Postcards

Boipeba and Lençóis, Brazil

The site of the first landing of the Portuguese in what is now Brazil, the state of Bahia is historically and culturally significant.

But I’m not ready for that yet: time for a break from all the educational travel! Bahia’s also blessed with stunning nature, from the palm-fringed coast (which includes the namesake Baía de Todos os Santos, Bay of All Saints) to the lush, mountainous interior.
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Saddle

 Semonkong and Malealea, Lesotho

Bouncing up and down on a friendly and cooperative but overly eager donkey after taking a single shot, joined by four other travellers who did the same with me, I thought: What in the world am I getting myself into? My donkey’s owner, Bafuke (who also named his donkey Bafuke), was all laughs as he ran after me, trying to get my donkey to go in the right direction without the aid of reins or even a stick.

Three bars, three hours, and three beers later (and most of you know that’s far more than I can normally take), I had a permanent grin plastered to my face, waving to every villager I passed (who all waved back), giggling as my donkey broke into a run and I was a little too tipsy to hold on tight.

Yes, I made it back in one piece. But this is Lesotho — real, tough, and yet a total riot. We were joined by other patrons at the bars who arrived on horseback! They spent the night playing pool, dancing along to whatever they could find on the jukebox, playing slots, and chatting with us.
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Periphery

 uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, South Africa

It’s not so easy to get around South Africa without a car. The distances are long and — for once! — underpopulated, with lots of empty space. There are minibus taxis that run to various towns, but they’re infrequent. Long-distance buses run maybe once a day. And even if you get to a town, the interesting places to stay all tend to be well outside of it, requiring odd transfers. Take the Drakensberg, for instance. The places to stay don’t even have proper addresses, since they’re some 15-20 km out of town! There’s a backpacker-oriented bus that runs throughout the country, but it doesn’t run every day, it’s expensive and you may have to pay even more for a connecting shuttle, and without a car, you’re basically trapped at the accommodation they take you to.

That’s not to say that it can’t be enjoyable, though. The Drakensberg range, spanning a whole bunch of national parks, has scenery that rivals the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia in its grandeur. Reaching the northern end after a spectacular bus ride through large-scale farmland, I was stunned by the Amphitheatre, an 8 km cliff wall rising suddenly and dramatically from the rolling hills. The eponymous backpackers’ lodge I stayed at there was a lovely retreat, complete with 10 km of its own walking trails on their estate. Seeing the morning, afternoon, and evening light on the rugged Amphitheatre walls, then the Milky Way at night, was a great way to pass the time, and I spent nearly two days idle there just enjoying the atmosphere without doing any real activities.
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Why not

Tallinn, Estonia

Given my previous and next destinations, this detour definitely seems a bit offbeat, eh?  Plus, I’ve been to Tallinn before on my most recent past visit to Europe, with my family on a cruise/group tour.  So why visit again?  Well hey, like the rest of most of this trip, a friend (Kaarel, also from my time at NUS) invited me, why else?  And even though it’s far…why not? 🙂  It certainly doesn’t hurt that flights aren’t too expensive.

From my impression, it seems that most visitors to Estonia only visit Tallinn (just as I had done previously, around 9 years ago now), which is a shame, because while Tallinn’s famous medieval old town (Vanalinn) is immaculate and really unlike anything else out there, there are so many other sides to this small country that I’m at a bit of a loss how to describe it concisely. Continue reading

Not fair

Thun, Switzerland

The scenery here is incredible.  And the fact that I’m here – mainly who I’m with here – is surreal: Marlies and Flo, whom I met in South America!  It’s hard to believe that over two months have passed since we said goodbye in Lima.  With Marlies at work on weekdays, Flo drove me around various cities and villages around the region, all thanks to recommendations from Marlies’ mother.

Can Vancouver just cede the title of most beautiful city already?  Vancouver’s awesome, but we just can’t compete!  I mean, come on, Thun has two castles.  Two!  One by a lake!

Yes, there are the stereotypes: potatoes, cheese, and cows.  Rösti, raclette, and chocolate.  Delicious, delicious stereotypes.  Oh, and cowbells, but you can’t eat those.

But the endless hiking, uncountable mountains, crystal clear lakes and rivers to dip your feet into, giant fields to frolic in, beautiful public fountains that are nearly all drinkable, pretty buildings, stunning valleys, houses perched precariously and in solitary, all just within a stones’ throw…it’s not fair.

Easy

Pucón, Chile

One month on the road now!

It seems that I left Bariloche at a good time – by my last evening and the next morning, the volcano smoke returned and the view disappeared.

On my buses to Pucón via Osorno, I ran into Ofir and Shir, the two Israeli girls I met hiking Tierra del Fuego several weeks back.  We all had a rather comical bus ride – customs control entering Chile is very strict, and does not allow meat, vegetables, or dairy.  All of us had packed such things in our bags, intending to eat lunch on the bus – but we were due to cross the border before noon!  In order to not waste our food, we ate as much as we could before making it across the border.  The bus company also provided everyone with a light meal of pastries and a cheese sandwich – somehow we managed to not get that confiscated from us at the border!

The ride between Bariloche and Osorno was a bit surreal – volcanic ash covered trees and hills like snow.  If I didn’t know it was 25º outside, I’d think it’d have actually been snow.  The ride from Osorno to Pucón was clear but uneventful – our bus did pick up a ton of hitchhikers from the side of the highway though. Continue reading

Specialties

Bariloche, Argentina

Immediately upon arrival at my hostel on Feb 6th, I made another impulsive splurge – I really need to stop doing that, eh?  I booked whitewater rafting for the following day, having never done it.

In my dorm room of eight people, I met Renzo, a porteño on holiday with his friends Alejandro and Eduardo – all three were just a smidgeon younger than me.  Renzo spoke the best English out of the three, though I really was trying with my Spanish.  As seems to be a common theme with the Latinos I’ve met, they were all shocked that I was travelling by myself at my age and without fluency in Spanish, but appreciated that I tried.  (I guess they haven’t really been talking to other foreign travellers then, cause there’s plenty of people like me around, and plenty more that don’t know any Spanish!)  Within one minute, Renzo offered me mate.

Mate (sounds like ma-tay) is a very common drink I’ve been seeing for the past few weeks, and it seems that it is inseparable from Argentinians.  People carry around a gourd (itself called mate) made of wood, a pack of yerba mate leaves, and a thermos or pot of hot water.  Everywhere.  I’ve always been curious to try it, and to be offered some without any sort of prompting was a pleasant surprise. Continue reading

Calafate

El Chaltén, Argentina

Upon arriving at El Chaltén, Andrew and I had no hostel.  We made a little bet – I predicted being turned away from 4 hostels, he predicted 11.  Oddly enough, I was right – but we ended up at a pretty dingy place for the night.  We decided we would search for another hostel with openings for the next day, and buy some groceries for the hike tomorrow.

El Chaltén is a pretty small town, but it felt a little strange – nearly every single building was a hostel or something dedicated to tourism.  There were barely any houses, and barely any locals either – I could hear more Hebrew (and even see it – many signs, including official park trail signs, were in Hebrew) than Spanish!  The “super”mercados are something I would not call “super” either – every grocer was quite lacking, but that’s the case when you end up in an isolated town where you can’t even get cell phone reception with an Argentinian SIM card.  We find our next hostel, prep some chicken and avocado sandwiches for the next day, and have a wonderful Argentinian stew called locro (pumpkin, beans, meat, other yummy stuff) for dinner. Continue reading

Effort

Puerto Natales, Chile

Instead of staying in Punta Arenas for a few days like I originally planned (to see some Magellanic penguins…but kind of not necessary after seeing literally a million of them in Antarctica), I jumped my hostel booking and went along with Courtney and Simon to Puerto Natales. (I assumed that I would only forfeit my $2 booking fee, but turns out I was billed the full $20 for one night. Oh well, at least I saved some time, but I’ll try not to do that again – bad for me and bad for the hostel’s business.)

It’s hard for anything to top Antarctica, that’s for sure. But I was rattled out of that mentality almost immediately during the drive to Puerto Natales – places are different. There are different things to appreciate. And that drive was beautiful – Patagonia is very flat, with lots of dry brush around. On our left were mountains in the distance, on our right was water. Plenty of animals around with so much space to themselves – sheep and ostriches on the sprawling estancias, and some possibly wild guanacos (they look like smaller llamas). Continue reading