Tahiti Briefly

Well as this internet cafe is the worlds most expensive I have to say something quick on Tahiti as well as Easter Island, it is very built up, but it is still fairly nice.

Further Studies of Easter Island

So on Tuesday I had a lazy morning at my accommodation before heading to the Ahu Vinaphu on my Bike. Unlike the day before when I didn’t use the bike I’d rented at all, simply taking it to and from my accommodation and the internet cafe. The Ahu Vinaphu is located behind the island’s oil storage facility so I went the wrong way down the road at first not realising that the road to the oil storage sneakly cut off to the side along the fence of the refinery. According to my hotel oil is the only thing brought to the island by ship rather than plane and this means petrol is comparitavely cheap (I think there is an occassional cargo ship to bring cars and stuff as well).

Anyhow I wanted to go to this particular Ahu as although it has no standing Moai it has an inca wall like Cusco and that is unlike any of the other walls on the island which are made of rough stones. Maybe the incas boated out here at some point. After that I went back to town and went for an early supper (as seemed to be a theme I met some more people from my full day tour of the island at supper) to catch the sunset at Tahai which was surrounded by the most tourists I’ve seen in one place on the island. Even so it was spectacular.

Then on Wednesday it was fairly cold and cloudy first thing in the morning. Fortunately by the time I had checked my email and finished my packing it had started to clear up. By 12 noon I headed off for a walk to the highest point on the island, this was fun as the path wasn’t great but that did make it slow going. Unfortunately at one point the path dried up so I had to turn back but I still got some good views. On the way back I took the coast road which was much slower than the island route I took out, taking about an hour longer to get back. In the evening I headed to a restaurant for what will probably be my final Pisco sour of the trip.

First few days in Easter Island

To understand everything here and so I don’t have to write masses of background you should read some of the basic history of the island, for example on the Wikipedia Page for the island.

So I’ve been in Easter Island for a few days now. On Friday when I arrived I had a late lunch after my flight and explored the village. I also headed to the excellent Easter Island museum where I learnt some more about the history of the island (but actually quite a bit of it was already in the Rough Guide’s context sections on Easter Island) telling me about the fighting on the island and the petroglyphs and the theories for moving the statues and the top knots.

Then on Saturday I took the short loop around by bike near the village. As usual the seat wasn’t that comfy, and the chain came off when I went into the highest gear but otherwise it was fine. First I headed to the topknot quarry which was very interesting and showed some topknots that weren’t completed, it is worth noting that now very few of the statues actually have topknots due to erosion and the fact that all of the statues were toppled from their platforms in the 18th century. Then after that I cycled further down the gravel road to a site called Ahu Akivi which is the only set of statues on the island which look out to sea, as even though they are almost all located around the coast all of the others look into the land. After that I found two sets of caves which people lived in during the violence in the later part of the pre-European time on the island. Finally I headed to some more caves overlooking the sea very impressively, the entrances was also very narrow and you needed are torch.

The on Sunday I headed on a full day guided tour of the island to see some more platforms, the quarry where the statues themselves were carved including the largest statue on the island (that is still in the quarry), the only thing unexpected about the quarry was that it was grassed over much more than I expected. We also saw the 15 moai that stand up in one place just below the quarry. Then after lunch we saw the largest statue outside the quarry which hadn’t been re-stood up and a 200% genuine beach on the island (the sand went back in a big square) and I went swimming in the fairly cold sea on the beach. I was also told about the maoi in the British musuem which apparently has a lot of detail on it that is unique (as the others have been outside probably) although it is well kept it is apparently excellently located near the toilets which is a bit sad, I’m going to check it out when I get back to the UK in the spring.

Then today I walked up to Orongo which is a restored village. This village was only occupied for a few weeks a year during the birdman ceremony and had been reconstructed in the 1970’s. This was really interesting and it was really windy up there as well. On the surprisingly long walk up I also saw some gardens of native plants but a lot of them were sadly overgrown. I also saw the amazing volcanic crater Ranu Kao which was amazingly green inside as it was protected from the elements (a lot of plants are grown in this way on Easter Island, though obviously on a smaller scale with a 50cm wall rather than a giant crater).

Tonight I’m going to try and see the sunset so I need to get off and have my supper now. Tomorrow I’m probably going to do some snorkelling.

On Easter Island

I’ve just landed into Easter Island, I even have the traditional band of flowers given on arrival. We arrived into what appears to be gate 1 at the massive airport and I definitely wasn’t sure which belt to get my bag from as there was no monitor for the flights.

I was picked up by my very cool accommodation at the airport and they gave me a tour of the town. If the “Americas” awards included Easter Island they’d be getting best accommodation for sure.

This is only brief as I want to get off and explore the island.

Summary of the trip: Americas

I was always going to give some awards at the end of my trip, but so they stay relevant I am going to do some as I go along. So I’m going to split my trip into thirds. Firstly the Americas, then Oceania and Japan, and finally mainland Eurasia. Then finally I’ll sum up the whole thing.

Best site

Iguazu, Argentina and Brazil, although Machu Picchu was pretty special out didn’t quite take my breath away in the same way.

Honourable mention

Machu Picchu, well that much is obvious. It is an epic site.

Best museum

The Holocaust Museum, Washington DC, it tried so hard to just give the facts. I learnt a lot about the recent history of the Jews and that reflects heavily on the middle east today. Well worth a visit.

Best tour company

Layana, San Pedro as they gave detailed explanations in English of the sites we were seeing. They also weren’t too pricy.

I have to admit in general I haven’t been too impressed and was going to give it to the Sinh Cafe from my last trip to Vietnam.

Best city

New York for it’s incredible range of stuff to do in the day. having half decent nightlife as well and also having excellent transportation.

Honourable mention

Santiago, a hidden gem that I didn’t expect to be great. But aside from all it’s attractions seemingly shutting on Sunday and Monday every week it is actually a pretty nice place. Though its worth noting that even in Providencia it does have a sinister feel sometimes, especially after dark (though nothing personally happened to me or anyone I know in Santiago).

Best non-family accommodation

I’m not ranking my family/free accommodation as you all looked after me well so I’m picking the best accommodation I paid for.

Sunny Days, Arica Chile provided all you can eat breakfasts, excellent rooms and good advice on the city as well as a kitchen and lounge area with good cable TV.

Best food for under US$25 (excluding service)

Just in case I get taken to the local equivalent if La Manior I’ve stuck a price limit on this but the winner is Steak in Buenos Aires at a small restaurant at Defensa and Independencia which was above and beyond anything I’d had before.

Honourable mention

Pacha Papa, Cusco for it’s excellent food and exquisite service.

Best nightlife

Chicago, Buenos Aires is close but frankly it’s too late for me to start clubbing at 2am.

Friendliest People

El Soberio. After falling ill I was looked after really well by the people of El Soberio. And I improved my terrible Spanish a bit too.

Best transportation company

Via Barriloche, Argentina for providing good food, drink and comfortable seats for only a little more than the competition.

Most useful material possession

iPod Touch for letting me write these blog posts when on buses and public transport and having lots of other useful information on it.

Best bargain

Plastic playing cards in Cusco for US$0.67 that are fully plastic so should last well.

Biggest rip-off

Postada la bonita for accommodation worth a generous US$10/night costing US$100/night.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

And the winner is SHOOTER which was an excellent and clever movie about a presidential assasination. I really want to see the end of it as we arrived in Tacna so I missed it.

Honourable Mention

Don’t mess with the Zohan I quite enjoyed this movie about the Israeli superspy Zohan but my friends I was with thought it wasn’t that great.

More adventures in Santiago

On Sunday I again got up fairly late (I clearly needed to catch up with my sleep) and at about 11 I headed back to the centre. First I headed to the national history museum on the Plaza de Armas. Unlike the description n the guide book it was a well organized history in mostly chronological order from prehistory (which was only covered briefly) up to the Pinochet coup. Most of it was only in Spanish but thanks to my lessons I managed to get the gist of most of what was being said. The Pinochet section included a copy of the British Sunday Observer (the Sunday version of the Guardian) from the time. It was also interesting as it also included a lot of coverage of the IRA campaign which had just begun at the time, it was surprisingly neutral on the terrorists aims. Much more so than the press would be today in the UK or US. After that I headed to Cerro Santa Lucia which is a park close to the city centre that winds up the hill to a castle at the top with views of the centre of the city. The park was surprisingly quiet given it’s central location and there were several other buildings apart from the castle to look at so it was pleasant. The only unpleasant thing was that it was full of couples making out. Even though
I’m fairly liberal on these things my innate Britishness did make me feel a little quesy from all these public displays of affection.

After that I took a long train ride round to Provendcia to see what I could see. The train did briefly go above ground and although the buildings weren’t amazing I’ve seen worse in Chicago and I imagine the south-side where Obama worked is worse.

After that I wandered back to my accommodation through the pretty streets of Providencia but as it was a Sunday most of the streets were empty probably because the people were in church making out in a park. In the evening I headed to the Cinema to see Journey to the Centre of the Earth but unfortunately it had been dubbed into Spanish so I didn’t go.

Today I first had some chores complete before I had another wander through the centre for lunch at a “cheap” Japanese restaurant. I had Sushi which was good and there was plenty of food but US$20 is far from cheap. I did enjoy the walk though, walking through cities isn’t something I generally enjoy but I do seem to find it fun here in Santiago. After lunch I had another wander throgb Provedencia as all the museums I wanted to see were closed as it’s Monday before I get my bus to Valpariso.

Santiago

So I got my flight down to Santiago yesterday morning and arrived at my hostel in the early afternoon. I got the bus in from Santiago airport and then the clean modern and extremely frequent (there are practically trains every minute in the week) metro to my hostel.

After grabbing some cheap lunch I headed over to Cerro San Cristóbal. There is usually a funicular to the top of this hill but it is currently shut for maintainence so I walked up the hill. As the guide book assumes you’ll take the funicular no walking instructions were given so I walked up to the zoo. At which point there was no obvious path but after a short time I resumed my climb. It did seem to take forever to reach the top as the path wound around the hill and I was sweating like a pig by the time I got to the top. At the top there were impressive views of the city as well as a large statue of the virgn Mary making it a little like I imagine Rio is.

Then after a short wander round the top I headed over to the cable car station to get the cable car down the other side of the hill. This is run with bubble cars that are tiny. Just big enough for my bag and me. This then takes you to a car park on the other side which is in the leafy district of Provendencia. After a short walk I landed up back at the river where I first saw boys getting money at the traffic lights by balancing a long pole on their chins. It was very impressive and obviously when the lights changed they had to get out the way so they only had a short chance to get money. After this I headed into the park on the riverbank which was full of statues and lovers kissing, something you don’t see a park devoted to back in the UK. As the sun set I headed in a couple of blocks and got the metro back to my accommodation. This gave me a chance to practice my Spanish to find out where the station was.

Then this morning after a good nights sleep I had breakfast and then found what my accommodation was doing about my room. After an hour of waiting it transpired that they didn’t have space after all so they found me alternative accommodation. By this point it was the afternoon and I headed to the central square the Plaza de Armes and the cathedral which was pretty but not as nice as Cusco’s. After that I went to the local pre-columnian museum which appears to be free today. Even though I have seen several before this one was interesting as it cover most of the Americas including Mexico and that was very interesting to find out a bit about. The pieces were also well explained in Spanish, English and often French too. The flaw with the museum was that it’s layout was a bit schitzophrenic and it was difficult to see the continuity between the different pieces.

Overall Santiago is without a doubt the richest city I’ve been in in South America and it seems comparable in wealth to cities in Europe and North America, though maybe a little poorer as I haven’t found the equivalent of Chelsea in London or the Upper East side in New York yet. The buildngs are very nice and the buses and metro are as nice as those in London. Chile is also apparently the worlds fastest growing economy at the moment which given the number of iPhone ads, especially in Santiago, doesn’t seem a total surprise. But still, I’d be surprised if it was growing faster than Viet Nam, it doesn’t have the same energy that I felt about Viet Nam when I was there.

Iquique

So after a fairly uneventful bus ride from San Pedro with the nice Tur Bus drivers making sure I got on the right buses and stuff I arrived in Iquique. Then I got a taxi to my hostel via waiting a while on the seafront for the chilean football supporters to celebrate their world cup qualifying victory which was random but fun.

Then upon arrival at the hostel even though it was lacking a meter apparantly had non-negotiable fares. Additionally the fare was twice as high as the quote on the hostels website (which apparently only applies to “radio taxis”, which must be a bit like private hire in the UK except with an even larger price premium for taxis on the street.) so I wasn’t particularly happy about it (the matter was further confused by the driver not using standard Spanish numbers as the Chileans love to do and the driver misunderstanding what uno mil means when asking about the price) I just assumed the taxi driver had joined the large number of dishonest taxi drivers worldwide who especially try and rip you off on arrival in the given town.

Anyhow the next day I headed into Iquique itself to see what the town had to offer; it has some fairly nice and free museums on the region. It also has an opera house which wasn’t free but had a lot of decaying British architecture which was interesting to see as a snapshot of what Britain could be like today. Maybe without the EU and the recent British governments it would be like that today.

The reason these buildings (there wee others aside from the opera house) look British is that they were built when Iquique was the worldwide leader in nitrate production and the managers of the nitrate companies were British. From the 1870’s nitrates mined here in northern chile were used for fertilizers before the Haber process for doing it artificially was invented by the Germans in world war one.

One of the old colonial buildings also had an excellent photo collection of modern contemporary photos taken at everything from Pinochet lying in state to government officials looking at scantily clad women to a child running through the police line at a protest.

In the afternoon I sat on the beach and rested in my room. To be honest I’m glad I only spent a day in Iquique as although it’s not the least exciting place I’ve stayed there isn’t much to do in the city itself except what I’ve done and then to take a one day tour of the nitrate towns.

The valley of the moon and the Tatio geysers

Over the past couple of days I’ve been busy here in San Pedro. Firstly two days ago I went to the valley of the moon. The valley of the moon is a deserty valley that is around 10km from San Pedro, as it is so close I decided to avoid the tour companies and go myself on a hired mountain bike.

I set off after lunch to do this, so I’d hopefully have a chance to see the sunset. After cycling down the fairly flat road to the valley itself, the road was the emptiest I’d ever seen and mostly you could see any cars in either direction. Then after paying the entrance fee I got to the first explanation point. From there they explained that there was a cave and canyon nearby to explore and for the cave I’d need a torch. Fortunately I had one with me and I set off to explore the cave, that let you crawl under rocks, and at times I had to take off my bag to make it underneath the rocks. In places you reemmerged into the light and got to see some strange but cool scenery.

After that I headed down the canyon where I had some fun with the timer and tripod for my camera, it took about 6 shots to get it straight and me in the picture, the insane brightness in the canyon doesn’t help you see the display on the camera. After that I headed further into the valley up a steep hill on my boke to see the great dune, the view from the top was incredible. Afterwards I headed onto see some more stuff but that wasn’t that interesting. By the time I headed back the sun was starting to set giving great shadows on the rocks, but as I was getting up at 4am the next day I thought I should be getting back and as I’ve seen more epic sunsets than I’ve had hot dinners on this trip I thought I’d give this one a miss.

Anyhow so the next day I got up at 3.45am and headed out of my hostel to head over to the geysers. We had to get up so early as geysers are more impressive when there is a large temperature difference between the water in the ground and the air temperature, and coupled with pressure below ground that is what causes them to spray water all over the place, as we were so high up and in the desert as soon as the sun appeared from behind the mountains the air suddenly heated up by several degrees so it was good that we had got there so early. After that I had a lazy afternoon and went to bed early at about 10pm. Today I’ve also had a fairly lazy morning as I was still tired, and I’ve had a few too many disturbed nights recently. Later today I’m off on the bus to Iquipe.