Monthly Archives: August 2004

The Full Monte(video)

It’s about 6:20am, and I’m back in Montevideo, in an Internet cafe in the bus station. I just got off an overnight bus back from Salto in the north west of Uruguay, where I spent a relaxing day at one of Las Termas, the thermal spa resorts up there. It was very relaxing, but then I made a mistake about the return bus times and ended up having to get an uncomfortable overnight bus back, which has negated most of the relaxing effects of the spa day!

Anyway, I’m now about to go to Punta del Este, a fancy beach resort town (although it will be quiet as it’s low season), so have to run.

And then there was one…

Nan and Alice left for Montevideo airport this morning for the long trip back to Sheffield (via Buenos Aires, Paris and Machester), so I’m back to travelling solo again. We had a good time in Montevideo, but it was a little more low-key than Buenos Aires — partly because it was rainy and mid-week, and partly because the population of Montevideo (and therefore Uruguay as a whole) has shrunk dramatically in the last few years apparently as young people migrate away in search of better opportunities. According to Paula, a friend of Nan’s brother David who we met with last night in the bus station, many young Uruguayans have left for Spain.

I plan to leave Montevideo today (after shopping for a sheepskin jacket), heading up to las termas, some thermal spring resorts about 100km outside of Montevideo. After spending a few spa days I’m planning to go to Punta del Este for the weekend, before crossing over into Brazil early next week.

Montevideo, Uruguay

It’s just past midnight on monday night, and I’m at the Days Inn Obelisco hotel, just outside the bus station in Montevideo, Uruguay. We only arrived about 15 minutes ago, and were too tired to find anything more interesting or better situated.

Actually today has been a bit of a struggle from the beginning; Nan is coming down with some bug, and went mental this morning when she thought she’d been robbed of $200 by the minibar guy in the Providencia Hotel in Buenos Aires (she eventually found the money in a different purse!). Then we tried to get tickets for the ferry, but the ticket office wasn’t where the guidebook said it should be; when we eventually got the tickets and arrived at the ferry terminal with our bags, we discovered that the booking clerk guy had made a mistake on the timing, and we had to change them again, and when we tried to board the ferry Nan’s friend Alice temporarily misplaced her boarding card and got very upset.

The ferry across to Colonia was uneventful, but when we arrived there was a full-on thunderstorm with torrential rain, which was very dramatic. Then we picked up our bags and got on a reasonably comfortable bus for the 3 hour connection to Montevideo.


I’ve been in Buenos Aires with Nan and her mate Alice almost a week now, and it’s been consistently great; the people are friendly and fun (not to mention beautiful), the nightlife is brilliant, and it’s really inexpensive compared to any comparable city I’ve been to. The highlights of the last week or so include the social scene at the Palermo House, dancing at Pacha until 7am, delicious and plentiful steaks, a tango show with just the right amount of audience participation, and a football match (we watched River Plate beat Colon 3-2 yesterday — it was a really good game).

We also took an overnight trip to an Estancia (ranch) on saturday, which was moy tranquilo and provided a much-needed bit of rest and relaxation amidst all the late nights; we ate barbecued beef, went on a short horse ride with a gaucho and were invited to a play in the pueblo (El Amateur), at which we were treated as guests of honour — at the end of the show, the Director stood up and thanked us for coming to the show.

We’re trying to get to Uruguay today, but it’s proving difficult because it is a bank holiday here. But another night in BA certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world!

Buenos Aires

I’ve been in Buenos Aires for a few days now, staying at the Palermo House hostel in the Palermo Viejo neighbourhood with my friend British Nan, her friend from Sheffield Alice, and a load of assorted other folks from the Argentina, UK, USA, Peru and Cuba. The hostel is very friendly, although I suspect we are the oldest people here! Nan & I are sharing a bizarre room on the roof of the building with lots of windows and views across Buenos Aires rooftops that is only accessible by a rickety spiral staircase leading up through a hatch in the floor.

Buenos Aires is great — the people are really friendly, and it’s definitely a party town. We’ve done a little bit of sightseeing — Evita’s grave in the Recoleta cemetary, for example, and the Casa Rosata. We’ve also eaten a lot of really good steaks, and haven’t been to bed before 5am yet. Tomorrow we’re supposed to be going off to an Estancia (Ranch) in the country with horses, barbecues and a health spa, so that should be fun too. We’re also trying to see a football match, although the timing might be tricky.

Heli Ski

I went heli-skiing (technically I guess it should be called “heli-boarding”) yesterday, and it was incredible — without doubt, the best snowboarding experience in my life to date!

The day started early, when the Chilean guide, Miguel, picked me and 3 other snowboarders (a middle-aged Uruguayan guy called George, and two youngish American guys called Jeff and Henry) up from Hotel Tres Puntas at 7:45am. After signing scary liability release forms, we went to the helipad and were issued with electronic beacons/tracking devices, and started playing a game of hide and seek around the helipad to test our ability to find one another in the case of an avalanche. We failed miserably because the tracking devices were rubbish, so Miguel went and got another type that worked much better.

Eventually, after a lot of standing around, the helicopter arrived and we all piled in for an amazing scenic flight over the Andes. After about 10 minutes, the helicopter started circling near a high and steep snow-covered peak. There didn”t seem to be anywhere suitable to land, so we were somewhat alarmed when the helicopter shoved one of its landing skids into a small snow-covered peak and just hovered there for a while. At this point, I became a little nervous, thinking that perhaps the helicopter had got stuck in a precarious position. It hovered like this for a few minutes, as Miguel and the Pilot talked quickly in Spanish and the four of us in the back shifted about, increasingly nervously.

Then Miguel got out and opened the rear door, indicating that we should also get out onto the tiny snow-covered peak. I was nearest, so got out first and crawled away on my belly, conscious of the whirring rotor blades attached to the not-very-stable helicopter not far above my head. I have to confess to being quite terrified at this point!

Once we were all out of the helicopter crouching in the snow on the tiny peak, the helicopter flew away and then came back the other way around so that Miguel could get all our gear out of the basket on the other side, then it flew off, leaving us covered in snow kicked up by the rotor.

While we were putting our snowboards on, Miguel went along a narrow snowy bridge and started clearing snow off a rock on a nearby adjacent peak, which apparently was what had prevented the helicopter from landing properly — the snow would have caught in the tail rotor. Miguel had an altimeter watch, and informed us that we were at an altitude of 4,300 metres(approximately 15,000 feet?).

After we got our gear on, we slowly and carefully followed Miguel one-by-one down a steep icy ravine — just scraping down, because it was too steep and icy to turn. After a few hundred feet, however, the snow became softer and the incline became less steep, and we were able to ride down more easily.

From this point on, the snowboarding was the best I”ve ever done, with beautiful fresh powder filling huge empty sweeping valleys. The only small fly in this ointment was that we had to keep waiting for one of the American guys, who apparently wasn”t as confident a snowboarder as he claimed to be, and was also having some difficulties breathing at this altitude. Still, it gave the rest of us plenty of time to appreciate the incredible scenery of the Andes.

After this first epic run the helicopter picked us up again and took us to another spot, with a much less scary landing site and no steep icy part at the beginning, and we had another great run down, lasting about 40 minutes. I took one fairly major tumble, somersaulting head over heels at high speed about three times before coming to a rest, but the snow was so soft that I hardly felt anything, and was able to continue once I”d retrieved my goggles.

The original plan was to do two runs, but we all agreed to do one more run, so yet again the helicopter picked us up and ferried us to another spot with spectacular views across the Andes in all directions. Santiago to the west was entirely covered in clouds, with the peaks of mountains rising up through them like islands.

On this last run I suffered an equipment malfunction, when the toe strap on one of my bindings broke, but luckily Miguel had a screwdriver and a bit of nylon strapping with a friction buckle, and was able to fashion a makeshift replacement toestrap that worked very well.

We finished the last run following a river down a valley in about 30 minutes, and waited for the helicopter to take us back to Valle Nevado. Miguel checked his altimeter and told us that we had ridden down about 4,500 vertical metres that morning.

The flight back was also breathtaking, as the helicopter had to circle around a few times to get enough height to clear the ridge of enormous peaks, after which the valleys dropped steeply away for thousands of metres before rising again to the point where the Valle Nevado ski resport was perched. The we disembarked the helicopter halfway up one of the ski slopes, and it was just a matter of riding down to the office to pay the (rather large) bill. The total cost per person came to $470 — about $1 for every 10 vertical metres ridden — but I have to say it was definitely worth it.

Afterwards I checked out of the hotel, got my board fixed, had lunch and rode for the rest of the afternoon before getting the bus back to Santiago and landing back at the Hotel Orly, completely exhausted and with my muscles screaming for relief.

Now its Tuesday, and Im in an Internet cafe using a computer with a keyboard mapping problem (hence the idiosyncratic punctuation), before heading off to Argentina early this afternoon to meet Nan at the Palermo House hotel in Buenos Aires.

Object Management

I have this theory that one of the reasons travelling is so different from everyday life is that it demands a much more significant level of object management — you have to spend a lot more time keep track of all your bits and pieces, especially stuff like tickets and passports etc.

Anyway, today I had some good object-related fortune, and some bad.

The good news was that I finally got equipped with some decent rented snowboard equipment, after several days of hassles, thanks to Matt, the very helpful American guy in the ski shop here at Valle Nevado. With boots that just aboout fit and a half-decent board (both Burton), I had a pretty epic day of snowboarding today. I had a new experience today too — along with about 20 other people, I was dragged up a hill on a length of climbing rope by a Pisten Bully snow plough! This was because the lift lines in the more remote areas (where the best snow is, of course) are were huge, because they are the awful Poma-style drag lifts, where you put a little disk on a stick between your legs and it drags you up the hill (I HATE them!).

The bad object-related news is that the LCD screen on my digital camera got broken sometime over the last day or so, which will seriously hinder is usability (although it still seems to work otherwise, providing I don´t need to use any of the setup menus etc.). People that know me won´t be surprised to hear that I´ve lost/broken another camera!

Anyway, I´m excited that I have a decent snowboard setup, because tomorrow I´m planninng to try Heli-Skiing (I suppose that should be Heli-Boarding really)! For non-skiers/boarders, this is where a helicopter takes a small group of folks out to a remote mountain where the conditions are better than anything you can find in the resort, you ride down, then the helicopter picks you up and takes you back! It´s expensive, but I love helicopter rides and I love snowboarding, so why not combine the two!

Then it´s back to Santiago for one night before heading off to Buenos Aires in Argentina to meet my friend Nan. By happy coincidence she´s also a Spanish teacher, which is good because my Spanish is still pretty dire (although I am learning slowly).

That´s all for now, my time on this computadora is nearly up.

Valle Nevado

I just had my first (half) day of snowboarding in Valle Nevado, and for the most part, it was fantastic! The scenery is amazing, the resort is friendly and pretty well organized, and both the weather and the snow were great — a beauiful crisp sunny day, with the temperatures warm enough to stay comfortable but cold enough not to mess up the snow. There was a huge storm earlier in the week apparently, which left deep powder off-piste and established the first decent base of the winter, so my timing is pretty good!

Not so good was the trip up here with Ski Total, the trip organizers — we were almost an hour late setting off (and I was sitting on the bus without having had breakfast or coffee, because it was too early when I left my hotel and there was nothing open near the ski shop), the half-hour drive from Santiago took 3.5 hours because of traffic and moronic snow-chain guys, and the rental board & boots I had were sh*t — I sent it all back with the bus this evening, and I´m gonna rent new stuff from the resort tomorrow morning.

Anyway, now I´m off to the bar for a bit of pre-dinner apres ski — I might have my free ¨welcome¨drink, a traditional Chilean concoction called a Pisco Sour. That´s about all I have time for, internet access is expensive here.

Way South

Well I made it to Santiago in Chile, where it´s a beautiful crisp sunny winter´s day, after a gruelling day of travelling yesterday: 4 separate flights, 5 countries, and what felt like days in transit on no sleep whatsoever (a combination of poor time management, last-minute preparations and an early 7:00am flight from JFK). Yesterday I revisited familiar airports in New York and Costa Rica, and got acquainted with the airports in Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

Luckily, I finally ended up in a great hotel in Santiago at around 1:30am, thanks to the recommendation in the Rough Guide to South America — the Hotel Orly in Providencia. It´s clean, comfortable, quiet, friendly and relaxed — exactly what you need after a long day of travelling. I was also quite impressed with TACA airlines (and since I flew on four separate flights, I think it was a reasonably accurate sample size), with the exception of their baggage handlers — a Swiss army knife that I had in my (checked) backpack had disappeared when I retrieved my bags in Chile. Surely not a security consideration, since it was checked.

Once again, I´m repeatedly struck by the extent of cultural globalisation on my travels, and it´s not just the ubiquity of big multinationals such as Burger King or Avis; it´s the more subtle cultural intermingling I find more interesting for example, sitting in an airport lounge in Guayaquil, Ecuador, watching the BBC film “Truly Madly Deeply” with Spanish subtitles, or eating breakfast this morning in a delightful sunny conservatory in the hotel listening to the strains of an accapella and pan-pipe version of Sade´s “Smooth Operator.” It´s not exacty the Sound of the High Andes. Bizarre.

Anyway, time to sign off and check out Santiago, because tomorrow I´m heading out early to Valle Nevado for 4 days of snowboarding…

Trip of a Lifetime

Again, it’s been almost a month since my previous posting — and a pretty bizarre month it’s been!

I left my job at ARTstor on the 23rd July, somewhat unexpectedly… It was kind of a shock at first, but I very quickly came to see it as a very positive development, because I’d been thinking about other opportunities for a while anyway.

To celebrate this life change, I’m embarking tomorrow on a 6-week trip to South America! At 7am tomorrow I’m due to catch a plane from JFK, and after several changes I will end up in Santiago, Chile, where I’ll spend two nights before heading off to the Valle Nevado resort for 4 days of snowbaording.

After that it’s back to Santiago for a night before flying to Buenos Aires in Argentina, to meet my friend Nan. We’ll soend a few days there, and then catch the ferry to Uruguay and make our way to Montevideo.

After hanging out in Uruguay for a few more days, Nan will head home and I will make my way up to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; haven’t figured out quite how, yet, but no doubt I’ll find a way!

After a week or two in Brazil, I’m planning to fly to Lima, Peru, from where I’ll do the high-altitude Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, before finally heading back to Santiago in Chile for the return flight home, and some concerted job-hunting effort.

So basically it’s the trip of a lifetime, and I need to book a taxi to come and pick me up in about 5 hours!