Up, Close and (very) Personal at Iguazu Waterfalls

 

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Hot and heavy greenhouse-like heat welcomed us like a big greasy hug as we arrived at Iguazu Waterfalls crossing the border of Argentina and Brazil. Sweat beaded down my face, other visitors (of which there were many) made the most of the free showers managing to cool down for just a second before perspiring again. It was hot…too hot. This sticky dirty temperature was made worst by the fact we had seemingly chosen the busiest day of the year to visit the famous falls. Fail.

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To get to the top of the gushing falls we queued. Then queued again. Then packed in like sardines on a rickety bridge with some topless man mountain in front of me, half inhaling his BO and wiry back hair, wanting to be anywhere else than here, some butterflies appeared. The crowd parted forgetting for a moment their discomfort and gazed at the bright electric blue and yellow insects prancing about. You know when sometimes you think ‘sod it it’s not worth this level of minging discomfort’ then get a sort of second wind? Well those butterflies gave me that. So we pushed on through dodging the selfie sticks and shrieking teens to peer over the ledge of the top of the falls, the devils throat. Let me tell you… it was worth the back hair experience.

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Your ears fill with a roaring non-stop pounding of gallons and gallons of water thundering past. Part of the view was obscured by this eerie mist, caused by the ferocity of the water, as birds soared through probably wondering what the hell we were all doing.

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But, even with all the icky sticky sweatiness it was so jawdroppingly spectacular to be that close to the neck of the waterfalls plus the fun didn’t end there. There are three other amazing viewpoints that have rambling trails to get to, each letting you run across wobbling walkways, feeling the cooling dewy breeze and providing ample photo opportunities. Make sure you have your comfiest shoes on as you will be walking A LOT.

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Furry tapirs roam the park as well as iguanas and snakes (thankfully we didn’t stumble across any of them) and butterflies flit about. But it was much more touristy than I was expecting, as if Disneyland did waterfalls…giftshops and all. Tickets aren’t cheap but you can spend a whole day here so I guess you get your money’s worth, but the food and drink is outrageously expensive. We shared half a sandwich and a plate of dried chips that cost the equivalent of £12!

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We flew from Buenos Aires to Iguassu and stayed one night at this adorable mother-and-son run hostel in the tiny red dusty town. The falls are the one and only major attraction here with plenty of tourist information on getting there and about, but otherwise there is little to do other than eat a burger whilst people watching in the evening and queuing to use the only working cash machine for nearly an hour. The hostel owners arranged for us to get a car to the falls, which would then take us over to the Brazilian side where we had a hostel booked before returning back to Rio. You can get the bus but with our heavy bags plus the heat, it wasn’t much more expensive to do this lazier option.We heard that the Brazilian side gives a better panoramic view of the waterfalls, whereas the Argentinian side lets you get up close and personal (back hair optional) so chose to spend the day here but some people like to tick both sides off their to-do list. If you have seen both parts I would love to know what you thought!

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Planning a trip to the waterfalls? Here’s my advice:

  • Take as many big bottles of water as you can, as if you need to buy even a small bottle in the shops you will be paying big bucks.
  • Take a picnic. I wish we had done this as there were so many lovely places to sit and eat but instead we had to make the most of the greasy, overrun and overpriced café.
  • Make sure you have plenty of juice in your camera and spare memory cards. You will turn into a photographer for the National Geographic without realising!
  • At the entrance there were large lockers big enough for both our ginormous backpacks, so if crossing the border to see both sides of the waterfalls it’s cheaper to leave your bags safely here as you go off and explore.
  • Don’t feed the animals. There are signs everywhere but we saw so many people nearly get attacked by the lurking furry monsters as they had left out opened food nearby.
  • Blister pads will be your best friend as you will walk. A lot. Unless you can find someone to carry you.

 

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Uruguay: 30 Before 30!

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I caught the travel bug later than most people. I didn’t do a gap year, never spent my summer holidays working abroad and didn’t get on a plane until I was 14 (apart from when my parents took me away as a baby which is a very faded memory). But the last few years of my life have been a jet setting whirlwind. From long haul backpacking trips and cramming in a lot of city breaks my passport has slowly been filling up with stamps. Over Christmas I sat down and made a list of all the countries I had been to only to find I was on number 29! Being a big fan of round numbers and with my 30th birthday approaching I was desperate to get to 30 before 30 so when we learned we could hop on a ferry to nearby Uruguay it was a no brainer that we ticked this country off!

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Booking it was a bit of a faff especially trying to translate the Spanish Buquebus website but we got there in the end and joined the long queue of travellers in the swanky ferry terminal. A quick hour later we pulled up at the port in the muddy coloured waters as the sun beamed down on us.

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We headed to UNESCO site Colonia Del Sacramento a very pretty beach town. We stumbled across a beautiful secluded beach and drank cold beer watching locals play beach football. We ate fancy ice-cream (pineapple and dark chocolate nomnomnom) sat in an ivy covered garden as butterflies fluttered past. We got silly in the sand posing like idiots without a care in the world. We soaked up the beer with cheap sloppy burgers watching the world go by. It was all magical.

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You can even hire golf buggies to zip around this charming town, something we realised too late after the afternoon beers (boo) but it looked so much fun. If we ever go back that is something I HAVE to do! It was such a great day out especially having space to breathe and take things at a slower pace compared to the bustling busyness of Buenos Aires we had gotten used to. Obviously getting a tiny peak into this place was very short and sweet and I would have loved to have been able to explore more. However, it did make me realise how possible it is to do a ‘Country in a Day’ (a taste at least) especially living in Europe where cheap flights are a plenty. This is something I would love to do more of. Uruguay: it wasn’t nearly long enough but what a special unexpected country to tick off my list.

How many countries have you been to? Where’s next on your list?

The Bright Lights of Buenos Aires

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The constant roar of traffic, people everywhere and so many things to do it kind of hurts your brain… welcome to Buenos Aires. We chose to spend Christmas and New Year in this crazy Capital city caught up in the buzz of the place, it truly was a festive season like no other.

In the run up to Christmas we took strolls around the pretty Palermo neighbourhood, got drunk on cheap beer and played ping pong (badly) to the amusement of many Argentinians whose non-tourist bar we gate-crashed with the lovely Kerry (she’s a fab author, runs the mentoring scheme I’m on and I’ve now decided my new BFF), ate so much steak I may start mooing and enjoyed relaxing days after being on the road practically non-stop since October.

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On Christmas Eve we exchanged gifts and sat on the balcony in t-shirts and shorts drinking cold beer, playing cards and watching cracking fireworks until 3am. Christmas day was spent catching up with loved ones, dips in the rooftop pool, recovering from a hangover and yet more steak and wine. It was heaven.

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We then moved to the centre of the city in another AirB&B apartment (I’ll do a future blog post on this as it is such a fab lil scheme) where we had a tiny apartment on the 12th floor overlooking this urban jungle. It even came with a gym so after overindulging we promised ourselves we would sweat out the steak but exercising in this heat ain’t clever or pretty (see how easy I made excuses not to go).

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Then with the year quickly coming to a close we prepared for 2015. I’m not the biggest NYE fan. I hate the forced fun pressure that you have to be doing something AMAZING, as if that one night will be an indication of how the following year will play out. Meh. We had already decided to have a quiet night in but as we had low expectations of the evening it turned out to be one of my best NYE ever! Why is that always the way?! (The pics are pants but trust me it was a good ‘un!)

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We played stupid games, danced around the apartment to cheesy tunes, ate (yep you guessed it) more steak and got very merry indeed. Then a few hours after my family and friends welcomed 2015 back home it was our turn and what a welcome. We camped out on the balcony with a magnum of red wine soaking up the firework fight that lit up the skyline. I have never ever witnessed fireworks like this in my life. Fire crackers popped on the streets, neighbours let off bangers from their balconies, Chinese lanterns floated heavenwards and everywhere you looked were gorgeous bright colours sparkling in the dark sky. My head was turning so fast trying to soak it all up I nearly cricked my neck! It went on for about 25 minutes and even then it felt like it was over too soon.

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There may have been a few tears shed for the end of 2014, a year mixed with both happy highs such as embracing my French life, being bitten by the travel bug and finishing my manuscript but also very sad lows especially in losing my wonderful grandma. But a new year a new start and so much fun adventures to be had. Let’s all remember to keep looking forward, never back, as that’s the direction we’re heading!

31st December 2014 was so magical, emotional and bloody fantastic much like I hope 2015 will be for both you and I! *Pulls you in for a big squidgy group hug*

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Spending Christmas in a Foreign Country

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It’s Christmas Eveeeeeeeee!! Are you feeling festive? Is the tree decked, are the presents wrapped, are you ready for the big fat man to visit? Well I’m writing this in the sweltering heat sat wearing a bikini deciding when to take the next dip in the pool, and yep folks this will be how I will be spending Christmas day too as we are in Buenos Aires for the big day.

Our Christmas dinner will consist of empanadas, a juicy Argentinan steak washed down with stupidly cheap but bloody great red wine and ice cream for dessert to cool us down as temperatures rise. It’s not the same as a belly buster Christmas day meal complete with stuffing, pigs in blankets and flaming xmas puds but it’s fun to mix up those festive traditions.

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The thing about spending Christmas in a different country is to embrace it like a local. Don’t try and reproduce your nans signature gravy or scour the shops looking for a tin of quality streets. You can’t celebrate an English Christmas anywhere but in England as it just won’t be the same! That’s not to say different means better or worse … just different.

I haven’t spent Christmas day in the UK for the past two years. In 2012 I was in Thailand celebrating with pizza, sunbathing and beers on the beach with awesome new friends from all over the world.20130104-212306

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In 2013 I experienced my first French Christmas in the town I lived for the past year. The festivities began on Christmas eve including a 7 course dinner and nearly drowning in wine and cheese. It was great! And for 2014 we are in Argentina who knows where we’ll be next year.

Of course that’s not to say I’m not slightly jealous seeing people on twitter getting excited about wearing naff jumpers, watching trashy xmas films or having that excitement of the build-up before the big day. There are things I don’t miss like the panic buying of presents, the mad rush to get everything ready before you finish work and the pressure of trying to fit in visits with as many friends and relatives as you and your petrol gauge will allow for. Spending Christmas abroad takes away a lot of this stress and pressure that things have to be perfect as you can just wake up and do whatever tickles your pickle.

Yes there won’t be many presents to open (budget backpacking doesn’t lend itself to luxuries like this), we won’t be watching the queens speech (not that I have ever seen this!) and our families and friends won’t be celebrating with us but they are just a facetime or skype call away. Rather than feeling frazzled and taking things for granted having space and time away means I am mega excited to spend the day how I want – feeling very lucky and happy.

I wish you all a very merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad whatever you do or wherever you are just please have a glass of mulled wine for me!

Have you ever spent Christmas abroad?

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Glacier Hunting In Ushuaia

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Have you ever visited anywhere that made you feel a bit meh? Ushuaia definitely made us feel a bit flat. But we were never going to be here again and not everyone is lucky to have reached the end of the world so we slapped on smiles, gave ourselves a pep talk and promised to make the best of a disappointing place.

As I said here the main attractions are expensive but we found a fun way to spend an afternoon by doing a small hike to a glacier covered mountain. I don’t know why after this happened when we climbed a volcano but hey gluttons for punishments or whatevs.

We made our way to the top of the town where the mountain lies, wrapped up ready to stretch out legs and breathe in that healthy mountain air. There is a ski lift but it was broke so we hit the route that the sweet little guy in the information hut at the base of the trek had given us on a small map.

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Now any hard-core hiker knows what you need is a solid walking pole or in our case a whacking great stick. We scrambled in the undergrowth for a suitable staff and hacked off the end so it was the right height now we were practically pros!

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Then what do all seasoned hikers do with said stick? Use it as a light sabre of course ahem.

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We stopped kidding around and hit the road, a dusty steep path crossing babbling brooks and wonky wobbling bridges. The wind bent trees bowed down to us as we pushed through to get to the mountain a stark white contrast against the blue sky.

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On the way down we spotted an unused quad that we were hoping to jump start to get us down the route faster. But not wanting a brush with the law we continued on our little feet.

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We warmed up with a tasty steak, our first Argentinian hunk of beef and it did not disappoint, in a tiny Irish bar in the town as well as get in the festive mood. It may not feel that Christmassy over here but the ice cold winds certainly give us a little taste of home!

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I’d Go To The End Of The World For You

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IMG_9828No it’s not some cheesy pick up line that you will go to the end of the world for someone it can actually come true. When we planned our South American trip we had wanted to visit the end of the world, the last point of human inhabitation on earth also known as Ushuaia. We had built it up to be this magical place and truthfully we were bitterly disappointed. Sometimes when you travel you can have high expectations and the places you visit can sadly under deliver. This was one of these places for us.

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We left our cosy log cabin in Punta Arenas and had a 12 hour bus journey including passing through Chile and Argentina’s land borders to get further south as well as a dirty old boat to cross the Magellan Straits.

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The closer we got the more the scenery changed from raw rugged landscapes to snow topped mountains and lush green forests. Arriving tired, smelly but excited we piled off the bus stretching our legs and taking it all in.

Ushuaia is a busy port town with clomping great cruise ships, cargo boats and steel shipping containers hogging the waters. Horns blaring, gulls squawking and seamen shouting orders at one another is the backing track to this chilly town. Although not as windy as Punta Arenas you still had to be well wrapped up and protected from the bitter elements.

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It’s the meeting point for those rich lucky travellers who pay ridiculous amounts of cash to spend a week or so cruising to the Antarctic, with tours costing from £8000 each it was waaaay out of our budget to join them.

So why were we so disappointed? Well I think we had expected it to feel more remote like we actually were at the end of the world but it is an expensive tourist town lacking in a certain charm. The main high street was being redeveloped so you had to watch your step over crumbling concrete, shout to be heard over the road works and avoid open man holes. The restaurants, hostels and shops are stupidly expensive and unless you paid to go on a pricey tour (like to see penguins/boat trips) there wasn’t that much to do.

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It won’t feel like this for everyone but for us it was a good lesson in lowering expectations that way you are never disappointed. Being budget travellers this town isn’t catered towards us but at least we can say we’ve been to the end of the world …. it is just a shame I was just as happy to leave too!

Have you ever visited anywhere that made you feel a bit meh, that it wasn’t worth the hype?

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Wet and Windy Patagonia

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We had a few days to recover both mentally and physically from the drama that was climbing a volcano before getting back on the road and heading further south, sad to be leaving Pucon behind.

A bus ride to Puerto Montt, where we saw a guy get mugged right next to us at the dark and dodgy bus station. Luckily he was ok but I was so happy we were only staying for one night in this unloved port town before flying to Punta Arenas, a town on the Straits of Magellan in Patagonia.

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We stayed in an idyllic secluded log cabin complete with burning wood fires, the best home cooking we have had on this trip and walks in the woods getting over excited at seeing a woodpecker for the first time ever! As it was so remote the lovely hostel owner helped us get around by driving us into town whenever they had errands to run, the rest of the time was spent reading, drinking tea and editing my manuscript following excellent advice from my mentor Rosie Blake. It was heavenly.

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I thought that travelling and having all this free time would mean I’d be able to give my novel some well-deserved love but with moving from one place to another in short bursts of time then wanting to get out and explore has pushed my writing to the side. It’s like my brain is taking everything in as soon as I step outside that I can’t concentrate on the words and characters in my head. But slowly slowly they are coming and it feels great.

I feel so lucky to be able to soak up the stories that are everywhere around me on this and my previous trips then sit down and let my creative juices flow. It has made me more determined to realise my dream of becoming a published writer especially if it could mean one that jets off to exotic countries, maybe find a quiet place to rent for a while and spend their days writing, eating and understanding the world around them. That my friends is the ultimate dream.

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Anyhoo back to Patagonia, this raw area of the world where trees are bent by the strong winds, nature is the quiet but firm master and birds are forced to squawk loudly to be heard over the crashing waves and sudden swells. I have never been anywhere as windy as here. Like seriously gale force gusts that make you shrink into your coat, cover your ears and are forced to walk like the hunchback of Notre Dame to keep some sort of balance. I am not over-exaggerating they even have ropes between lamp posts on street corners, that can only be described as vortexes, so you can cling on and steady yourself. Apparently you can sometimes see cats flying past your head as the wind picks them off their paws! A five minute walk between snug cosy cafes become a hilarious comedy sketch of pushing yourself against the limits bent over as if you’ve got a bad case of the sh*ts.

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It’s no wonder I was so happy to be indoors curled up on a squishy sofa in my llama wool hoody as venturing outside was so challenging! Plus with the glow of the fire and a glass of bloody fantastic Chilean red wine in my hand it is suddenly beginning to feel a lot like Christmas (just ignore the howling wind outside). Cheers!

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Why Climbing A Volcano Is Snow Joke

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This burst of activity that started with mountain biking didn’t disappear overnight. I don’t know if it is the clear mountain air or restlessness in our limbs but we decided to tackle the next challenge. One that took me right out of my comfort zone I could hardly see myself. We foolishly decided to climb a volcano. Yep this one poking out of the clouds.

The rock star of this pretty sleepy town, Volcano Villaricca, stands proudly against the deep blue sky, its glacier covered sides gleaming out at us. A guy in the hostel had told us that it was a highlight of his trip and wasn’t too difficult a trek. It’s 2868 metres high and one of Chile’s most active volcano’s, although the last eruption was back in the 1970’s, gave me little comfort.

Having hiked round the Himalayas and surprising myself at my hidden level of fitness we decided to take his word for it. If I could find him now I would have laughed at his ‘joke’. Even the word itself, volcano, says no! But we didn’t know what lay ahead as we packed up a packed lunch, put our warmest clothes on, were handed a bursting backpack full of crampons, helmets and an ice pick at 6am still under the illusion that this would be a walk in the park. I guess the glinting ice pick should have given the game away but we were picked up with other intrepid explorers looking as sleepy as us and trundled in a minibus up to the meeting point.

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We had two guides with our group of 10 people who made sure we were prepped, warm and had enough water to get us through the climb. We had the choice to take a ski lift which meant shaving an hour off the journey and saving our energy.  Having never been skiing I was giddy with excitement to get on the rickety rather unsafe looking metal chair that wobbled precariously up the side of the snow covered volcano. High winds, cloud cover, avalanches and the threat of the volcano itself can all cause hikes to be cancelled at any time along the route and that if were were to get to the top and back we would be lucky as lots of groups don’t get this experience. Pah lucky!

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Our guide then showed us how to use the ominous looking ice pick in a swift manoeuvre to grip onto the edge of the ice if we fell. Oh sweet Jesus. He said we had to follow the person in front in a wandering line stepping in their footprints as a path. We were to zig zag our way up the steep side using the pick to steady ourselves and for those not too keen on heights it was better not to look down. When someone tells you that you instantly look down and what I saw made me nearly pee myself. A practically vertical drop of blinding bright snow with nothing to hang onto just you and the ice pick, my newest best friend.

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Forcing myself to man up even though the rest of the group looked like pros, all muscular calves and weathered faces, we started our hike to the top. Rest stops were for five minutes after 45 minutes of stepping into large footprint steps. With nowhere to sit we had to dig out a bum shaped hole and rest there gulping down water and clinging onto our bags in case they fell down the side.

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We climbed higher than the clouds watching the town slip away in a green haze. After 5 hours of crunching, stepping, sweating and huffing we made it to the top. Wanting to celebrate this achievement but it was so cold, the wind slapping our stinging red faces and the sulphurous smell from the volcano that made me gag and think of burnt chicken flavoured pot noodles that we had a few pics and got ready to go back down.

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This would much easier and quicker the guide said as he strapped on a thick nylon nappy thing to our thighs. We would be sliding down on our bums. Using the ice pick as a brake we had to sit on the cold snow and push ourselves to the edge of the never ending drop and slide down to the bottom, taking about an hour. Oh god.

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Greg sped off his adrenalin pumping and expected me to follow but I froze. All I could see was a white death trap and as I started to whizz down I freaked out at how fast I was going and forced my pick to the side gripping on to slow myself down. The guide saw how panicked I was that I didn’t have any control at my speed and kindly urged me to cling onto the backpack of another guide who would gently ease our way down. Although he lost control and we ended up spinning to the side then flipped backwards and hurtled down as snow filled my mouth, down my top and I screamed for help! We only came to a stop toppling into a couple who had stopped for a breather. I was crying, furious and desperate to be back on the ground. But knowing the only way was to continue, although facing the right way, I sucked up my fear and pushed on alone not caring how fast I went just wanting it to be over.

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At a slower, gradual pace I actually found myself enjoying the ride and when I got to the bottom and stumbled around trying to kick the slush and ice from myself I found Greg at the bottom. His face lit up saying in a thrilled voice ‘that was brilliant!!’ Well at least one of us got our adrenalin kick!

My legs wobbled like after a great work out, my arms had deep purple bruises on them from being bashed about and our faces were burnt from underestimating the power of the sun but we had done it. That feeling of achievement was so warm and fuzzy that I guessed this is why most dare devils keep searching for the next fix. As we had a cold beer in the sun looking up at the volcano we had reached the top of and made it down alive (ok I may be going a little too over the top here but this is what it felt like!) I was pleased we had stuck it out but trust me when I say never again!

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Get On Your Bike

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After another overnight bus journey we arrived bleary eyed into the sun and ridiculously pretty town of Pucon, Chile. Boy I may be in love. Wooden cabins, green lushness, lakes and wide streets of shops and small cafes all towered over by an active glacier covered volcano.

It reminds me of a cute all American town where everyone knows your name and you are raised on stacks of blueberry pancakes, maple syrup and mountain air. Just pretty as a picture cute. The hostel we stayed at wasn’t quite finished but the super friendly owners gave us loads of tips, cooked for us and even did our laundry for free. I was tempted to start house hunting as it was such a nice area. They said they moved here from Santiago to give their kids a fab childhood right here in nature and safety, the town doesn’t even have traffic lights!

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Anyway, enough about the gushiness we were here to explore. And to do that mountain bikes were rented, helmets attached and a picnic packed. For those who know me choosing a bike as a mode of transport ain’t my normal style. But something in me was desperate to be pedalling away through this picturesque place, I cant even blame the altitude for this random decision!

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The weather was perfect not too hot not too cold so we hopped on the road out of the town centre and tried to follow a map we had been given to get to some nearby waterfalls. I say try to follow as we soon got very lost.

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The only road ahead was so steep we had to get off and push for about twenty minutes. Mmm sweating, hungry and lost are not a good combination. To top it all Greg’s trousers split leaving a comedy flap wafting in the wind we could hardly breathe from laughing so much. The map was binned, lunch was eaten at the side of a rocky empty road and layers were shed. But we were determined not to give up so huffing and puffing past fields of cows, horses and wooden shacks we found a river. Not a waterfall but it was close enough.

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Dipping our feet in the icy water, munching on another sandwich and lying back in the sun as kayakers splashed past was perfect, if a little off schedule, but aren’t all the best adventures about just going with the flow?

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Feeling Creative in Valparaiso

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Just over an hour away from the bustling cosmopolitan capital of Santiago lies the UNESCO port town and street art haven of Valparaiso. For years painters, poets and philosophers have headed to this bohemian mecca inspired by its relaxed attitude and faded charm. Where everything is a canvas and everyone’s inner photographer comes to life snapping away the riot of colours, graffiti tags and pretty pastel coloured houses lining the steep streets. We, as many before us, were no exception.

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Apparently since the UNESCO award all buildings must remain, from the outside at least, as they did when they were certified. Meaning this colour pop port town has even more charm from its crumbling houses or deserted wastelands. As it is so steep there are plenty of funiculars dotted around the town (similar to the one we took in Santiago zoo) that take you up high with the option of slides for shorter routes down. Weeee!

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We stayed in a fab hostel up on a thigh burning street but the view, especially from our room, was worth the burnt calories to get there. The owner, a chatty French man, told us all about his life over here and how he misses good French cheese the most which then got us reminiscing about all the food we missed such as fish and chips, pate, proper tea and chocolate *drool*.

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We had a walk around the town stopping at edgy hipster cafes, snacking on fresh cupcakes and coffee, taking in the sea air down by the harbour and rambling along the bright lively streets. Dinner was an evening picnic of empanadas, which we actually bought from some guy’s car boot who had installed a fully working oven in there! And a cheap but tasty bottle of red watching the sunset and the lights sparkle.

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Being so close to the sea we had to try some fresh fish. So despite the rain the following day we stumbled down to the port and found a small busy Spanish-speaking only restaurant where we had a starter of mussels, fish and potatoes and a shot of pisco sour for just £3 each! Billy bargain I just wish all of Chile could be this cheap.

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It is easy to see why so many have succumbed to the rough around the edges style of this town. From the drunk guy playing love songs on his beat up guitar to young teens trying to sell their art work on the corner, crumbling colourful houses plopped in-between spray painted alleyways, and gulls greedily hanging around the fishing boats down by the murky waters. Now excuse me as the creative juices flow while I head off to pen an ode to Valparaiso!

 

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