They don’t even flinch. The same in the water. We could go right up to turtles feeding on seaweed and it was like we were invisible – they couldn’t care less. Not only have I never seen wildlife like this, but I literally couldn’t imagine anything more amazing. If you can, go.
Hasta luego Mexico. Hola Ecuador. We arrived into the capital, Quito on 4th October in style, business class style. Yes, thats right… during the internet-based flight buying process we somehow managed to get a business class flight to Ecuador for $150. We had proper cutlery/crockery, sparkling wine, salads containing 2 different types of sun-dried tomatoes AND asparagus AND being called Mr and Mrs Beagley-Brown. Nice. I was especially excited by it as it was my first experience out of the cheap seats.
Ecuador made it onto our destination list for one reason. The Galapagos Islands. So our stay in Quito was really just long enough to get a feel for the place and try and book ourselves a last minute (and hopefully therefore cheaper) tour. Bingo. We managed to get ourselves a great deal on an 8 day tour round the Northern Islands (although actually they are more like the West islands) including the islands of Genovesa, Isabella and Fernandina. It was fantastic, so fantastic in fact that it deserves its own post. So stay tuned for that.
Our time in mainland Ecuador was short and split between Quito and another town called Latacunga. In Quito we initially stayed in the New Town which was very touristy. Lots of bars and restaurants and tour agencies. We spent our day and a half there looking for Galapagos tour deals and trying to keep Bert out of the chori-pan (Argentinian sausage sandwich) restaurant we found there. Latacunga however was where we chose to spend the rest of our time before our Galapagos trip, about an hours bus ride south of Quito. WARNING: Never put your bag on the over head shelf on a public bus in Ecuador, no matter how strongly the ‘nice’ bus conductor man suggests that you do so. You will end up with fewer belongings than you started with. I am now camera and 5 weeks worth of photos less. Bum.
We went to Latacunga to trek the Quilatoa Loop, a 3 days circuit of rural villages and spectacular scenery. Alas, I got ill and spent 3 days lying in bed and… well I’ll spare you the details. Bert however boldly trekked out in my absence and made a day trip to see the Quilatoa Crater (see panorama pic) with a lovely Dutch family we met – Meret, Pepijn & Felin. In the meantime I completed 3 levels of Angry Birds (all with 3 stars I hasten to add), so it wasn’t a complete disaster. Besides, nothing could dampen our excitement about our Galapagos tour which we went on next.
We returned to Quito and stayed a few nights in the Old Quarter. A much more characterful part of town. We climbed the Basilica… a crazy building with absolutely shocking build quality. We’re talking 2 inch gaps between the clock tower and the main building. Thats more than just careless. Climbing steps followed by a spiral staircase or two and then ladder we reached the clock towers. Each clock tower had 3 clocks. All of them (thats 6 in total) displayed different times. Ah, but that wasn’t the end. From the clock tower you crossed the narrow planked gangway to another rickety ladder leading to a thin iron stairway up to the lookout tower which offered pretty good views over Quito. Not quite as good though as the views that we got the following day by taking a cable car up one of the big volcanic lumps of rock that form the valley in which Quito sprawls along. That was pretty impressive and we got to see almost all 45km of Quito spread out below us. Quito is BIG.
We also finally got to open the little envelope (only to be opened whilst we were in Ecuador) that we have been carrying for over 2 years now. Its contents allowed us to buy his’n’hers authentic Panama hats. Thank you Ollie for a really thoughtful and fun wedding present. I have to admit I hadn’t actually realised that Panama hats originated in Ecuador.
The rest of our time in Quito was spent:
– in or trying to find the correct police station in which we could report stolen cameras,
– discovering that all of Ecuador’s best cocoa gets exported (mainly to Europe) and so chocolate in Ecuador doesn’t actually taste that bueno unless its been made by Europeans,
– eating THE tastiest corvina (seabass) in the local market (the closest we’ve come to fish and chips in almost a year)
– selecting a pair of custom handmade Ecuadorian boots. For someone with massive feet, this is very exciting,
– visiting Otavalo Market to browse the overwhelming array of ponchos and other knitted items and
– looking at shrunken heads and trying to balance an egg on a nail at the “Middle of the World” actual equator line.
We had the pleasure of Rosie and George’s company for much of our time in Ecuador and fine company it was too and had been since we first arrived in Mexico. So it was all quite strange and sad to be waving goodbye to such bueno travelling companions as they headed off to enjoy their remaining days in Latin America and we prepared for our flight to Buenos Aires. Rosie and George, we salute you. You have been SUCH good fun and a joy to be with. Thank you.
So there it is, a brief insight into our time in Ecuador. Next stop… BUENOS AIRES and our grand return to our Southern Hemisphere home after more than 7 months away travelling.
All these mean the same thing, the capital city of Mexico. We arrived in D.F., as the locals know it, on 26th September. Blimey, that was more than a month ago, sorry for late updates Megamoon fans.
Our week in D.F. was great and we have our friend, ‘DJette’ Maru to thank for showing us round and making it a fun week. Maru took us to a bar where we ate mini burgers (amazing, but not that Mexican) and drank Pierde Almas Mezcal. This means ´lost souls´ and unfortunately Tania found out why when she woke up the following morning having lost her soul. Bert loved it and bought a bottle.
We attended the compulsory masked wrestling, or ´Lucha Libre´ which was quite similar to what we saw in Guadalajara but MASSIVE, in a huge stadium in D.F.’s equivalent to Croydon. As entertaining as the fighters´ ridiculous acrobatics were the middle aged couple sitting next to us who were clearly veteran and perhaps famous hecklers, standing up and shouting various hilarious things as if they had been paid to.
Also on our itinerary were visits to the former homes of monobrow-endowed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and Soviet Marxist founder of the Red Army, Leon Trotsky. The latter had bullet holes in the wall, signs of the attacks (ordered by Stalin) which killed him, although it was actually an ice axe wound to the head from which he died.
On 30th September we took a bus to the ancient site of Teotihuacán, built in 100BC, which includes the third largest pyramid in the world, the pyramid of the Sun, which we climbed to the top of. Teotihuacán was at one point the largest city in the Pre-Columbian Americas and is kind of impressive.
Finding accommodation in DF was tricky and we stayed for half our stay in a 1980´s smokey business hotel. Very odd. Maru explained to us the concept of “Mexico ´86” which is a significant part of culture in Mexico City that has clearly remained unchanged since 1986. We went fabric shopping in the historic centre around the Zocalo (main square) in an area which certainly fitted into this category.
We left DF on a bus and arrived 27 hours later in the disaster that is Cancun, the only reason being to get a flight to Ecuador. This extended journey brought an end to our time in Mexico. We reflected on all the amazing places we’ve been and food we’ve eaten and people we’ve met. We loved it.