A Travellerspoint blog

The Dakar

Motor racing in the Atacama Desert!

sunny 30 °C

After the craziness of New Year, I have been road tripping through Chile for almost two weeks now this is basically what I have been up to:

2nd Jan – set off for the Chilean coast, Vina del Mar (3 nights). Ate lots of seafood empanadas and visited Valpariso the twin city to Vina, a quaint little run down city with lots of coloured houses.

5th – Said goodbye to Ricardo and Jen, Sophia and I set off for the North for 3 nights in La Serena. Visited the Punta Chorus National Park saw Dolphins, Sea lions, Seals and Penguins!

8th – Drove to Bahia Ingesa 3 nights camping on the beach......
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Bahia is a small tourist town on the Northern Chilean coast popular for surfers and my absolute favourite place in Chile so far. Sophia had kindly arranged for us to camp in front of her friend’s house, on a beautiful sandy beach less than 10 meters from the sea. It was quite simply spectacular! I love camping anyway but there is something quite special about camping on a white sandy beach and waking up to the sound of waves lapping the shore in the morning. Another thing quite special about this place that I have never observed before it is a place where the desert and the sea meet. The Atacama Desert is the driest desert in the world and starts from La Serena (N.Chilean coast ~5 hours north of Santiago) and stretches all the way north into Peru. It is quite strange for me that one minute you can be sunbathing on a beautiful beach and a five minute drive inland and you reach rolling desert hills – amazing. One of my favourite things about travelling is the surprises you get from being in the right place at the right time. After arriving in Bahia we learnt that the Dakar was taking place in the desert 20 km from Bahia and we were invited to go along with a group of Sophia’s friends. I am not familiar with Motor racing but in the racing world apparently it is a big deal. It is named the Dakar because it previously took place in Dakar in Africa but they are unable to host it in the Sahara anymore and so last year it was moved to Chile and is set to stay here. It is basically a motor race through the desert for motorcycles, cars and small trucks. However the interesting thing about the race is that there is no set route, they are given certain marker points and they have to use their GPS systems to find the best way through the desert. Now here is the fun part, the spectators are not given any precise information about the location of the race so if you want to observe it it’s a bit of a guessing game. Not being a fan of motor racing I wasn’t sure quite what to expect but was more than happy to go along for the ride and boy was it a ride to remember. We set off early on the morning of the 10th in Sophia’s truck. Unfortunately however there was some confusion and we realised that the truck was not actually four wheel drive and so we wouldn’t actually be able to drive it into the desert. There was a bit of a panic but we got lucky and managed to hitch a ride with a fearless Chilean who had a four wheel drive and two spare seats in the back. It seems no GPS system for a Chilean is required. I’m not quite sure how but it seems that they have some internal radar they all know exactly where to go to get to the best spot to observe the passing vehicles. It was all rather tense, dramatic and exciting. To try to paint a picture you have scorching desert, blue sky, hundreds of trucks doted all over the desert, people on motorbikes and quad bikes, people camped out with tents, BBQ’s going, music blasting out from cars – oh and as you can imagine the odd rescue mission or two. People tend to get a little overexcited and it’s not uncommon for some trucks to roll. We saw one of these rescue missions taking place – I don’t need to describe it the picture says it all but everyone got out safely and they managed to get the truck upright eventually!

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As we were racing over sand dunes at what felt like more than 100km/hr it really was quite terrifying, thrilling and comical all at the same time. The drama was further intensified by a running commentary of the race being blasted from the car stereo, accompanied by music that sounded like it would be appropriate in a Star Wars film or a Sony Playstation game. While all this was taking place I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a real life version of Mario Karts hence the comical part.

Even stranger was the fact in the middle of the desert we managed to run into the people that had invited us along. There were about 5 cars or so full of people we had met the previous night that had all gone separately to the race and turned up at the same spot at the same time within about 15 mins or so of each other, strange. After about 5 mins of being there the promotional team for the race arrived so we realised we had picked the correct spot to observe the race and the wait began. It was only about half an hour until the first motorbike sped past and then the party began. Out came the beers, the picnic and the factor 50 sunblock. The thing about being in the desert is that everything is so huge and you feel so small. It was really quite comical to see vehicles going past in the distance that looked like toy cars. As I have previously written the Chileans are really so very welcoming but also have a great sense of adventure. It was altogether a fantastic day and I can’t quite believe how lucky we were to be in the right place at the right time and to know the correct people – what an experience!
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Posted by amanda_w24 17:38 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

A Chilean experience

Hello 2010!!

sunny 26 °C

Well I think it’s fair to say I have learnt the hard way not to believe anything anyone tells you in Latin America - especially people selling tickets for transportation. I was told that the journey from Mendoza to Santiago would take 6 hours. It actually took almost 14 hours door to door, the major delay being stuck at passport control for about 5 hours. This was not fun. Everyone has been saying how amazing the bus journey from Mendoza to Santiago is as you pass through the Andes but let me tell you - the novelty of a bus journey through the Andes wears off after the 1st hour! However I arrived eventually in Santiago bus terminal and was reunited with my friend Sophia who I haven’t seen for 5 ½ years! I had also recruited a friend along the way, Jen who I had met in Mendoza who travelled with me on the bus. She was planning to go to Vina del Mar for New Years but the buses were all too full so we took her home with us too. When I was beginning to plan this trip last summer Sophia had kindly invited me to spend New Years with her, her Chilean boyfriend Ricardo and his family. They live in a town called Melipilla which is about an hour outside of Santiago in the countryside. I don't know what I imagined Chile to look like but it is completely different to what I imagined it is absolutely spectacular!

The four of us headed to Melipilla and we have been here for 3 days now and it has been a true Chilean immersion experience! Ricardo has a huge family - I think there are maybe 5 or 6 siblings in each generation of the family so you can imagine the numbers add up! The night before New Year’s we had dinner at Ricardo's parents’ house. The meal of choice is asado (similar to Argentina) but here they also eat loads of fruit, veg and salads. The beef that we ate that night had actually been killed at their farm that very day, the bread homemade - in fact the only thing that we had that night that had not been homemade was the wine! After dinner we went back to the house where we were staying along with a few of the cousins respective partners etc. We stayed up drinking pisco until 4am. Only a couple of them speak English so it was a great chance for us to practice our Spanish!

On New Year’s Eve we headed over to Ricardo’s Grandmothers house – this woman is seriously amazing. She is about 80 years old but looks less than 60. She cooked dinner single handedly for about 20 of us. In usual Latin style we ate dinner about 11pm and finished just in time to do the countdown (in Spanish of course!) for 2010. At midnight everyone greats each other with a hug, kiss on the cheek and a ‘feliz año nuevo, que lo pasar bien’ (Happy New Year, may it pass well). So this bit I admit is fairly standard, however in Chile they have several unique traditions. Everyone receives a glass of champers with a dollop of ice cream in it and you must down it in one. Then you must take 12 grapes and eat them one by one – to bring good luck for each month of the year. Everyone also receives a piece of garlic that you must put in your wallet and it will bring you prosperity year round. Now I do have mine still in my wallet – I’m hoping it will bring me prosperity in the form of deterring more thief’s since it kind of smells. Also if you are planning to travel in the coming year you must run around the table with a suitcase which we all did with must gust. Now for the really interesting part – the Chileans are very religious people and it is tradition to go to the cemetery at midnight to toast the departed loved ones. We went about 12.30am and the cemetery was absolutely packed with people holding candles it was quite beautiful. There were about 30 of us all crowed around the grave of Ricardo’s grandmas husband, we all lit candles and they repeated a prayer. This sparked quite an emotional reaction for me which I really wasn’t expecting. For those of you that know me well you might understand why standing in a graveyard at midnight this year of all years might be quite emotional for me. Combined with being overjoyed at having this incredible experience and being so completely accepted into this Chilean family I started crying. Ricardo’s mum hugged me the entire car journey home. If you had said to me a year ago what I imagined myself doing to see the New Year in 2010 it probably wouldn’t have been crying into a Chilean woman’s arms! After this we went back to the house for some more champers and to get ready for the next leg of the party. This was Melipilla’s version of a rock festival and was at a big stadium in the centre of town. By the time we got into the party it was about 3.30am and there were about 3,000 people there and I swear Sophia, Jen and me really were the only foreigners there. Put it this way you wouldn’t find this advertised in any guidebook! We all raved along to Reggaton music, not my favorite I will admit but you know when in Rome.........

So we danced and partied until the sun came up and before we knew it, it was suddenly 7 am in the morning and we were starting to turn into Zombies. A quick stop off for some breakfast and an interesting debate on the differences between Latin and European men (much to Ricardo’s displeasure I’m sure!) and I was crawling into bed at 9 am. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Overall a wonderful experience. 2009 was an interesting year and I am so happy and grateful I have had the opportunity to take some time out and see in 2010 somewhere completely different. I have travelled to many places but I don’t think any other place in the world accepts you into its culture quite so much as Latin America. Ricardo’s family are truly amazing and I have never met such a warm and accepting family – so much so that Ricardo’s father Carlos actually said ‘Thank you very much’ to me in English – when I left! All in all this experience = absolutely priceless, here is to 2010!
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Posted by amanda_w24 08:11 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Mendoza - the land of Malbec....

And a rude awakening!

sunny 28 °C

So it turns out my bus journey to Mendoza actually was like 1st class on a plane I was very impressed! Food service, comfortable chairs that almost fully reclined with a foot rest and they provide entertainment such as bingo (in Spanish of course!) and all for only 20 English pounds! Also because I booked my ticket a week in advance I was on the top deck of the bus at the very front. We left Buenos Aires just as the sun was setting and had an amazing view that I was very much enjoying. Well until the front windscreen filled with the carcases of about 1000 insects that was. Anyways it passed pleasantly and I arrived safe and sound in Mendoza. As soon as I arrived I met another solo traveller a girl from the US and two guys from South Africa and we all went for a little stroll around town. I would love to report that it was the most exciting thing ever but it was the Sunday after Christmas and absolutely everything was closed and there was nothing going on whatsoever. However it was a good chance for me to chill and catch up on some sleep. A month in BA surviving on only a few hours sleep a night has left me more than a little run down and in need of some much needed R&R!

After a relaxing day I decided to try and get an early night’s sleep. I was sharing a room with the two South African dudes and the guys had loads of stuff with them and so decided to use the spare bunk above mine as a repository for their ‘shit’ excuse my French. The beds at this hostel were surprisingly comfy and I drifted off into a deep sleep until I was quite rudely awakened. It turns out there was in fact another German guy sharing our room but we hadn’t realised and he came in drunk at 3am to find ‘shit’ all on his bed – needless to say he wasn’t best amused, switched on the light and started shouting at us all. The guy was big and scary, at least 4 times my size and I actually thought at one point he was so mad he was going to sit on me and squash me. Thankfully he didn’t, the guys moved their shit and he went to bed. Unfortunately though the only spare bed was the top bunk above mine. Imagine a guy four times my size on the top bunk - the bed sounded like it was going to break but luckily it held out. Then just to top it all off he snored, oh the joys of dorm rooms and travelling :)

Today I went on a bike tour of the vineyards of Mendoza – which is what this region of Argentina is famous for. I have put up a few pics but can’t take credit for them – since I have no camera they were kindly donated to me by my friend Jen - cheers! The way the tour works is you hire bikes, bike the 12km to the vineyard furthest away and then work your way back stopping wherever you fancy. It was altogether a very pleasant experience. We stopped in at three vineyards in total, received a tour at each place and got to try between three to six wines in each. Mendoza is the land of Malbec so vino tinto is what it’s all about – and it really is fantastic! We stopped off at the third place to have some lunch and shared a platter of cheese, olives, meats, bread and olive oils – really delicious!! Cycling back from the third vineyard, after a lot of red wine and in 30 degree heat was a little challenging but I made it back safe and sound before having a lovely 3 hour late afternoon siesta now THAT is what travelling is all about. So it’s one more day of rest and relaxation for me, hopefully also working on my tan which I am sadly disappointed with at this moment in time, before heading onto Chile for what I expect to be quite a unique new years eve. From what I’ve heard this should make for quite an interesting blog entry so stay posted!
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Posted by amanda_w24 19:01 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas!

And bye bye Buenos Aires

Christmas in Argentina! A very different affair to how we celebrate in Europe but I like it. Being summer time here it just hasn't felt like Christmas at all. The shops have all been relatively quiet, they don't play Christmas carols, there are a few low key decorations here and there but that's about it. Also here they celebrate Christmas eve rather than Christmas day itself and the norm is to have an asado which is their version of a BBQ rather than a roast dinner. Plus by the 26th it’s all back to work - no two week holiday over here!! On the eve I headed out with a friend to Palermo where there is a strip of great bars however we were a little shocked to see all but one place closed! Anyways we found a place ordered a couple of cocktails and everything was deathly quiet..... Until midnight. I certainly wasn't expecting what sounded like a thousand home firework displays going off all at once. Literally everywhere you looked there were fireworks going off in every direction. A little bit unnerving when they were also being thrown onto the road near us and exploding in the street :~ I personally felt like it resembled more a war zone than a celebration but my friend Zillah was loving it!

Christmas day was spent with an international group who were all away from their families; there were a total of four brits, two yanks, two Columbians, one Swede and a token Argentine who cooked us the most amazing asado. The beef here REALLY does live up to its reputation, we had a mixture of steaks, chorizo sausages, and spare ribs and it was mighty delicious. It was sunny all day so we sat outside on the balcony drinking sangria and generally being merry. We all climbed up on the roof of the building to watch the sunset and it was amazing. I have not until now really appreciated how HUGE this city is but it is absolutely gigantic. From the roof we had a completely panoramic view of the city. We watched the sun go down and I think everyone had a quiet moment reflecting on how lucky we all were to have the opportunity to travel and see the world. Once it was dark we clambered back down from the roof to continue partying which included playing debouched drinking games and having a Michael Jackson dance off! At about midnight we all went out onto the balcony and watched the most amazing thunderstorm that was taking place in the distance – a fabulous end to a wonderful day!

I've been in Buenos Aires for almost a month now and it’s time for me to move on which I am sad about but I’m also excited about the next adventure. I'm taking my first overnight bus tonight to Mendoza. The overnight buses here are supposedly like first class on a plane. If you get a 'cama' seat it fully reclines and you are served meals and they show films. The quality does however vary widely so we'll wait to see how that one turns out! Anyways time to go the vineyards of Mendoza are calling me!
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Posted by amanda_w24 09:01 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Creamfields Buenos Aires Style

and Latin America's dark side!

storm 28 °C

A few days ago I found out that Creamfields was coming to Buenos Aires which was the best surprise ever! Not only were some of my favourite DJ's in the whole world playing but the tickets were a mere 30 squids (compared to about £150 in the UK and Buenos Aires would be free from the usual crowd of chavs who usually decend on the UK version of this festival - yippppppppppppppeeeeeeee!! I was so excited on Friday I almost needed someone to sedate me I was quite literally bouncing off the walls. However I awoke Saturday morning to quite possibly the most torrential rain I have ever seen in my life which dampened my enthusiasm slightly, no pun intended! Ok in England I accept that we have bad weather but I was not prepared for this in Buenos Aires and I was without my wellington boots!! Fortunately I met up with some other fellow ravers from the school and it looked like luck was on our side as by 6pm it had stopped raining and actually looked like it would stay dry for the rest of the evening yay!

After queing for about an hour we finally got in and got another stroke of luck as the guy selling us drink tokens was accidently giving out double tickets. This meant we all got two drink tokens for every 15 pesos (about £2.50!) score! So we were in and had enough alcohol vouchers between us to knock out a donkey - it was party time! There were three large arenas playing a variety of genres of electronic music but it all sounded good and everyone was going crazy - you gotta give it to the Argy's they definitely know how to throw a good party!! All was going well and everyone was having a fabulous time until we decided to go to the main arenea to see one of my favourite DJ's - Richie Hawtin - who I have never seen until now. As we were walking out I suddenly realised my bag felt a bit emptier than it had before. As I looked down I got a bit of a fright as I realised it had been slashed and I saw my wallet and my camera had been stollen. Luckily i'm not stupid enough to bring out shed loads of cash with me and I had kept all my cards, passport etc at home. Luckily also I kept most of my money tucked safely away in my bra but unfortunaly they did get my lovely new camera and my drink tickets - ha that's karma for you eh?? And whilst we are on the theme of karma shortly after the crime took place I had the realisation that there was only a short space of maybe 5 mins when the robbery could have taken place. I believe at the very moment I was being robbed I was actually having a conversation with someone about how safe I thought Buenos Aires was and how I hadn't seen or experienced any trouble whatsoever - well that just serves me bloody right doesn't it ha!!! Anyways I realised that there wasn't anything I could do and the police were no help whatsoever so I just got on with it and continued partying. After Richie Hawtin finished his set I went to see James Zabelia who happens to be English and I was very proud to announce that to as many Argentinians as I possibly could! So despite being robbed the festival was fantastic although the reality of what had happened did start to get to me when I returned home.

Buenos Aires is an amazing place but it isn't safe and you really have to have your wits about you - always. Almost everyone I know here has either been robbed or mugged at least once - I just hope this is the first and last time it happens to me although I have a slight suspicion it won't be! But then what kind of travel experience would it be if I didn't see even a glipse of South America's dark side as well as its good side? Walking to school today I experienced one of the lowest moments of my trip so far. I was not able to find time yesterday to go shopping for a new bag as the day was mostly taken up with obtaining the police report etc. It meant I had nothing to carry my school books in and I had to use a plastic bag. I couldn't find a plain one so I had to use one of those really thin rubbishy ones that had the name of the local Argentinian version of Lidl on it. Unfortunately my makeshift rucksack didn't last long and decided to break on me, on the metro on the way to school spilling the entire contens over the floor. As if this wasn't embarrasing enough I couldn't carry everything by hand so I had to try to fix it by tying the ends together. There was a homeless person on the train and I swear, I really do swear he gave me a look of pity. Pity from a tramp. Not one of my finest moments indeed. Then when I finally arrived at school huffing and puffing my teacher asked me 'Amanda why are you carrying your books in a broken plastic bag? Exhausted, frustrated, slightly delirous and a little more than embarassed from the weekend and mornings events I burst into a fit of tears/laughter which brought on even more strange looks of pity. But hey that's the thing about travelling you have to take the highs with the lows and this now seems all rather hillarious on reflection. The moral of this story: I need to not travel with anything worth stealing and I definitely need to get a little more sleep!

Posted by amanda_w24 17:21 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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