Monday, 31 March 2003

puerto montt

just got off the cargo ferry and we find ourselves some 1000km north in Chile of where we were 3 days ago. amongst the passengers of this (not quite cruise-standard) ferry were two truckloads of hapless cows on the way to slaughter.. it was surreal to hear their pitiful mournings and to smell their strong odours amidst the fresh air of the narrow Chilean fiords and channels every morning.

on the way now to the little island of Chiloe..

pardon the brief blog.. time is rather tight..

Friday, 28 March 2003

perito moreno glacier

i didn´t mention the perito moreno glacier that we saw about a week back... if i could name the ten natural wonders of the world, this surely qualifies as one.. as one traveller said..

"there are some places where we remain, and some places that remain in us.."

i needn´t say more.. . a wall of ice that towers 60m above you and stretches as far as the eye can see.. the sight really blew me away..
ushuaia and beyond

i´m back again after more than a week!! :O have i lost my fans yet??? i just had the most delicious cappuccino i´ve ever had in my life in this random town in Chile known as Puerto Natales (gateway to the most beautiful national park in South America - Torres Del Paine).. they mix brazilian, jamaican and colombian coffee to make it.. yum... it´s been incredibly hard to use the internet beyond windy san julian but being cut off from the internet was also a blessing in a way.. finding out that the war has started has no doubt dampened the spirit of our trip in ways that we didn´t imagine it would...

we made it to ushuaia (hooray!!) and had some of the most delicious cold water crabs (they look really different from the ones we have back home.. red, thorny and a little hairy) i´ve ever tried in my life. surprisingly, the southernmost city in the world wasn´t as cold as we thought, but the harbour was stunningly beautiful, and the whole city (which looked more than a Swiss mountain resort village) had a backdrop of glacial peaked mountains which made it dream-like. it was also the gateway to beautiful Tierra Del Fuego National Park, with its snowy peak, lakes and sealions. Reaching this point on the planet was more symbolic than anything else.. it was the most south i have ever gone, and after that, everything else on the adventure was more like a bonus.. after that, we took some time to get off the giant island of Tierra Del Fuego (as the ferries were more infrequent than we expected), along the way passing some of the most surreal looking towns i´ve ever seen, such as Porvenir with its desolation, closed shops and perfectly pruned trees and public parks..

we´re now waiting to get onto the 4 day 3 night cruise that will bring us (and the faithful Land Rover jeep - 8000km on this journey alone!!) way back north to the port of Puerto Montt, some 1000 or more kms away before we carry on north through Chile.. Chile has been great (albeit more expensive than Argentina) and we have had great seafood (conger eel and this shellfish called locus - the Chilean luxury equivalent of abalone) over the past couple days.. it also has the stunning Torres Del Paine which we didn´t manage to enjoy entirely because of the cloudy weather..

anyhow, this trip has already been a pleasure and luxury far beyond my imagination until now.. i still can´t believe how fortunate i am to be here, now, typing this blog entry..

Tuesday, 18 March 2003

the great south

we are looking at the great south right in the face! :D we're almost there at Ushuaia!! now at puerto san julian, a seaside town about 300km from one of the greatest sights on south america and probably on planet earth.. the amazing Perito Moreno Glacial! the past few days in summary? you wouldn't believe half the stuff i write...

went through a couple of interesting towns, the most memorable of which was El Bolson, where we met the very interesting Chiche, a friend of my friend's, an excitable man who runs a construction firm but trains horses by "loving" them and can't wait to leave his business to his children and go off into the virgin forests of Argentina to live a simple life amongst the great Alcerces (Patagonian cypress) trees, and the most incredible of all, a Mr Marranti, who researches UFOs and has had several personal encounters with them since he was 2 1/2!! he draws these really surrealistic paintings and has done about 700 of them so far!! perfectly normal-looking people, they typified the new "hippies" of El Bolson. We also went through another national park, the Parque Nacional Los Alcerces, a great 153,000 hectare national park of incredible botanical riches, saw more amazing lakes, saw and photographed the really beautiful and rare Patagonian Flamingoes (really pink, really beautiful), saw bouncy llamas in the arid dry flatlands and dead llamas in salt pans, and encountered some strong winds that almost blew me away while i was standing still.

we just ate some really nice seafood, had incredible vino blanco, lemon mousse dessert, had a nice and hot shower and i feel top of the world..

Saturday, 15 March 2003

lake district of patagonia

we are well on our way again! :)

yesterday, we passed through what i imagine is one of the most beautiful places in the world.. going deeper into patagonia now, we went through Parque Nacional Lanin yesterday, a huge national park with nine to ten glacial lakes, overshadowed by the craggy peaks of the Andes, some of which were snow-capped.. to describe beauty is like trying to describe the fragrance of a is impossible.. beauty can only be felt in the heart and experienced by the soul.. the park had some of the most unusual trees i have ever seen, including this pine tree known as the Pehuen (monkey puzzle tree) with pinecones that look like acorns, and some magnificent birds that look like a cross between falcons and eagles.. i know my photos will do little justice to the place.. and yet i am unable to describe what i have seen... to see all this beauty and enjoy this amazing solitude almost feels like an act of selfishness..

along the way, we passed through sweet little ski resort towns, straight out of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales - complete with wooden houses and shops, cheese and wine stores, Austrian sidewalk cafes, quaint book stores, roses growing on the sidewalk and bees that were furry.. the air has become really chilly and dry..

i am getting more and more excited as the adventure goes on... this dream is becoming a reality and the reality is sweet...

Wednesday, 12 March 2003

stuck in zapala

100km from zapala and we are stuck! the car, after having served my friend faithfully for the past 124,000 plus km (and over the past 13 years in Asia and across Africa), suddenly had a problem with the front wheel and we are forced to return to zapala, first by hitchhiking and then by a towtruck pulling the jeep back to a friendly mechanic called Mr Peters at zapala.

we foresee being stuck here for the next day or so..
zapadoo zapala

after days of driving through endless ribbons of bad, pot-holed and graveled undulating roads, feeling like ants running on treadmills through kaleidoscopes of multi-coloured mountains and multi-coloured sunsets, we are in the town of zapala (a funny name indeed.. we were just thinking we should make a "b-grade" movie here called "The Murderer of Zapala" or something..hahaha...), described in lonely planet as an "economically-depressing, mining town" which is anything but such..(except that we have decided it is "gastronomically-depressing", what with the limited choice of available restaurants)..

since the start of the journey, we have covered some 3,500km and have still another 3,000 km plus before we reach Ushuaia.. the past two days have been my geography lessons come alive.. after all, the Andes mountain range was created some 120 million years ago (i learnt this in Spanish from the guide to this limestone cave place called the "Cave of the Witches") due to massive plate tectonic forces of folding and faulting.. (or something like that).. as we drove through the area, weaving our way around the mountains, we were stunned by how tiny and insignificant we felt in the mighty result of nature´s forces, as well as the variety of shapes and colours in the rock formations.. volcanoes and crater lakes were aplenty and after driving for like some 2 hours, i was hypnotised by the rocky scene in front of me, broken only occassionally by the random sheep standing in the middle of the road, a couple of ostrich-like birds running in the arid foreground, some eagles in the air, and strange abandoned primitive settlements along the edges of the lakes..

patagonia.. another name for mystery and desolation..

Sunday, 9 March 2003

withered sunflowers

we woke this morning next to a field of withered sunflowers as far as the eye can see. the sky was a pleasant rich blue with cloud formations so varied and spectacular that, if given a whole morning of idleness and blessed with the imagination of a child, one could easily spot a whole menagerie of animals. the nights have been chilly and filled with strange supernatural sounds that neither one of us could tell from what beast or fowl it comes.. camping out in the wild has become normal after a while, with routines like brushing of teeth, answering nature´s call, eating breakfast etc adapted to the limitations of our conditions..

last night, we found an inflatable globelike ball in the jeep with a (fairly accurate) mapping of the numerous constellations that are in the sky. we managed to identify Orion, the Southern Cross, Sirius, Cornopus and a couple of other more obvious constellations. however, notably absent were northern hemisphere constellations like Ursa Major and Minor, which i saw on my previous trips to Morocco and Europe..

with a bit of help in driving from me (i have finally completed driving in four continents!), we have finally reached the start of our great southward journey! the great range of the Andes looms clearly in the foreground but unfortunately, due to time constraints, we will probably have to give visiting Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere a miss :( ).. the town of Mendoza is bustling with life.. some carnival is going on and roads are closed, music is playing and crowds are gathered.. we are here for just a short while to top up our rations..

till the next time, hasta luego!

Saturday, 8 March 2003

argentinian appetizer

in our amazing quest to reach the Andes, and ultimately, the southernmost tip of the continent, Ushuaia, we have been racing across the whole breadth of Argentina over the past two days, crossing some amazing landscapes, encountering some of the unpredictable weather that we are getting rather used to, and spending the nights by the side of desolate highways, to the sounds of nature (with a moo moo here and a bow wow there and a neigh neigh here and a quack quack there) and the magic of hundreds and thousands of twinkling fireflies, dotting the dark of the night like christmas lights at the foot of the stairs on christmas eve..

seems like Antartica might just become a reality! :D we called Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world, where most ice-breakers leave for the continent of Antartica) today and they said they have three cruises leaving on the 18th March! we´ll see how everything goes.. if all goes right, we shall be driving along the scenic route of the Andes by tomorrow! :)

we´re getting the car checked again today to make sure it is in perfect condition (as a stalled car in the desolate parts of Patagonia may mean days of waiting for help to come) and the old man at the shop is taking forever.. anyhow, it may become more difficult to update as we go south..

adios for now!

Sunday, 2 March 2003


we shall finally be starting on our journey towards the uruguay border tomorrow! :D

better be on my way soon.. i´m slowly becoming brazilian.. here is some evidence:

i say "Oi!" now instead of "Hi!", without hesitation..
i wave to someone in a distance by raising my clenched fist with only my thumb and pinkie sticking out (i.e. the way we do the number ´6´ in Singapore)
when i want to tell or ask someone that something is great or that i am "ok", i stick up my thumb and give a big broad smile (everyone.. absolutely everyone, does that!)
i order guarana (some amazonian bright red fruit) soda when i think of soft drinks (instead of coca cola) in a restaurant
i love suco de caju (another fruit from north brazil) more than suco de larangha (aka orange juice)
i think it is perfectly normal to see someone wearing swimwear (even very skimpy bikinis) in the supermercado or bank or walking along on the streets..
i am perpetually carrying this tan from the immense heat and sunshine of this country..
i am wearing this strange fish bone as a pendant, the fossil of some amazonian fish.. bought it from a bunch of travelling gypsies with whom i sat for a lazy afternoon chatting while they asked me if "all chinese eat bears.." :O

this is brazil, in short, the way i know it and have adapted to it... :p