A Travellerspoint blog

January 2018

Cuba

Route: Holguin – Camaguey – Trinidad – Playa Larga – Las Terrazas – Vinales – Havana - Remedios – Camaguey – Santiago de Cuba – Holguin.

FEBRUARY & MARCH 2017

After a hectic two weeks in the UK, replacing things that were stolen in Chile – Passport, Phone, Reading Glasses, etc., we left for a four-week tour of Cuba.

Our flight departed from London Gatwick and ten hours later delivered us to Holguin, the third largest city and on the eastern side of Cuba. Although an international airport, Holguin was small and quiet. It was here that we picked up our hire car, our mode of transport for the next four weeks. We spent the first two nights in the heart of Holguin town at a Casa Particular (family run B&B), run by Nestor and his wife. They were very friendly and helpful, which stretched Anne’s Spanish to her limits.

Holguin was a fascinating place and was a good introduction to Cuba. The first thing we noticed was the mode of transport, and that our car was an exception. Most people get around in either old (1950/60) American cars, some in better condition than others, or buses converted from cattle trucks, or horse drawn taxi carts and at the bottom of the scale “Bicitaxi’s” – a bicycle with one or two passenger seats. The “Bicitaxi’s” can also have added comforts, such as an umbrella shade and music accompaniment. The buildings also stood out, some beautifully maintained old colonial buildings amongst buildings that were on the verge of collapse. And these were all interspersed with a variety of residential properties in a varying degree of completion.

Holguin

Holguin

Holguin

Holguin

Holguin

Holguin

Holguin Taxi's

Holguin Taxi's

Holguin upmarket Taxi

Holguin upmarket Taxi

Holguin

Holguin

Holguin

Holguin


Holguin traffic

Holguin traffic

On the morning of day three, we said goodbye to our hosts, extracted the car from its secure parking just down the road and headed for Camaguey (214 km west of Holguin). However, we soon realised that not all was well with the car, it was hard to start, the ignition warning light stayed on and it kept stalling. So instead of going direct to Camaguey, we went via the car hire office to get it sorted. The main office was very unhelpful but a car cleaner at the depot managed to get someone to help us. The problem was the battery in the ignition key.
Our journey to Camaguey was on paved roads, which varied in quality but were generally fairly good. The traffic was light, mostly a few trucks, buses and tractors, except for around the towns when hundreds of horse drawn carts and bicycles would appear. Camaguey was smaller than Holguin but just as busy and congested with the usual people, bicycles, taxis, buses, etc. We stayed in a Casa Particular right in the centre of the old town and our secure parking was in what appeared to be part of someone’s living room. Arriving late (after the car troubles) we didn’t have time to explore much but what we saw was interesting and we had a great meal.

Camaguey

Camaguey

The next day we were on our way again, this time around 250km southwest to the UNESCO World Heritage old town of Trinidad. The route there took us along similar roads to the previous day, with the same sort of traffic but as we passed Sancti Spiritus the scenery changed. It wasn’t all flat; there we forested mountains and fields of Sugar Cane. Our accommodation in Trinidad was another Casa Particular and our secure parking was in a compound within the gated part of the town. After having a quick look around and dinner out on that first night, we spent the next day having a good look around. The reason for Trinidad’s UNESCO status is that it hasn’t changed since its partial abandonment in the late 19th Century. The streets are all cobblestones and the buildings colonial. Most trade seems to be undertaken in people’s front rooms or from sellers going from door to door. Shops were very varied, the plaza’s was attractive, and the usual old American cars are everywhere (together with a lot of Lada’s). It’s a busy place with people going about there daily business (which is interesting in it self, particularly their ingenuity to make do with what they have. Trade with other countries being restricted by the USA embargo) interspersed with tourist soaking up the atmosphere. It is certainly an intriguing place that provided us with hours of entertainment, during our three-day stay. We did however manage to drag ourselves out of town for a few hours and visit Parque Topes de Collantes. A beautiful area in the mountains, about 20km out of town. The start was a steep drive to the starting point, then an equally steep decent through the forest to an attractive waterfall. Coming back was a tough climb in the heat and humidity and we were pleased to reach the car and its air conditioning. On the drive back to Trinidad we gave a lift to two forest workers, which as it turned out was a wise move, as we had puncture just outside of town. They were able to organise its repair for us, knowing where to go and who to see. The cause of the flat was horseshoe nails, four of them, and probably the result of a kids game. So ended an eventful day out of town.

Valley close to Trinidad

Valley close to Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Bus in Trinidad

Bus in Trinidad

Old American car in Trinidad

Old American car in Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Front room shop in Trinidad

Front room shop in Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Old Lady in Trinidad

Old Lady in Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

Trinidad

National Park outside Trinidad

National Park outside Trinidad

Cuba 050

Cuba 050

Rock wall in National Park outside Trinidad

Rock wall in National Park outside Trinidad

The drive to our next location was the most attractive so far, crossing rural flat lands full of crops before hugging the coast to Playa Larga. Our first day here was spent on an organised walk in the forest of Parque Natural Cienaga de Zapata. It wasn’t quite what we had signed up for but was fun all the same. It did include some interesting sightings, a two meter long Boa, some North American Crocodiles, some tiny Fruit Bats, etc. In the afternoon it rained heavily which suspended activities for the day. Day two was sunny so we went snorkelling in a nearby bay. You could snorkel from the beach and the marine life was pretty good.

Land Crab

Land Crab

Boa

Boa

Bird

Bird

North American Crocodile

North American Crocodile

Cave near Playa Larga

Cave near Playa Larga

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Bay of Pig memorial

Bay of Pig memorial

From Playa Larga our journey took us further east, beyond Havana and into the Sierra de Roario. Here we stayed in the countryside just outside Las Terrazas. The first day was spent exploring the village of Soroa, about 20km down the road from our accommodation. Soroa had an interesting orchidirium and a climb out of the village rewarded us with a fine view across the plains to the Caribbean Sea beyond one way and the Sierra de Roario the other. Plus there was a restaurant serving cocktails at the very same viewpoint. Day two, we took a guide and ventured into the valley of Sierra de Roario and amongst the ruins of old coffee plantations.

Fisherman

Fisherman

Woodpecker

Woodpecker

Black bird

Black bird

Our next stop was the town of Vinales, set in a valley with mountains all around. This is cigar country, with tobacco plantations and factories everywhere. So a cigar production demonstration was one of our first activities, followed by a purchase of some Monticristo’s. Our two days in Vinales were spent exploring the beautiful scenery. We had a guided tour of the farms and plantations within the Vinales National Park, which included a local rum distillery. It seemed rude not to buy a bottle after a demonstration and a tasting. We visited two of the many caves in the area and saw what must be the world’s largest mural; it covered a complete hillside.

Tabacco leaves

Tabacco leaves

Dry Tobacco leaves and tools

Dry Tobacco leaves and tools

Rural transport

Rural transport

Plowing the old way

Plowing the old way

Rural cultivation

Rural cultivation

Vinales bus

Vinales bus

Vinales countryside

Vinales countryside

Worlds biggest mural

Worlds biggest mural

Next stop was the capital city of Havana. We stayed on the outskirts of town in Miramar, treating ourselves to a lovely room in an old colonial house. Then spent three enjoyable days exploring the city. Havana is renowned for it architecture and culture, but offers so much more. People watching is at its best here, observing daily life and being amazed by the Cuban ingenuity which kept us intrigued for hours. It was also here that we took the opportunity to ride in the famous old American cars, both convertible and saloon.

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana rooftops

Havana rooftops

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana


Havana

Havana

Havana

Havana

From Havana our journey took us east, back towards our final destination of Holguin, and to the town of Remedios. Remedios is a very attractive town, close to Cuba’s north coast and with easy access to the Cays. In fact it was the Cays (small coral fringed islands) that we were here for, and to do some snorkelling. Unfortunately the wind put pay to our snorkelling, but we did enjoy the empty white sandy beaches and the turquois Caribbean Sea. It was also an interesting experience to drive on the man made causeway that links the mainland to the islands. It wasn’t all sun, sea and sand at Remedios though; we did enjoy a visit to an old sugar mill, which is now a museum, as well as exploring the back streets of the town itself.

Road to Caya Santa Maria

Road to Caya Santa Maria

Old Sugar Mill

Old Sugar Mill

Old Sugar Mill

Old Sugar Mill

Old Sugar Mill

Old Sugar Mill

Caya Santa Maria

Caya Santa Maria

Remedios

Remedios


Remedios

Remedios

It was now time for two of the longest drives of the trip, first to overnight in Camaguey, then all the way over to the south coast and to Cuba’s second biggest town of Santiago de Cuba. In fact it didn’t turn out to be so bad as expected, with the road only getting really bad as we got closer to Santiago. Camaguey was a nice as we remembered it from our brief stay earlier in the trip, and we visited our favourite Cuban restaurant again. The only down side, was, that our accommodation was double booked and we ended up in an inferior place.
Santiago de Cuba is the poorest part of Cuba, which is what was immediately evident as we arrived. The town is the home of the revolution and has seen many battles over the last 300 odd years. We visited a fort on the coast, strolled around town and had an amazing Sunday drive into the mountains. For the Sunday drive our host, Daylis and a fellow traveller, Jamie, accompanied us. The route took us up into the Sierra Maestra (famous as the birth place of the revolution). We first called at the church in El Cobre (which the Pope visited on a recent tour of Cuba) and then continued in to the mountains to visit Daylis’s grandmother and cousins. This was a rare and privileged opportunity to witness first hand rural life in Cuba. Modern conveniences were in short supply, water was delivered by a tractor drawn tanker, most floors were bare dirt, wood fire cooking was the norm and livestock roamed in and out of the house. However, there was an electricity supply, TV, DVD and mobile phone service. It was a very memorable day.

Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba

Church of El Cobre

Church of El Cobre

Sierra Maestra

Sierra Maestra

Rural kitchen

Rural kitchen

Coffee making the old way

Coffee making the old way

Traditional coffee

Traditional coffee

Rural back yard

Rural back yard

Outside cooking

Outside cooking

A project

A project

Our final leg was back to Holguin from Santiago, via a visit to Cementerio Santa Ifigenia. Cementerio Santa Ifigenia is where Fidel Castro along with other famous Cubans are buried. A very military style cemetery, very neat, clean and tidy with a change of guard every 30 minutes.

Cemetery where Fidel Castro is buried

Cemetery where Fidel Castro is buried

In Holguin we were supposed to stay at the same place as our previous visit, however our host, Nestor, had a client overrun, so he had arranged a room in a neighbouring Casa Particular. This was no problem as the new place was equally as nice.

An evening and morning in Holguin, plus morning coffee with Nestor and his family, and that was Cuba done.

Observations

Multifunctional Houses
The front room of the house is multifunctional. In addition to the usual uses, we have seen it used as an office, shop, garage, stable exit, etc.

Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is new to Cuba. Access is via hotspots, usually the central plaza near to the telephone company office. Here people congregate, to talk online, read emails, surf the net, etc.
However, to have access, you first need an Internet card, which is purchased from the telephone company office. Not as easy as it sounds, first the office hours seem to be random, then there is a long queue (over an hour is not unusual). Once you reach the counter it doesn’t get any easier, a long form needs to be completed asking a lot of personal information. Finally, you make the purchase and leave with your card. Next stop is the central plaza, you enter the number on your card and if you are lucky you will have Wi-Fi connection. I say lucky, sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t, we could be sitting next to each other and only one of us would get connected. Also one card only allows one hour of access, so for four weeks we needed more than one. Knowing the purchase process on the second occasion, we bought six cards so as to avoid having to do it again.

Motorbike & Sidecar
The Motorbike and Sidecar still provides a common mode of transport in Cuba, something I haven’t seen in many other places in the world. In fact transport in general is fascinating. At the top end are the tourist cars and coaches, and then there are the taxis. A taxi can be an old American car from the 50’s or 60’s, a Russian Lada (with various modifications), a horse drawn carriage, a bicycle with one or two passenger seats, a converted cattle truck, etc. etc. And in rural locations an Oxon pulled cart can have many uses.

Cuba still use Motorbike & Sidecar a lot

Cuba still use Motorbike & Sidecar a lot

Cuban Horses
One thing that did disturb us, was the care given to horses. The horse still performs a vital role for many families and it seems amazing that they are not better cared for. They appear underfed, under groomed and ridden in an unsympathetic manner.

Posted by MAd4travel 02:14 Archived in Cuba Comments (2)

Southern Chile and more

Route: Santiago de Chile – Molina – Recinto – Curacautin – Pucon – Valdivia – Entre Lagos – Ensenada – Puerto Vares- Ancud – Chonchi – Ensenada – Nueva Imperial – Talca – Santiago – Buenos Aires – Puerto Iguazu – Buenos Aires.

DECEMBER 2016 – JANUARY 2017

On 07 December we picked up our hire car and headed south. Our first stop was 250km south of Santiago, in the fruit and vegetable growing region and in a small town called Molina. Our aim was to visit the national park near by, but Anne’s cough had got so bad we needed to seek medical advice. Our host David was very helpful and organised a doctor’s visit on the first day and a hospital visit on the second (to get a second opinion). To our surprise the diagnosis was an allergy. The hospital increased the strength of the medication (given my the doctor) and gave Anne an injection to speed up the recovery process.

From Molina, we headed a further 250km south to a small village called Recinto, nestled in the forested slopes of the Andean Mountains. We had beautiful views from our cabin balcony of both the forest and mountains. But would you credit it, I (Malc) started to develop the same symptoms as Anne, so started the course of allergy tablets that had originally been proscribed by the doctor for her (Anne was now on the Hospital prescribed medication). Our first, and only full day, dawned with a fine mountain rain in the air, and as neither of us was in the best of health, a short village walk when the rain cleared was our only activity.

Another 350km south, and we were now in the northern reaches of Chile’s Lake District. Home for the next three nights would be a cabin in the woods, south east of Curacautin. Beautiful location, but access was at the limit of our little Hyundai Accent’s capabilities. Day one again dawned with fine mountain rain but cleared to allow us to walk to the idyllic Laguna Negra. The second day was much nicer, sunshine and a clear blue sky, so we hiked to the viewpoint to see Vulcan Llaima (the local volcano that dominates the skyline on a clear day) in all its glory.

Parc Nacional Conguillio

Parc Nacional Conguillio

Woods in Parc Nacional Conguillio

Woods in Parc Nacional Conguillio

Lava flow fromVolcano Llaima

Lava flow fromVolcano Llaima

Our cabin in the wood, just outside Parc Nacional Conguillio

Our cabin in the wood, just outside Parc Nacional Conguillio

Track to our cabin in the woods

Track to our cabin in the woods

Local birdlife

Local birdlife

Volcano Llaima

Volcano Llaima

Chile_264.jpgAccess to our cabin in the woods

Access to our cabin in the woods

From one cabin in the woods, we then moved to another, 250km further south. Not quite so remote and with a bit better road access. The cabin was located between the two-lakeside towns of Pucon and Caburgua, next to the Rio Pucon. More stunning scenery, with the skyline dominated by Volcano Villarrica. We had three days here and had plenty of time to enjoy the lakes, rivers and the nearby national park.

Lago Pucon

Lago Pucon

Southeast this time, to the coastal town of Valdivia. Said to be one of the most attractive towns in Chile, this was stretching it a bit, but it was pleasant enough. However, we did love the open market, selling a fabulous selection of fruit, veg and fish. And with the massive South American Sea Lions waiting for fish scraps, barely feet away from the fishmonger, quite a unique environment. Sadly our second day in the area was a wash out.

South American Sea Lions

South American Sea Lions

South American Sea Lion in Valdivia

South American Sea Lion in Valdivia

South American Sea Lion in Valdivia

South American Sea Lion in Valdivia

South American Sea Lion in Valdivia

South American Sea Lion in Valdivia

It was then onwards south to another lakeside town, Entre Lagos on lake Puyehue. For the two nights here the weather wasn’t favouring us, but we did manage a waterfall (s) hike in the Puyehue National Park.

DIY water transportation wheel

DIY water transportation wheel

Stones that float

Stones that float

Three Waterfalls Hike

Three Waterfalls Hike

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South once more, and another lakeside town. Ensenada was on Lago Llanquihue, a beautiful setting surrounded by two volcanoes, Osorno and Calbuco, the later having erupted as recently as 2015. Accommodation was also another cabin in the woods and a very comfortable one to. Although the weather was still unsettled we were able to get out and enjoy our surroundings. A drive up to the ski station on Vulcan Osorno allowed us to witness all the different vegetation as the altitude increased, until there was nothing but volcanic ash. We also visited Lake Petrohue and explored the waterfall trails along the Rio Petrohue.

Los Pilliyos

Los Pilliyos

It was now Xmas day and our next destination was Chiloe (a large island just off the coast of the mainland), or so we thought. About half way to the ferry port, Anne’s phone burst into life, announcing a Tsunami alert. Not sure what to make of this, we studied what other people were doing, namely nothing out of the ordinary, and continued our journey. However, just before we arrived at the ferry terminal we were stopped by police, advised that there was in fact a possibility of a Tsunami and we should get away from the coast. Also, because of this there was no ferry’s running? With this advise we headed back in-land and spent the night Puerto Vares about 100km from the coast. It was there that we heard that there had been a 7.6-magnatude earthquake in Quellon (far south of Chiloe), which had triggered the Tsunami alert.

By the next day, the news was much better. No one had been hurt in the earthquake, the Tsunami warning had been lifted and the ferries were back to normal. So this time we successfully crossed the Canal de Chacao and arrived safely on the island of Chiloe.

Car Ferry to Chiloe

Car Ferry to Chiloe

We had planned a nine day stay on Chiloe, which was now eight, a couple of nights in the north at Ancud and the rest in the centre at Chonchi. Chiloe is one of the wettest places in Chile, but other than dodging the odd heavy shower here and there, in didn’t affect our enjoyment of this very scenic island. The pace of life on the island was even more relaxed than the mainland and scenery was very much like Devon and Cornwell. We loved our stay there. We got out on the water a couple of times to see the marine life and the coast from a different prospective. We visited one of the smaller islands of the main island, including another car ferry. Walked in the country side and visited the Chiloe National Park, which occupies almost all of the western coast, and explored many of the towns and villages. What was also a bonus was our accommodation. Both very comfortable self-catering cabins, but with magnificent views out over the bay with fishing boats constantly coming and going (especially in Chonchi). The only signs of the earthquake, although we didn’t visit Quellon, were a few cracks in the road and a number of small landslides. However, most days we did feel an earth tremor, all part of the after shock process.

Magellan Penguins

Magellan Penguins

Magellan Penguins

Magellan Penguins

Goose

Goose

Red Legged Cormorant

Red Legged Cormorant

Ancud Chiloe

Ancud Chiloe

One of many UNESCO church's on Chiloe

One of many UNESCO church's on Chiloe

Chile mainland from Chiloe

Chile mainland from Chiloe

Chiloe

Chiloe

Ibis

Ibis

Chonchi Port

Chonchi Port

Chile_357.jpgChile_359.jpgCastro Chiloe

Castro Chiloe

Castro Chiloe

Castro Chiloe

From Chiloe we started our journey back north to Santiago. First stop was a return visit to Ensenada and the lovely cabin in the woods. We had two full days here, and on the second, we got good weather and were able to explore Vulcan Osorno up as far as the snowline.

Volcano Osorno

Volcano Osorno

Volcano Osorno

Volcano Osorno

Swan

Swan

A long drive from Ensenada brought us to our next destination, Nueva Imperial in the heart of the Mapuche region. The Mapuche are one of the last indigenous people to still remain in Chile, although now mostly integrated with the European settlers. We had one full day here to explore, it rained, but we did keep dry for our visit to Lago Budi.

Another long drive brought us to our final destination before returning the car in Santiago, that of Talca. The accommodation here was once again very comfortable. This time we were not self catering and instead ate at the on site restaurant. This had the added bonus of a bit of interaction with fellow travellers. Talca had great mountain scenery just a short drive away, so this allowed us one day of hiking and one day just relaxing.

Santiago was just an overnight before flying on to Easter Island, our so we thought. The following morning all plans changed. Whilst at breakfast my (Malc) day bag got stolen, and with it went my passport, credit cards, money, electronics and more. So instead of Easter Island, the following week was spent getting an emergency passport, a replacement tourist card, and a visa for Argentina, together with undertaking the endless tasks to organise everything I needed to continue our travels. It was a nightmare, but I must acknowledge how helpful the hotel staff were and that also goes for the British and Argentine Embassies and the Chilean Police. Also, Anne was amazing; I don’t know what I would have done without her.
Fortunately, everything was organised it time for us to continue our travels into Argentina, and get the itinerary back on track.

Flight over the Indian Mountains from Chile to Argentina

Flight over the Indian Mountains from Chile to Argentina

One night in Buenos Aires, followed by an internal flight to Puerto Iguazu. The focus of the visit was the Iguazu Falls, the largest body of water falling anywhere in the world. We spent two days at the falls and one in the town of Puerto Iguazu. The falls were amazing as ever, we had visited them before, but the crowds were bigger than last time.

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Turtle

Turtle

Plush Crested Jay

Plush Crested Jay

Spiders

Spiders

Toucan

Toucan

Swallow-tailed Butterfly

Swallow-tailed Butterfly

Monitor Lizard

Monitor Lizard

Cayman

Cayman

Coati

Coati

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Our last three nights were in Buenos Aires with the days spent sight seeing.

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Personal Observation and interesting facts

Supermarkets
Best supermarket in Chile was Jumbo. Because it stocked our favourite chocolate marzipan and some British beer – Trooper & London Pride.

Chilean's
Almost without exception, the Chilean people were the friendliest we have encountered anywhere in the world.

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu reminded us that there seems more tourist in the world than ever before, maybe people are rushing to see our planets wonders before us humans destroy them all.

Posted by MAd4travel 02:09 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Northern Chile

Route: Santiago de Chile – Vicuna - Vallenar – Huasco – Chaneral – Bahia Inglesa – La Serena – Santiago de Chile – Calama – San Pedro de Atacama – Santiago de Chile

NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2016

Our first 24 hours was spent travelling from London to Santiago de Chile, via Buenos Aires, Argentina, a distance of 12,225klm. Much of the next day was spent recovering from the journey, which wasn’t too bad to be fair, in a comfortable apartment in the centre of Santiago. The following three days were spent exploring the city.

Arriving in to Santiago de Chile over the Andian Mountains

Arriving in to Santiago de Chile over the Andian Mountains

Santiago de Chile Old Town

Santiago de Chile Old Town

Santiago de Chile old and new

Santiago de Chile old and new

Santiago de Chile Fish Market

Santiago de Chile Fish Market

Santiago de Chile - central park

Santiago de Chile - central park

Santiago de Chile skyline

Santiago de Chile skyline

Our next destination was Vicuna, about 400km north of Santiago. We choose to fly and then hire a car to explore the Copiapo Region. This we did, and spent the first few nights at Vicuna in the Elqui Valley. Fantastic accommodation and great hosts, it was hard to leave. The Elqui Valley was beautiful, an oasis in an otherwise barren landscape, where the river runs down from the mountains to the sea. The valley is cultivated mostly for vines and the production of Pisco, the local spirit. In addition to the valley scenery, we had an amazing evening gazing at the stars and planets through massive telescopes at one of the local observatories.

Accommodation in Vicuna, Elque Valley

Accommodation in Vicuna, Elque Valley

Elqui Valley

Elqui Valley

Moon, from Elqui Valley Observatory

Moon, from Elqui Valley Observatory

Valley transport

Valley transport

From Vicuna we headed north to explore more of the Copiapo Region. Vallenar was our first stop, which allowed us to explore the attractive valleys of El Transito & Carman. It was then 60klm west to the coastal town of Huasco, and the beautiful Parque Nacional Llanos de Challe, with its resident Vicunas. From Huasco we travelled much further north, into the Atacama Desert and to the town of Chanaral. Chaneral was our base to visit another beautiful park, Parque Nacional Pan de Azucar, with its stunning geology and many varieties of Cactus.

Huasco

Huasco

American Brown Pelican in Huasco Harbour

American Brown Pelican in Huasco Harbour

Parque Nacional Llanos de Chile

Parque Nacional Llanos de Chile

Vicuna

Vicuna

Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Cactus in Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Cactus in Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Flora of Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Flora of Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar

We then started our journey back south with three relaxing days at Bahia Inglesa. A little beach resort in a secluded bay, where we did very little except, eat delicious seafood and chill out. It was then onwards south to La Serena, the principal city of the region, before flying back to Santiago de Chile and the start of the second northern phase.

Cadera

Cadera

Bahia Inglesa

Bahia Inglesa

Our next Chile adventure took us much further north, deep into the Atacama Desert. We flew to Calama and stayed a few nights in the city. The reason for the stop over, was to visit the largest open cast copper mine in the world, at Chuquicamata. And, what an impressive visit it was. You can’t believe the scale of the operation until you get up close. The whole in the ground was over 14klm long and several kilometres wide, and they plan to make it bigger. The trucks were enormous with a ladder needed for the driver to get to his cabin; everything was on a massive scale. They have even relocated a whole town, so as the operation could expand even further.

Chuquicamata - Worlds largest open cast copper mine

Chuquicamata - Worlds largest open cast copper mine

Mega truck at Chuquicamata

Mega truck at Chuquicamata

Mining at Chuquicamata

Mining at Chuquicamata

Loaded truck at Chuquicamata mine

Loaded truck at Chuquicamata mine

Chuquicamata

Chuquicamata

Chuquicamata truck convoy

Chuquicamata truck convoy

Chuquicamata mining

Chuquicamata mining

From Calama we moved deeper into the desert, and to the town of San Pedro de Atacama. An oasis of adobe style houses, with Andean volcanoes looming in the background. We hired a three-bedroom house and spent 10 days in San Pedro, thoroughly exploring this unique region. As well as the towering volcanoes, which are always in view, the landscape has a barren beauty. There are vast salt lakes with flocks of Flamingos, sparse grassland where Vicuna graze, canyons with moon like features but no water and green patches in the desert where mountain rivers cut through. It was also hot, a powerful sun in mostly clear blue skies made you seek shelter whenever it presented itself. Cooling down only at night. The other feature of the area was the altitude, San Pedro was at 2400meters, but most of our exploration was higher than this, 4800meters being our highest point ventured. Heat plus altitude made each activity extra tiring, but definitely worth it. We also did some more stargazing.

Pukura de Quitor

Pukura de Quitor

Volcano Licancabur

Volcano Licancabur

Vicuna

Vicuna

Salar de Taras

Salar de Taras

Flamingoes on Laguna de Tara

Flamingoes on Laguna de Tara

Flamingoes on Laguna de Tara

Flamingoes on Laguna de Tara

Atacama Desert rock

Atacama Desert rock

Valle de la Luna

Valle de la Luna

Valle de la Luna sand dune decent

Valle de la Luna sand dune decent

Valle de la Luna

Valle de la Luna

Valle de la Luna sunset

Valle de la Luna sunset

Laguna de Chaxa

Laguna de Chaxa

Flamingo flight path

Flamingo flight path

Valle de la Luna

Valle de la Luna

Laguna Minques

Laguna Minques

San Pedro de Atacama high street

San Pedro de Atacama high street

Llama's

Llama's

From San Pedro de Atacama it was back to Calama, a flight to Santiago de Chile and the start of our Southern adventure.

Personal Observations and interesting facts

Earthquakes
The Chilean people treat earthquakes as part of everyday life but for us tourists it can be a bit disconcerting. The first we experienced, in Santiago de Chile, almost shook the mirror off the wall, and the second, in La Serena, was further from the epicentre so the movement was less.

Hitchhiking
In rural parts of Chile, public transport is infrequent, making hitchhiking commonplace. In the short time we were there, we have picked up three locals. The first two were vineyard workers, who offered us freshly cut grapes as a thank you. And the other one was a lady who lived in the desert and wanted a lift to town. All are very grateful for the lift.

Roadside Shrines
In England, death through a road accident, warrants, at most, a cross and a few flowers. However, in Chile, this would be the minimum, more usually it would be a concrete shrine filled with biblical characters. Not only that these shrines can be big, some are the size of a small chapel. And the unusual doesn’t stop there. We have seen a whole car included in the structure, as well as safety hats and road cones, even a large photo of the deceased (election campaign size).

Memorial to a road fatality

Memorial to a road fatality


Road Side Memorial

Road Side Memorial

Posted by MAd4travel 02:07 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Exploring the UK and Prague

Route: UK = Peak District – Oxford – New Forest – Cotswolds and Czech Republic = Prague

SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER 2016

Since we started this five-year travel adventure, we have always spent time in Europe between more far-flung destinations. In 2016 we returned twice, briefly in June and for a longer period in September/October. This is partly for practical reasons but mostly to keep in touch with family and friends.
On the practical front, we find travelling around the world usually means coming via Europe to get to our next destination, so calling into the UK makes sense. We also need to attend to the usual life issues, such as medical and dental appointments, tax returns, picking up and dropping off travel items (not all destinations need the same items, for example you may need a snorkel & mask in the Caribbean but not in northern Norway, conversely thermals are handy in northern Norway but not in South East Asia), etc., etc.
And on the personal front we want to keep in touch with friends and family, because we may be having an amazing time travelling, but we do miss them. So when we are in the UK we do try and see as many people as possible during our visit.
Mostly our time is spent around Brighton & Horsham or in France, socialising or dealing with those life issues. But there is also time to explore new, more local, destinations, as was the case in September and October.

First off, we went on a UK adventure to visit parts of the country we didn’t know at all well.
The Peak District was our first location. Based in Sheffield, with unseasonably good weather, we spent a week exploring every corner of this beautiful part of the world.

Peak District

Peak District

Peak District

Peak District

Bronte family connection

Bronte family connection

Grave of Little John (Robin Hood gang)

Grave of Little John (Robin Hood gang)

Peak District stone walling

Peak District stone walling

Peak District scenery

Peak District scenery

Peak District

Peak District

Peak District

Peak District

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House



Our second location was very different, the historic city of Oxford. Although the weather was no so good, we spent a couple of days admiring the historic buildings and getting engrossed in its history.

Oxford

Oxford

Punts in Oxford

Punts in Oxford

Oxford

Oxford

It was then off into the New Forest. An area of moorland and woodland that has been fashioned by man over many centuries to create this unique landscape that remains today. Based in the pretty town of Ringwood, we spent many enjoyable days hiking the area.

New Forest pony

New Forest pony

New Forest

New Forest

New Forest

New Forest

New Forest

New Forest

Form the New Forest; it was a short journey northwest to the Cotswolds. This is another beautiful part of England, with its own unique village architecture. And it was in one such village that we stayed, going by the name of Whichford. Our activities were of the usual kind, namely out exploring the countryside on foot.

Ancient stones in the Cotswolds

Ancient stones in the Cotswolds

Ancient stones in the Cotswolds

Ancient stones in the Cotswolds

Cotswold ruins

Cotswold ruins

Cotswold town

Cotswold town

Cotswold town

Cotswold town

It was then back to London Gatwick for a short trip to mainland Europe. But not before a small detour via Coventry to see my rugby team, Wasps, play a match in the European Champions Cup. Anne cruelly said that the rugby match was the only reason I suggested the Cotswolds for a visit, whatever next.

Next stop the Czech Republic. We only had a week to spare, so we decided to concentrate our time exploring its capital, Prague. This turned out to be a wise move, as there was so much to see.

Prague Street Art

Prague Street Art

Prague Dancing Building

Prague Dancing Building

River Vltava through Prague

River Vltava through Prague

Prague Old Tram

Prague Old Tram

Prague Central Clock

Prague Central Clock

Prague Buildings

Prague Buildings

Prague Buildings

Prague Buildings

Across the Vltava river

Across the Vltava river

Prague

Prague

Prague John Lennon wall

Prague John Lennon wall

Prague centre church

Prague centre church

Prague architecture

Prague architecture

Prague city view

Prague city view

Prague statue steps

Prague statue steps

Prague Vltava River

Prague Vltava River

Posted by MAd4travel 02:05 Archived in England Comments (0)

Southern Namibia and South Africa's Northern Cape

Route: Hohenstein Mountains – Windhoek – Stampriet – Keetsmanshoop – Luderitz – Klein-Aus-Vista – Grunua – SA - Springbok– Augrabies Falls NP – Kimberley – Upington - Johannesburg

JULY - AUGUST 2016

Our first destination after Swakopmund was the Hohenstein Lodge at the front of the Hohenstein Mountains, part of the Erongo range. On our way we called in at Spitzkoppe, one of our favourite places in Namibia. Spitzkoppe is a group of massive boulder sitting alone in an empty desert landscape and once among them it feels like being in a different world.

Spitzkop

Spitzkop

Spitzkop from afar

Spitzkop from afar

Hohenstein Lodge wasn’t far from Spitzkoppe, so we were able to reach it before nightfall. Another awesome location, with plenty of desert hiking to keep us amused, plus a unique tour to visit miners in the mountain. Some 30 miners scrape a living from mining semi precious stones from the Erongo Mountains, selling them mainly to tourist for a meagre sum. They usually work alone; using hand drills and living in the mountains for much of their lives, a very hard life, one that makes you appreciate our own cushy existence.

Mountain man mining for semi precious stones

Mountain man mining for semi precious stones

Sunset in the mountains

Sunset in the mountains

From Hohenstein we started our journey south, with three one-night stops on route to our next destination, Luderitz. Stops in Windhoek, Stampriet and Keetmanshoop, broke up the 1,250km drive.

Luderitz is located on Namibia’s Atlantic coast, separated from the main settlements by more then 300klms of Namib Desert. Fortunately for us the road to Luderitz is tar all the way. The drive was spectacular with the scenery changing all the time. Luderitz is the centre of Namibia’s diamond mining industry and is surrounded by restricted zones that nobody except mining staff can enter, so no chance of finding the odd stone whilst out for a walk. However, even with the restrictions we found plenty to do during our stay. The first day we visited a ghost town called Kolmanskop – an old mining town abandoned many years ago when the local diamonds ran out. The desert is now slowly reclaiming the buildings, but what remains shows what a modern and sophisticated town it was in its day. The next day we took to the water for a coastal tour to visit the local Penguins, Flamingos, Seals and Dolphins. And the third day we explored the coast from the land, making sure we did not cross into the no-go zone. We also met an interesting young couple, Charles (from Cape Town) and Cath (from Oxford), who were driving from Oxford to Cape Town. They had sold everything, bought a Land Rover Discovery, kitted the car out and headed south. We must have spent an hour or so sharing travel stories with them.

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe

Kolmannskuppe desert town

Kolmannskuppe desert town

SAN_436.jpgSAN_437.jpgSAN_445.jpgTrain to nowhere

Train to nowhere

On our way back through the Namib we stopped off at a little oasis called Klein-Aus-Vista. It was a beautiful spot, sitting in the desert at the foot of some mountains. We had two nights there and did our best to explore the surroundings, with two very enjoyable hikes.

Namib Desert at Aus

Namib Desert at Aus

Hike through the Aus mountains

Hike through the Aus mountains

Desert car

Desert car

Namib

Namib

From Klein-Aus-Vista we headed out of Namibia, with a night stop on route, and into South Africa. Our location was Springbok in the Northern Cape and our aim was to see the desert flowers in bloom. Unfortunately we were to early for their full splendour, spring had arrived late this year, but did see some nice colours. We also got to do some beautiful hiking in the Geogap Nature Reserve.

SAN_484.jpgSAN_485.jpgSAN_488.jpgSAN_491.jpgSAN_492.jpgSAN_496.jpgNamaqualand Flowers

Namaqualand Flowers

Meerkates

Meerkates

Next stop was Augrabies Falls National Park, a protected area where the Orange River falls of a plateau and into a gorge. We had two days here, admiring the falls, exploring the plateau and preventing Baboons getting into our cottage. It was late afternoon on day two, it was hot, as a storm was brewing, and we had the front door and side window open for the cooling breeze. Unbeknown to us a troop of Baboons had wondered into the vicinity; that was until a large male appeared at our door. He had one hand inside the door before we were able to frighten him away, our so we thought. We closed the door and partly closed the window, locking them in place. However, a few minutes later he was back again, unlocking the window and half in the open gap. Shouts and aggressive movement got rid of him a second time and a potential dangerous situation was averted. Another new travel experience.

Augrabies Falls

Augrabies Falls

Augrabies Falls National Park

Augrabies Falls National Park

Augrabies Falls Canyon

Augrabies Falls Canyon

SAN_510.jpg

Our last destination in South Africa, before our journey back to the UK, was Kimberley. We stayed on a guest farm 15km from town and enjoyed walking on the estate and a day visit to the Big Hole Diamond Mine. As the name suggests, this is the worlds biggest hand dug hole; done so in search of diamonds. The mine is no longer operational and the hole is full of water, but the tour took us around the old town, and in to a mineshaft.

Big Hole

Big Hole

Big Hole Data

Big Hole Data

Big Spaner

Big Spaner

We then overnighted in Upington and Johannesburg before our flight back to the UK.

Posted by MAd4travel 02:03 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

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