I’d Go To The End Of The World For You

IMG_9828No it’s not some cheesy pick up line that you will go to the end of the world for someone it can actually come true. When we planned our South American trip we had wanted to visit the end of the world, the last point of human inhabitation on earth also known as Ushuaia. We had built it up to be this magical place and truthfully we were bitterly disappointed. Sometimes when you travel you can have high expectations and the places you visit can sadly under deliver. This was one of these places for us.

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We left our cosy log cabin in Punta Arenas and had a 12 hour bus journey including passing through Chile and Argentina’s land borders to get further south as well as a dirty old boat to cross the Magellan Straits.

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The closer we got the more the scenery changed from raw rugged landscapes to snow topped mountains and lush green forests. Arriving tired, smelly but excited we piled off the bus stretching our legs and taking it all in.

Ushuaia is a busy port town with clomping great cruise ships, cargo boats and steel shipping containers hogging the waters. Horns blaring, gulls squawking and seamen shouting orders at one another is the backing track to this chilly town. Although not as windy as Punta Arenas you still had to be well wrapped up and protected from the bitter elements.

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It’s the meeting point for those rich lucky travellers who pay ridiculous amounts of cash to spend a week or so cruising to the Antarctic, with tours costing from £8000 each it was waaaay out of our budget to join them.

So why were we so disappointed? Well I think we had expected it to feel more remote like we actually were at the end of the world but it is an expensive tourist town lacking in a certain charm. The main high street was being redeveloped so you had to watch your step over crumbling concrete, shout to be heard over the road works and avoid open man holes. The restaurants, hostels and shops are stupidly expensive and unless you paid to go on a pricey tour (like to see penguins/boat trips) there wasn’t that much to do.

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It won’t feel like this for everyone but for us it was a good lesson in lowering expectations that way you are never disappointed. Being budget travellers this town isn’t catered towards us but at least we can say we’ve been to the end of the world …. it is just a shame I was just as happy to leave too!

Have you ever visited anywhere that made you feel a bit meh, that it wasn’t worth the hype?

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Wet and Windy Patagonia

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We had a few days to recover both mentally and physically from the drama that was climbing a volcano before getting back on the road and heading further south, sad to be leaving Pucon behind.

A bus ride to Puerto Montt, where we saw a guy get mugged right next to us at the dark and dodgy bus station. Luckily he was ok but I was so happy we were only staying for one night in this unloved port town before flying to Punta Arenas, a town on the Straits of Magellan in Patagonia.

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We stayed in an idyllic secluded log cabin complete with burning wood fires, the best home cooking we have had on this trip and walks in the woods getting over excited at seeing a woodpecker for the first time ever! As it was so remote the lovely hostel owner helped us get around by driving us into town whenever they had errands to run, the rest of the time was spent reading, drinking tea and editing my manuscript following excellent advice from my mentor Rosie Blake. It was heavenly.

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I thought that travelling and having all this free time would mean I’d be able to give my novel some well-deserved love but with moving from one place to another in short bursts of time then wanting to get out and explore has pushed my writing to the side. It’s like my brain is taking everything in as soon as I step outside that I can’t concentrate on the words and characters in my head. But slowly slowly they are coming and it feels great.

I feel so lucky to be able to soak up the stories that are everywhere around me on this and my previous trips then sit down and let my creative juices flow. It has made me more determined to realise my dream of becoming a published writer especially if it could mean one that jets off to exotic countries, maybe find a quiet place to rent for a while and spend their days writing, eating and understanding the world around them. That my friends is the ultimate dream.

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Anyhoo back to Patagonia, this raw area of the world where trees are bent by the strong winds, nature is the quiet but firm master and birds are forced to squawk loudly to be heard over the crashing waves and sudden swells. I have never been anywhere as windy as here. Like seriously gale force gusts that make you shrink into your coat, cover your ears and are forced to walk like the hunchback of Notre Dame to keep some sort of balance. I am not over-exaggerating they even have ropes between lamp posts on street corners, that can only be described as vortexes, so you can cling on and steady yourself. Apparently you can sometimes see cats flying past your head as the wind picks them off their paws! A five minute walk between snug cosy cafes become a hilarious comedy sketch of pushing yourself against the limits bent over as if you’ve got a bad case of the sh*ts.

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It’s no wonder I was so happy to be indoors curled up on a squishy sofa in my llama wool hoody as venturing outside was so challenging! Plus with the glow of the fire and a glass of bloody fantastic Chilean red wine in my hand it is suddenly beginning to feel a lot like Christmas (just ignore the howling wind outside). Cheers!

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Why Climbing A Volcano Is Snow Joke

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This burst of activity that started with mountain biking didn’t disappear overnight. I don’t know if it is the clear mountain air or restlessness in our limbs but we decided to tackle the next challenge. One that took me right out of my comfort zone I could hardly see myself. We foolishly decided to climb a volcano. Yep this one poking out of the clouds.

The rock star of this pretty sleepy town, Volcano Villaricca, stands proudly against the deep blue sky, its glacier covered sides gleaming out at us. A guy in the hostel had told us that it was a highlight of his trip and wasn’t too difficult a trek. It’s 2868 metres high and one of Chile’s most active volcano’s, although the last eruption was back in the 1970’s, gave me little comfort.

Having hiked round the Himalayas and surprising myself at my hidden level of fitness we decided to take his word for it. If I could find him now I would have laughed at his ‘joke’. Even the word itself, volcano, says no! But we didn’t know what lay ahead as we packed up a packed lunch, put our warmest clothes on, were handed a bursting backpack full of crampons, helmets and an ice pick at 6am still under the illusion that this would be a walk in the park. I guess the glinting ice pick should have given the game away but we were picked up with other intrepid explorers looking as sleepy as us and trundled in a minibus up to the meeting point.

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We had two guides with our group of 10 people who made sure we were prepped, warm and had enough water to get us through the climb. We had the choice to take a ski lift which meant shaving an hour off the journey and saving our energy.  Having never been skiing I was giddy with excitement to get on the rickety rather unsafe looking metal chair that wobbled precariously up the side of the snow covered volcano. High winds, cloud cover, avalanches and the threat of the volcano itself can all cause hikes to be cancelled at any time along the route and that if were were to get to the top and back we would be lucky as lots of groups don’t get this experience. Pah lucky!

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Our guide then showed us how to use the ominous looking ice pick in a swift manoeuvre to grip onto the edge of the ice if we fell. Oh sweet Jesus. He said we had to follow the person in front in a wandering line stepping in their footprints as a path. We were to zig zag our way up the steep side using the pick to steady ourselves and for those not too keen on heights it was better not to look down. When someone tells you that you instantly look down and what I saw made me nearly pee myself. A practically vertical drop of blinding bright snow with nothing to hang onto just you and the ice pick, my newest best friend.

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Forcing myself to man up even though the rest of the group looked like pros, all muscular calves and weathered faces, we started our hike to the top. Rest stops were for five minutes after 45 minutes of stepping into large footprint steps. With nowhere to sit we had to dig out a bum shaped hole and rest there gulping down water and clinging onto our bags in case they fell down the side.

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We climbed higher than the clouds watching the town slip away in a green haze. After 5 hours of crunching, stepping, sweating and huffing we made it to the top. Wanting to celebrate this achievement but it was so cold, the wind slapping our stinging red faces and the sulphurous smell from the volcano that made me gag and think of burnt chicken flavoured pot noodles that we had a few pics and got ready to go back down.

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This would much easier and quicker the guide said as he strapped on a thick nylon nappy thing to our thighs. We would be sliding down on our bums. Using the ice pick as a brake we had to sit on the cold snow and push ourselves to the edge of the never ending drop and slide down to the bottom, taking about an hour. Oh god.

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Greg sped off his adrenalin pumping and expected me to follow but I froze. All I could see was a white death trap and as I started to whizz down I freaked out at how fast I was going and forced my pick to the side gripping on to slow myself down. The guide saw how panicked I was that I didn’t have any control at my speed and kindly urged me to cling onto the backpack of another guide who would gently ease our way down. Although he lost control and we ended up spinning to the side then flipped backwards and hurtled down as snow filled my mouth, down my top and I screamed for help! We only came to a stop toppling into a couple who had stopped for a breather. I was crying, furious and desperate to be back on the ground. But knowing the only way was to continue, although facing the right way, I sucked up my fear and pushed on alone not caring how fast I went just wanting it to be over.

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At a slower, gradual pace I actually found myself enjoying the ride and when I got to the bottom and stumbled around trying to kick the slush and ice from myself I found Greg at the bottom. His face lit up saying in a thrilled voice ‘that was brilliant!!’ Well at least one of us got our adrenalin kick!

My legs wobbled like after a great work out, my arms had deep purple bruises on them from being bashed about and our faces were burnt from underestimating the power of the sun but we had done it. That feeling of achievement was so warm and fuzzy that I guessed this is why most dare devils keep searching for the next fix. As we had a cold beer in the sun looking up at the volcano we had reached the top of and made it down alive (ok I may be going a little too over the top here but this is what it felt like!) I was pleased we had stuck it out but trust me when I say never again!

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Get On Your Bike

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After another overnight bus journey we arrived bleary eyed into the sun and ridiculously pretty town of Pucon, Chile. Boy I may be in love. Wooden cabins, green lushness, lakes and wide streets of shops and small cafes all towered over by an active glacier covered volcano.

It reminds me of a cute all American town where everyone knows your name and you are raised on stacks of blueberry pancakes, maple syrup and mountain air. Just pretty as a picture cute. The hostel we stayed at wasn’t quite finished but the super friendly owners gave us loads of tips, cooked for us and even did our laundry for free. I was tempted to start house hunting as it was such a nice area. They said they moved here from Santiago to give their kids a fab childhood right here in nature and safety, the town doesn’t even have traffic lights!

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Anyway, enough about the gushiness we were here to explore. And to do that mountain bikes were rented, helmets attached and a picnic packed. For those who know me choosing a bike as a mode of transport ain’t my normal style. But something in me was desperate to be pedalling away through this picturesque place, I cant even blame the altitude for this random decision!

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The weather was perfect not too hot not too cold so we hopped on the road out of the town centre and tried to follow a map we had been given to get to some nearby waterfalls. I say try to follow as we soon got very lost.

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The only road ahead was so steep we had to get off and push for about twenty minutes. Mmm sweating, hungry and lost are not a good combination. To top it all Greg’s trousers split leaving a comedy flap wafting in the wind we could hardly breathe from laughing so much. The map was binned, lunch was eaten at the side of a rocky empty road and layers were shed. But we were determined not to give up so huffing and puffing past fields of cows, horses and wooden shacks we found a river. Not a waterfall but it was close enough.

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Dipping our feet in the icy water, munching on another sandwich and lying back in the sun as kayakers splashed past was perfect, if a little off schedule, but aren’t all the best adventures about just going with the flow?

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Feeling Creative in Valparaiso

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Just over an hour away from the bustling cosmopolitan capital of Santiago lies the UNESCO port town and street art haven of Valparaiso. For years painters, poets and philosophers have headed to this bohemian mecca inspired by its relaxed attitude and faded charm. Where everything is a canvas and everyone’s inner photographer comes to life snapping away the riot of colours, graffiti tags and pretty pastel coloured houses lining the steep streets. We, as many before us, were no exception.

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Apparently since the UNESCO award all buildings must remain, from the outside at least, as they did when they were certified. Meaning this colour pop port town has even more charm from its crumbling houses or deserted wastelands. As it is so steep there are plenty of funiculars dotted around the town (similar to the one we took in Santiago zoo) that take you up high with the option of slides for shorter routes down. Weeee!

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We stayed in a fab hostel up on a thigh burning street but the view, especially from our room, was worth the burnt calories to get there. The owner, a chatty French man, told us all about his life over here and how he misses good French cheese the most which then got us reminiscing about all the food we missed such as fish and chips, pate, proper tea and chocolate *drool*.

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We had a walk around the town stopping at edgy hipster cafes, snacking on fresh cupcakes and coffee, taking in the sea air down by the harbour and rambling along the bright lively streets. Dinner was an evening picnic of empanadas, which we actually bought from some guy’s car boot who had installed a fully working oven in there! And a cheap but tasty bottle of red watching the sunset and the lights sparkle.

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Being so close to the sea we had to try some fresh fish. So despite the rain the following day we stumbled down to the port and found a small busy Spanish-speaking only restaurant where we had a starter of mussels, fish and potatoes and a shot of pisco sour for just £3 each! Billy bargain I just wish all of Chile could be this cheap.

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It is easy to see why so many have succumbed to the rough around the edges style of this town. From the drunk guy playing love songs on his beat up guitar to young teens trying to sell their art work on the corner, crumbling colourful houses plopped in-between spray painted alleyways, and gulls greedily hanging around the fishing boats down by the murky waters. Now excuse me as the creative juices flow while I head off to pen an ode to Valparaiso!