A dry spell in San Pedro de Atacama

A dry spell in San Pedro de Atacama

When I was looking at the map of Northern Chile the Atacama desert clearly sticks out - that's where I wanted to go! But getting there was no small task...

How to cross the border between Peru and Chile? They’re not making it easy for the travelers; this was perhaps the first border crossing where there wasn’t a direct a bus that would take you from one country to the other. Nope. First you have to get a bus to the southernmost town in Peru (Tacna). I got a ticket to the 7am bus from Arequipa to Tacna, arriving at around 1.30pm to Tacna, with a nice Cruz del Sur bus. Ah, they have one of the best buses in South America that I’ve come across (and the price isn’t bad, 30 soles i.e. around 10€ for a 6-7 hour bus ride).

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The Canyon Country - Arequipa and Colca

The Canyon Country - Arequipa and Colca

After the obligatory (and rightfully so) visit to Cusco and Machu Picchu I was ready to start moving south, to Arequipa. This white city of southern Perú is still in the mountain region, beautifully set next to the volcano Misti. You can feel more of the small city vibe in Arequipa even though you have all the services, lots of restaurants, big plazas with palm trees and of course a massive cathedral.

I got a bit of a shopping bug and found some funny small souvenirs to my friends and actually lots of lambada style dance outfits for the coming dance parties. The shopping malls are not as glitzy as in Argentina or Brazil but you can find everything there. One thing in particular I found surprising were the tens of shops selling wedding dresses, they're everywhere!

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Revising my bucket list: Machu Picchu - check!

Revising my bucket list: Machu Picchu - check!

Despite the fact that no one seems to know what the place was really about, Machu Picchu is one of those places that needs no introduction. It's one of South American most famous sights and #1 image & place to visit listed in my bible, The Lonely Planet's "South America on a shoestring”.

A couple days before my trip to Machu Picchu I arrived to Cusco (like many others) to rest, regroup and make sure all was taken care of. I already had my train ticket to Aguas Calientes and bought the entrance to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary in Cusco so I was ready to go.

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Cusco - the portal to Inca Perú

Cusco - the portal to Inca Perú

After lovely four days at the Titicaca lake I got on the morning bus from Copacabana (Bolivia) to Cusco (Perú), on my way to Machu Picchu. I had read about all the various complications travelers had had on this particular journey (extra bus changes, unsafe buses etc) so I was praying for the best. It seemed there wasn’t too much choice and it was hard to find reliable information about the trip so I just bought a ticket to the 9am bus – after asking in three different ways about how many times I need to change the bus (to which I was told just once, in Puno). I found out my travel friend Christine was going to be on the same bus, it was fun to meet here since we parted ways at the Iguazu falls!

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Copacabana and Isla del Sol – the marvels of Lake Titicaca

Copacabana and Isla del Sol – the marvels of Lake Titicaca

 

Titicaca Lake ended up on my travel list basically because it was conveniently located between Bolivia and Peru and it sounded interesting as it’s the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, at 3800m in altitude. And because it sounded funny!

I was a bit weak after being one day sick in La Paz so when I arrived to Copacabana that afternoon I just checked into my luxury hostel (Hostal las Olas – highly recommended!) and made a camp in my bed. And it was a superb hostel indeed, with a view of the lake even from the bed :) I had a big room (for five people actually) just for myself, a stylish kitchen with tabletops made of huge slabs of rock and two wooden sinks in the kitchenette, a stone lined shower in the bathroom, a fireplace in the room…. In the terrace I had a stone table and hammocks where you could chill and look at the Titicaca lake. Nice place just to hang out.

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Sick and tired in La Paz

Sick and tired in La Paz

It was quite the shock to arrive in the cold, dark and rainy Bolivia after three hot weeks in Brazil. Yes, I knew it would be cold but it always amazes me how in these cold Latin American places it’s also cold inside the houses (coming from a cold country where it’s warm inside the houses, not cold). And in La Paz – at the altitude of around 3600m above sea level – it was cold inside, outside… Only during the days when there were those nice moments that the sun came out it was actually enjoyable to be outside (and it was still cold inside). Luckily there were those moments too.

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Week in the life of a zouk dancer in São Paulo (- and it isn’t a bad life!)

Week in the life of a zouk dancer in São Paulo (- and it isn’t a bad life!)

After the Floripa carnival and a couple days relaxing on the beach at Ilha do Mel I was ready to enter one of the biggest cities in South America, São Paulo. A massive city - by population (about 19 million) and by physical size, the metropolis spreads out tens of kilometers in each direction, melting into smaller cities of southern Brazil. It is actually the largest city in the southern hemisphere! I was already a bit hesitant just thinking about the place due to the sheer size of São Paulo and all the dangers & annoyances that come along with it but knew I had so much to look forward to: meeting some friends I met earlier in Rio and especially getting back to my normal (dream) life – dancing zouk!

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Ilha do Mel – sweet beaches in Southern Brazil

Ilha do Mel – sweet beaches in Southern Brazil

I had planned on having some chill out days after carnaval in Floripa and before my zouk marathon that awaited me in São Paulo the following week. And obviously since I was on the Brazilian coastline I looked up where are the nicest beaches between the two places. The answer was pretty clear: the island of Ilha do Mel, “the island of honey”.

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Carnaval in Floripa - the Brazilian samba parade (part 2)

Carnaval in Floripa - the Brazilian samba parade (part 2)

Brazil... Carnaval... I certainly wasn't going to miss a samba parade at the local Florianópolis sambódromo! The main parade on Saturday was sold out by the time I got in town on Friday so I got a ticket to the next best thing, the final parade - the champions’ parade held the following Tuesday.

And I made sure I was there early. The parades are at the Floripa samba street, sambódromo (yes, they have one too, like in Rio). It’s like a sports stadium but with one straight white concrete alley. It's a funny concept to have a stadium for basically a couple events per year (or do they actually use it for something else too?) but in the Brazilian mindset it might be just the thing.

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Carnaval week in Floripa - drag queens, caipirinhas, samba and desert beaches (part 1)

Carnaval week in Floripa - drag queens, caipirinhas, samba and desert beaches (part 1)

Three flights. Three effing flights. Never again will I book a trip to somewhere with two stopovers. This time even the second flight left an hour late so the second stop was a bit more “exciting”. But these are the things a girl needs to do to get to a carnival! So I flew from Argentina to Brazil, from Salta to Florianópolis (=Floripa), on the Thursday before the Carnaval.

Carnaval - a Catholic holiday - is a major event all over Brazil, in most places in South America as well as many places in the rest of the world as well. The Brazilian carnaval though seems to have nothing to do with anything that resembles a religious holiday ;) I had heard that Floripa is one of the nicest places to see the carnival in the southern Brazil. I manage to get the (idiotic) flight and a hostel there so I was all set!

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Salta - and final words on Argentina

Salta - and final words on Argentina

I guess I needed some rest after all the touring during my Argentina leg of the trip so I decided I wouldn’t do anything in Salta. And it worked out pretty well. I was responding to emails, making updates on my blog, arranging photos, booking a flight… ok so not totally relaxing. But it was nice to not have a set “day plan”, I just walked around in the city – and somehow always managed to do that during siesta. Salta really closes down  for siesta, unlike some of the more “touristy” towns along my road.

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Jujuy and the many colors of Northern Argentina

Jujuy and the many colors of Northern Argentina

One of the most interesting places on my trip through Latin America so far was the Jujuy region in the Northern Argentina. I was recommended to go there by a Porteño friend of mine Maria so I had put it on my long list.

Jujuy or more specifically San Salvador de Jujuy is 90km north of the capital of the Northern Argentina, Salta, and wanted to make a visit Jujuy before that. I left city of Mendoza Saturday at noon and arrived to Jujuy at 8 am the next morning. I woke up a bit before we arrived so I got to “enjoy” the breakfast they served in the bus (tea or coffee, alfajor cookie, bisquits and jam) and enjoy the views as we passed between green fields, forest covered hills and mountains.

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Vines and wines – Say Malbec, you’re in Mendoza!

Vines and wines – Say Malbec, you’re in Mendoza!

Thanks for the beautiful Northern Argentina, the amazing Brazilian Carnaval and all the great people I've met I'm again behind on my blog. But no worries, I've used all (well some parts) of the long bus rides to write stuff and organise pictures so I can start making blog posts during all the quiet moments I have - so many fun stories & gorgeous pictures to share!

So --- I’m becoming an expert in long bus rides. Another 19 hours of sitting (with over two hours circling the different terminals in Neuquén) I got myself from Bariloche to Mendoza. Thankfully the bus seats are comfy, there are TVs with crappy movies and if you bring your own snacks, warm clothes (OMG tone down on the air con!) and some light entertainment – like your laptop – you’ll have a somewhat relaxing day ahead.

It was morning when I arrived in Mendoza. I had managed to pick a nice hostel again, this happened to have been voted the best hostel in South America (by hostelworld users, one myself). My bed wasn’t free that early but I got myself all cozied by in a hammock in the garden, frankly I was a bit tired. So after noon I was ready to venture out to the city.

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Lakes lakes lakes – Bariloche

Lakes lakes lakes – Bariloche

After the icy adventures in El Calafate I got on yet another bus, this time it would be the longest bus ride of my life (so far): 28 hours. We’d leave at 4pm from El Calafate and arrive 8pm the following day to Bariloche. I met some people at my hostel who were taking the same bus so I didn’t feel too lonely on this ride. The bus was a nice “cama” class bus with meals and there were only three seats in one row, a footrest and plenty of space for a tiny person like myself.

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Perito Moreno - I’d like my whiskey with ice, please!

Perito Moreno - I’d like my whiskey with ice, please!

Not tired of hiking in the mountains, valleys and around lakes in the beautiful Chilean Patagonia yet? Well welcome (back) to Argentina! About 4-5 hours (depending on how fast the border crossing is) north of Chile’s Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine is Argentina’s El Calafate. Yes yes, it's another pretty village with nice shops and restaurants. El Calafate to me looks actually more like a ski resort than a South American small town. The night life is pretty busy and there’s big casino (!?) in town as well but most people come here to see one more Patagonian natural wonder: the Perito Moreno glacier.

I had a lovely bus ride from Puerto Natales to El Calafate, sitting on the first row to see the beautifully boring Patagonian landscape all the way. What's beautifully boring? Well, there's really not all that much there but the vast spaces and the colours are just beautiful. At last when the sun set behind the flat Patagonian wilderness I could fall asleep. It was a late at night when I arrived to El Calafate but with the help of my hostel there I had manage to book a tour to the glacier early next morning. 

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Torres del Paine - the towers of ..pain?

Torres del Paine - the towers of ..pain?

As long I was in Southern Chile, there was another must-see destination: Torres del Paine. One of the trekking capitals of the south, Puerto Natales, is the closest town (or a village really) to the mountain and the national park. It’s a windy little place with some quaint cafes and restaurants and tons of tour agencies and trekking outfitters. 

But I wasn’t going to sign up for the 3, 4 or even 9 day hikes you can do around the mountains. No, I didn’t have the equipment for it or the time or the money – or the trekking enthusiasm. The next morning after I arrived there I went on a tour to the National Park around the mountains and I was happy I wasn’t going to camp or hike on the mountains. The weather was very unpredictable, one minute rain and sunshine the other, the winds were “knock you off your feet” –strong and the views sometime obscured by the clouds. I was quite happy with my cheap & easy option, the full day tour, safe & sound close to a shelter (a minivan) all the time.

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Suit up for Chilean Patagonia

Suit up for Chilean Patagonia

After two days in the 'end of the world' Ushuaia, I had to say goodbye to Argentina again and take a bus to the Chilean side of Patagonia. The island Tierra del Fuego is actually quite small and when you start going up from the southern tip of the peninsula you will cross between Chile and Argentina a couple times at least. Personally I hadn’t planned to spend a lot of time in Patagonia, a few weeks, which may sound like a fair amount of time but frankly doesn’t give you a chance to see nearly half of everything there is in the beautiful southern South America.

Knowing there aren’t that many buses up from Ushuaia I booked mine a week before. It was an 11 hour day trip (no night buses – come on!!?) to the “next town”, Punta Arenas in Chile. Right after we passed the mountains surrounding Ushuaia the landscape turned rather flat and dry farmland. You could see the same landscape continued for miles, houses were far in between. There were lots of sheep, some horses – and to my delight some random guanacos on the side of the road and even ostriches. First we crossed the border and later the Magellan Strait on a ferry and the dolphins escorted us from the Tierra del Fuego to the mainland!

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End of the world - Ushuaia

End of the world - Ushuaia

A trip to the end of the world - fin del mundo - was one of the top things on my list for my trip around the world. After all it seemed like I was already so close, in the same continent, in the same country (in Buenos Aires, Argentina). But 3000 kms away! I opted for the cheapest flight I could find: a 4 hour hop from Bs As to Ushuaia that made me got up at 2.30 in the morning... So I got just 2 hours of sleep before I had to catch the 4.45 am flight. And when I got on the plane I fell asleep immediately.

As the plane was approaching Ushuaia I hesitantly forced myself to wake up and open the window curtain... Just in time to see the plane pass through the clouds: the view of the Beagle Channel and the snow-tipped mountain range opened in front of me. I don’t know if I’ve ever woken up and got my camera that fast. The views were amazing! And I was wide awake after that.

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The hot and cool Bs As

The hot and cool Bs As

Back to the city life after the Iguazu Falls, I had 8 days to kill in Buenos Aires before my flight to Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia. I was looking forward to getting some rest first but when I got to my hostel I was greeted by two Australian guys (who are ruggedly handsome as Mike would say) traveling through the Americas on two motorcycles. They asked me if I would like to join them for a tango evening and I couldn’t resist – after all I was on a mission to dance!

The tango class & dinner took place in Palermo, a fancy neighborhood on the other side of the center. The big Australian & Argentinian group and I had a really fun night, learning the 7 basic steps, watching the incredible dancers and having many many bottles of wine.

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Dancing up a storm in Buenos Aires

Dancing up a storm in Buenos Aires

Dancing is a popular past time in Buenos Aires - the tango capital of the world - and the city is known for its nightlife. So I made sure I got my share! Zouk is going strong in Buenos Aires, and even with the dominance of tango there's something for all kind of dancers.

I went out to zouk to Maluco Beleza club, after a week’s break I couldn’t wait to get to burn the floor! The club has zouk/lambada parties on Fridays and Sundays where they first have a class (at around 11pm) and then social dancing until around 2:30am. On Friday there were plenty of people taking the class, enough for both beginners and intermediate groups. To my surprise I got paired up with a Finnish guy (yes!?) for the class. That was again one of those odd coincidences again, like meeting a Finnish samba friend in my hostel room at the Iguazu Falls!

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