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Santiago part 2

January 28th, 2016 No comments

We spent one afternoon this week in the area of Quinta Normal, another of the main parks in Santiago, looking at museums. First on our itinerary was Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, the human rights museum. I wanted to come here to learn more about the 1973 coup which installed Augusto Pinochet into power, and the atrocities committed during his dictatorship, as we don’t know much about them in The UK. The museum contains a wealth of exhibits from the coup and dictatorship including previously unseen videos, letters from prisoners, newspaper clippings, military artefects, testimony from survivors and much more. It chronicles the time immediately before the coup all the way up to the return to democracy and is well worth a visit if you want to learn more about this dark period of Chilean history. I already knew some stuff about the Pinochet era, both from my own studies and from what Steven has told me, but seeing everything for myself and reading information in more detail was very eye opening. As you may know from reading my blog I have seen some pretty horrific things in museums, including gloves made from human skin at the war museum in Kiev and mass graves of hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda, and while the exhibits weren’t as graphic here they still made me wonder how evil and twisted those in power can be.

The museum also houses exhibits dedicated to peace and human rights in general in addition to a number of temporary exhibits. While we visited there was an exhibit dedicated to Pedro Lemebel, an openly gay Chilean writer and activist, which, although I had not heard of him before, was interesting to look around.

Human Rights Museum, Santiago

Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos

Pedro Lemebel exhibit

The entrance to the Pedro Lemebel exhibit

Contained within Quinta Normal itself is the Natural History Museum. I have visited the counterpart in London many times, and the content of this one was nothing new, but it had a much larger focus on the flora, fauna and environment of South America from prehistoric to present times and if you are interested in learning more about the area then it might be worth a visit. The park itself is worth a visit at any rate, and I enjoyed my time there.

It's me!

Me in Quinta Normal

Quinta Normal, Santiago

Quinta Normal

I made it my mission to find some Sopaipillas while in Chile. Sopaipillas, as described in my previous post, are a traditional street food consisting of fried pastry, which in Chile has pumpkin pastes as an added ingredient. I made some with Steven in The UK, and I have made some myself since then, so I wanted to try some while in Chile just to compare. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any for the majority of the trip as they are primarily a summer street food but luckily yesterday we found some. We spent some time looking around the Mercado Central, and surrounding area, before taking a local bus to the huge Parque Arauco shopping centre and right by the bus stop was a lady selling Sopaipillas. I have to say that the ones I made in The UK, even the ones I made myself, were so much better due to the fact these were most likely store bought or catering standard ones.

Parque Arauco was your standard designer shopping centre and, given that it is located within the wealthy neighbourhood of Las Condes, is full of international restaurants and designer brands. However, despite that, it was a nice place to visit. We spent some time looking around at the shops before eating at Ruby Tuesday and relaxing in Starbucks. Even though this was in a designer outlet the prices of food were still a lot cheaper than I am used to, for example two large steak meals with a few soft drinks each and a tip came to £30 which would not even buy one steak meal in London. The bus ride back to the city centre was interesting, however. We seemed to get a bus driver in a hurry and who swerved all over the place, driving extremely close to the car in front etc. This made us a little bit nervous and anxious so we got off the bus slightly earlier than planned, close to Pio Nono, but this area was closer to the apartment anyway.

Mall Parque Arauco, Santiago

Mall Parque Arauco

The past few days, since our day trips out of the city, have been less rushed than the first half of my trip. We have looked around a few museums and churches but we have also done a lot of relaxing, just walked around and soaked up the atmosphere, eaten some good meals and done some shopping which to be honest has been quite welcome. While there is a lot more I wish that I could have seen in the city, and I’m the sort of person who likes to fit as much in as I can, it was nice to do things differently and I know I will be back again. We did so much walking in the first half of my visit so on top of that I think that my feet needed a rest anyway.

So here I am, at the end of my final full day in Chile. There has been a lot that I have seen that will probably have escaped my mind when typing up this blog, as it’s written in an overview style rather than being a point by point account of what happened each day like normal, so I will probably add an opinion and roundup post to my blog at some point after I return along with a few photos that I want to share but haven’t been able to include in these posts.

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Kyrgyz public transport

June 5th, 2015 No comments

I’m so relieved that I booked myself a nice hotel in Bishkek after the journey that I had today. I’m staying in the Hotel Holiday, which is a nice hotel very close to the main shopping areas, and compared to some places I’ve stayed it’s complete luxury!

Today started with me saying my goodbyes to the group and the leaders before completing the necessary paperwork to sign myself off of the trip. It feels sad to be saying goodbye to some of them, although I’ll be glad to see the back of others, but leaving the trip and coming back early is something that I just have to do. I have seen everything that I wanted to see in the country so I have no regrets and in fact I think I would have been filled regret had I not decided to leave early.

Inside Helena

Inside the truck

Inside Helena

Looking forwards

Cab

The driving cab of Helena

Army truck

The truck the others went to the hot springs in

Hotel Amir

The Hotel Amir in Karakol

Karakol

The road outside the hotel Amir

Hotel room

My room at the Hotel Amir

Goodbye Helena

Saying my final goodbyes to Helena

I stuck around long enough to see the group leave and make their way to the hot springs resort, today’s destination had I remained with the trip, before collecting my belongings from the room and asking the hotel to arrange for a taxi to take me to the bus station. In the grand scheme of things the bus station wasn’t too far away, about a 20 minute walk, but it was hot, I was pressed for time and had a lot to carry so a taxi was the best option. When I arrived at the bus station there was already a bus loading passengers for the journey to Bishkek, although as buses only leave when they are full, it was about 40 minutes before we finally set off which was plenty of time to buy a ticket and supplies from the shop.

People who are used to a western, timetabled, public transport system would have to use their immagination in order to see the vehicle that took me to Bishkek as a bus. In Kyrgyzstan there are three methods available for people to travel around the country by public transport. The first is the local version of National Express / Greyhound which sticks to a vague timetable in large coaches which usually travel between cities overnight. They are safe, and fairly cheap, but the timings didn’t work out for me. At the other end of the scale is the second option – a shared taxi. In every village, town and city in Kyrgyzstan shared taxis follow set routes and will speed to their desination as soon as they are full. They are incredibly cheap, and you never normally have to wait long for one to leave as long as you are going to a large town or city, but they can be unsafe. I decided to go for the middle option – local buses calls Marshrutkas. These are a fleet of minubuses that follow set routes, have a price in the mid-range (although cheap by western standards), and are generally the preferred option for locals and tourists.

My particular vehicle was a 19-seater minibus that they somehow fit 21 people in before picking up more at the side of the road, had no leg room, no seat belts, was too hot, had a driver that didn’t know how to stick to a lane and which had two large cracks in the windscreen but it was cheap (I paid $5 for a 6 hour journey), reliable and got me there in one piece while showing me some sort of Russian movie on an overhead screen until it broke. I can’t ask for more than that, all things considered, but the journey definitely felt like an adventure. The route skirted the Kazakhstan border, at times being only metres away from the border fence, before making its way into Bishkek and dropping people at their destination.

Scenery

The scenery on the north of Lake Issyk-Kul

Kazakh border

The Kazakh border. The hills in the back are in Kazakhstan.

Kazakh border

You can see a guard tower watching over the border

About half way through the journey we stopped at a rest area so that people could stretch their legs, buy lunch, use the toilets etc. An announcement was made in Russian or Kyrgyz saying when we would be leaving but I didn’t understand it so stayed fairly close to the vehicle and made a few phone calls instead of getting lunch. I seem to believe we were there for about 20 minutes but the length of time probably depends on the time of day, how the driver is feeling and whether there have been any traffic delays.

Kyrgyz public transport

The bus which took me to Bishkek

Stopping for lunch

Stopping for lunch

Kyrgyzstan rest area

It was a service station with a cafe, shop, toilets and petrol station

Begaim told me that there would be a stop at the end of the road containing my hotel, and she wrote the name of the stop in the local alphabet, but I decided to just go all the way to the main bus terminal and get a taxi as it would be easier. The taxi driver got lost a few times but I eventually arrived at the hotel in the mid afternoon which left me plenty of time to explore the city.

I spent a few hours walking around the city taking in the sights before having dinner at a local Italian restaurant. I had planned to sample some good food at one of the local restaurants but all of the ones my guidebook recommended had all closed, or were full, but by the time I found the Italian restaurant my feet were hurting and I was exhausted so didn’t want to do any more walking. Bishkek looks a nice city and I wish I had one more day here, or was able to explore the city for longer, but I have a really early flight in the morning so couldn’t stay out too late.

Bishkek

Walking around Bishkek

Bishkek

Walking around Bishkek

The Kyrgyz flag

The national flag in Bishkek

Bishkek

Relaxing in Bishkek

Main square

Another view of the main square

I’m back in the hotel now and have some repacking to do before my flight back to London. I’m flying Aeroflot – wish me luck!

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Crossing into Nicaragua

February 5th, 2012 No comments

I’m now in Nicaragua, which is the country I’ve been looking forward to visiting the most on this trip, but so far all we’ve done is travel so I haven’t had a chance to see too much yet.

Our journey started at 7am with a chicken bus from right outside the hotel in Comayagua. It was cramped but not as bad as I expected – just make sure you don’t sit near the wheel arch. On the journey we saw Comayagua properly for the first time due to arrive so late the night before. I asked Mena about that and asked why we stayed there as opposed to just going all the way to Tegucigalpa on the bus and she said that as we wouldn’t have time to see anything at last nights stop anyway Intrepid have decided that Comayagua is a better place to stay as it’s a lot safer than Tegucigalpa.

Comayagua by day

Comayagua by day

Veg market

Veg sellers in Tegucigalpa

On the chicken bus

The view inside our chicken bus

How did Kelly manage to relax?

Kelly somehow managed to sleep on the chicken bus

The bus took probably an hour to get to Tegucigalpa and it dropped us right at the Tica Bus terminal where we were due to catch the long distance bus over the border from into Nicaragua. There was just enough time to stock up on snacks and use the rest rooms before we had to board the bus – luckily we also had assigned seats on this bus as it was a long journey. Tica Bus is the luxury long distance bus company that covers Central America and if it offers a route between the places you want to go then I highly recommend them – the coaches are comfortable and there’s plenty of leg room. That is, of course, unless the person in front of you puts their seat all the way back as happened to me. At some point during the day I talked to Team Breakaway about this and they said that it was a very un-Canadian thing to do and that as a whole Canadians don’t put seats back like that.

During the journey we were given the immigration forms for the border crossing and they even put a movie on for us although this was the Spanish version of Hachi so we didn’t really watch it. Before we got to the border our passports and the exit fee for Honduras were taken and these would all be processed by the courier of the coach in one batch to save time.

Our chicken bus

This was our chicken bus

Tegucigalpa was chaos

Tegucigalpa from our Tica Bus

The road seems to have collapsed

In Honduras - part of the road seems to be missing!

Honduran River

A river in Honduras as seen from our Tica Bus

On the Honduran side we decided to use the rest room facilities which, although they only cost 5 lempira, were absolutely disgusting. They didn’t flush at all, were incredibly messy, and we had to use a bucket of water to flush it each time. However there was time to relax in the sun while the border formalities took place and make my first phone call home in 6 days due to the fact my phone didn’t work in Honduras.

After passing across to the Nicaraguan side of the border we had to all get off the coach and take our bags individually through customs. During our time in the queue we were able to exchange money with the local money changers although this time they did try to short change me until Mena helped out. We got our passports back at this point and then it was back onto the bus to head to Managua. As soon as we started travelling through Nicaragua the scenery changed and we started travelling across flat open plains containing volcanoes as opposed to the heavily mountainous roads we had been travelling through in Honduras.

Our bus passed through the open plains and the city of Leon before arriving at its destination of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. This was only a transit stop for us and after waiting for a long time for our bags we met up with the driver of the minibus who was to take us on to Granada where we’re staying for the next couple of nights. On the way to Granada we got stopped at a police checkpoint due to the fact one of the people in our minibus wasn’t sitting down with the seat belt on when he saw us but in true Central American style he said he would let us off if we took his wife and daughter to the next town, Masaya.

Nicaraguan volcano

Our first volcano after crossing the border into Nicaragua

The Nicaraguan Capital

Heading out of Managua towards Granada

Then it was on to Granada. When we arrived we found out that the hostel we were due to stay at was overbooked and so they had transferred our booking to the sister property down the road which was a proper hotel – and a nice one at that. After checking a lot of the group headed straight out to the pub to watch the Superbowl but I decided to head to a traditional local restaurant in town with Team Breakaway. The meal was really nice and it was there where I first tried a Caipirinha drink – it was really nice so I’ll definitely be having a few more of those on this trip!

We had time for a quick stop at the Irish Pub to catch up with the rest of the group over a couple of drinks but I made a mistake with my drink order and ended up ordering the “Blue Mother Fucker” which was a combination of pretty much every type of drink they had and that ended up making the walk back to the hotel fun. I think rather than reading tonight I’ll just head straight to bed ready for tomorrow.

Granada by night

Granada by night

Group photo

Our group at the Irish Pub

Me and Kelly with our drinks

Me and Kelly with some very strong drinks!

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Back to mainland Honduras

February 4th, 2012 No comments

I woke up fairly early this morning to decided to read on the balcony for a bit before heading back to the Italian place in town with Team Breakaway for a fried breakfast which turned out to be a good choice. Not only was it nice but a whole meal including drinks was the same price as just the smoothie at Earth Mamas and I’m probably going to have to save up for a bit as I’ve been spending more than I thought I would.

Road repairs

When there's rain this fixes the roads

Walking to breakfast

Walking to breakfast

My room

Getting ready to check out of my room

Our hotel

The view from the balcony at my hotel

As we had wi-fi I decided to try to get skype working on my phone with my friend who’s working out at an orphanage in Uganda at the moment but unfortunately I couldn’t get a proper connection so there was enough time to pop into town for some last minute supplies before catching a minibus back to the ferry terminal. Due to the rains of the last few days they were having to repair the roads so it was a short walk to the rendezvous point before a short but cramped journey to the ferry. The ferry crossing was smooth this time and I didn’t need any seasickness tablets which is just as well as I decided to have some baleadas for lunch at the terminal before boarding the ferry. The sun was out in full force on the crossing and most of the rest of the days so I’m playing it safe for a while and protecting myself with factor 50 sun cream to try to stop myself getting any more sun burn.

Walking to the minibus

Walking to catch our minibus to the ferry

Balleadas at the ferry terminal

Baleadas for lunch at the ferry terminal on Roatan

Our boat

Getting ready to board our boat to the mainland

Leaving Roatan Island

Leaving Roatan Island by boat

When we got back to the mainland we ended up having the same taxi as before – the guy that drove rather fast to get us to our destination last time – but this time there wasn’t as much of a rush due to the fact we had preassigned seats on the next bus which was to take us as far as Comayagua where we would spend the night.

This was always going to be one of the longest days and it lived up to the expectation – we boarded the bus at 4pm and didn’t arrive in Comayagua until almost 10pm after stopping at services a few times for rest stops and dinner etc. The bus we were on was the express bus to Tegucigalpa but Mena had arranged in advance for us to be allowed to get off at a petrol station in Comayagua just down from where our hotel was.

After some sort of military style operation with getting the taxis together we arrived at tonight’s hotel – the Emperador. The hotel itself is down a side street and isn’t the best hotel I’ve seen but we’re only staying here until tomorrow when we have another full day journey over the border into Nicaragua. As we arrived fairly late the only option for dinner tonight was takeaway Pizza Hut which was by far the worst pizza I’ve ever eaten – the only positive bit being that we ate it on a terrace overlooking the city. Let’s stick to local cuisine for the rest of the trip!

Never order Honduran Pizza Hut

We should have known better!

Comayagua by night

Comayagua at night from our hotel

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Next stop… paradise

February 1st, 2012 No comments

It was an early start today as we had to catch the 7am chicken bus from town. I think the chicken buses were the only bit of this trip I wasn’t looking forward to as I have really long legs and was worried about the lack of leg room, however this didn’t seem to be a problem on the particular bus we had despite the fact it got really crowded for a while.

The bus took a bit longer than expected due to mechanical problems and we arrived in San Pedro Sula half an hour late which meant we had to rush to get our tickets and bags checked onto the next bus. Luckily our leader was ahead of things and she managed to get fast-tracked to the front of the line for tickets. There was just enough time to use the restrooms and stock up on refreshments in the shopping centre within the bus terminal before boarding the express bus to La Ceiba, where we were due to take the ferry to Roatan Island.

View from the bus

A view from our bus on the way to San Pedro Sula

Honduran scenery

The scenery of Honduras

The bus station at San Pedro Sula

The huge bus station at San Pedro Sula

Becoming more tropical

The atmosphere was definitely more tropical near La Ceiba

As usual in this part of the world we got stuck in traffic on the way to La Ceiba meaning there was another rush to get across town to the ferry terminal – this time a lot more urgently than the previous one. Luckily Mena was on top of things again and we managed to have our bags offloaded first and then we all got in some VERY speedily driven taxis for the journey to the ferry terminal. After checking in and passing through security we were given sea sickness tablets due to the fact the fast craft can get really choppy at times – and we definitely needed them on our crossing.

The journey itself was nice just a little too rough for me – I could have done with the seasickness tablets in advance to give them a chance to work their magic. I think every kid on the ferry was sick even with the seasickness tablets :(.

As we approached Roatan we passed a huge cruise ship which I didn’t expect to see at the island. Mena said the cruise ships create a bit of controversy when they visit the island as traditionally only the main roads are paved on Roatan Island with the smaller towns being unpaved sandy roads to keep their atmosphere and their way of life. The cruise companies don’t like this and so keep throwing money at the local government with the understanding that they will pave all the roads to keep the cruise day-trippers happy. Some of the locals are unhappy about this and I would sympathise with them – when you travel you don’t try to change a place you embrace the atmosphere and local culture and this is exactly what the ethics of Intrepid Travel are. It’s also the way I look at travelling so I don’t think the islands should change their way of life and their character just to satisfy the rich cruise passengers who invade the island for just a matter of hours before leaving again!

On the boat

On the boat to Roatan Island

Bah cruise ships

The cruise ship comes, they invade, and then go!

We’re staying at La Quinta Inn on Roatan Island which was only a short taxi ride from the ferry terminal. As well as being on a nice tropical island with unpaved roads this hotel also has free wi-fi which we all made use of before heading out to a place called The Lighthouse for a group dinner. The Lighthouse was expensive but I liked my food… and the “Giant Monkey LaLa” cocktail that I had.

Group meal on Roatan

A photo of our group meal

Huge cocktails

Giant Monkey La La

Some of our group have gone out to a beach party with some locals but I decided to come back to the hotel to read and relax for a bit. This seems a nice place and I’m looking forward to the next few days here.

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Bridge Climb and Sydney Explorer

June 26th, 2007 No comments

Yesterday I took part in one of the scariest but worthwhile experiences of my life – climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I’m OK with heights, but there some metal catwalks which made me a bit nervous as it’s mainly the idea of falling from heights or being able to see through the floor that I don’t like! When I booked my holiday this activity seemed to just jump out at me. It was expensive (£74 per person) but it’s a once in a lifetime thing and unless I come back to Sydney I’ll never be able to do it again.

Bridge Climb

Bridge Climb

The day started by walking just down the road from my hotel to the Bridge Climb centre. After checking in there was a little bit of a wait where I had a chance to look at some of the photos of famous people that have made the climb – Pierce Brosnan, Status Quo, Mike from Green Day and the Olsen sisters were among the ones I saw there. Once everything was ready for us we moved into another room for some paperwork and safety checks. One of the safety checks was an alcohol test and we had to blow into one of those machines to test that we weren’t under the influence, for safety reasons.

Next we got kitted up in an all-in-one bridge suit. All jackets, wallets, phones, cameras, bags etc had to be left behind in a locker for safety reasons but we took the key with us to ensure nobody could access our property. Then we passed through a metal detector to make sure we didn’t have anything still on us by mistake. That was the last of the security checks before progressing to a simulated section of bridge. We had to attach ourselves to it using the safety harness then climb up, walk along the catwalk and then climb back down again. While we waited for people to do that there was a chance to chat to everybody else. Most of the people there were Australian which was good as I like being around locals when I’m on holiday. There was a girl there who was doing this to prove she was OK with heights. She was a bit nervous so I told her that if the Olsen sisters can do it then she can too. The final stop before heading to the bridge was to fit us with communication equipment – a radio that was developed by the Australian Special Forces that projects sound waves into your inner ear without using headphones – which allowed us to experience the sights and sounds of everything around us without having a headset get in the way.

Climbers on the bridge

Climbers on the bridge

There were some metal catwalks which made me really nervous as you could see 100m straight down to the road below but other than that the climb was pretty nice. Once on the bridge it was nice and secure and the views made up for any nervousness I had before. I was treated with great views of the Opera House and Harbour and could see for miles and miles due to the great visibility. We had photos taken at the top before making our way down the other side. This time it was a combination of metal catwalks and wooden planks at the end which made me nervous but I had survived the rest so was OK with it. The climb leader was really good at giving us information about the bridge and the surrounding area – he also joked with us and made the girl OK with the heights and joked about me and the thought of falling from them – “we’re now about 140m above the water – or about 7 seconds straight down” was a quote I remember from him.

Me on the Harbour Bridge

Me on the Harbour Bridge

The experience was really memorable and I’m glad I did it. I purchased the photos at the end as a souvenir before going for lunch with somebody else that was on the climb on his own – a guy from Adelaide. We stopped at the Australia hotel which is famous for its pizza – including Kangaroo pizza. I didn’t have the stomach for that so had Tandoori Chicken Pizza which had huge chunks of chicken with cheese and a mint dressing and tasted really nice! After lunch I parted ways with the other guy and went off to the Pylon lookout – a museum exhibit with great views that was included in the price of the Bridge Climb.

The Australian Hotel

The Australian Hotel

View from Pylon Lookout

View from Pylon Lookout

View from Pylon Lookout #2

View from Pylon Lookout #2

Me at The Pylon Lookout

Me at The Pylon Lookout

That evening I did some more random exploring and took some more photos.

This morning I made an early start for the other explorer bus, the Sydney explorer, which concentrates more on the city than the buses on other routes. First I got off at Macquarie’s Chair – a lookout made by the first governor for his wife. A few photos later it was back onto the bus to do the most of the tour in one go due to the rain. I had to reconfirm my transfer to the airport so got off at the stop next to my hotel, confirmed it by phone, then got back on the next bus to finish the tour.

Me at Mrs Maquarie's Chair

Me at Mrs Maquarie’s Chair

I spent some time exploring the Botanical Gardens that lead from the Opera House to Macuquarie’s Chair and took some really great photos which I’ve put below. It was nice to just take some time to relax in the small break in the rain. It didn’t last long though so I got back on the explorer bus and stayed on a few stops until Hyde Park where I got off and spent some time at the Museum of Sydney. It’s a nice little museum telling you about the city and was a nice place to escape the rain despite museums generally making me bored very quickly. I planned to do some more exploring but the rain kept arriving so I made it back to the hotel to relax with a movie.

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

Tomorrow I’m leaving Australia and flying home via Bangkok, Thailand. I have a mid-morning departure from the hotel so have booked an early tour of the Sydney Opera House in the morning.

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