A Travellerspoint blog

The round up: Our trip in stats and some 'hairy' moments

In which we sign off

overcast 6 °C

So that's that. After a week visiting family and friends, we've finally made it back home to sunny (OK... not so sunny) Brighton. We've had 'Merry Marchmas' in Leicester - our belated Christmas in which it actually snowed...


... and surprised Marcus' mum on her birthday...


So it's been a good week, and it's given us time to reflect... and bore everyone with stories... about what we've done in the last five months. And because we do love a good list, and some exciting stats, we thought we'd leave you with a few of those...

We have taken twelve flights, visited eight countries and (according to our blog map) travelled 31,422 miles. We've stayed in 48 different places (including hotels, hostels, boats, a tent, our lovely campervan and even a raft) and travelled by too many means of transport to count, including car, bus, train, plane, horse, bike, ski lift, moped, helicopter, cable car, motorbike, junk ship, ferry, elephant, campervan, kayak, paddle board and catamaran. And of course a fair few miles on foot too.

We have experienced temperatures from -15 to a scorching 43 degrees celcius and altitudes from sea level all the way up to 5545 metres. Between us we lost a stone and a half in weight in the first few weeks... and spent the next few months more than putting it back on again.

I have written 32 blog posts... and loved every minute of it.

Some random facts we are proud of. I haven't used a hair dryer, hair straighteners or worn make up for the entire trip. I haven't switched on my mobile phone, or checked my work emails. Not once. And on the EBC trek, we went thirteen days without a shower (and survived). I've sung live at the Hard Rock Cafe Sydney, and Marcus survived an hour lost in the Andean desert with only a horse for company.

But of course, some things can't be quantified. Perhaps the greatest achievement of our whole trip is the excessive amount of hair Marcus has managed to grow. You may have noticed. Just in case it's not clear enough... here is the first photo of Marcus on day one in Kathmandu:


And here is the last photo of Marcus, back in Hull...


When we landed back in the UK, we used the electronic passport gate. I waltzed straight through. It took a whole two minutes of scanning to recognise that yes, this hairy Robinson Crusoe lookalike really is the same guy who left the country in November. You can understand why.

In all seriousness, if we take anything away from the trip (other than that we really do still make each other laugh after 5 months of 24/7 togetherness) it's that the world is an incredible place - full of beauty, surprises, kindness and really as much alcohol as you can drink. We have seen some unbelievably beautiful sites (the whole of the New Zealand south island, the Himalayas from the top of Kala Patthar, Torres del Paine at sunrise), been amazed by so many historical and cultural sites (Angkor Wat, Boudhanath Stupa, Tengboche Monastery) and been blown away by the strength and generosity of spirit of people we have met everywhere. We have been truly blessed.

And that brings us to the end. Final thanks go to you all for reading and supporting the blog and our travels while we've been away. It has been so lovely getting all of your comments and emails while we've been away. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Until the next trip...

Adios y muchos besos xx

Posted by teamgb 09:46 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (1)

Buenos Aires (it's the final countdown...)

In which we visit the village of the dead, check out some art and eat the best steak in the world

overcast 19 °C

It's here. The moment we've been dreading. Yep, that's right. The last few days of our trip. I feel like I need to do some kind of summary post, if only to detail Marcus' spectacular hair growth in full glory, but this post covers our last few days in the wonderful city of Buenos Aires.

On Tuesday we decided to spend the day in a cemetery. As you do. When I first mentioned the idea of visiting Recoleta cemetery, Marcus was less than keen. But it turned out to be brilliant. Where all the rich and famous are buried (including Evita), the cemetery in upmarket Recoleta district is like a mini village for the dead. We wandered around streets of mausoleums holding whole families of rich Portenos.


The mausoleums range from old and crumbling to super modern, at least 200 years of seriously photogenic history.




Some of the mausoleums are really grand, topped with huge statues, whilst others are plain and simple. One of the things we were most surprised by was that in the majority you could see into them and see the coffins stacked up (like the one in the photo above... which even had the doors left open), sometimes on multiple floors. Some contained grand altars and stained glass windows inside, or sculptures of the deceased.




Of course we also visited Evita's grave, in her family mausoleum. There's a pretty awful story about her body, which was embalmed when she died but subsequently stolen by the military, mutilated and buried under a false name in Italy. Her body was only returned years later (after a few years weirdly kept in her husband's dining room while he was exiled to Spain) and laid to rest with her family.


Evita is still such a huge figure in Argentina, especially in BA, and her grave is constantly adorned with flowers and notes.

That afternoon we had a walk around Recoleta and saw the famous flower sculpture nearby. The petals open in the morning and close up every evening at dusk. I'd seen photos and didn't think it looked all that exciting but it was actually lovely up close.


In the mood for more art, we then spent a couple of hours in the Museo de las Bellas Artes. Its a great gallery but we were slightly disappointed that it held almost exclusively European art (Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Degas...) Interesting but it felt like something we could easily see in London.

The next day we upped our museum hits with visits to the Evita museum and the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires). The Evita museum was worth it just to see all her beautiful clothes, but also gave us an insight into her life and politics.


It was also shocking at times, particularly the film of her last speech and a video narrated by her sister of her mutilated body when it was finally returned to Argentina. Not something we expected to see that day.

Then it was on to the MALBA to satisfy our desire for Latin American art with their great permanent collection.


But probably the best part of our day began when we stopped for a late lunch in a little cafe in Palermo. While we were eating, the TV started to show that a new pope had been chosen. After about half an hour of waiting, they announced Cardinal Bergoglio as the new Pope. Instantly people around us gasped and started celebrating. The new pope is Argentine, and from Buenos Aires! Much clapping, celebrating and crying ensued as we waited to see the first Latin American pope appear. People were coming in off the street to watch the TV with huge smiles on their faces.

As it happened, the closest subway stop to our hostel was next to the cathedral, so we decided to pop by and see what was happening on our way home. The cathedral was already surrounded by TV vans, and reporters filing from the steps.


Inside the cathedral a service was already taking place, with people arriving all the time, some draped in Argentine flags.


When the minister mentioned the new pope, the whole place erupted. The congregation jumped to their feet, arms in the air, cheering, clapping and chanting 'Viva el Papa!' It was a scene more reminiscent of a football game than a church service, but we couldn't help but be caught up in the excitement. Whatever your religion, a great moment to be in BA.

And that brings us to... sob... our last full day away. After making a start on our packing (and enjoying throwing out some of the skanky clothes we've been carrying around for the last four and a half months) we wandered the streets of San Telmo one last time. We stopped for lunch at our new favourite bar, El Federal, and spent a lovely couple of hours over a bottle of wine writing a list (because I do love a good list) of our top threes from the trip (more on that in another post).


That night we had booked ourselves a treat - a meal at La Brigada - apparently the best steak in Buenos Aires. We'd actually been recommended this place by a friend before we left, but it was also the recommendation of a number of locals we met. We had to try it out. La Brigada is quite an unassuming, if big, restaurant in San Telmo. It is covered in football memorabilia (another selling point - dinner under a Messi shirt) but still manages to be quite traditional rather than tacky. And they really did serve the best steak... ever. Vegetarians look away now...



Seems only fitting that our final Argentine photo should be a big hunk of meat.

So that was it. Hasta luego Buenos Aires, hola Londres. The next morning we took a taxi to the airport for our thirteen hour flight back to the UK. But the travelling doesn't stop there. We're off on a whistlestop tour of England - taking in such highlights as Leicester, Hull and Oxford on our way home. Because we can't face putting these backpacks down just yet...

Posted by teamgb 07:41 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

In which we stroll around San Telmo market, (attempt to) dance the tango and discover the delights of Argentine cafe culture

sunny 26 °C

After our chilled out days in El Calafate, we landed in Buenos Aires ready to see some sights. We decided to stay in the San Telmo district which is one of the oldest and most bohemian areas in BA, and had booked into Hostel Ostinatto. The hostel is really nice, perhaps a bit young and noisy for us old married people, but we have a lovely big room that even, shock horror, has a TV (first TV we've had in a hostel room since we were in Australia). Our first task was to try and get into BA time. Down in Patagonia people definitely operate on trekking time, up early and eat dinner early. BA is the total opposite. Here it's more like Spanish time... you eat dinner at 11pm, go to a bar after and stay out all night if you want to. Things definitely don't quieten down in the hostel until people have rolled in about 5am.

So for our first night we got straight into the BA spirit with a few drinks and a tango class at the hostel. It was really fun, although Marcus got very frustrated with me not wanting to be the 'follower' (it won't surprise anyone to know I didn't like having a man tell me what to do). But by the end we managed a few moves, not bad after a couple of hours in tango city. We followed that with a traditional steak and malbec at a local parilla restaurant. Steaks here are so huge we ordered one to share and it still came out as two huge hunks of meat. Marcus was a happy boy.

The next day we spent a lovely few hours wandering around the San Telmo Sunday market, which takes over the main square in San Telmo (Plaza Dorrega) and the surrounding streets.





Not only are there hundreds of stalls selling everything from jewellery to antique soda bottles, there were also tango dancers busking on the street. This guy was so cool, dressed up at 10am in the morning in full suit and cravat, and he was still dancing (and winking at all the girls) six hours later.





(As these photos show, tango is a lot of... erm... older gentlemen, dancing with younger women. It seems to do wonders for them, they've definitely still got the moves as the guy above proves. We saw him getting up close and personal with his dance partner, who must be half his age, later that evening!)

The whole place was buzzing with tourists and locals, people enjoying a coffee on the street, clapping along to the live tango music or shopping up a storm. A brilliant way to spend a Sunday.

It also gave us our first chance to explore charming San Telmo in the daylight. We loved the beautiful, slightly run down buildings covered in unique pieces of grafitti that could really be classed as art.







Being in San Telmo reminds us a little bit of being back home in Brighton - arty, cool and a bit edgy. There were even a few drag queens out in their Sunday best which made us feel right at home, although this guy was my personal favourite of the day.


His sign says 'free hugs'. What else?

After a siesta we went back out to see what San Telmo has to offer after dark. And we weren't disappointed. Almost immediately we got caught up in a street drumming performance, about twenty drummers and lots of dancers parading through the tiny cobbled streets, heading to the Plaza Dorrego (luckily now empty of antiques) where tens more drummers awaited. Slightly incongruously, on the other side of the square a milonga was taking place. A milonga is an open tango event, basically a place local people go to dance tango. We had asked our tango teacher where best to see 'real' tango, and he was unequivocal in his response. A milonga is the only place to see tango. There weren't any lifts or the drama of the street performances we saw earlier on, just about forty couples, young and old, dancing beautiful tango in the square. Not for money, or to show off. Just because.

The next day we decided to get a feel for the city on a free city tour (through the brilliant Buenos Aires Free Tours). So after a dulce-de-leche-heavy breakfast we walked to the Congresso district to meet our guide Gaston, a born and bred Porteno (that's what you call someone from BA). Just like the tour we did in Santiago, you just turn up, no booking required, and then tip at they end. We started in front of the National Congress building, a stunning domed facade built in the early 1800s.


The story I liked most about this though was that during military rule in the seventies and eighties the Congress was closed. So the politicians moved next door, to this lovely building, which was the glamorous windmill cafe, and continued to work.


Gaston led us down huge avenues lined with very French style buildings, down to the Plaza de Mayo. This square is most famous for the Casa Rosada which is the President's seat, and is perhaps most famous as the place that Juan Peron and Evita used to give speeches to thousands of people in the square below. The famous balcony (which they also let Madonna sing from in the film) is on the left of this photo.


Another interesting fact about the square is that a group of women, known as las madres de la plaza de Mayo still protest here once a week for information about their children who 'disappeared' during the military rule. At a time when it was illegal for more than three people to gather together in the street (because four counted as a protest), fourteen women took a stand, and are still doing so thirty five years later (although we did hear they've now become a funded political group, slightly more political than their founding). Gaston was much more positive about a splinter group called the 'Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo' (the grandmothers). During the 'dirty war' when these disappearances occurred, some of the women taken were pregnant or had very young babies. These babies were sold, given up for adoption or in some cases kept by those involved in the atrocities. The grandmothers' aim is to track down these babies, who are now aged 25-35. Gaston told us of a recent case where a young woman discovered not only that she was adopted, but that the people who had brought her up were responsible for the deaths of her real parents. Horrific stuff. So far, they have found 107 of these 'missing' children.

Following the tour we had lunch at Cafe Tortoni, BA's oldest cafe. Coffee culture is big here. You NEVER see a porteno walking the streets clutching a Starbucks takeaway, because there's a beautiful traditional cafe every few metres (probably also because the pavements here are a death trap and you and your coffee would never make it!) Cafe Tortoni is probably the most famous of these cafes, and while that means it's a bit of a tourist trap, it's still a beautiful place. The walls are covered in art, the waiters are all bedecked in bowties, and are as rude to the patrons as is traditional.


We tried a submarino which is a great BA tradition... a cup of hot milk which comes with a chocolate bar (in the shape of a submarine - hence the name) that you melt in the milk to make a delicious hot chocolate. Yum yum.


That evening we didn't feel like another big steak dinner (turns out there is such a thing as too much steak) so we decided to continue our cafe education and check out Bar El Federal, another notable cafe only a few blocks from our hostel. El Federal felt a lot more 'local' with less tourists, although still the same rude service (seems it wasn't just the architecture they copied from the Parisiennes). There were locals sitting along the bar, couples taking up the inside tables, and groups of friends sitting on the street outside. We ordered a very tasty bottle of Malbec and a picada (a platter) of cheese, meat and olives, and spent a lovely couple of hours tucked in the corner enjoying the ambience.



Lucky for us we've got a few more days in BA... more coffee, more steak and more Malbec. What more could we ask for?

Posted by teamgb 16:02 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Return to El Calafate

In which we don't do much at all

overcast 16 °C

Following our Torres del Paine adventure, we got the early bus from Puerto Natales back to El Calafate, and possibly the easiest border crossing ever. The (mean) highlight of this was a guy from the US having a major John McEnroe style tantrum at the border when he was denied entry because he'd lost his travel documents. Kept us entertained, and the bus literally ditched him there in the middle of nowhere, as did his friend! Bad day for him.

Due to some bad planning (read no planning) for our transport out of El Calafate, we ended up having four days to kill in what is really a very small, very quiet town. This turned out to be a blessing though as we both ended up with horrible colds - that's what trekking does for you - so it was a good opportunity to chill out. Good news for us but bad news for you because it makes this post pretty boring. I'll try and keep it brief.

Back in El Calafate we returned to our most friendliest of hostels, Hospedaje Lautaro, to hugs and kisses from the lovely owner Belen. She was to become our surrogate mum for a few days, telling Marcus off for going out without a coat and giving us lemon and honey for our colds.

With four days to rest up, this meant one thing. Coffee shops. I think we tried every one in El Calafate for a tea (for me), beer (for Marcus) and of course an empanada or two.


We also had a walk along the lake shore...


... finally spotted a single, illusive flamingo (from a great distance) and a few more birds up close...


... and visited that most exciting of landmarks, the town sign.


Bored much?

It was actually really good for us to rest up, we worked out this will be the longest we've stayed anywhere, and we haven't really given ourselves any 'days off', so it didn't hurt. And we needed to recover our strength ready for our next stop... it's time to tango in Buenos Aires.

Posted by teamgb 15:11 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Feeling the (Torres del) Paine

In which we tackle the 'W' head on... with full packs, wine in a box and sore feet

sunny 20 °C

We survived! The 'W' trek in Torres del Paine was absolutely awesome, if at times awesomely difficult. Three stunning valleys, 72 km (62 of those carrying full packs), three litres of wine, four nights camping in the worlds smallest tent and we're still married. So I'd call that a success. Here's how it went (warning, this post is huge, you might want to get a cup of tea first)...

Day 1: Lago Pehoe to Refugio Grey

Our day started early in Puerto Natales with a bus to the Torres del Paine National Park. Even the drive into the park was beautiful, with huge mountain vistas and herds of guanacos (like alpacas) and nandus (like small ostriches) along the side of the road. After arriving at Laguna Armaga and paying our trekking fees we continued on to the edge of Lake Pehoe where we caught a catamaran across the lake to our starting point next to Refugio Paine Grande.


We had a really beautiful half hour journey across the lake with a catamaran full of trekkers and backpacks, everyone stuffing as much food into their mouths as possible before starting the trek. The highlight of the journey was seeing the first of many avalanches we were to see on our way.


There's a lot of debate over the best direction to trek the W - east to west or west to east - we went for the latter so that we could go to the famous torres the park is named after on the last day rather than the first - an extra incentive to get to day five. After being dropped off on the western edge of the lake, we strapped on our packs and we were off. An 11 km trail leads you up the valley towards Lago Grey and Glacier Grey, our camp for the night. A few years ago a trekker lit a fire which got out of control and burned down whole swathes of the park. So while the grass and flowers seem to be returning, a lot of the first couple of hours was spent walking through burnt forest which is quite sad.


We followed a rocky path for about three hours before coming to the viewpoint over Lago Grey and our first view of the glacier. The lake is full of iceburgs that have been carved off the face of the glacier and we saw amazing ice bridges floating past.


The trail then follows the edge of the lake through a forest. I was really surprised by the very English plant life we saw here, lots of dandelions and clover and even a few daisies. Just like home (oh, apart from the glacier, the avalanches...) After about an hour we arrived at our camp for the night, Refugio y Campamento Grey.


Day 2: Refugio Grey to Campamento Italiano

After a cold night next to the glacier and a bit of wildlife spotting with a close encounter with a red fox, we hit the trail again, retracing our steps for four hours back to Lago Pehoe. We stopped to cook lunch at Refugio Paine Grande which is in a great location... this was our view...


We were heading to Campamento Italiano, a free campsite at the foot of the Valle Frances and part of our trek for day three. The only problem was, Campamento Italiano is currently closed, which means you have to walk on another two and a half hours to the next camp... and then go back two and a half hours the next morning to reach the Valle Frances. An extra five hours with a pack. We'd heard on the trekking grapevine that if you arrived after 7pm you wouldn't be turned away because that would make it too late to reach the next camp. So we decided to chance it, along with a Canadian couple, Ian and Jasmine, we'd met the previous night. So we took a very leisurely lunch and then hiked the two hours to Italiano, a really pretty, open track and probably the easiest stretch of the walk.



We arrived a little bit before seven which resulted in a slightly ridiculous 'hiding' in the woods for half an hour so the ranger at camp didn't spot us and foil our plan. At exactly 7pm the four of us crossed the river into camp and, after a brief telling off we were allowed to stay, on the understanding we'd be out of there by 7am the next morning. The camp is very wooded so we pitched up in the fading light and had a quick dinner (and some vino of course) before bed.


That night we were woken up at 4am (as was everyone else in camp) by a very loud avalanche coming off a nearby mountain. I have to say its a pretty scary noise at 4am, although I'm sure we were perfectly safe.

Day 3: Campamento Italiano to Refugio Los Cuernos

The next morning we left our bags at Italiano and hiked with day packs only (hurrah!) into the Valle Frances. Lots of people cite this as their highlight of the trek and its easy to see why. As you ascend the valley on a rocky track you have snow and glacier covered mountains to your left...


... the incredible peaks of Los Cuernos on your right...


... and a view of the lakes and rolling hills behind you.


Not many places you get three views like that. We didn't go all the way to the top of the valley but walked to the edge of another lake before turning back to camp. All the way along we saw even more avalanches coming off the top and echoing along the valley.

Strapping on our packs again we set off on the trail to Refugio Los Cuernos, again a really beautiful trail which takes you down to Lago Nordernskjold and even includes sections along lakeside beaches.



We finally arrived at Refugio Los Cuernos and made camp overlooking the lake and surrounding mountains. Beautiful.


Day 4: Los Cuernos to Campamento Los Torres

Day four was undoubtedly the most difficult day. 18.5 km with our packs up the steepest part of the trek, on a (for Patagonia) seriously hot day. We really lucked out with the weather and only had ten minutes of rain in five days, pretty much unheard of around here. We'd heard horror stories from other trekkers who'd had to abandon their attempts the week before because of bad weather, so we were very lucky to have five beautiful days. Just a little too hot at times.

One thing we would definitely recommend is almost constant snacking throughout the day to keep your energy levels up. We split our rations for each day into separate bags, each of which we opened with much excitement every morning (will it be pasta or rice today?! we cried). But there were definitely moments where a bar of chocolate or a handful of trail mix made the difference between crying and hiking on! These were our rations for a day on the trail.


The day started with the trail continuing along Lago Nordernskjold before climbing up the valley wall across to the next valley, our destination. For about three hours the trail was steep and completely open, so great views but roasting hot.


The valley itself was really pretty with a rushing glacial river running through it. After about four hours we made it to our lunch stop on the bank of the river at Campamento Chileno.


Then it was onwards and upwards on a forest dirt track for another hour to reach our home for the night, Campamento Los Torres. As you can probably tell by the photo, I was pretty happy to have made it!


This camp was another reason we chose to camp rather than stay in refugios (other than the massive price difference). Only 45 minutes from Los Torres themselves, camping here means you can get up early and hike up for the sunrise, something you can't really do if you're a few hours down the valley. The camp was another forest camp, but this one actually had a toilet. Luxury stuff.

Day 5: Los Torres to Hotel Los Torres

We'd arranged to climb to the Los Torres lookout for sunrise with Ian and Jasmine who we met up with lots of times on the trek. So at 5:15am Ian woke us up (with a cup of coffee - amazing) and by 5:45am we were ready to go. In the pitch black we strapped on our head torches to ascend the rocky trail to Mirador Los Torres. After climbing for 45 minutes we arrived at the viewpoint just as the sun started to appear. Gradually as it rose the torres started to appear out of the darkness, glowing pink as they reflected the sky.


As the sun rose further, the torres really started to shine, just an amazing sight. Huddled on our rock we had the glowing torres in front of us...



... and the most beautiful sunrise behind.


The whole thing only lasts for about 20 minutes but was easily one of the best moments of our whole trip. Look at those happy faces!



All that was left was to climb back down to camp, pack up our stuff and hike back down the valley where we got a bus back to Puerto Natales and the obligatory beer and pizza to celebrate. Totally exhausted but very happy.

Posted by teamgb 13:00 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

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