A Travellerspoint blog

The end of one journey, and the beginning of another...

It's with some sadness that I have to report that I'm back in England due to the serious illness of one close to my heart. It wasn't an easy decision to make; indeed the person in question is not very pleased with me, but I feel it is the right one, and that this is where I need to be right now.

So my last few days in Chile were spent with my substitute family, enjoying picnics by the river and tramps in the mountains, before saying goodbye to the very starry skies with one last pisco sour. I was not looking forward to the mammoth journey home - one hour minibus to San Fernando, 2 hour bus to Santiago, half an hour taxi to airport, thirteen hour flight to Madrid, three hour flight to London, followed by a 2 hour drive home - but luckily it all went smoothly and wasn't too painful (excepting the very odd german guy on my flight who asked if he could rest his pillow on my shoulder! Er... No?) My little brother came to pick me up and after a teary reunion at the airport and my first pint (pint!) on English soil, I was relieved to find I was happy to be back. The same stars I had said goodbye to on the other side of the world were still shining down on me, albeit a little less brightly and obscured by light pollution, but they were still there none the less. As South America itself will be.

After a good twelve hour sleep, I woke up feeling vindicated in my decision to return by the British weather that greeted me - I was expecting leaden skies, pissing rain and a general sense of doom and gloom. But no, I've had clear blue skies and crisp sunshine and even the bitter cold is a somewhat refreshing change to the relentless heat of Chile. And then there was snow! I LOVE snow! It was with some excitement that I dug out my winter coat and gloves (to now be accompanied by endless alpaca goods) and little squeaks of delight escaped me while I rediscovered the items of clothing I had left at my mums. After six months of the same shorts and tshirts, I don't think I'll ever be so pleased to see a pair of skinny jeans and a flannel shirt again! I am clearly quite behind in the fashion stakes but being out of the country for so long has taught me I really don't care (remind me of this when I'm lusting over a new handbag please!) although even I realise my well-loved stripy pyjama pants should by no means ever be seen in public again.

My first few days in England have been spent catching up with my nearest and dearest and facing the reality of the difficult future ahead of us. It's clearly not how I imagined this year would pan out but hey, asi es la vida! In the meantime, thank you for following my adventures in South America. It has been the best thing I have ever done and I can't wait to go back.

Hasta luego! Xxx

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Posted by christinahicks 09:56 Comments (3)

Six months down and a return to working for a living!

Imagine, if you will, a wooden lodge set deep in the foothills of the Chilean Andes, surrounded by babbling brooks and native forest-covered mountains; the mass of green popping against the bright blue sky, with not a soul around for miles. This is where I am currently working. How the hell did I end up here you may ask?

Well months ago, in such wisdom that I didn't even know I possessed, I registered on a website called www.workaway.info which lists hosts all over the world who are in need of people to work in exchange for food and accommodation. I decided to contact a few to see what the deal was and thats how I ended up conversing with Tumuñan Lodge, my current home. We set a date for the beginning of January and it was with some trepidation that I arrived in the town of San Fernando, a little known place just two hours south of Santiago. Having only spoken with the owner over email, I was somewhat surprised to encounter a Surrey man when we finally met and was even more surprised on arrival at his luxurious lodge, set in the most beautiful surroundings - I couldn't quite believe my luck!

Will, his Chilean wife Carolina and their two adorable children, Thomas (6) and Laura (4), warmly welcomed me into their family and it's been nonstop ever since! The lodge is fairly small, catering for a maximum of ten people, but there is always plenty to do - from serving the home-cooked meals (I've even done some of the cooking) to taking the guests horse riding, to advising Will on marketing strategies (no escape from my previous life!) to entertaining the kids. I've also met some really interesting people; the guests are a mix of English speaking expats and Chilean locals, so it's a very different crowd from the backpackers I've been used to!

After six months on the road it's been really nice to be able to take some time out and take stock. I'm kept pretty busy but there's always time to take a walk in the mountains (I've had a few "The Hills are Alive..." moments!) or cycle down to the nearest town for a cold beer. And I've been practising my Spanish with Carolina and the foreign guests. It's still not as good as it should be but I'm getting there (although Laura would probably beg to differ!) It's also been quite a difficult time; I think being in a family environment and without the constant excitement that goes hand in hand with being on the gringo trail, it's meant I've spent a lot of time thinking about home and the troubles some of my loved ones are facing. It's at times like these I've never felt quite so far away but you know who you are when I say I'm thinking of you and sending you all my love. But this is when I'm also very grateful to Will and Carolina for making me feel so at home. Anyone who needs a break from the real world should definitely pay a visit to Tumuñan Lodge - it may be slightly out of the average backpacker budget but I highly recommend the beautiful surroundings, luxury accommodation, excellent home-cooked food and brilliant excursions. Www.tumunanlodge.com. Ok, plug over (cheque in the post please Will?!)

I was also lucky enough to get a couple of days off to go and meet some friends I had made in Ecuador in the nearby seaside resort of Pichilemu. A surfer's paradise, the rugged shoreline and huge waves were in stark contrast to the calm tranquility of the mountains I had got used to seeing on a daily basis. And what do you usually find in a surfer town? Australians. And what day did it happen to be? Australia day! Oh dear, you can imagine the rest. But it was quite a fitting way to celebrate my six month anniversary - in a beach town not unlike Montanita, my first stop in South America, with friends from the Spanish school and plenty of reminiscing over copious amounts of beer! It's a hard life eh?

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Posted by christinahicks 13:21 Comments (2)

Vibrant Valpo, victorious Viña & sad-to-say-goodbye Santiago

Feliz año everyone! I hope we have all gotten over the hangovers and that the new years resolutions are well and truly forgotten?! The only resolution I have made is to make the most of my time left out here so I'll continue where I left off...

After spending boxing day on the beach, Ruth and I headed down the coast of Chile to the city of Valparaiso, one of the country's most important seaports and a melee of colourful houses, rising higgledy piggledy up an incredible number of hills that surround the bay. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, this labyrinthine city is full of twisting alleys, steep staircases, and rickety old funiculars (cable car type things used to avoid the stairs, some built as early as 1883!) all covered in amazing graffiti. Yup, I really liked it here.

We spent the next few days exploring the narrow cobbled streets and it's pleasant surrounds - including another wine tour (well, when in Rome) and a trip to the home of local poet Pablo Neruda, who was clearly bonkers and collected a load of crap, but lived on the most beautiful beach imaginable (Isla Negra). We spent the evenings attempting to find some nightlife -and some new friends, we were beginning to feel like a married couple - but the best we could find was what appeared to be a youth club. Seriously, we had been recommended 'Heuvos' as the place to go but I should have taken the translation of 'eggs' literally - we were the oldest people in there by a good 15 years!

Not wanting to spend New Years Eve with a load of hatchlings we opted to have the special dinner organised by our hostel, Casa Aventura, and we happily celebrated the turning of the year at the appropriate time for each person's home country, including at 9pm Chilean time a special rendition of Auld Lang's Syne for you lot back in Blighty! After dinner and fuelled by some very strange pineapple flavoured 'champagne' we all headed up the hill to one of the many viewing points to watch the city's legendary fireworks. The display draws immense crowds from all over Chile and was the reason we decided to come here for our celebrations. And luckily it didn't disappoint. With a population of 300,000 suddenly swelled to over a million, the tiny streets were filled with people, all ready to see in the New Year, and the atmosphere when the first fireworks went off was tremendous. From our viewpoint above the harbour, we could see the fantastic display right in front of us, echoed all the way along the bay with coordinated displays from neighbouring towns. Whilst corks popped and champagne fizzed, I happily watched the lights in the sky and contemplated the end of a fantastic year and the start of (hopefully) an even better one. Then, obviously, we got drunk. It's always the sign of a good night when you lose a few hours, but I also managed to lose Ruth and half a toe nail. That's what comes from dancing in the streets with Chileans I guess!

As for most people I'm sure, the first day of 2012 was a bit of a right off, so we started the year afresh the following day and moved on to the neighbouring beach town of Viña del Mar to spend Ruth's last few days in the sun. A wealthier version of Benidorm, we sunbathed and enjoyed the seafood, and even payed a visit to the Municipal Casino, one of the oldest gambling establishments in all of South America (we didn't know this, we just stumbled across it obviously). I have never been to a casino before, so my beginners luck paid off on the roulette wheel and we came away 50,000 pesos richer (if only it had been pounds!)

All too soon it was back to Santiago and Ruth's last day in Chile, which we spent in true tourist style - sightseeing and shopping. Our last evening was spent in the lovely Bellavista patio (a little like the Coventry Garden Piazza) where we watched a belly dancing show, followed by some live jazz and accompanied by some choice bubbly from the Casablanca wine region we had previously visited. A fantastic end to a fantastic three weeks with Ruth - thank you so much for coming and ensuring I wasn't alone for the festive season!

So after nearly 6 months on the road I am back on my own again, ready to face the next adventure. What will 2012 bring? Hopefully good things for us all. Until next time readers...

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Posted by christinahicks 13:46 Comments (2)

A Very 'Chilli' Christmas... and another brief detour to Arg

Christmas time... Mistletoe and wine...
Well I haven't seen any of the former but there's been plenty of the latter! Having met my friend Ruth in the capital of Chile, Santiago, a pleasant enough city where we learnt a lot about Chilean history and politics from a very enthusiastic tour guide, I suggested a quick trip across the border to Argentina and the city of Mendoza. Well it's only 6 hours away and I wanted to show Ruth a bit about life on the road. Mendoza, the largest wine producing area in Latin America, was not the most interesting of places however and this detour essentially turned out to be a rather expensive day trip for wine and steak! The wine came in the form of a 'wine and bike tour' - a somewhat hazardous combination of wine tasting with bike riding through the vineyards of the Maipu valley, starting at 10 o' clock in the morning. Yes, I know, doesn't bode well does it. Surprisingly however there were no accidents and it was a rather charming way to discover I apparently like very expensive red wine... which we later confirmed over a steak dinner, somewhat regrettably cooked 'english' (well done).

Having thoroughly stocked up on Argentinian vino we headed back across the border to Chile through the 2 mile long Cristo Retendor tunnel under the Andes. What should have been a simple border crossing became a scene from Carry on Customs as firstly the immigration official forgot to stamp my passport and I was called back by the bus driver shouting 'policia' (which certainly got my attention), then our bags got called out for inspection which we sheepishly had to explain were filled with wine and chocolate, before the sniffer dogs (which are trained to find fruit and vegetables) went absolutely bonkers over them. "No no," we said, "solo vino y chocolate!" You'd believe two blonde english girls as well right?

Eventually we made it back onto the bus and continued on to the beach town of La Serena where, can you believe it, we had an apartment - our OWN kitchen, my OWN room, even a DOUBLE bed and somewhere to properly unpack after 5 months on the road. And what happened when we did unpack? We only found a chilli in the bag the sniffer dogs had gone crazy for! We bought said chilli from a market in Santiago and completely forgot we had it, so unbeknownst to us, we managed to smuggle a chilli from Chile into Argentina and out again! It may not seem like a particularly contraband item to you and I, but by the way they were acting at customs I could be writing to you from an Argentinian prison, Bridget Jones style, right now!

So after recovering from our brief brush with the law with some cocktails on the beach, we settled in to our Chilean Christmas. With some brilliant decorations and santa hats Ruth had brought from home, and with a quick trip to the supermarket to stock up on all the essentials (continental cheese board included) we were all set. So what did we do on Christmas day? The same thing you did actually - ate some food, opened some presents, drank some wine, listened to Cliff Richard, ate some more food, played some cards, drank some more wine, ate some more food - but all in the 35 degree sunshine! Our festivities were even remarked on by the locals, especially the landlady who at one point asked what the "soft stuff" was. That would be fake snow, love. Classy.

So Christmas can still be Christmas wherever you are in the world, but on this, the last day of 2011, I would just like to reflect on the year that was. From the birth of my niece, to the wedding of my big brother, from old friends that I miss to new friends I have gained, this has been a life changing year for me. Thank you to everyone who has played a part in it and here's to a new year and new beginnings for us all. If I've learnt anything this year it's that the world really is your lobster... Bring on 2012!

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Posted by christinahicks 03:56 Comments (1)

A brief detour to Argentina and a reacquaintance with realit

I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear after the lengthy last blog that I don't have much to report today! Basically it's been back to the reality of buses and bumming around on the gringo trail. Strange that even travelling can become somewhat routine; not that I'm complaining - I'd clearly rather not be back in cold, wet London, fighting the crowds of Christmas shoppers but its not always easy to find meaning in sightseeing when you've just had an experience like the jungle. But anyways! Here's a little roundup of what I've been doing since I last wrote...

After well and truly recovering by the pool in Santa Cruz, the girls and I, plus new recruit Paula, said a fond farewell to Bolivia and headed to the comparative civilisation of Argentina. Our first stop was the city of Salta, just six hours across the border but a world away in terms of lifestyle and culture - 5 times our bus was stopped by border control and 5 times we had to get off for all our belongings to be searched, presumably for smuggled items - a telling contrast between these neighbouring countries since in Bolivia it was not uncommon for PEOPLE to be smuggled behind the seats on buses! Not much to say about this city, mainly because we spent most of the time adjusting to the excruciating price increase and the ridiculously difficult-to-understand Argentine accent! We did however eat our first of many meat feasts, washed down with the first of many bottles of local wine...

Next stop was Cordoba, a university city slap bang in the middle of Argentina where we embraced our inner tourists with a visit to Che Guevara's family home and even a trip to a contemporary art gallery (it's been a while since I've done any 'culture'). Argentina is far more European than the rest of South America and so for the first time we realised Christmas is well and truly approaching, even if it is a little odd to be confronted by the jovial figure of Santa Claus in 35 degree heat!

You now find me in the pretty city of Rosario, where we hired bikes and cycled along the riverfront in the glorious sunshine yesterday for a good three hours, until the weather turned and we had to cycle back in the sheeting rain - for those of you who are aware of my legendary cycling skills, just picture me fighting the howling wind whilst trying to maintain a vaguely straight direction! Pleased to report only one minor incident with a wall however, and clearly it was the wall that was in the wrong place.

So this is my last stop on the road to Buenos Aires, before I fly to meet the delectable Ruth Garette in Santiago for our Christmas holiday! Needless to say the next three weeks are going to be pretty full on, as I'm sure they will be for you all back in Blightly so this might be my last blog for a little while. I'm intensely looking forward to sharing some festive spirit in the sun, but there are some definite things I will miss about being at home this time of year so I am going to write my Christmas list below...

Dom, Henry, Rebecca, Mark, Kristel and Andrew - please drink mulled wine and eat mince pies whilst listening to crap carols and making paper snowflakes
Kiran & Tom - where are you? Christmas Skype por favor
Sarah Richards - eat cake
Lady B and DDB/rapier girlies - don't drink too much at the staff party but do sneak off for lunchtime beers whenever possible
Nikki - mucho vino and girl talk - updates please!
Liz - enjoy your first Christmas with baby Archie, many congratulations :)
Sally & Gav - mine's a cider
Alix Percy - ditto
Ruth Garette - bring it on!
And not forgetting the Hicks clan - try not to kill each other yeah?!

Feliz Navidad and muchos besos to you all! Xxx

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Posted by christinahicks 10:31 Comments (1)

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