Reflective times in A Bay

So, after a truly epic week of surfing with Bandulla we headed to the birthplace of surfing in Sri Lanka – Arugam Bay. Bandulla and a few of his friends were headed there anyway so we hitched a lift in their truck. We got to chat to Bandulla about all sorts of things and stopped several times for some pretty awesome street food. One thing we chatted about a lot was the tsunami. Arugam Bay was particularly badly hit by the natural disaster and has been slowly rebuilding itself over the last 10 years. Bandulla said the tsunami came almost 2km inland from Arugam Bay, wiping out several communities. It was a pretty sobering thought as we pulled into the bay. Clearly this was not such a sobering thought for the owners of ‘The Tsunami Hotel’ which we passed on the way into town. The board advertising the hotel had a painting of the Tsunami with people screaming beneath it. Poor taste? We thought so.

On arrival we saw a bustling tourist town and the lovely arc of the bay itself. We got dropped at our hotel called Coco Bay and quickly settled into our lovely air conditioned room just 100m or so from the beach.

Our few days in Arugam Bay consisted of the following:
– Eating
– Sunbathing
– Eating
– Sleeping

You may notice no mention of ‘surfing’ in the activity list above – odd given the previous comment about the ‘birthplace of surfing’. Would you believe it Jess and I were a bit surfed out after Bandulla put us through our paces for a week. Plus the point break closest to us was a.) small and b.) being surfed by around 50 people at a time!

I think both Jess and I were feeling quite reflective in Arugam Bay. Because we’d decided to have proper chill time our thoughts did start to turn to the fact it was nearly the end of our trip. I certainly spent many a moment trying to soak up everything around me, conscious that we were unlikely to be this well travelled, well rested and well sunned for quite some time (no sympathy expected).

In between these moments of travelling reflection we did manage to meet a brilliant couple from Austria called Laurenz & Julia. Laurenz definitely had the coolest job of anyone we had met on our travels so far – he and his family owning a jam making business – hmmm jam. These guys were staying at the same hotel as us and we enjoyed many an evening drinking lion beer, eating delicious curry and talking about jam. Happy times. We hope to pay them a visit (not just because of the promised tour of their jam factory) in Bregenz soon.

So, after a very relaxing week or so in Arugam Bay we headed for Ella and the train through the central highlands and tea plantations back to Colombo. More to come on this and our last few days of what has been the most glorious 5 months imaginable.

You may be pleased to hear this is probably the penultimate smug travelling post.

Love to all.
R&J xx

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth

Sri Lanka – our final stop. How had this happened? At the start of the year we were basking in the smug glory of 5 months off work. Now, we had just 3 precious weeks left 😦 I can’t imagine any of you feel hugely sympathetic 😉

However all was not lost. For Sri Lanka is the land of sun, surf, smiley people and epic curry. We flew into Colombo and spent the night in a nice place with a sea view. After a hearty breakfast in the calm of a converted tea factory we headed for the local train station and CHAOS ensued. We had chosen the day before the Buddha’s birthday to try and travel to Kandy – apparently 90% of the Sri Lanka population also had the same idea! The 38 degree heat added to a sense of meltdown as we ventured off with our heavy bags to try and find a bus instead. Buses in Sri Lanka are a little different to the UK – for starters the doors are always open and people literally jump on and off as the thing is moving (young, old, male, female, they slow for no one). They are also never really full. There is ALWAYS room for one more!

So after 5 fairly hair raising and sweaty hours we made it to the city of Kandy. The first thing we noticed was it is a very attractive city. The main area is based around a lake and nestled into a number of small hills. It’s very green and has plenty to do and see – from temples and botanical gardens to viewpoints, tea factories and giant Buddha statues.

We had booked into a place overlooking the lake called Villa 49. We were met by our host (Jess and I have both forgotten his name – I’m sure you’re all itching to know so we’ll send an update when we remember 🙂 and shown to a giant, nicely furnished room with the air con set to freezing. Perfect 🙂

Arguably one of Kandy’s biggest draws is The Temple of the Tooth Relic. I quickly decided this would make a great name for an Indiana Jones film hence the title of this blog. We wondered there at sunset and again were joined by most of the Sri Lankan population. The temple houses an actual tooth of the original Buddha and believe me when I say this tooth has had quite the history. It has caused fights, been taken by the British (surprise surprise), been moved around the country and had countless temples built in it’s honour. It is revered by the Sri Lankans and the queues to see the little golden temple it sits in were absolutely enormous (you can’t see the actual tooth – we can’t imagine it’s in great nick!). The dress, the music and the whole atmosphere there was pretty extraordinary!

We’d read that our hotel did excellent food and I’m happy to report that our fellow travellers on trip advisor were not wrong. Our first taste of proper Sri Lanka curry will stay in our minds for some time- healthy, delicious and vast quantities. Brilliant.

We had arranged a tuk tuk tour for the following day. Our friendly driver whizzed us around some of the sights I’ve mentioned with brace and poise – two crucial things for navigating Sri Lankan roads! The botanical gardens were incredible – loads of trees and plants, some native, some imported. We took particular note of the bamboo which was the tallest growing bamboo in the world – our friend Nalty has a strange obsession with the stuff so a selfie in front of it seemed appropriate. The giant Buddha statue was also a highlight – it sits overlooking Kandy and up close it makes the Statue of Liberty look like a garden knome. Impressive stuff. Our final stop was a tea factory – apparently tea is not made on the Buddha’s birthday so we didn’t see the machines working but it was fascinating nonetheless. Jess’ mum would have been in seventh heaven in this place – even she couldn’t drink all the tea they had on offer here.

We ate another sublime meal at Villa 49 and got really keen the following morning and went for a run round the lake. I don’t get the impression Sri Lankans exercise for fun. We got some pretty unusual looks from passers by as we jogged along. Or they may have just been concerned for our well being given how much I was sweating. We didn’t stop to ask.

So all in all Kandy was fantastic and highly recommended. And just in case George Lucas or anyone else involved in the Indiana Jones franchise is reading, I want crediting if you decide on The Tooth Relic as the next instalment.

For now,
R&J xx

Leaving Nepal

So the time had come for us to move on from Nepal. It’s fair to say this conjured mixed emotions for us both. On the one hand we had the most amazing time in what is a truly wonderful country – on the other we witnessed horrible suffering at the hands of the massive earthquake that ended up killing almost 8,000 people.

We had been told that both domestic and international flights were operating so we set off from The 3 Sisters Guesthouse (our home for almost 2 weeks – massive thanks to all there who made us so welcome) and headed for Pokhara airport. Immediately we saw half a dozen Nepali and Indian helicopters busy taking aid packages to some of the remote villages between Pokhara and Kathmandu.

We eventually took off for Kathmandu really not knowing what to expect when we got there. The flight took us over the glorious mountains but really we were looking around for signs of the devastation having been relatively sheltered from it all in Pokhara. Arriving into the Capital we were almost surprised that from the air things looked almost ‘normal’. The situation on the ground was anything but. Kathmandu airport was chaos – every inch of space was filled with travellers, embassy officials, news crews and relief workers – the runways were jammed up with aircraft from at least half a dozen nations and the mood of the place was understandably sombre.

Two faces among the crowds stood out – our gorgeous Australian friend Renee and her fiancée Ben had been hiking back from Everest Base Camp when the earthquake hit and had thankfully made it back to Kathmandu after being helicoptered off the mountain. Seeing them was so special and a real lift at a difficult time for everybody. We only had precious few minutes with them (they managed to get an Australian airforce flight out to Bangkok) but seeing them, knowing they were ok and congratulating them on their engagement was magical.

Jess and I were meant to have an early flight out to Doha the following morning, but on arriving at the desk we saw it had been cancelled. The advice was to stay in the airport and not risk going to a hotel – but seeing people sprawled out in every corner of the airport and knowing we would have to stay for almost 24 hours, we decided to chance our luck and see if we could get away earlier. Qatar airways were brilliant and put us on an earlier flight. They said a night in Doha airport was likely to be better than a night in Kathmandu. As it turned out they were very right as the airline kindly put Jess and I up in a hotel for the night.

It felt very strange taking off from Kathmandu – relief at being safe, guilt at leaving a country on it’s knees. Jess did a lot of good work in Pokhara doing pieces for the BBC and helping to ensure people at home knew about the devastation and what they could do to help – especially for some of the more remote villages which suffered horrendously but weren’t getting the aid they needed due to accessibility issues and a lack of resources. We donated of course but ultimately we felt a bit redundant without medical/search and rescue skills. I don’t think either of us said much for the first few hours of the flight.

We’ll remember our time in Nepal for the rest of our lives but not really because of the earthquake (as strange as that sounds). We’ll remember amazing, hospitable, humble and resilient people, beautiful scenery, precious time spent with family and chance meetings with friends from down under. I don’t think the people of Nepal would want it any other way.

More soon.
R&J xxx

The Hills

The time had come to move on from crocodile farms and charging rhinos, and head to see Jess’ Aunt and Uncle, who are currently living and working in Nepal.

We had another fairly spine altering journey to a place called Besisahar where Simon and Judith Hill are based. They are nine months into a two year VSO project – Jude working with young girls to try and get them to stay in school and Simon working with farmers trying to improve their practices and productivity.

Besisahar is a little off the tourist trail – it’s really only trekkers you see if at all (in fact I think we saw two other westerners all week). Jude and Simon live in a nice flat with a temple on the roof (all the rage in Nepal) and welcomed us with open arms into their home.

What we didn’t know when we arrived was that they had drawn up a gruelling schedule for our visit – mostly consisting of long walks, local cuisine and competitive evening games. Before we knew it we were being whisked off to a tea party with Jude’s colleagues and getting an early night to ready ourselves for Trek 1.

I’m pretty sure Trek 1 was described at one point as being an ‘easy one to get you started’. Not a word of it. Jude marched us up over the hills to one of the schools she works with, before making sure we ate our body weight in dal bhat (Nepali staple that includes rice, dal, greens and potato curry) and marching us down again. A puny 7 hour trek to get us started 🙂 The trek was of course amazing: incredible mountain vistas, traditional Nepali villages and a running commentary on everything we saw.

Out for the count by about 7pm, we woke the following morning thinking today would have to be a little easier. However, Simon returned from Kathmandu the previous evening and had a glint in his eye that could only mean one thing – more walking.

Trek 2 took us over the nearby river and up through various gorgeous Nepali villages. We stopped at one home in particular that Simon and Jude knew from buying some blankets from there before. The ladies in this small village are weavers and damn fine ones at that. They are also incredibly welcoming and funny. We sat with them for a couple of hours drinking tea and watching them work. They even managed to recruit Jess to do some weaving with them. I don’t speak Nepalese (and thankfully neither does Jess) but I’m pretty sure they were telling Jess to ditch her odd looking husband and come and work for them…. We had another magnificent dal bhat at the top of the next village then walked down via yet more fantastic scenery – some monkeys even dropped in to say hi and we met one of Jude’s ‘Little Sisters’ – girls helping to spread the word that girls dropping out of school is not ok.

That night we sat down to play some ‘games’. Scrabble wasn’t doing it for us so we decided to spice things up by playing the name game. This wasn’t a game Simon and Jude were familiar with but suffice to say that by the end of the week they were hooked – tears, laughter, screams and all.

Trek 3 involved a castle, stolen pigeons, an orange grove, more dal bhat, bubbly Nepalese women, Harry and I adopting 2 goats and a spectacular walk back down to Besisahar – it had it all. I won’t even attempt to explain all of the above but a specific mention must go to the Nepalese women who were just brilliant – they, like everyone we met on our walks, were nothing but genuine, fun, warm and desperate to ask us as many questions as possible (thankfully Simon and Jude speak really very good Nepali). For Jess, Fiona, Harry and I to be able to get out and meet these people was special and only made possible through Simon and Jude’s life out there.

Exhausted from the previous evening’s name game battle, Simon and Jude took it easy on us for trek 4. A mere four hours. We bussed it down the valley and walked back to Besisahar on the opposite side of the river. This was made particularly brilliant as we got to see Simon at work. Much of what he has to do to get his message across to Nepalese farmers is to go to their farms and explain as simply as he can that by changing some age old practices they could exponentially increase their milk yield. We watched on as he showed a local farmer (by drawing him a graph) how he could do things differently when it came to his cow/buffalo – the farmer was ready to appoint Simon Prime Minister by the end. Amazing to see. That afternoon involved some retail therapy for Fiona back in Besisahar followed by our final evening meal and the name game decider (let’s just say the best team won).

Our time with Simon and Jude was so special for all sorts of reasons. Jess, Fiona, Harry and I want to thank them for hosting us and we all think that what you’re doing is amazing. We can’t wait to see you back in the UK in July.

Love to all,

R&J xxxx

That bloody fish market

So we’d come to our last full day in Japan. We decided to head back to Tokyo and tick a few things off the list that we didn’t get to do last time round.

First on the list was the Tokyo Fish Market – the Lonely Planet’s top pick. An auction takes place at 5am whereby all the top restaurants bid for the best quality fish caught that very morning. You can view this from a gallery then tuck into what is apparently the best sushi in town.

We were told to get there before 5am as the queues can build up. We’d missed it first time round due to a public holiday so this time we were determined to see it and got there before 4am to be safe.

I think some divine force didn’t want us to see the fish market that day or any other day – some eager beavers had got there at 3am and all of the 120 available slots had gone by the time we got there!

Jess remained fairly sanguine about it whereas I got a little grumpy… We retreated back to our hotel and woke up feeling like our second fish market disappointment was all a bad dream.

Thankfully the rest of our final day in Tokyo was great – a quick trip to trendy Shibuya and an authentic Japanese meal called a ‘cheese burger’ to round things off 🙂

Japan was fantastic from start to finish and we both wished we could have stayed longer. But our flight to Nepal would wait for no man (or woman) so onwards we march.

Love to all
R&J xxx

Temples, castles, geishas and eels

Still buzzing from the best skiing we’ve ever experienced, Jess and I started the lengthy journey to Kyoto – the cultural capital of Japan and home to some 2,000 temples! Our timing to visit Kyoto was both good and bad – the cherry blossom is arguably seen at its finest in Kyoto but as a result attracts hordes of locals and travellers to its streets. Finding accommodation was a nightmare and we ended up paying an exorbitant amount of money to rent an entire house through airbnb. Writing this blog as we’re about to leave Kyoto I am relieved and happy to say it was well worth it!

You could spend weeks in Kyoto and not take in everything it has to offer – apparently even the Japanese themselves journey to Kyoto to learn about their culture. In order to keep this blog entry below novel size, I will focus on the highlights.

No trip to Kyoto is complete without a trip to Inari Taisha and its series of approx 2,000 torii gates that wind their way up through a forested mountain. The sunlight plays through these gates making for an amazing sight along with a cracking view from the top earned after a sweaty hike.

After taking in another temple (Kiyomizu) we walked along two gorgeous streets called ‘Ninen-zaka’ and ‘Sannen-zaka’ – these are lined with old wooden houses, cherry blossom trees and food stalls to satisfy any culinary desire. Jess and I managed to pick the smallest restaurant in town and waited 1 1/2 hours for our food – thankfully the portions were enormous and the tempura prawns to die for.

Our next stop left us a little disappointed – we were reliably informed that a certain park in Kyoto (Maruyama) is THE business when it comes to cherry blossom viewing. However, as we experienced in Tokyo, we were just a little early for the blossom AND once again we saw no uninhibited behaviour on display 😦

Thirsty after a long day on the tourist trail Jess and I headed into the entertainment district (Gion) in search of a cold Asahi. Many of our best travelling experiences have happened totally by accident and this evening was to be no different. Jess stumbled (not due to the Asahi beer) across a theatre which was soon to be showing a world famous Geisha dance. The Geisha are for all intents and purposes entertainers. They have observed rituals such as dances, flower arranging, tea preparation, plays and musical performances for hundreds of years. Watching them perform some of these was incredible – mostly the dancing but even the flower arranging (yes, the flower arranging) had a serenity to it. They are so meticulous in every movement and facial expression they make – it’s unlike anything we’d ever seen.

The following day featured more temples but without doubt the highlight was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. If any of you have ever seen ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ you will remember scenes in a bamboo forest – well it is even better in the flesh. The bamboo towers above you and again the light plays through the trees and is beautiful. It’s also a short walk from there to a house, formerly owned by a samurai film star, with incredible views from its gardens back across Kyoto.

Our experiences of Japanese cuisine to date have been nothing but delicious – this was however until Jess and I sampled eel for the first time over lunch that day. Jess coughed, spluttered and damn near spat the offending eel out across the table. Unless you like something that resembles white rubber and tastes like it has been marinated in vinegar for 10 years, we’d suggest you steer clear.

Recovered, we went for a lovely stroll along the Kamo-gawa river and watched people run, cycle and booze on the river banks as the sun set. A great day all round.

Our final day in Kyoto featured 3 brilliant things:

1 – We went to Nijo-jo castle, notable for the fact it’s not a temple (trust me there is such a thing as ‘temple fatigue’) and it has ‘nightingale’ floors, built above bits of sharp bamboo that when stood on emit a bird like chirp – assassins trying to kill the emperor were heard before they were seen.

2 – We met Mika, the sister of Mami (who lived with Jess and family in Devon for 2 months) – much like Mami she was sweet, funny and very kindly bought us lunch!

3 – We went to Kyoto’s most famous onsen (hot bath) for some naked time (separately I might add) – nothing like it after a long day on your feet.

Kyoto was really special and our little house the perfect base to explore – even if it did cost ONE BILLION YEN (doctor evil laugh).

Next – Hiroshima 😦

R&J xxx

Tokyo and the Jet Lag Monkey

So, after an unplanned but very happy 10 days or so in the UK, we boarded our flight to Japan. We had both been looking forward to it so much – a few family members and friends have been in recent years and have had nothing but praise for the place.

After a 15 hour flight (the award for best in-flight film goes to ‘Whiplash’ – check it out) we arrived into Tokyo and made our way across a truly mind boggling train/subway network to our accommodation. Trying to navigate this beast when rested would be tricky – with mind crippling jet lag to contend with it was a bit taxing. We had booked a room in a flat (an Airbnb job) on the 35th floor of this apartment building on Shibaura Island – we finally arrived and were greeted by a jaw dropping view over the city and a very sweet host (Sugu) who provided snacks and strong coffee.

The jet lag monkey woke us up ridiculously early the following day so we marched out on the tourist trail – first stop Senso-Ji, Tokyo’s most famous temple. It’s an extraordinary place where you can engage in some unusual rituals! Locals and tourists queue up to inhale and smother themselves in the incense smoke from the sacred shrines. People also seek out their fortunes by getting a number from a small wooden box, locating the correct small wooden drawer and withdrawing a small piece of paper. Apparently it’s not all good fortunes – however you are able to tie the bit of paper to a small clothes line if your fortune isn’t to your liking.

Late March/early April is cherry blossom season in Japan and our next stop – Ueno Park – is rated one of the top 2 places in the country to see this amazingly beautiful event (an event that also sees the Japanese ‘at their most uninhibited’ to quote The Lonely Planet – we were keen to see what this entailed!). We did manage to see some early blossom but unfortunately the main event is a bit delayed this year and we didn’t see any uninhibited behaviour 😦

Nonetheless we soldiered on and took in both the Tokyo National Museum (brilliant section on history of the Samurai) and the Ginzo district (think Times Square with quadruple the number of people) before eating the most delicious sushi known to man.

Jet lag does have some small benefits – for example, when one is required to get up at 3.30am to go and queue for the world famous Tsukiji fish market, it doesn’t feel quite so grim being awake at that hour of the morning. What does feel pretty grim however is getting to said fish market and being told it’s closed for a public holiday! Ouch.

Again we regrouped and headed for the Imperial Palace – the official residence of the Emperor of Japan. Suffice to say, the palace and gardens befit a man revered and worshipped in Japan – they are incredible and maintained by a legion of unbelievably meticulous gardeners and guards on bikes!

That afternoon we had arranged to meet up with a very special someone. Mami Takahashi was just 16 when she arrived in Devon on a school exchange program. Jess and her family hosted Mami for 2 months and 18 years later Jess and I were lucky enough to meet up with her in Tokyo. She and her 8 year old son Ayumu were brilliant – we had a lovely afternoon in trendy Shinjuku reminiscing about her time in England and eating cake. Magic.

Our final night in Tokyo involved a trip up to the 45th floor of a government building to marvel at the city lights that stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction. This was swiftly followed by the best ramen (noodle soup) we have ever tasted – especially amazing given it came out of a vending machine! 3 days in and we were already obsessed with Japanese food.

The jet lag monkey again decided it was time for us to wake up at 3am but this time we were full of excitement – for the day was to mark our first experience of the legendary Japanese bullet train (the Shinkansen) that would take us to the Japanese Alps and metres upon metres of fresh snow!

Thank you Tokyo – you were brilliant and surreal. Until next time.

Sayonara,
R&J xx

Vina and Valpo – in 10

1. Vina del Mar and Valparaiso are both seaside towns and that is where the similarities end. If I could make comparisons with the UK (sorry to any of our International followers :-)) I would say Vina is like Bournemouth and Valpo like Brighton (both with better weather of course).

2. We rented a flat in Vina for the week – so lovely to have our own space. We spent many an evening curled up on the sofa watching knock off DVDs, eating chocolate and drinking Chilean plonk. Vina might be a little tacky in places (mostly the beachfront) but delve a little deeper and gems abound – lovely residential streets, a racecourse, a castle (of sorts), nice parks, great restaurants and friendly folk.

3. Jess’ much missed aunt used to live in Vina when she was a girl – really lovely for us to visit one of her old stomping grounds.

4. Valparaiso is fantastic – such a cool and utterly different seaside town. Home to quirky people, quirky homes, a unique system of elevators that whisk you up (and down) to different parts of the town, and to one of the many houses of the poet Pablo Neruda (well worth a visit if you’re ever in Valpo).

5. One of the coolest things about Valpo is the street art. Amazing. It’s literally on every corner. We took a few pics to give you a sense of it – for your viewing pleasure below.

6. Jess and I did an amazing Chilean cooking course in Vina – with a Mr Boris Basso Benelli, published chef and potential future contestant on Chilean Masterchef! We cooked all sorts of things including ceviche, empanadas, corn pie (Chilean delicacy) and poached pears – our lovely blog readers will have to come round for a Chilean themed dinner party when we get back 🙂 Please do check out Boris’ cookbook – the man is a genius.

7. Jess and I went out and got extremely drunk in Vina – we haven’t been out a lot on our travels so it didn’t take much! We danced the night away with our cooking school friends (greetings Kim, Bart and Cameron) and felt very hardcore when we rolled in at 5am – of course the Chilenos party for way longer but not bad for 2 Brits, 2 Dutch and an Aussie :-).

8. Needing to do some exercise, Jess and I went in search of a public swimming pool (the sea is not an option at 9 degrees!). We took a slight ‘detour’ and ended up walking for about 2 hours before coming upon a pool in a naval base of all places. Knackered from our detour we managed about 2 widths but the pool was amazing (pic below) and worth the hike.

9. We saw a few movies at the cinema in Vina – in case you’re looking for something to see – The Theory of Everything (amazing performance from Eddie Redmayne, 9/10), Kingsman (unusual turn for Colin Firth, 7/10) and American Sniper (powerful stuff from Bradley Cooper, 7/10).

10. I started a ’10 things’ blog and I am damn well going to finish it 🙂 (Granted the cinema ratings were stretching it a tad already). Anyway, just to say Vina and Valpo are both great and well worth a visit!

Until next time amigos,
R&J xx

Every cloud…..

Dear Readers
I am not normally one for trying to dispense travelling wisdom (I usually have very little). However, on this occasion I feel it’s necessary to warn you of the gigantic ball ache that comes from having one’s passport stolen. In a word, it’s a nightmare. Everything else you own is not that problematic to replace or cancel. A passport on the other hand is.

I stupidly put my bag on the floor (at my feet) in the bus station in San Pedro de Atacama where Jess and I had just spent a very nice few days. A horde of people then rucked past me to get their bus and when I next looked down….oh sh*t. EVERYTHING gone. Passport, credit card, iPad, kindle, camera, the list goes on.

We had to spend pretty much a week getting this nightmare sorted. We had to change our itinerary, cancel flights, call police stations, visit local magistrates, visit embassies, get an emergency passport, avoid certain countries that don’t allow emergency passports, again the list goes on. Had it not been for the patience and organisational skills of my lovely wife I might well have lost the plot.

I am pleased to say I am now the proud owner of an emergency passport (it’s also gold which is quite cool) and plan on visiting Her Majesty’s passport office in London to get a permanent replacement. And we now get to attend my niece Lettie’s 1st birthday party. Every cloud…..

We also got to spend a few days in Santiago, Chile, another silver lining as it turned out. We were originally due to pit stop here for only one evening and that would have been a crying shame. It’s a great city. Attractive, cosmopolitan, friendly, varied, a great place to spend a few days. We stayed in Bellavista in a great hotel with the most helpful staff you’ll find (gracias Carlos, Gonzalo and Melissa). We gazed over amazing vistas, swam in local pools, lay in lovely parks and met loads of nice people. Good for the soul and to restore your faith in humanity after being robbed!

So, remember one and all, keep your passport on you at all times when in transit to avoid gigantic ball ache.

For now.

R&J xx

Salty adventures

Uyuni does I’m pleased to say have one redeeming feature. It is the gateway town to the Salar de Uyuni, otherwise known as the Bolivian salt flats. In pretty much any guidebook you read, a trip across the Salt Flats from Bolivia into Chile is a must do – and so we did.

We booked our trip with a well reviewed company called Red Planet and once again crossed our fingers that we’d get a good group – especially important given you’re crammed into a 4×4 for 3 days and stay in shared accommodation with no showers. Once again, we got lucky. Ian and Jen (Ohio, US) along with Erik and Frederica (Denmark) were awesome company throughout (plus other bonuses like no snoring and sound personal hygiene in the absence of showers).

Day 1 of our trip involved a somewhat random but interesting visit to a train graveyard. Passenger train travel in Bolivia is pretty limited and the scale of their industrial operation has diminished a bit but tracks do still take minerals from the area into Bolivia and Argentina. The now defunct trains are old and rusting but have some amazing graffiti on them and look a real spectacle just stuck out in the middle of the desert.

Our second stop was the real deal – the salt flats themselves. The Salar is approx 10,000 square kms, making it the biggest salt flat in the world. It can even be seen from space. The salt crust is a few metres thick and beneath it is a layer of brine which contains 50-70% of the world’s lithium supplies (source: Wikipedia :-)). Aside from the amazing natural chemistry, this place is just ridiculously beautiful. The surrounding sky and mountains are reflected in the shallow pools of water on top of the salt and it makes for something that looks out of this world – and given it is currently the rainy season we got v lucky with the weather. Everyone spends a great deal of time trying to capture the perfect shot of themselves doing something acrobatic – our efforts are below for your amusement….

The next 2 days of the tour involved driving a few hundred kms from the salt flats to the Chilean border. On the way we were treated to lunar like landscapes (NASA do the training for their moon vehicles in this area), different coloured lagoons, a flamboyance of flamingoes (had to look that up), some steaming geysers (insert bottom joke here) and some incredible mountain peaks (we ate lunch one day at 4,900m above sea level).

On our last night we also got to sample a natural hot spring. Sitting in this pool at night, with the stars shining down was a real treat. Perhaps minus the other 30 people there, add a few beers and some pretzels and it really would have been the ultimate experience 🙂

We arrived at the Chilean border with our spines a little altered and started yet another crazy border crossing process. It was then a short journey into Chile to reach the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama.

Final verdict on the salt flats trip as follows: definitely worth it for the salt flats alone. A lot of driving, some very basic or non-existent facilities and perhaps a bit of landscape fatigue but amazing nonetheless.

7.5 out of 10 from us.

From Chile with love.

R&J xxxx