Welcome to my travel blog…

Home Page Pic of Me

Hi everyone and welcome to my travel blog. My name is Jennifer and I started my trip around South and Central America on 6 July 2013. I have a ticket back home to New Zealand on 1 February 2014.

I hope you enjoy my blogs. I will try to make them entertaining and informative. Please feel free to comment. I would love my site to be interactive.

Happy reading!

Help Support a Good Cause!

Hi Everyone

I am aware I have been pretty quiet on here for a while…in fact I have been just outright slack! I arrived back in New Zealand in April 2014 after spending 9 months in South America and since arriving back, I have been busy going through the extensive process of becoming a Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) volunteer.

I am really thrilled to be going to Samoa early next month on a 6 month assignment as Office Management Adviser for Farmers Samoa Incorporated. A whole new adventure to blog about (once I have updated you with some more of my South American adventures.)

Because VSA isn’t Government funded, the money has to come from somewhere. Volunteers are asked to do some fundraising in order for VSA to continue their awesome work…VSA send people, not money. They also ensure that the work the volunteers do is sustainable once the volunteers leave. I will be recruiting a local person to continue with the Office Management once I leave.

So, how can you help? Very easily…please visit my fundraising page and make a donation…it’s as simple as that. Just click here and you will be taken to my page.

No donation is too small! If you are in New Zealand, any donations over $5.00 are of course tax deductible, so you will receive a receipt.

Please note, your donation doesn’t go directly to the assignment I am doing. It goes into the VSA pool of funds to help all VSA volunteers. Donations can also be made by my overseas friends.

Thank you in advance for your help and support. You are making the difference to many lives in Asia and the Pacific.

“VSA is New Zealand’s largest and most experienced volunteer agency working in international development. We bring together New Zealanders and our Asia-Pacific neighbours to share their skills and experience, working to transform lives and create a fair future for all.

Sir Edmund Hillary, VSA’s founding President, believed passionately that if people work together in equal partnership they can achieve great things. Today VSA knows that we make the most difference through people, partnerships and the lasting relationships these create.” …via VSA’s website. You can read more at about VSA by clicking here.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, you will find information on VSA’s website, or contact me. I am more than happy to share my positive experience thus far.

Beautiful Arequipa, Peru…

Wednesday, 31 July 2013 was my last of eight days in beautiful Arequipa, Peru. It was a fairly laid back time. Every day was lovely and sunny; just like a nice summers day back home in New Zealand.

Samana Wasi Hostel

Room at Samana Wasi Hostel

I was staying at Samana Wasi hostel. I had booked a single room for two nights because they didn’t have dorms and a single room at this hostel was much the same price at 19 soles as a dorm anyway. I was shown to a room that had three beds and an ensuite. Apparently all the single rooms were full. I didn’t mind being upgraded as long as it wasn’t costing me more.

The room was made of the volcanic stone that a lot of Arequipa is made from. It smelt rather musty and the surfaces of everything were filthy. At least it had a desk, I could get wifi in the room and it also had a TV. The breakfast that was included is excellent – a fried egg (or half an avocado), two large bread rolls, fresh fruit juice, butter, jam and tea. Read more on my hostel review page here.

The first day, I did my usual wander around the city. I was sitting in Plaza de Armas and looked over to see a familiar face looking at me. I could hardly believe it, of all the places in the world to bump into Samuel again. I had met Samuel three years ago when I was in Cuzco. He had taken a fancy to me and we kept in touch through Facebook and Skype. He is a street juggler and has no money. For some reason I ended up paying for meals and bus tickets. I figured at the time, I didn’t really mind because he spoke good English and showed me places that tourists don’t know about. We had a bit of a falling out about a year ago when I hadn’t heard from him for ages and he contacted me saying he was stuck in the Amazon and could I give him some money. I was really furious and told him how rude it was to ask me for money. He couldn’t understand my annoyance and deleted me as a Facebook and Skype contact. He was very apologetic about what had happened. I was determined this time, if he wanted to hang out, then he would have to pay for himself. He showed me some more of the town and I got attacked by mosquitos. They are more vicious than the mosquitos at home and I came up in big red blobs that swell up…not pleasant at all!

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

I can’t believe how far my money is going in Peru, compared to Chile. I went to the supermarket and got 2 litres of water (you can’t drink the tap water in Peru, unless you want to get sick!), loaf of brown bread (up until now, all I have found is white bread), 2 tomatoes, 1 litre of milk, cracker biscuits, red onion, green tea, drinkable yoghurt (I love it), all for about NZ$13.00. My cough isn’t any better so found a Farmacia (pharmacy) and she sold me six Azumet tablets which were quite expensive really at 30 soles (NZ$13.50). I just hope they work.

I decided to stay in Arequipa a bit longer so booked a few more nights. I had to move into a single room because the large room I was in was booked. The room I moved to was quite sunny and didn’t smell musty. It was rather small but at least I had a desk, wifi and a TV. The bathroom was just outside my door and I seemed to be the only one using it. I was getting really annoyed at constantly asking for “baño papel” (toilet paper) though! They also didn’t empty the toilet paper bin until I asked them to, nor did they clean the bathroom the whole time I was there.

The next day I was to have met Samuel in Plaza de Armas. I waited for half an hour but he didn’t show. Typical of South Americans! They have no concept of time. I decided to go and visit the Museo de Arte Virreinal Santa Teresa. The entry was 10 soles (NZ$4.40). I had read that if you had an English speaking guide you had to tip them. I was offered a guide and declined. However, this lovely young man said he didn’t mind. I asked him how much he expected as a tip and he said nothing, it was included in the 10 soles. I thought, well why not then? There were a lot of religious paintings and sculptures. The techniques were really interesting but I can’t say the paintings or sculptures appealed to me. The church and the grounds were the only place I was allowed to take photos. If you want to see a lot more photos, then click here for a link to photos on the internet.

Me & Ernesto

Me & Ernesto

I had just left the museum and was taking a photo across the street, when next minute, these two guys were chatting to me. I had no idea what they said at first. When they discovered I spoke English, one could speak a bit and the other couldn’t speak any. They asked me to go for a drink and I thought, yeah why not? We went to this back street ‘bar’ where I was the only woman, apart from the waitress who had huge breasts that were just about falling out of her t-shirt! I don’t normally drink beer so they ordered me an Inca Cola. It is bright yellow and rather sweet. However, I did end up partaking in the beer ceremony which was interesting. They would pour a bit into a glass and drink it then the glass and bottle got passed to the next person and this continued. There was a jug that the froth left in the glass got tipped into. More often than not, they would just tip it on the concrete floor. Ernesto (who was rather a hottie) took me to have some ceviche. They had run out of it so we had a similar version that had quite a bit of liquid and was served in a glass and had a slice of sweet potato in it. It was really delicious. Hung out with him for the rest of the day and later went to a chifa and had a typical Peruvian meal of rice, fried bits and pieces and chips. It was a huge plate of food for only 6 soles (NZ$2.60). There was some kind of rehearsal for something in Plaza de Armas. I guessed it may have been something for Peru Independence day that was coming up on 28 July. We listened and watched that for a while, then Ernesto walked me back to the hostel. He asked for my number but I don’t have a local SIM card. He does have my email address so hopefully he will email me.

Plaza San Francisco

Plaza San Francisco

I was starting to get into a routine of having breakfast, doing my Spanish lesson, catch up on Facebook and emails and in the afternoon going to a small Plaza called San Francisco. I would either do another Spanish lesson or catch up my diary. It was amazing how many guys would go past and say “hola” (hello) and/or come and talk to me. They couldn’t speak English but with my limited Spanish, there seemed to be a common theme…what is my name, where am I from (they are always really impressed when I say New Zealand, they probably expect me to be American), did I smoke weed and did I want to go have a cerveza (beer). It was so funny. One named Ricardo (he had his name tattooed on his chest, must have been incase he forgot his name!), the only English he knew was “hello baby, I’m crazy for you”. I just laughed, who teaches them this English? The Peruanos are definitely a lot more outgoing and friendly than the Chilenos!

Ricardo

Ricardo

One day a girl came and sat near me in Plaza San Francisco and I could see she was reading some English lessons books. I got up the courage to ask her “disculpe, tu estudiar English?” (excuse me, you study English?). She said yes and came over and we had a bit of a chat, but it was kind of difficult because she didn’t really know much English but we went through a few things in her book. I even discovered that one of her books had errors in it! How is that helpful to someone learning English?

Mini ceviche

Mini Ceviche

Samuel asked if I wanted to go and have lunch one day. I said I wanted to have ceviche. It is divine and very healthy! I thought, “he better be prepared to pay for himself!” We found some out of the way cevicheria and got the set menu. It started with a fruit juice and fried corn that is like a nibble. I am addicted to it. Much healthier than having potato chips. Next we had a very watery seafood soup but it was very tasty. Then came mini ceviche served in two shells. For my main I had ceviche which was awfully hot, but oh so good. It’s not often as hot at this one was. Click here to read more about ceviche and discover some recipes. Samuel had fried seafood with rice. My meal was 17 soles (NZ$7.50). I’m pleased to say that Samuel did pay for his own.

The other touristy thing I did was visit “Museo Santuarios Andinos” where the famous mummy of “Juanita” is housed (Juanita is also my daughter’s name). It was 20 soles entry (NZ$8.80), plus they tell you you have to tip the guide. It started off with a really interesting 20 minute video all about her discovery. She is the best preserved mummy ever found in Peru. Because of the high altitude her body was frozen so her organs, fluids, skin and clothes are really well preserved. It was terrible to hear how these young boys and girls were sacrificed to the Gods at such a young age. You can read more about “Juanita” by clicking here and watch a short video below  about “Juanita” and a couple of other Incan mummies.

After a bit of research and tossing up between Ica, Pisco or Paracas. I decided my next stop would be Paracas. I managed to book a Cruz del Sur bus that goes to Lima via Paracas. This time, because it was a 12 hour trip, I decided I would spend an extra NZ$13.00 and get a cama (bed) which is downstairs in the bus and there are only 12 seats. Cama seats were 150 soles (NZ$66.00).

Cruz del Sur Counter

Cruz del Sur Counter

I could have booked online via Cruz del Sur but didn’t have any way to print my itinerary. I did find out later that as long as you have your booking number, you just go and get your ticket at the Cruz del Sur office. I found a travel agent that booked buses. Fortunately I had checked it all out online because the guy who didn’t speak English had booked me on a bus to Ica and it was only 115 soles (NZ$50.00) and this just didn’t feel right. Fortunately there was another guy there who could speak English and he sorted it out.

I got a taxi to the bus terminal for 7 soles. It was 2 soles cheaper than from the terminal to the hostel when I arrived so I guess the holidays must have finished. He dropped me at the roadside because from what I could gather it was another 3 soles to be dropped at the entrance of the terminal. It was only a 50 metre walk. The Cruz del Sur depot was the best yet. They had a lovely departure lounge. I was so glad I spent the extra on a cama seat. They were nice big seats and I managed to get a reasonable night’s sleep. We were served dinner which was horrible…hard cold over-salted rice with some kind of chicken stuff that was also cold, an apple cake thing that was burnt on the bottom and some other mysterious thing that tasted good. I could have had tea or coffee but declined because they had no leche (milk). That is quite normal in South America. I guess everyone must drink their tea and coffee without milk. I also had a screen in front of me that had internet access, albeit rather slow, a choice of movies and music. I watched Taken 2 which was fortunately in English with Spanish subtitles. Often they are dubbed in Spanish so I can’t watch them.

Thanks for dropping by, my next blog will be about my adventures in Paracas.

Arica, Chile to Arequipa, Peru…

My journey from Arica, Chile to Arequipa, Peru on 23 July 2013 was an interesting one.

A colectivo in Arica, Chile

A colectivo in Arica, Chile

I walked to the bus station and after paying 250 Chilean pesos tax (NZ$0.60 – have no idea what kind of tax it was), I then had to stand in line for about an hour to wait for a colectivo (taxi) that ferries five people at a time across the border to Tacna, Peru. The trip is 400 Chilean pesos (NZ$9.70), but because I had a heavy bag I had to pay 600 Chilean pesos (NZ$14.50). I was in a taxi with a Chilean couple, a young Peruvian guy and a lovely older Peruvian lady who could speak really good English. She had worked as a tourist guide for a year. It was so helpful having her on this trip!

At the border control, because it was winter holidays, it was extremely busy. A lot of Chilean’s go over the border to Peru to buy cheap items. The young guy was sent to stand in line to save our place while the car slowly got nearer where the driver could park. Once through the border control, we had to go to the car, get our bags, go back to the office and put our bags through the x-ray machine. I thought it was all over and we would soon be in Tacna…wrong! We had to go through some other kind of control after that and the queue was huge! We got dropped off at the national bus terminal.

Border control between Chile and Peru

Border control between Chile and Peru

I had been told I had to cross the road to the International bus terminal to get a bus to Arequipa. First thing I needed to do was get some Peruvian sols from the ATM. Before I know it, I am falling into the old trap of getting hustled to get a bus to Arequipa! All I heard was “Arequipa”. Yes, that was me! This guy who could speak very little English leads me across the road and he’s trying to tell me the time the bus is going. However, I’m no good on the times in Spanish yet, so it meant nothing. I guessed from the rush, it was leaving soon. We got to the counter of the Moquegua buses which looked nice in the picture so that was a relief. My bag was being pushed under the rail to get it on the luggage trolley. I had to say “espere” (wait) because I didn’t even know the cost! It turned out it was 20 Peruvian sols (NZ$9.00). That was ok, then he escorts me to another counter where I had to pay tax of 1 Peruvian sol (NZ$0.44). We then go back to the bus counter and I’m told I have to pay more because of my heavy bag! He said he would take Chilean pesos and it would be 2,000 (NZ$5.00), more than half the bus ticket cost! He just stuffed it into his pocket. I’m sure I got ripped off on that one. Then the guy who hustled me wanted a tip (it’s all coming back to me now, you NEVER get anyone to help you with anything, unless you want to give them a tip). I had a few Chilean pesos so gave him some of them.

Bus check in Peru

Bus check in Peru

I had a window seat and lucky enough not to have anyone sit by me the whole way. We seemed to stop a number of times just in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason. One place however, was like a bus check. An official got on and was collecting all the locals’ identification cards. I just had to show my passport. We had to get off, walk through the building to the other side of the gates. The luggage hold of the bus was open, they seemed to be doing a good old check. After about 10 minutes the gates were open and the bus was allowed to proceed.

After six hours in a semi-cama seat, I arrived at Arequipa bus station. I had been warned not to get a taxi outside the terminal because they are renowned for taking you somewhere and robbing you. There were several legitimate taxi drivers at the entrance to the bus terminal. I asked one “cuanta cuesta” (how much) and showed him the address of the hostel. He said 10 sols. The hostel had said it should only be 5 – 8 sols. I said to him it was too much. He pointed in the direction of outside the terminal and I guessed he was saying I could get cheaper if I wanted to go outside. But of course I didn’t, because I was likely to get robbed! I walked away and composed myself and then went back and asked another driver. He also said 10 sols but we ended up agreeing on 9 sols. I was to find out later, because it was the holidays they charge more! At least I got to the hostel safely.

Goodbye Arica, Chile…

I arrived in Arica about 5.30am after a nine hour bus trip from San Pedro de Atacama. The hostel was supposed to be a 5 minute walk from the bus terminal. However, given that I had no idea which way to turn once outside the bus terminal and that it may not be safe at that hour of the morning, I hailed a taxi. Only 2,000 pesos (NZ$5.00) so well worth it.

Arica Unite Hostel

Arica Unite Hostel

I was a wee bit dubious about where the taxi took me, however there was the sign “Arica Unite” which set my mind at ease. Sometimes the nicest hostels look really grotty from the outside. I rang the bell and waited for a bit and then a lovely lady greeted me. She showed me to my room (another top bunk!), the toilets and went back to bed. I was in a four bed dorm which is smaller than the six bed dorms I have had previously.

The hostel owners are a lovely French couple; Jenny and Nico. It’s a lovely laid back, quiet hostel and there are only about eight or so here at any time. It is a wee bit noisy at the moment because they are having some rooms added upstairs and a deck where they can serve breakfast. The breakfast is very basic…2 pieces of toast, butter, jam and coffee or peppermint tea, but hey it fills a gap in the morning.

Didn’t venture too far from the hostel the day I arrived. Just down to the local market to get some veges, fruit, water and milk. I thought I would do a stir-fry. My experience getting meat from the butcher was interesting. I picked what looked like pre-packed schnitzel. I apparently didn’t pay him. He weighed it and gave me a ticket. I was then directed to the cashier. I then wondered where I went after that and two ladies behind me directed me onto yet another lady who took my receipt and gave me my meat!

I have developed quite a bad chesty cough and decided tomorrow I would have to go in search of a Farmacia (pharmacy) to get some cough medicine. I got prepared and Googled how to ask for cough medicine – “medicamentos para la tos”. Love you Google translator! Wrote it in my notebook just in case I forgot how to ask for it. Drugs are soooo cheap over here a 120ml bottle of cough medicine cost only 1,400 pesos (NZ$3.50). We get totally ripped off in New Zealand for that kind of thing.

Arica from Morro de Arica

Arica from Morro de Arica

Next day was nice and sunny and had Googled things to see in Arica the previous night. My mission was to climb up Morro de Arica which is quite a significant and much photographed feature in Arica. It took me about half an hour to walk there and found a street that led to the rather steep walkway up Morro de Arica. The first part was the steepest and the whole climb only took me 10 minutes. I have to say it was well worth the view of the city. Unfortunately Arica seems to have this kind of haze that hangs over the city even when it is sunny, but still a stunning view nonetheless.

Port of Arica from Morro de Arica

Port of Arica from Morro de Arica

When I got back to the hostel, since it was Saturday night, I thought a wee wine would be quite nice. Off I set to find a bottle store, not difficult…bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for 2,400 pesos (NZ$6.00). A bag of chips would be nice too. Not much of a choice…plain, plain or wow plain! They were rather expensive at 1,400 pesos (NZ$3.50). My night in by myself with my wine, chips and internet was short lived when two Belgium girls and a German girl arrived. Out came the pisco that we were drinking straight on the rocks! Arica is an olive growing area so were having olives with our pisco. I’m not a great fan of olives, but I am now hooked. These ones were delicious, nothing like the crap ones you get in a jar back in New Zealand. Great conversation…a bit of dancing and then hit the sack!

Me and Angelique from Belgium

Me and Angelique from Belgium

Didn’t feel too good the next morning, because of my terrible cough of course…nothing to do with drinking a bottle of wine and I don’t know how many pisco’s!

Had a whole day in the hostel just chilling and thinking I really should think about moving on. After all I had originally only booked in for two nights which has turned into five, including the morning of the night of the 18 July which I booked for. Had looked at a number of websites offering volunteer work. I gave up on it for now as they either wanted you for too long (about three months), I would have to detour off my roughly chartered travel path or they want people with a good level of Spanish. There is plenty of time yet if I do decide to pursue voluntary work.

Last day in Arica and I went to the market just to get enough food for lunch and dinner. Then went for a wander down to the beach. Another very hazy day but pleasant at the beach. Sat there for a bit and updated my diary.

Tune in for your next instalment in about five days.

Chau!

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile…

After getting over my initial melt down when I arrived at the bus station at San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, I have enjoyed a lovely three days here.

The trip from Santiago with Tur-Bus only took about 25 hours. When I got off the bus it was like a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’s nightmare. Nothing but dusty roads! It was suppose to be a 10 minute walk to the hostel. I had a map but having no street signs, and it being dark did not help matters. A massive tip…try and take only one bag! I have my backpack, a trolley bag and a day pack (plus my handbag). At this point I was definitely cursing myself for packing so much stuff. However, I can’t dispose of any of my winter stuff just yet because, although it is the desert, it is hot during the day, but the temperature drops way down at night.

Backpackers San Pedro

Backpackers San Pedro

After about half an hour and showing a couple of people my map (who didn’t really understand any English), I came upon Backpackers San Pedro. More disappointment lay in wait. The six bed mixed dorm was sooooo small there was no rooms for my two large bags. Fortunately there was another small adjoining room so I set up in there. I also had a top bunk…I hate top bunks! There were no steps up to it and it was as rickety as anything. I felt like the whole thing could collapse…poor person beneath me! I couldn’t even sit up in bed as my head would have gone through the ceiling. The bottom bunk wasn’t any better, no room to sit on the bed without hitting your head on the top bunk. Next challenge was the crappy lockers. Not only are they tiny, one could yank the door and the parts you put your padlock through would just break away. Next was the shower…the instructions said to turn it onto hot and wait for it to heat up, after five minutes the hot water automatically shuts off. No problem, you just start the process again. What I found amusing was they had signs everywhere saying “Save Water, Save the World” (after all San Pedro is in the driest desert in the world). I fail to see how running all that water down the drain while you wait for the water to get hot, then it is so hot you have to waste a whole lot more water waiting for it to cool down is helping to save water!

Backpackers San Pedro Hostel Cats

Backpackers San Pedro Hostel Cats

So enough of the moaning…it would be a boring trip without these little challenges. I have realised that being adaptable when travelling is something that is crucial. One thing that has made me happy is the two resident cats at the hostel. One morning they were both cuddled up on my bed when I woke. Everyone is friendly here and have had nice room-mates.

The first day here I went for a wander around the town. I discovered that there was a shorter route from the bus station to the hostel so will take that route when I go back to the bus station. It’s a lovely little town. It has a very Peruvian feel to it with a lot of the same handicrafts as Peru. There was a street parade which I love. The music is so uplifting and the dancing and costumes are a sight to see. I had an empanada and café con leche (coffee with milk) at a little café. The empanada was huge and sometimes you just don’t quite get what you expect to. I was brought a cup of hot milk. I was starting to think, hmmmmm, where is the coffee? Next minute a jar of Nescafe is put on my table! The coffee wasn’t very strong so had to add about 5 teaspoons of coffee. It was actually a really nice cup of coffee with hot milk.

Andes at sunset taken from Valle de la Luna

Andes at sunset taken from Valle de la Luna

The next day I did a tour through the hostel to Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) and Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). Our lovely guide Elise (who also runs the hostel with her husband), told us a lot of history about both these places. We walked through a salt cave and had to use torches, otherwise it was pitch black. The whole area is salt that has hardened. It is only brown because of the layers of dust that have settled over the years. There is very little rain here so the dust never gets washed away. There are a few patches here and there where you can see the white of the salt. We climbed up to the top of a sand dune in Moon Valley to watch the sunset. During the sunset the Andes change to some beautiful shades of pink. Quite a lovely sight.

I have spent my last day here just chilling out in the hostel waiting for my bus at 8.30pm to Arica which is north of Chile, just 18km from the Peruvian border.

A week into my travels…

I honestly can’t believe I have only been away from New Zealand for a week. It feels like so much longer.

Aji Hostel, Santiago de Chile

Aji Hostel, Santiago de Chile

One thing that has struck me quite profoundly this time travelling, is that everyone in a hostel is an equal. It doesn’t matter what we do/did for a job, what kind of house we live in, what kind of car we drive…all that is left behind and we are all equals. We share…rooms, bathrooms, common areas and meals together. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone loves listening to everyone else’s stories. We all look out for on another…it’s really nice.

It is often hard to move on from a hostel where you have met great people…some will keep in touch, others come into our lives for a short time and then move on, or we move on.

I believe the important thing is to cherish the moments and look forward to the future adventures and the new places and people that I will meet.

In a couple of hours I move onto the next stage of my adventure in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. It’s going to be about a 30 hour bus trip, it’s going to be the first really long bus trip for me but definitely the cheapest way to get around.

Until next time…adios