Sorry it has once again taken me so long to come back to this blog, due to a rather unexpected end to the whole thing. To be honest, it's a struggle to remember what there is to recount since New Year, but attempting it is already bringing back fond memories of what seems an age ago.
So, the day after New Years Day, I left Valparaiso and headed down to the Lake District area in Chile. First stop was Pucon, a pretty little tourist town full of the chalet style architecture typical of the region, and complete with the gorgeous snowy peak of Volcano Villarica overlooking a peaceful turquoise lake and lazy boats.
One highlight of my time here was the slow and steady climb up the still active volcano; the views were stunning, but the best part of the day was sliding down the slopes on some little plastics boards, or more often than not, on our backsides (which sadly were not so heavily padded as to protect you from a very cold and wet nappy feeling after several runs).
From Pucon, I made a small circuit to Valdivia (lots of sea lions), the folkloric island of Chiloe (colourful stilted houses, a Disney Castle cathedral, and a few lazy penguins), then to Puerto Varas (er, mind's gone blank here. Think there were a few day trips to negligible lakeside towns). Somewhere along the way, I noticed I had acquired a habit, which continued well into the remaining weeks in Argentina, of sharing a bottle or two of the excellent red wine over the course of dinner and into the evenings. I blame it on the disreputable travelling companions who one inevitably meets and begin to keep popping up everywhere. But it really was very good red. And very cheap :-)
A seven hour bus ride across the border took me to Bariloche in northern Argentinian Patagonia. A touristy travelling hub for Argentines and foreigners alike, set once again on the requisite beautiful lake. I soon realised I had hit the peak of the Argentine summer holidays, and the town was swarming with Buenos Aires portenos looking for cooler climes. After a day trek to the black (actually just very dirty looking) glacier and being thoroughly harassed by the horseflies, I escaped to the smaller town of El Bolson a few hours away to ponder my next steps at the much hyped - but deservedly so - La Casona de Odile, perfect place to recover from a trek to the turquoise waters of Cajon de Azul and for chilling when I was rained in for three days. After a brief visit to Esquel - where the Welsh tea was overpriced and they closed the national park, the main reason for my visit, due to a potentially fatal 'rat' virus - I headed back to Bariloche.
The plan was to travel to Buenos Aires - my last 20 hr+ bus ride - then directly on to Colonia, Uruguay, which was only an hour away by ferry. With nearly ten days left in South America, I had thought to spend a week in Uruguay, previously not part of my itinerary, which would leave me enough time to complete final tasks, present shopping and meeting friends back in Buenos Aires, etc etc. Ha.
After a few sunny, pleasant but unexceptional days wandering the historic towns of Colonia and Montevideo, I made the doomed decision to visit the famed beaches of Eastern Uruguay, starting at the much recommended Punta Del Diablo, a hippy beach resort a few hours further on from the more expensive Punta del Este. The grey drizzle and empty town that greeted us as we stepped off the bus should have been a sign.
Now, it is impossible to travel eight months anywhere without hearing warning tales of bad luck and mishaps that had befallen other travellers, stories of missing luggage, muggings, and stolen bits and pieces etc etc., though I had always been lucky enough not to count myself among them. Sadly this stay saw to the end of that - right at the end a completely troublefree journey thus far! To cut a long story short, my bag was stolen, which in itself would not have been a big problem except that my passport was badly damaged in its course. Cue visit to embassy, cancelled bookings, and an anxious week-long wait for an emergency passport and then for a visa from the Argentinian Embassy. If you think bureaucracy is bad in Europe, try South America. It all worked out, of course. Apparently the authorities decided I wasn't a runaway Filipino after all and let me leave the country, and I managed to return to BA the day before my flight back to the UK. Not the relaxed way I had envisaged I would enjoy my last week in South America. However, if someone had told me this was all the trouble I'd have to deal with in all my time here, I'm happy with that.
And so passes eight months in South America, and now I am back in the UK, with the cold and miserable rain (although its actually sunny here right now). Unbelievable.
There have been stunning scenery, amazing wildlife, out of this world landscapes, indescribably long bus journeys, planes, mosquitoes, rich history and abundant culture, lazy days, challenging treks, dodgy bunkbeds and snoring roommates, laughs and tears, frustration, sun and torrential rain, bad Spanish and even worse Portuguese, wine and steak (and a fair bit of rice and potatoes too), incredible people and lasting friendships, and a big hole in my piggy bank. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Now I just need another holiday to get over it...
Thanks for reading this blog (those of you who still are), hope to see you soon! For those of you still out there or about to start, happy travels!