A Travellerspoint blog

Apologies for the delay...

Staying with my relatives in Sydney, turning 19 and finding work

all seasons in one day 22 °C
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Arriving into Sydney it was lovely to be greeted at the airport. I am staying in a Sydney suburb with my uncle and aunt and my cousins, Jessica, 16, Kristyn, 14, Hayleigh, 12, and Annabelle, 8.

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I spent my first week settling in and starting the job search. I was delighted to return to eating wholesome, tasty food and the mouldy bread and bruised banana diet of only a few days before soon became a distant memory. Whilst I was unemployed and my relatives were at work or school, I sunbathed and swam in the pool. I also visited the Easter Show at the Olympic Park, a huge carnival event with rides and showbags. The highlight was the daredevil performances of the trucks driven on 2 wheels and the crazy stunts and jumps by the bikers.

At the weekend Jessica accompanied me on a visit to Canberra with her grandparents who were attending a wedding. As the nation's capital, Canberra hosts the buildings of parliament, old and new, the famous Australian War Memorial and the novelty of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in one of the city's numerous leafy parks.

After walking the length of the city, Jessica and I returned to the motel where, in a moment of madness, I let her straighten and braid my hair. It's just as well it's what inside that counts!

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Before meeting the newly weds (and most of their relatives) the following morning, we dashed to the Telstra Tower for impressive views of the city and the mountains below.

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Arriving back in Sydney the job hunt continued before I eventually had some success and found work through various temping jobs. These included counting Jackie Chan pens in a warehouse, stacking boxes and filling envelopes for Nestle. After 2 weeks of tedious tasks and having suffered several paper cuts for the cause, I earned a sufficient number of dollars to hopefully keep me financially afloat until I arrive home.

It was no suprise that I found myself working on the 9th April (for those not in the know, my birthday). Having packed almost a 1000 envelopes that day, I was pleased to return home where my relatives suprised me with party poppers, an Australian football 'Socceroos' shirt and a chinese takeaway for dinner. Just over a week later Kristyn turned 14 so we went ice skating and enjoyed eating dinner out.

Whilst staying in Sydney, I caught up with James 'the govn'or' Leck (a school friend) who has been in Australia since October. It was good to share stories and later on, walk with Jessica around the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

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Sorry this blog post, more than a month since the last one, has been so delayed. I guess I have just had too much fun (and possibly sleep) returning to something close to normality.

Posted by chris89 19:39 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

New Zealand

sunny 25 °C
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I had only 4 days in New Zealand as the destination was a stopover before my eventual arrival in Sydney. I arrived in Auckland at 4am and immediately noticed that even at this time in the morning, Kiwis are much friendlier than many Latin Americans!

As the shops began to open, I started to explore Auckland and was quickly drawn to the most eye catching part - the 'Sky City' - a small area of central Auckland which is home to the Sky Tower. Before arriving in New Zealand I had heard about the opportunity to jump off this, the 25th tallest building in the world, and before I could talk myself out of it, I paid to do the jump.

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The jump, from 192m above ground, is similar to a bungee jump, but has the subtle difference that you fall horizontally and, rather than bouncing around at the end, with the risk of whiplash, the cable you are attached to stops your fall just before you hit the ground.

I have never been as nervous as I was waiting for my turn to jump. What I was most afraid of was that the freefall would produce the feeling where your stomach seems to be rising into your mouth, and that unlike on a short theme park ride where you recover shortly after, I feared that falling for 12 seconds might result in my breakfast resurfacing.

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As I walked nervously to the edge, and peered over the edge at the cars 200m below, I was told how I would be dropped 15 floors before being stopped by the cable. This was not to give me the chance to backout at the last minute, but for me to wave at the people on the viewing gallery inside the tower. Later, I did this myself and it is an extremely odd sight, similar to a Hollywood movie, to see someone outside a skyscaper and then suddenly fall from view.

After hanging there for 10 seconds, trying to look relaxed to the onlookers, I was 'let go' and, falling at 50mph, saw tower block windows shoot past as the ground got closer and closer until at the last minute the cable stopped and I had an abrupt landing. Thankfully, the jump did not give me the sickening sensation that I had feared and was in fact fairly smooth. Back on 2 feet, I was told that with no one else to jump, I could go again for free and, not being one to turn down a free opportunity, I experienced it all over again.

The rest of the day was spent at a slower pace in Auckland's beautiful parks as I tried to ignore the fact that I had slept for only 6 of the past 40 hours.

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The next morning I caught the bus to Waitomo, which is the original, and still one of the only places in the world, where it is possible to go 'black water rafting'. The difference between black and white water rafting is that black water rafting involves sitting on a inner tube and being carried by the water in dark caves 100m under ground. The only natural light available was from the glow worms on the roof of the cave, which gave the appearance of the brightest night sky imaginable.

In 1 of the most surreal scenes of my trip so far, I floated under the glow worms and down waterfalls whilst a Korean tourist 'sang' after our guide had suggested a song to accompany our journey underground.

Arriving back in Auckland the following afternoon, I celebrated reaching the half way point of my travels by belatedly entering a museum - the first on the trip. The highlight of the museum was undoubtedly the simulation of events if, as predicted, a volcanic eruption occurred in Auckland. I felt almost as terrified as on the Sky Tower as the floor suddenly shook and the lights went off...

That evening I enjoyed the hostel bar's 'all you can eat' pizza deal and later went clubbing. Auckland, and the North Island in general, has been a fantastic stopover and I hope to return and visit New Zealand more extensively in the future. Tonight, I will arrive in Sydney where I will meet my Australian cousins and start to look for work again - which is going to be a bit of a shock to the system!

Posted by chris89 14:23 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

The End of the World - and Back Again!

semi-overcast 20 °C
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I arrived in Punta Arenas on 6th March and visited a windy penguin colony to watch as the animals waddled around the reserve.

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The next day was a long and convoluted journey to the Argentinian outpost of Ushuia. Whilst the border crossings and the changing of buses was tedious, along the way I saw numerous ostriches; though I am not sure what they were doing so far south. Also, as the boat carried us across the straits that create the island of Tierra del Fuego (the largest island in South America) a group of dolphins, with thick black and white stripes drew parallel to the boat.

Eventually we arrived in Ushuia and having eaten nothing but bananas and bread all day, I treated myself to a meat, pasta and paella buffet - and that was just for starters! The main course was the famous Argentine 'Parrilla' dish which had a great variety of meats. After desert I only just managed to make my bed and roll into it!

Following a day of sightseeing in Ushuia (and getting the passport stamp declaring I had been to the 'End of the World') I set off hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park, passing along the way the southernmost train in the world. What suprised me most about the park was that despite the latitude of the region, the woodland remained similar to that at home.

The next day I travelled back to Punta Arenas (passing the dolphins again) where I stayed the night in preparation for my flight back to the warmer climes of Santiago the next morning. The flight provided spectacular views over the Andes.

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After a relaxed evening in Santiago, I decided to try and fit in as much as I could during my last days in Latin America, so I woke early to catch the bus to the popular Argentine town of Mendoza. The journey to Mendoza is famous for its beauty as the road zig-zags its way through the Andes. On the way the bus passed South America's highest peak - Aconcagua (nearly 7000m high). Unfortunately, the journey was marred by a broken toilet on the coach which produced such a foul smell that, at its worse, made it difficult to breathe.

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After a slow start, I warmed to Mendoza's busy, tree lined streets and I spent a full day in the city wandering from plaza to plaza. The region produces the vast majority of Argentina's wine, but not being a wine drinker, I felt the opportunity to go on a wine tasting trip was wasted on me!

The return journey back to Santiago was my final border crossing of Latin America. I did not shed any tears.

I write this in Santiago and I will shortly travel to the airport for my flight to New Zealand. I have so many highlights from my time in South America I just hope I won't forget the Spanish I have learnt trying to remember them all!

Posted by chris89 13:19 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park

'He's got blisters on the soles of his feet, he can't walk but he's trying' (Phil Collins' Another Day in Paradise)

semi-overcast 15 °C
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I set off on my trek around Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia seeking a challenge - to reach my limits and surpass them. My goal of 140km in 4 days has been achieved numerous times before, but to put it in perspective, the route takes a recommended minimum of 7 to 10 days. Indeed, upon telling another hiker of my crazy plan, she informed me that 'she would help me - but she wouldn't adopt me'.

I headed off on the trip armed with a raincoat, a medical kit (how grateful I was to have that further down the line) and some stale peanut butter sandwiches. The few people I passed along the way all carried about 25kg of kit and viewed my small daypack as a curious oddity.

My extremely light packing enabled me to make speedy progress - until my legs began to ache from the sheer distance covered: 31km on the first day.

The scenery throughout was gorgeous. The highlight of the first day (other than the glorious initial glimpse of my refugio for the night) was walking parallel to a glacial lake with a meandering river flowing into it and, behind this, stunning snow capped mountains. Along the way I faced gusts of winds so strong my glasses were nearly blown off and I struggled to walk in a straight line.

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The only downside to the first day was that within the first 10km of the hike, I began to suffer from blisters on the sole of my foot just before my toes. Having trekked the Inca Trail and summitted volcanoes in Peru on more challenging terrain, it remains a mystery why I suffered blisters in such a peculiar place. Nevertheless, they were to heavily influence the rest of my hike.

Having put blister plasters on I continued walking, passing a spectacular glacier. Eventually arriving at my second refugio it quickly became evident (I could barely walk without shoes) that my feet would not let me continue at the pace I had been maintaining. I had already paid for my accommodation for the following 2 nights so I was determined to get there - even if it meant taking some short cuts. One reason for my determination was the cost of the refugios which were about 3 times more expensive than any of the other beds I have paid for on the trip. Scandalously, despite the high prices, sheets were not included in the high price and had to be paid for separately. On a point of principle (and to save money) I refused to pay for sheets or a sleeping bag (I had not brought either with me as I had assumed, not unreasonably, that they would be included in the cost) so, unsuprisingly, I had very little sleep the first 2 nights of my trek as I struggled to get comfy whilst wearing all my clothes, hat and gloves to keep warm.

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On day 3 the distance I covered (only 24km) was significantly less than before, but due to my vastly reduced speed it still took me 13 hours including several stops. Having seriously considered knocking myself out in order to get to sleep and forget the snoring woman beside me the previous night, I had no such problems on the third night. Despite the best efforts of the snorers around me, my body was simply so exhausted after days with a ratio of 1 hour sleep for every 2 hours hiking, sleep was relatively easy to come by - even without sheets.

My final day of hiking was drastically shortened in a last ditch attempt to save my feet. Even so, a journey that was predicted to take 4 hours according to the map soon filled out the whole day as I stopped for regular hour long snoozes along the trail. Eventually I arrived at my final accommodation in the park and found to my joy (not that there were sheets on the bed - that would appear to much to hope for) but that the refugio had log fires to warm my feet and, even more exciting, was the fact that after 92 days of travelling, I had finally found a toilet where I could flush toilet paper away - shock horror!

After a shower I examined my feet. I considered including a photo of my injuries but decided that if I did most of you would probably never return to the site. Instead here is a photo of the bandaging skills on my veiny feet:

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Trying to walk as little as possible the following morning, I did a lot of sleeping in a hammock as I waited for the bus to take me back to Puerto Natales. Patagonia undoubtedly has the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. Walking (or in my case hobbling) along the trail, you pass numerous ice blue glacial lakes, snow covered mountains and granite rock faces. In the end my feet prevented me from hiking the total 140km I had aimed for. Instead I managed only 100km - still not an achievement to be sniffed at though!

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I now have a day of rest in Natales. Before I go and put my feet up - a bit of news I picked up whilst in Torres del Paine. A week before I travelled on the 4 day boat trip, a girl fell overboard to her death. Shocking news - especially when her boyfriend is now suspected of murder...

Posted by chris89 10:05 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Heading south on bus and boat

semi-overcast 24 °C
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After 23 hours on the bus, I arrived in Santiago and immediately aquainted myself with the cities extremely handy metro system.

I spent the next 2 days wandering Santiago's streets and attractive parks. One of the best is 'Cerro San Cristobal' which includes a 'funicular' that takes you up towards the Virgin Mary statue high above the city. I also managed to walk into a queue of Harry Potter fans but found, much to my disappointment, J K Rowling had not showed up on my travels. Instead it was the rather less exciting event for the release of the final book in Spanish.

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The next day I headed to the nearby port of Valpraiso and after struggling to find accommodation in the busy town, I skirted the coastline, ice cream in hand, and occasionally jumped on the famed ascensores.

Vina del Mar, the first 'beach town' of my travels since Costa Rica, beckoned the following day. It was spent relaxing on the beach (and eating more ice cream) before jumping on another bus for a 14 hour overnight trip south to Puerto Montt. On the journey I watched the Pirates of the Carribean trilogy (about 5 years after everyone else) and finally understood why the films were such a hit. Incidentally, on a completely unrelated matter, I saw about 5 times the number of pregnant women in Valpraiso and Santiago than in the rest of my trip combined. I am not quite sure what this says about the region, but it is certainly a curious observation.

Arriving into Puerto Montt at 7:30 in the morning everything was closed - except McDonalds. Feeling classy eating my McMuffin, I organised a flight for later on in my trip before boarding the boat that was the reason for my arrival.

The 4 day boat trip took me through the fjords of southern Chile. Passing sea lions, whales and river otters along the way, the landscape (and the weather) became increasingly rugged and wild. The first night, part of the 'onboard entertainment' was watching the movie 'Motorcycle Diaries' which documented Che Guevara's own 'gap year' in 1952 - much of his journey mirrored my own. At midnight, I walked along the deck of the ship, admiring the dazzling stars and the way the (almost) full moon created what appeared to be a roll of white carpet across the water.

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The following night was less romantic as we travelled out of the fjords and into the unsheltered Pacific Ocean. As a result, my dinner reappeared over the side of the boat - only narrowly missing a passenger below. Back in calmer waters and feeling better, the boat passed one of the world's few advancing glaciers.

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We eventually arrived at the port of Puerto Natales. Glad to be back on dry land, tomorrow I am off to begin a 4 day hike, covering 140km of Patagonia. Lets hope I make it back!

Posted by chris89 15:28 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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