Enjoying the Sydney latin scene (part 2)

Enjoying the Sydney latin scene (part 2)

Sydney is quite a good spot for us latin dancers and I had 10 days to check it out. The city is not known for its zouk scene (Brisbane is the Australian zouk capital) though you’ll find zoukers and some socials & parties there. But for salseros and bachateros there’s a lot of things happening, something every day of the week.

I happened to be in town for the Sydney International Bachata Festival! As I was busy being a tourist I didn’t want to tie myself to the festival schedule so I just decided to join a couple of the parties. First it was the pre-party at the Mediterranean restaurant on Oxford Street - cool location. When I walked in a zouk song was playing but only a few couples were on the dance floor. No reason to worry though, soon the floor was packed! They played mostly bachata with a couple salsas and zouks in between. I was happy I found some really good zouk dancers later on in the evening. And obviously tons of amazing bachateros. I had never danced bachata on that level before or Dominican style bachata ever!

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Cool days in Sydney (part 1)

Cool days in Sydney (part 1)

Australia! The country so big that it's also a continent - though it is the smallest continent. Australia was definitely at the top of my travel list, for one because of the excitement of being that far away from home but also for many of its natural wonders.

My journey in Australia would start in its biggest city, Sydney. I arrived to Sydney on a Monday afternoon, after my couple weeks of stay in New Zealand. I was a bit anxious to see how strict the local customs really were but really weren’t asked too many questions (the same set as in New Zealand - "where have you used those shoes", "are you carrying any fruits") and apparently my visa was in order too since they never asked to see any proof of it. Australia was only country in my RTW trip I needed I pre-arranged visa on my entire trip - none of the South American countries required one from me.

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Windy Wellington

Windy Wellington

After a bit over a week on the New Zealand's gorgeous South Island I was moving back up to the North Island. I took a morning bus from Nelson to Picton, basically just over one big hill, straight to the Picton ferry terminal. I could already check my bag in the ferry that would leave in about two hours so I had some time to go explore Picton!

Picton is probably mostly known for the ferry connection but it was a nice little town. It had a bit more modern feel to it, compared to the other South Island towns that I visited. The harbor area is the prettiest part of town with manicured lawns and palm trees, the bay was full of sailboats, motorboats and yachts. There’s some pricey cafés with views to the bay or just can just take a seat in the park.

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Resting in Nelson and tramping* around Abel Tasman

After about a week in New Zealand I was making my way towards one of the most popular destinations in the country, the Abel Tasman National Park, located on the North East corner the South Island. To get there I would first go to the town of Nelson, taking another early morning bus from Christchurch. It was one of the most annoying bus rides but I won’t get into that – it might have felt more annoying since I was very very very tired. But it was fun to be a party girl for a change that night before in Christchurch!

I arrived to Nelson later that afternoon, checked into my hostel and went out have a stroll in the city. There are nice cafés, restaurants and shops in the tree lined streets, a cathedral up on top of the hill – it’s all very clean and quaint. You can make some walks in the city, one of the most well-known ones is to the “Centre of New Zealand”, that’s where I went the next day.

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Feel the earth move in Christchurch

Feel the earth move in Christchurch

It was another early morning (after one late evening…) and I was getting on a bus from Queenstown to Christchurch. I had planned to go to Christchurch that day simply because I knew there was going to be some zouk that night and I certainly wasn’t going to miss that! But I had no idea what an interesting town I had added to my travel plan...

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Autumn days in Queenstown

Autumn days in Queenstown

So my plan was to - in stead doing the traditional camper van tour of NZ since I was by myself and had only 2,5 weeks - fly from Auckland to Queenstown, to the adrenaline capital of New Zealand. Queenstown lies in the middle of the South Island. I was going to bus up and around the South Island, cross the Cook Strait to Wellington and fly back to Auckland. It wasn't a very detailed or well thought out plan but I wanted to see a bit of the cool NZ nature and go dancing in some of the cities and that seemed to cover those.

I had a morning flight from Auckland to Queenstown, right after the Easter holidays. I was really tired that morning after an early wake up but it was one of those ‘wow’ moments (Ushuaia déjà vu) when the plane descended through the clouds: the place looked stunning!

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New horizons, New Zealand: Zouk & adventures in Auckland

New horizons, New Zealand: Zouk & adventures in Auckland

It was one of those long nights. But one I had been waiting for a while: my flight from Santiago to Auckland. I had come to the end of my four months in Latin America.

Four months... it had passed so fast. As I packed my bags once again I was feeling quite happy since I had grown a bit tired of the cold, damp & dirty gringo trail through Bolivia, Peru and Chile. In any case it was a big milestone for me, leaving South America in one piece after all the adventures that I braved all by myself. I had so many fond memories and made so many fantastic friends, and I knew that I'd be coming back for sure... But now, it was time to move on!

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Santiago - End of my South American road

Santiago - End of my South American road

I am writing this post about Santiago in SANTIAGO! Wow, for the first time on my trip around the world I'm up to date with the blog. Better open a bottle of wine (wait, it's already open..)! It has helped a lot that I haven't done anything really exciting in the past week so easy to catch up on some writing. Also I know that I will be veeery busy and the internet is expensive in my next destination (New Zealand) so it's now or never...

I got to Santiago from Valparaíso, just an hour and a half's bus ride away. I got off the bus on a metro station Pajaritos, hoping I could find my way to my hostel from there - and I did! Small victories in life :) It was Sunday and the town was full of people (all the hostels were booked, barely got a bed for me) with the Lollapalooza music festival and the Santiago marathon packing the city with rock & running tourists. Although by the looks of it in downtown Santiago you could imagine that about 200 people live in the city: it was basically empty. Strangely empty. But I guess everybody was having fun somewhere else than the commercial district, almost all the shops were closed anyway.

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The rough Valparaíso - bohemian "paradise valley" is no paradise

The rough Valparaíso - bohemian "paradise valley" is no paradise

So after one night and two relaxing (boring) days in La Serena I was already ready to move on. I anyway needed to get a bit more south, towards Santiago. 7 hours south of La Serena was the Unesco Heritage site Valparaíso, just an hour and a half from Santiago, on the coast. I thought I might find more things to do there. I left La Serena on the last evening bus that was supposed to leave at 0.30am - but lucky us, our bus didn’t get to the bus terminal until 1.10am. I got settled in my seat and passed out within an instance. At around 7am I was already awake, worried that I’d miss my stop – though this time it was actually the final stop of the bus. At about 8am we were in Valparaíso.

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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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