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.