Thursday, 13 June 2013

Finally, My "Top 10" Lists...

Top 10 Specific Sights
Machu Picchu
Amazon River & Jungle
Iguasu Falls
Perito Moreno Glacier
Torres del Paine
Volcano Villarrica
Uyuni Salt Flats
Tiera del Fuego, Patagonia
Death Road

Top 10 Activities
Sledding down Volcano Villarrica on my bum
Snorkelling in the Gallapagos
Sandboarding in Huanchina
Rafting grade 4+ rapids in Banos
Paragliding in Merida
Ice trekking on Glacier Viedmar
Zip-lining over Death Road
Canyoning in Merida
Surfing in Mancora
Boat ride under Iguasu Falls

Top 10 Breath-taking Views
Experiencing sunset with hundreds of Caiman in Southern Pantanal
Watching huge calvings at Perito Moreno Glacier
The Andes with its mental switchbacks and weird moonlike rock formations
Dune buggying down incredible sand dunes at Huacachina
View of Machu Picchu from guard house
Pure vastness of Uyuni Salt Flats
The Humming Birds and Palm trees in Salento, picture perfect views
The clearest Milky Way I've ever seen, at sea in the Galapagos
Beautiful mountains around Tupiza - incredible colours of terracotta, pink, brown, orange,
ochre, yellow, beige, grey, white and green. Absolutely stunning, a pure feast for the eyes.
Climbing up and beyond the cloud level at Villarrica in Pucon, surrounded by white snow and ice.

Top 10 Boat/Plane Trips
Galapagos Cruise
Slow boat up Amazon River
Helicopter ride over Iguasu Falls
Brazilian boat trip under Iguasu Falls
Flight over Angel Falls
Los Llanos boat trip, wildlife galore
Flight over Nazca Lines
Beagle Canal in Ushuaia
Southern Pantanal canoe ride
Boat trip in Ibera

Top 10 Lows of Trip
Learning my nan passed away when I arrived in Manaus
Having to put up with sand flies and their horrendous bites.
Pete having to leave the group in Lima
Duncan and Angela returning home in Quito
Suffering from altitude during Lares trek, and feeling like crap
Losing not one, but two, big toenails (vanity reasons purely)
Saying goodbye to ten people at the official trip end date.
Graham leaving the group in Mendoza.
Mist in Rio preventing hang-gliding over Sugar Loaf and making sight-seeing difficult.
Enduring cold showers - as you can see I'm struggling to gather lows here

Top 10 Catchphrases of Odyssey group members
Geoff: Lovely Day!
Kirsten: Choppy choppy
Mikkel: Not too shabby
Jeanne: Sort of
Heather: I'm tired
Heather: I'm hungry
Heather: I don't see the point of it
Ken: No, no, no, no, no
Colin: Gee whizz
Tony: Gordon Bennett

Top 10 Most Memorable Odyssey Moments
The entire Death Road party bus experience
Pete thundering out of the truck cab after the armadillo and both flips flops going flying into the scrub
(cue major thorn impalement in his feet!)
Mikkel catching the Caiman, and freaking out Vanessa ("fuck Mikkel, you dick!")
Mikkel catching the Tarrantula, and freaking out Pete (he leapt a foot off the ground)
Mikkel catching the Snake, and freaking out Kirsten ("fuck off, fuck off, fuck off")
Mikkel catching the Tortoise, storing it in his shower then giving it to Vanessa as birthday present,
gift wrapped with tinsel and everything ..... Hmm I'm seeing a pattern emerging here
Heather getting stuck in the mud en-route to Ibera and Pete putting mud in her ear
Duncan doing Ganham style dance everywhere. Getting mimicked very well by a mime in Cartagena
Heather's futile efforts to save some ducklings from seagulls
The after-effects of Ken and Duncan's drinking neat Cachaca session in the Southern Pantanal

** Disclaimer: no doubt I've forgotten loads of alternative answers, but right now these are my choices.
The lists are subject to change should my memory get jogged! **

And That's A Wrap - Back to BA for the Third and Final Time!


Back in Buenos Aires for the last time. It really is the end of the trip this time round - realisation is slowing dawning on me. I cannot prolong my little holiday and adventure bubble any longer, I will very soon have to return to reality.

For yet another final farewell meal, we headed to La Brigada restaurant after Geoff mentioned how when he was in BA back in November the waiters would cut the meat to be served with a spoon! Sounded nuts so we all agreed to check it out. The restaurant was like a museum for Argentine soccer with soccer jerseys and scarfs on the walls and ceilings, all collected by the owner.

We'd booked a table for 8pm, but the restaurant was still not open at this time. Instead we popped into the next door Achtung Bar for a quick drink to get the evening started. It still baffles me at how late people eat over here, especially when they seem to order huge hunks of meat as their main course at like 11pm.

On returning to the restaurant we discovered that the service was super attentive, perhaps a little too much so. Our waiter kept opening bottles and topping up wine glasses well before they were emptied, so we had no idea of how much we'd consumed. However, the wine was excellent, the meat superb and the company fantastic, so who cared! Speeches were made, stories reminisced, and future plans discussed. Worried that we had severely lost track of the wine bottle count, we settled up and headed for the bar again. At least that way we could safely not worry about overspending the last few remaining pesos that we had left.

The next morning again a lot of people were quite rough. The waiter was blamed, mixing drinks was blamed, even I was blamed by a cheeky few. Coincidently those feeling the roughest were those flying out that morning and afternoon - seriously what are the chances! (Ridiculously high I would have imagined). The rest of us fly out tomorrow morning and then the epic adventure will have reached its conclusion.

A few observations I've made on the trip: the media are often wrong; most places they deem “unsafe” are, in fact, very safe, (Colombia is my favourite country in South America). Travelling while sick sucks. Paying for toilets is extremely annoying. Sunrises are worth waking up early for, always! As we get older, a little more luxury is appreciated, (need I say 'upgrade': Tony, Geoff and Robin!). It is okay to say no to things that you don’t want to do. The more you travel, the more places and adventures you want to experience.

So to wrap up, over the past 28 weeks I've travelled over 35,000km around South America, seen 10 different countries, with 21 incredible fellow passengers, 4 Odyssey crew members and one amazing truck - all of whom are now considered my extended truck family! We've had highs and lows, sickness and health, incidents and accidents, fun and games, laughter and tears, and enough remarkable memories and 'best day evers' to last a lifetime. It's been emotional! Ciao for now chicas!!

(** Huge thanks to Francois for his photos **)

Wine Tasting in Montevideo


Wine tasting was the plan of action for Montevideo. Kirsten had arranged that we would visit two different wineries, one aimed at quality and one aimed at quantity mass production.

First winery was Juan Carrau where we sampled delicious red and whites wines. Each wine was tastier than the last, plus we had the added bonus of yummy nibbles! Rogan was delighted to find a nice Sauv Blanc and so bought a chilled bottle, opened and drank it (with the help of the group) on the minibus enroute to the second winery. Classy or what!

The second winery was H. Stagnari where we sampled another mixture of red and white wines. While the whites were drinkable, the reds were a lot harsher than the previous experience. This was not our favourite venue but they were much more generous with their helpings, plus let us empty the opened bottles! We're accommodating folks and duly obliged.

Food that night was more amazing steaks (they can rival Argentina any day here in Uruguay!) plus we kept the bottles of red flowing. Running low on funds, we abandoned the restaurant, returned to the hotel, acquired wine glasses from the bar and relocated to a hotel room to help people drink their earlier purchased bottles of red wine. Red wine while very tasty is terrible for staining the lips, teeth and tongue - usually why I avoid it at home. Our only consolation was that we were all sporting manic purple grins together! The next day there were a few sore heads, but thankfully yours truly was disgustingly chipper. Those worst off were quite irked that I had managed to get off scot free as most were ruing the nights activities since we had a three hour ferry ride back to Buenos Aires ahead of us...

Beach Haven at Punta del Diablo


Punta del Diablo is a seaside village whose permanent population is approx 400 inhabitants, mostly fishermen and artisans. During high tourism season, the population swells to approx 25,000, mostly with Argentinians, Brazilians and Europeans on holiday. Here we happily spent a few days, lazing on hammocks, playing with puppies, seeing beautiful sunrises, wandering along deserted beaches that sprawled for miles on end and sat in comfy seats by a roaring fire. It was an idyllic setting to simply chill, unwind and assess the trip.

I made it a point to wake up each morning in time to view sunrise on the beach since from here on in we will be in big cities. Amazingly I even managed to convince a few people to join me. It was a beautiful setting and watching the sun rise on the horizon kickstarted the day nicely. Would amble back to the hostel in time for breakfast and eat it while lounging in the leather chairs in front of the open fire which would still be smouldering from the night before. I am also delighted to report that the end of the trip has consisted of a lot more late nights, with people staying up until 3am at least three nights in a row. Shock horror! I've no idea where they discovered this new found stamina but hey I'm not complaining. Ken befriended a group of Uruguayan whiskey drinkers and despite neither being able to speak the other's language confidently, we muddled through with basic phrases and a lot of wild gesturing. Many hours of laughter later we bid 'buenos noches' to our new friends, crawling into bed at 04:20, just three hours before getting up again for sunrise.

The hostel was home to three adorable puppies, all of whom melted our hearts. Many an hour was frittered away playing with them, and on chilly nights they proved to be the perfect hot water bottle. If quarantine regulations did not exist they would have been smuggled out of Uruguay sharpish.

We helped Kirsten and Rogan with a massive truck clean, as Ithaca is heading into storage until November when she will be needed for the next trip. Every box and utensil was washed, and all the pots and pans had to be scoured. Sue played DJ and sneaky stashes of orange club bars and ginger nuts emerged for the busy workers. Luckily many hands make light work and so between seven of us we had the truck shipshape in no time.

Copious amounts of Merlot and Tannat were consumed nightly, and oddly enough we discovered that Uruguayan wine is very tasty. Fun and games were had most evenings and it was all very pleasant. Then unfortunately on our last night, out of nowhere, a rift developed in the group - I suppose it is to be expected after travelling together for so long, but it was still a shock and marred the rest of the trip. Our relaxing add-on had now been shattered, instead it left us all feeling awkward and a bit nervous of lingering tensions. Sadly the damage done was unrepairable and so two members chose to leave the rest of the group in Montevideo. It was an unfortunate end, but hopefully the last few days can be a bit less stressful now that harmony has seemingly returned.