Due to unforeseen circumstances I didn't manage
to get away anywhere in 2005 so decided to go back to South America
for four weeks in February/March 2006. Then I decided to keep going
a bit further, to Rapa Nui (Easter Island). I also planned to try
and make it to Robinson Crusoe Island in the Archipelago Juan
Fernandez (the actual island where Alexander Selkirk, a thoroughly
unpleasant and cantankerous Scotsman, who after falling out with his
captain, contrived to get marooned by himself for four years in the
seventeenth century - he later became the inspiration for Daniel
Defoe's Robinson Crusoe). However this proved impossible to organise
in the UK although I decided to give it a try when I got to
Unlike on most previous trips I
actually managed to keep a day-to-day log beyond the first few days:
what follows is a slightly tidied up transcript, minus most of the
Saturday 11th Feb: Arrived at Edinburgh Airport
in plenty of time. Check-in was no problem and the flight to Paris
was on time. Transferred and flew out to Santiago.
Sunday 12th : A long, tedious, thirteen hour
flight. However I did manage to get some sleep despite the seat in
front being on recline for the full duration.. Arrived in Santiago
at 09.15 in the morning. It took
ages to get through the immigration queue. Got a door-to-door
minibus to the pre-booked "Chilhotel": the reservation was OK - room
small but comfortable. I decided, as it was Sunday, to go to the
Parque Municipal. All the shops were shut. I walked around for ages
to find an ATM machine and get some currency. Took the funicular
railway into the park, and a succession of cable car through the
hills - great views of the pollution below. Took some photos and
video and managed to drop my lens cap into the abyss. Later I had a
meal then went back to my hotel and checked my luggage. Found I'd
left the adaptor for my mobile phone charger at home. Oh dear!
Monday 13th: Went to the Tourist Office across
the road and enquired about a flight to Robinson Crusoe Island but
the woman just smiled sadly and shook her head - I decided I'd have
to admit defeat on
that one! Took the Metro (v. clean and modern) in the wrong
direction, then back in the correct direction to the "Plaza de Armas"
- walked around, looked at historic buildings, the cathedral etc.
Also did some shopping - v. clean and modern shopping precinct. By
luck I found a phone shop that sold a 3-pin adaptor for my mobile.
Had lunch. Got Metro to the main bus station but after a lot of
hassle they wouldn't sell me an advanced bus ticket to Mendoza for
next week. Got another Metro back to the city centre where I noticed
a sort of citadel cum giant rock garden which I later found out was
built on the spot of the first dwelling in Santiago. A fun
structure, spent ages climbing up and down the winding paths and
stairs to the top for a view of the pollution. Decided to walk
to the hotel and on the way espied a branch of "Tour-Bus" - in two
minutes I had an advanced ticked to Mendoza for the following week -
so that was one up on the bus station. AND they sold me the seat
with the best view for going through the Andes. Back at the hotel I
arranged a taxi to the airport for the morning. Repacked my bags and
found the 'lost' mobile phone adapter under the bed!
Tuesday 14th: Up at 06.30 hrs, paid the bill and
booked in again for two nights when I return from Rapa Nui. A
beautiful morning, quiet streets and Jimi Hendrix at full volume in
the taxi all the way to the airport. Actually I normally hate Jimi Hendrix
but somehow it fitted in with the laid back atmosphere of the cab.
Checked in on time, then the flight was delayed for three hours due
to fog. Eventually it left at 12.45, no window or isle seat but two
centre rows all to myself. Programs were handed out for the annual
Easter Island "Tapati" festival which I had thought was
over. Had a read: Unfortunately I'd missed the
competition, but not it seemed the children's Polynesian language
poetry contest. Well at least that was something to look forward to. A
spectacular landing, as suddenly we swooped over land at low level,
and I got picked up at the airport and taken to my hotel. Friendly,
English speaking owners; hotel in a 'jungley' sort of garden. I
unpacked and took a walk around Hanga Roa, the island's only town,
then along the coast the see the big Moi (stone statues) and Ahu
(the platforms the statues are mounted on) at Ahu Tahai. Back in
Hanga Roa I found a working ATM machine and then got some dinner.
Back at the hotel I arranged an all day tour for tomorrow. Big
problem - no adaptor to charge my camera or video camera. Fortunately one
of the hotel staff went out
on his motorbike to see a friend who lent me a very large industrial
transformer which I installed in my room. Helpful people! At 22.30
went to an open air concert of traditional music and modern Polynesian
rock-music on a huge stage built for the festival, in a field, as did 99%
of the rest of the population. It finished at exactly one in the
morning which was just as well for at that moment torrential rain
started, sending everyone running back to the town.
Wednesday 15th: Up at eight for breakfast. The
all-day tour was due to start at nine so in typical
Island fashion we set off at ten thirty - myself, a Czech guy, a
silent Chilean lady and Carlos our guide. Visited several Moi sites
and also the Moi quarry at Rano Raraku on a volcanic slope - lots of
semi-completed and abandoned Moi. We climbed up the volcano to its
rim to see the lake in the crater. A beautiful deep blue colour and
half covered with reeds that I was told only grow here and in Lake
Titicaca in Peru (interesting)! After another Moi site we went to
the beach at Anakena. Then Carlos realised he had left his
irreplaceable personal dossier at the previous site, we drove back
at top speed to get it but it had gone. We drove back to the beach,
Carlos obviously very worried, and were hailed by the Parque Police
who had found
it.. Returned to Hanga Roa. Oh dear, despite splashing on gallons of
sun blocker I seemed to have got sunburnt! In the evening I got to
grips with the Internet cafe across the road and sent emails home.
By now my arms were turning an alarming red colour.
Thursday 16th: Out again with Carlos, the silent
and nameless Chilean woman and Anne from Australia, for a half day
tour of the South of the island. Visited one Ahu site then onto the Rano Kau lake crater, very similar to the one we saw yesterday.
After that we went onto the cliffs at Orongo, a
village where the birdman contests were held. Brilliant views; took
lots of photos and video from the cliffs. We decided to go back to
the hotel for lunch and make it a full day trip. Back out again at
three (after worst of sun) and went to the Top-notch Quarry at Puna
Pau, then to the caves at Ana Te Pahu. We stumbled for three hundred
metres in almost total darkness through the caves where I managed to
crack my head spectacularly on the ceiling. So I now had a wound on
my head as well as having lost about half my skin through sunburn.
We got back at seven for the highlight of the festival - a parade
with floats depicting traditional culture and activities etc, the
displays were mounted on everything from tractors to JCBs. Many
locals, male and female were war paint and little else so I had to
divert my gaze. The parade made its way down to the seafront to
dancing, spear waving and singing. Then there was presentations and
prizes and the serious dancing competitions
began. However felt very tired and went back to hotel at about half
past eleven which was just as well because as soon as I got back the
whole town had a power cut. The sunburn and assorted wounds are
getting rather painful. According to my journal "I am writing this by torchlight".
Friday 17th: A quiet day due to 1) sunburnt
arms, and, 2) being very tired after the last two days. I got up
late, had a wander round Hanga Roa, checked out the souvenir shops,
bought some provisions and sent some emails home. Had a siesta and
wrote postcards in the afternoon to avoid the sun which was getting
fiercer by the minute. Went out later and had dinner, bought water
to have a shower without loosing too much of my remaining skin. In
the evening the hotel was screening the laughably bad Kevin Costner
film "Rapa Nui" [a romantic, historic (?) "epic" about the Easter
Islanders, rightly slated at the box-office, and completely wrong in
every historical and scientific detail possible]. Decided to get up
early the next day and arrange some sort of activity.
Saturday 18th: Couldn't arrange a tour or horse
riding, so headed south on foot to Turtle Bay and the airport, then
back north to see more Moi and Ahu sites. I visited the local
church; Roman Catholic, Polynesian style, with a Moi on the alter
and beaked, bird-man angels. At night it was the last day of
the festival. Everyone assembled in the field beside the stage. It
started with the final of the children's
Polynesian poetry readings which was less than riveting, but
then it got lively with bands, singing and dancing. It ended with a
grand-finale with at least a hundred dancers and singers on the
stage, getting faster and louder before finishing with a firework
display. Brilliant! Got back to my hotel at one thirty in the
morning, and got to sleep at about six after the disco down the road
Sunday 19th: My last full day. Went out and
bought my souvenirs in the morning (small, hand-carved, stone Moi
and T-shirts). Couldn't sent email due to a telecommunication
failure but did manage to get my digital photos burnt onto CD. Had a
last walk round Hanga Roa and walked to the museum which was closed.
At five in the afternoon I decided against (supposable) better
advice to walk back to the cliffs at Orongo. Couldn't find a direct
route over the cliff head but luckily I got a lift all the way from
a passing jeep. I then had forty minutes on the cliffs with
the whole place to myself - absolute magic.
at seven twenty I decided it would be possible to make it back to
the Moi on the far side of Hanga Roa to photograph the sunset at
nine. An epic route march, a good six or seven miles, but I didn't
stop once, just strode on and on and made it to Ahu Tahi only just
in time; covered in sweat, but I didn't care, and I got my
photographs. Back at the hotel I was too tired to pack or write my
log and went to bed very early.
Monday 20th: Up at eight thirty. Had breakfast,
packed, paid account and got a lift to the airport. Business class
flight back. At Santiago Airport managed to circumvent the
immigration queue (why do they have immigration considering that
Easter Island is part of Chile?), and got the minibus back to 'Chilhotel'
by nine pm.
Tuesday 21st: Didn't' sleep well, got up late.
Went to the local internet cafe to check the last few days emails.
Got the metro into the city centre, had lunch, then visited the
Museum of Colonial History and Culture which was ok-ish but not very
inspired. Went to the bus station and sussed out the layout for the
Mendoza journey tomorrow; seemed straightforward enough. In the
evening I went back to the internet cafe and got the last of my Rapa
Nui photos transferred to disc, and did some research on the web re,
flights to Ushuaia in Southern Argentina. Got packed for the
morning, watched some TV then off to bed.
Wednesday 22nd: A bad start. Unfortunately still
had my alarm/mobile phone set to Rapa Nui time (two
hours behind) and slept in and missed my bus. Damn! Decided to try
for a later one; went to the bus station and got booked on the
13.40. Four hours to kill with my ruck-sack, got some lunch and
whiled the time away. The bus journey was very good, spectacular
scenery although I fell asleep and missed the best bits. Argentinean
Customs was in a huge drive-in shed on top of the Andes. Got into
Mendoza about nine at night with no accommodation booked but I got a
reasonable room in a private B&B from a guy at the bus station for a
couple of nights.
Thursday 23rd: Out after breakfast to book a
flight to Ushuaia, the start of a mostly frustrating day. Found the
'Southern Wings' airline office OK, but the guy inside refused to
unlock the door. Went back several times but the moron was still
sitting with his feet up, on the phone, drinking coffee and refused
to open up. Went to the Aerolineas Argentine office but no flights
to Ushuaia till Monday. Damn! Also 'Southern Wings' no longer fly to
Ushuaia. Then everything closed down at one o'clock [I didn't
realise that this is standard practice in Argentina - they close for
the afternoon and open again in the evening]. Well pissed off!
However my luck changed at five when everything opened again but
then I couldn't find the airline office again. I am
beginning to dislike this city. Went into a travel agents but now no
tickets anywhere till March 4th! Fortunately she was able to do a
deal for me. 1) Mendoza - Buenos Aires (day after tomorrow), 2)
Aires to Ushuaia (one day later) and the return to Buenos Aires a
week on Sunday). The return is from somewhere called Rio Gallegos
which is somewhere on the coast but I'll worry about getting there
from Ushuaia later. Really relieved I'm not going to be stuck in
this hell-hole for the next week.. Packed that evening so I can
check into a more central hotel tomorrow as the flight leaves at six
thirty a.m. on Saturday morning.
Friday 24th: Had breakfast and got taxi to Hotel
Venus in central Mendoza. Unfortunately it was full up but got a
shoe-box like room in the hotel across the room, but only by lying I
was staying three nights.. In the afternoon I got a taxi to
Mendoza's showpiece 'Museum Fundamental' which was total rubbish.
[Its supposed to be a history of Mendoza from the Big-Bang to the
present day. Intrigued by the promise of this fifteen billion year
extravaganza I was a mite disappointed to find it comprised mainly
of glass tanks containing plasticine dinosaurs and toy
conquistadors. Also some not so old glass bottles, one of which had
Coca-Cola engraved on it. Actually I just made up the Coca-Cola bit
but you get the drift]. Afterwards went across the road to see the
Ruins of San Francisco. Rubbish also - looked like a derelict house
covered in scaffolding. Perhaps I'm getting a bit jaded with this
place? However the park was nice.
This country was a total nightmare for change -
even trying to spend a twenty Peso note could be a problem and
no-one had change of a fifty. Unfortunately the ATM's only issued
fifty and one hundred Peso notes.
Saturday 25th: Got an early taxi to the airport
no problem and the flight to Buenos Aires went without
hitch. However the tourist info. at the airport didn't book
accommodation and advised me to walk with my ruck-sack "10 minutes"
to the main hotel area despite it obviously being three miles on the
map. Then they tried to get me to go to the Claridge Hotel (5 star,
most exclusive hotel in BA)!? Gave up on them, got a taxi to bus
station, left my rucksack in left-luggage, got the metro into the
city centre, eventually booked into 'Hotel Splendid', had lunch, got
another taxi back to the bus station, picked up my luggage and then
got a third taxi back to the hotel. Not in very good mood. Time was
getting on so I went to an internet cafe to check/send emails and to
find out where Rio Gallegos was and how to get there from Ushuaia.
It seems that it is a real hell-hole and unless I can get a flight
it involves a twelve hour bus journey through featureless tundra and
a ferry crossing. Oh well. Back to my
hotel for an early night but impossible to sleep due to the mad
locals having an all-night rock concert and firework display in the
street outside my window.
Sunday 26th: Checked out at half four in the
morning after two hours sleep. Made a reservation for when I get
back from Ushuaia. At the airport I was accosted by the Tourist
Information (?) idiots again. This time were adamant I was at the
wrong airport. They were wrong, and had "assumed" that because I had
a rucksack with me I was flying home. These people are dangerous!
Business class seat to Ushuaia, with the seat next to me free also;
I crashed out before we had even taken off and was
by a nice hostess as we approached Ushuaia four hours later to a
cooked breakfast. A bit "iffy" getting accommodation at Ushuaia
airport, but the man at the taxi-desk took pity on me and fixed me
up in a guest house not too far from the town centre. A good room
with bathroom and TV. In the afternoon I went on a five hour
catamaran trip up the Beagle Strait, stopped off at islands with sea
lion, imperial shag and penguin colonies. Took a lot of photos with
my 400mm lens and also some video. Afterwards I went for dinner with
a Puerto Rican guy I met on the trip, then walked back to the guest
Monday 27th: Had a lie-in till half nine to catch
up on my sleep. Walked into the town centre and enquired at the Aerolineas Argentine office about getting a flight to BA or Rio
Gallegos. I was told they were all fully booked for the next
two weeks but I was getting wise to them so just walked across
the road and bought the required Rio Gallegos ticket in a Travel
Agents - and only USD $40! In the afternoon I went on a minibus trip
to the Tierra del Fuego National Park with a party of Portuguese. It
was raining and cold but also very invigorating, that and the
scenery reminded me very much of Scotland which meant I could have
saved money and just stayed at home, but enjoyable none the less.
Afterwards had dinner - the largest steak I've ever had I think.
Afterwards I sent some emails and had my photographs burnt onto CD.
Very cold in the evening.
Tuesday 28th: Went into town in the morning and
booked a full day 4X4 trip to the lakes for Thursday and horse
riding for tomorrow morning. Got a taxi to the
'Tren del Fin del Mundo ['Train at the End of the World' - a narrow
gauge railway that follows the route of the convict railway: Ushuaia
was originally a prison colony for politicals and so called
'incorrigibles' It was
touristy, but fun and good scenery. Back in Ushuaia visited the
museum in the old prison - really interesting, wish I'd had longer.
After dinner (another monster steak) did some research on the
internet re. going to Uruguay for a few days which seems feasible..
Wednesday, March 1st: Picked up at 10.00 and
taken to the riding stables. Some rough terrain; 45º
slopes, a lot of sliding about in the mud, riding through the woods
and through rivers. Even went riding in the sea. I must admit
considering the fact I've only been taking lessons for three months
I was surprised at how good I was! Back on the road it was suggested
I go for a "fast trot" - this turned out to be South-American-speak
for a gallop but I didn't fall off despite loosing my stirrups. In
the afternoon I took another trip on the Beagle Canal. Spent ages
trying to find an ATM to get some pesos for the 4X4 trip tomorrow.
Had dinner in the best restaurant I could find - another massive
steak for about the equivalent of twelve dollars.
Thursday 2nd: Picked
up by land rover at 09.00. Set off up route 3 into the Southern
Andes, then dropped off to hike down to Lagos [Lake] Escandido.
Picked up at the bottom by Bismarck, our driver, then on to Lagos
Fagnano, driving through
the water when the track petered out. Stopped off at cabin where
Bismarck made excellent lunch of (surprise) giant steaks. Had to
rescue the driver of smaller vehicle who had got stuck in the mud -
towed him out with the winch. Visited other lakes then back onto
Route 3 and back to Ushuaia for dinner. Afterwards spent a couple of
hours burning photographs to CD and checking/sending emails home.
Tomorrow, I decided to see if I can get on sea-kayaking trip and
small boat trip to land on the mysteriously named Island "H".
Friday 3rd: Went to
"Canoefun" Office in the morning but the kayaking trip was fully
at the harbour, the weather was too rough for an "Island "H"
landing. Nothing else to do so went riding again - still loosing my
bloody stirrups on the canter! Later still too rough for "Island "H"
landing, so gave up on that one, and went out on the "Barracuda" to
the sea lion colony. Took a lot of photographs and video. Back in
Ushuaia tried to find the "Beagle Experience" exhibition - tried
everywhere for an hour but couldn't find it. Had a last walk round
Ushuaia and a last steak dinner. Got lost in the dark and ended up
in a menacing housing estate getting back to hotel and it was late
when I finally found it and everything was locked up but I shouted
at the window and got let in.
Saturday 4th: The
curse of Aerolineas Argentine struck again! Paid the hotel bill and
got a taxi to the
airport. The flight to Rio Gallegos took 45 minutes. A tiny airport
and no left luggage, so I got a taxi to the bus station, but
still no left luggage. Got another taxi back to the airport resigned
to an eight hour wait for my flight to Buenos Aires. It's true from
what I could see this place is a dump - the scenery outside
resembling a cross between the Russian steppe crossed with the
1930's Depression American Mid-West. Spent the afternoon doing soduko puzzles
and had a horrible meal then was none too pleased to find that my
flight to Buenos Aires went... via bloody
And it was half empty! Didn't Aerolineas know where their own bloody
planes fly to/from? A whole day wasted in this hell-hole only to be
flown back to where I started from! I was not a happy bunny! The
flight eventually got into Buenos Aires at half past midnight, then Aerolineas
put the cherry on the cake and lost my baggage. Fortunately for them it had only been put on the
wrong belt. Finally made it back to "Hotel Splendid" at 01.30. At
least they had remembered my reservation.
Sunday 5th: Got up
late. Nice day. In the afternoon went for a walk round the city
centre and down to the Parque Ecological on the River Plate which
was less than exciting, in fact extremely flat, featureless and
dull. Walked back to City Centre; getting to know my way around now.
I rather liked Buenos Aires. In the evening I went to the Internet
Cafe and did my emails and some research into ferries to Montevideo
(Uruguay) - decided to go there on Tuesday.
breakfast I walked down to the ferry terminal and bought a ticket to
Montevideo for tomorrow. Then I walked down to the bus terminal and
got the metro to Centro. Had lunch, then walked to the Rocoleta
Cemetery, which was strangely impressive in an exclusively rich sort
of way. Had decided to avoid Eva Peron's grave in case someone
thought I was an Andrew Lloyd-Weber fan but it was on the route
anyway. Afterwards had a hell of a job trying to get an empty taxi
to take me back to my hotel, but managed in the end. Went for a
steak where a sadistic waiter tricked me into
the house-special which seemed to comprise of half a roast cow, but forced myself to eat it all just to spite him.
Went to bed early suffering from chronic cholesterol overdose.
six. Reserved a room for two days time and deposited most of my
luggage with reception. Then I got a taxi to the ferry terminal.
Embarking the space-age looking ferry was more like going through
airport security, but I suppose it is an international crossing,
although the trip across the River Plate was frankly disappointing -
everyone was allocate an aeroplane-type seat and there was no decks
outside to go on. Come to think of it I never even caught so much as
a glimpse of the river. Slept the whole way. Uruguay Customs was a
formality. I took the courtesy bus into the centre of Montevideo. It
took ages to find an ATM (no bureau de changes open?!), and also a
pain finding a hotel; eventually got a room in an exceptionally dingy
establishment but it was only for a couple of nights. Had a walk
round Montevideo but compared to BA this place seems a bit
dilapidated and even slightly threatening at times. Also, I
discovered I was in a different time-zone and had lost an hour.
Decided to get out of Montevideo tomorrow so eventually found my way
to the bus station and booked a ticket to Punta Del Este - a
rich persons' resort or something, for the morning. Sent some
emails, lost my hat and went to a supermarket but was told to leave for taking in my
day-pack. Still didn't have a clue what the Uruguayan exchange rate
Wednesday 8th: Got
up at six thirty, got a taxi to the bus station and caught the
bus to Puerto del Este. Had problems at first getting by
co-ordinates, but worked it out eventually and had a walk round the
marina, this was the rich-set's playground round here, but quite
pleasant for a relaxing day in the sunshine. After lunch
(eventually) manage to get a local bus (only ten minutes) to
Maldonado, a sleepy but attractive old colonial town. Spent a couple
of hours looking around and taking photos then I got the bus back to
Puerto Del Este in the afternoon. Had dinner, then killed time
sending emails till my bus was
back to Montevideo. Rashly decided to walk back to my hotel, took a
wrong turning and spent an hour hopelessly lost in a very poor part
of the city - was relieved when I finally emerged near my hotel.
Kept awake by morons on motorcycles revving and roaring round and
round the city centre until two a.m. when there was an almighty
screech and a smashing, crashing noise ... ...then silence.
Thursday 9th: Got up
latish, checked out of the hotel and got a taxi to the ferry
terminal. Either the ferry was late or the ticket was in Argentinean
time but was it delayed for some time and the crossing
was extremely rough thwarting my plans to have a meal on board the
most boring ferry I have ever been on. Back in BA took the Metro
back to my hotel and checked in again. By now it was getting late so
I had yet another half-cow for my dinner then went back to hotel and
Friday 10th: Slept
in - laziness/time adjustment/four weeks of constant activity? My
last day and had a few things to do. Got lunch. Went for a walk and
took photographs (Obelisk, Avenue de Mayo, Avenue 25th Julio etc.
Then I changed my Uruguayan currency into dollars. I happened to be
passing the Palace Paz on Plaza San Martin as an English language
tour was starting so did that but not particularly interesting. Then
I bought some souvenirs, had a last steak dinner then went back to
my hotel and packed for my return home tomorrow.
Saturday 11th: Did a
"dry run" to the airport bus station in the morning to make sure I
knew where I was going. The I went back to my hotel, had some lunch,
checked out and got a taxi to the bus station and the bus to the
airport. The flight back to Paris was long, boring and uneventful.
The news from Charles de Gaulle airport wasn't good, due to freak
snowstorms all Scottish airports were supposedly closed. Fortunately
Edinburgh Airport was clear and I arrived back in the UK at around
five p.m. on the Sunday evening - fifteen hours later I was back at