A Travellerspoint blog

Sydney, the first stop in Australia

View Australian adventure! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

It's a 14 hour flight from Santiago to Sydney. It sounds like it could be horrendous but I felt like the time flew by (pun only partially intended), partly due to flying with Quantas.

I'm not sure whether my visit to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights the previous day had affected me, but I watched an excellent but pretty serious collection of films - Suffragette, Straight Outta Compton and Pitch Perfect 2. Each to their own struggle for justice, equality, and opportunity.

The flight to Sydney arrived later than planned but eventually I got to my hostel in Kings Cross. I had booked my hostel rather last minute so many of the most popular hostels were full. Some people on the shuttle bus cringed when I said where I was staying as apparently the area has a reputation, not unlike the reputation of old of Kings Cross in London. However, this was a reasonably priced hostel, near a station, with plenty of backpackers around. I really felt safe there.

It's amazing how many people asked me where I had stopped from Santiago to Sydney. I referred them all to google maps. If you just looked it up, you'll see that there isn't a whole lot between the two cities, and ocean doesn't often make a good stop off point.

Anyway, I made friends with some girls at breakfast and we ended up spending the next few days together. Two Canadians, an American and a fellow Brit just hanging around Sydney. We started with the free walking tour which is always a good way to get acquainted with a city. This was my first glimpse of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.

That afternoon, despite the fairly intense heat, I decided to wander through the Royal Botanic Gardens and back to the hostel. As I was in Sydney, being all shiny and modern and the most London like city I'd been in in 6 months, so it was an enjoyable refuge from the towering CBD.

The next day we visited Manly Beach, heading over on the ferry to a beautiful beach. Now I'm not normally one to ogle, but I must say Manly Beach contained the highest concentration of highly attractive human beings I have ever seen. Maybe it's because everyone was simply having a great day, happiness and beauty are fairly closely related I reckon.

That afternoon I tried to meet up with Sean and Lizzie from my Peru tour. I did not have an Australian SIM card at this point, which meant our meeting was not as smooth as it could've been. What do I mean by this? I mean I ended up sitting in McDonalds, buying a Coke I didn't want as I felt like I ought to get something in exchange for using their free wifi. Maybe the only free working wifi in Sydney.

I did eventually find them, although it looked unlikely, after a public Facebook plea for help! And it was lovely! Meeting people is one of the great things about travelling and it's a rare treat to be able to reconnect with those people, on the other side of the world, so soon after you've met them.

The next day, the girls from the hostel and I went to the famous Bondi beach. I was expecting a bigger beach...we didn't go on the nicest day, so it was pretty empty, but imagine it's beaut on s good day. We were going to do the Bondi to Coogee walk, but got distracted by some pretty badass waves and a rock pool. For some reason I wasn't up for getting right up amongst the waves, so I shivered from the side, but very much enjoyed the looks of surprise, horror, then joy on everyone's faces every single time a wave broke.

The next day, we bid adieu to our Canadian friends and so the three of us spent a delightful morning and afternoon wandering around Sydney markets, eating good food and listening to live music. Instead of doing the Climb over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which is extortionate, we went up one of the towers, and had amazing views from there.

On Sunday's, all travel maxes out at $2.50, including the train to the blue mountains. So two of us made our way, and purchased the hop on hop off bus ticket for the key sights.

I'd say Sydney grew on me as I got used to being in Australia. Travelling here is different, I met more Brits on my first day in Sydney than I had in 4 months in South America, that was a bit of a shock to the system! People were living in the hostel. As in they'd been there a month already. Now I know it's cheaper than a flat, which can also be tricky when you don't have job security, but really I do wish the hostel had separated those living there more long term from the short stayers. People had there stuff spread so widely I had to move their 'wardrobe' to access a locker. One lad was a little upset by this, you know as I was invading his space...in a public hostel.

Anyway, I met fun people, I liked the city, and I felt ready to move on to the next stop on my Aussie adventure in the Red Centre, which was absolutely nothing like Sydney.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 02:55 Archived in Australia Tagged beaches bridges sydney opera Comments (0)

Plenty of love for Santiago

View Getting to know Chile on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

Before coming travelling, I had always felt like I preferred big cities to smaller places, but since I've been away I've grown to love the smaller, more chilled out towns and amazing natural beauties. I spent a lot of time in Chile in just those kinds of places.

Throw into the mix the conflicting opinions of Santiago that I had heard from people along the way, and it's not surprising that I was a little unsure how I would feel about a big capital city like Santiago.

I loved Santiago. It's a big modern city, with green spaces, it's colourful, there's culture and plenty of opportunities to have a great time, whatever having a great time means to you.

That evening I made some friends in the hostel and we went out for a few drinks on Pio Nono, a street full of cafes (by day) and bars (by night).

On my first morning, I headed straight for Cerro San Cristóbel. It's a big hill, with not a lot of shade, that you can walk up, take the fenicular, or apparently cycle up very quickly. I walked which was very hot indeed. At the top is a statue of la virgen and space for quiet reflection for those who wish.

That afternoon I did the free Tours4Tips walking tour. It was the first time on this trip that my guide was not native to the country we were in, ours was French Canadian, so in fact speaking her third language. She was an excellent guide, and I only mention her nationality because I think it perhaps gave her a more objective perspective on some elements of Santiago's recent dark history, namely the Pinochet years.

That evening I went to a pool party. I was invited by the people I met in Pucón who live there and it seemed like as good idea as any! It was really fun and a great way to meet people living in the city. Viewing the sunset over the mountains from the roof top pool was pretty spectacular and a surreal moment.

The next day I dedicated to cultural Santiago. My first stop was the Museum of memory and human rights. I first heard about this museum in my final year of university whilst enrolled on a module called the Human Rights Abuses in 20th Century Latin America.

I'll leave a more detailed account of this museum for another post and only say that it's an excellent and truly important museum. It's a must if you are ever passing through Santiago.

That afternoon I also made it to Pablo Neruda's house, which has been turned into a museum about his life and loves.

Finally, I popped into the National Gallery, for all of 20 minutes that I had left before closing time. It was a shame not to dedicate more time, but you know, there should always be something to come back for.

It seems as though many people skip Santiago, pass through the airport without spending any time there, but I would strongly recommend spending at least a few days there. I did, and now I want to go back!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 19:11 Archived in Chile Tagged parties walking culture city friends memory dictatorship Comments (0)

Mendoza: Argentinian wine country

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I took the overnight bus from Viña del Mar across the border back into Argentina to visit Mendoza. The border crossings are really quite something, they take a crazy amount of time, and it's unclear why, and this wasn't the most fun way to spend nearly two hours at 2am. However, we arrived in Mendoza early, at 5am!

I took a taxi to my hostel and was allowed to crash on the sofa there until breakfast time. I booked my wine tour for the next day, choosing the bike and wine tour.

I would never ordinarily condone drinking and driving but this had been recommended by a few people so sign up I did. They say you are going to ride 20km over the day; it might have been the wine, but I'm fairly sure we didn't go that far! They day consists of 5 wineries of various sizes and clout in the industry, and we cycled between them.

It was a hot day, and I was glad for the bike creating a breeze, wind through my hair and all that. The wines were all tasty, I wish I could remember some good wine facts, but we heard about and studied (a.k.a tasted) all kinds of wines - dry white, sweet white, sparkling white, dry red, fruitier red, sparkling rosé.

That was the main thing I did in Mendoza as it was really too hot in the city. It's a nice city, but February was the wrong time to visit as it's exceptionally warm, so it's somewhere to come back to another time!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:35 Archived in Argentina Tagged wine Comments (0)

Valparaiso and Viña del Mar: street art and beach

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I made it to Valparaiso early the next morning. I was excited for this stop as I'd heard great things about this city. When I found my hostel, I was greeted by a hostel guest that I'd apparently woken up (sorry!) as the staff member on duty had popped out! I spent the morning pottering around the city, getting lost in all the little lanes and stair wells just taking it in before heading to the square for the afternoon Tours 4 Tips walking tour.

I think this was my favourite walking tour I've done. They cover both historical significance of Valparaiso and the more contemporary street art scene. We heard about different artists, symbols in their work, we even met one of the artists, the art really makes the city special. It's such an integral part of the city that artists move there for the art and opportunities there.

We were told about the Terremoto drink, a white wine based concoction, with additional grenadine and pineapple ice cream for extra sweetness. Terremoto means earthquake in Spanish, and it is named that way because people apparently walk like there's an earthquake happening, after they've drunk it. I can neither confirm nor deny the truth in that...

I made the mistake of staying only one night in Valparaiso and had booked a night in Viña del Mar, the seaside city which is really only half an hour away. If I did it over again, I would stay in Valpo and commute to Viña for the beach. It's not that Viña isn't nice, it is, but it's also a city built as a holiday beach destination, so it lacks the charm that fills Valparaiso. The beaches were lovely though.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:34 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Pucón: climbing Chile's most active volcano

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My next stop was Pucón. My bus arrived a little late, so when I got to the hostel, the first thing the staff asked was did I want to climb volcano Villarrica the following day, and if so I needed to sign up right then. This had been recommended by people I'd met, so when I was advised that this could be my only day to climb, I signed myself up.

The 6.30am safety briefing was fairly intense, I started to wonder if perhaps I should have thought this through a little. They provide you with ice boots and a backpack full of gear for the climb, including an ice pick. It had been a while since I studied geography and I hadn't really considered that climbing a volcano meant climbing on ice, something I'm definitely not used to!

When you arrive at the volcano you have the choice to take the chair lift or walk, I followed advice from other travellers to get the ski lift and conserve energy for later. I'm pretty glad I did that as I did need a lot of energy for the next bit of the climb!

Walking on ice is very hard work and I was in all honesty nervous when walking on the ice, but the views at each rest point make it worthwhile. It's spectacular and we had a clear day so we could see far and wide. I might have had a little slip once on the way up, but otherwise made it up there slowly but surely.

When you get near the top, we split into smaller groups as not everyone can be at the summit at once. You're not allowed to spend too much time up there since Villarrica is an active volcano, to be precise it's the most active volcano in Chile, and so there are poisonous fumes up there. Thankfully, the levels of dangerous gases were deemed low enough that I did not need to wear the gas mask up there. We were lucky enough to see some real life lava from the crater, it's apparently rare, and before we knew it, we were being herded back down to prepare for the descent.

They've really taken advantage of the fact that ice is slippery and dug chutes or slides in the ice, making this the most fun and also the quickest way to get down an icy volcano. I may have constantly been slowing myself down with the ice pick, but it was pretty funny.

I was also glad to make it to the bottom though. I had a great experience, and am really glad I didn't overthink it before I signed up, otherwise I may not have actually done it and that would have been a crying shame!

Pucón itself is super small and extremely touristy so I went out of town on the next two days. I went for a day hike in the national park on the Sendero Tres Lagos with two girls who did the volcano climb with me, and to some hot springs with a group from my hostel. Both were relaxing days following a tiring volcano climb!

The day of the hot springs was lovely until my journey back. I had allowed 4 hours to leave the hot springs, travel for an hour and have 2 hours to eat and get ready for my bus up to Valparaiso.

Unfortunately, there's one road in and out of Pucón and most of Chile seemed to be driving on it that evening. I was convinced I was going to miss my bus, and the journey back took nearly 4 hours. When we finally arrived in Pucón, I had 15 minutes to make it back to my hostel, pick up my bags and leg it to the bus station which was about 10 minutes away. I made it with about 3 minutes to spare! Unfortunately I had not had time to make my food and I was on a 12 hour overnight bus journey so dinner consisted of nuts and raisins, but I had made my bus!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 16:28 Archived in Chile Tagged springs volcanoes Comments (0)

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