Tag Archives: Travel blog

Barcelona Blog: Bad hair in Barcelona

 My hair doesn’t like Barcelona. It never has. I spend a fortune getting it cut. In England it looks like a million dollars. After 5 minutes of being outside in Barcelona I look like I’ve just been locked in a cupboard for the night with a victorious rugby squad. In less humid, sweaty climes with better water, I straighten my hair and it stays straight all day. Here, the humidity turns it into a wavy mop that birds could live in. Even as I write, I’m sporting a flick with undulating side bits worthy of a photo in a hairdressing salon window cerca 1977. It gets even worse at the beach.

Oh darn it, it’s easier with pictures. So here’s how it should look on the left:

Barcelona blog: good hair day

And this is it in the middle in Barcelona. Check out my waves:

Barcelona blog: bad hair

I once yearbooked myself  for a laugh and several Catalan friends believed I really looked like this back in the day. I hung my head and semi-curly locks in shame (the perm is not real folks):

I quite clearly have English hair. It’s not suited to hot humid weather. It wants to feel the wind in it. It has the texture of baby bird feathers. I don’t think it wants to behave badly; it was just given too easy a start in life in cloudy England and is having trouble adapting.

Still. It’s not all bad. My feet are very happy to be back in flip-flops and a diet consisting entirely of bread and olives rather than Dairy Milk and Chicken Tikka Massala is doing wonders for my figure. Until the winter I shall just have to wear hats, look on enviously at others’ thick glossy locks and pray for rain.

 

For more thoughts on Barcelona hair (mullets to be precise), go here, although you’ll need to be patient, it’s an old-fashioned cut out and keep scan.

If you’re a hairdresser who can help with free product samples, sponsorship or tea and sympathy, feel free to get in touch.

If you have a body part that doesn’t suit where you live, leave your ‘clean enough for my mum to read’ comments below.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under barcelona, blog, Travel blog, Uncategorized

Machu Picchu without the walking boots

Machu Picchu. Photo Natasha Young

I’ve never been a walker. It’s my parents’ fault. They met over a soggy map at the Ramblers’ club, admired each others jazzy hiking socks and that was that. Later they chose to torture their children by taking them on walking holidays, dragging us up wintry peaks in the driving rain as fast as our little legs would carry us. There was a holiday in France too. I saw a lake, a beach and happy children eating ice-cream, but no, we had to have a walk first. Of course we got lost and we trekked for miles through dense woodland and brambles. By the time we got back it was dark and the ice-cream shop had shut. In my small world it was nothing short of child abuse.

I did think about walking the Inca Trail I really did. Then I realised I could just get a comfy train and a bus up the mountain and I thought no more. My friends had already been to Machu Picchu before I got to Cuzco. They’d all loved the Lost City but had gone by car (the newest and cheapest option of getting there) and  their stories of disaster, woe, vomit and dodgy fly-by-night tour operators had put me off. With time short and the Christmas holidays making organisation difficult, I opted to sod the expense and pay for a tour that included the train. I’m so glad I did.

Peru Rail to Machu Picchu. Photo Natasha Young

A bus took us in the pouring rain to the station at Poroy, passing though the real Cuzco as we left town, a place where people got up early to trade goods at the local market and ramshackle houses perched on the hillsides. The train, a classic well-appointed model with comfy seats chuffed out of the station right on time. This was Perú for tourists with expensive sandwiches and excellent coffee served up for breakfast.

We were an international carriage. My companions were Colombian, Uruguayan and American and when we weren’t gazing out the window at spotted piglets, cows on chains and ruddy faced children who stared back, we chatted about our lives and adventures. It was a beautiful journey. After the never ending desert between Chile and Arequipa, the green mountains between Cuzco and Agua Calientes were a joy. As the train snaked up into the hills and low cloud, we passed families washing their clothes in the stream, working the fields and chopping firewood. There were oddly shaped cacti, grazing donkeys and then, suddenly, a row of nodding, cheerful sunflowers.

Machu Picchu. Photo by Natasha Young

When we pulled into Aguas Calientes, there was a scrum of guides waiting to meet the train. We dutifully trooped after Victor and his brown flag. Before my inner traveller could get depressed and start screaming ‘tourist! tourist! tourist!’, I noticed where we were.

Although I’d been prepared to be wowed by the ruins of Machu Picchu, I hadn’t anticipated quite how spectacular the surrounding area would be. We crossed a footbridge over a raging brown river, guarded on both sides by masses of dripping green foliage and majestic mountains, and hopped onto a waiting bus.

After a never-ending series of hairpin bends, we pulled up at the entrance to Machu Picchu. For those walking the Inca Trail, to arrive at this point takes 4 days. It had taken me a few hours and although I didn’t have the smug satisfaction of having done something stupendous, I was warm and dry and had even managed a short nap on the train. Weather-wise, it was bucketing it down. This was rain poncho weather and despite the presence of a few unsuitably dressed American exchange students, the look of the day can best be described as ‘wet condom’.

Poncho action. Photo Natasha Young

Machu Picchu is every bit as beautiful as you expect it to be, although having seen so many photos of it over the years, I felt as if I’d somehow seen it before. I could hear complaints about the weather, but to honest the low clouds just added to the mystique of the place and as a Brit, you learn not to let the rain spoil your day.

In the Inca language of Quechua, Machu Picchu means ‘old peak’ but the site itself is surprisingly young. Built in 1430 AD it was abandoned by the Inca rulers a hundred years later. To be fair, it can’t have been easy nipping out for a loaf and a paper living all the way up there and they must have got well fed up with the commute.

In my travels, I’ve often found that the big draws – the World Heritage Sites and must-sees – turn out to be a bit disappointing, and the places that you least expect, knock your socks off. Machu Picchu did not disappoint. It’s stunning. A grey stone city, hidden on the top of a mountain in the middle of dense vegetation, that not even a thousand ponchoed tourists wandering into your photos can spoil.

Machu Picchu. Photo by Natasha Young

On the way down the mountain I got chatting to Gerrard, a commerical artist from New Zealand who was on his way home from a salsa competition in the States. We had lunch in Agua Calientes in a hotel that had a fine view of the ferocious rapids. Gerrard’s tour had included lunch there but mine hadn’t. It was a typically Peruvian place where no price is ever really fixed.

“How much for me?”
“55 soles” the reception replied solemnly.
“Sorry but that’s way too expensive for me, I’ll go and buy a sandwich and catch up with my friend later.”
“Ok, 50?, 45? 40, 35?…….. 35 is my final offer”.
“Ok, 35 it is”.
35 soles was still outrageously expensive for me on my budget but it was a small price to pay for a decent lunch, good company and fine views. Aguas Calientes isn’t exactly bargain central. On the way back to the train, I could only laugh at the prices being charged at the tourist market. If Cuzco was twice the price of Arequipa, this place was  shamelessly charging triple.

Machu Picchu. Photo by Natasha Young

The train ride back to Cuzco was just as splendid  as the trip out. I was sitting next to a lovely Colombian couple (is anyone unfriendly in Colombia? I bet even Pablo Escobar asked about your family, gave you a broad smile and bought you dinner before he put a gun to your head) who were enjoying their summer holidays. They insisted I share their wine with them and told me proudly that their country was every bit as beautiful as Chile. I told them how much I wanted to see Colombia and they immediately pressed business cards into my hands, making me promise I’d come and visit.

Photo by Natasha Young

From the window, I spotted a snow- covered mountain I’d missed on the way out. In the valley, a group of kids were playing football under the setting sun. Intent on their game, they didn’t turn to look at the passing train or the tourists who had their cameras pressed to the windows. I felt a brief pang of envy for this poor but simple way of life, played out against those dramatic and sacred mountains.

3 Comments

Filed under Travel blog

Christmas in Cusco

Cusco in the rain on Christmas Day 2009. Photo Natasha Young

Arequipa to Cusco

And so it was on to Cusco. I had been hoping to get a bus that arrived at a sensible check-in-friendly time, but as it was Christmas, I was lucky to get on a bus at all. I was moaning inwardly at the fact that it arrived in Cusco at the anti-social time of 5am, until I found out later that the Inca Gods really had been smiling on me. Another bus that left Arequipa at around the same time that night had plunged over a cliff, killing 40 people.

To be honest, I’m amazed we got there. As the grumpy driver crunched through the gears on hairpin Andean bends in the driving rain, the bus sounded like a jumbo jet struggling to take off on only 1 of its engines. In fifth gear, it sounded like a wheezy tractor. Some of the windows didn’t quite shut and the speakers for the DVD (I didn’t miss much it was ‘The Little Princess’) only worked on one side.

Cusco. Photo Natasha Young

My companion was an elderly Peruvian lady who was going home for a family Christmas with her grandchildren. When I confessed that I hardly ever managed to sleep on overnight buses, I was delighted when she told me that she never slept a wink either. Finally someone I could chat to!  Eleven hours later when she woke up from a sound sleep, she rather shame-facedly admitted that she’d had a very busy day.

Cusco

I’d heard good things about Cusco. True enough it’s a pretty town but for me it sums up everything that’s bad about mass tourism. My by now quite perky bus companion had told me not to pay more than 3 soles to get to my hostel. At the bus station I was the only tourist face among many Peruvians and every taxi driver for miles around was keen to take me. They were all trying to charge 8 soles or more. When I told them to dream on, they simply shrugged and wandered off. The hostel was terrible (more on that later) and when I went into town I saw a man almost lose his watch to a young female pick-pocket within the first 5 minutes.

What Cusco looks like. Photo Natasha Young

There were tourists everywhere. From rich Americans and Japanese families to doddery guided groups and penny-pinching backpackers. To help part them from their cash, Cusco was full to bursting with tour agencies, camping equipment stores, souvenir shops, luxury gift emporiums, money exchanges, English pubs, international restaurants and mediocre hostels and hotels. Sellers wouldn’t settle for you simply walking by, they’d grab your arm, crying ‘amiga, amiga, mira!!!’ trying to steer you forcibly into their shop. Or they’d see you looking at their selection of hats and immediately point, nodding sagely as they said the word ‘hats’ in a variety of languages. Morose looking girls in traditional dress pulled along even more depressed looking llamas, hustling camera-toting tourists for money to take a picture. If there’s any kind of authentic experience to be had in Cusco, I’m not sure I found it. The nearest I got were some temporary food stalls away from the main square where locals were eating guinea pig, chicken, black corn and other regional dishes. For 4.5 soles (most tourist menus start at 8 or more), a woman scooped chicken and rice out of a bucket and cleared me a space on a shared table. It was delicious and all my fellow Peruvian diners seemed pleased as punch that I thought so. Other than that, I got the impression that real life happens somewhere well outside the city, where prices are cheaper and the people are poor. I wished desperately to be back in Arequipa.

Happy Christmas from Peru. Photo Natasha Young

Salvation was to come the next day in the form of friends. Five of us had agreed to meet for Christmas in Cusco and we spend a very happy December 25th comparing stories, indulging in English food cravings and catching up. I’d never normally venture into an English pub outside of England but if you can’t beat them, you may as well join them. As much as I hate overly touristy places, I can’t pretend I wasn’t excited about going to a cafe that sold English breakfast with real baked beans or a pub with Christmas lunch and all the trimmings.

We were all staying at the Flying Dog hostel, a place with decent reviews on Hostelworld. It wasn’t the worst place I’ve ever stayed but it wasn’t far off. Everything seemed to have been designed for the fun of the rather sleazy male staff. There was always at least one of them sleeping on the sofas in the small common room, using the internet or playing computer games on the TV, while guests wandered around, hoping one day soon to check their email or watch TV. The shower leaked, so did the ceiling, walls were paper-thin and in the end, it felt like we were paying through the nose to stay at someone’s house rather than in a hostel.

Cusco and a sorry-looking llama. Photo Natasha Young

It was the hostel staff that had recommended the launderette two doors up the hill. I dropped my washing off on Christmas Eve morning for a 2 hour service. The 2 hour service turned out to take 36, but as they were opening on Christmas Day, I didn’t like to complain. When I went to fetch it, I opened the bag and pulled out a rather large pair of boxer shorts.

“Urm, these aren’t mine. In fact none of these clothes are mine”. 

Oh. Are you sure?

 “Yes” (holding up a t-shirt that said ‘the man, the legend’ and a large arrow pointing south). 

“Oh.” She grabbed another bag. This one contained what looked to be like most of my clothes, all damp, a yellow thong (not mine) and some mens’ socks.

“Urm, this is all still wet”. And so it went on. Many hours of toing and froing later, I was eventually reunited with my washing, although I’m quite convinced that somewhere in the world, there’s a man I’ve never met who is struggling to recall how he came into possession of a pair of size 12 M&S knickers. Scary to think that these people also arrange tours.

Inca Wall, Cusco. Photo Natasha Young

All in all, it was an unusual Christmas, especially as Boxing Day was  to be spent at Machu Picchu. More on that to come.

Leave a comment

Filed under Travel blog

Chile: The San Pedro de Atacama Tourist Trail

San Pedro. Photo Natasha Young

I got the hell out of bar-brawling Calama as fast as possible on an airport transfer (9,000 CP). It’s a winding, empty road through desert country to get to San Pedro (think Thelma & Louise as they’re nearing the Grand Canyon) and everyone was gossiping about the fact that we’d all shared a plane with a famous Chilean model, her handsome boyfriend and a TV crew. I still have absolutely no idea who these people were.

The tarmaced road runs out as you hit San Pedro. Suddenly it becomes a dusty dirt track and small adobe houses line the few streets that make up this tiny town. It really did feel like I was in the middle of nowhere about to enter a shoot out with the sheriff. I was John Wayne, only with breasts and a giant backpack.

Reality dawned the next morning. San Pedro de Atacama is tourist central. The one main street running through the town, Caracoles, is lined with tour agencies, restaurants hustling for business in English, souvenir shops and launderettes. Normal life facilities like cheap supermarkets, ironmongers, chemists and banks are few and far between. It was all quite a shock after Chiloe.

What I also hadn’t bargained for is that San Pedro is at altitute (2400m) and many of the tours take you to places at over 4,000m. That and the intense heat meant that I felt a bit weird when I got there, although I was lucky enough to not get sick. You seriously need to take a day or two to adjust before going to the geysers or the lagoons and grab some coca leaves from the market (500 CP) if you start getting headaches.

San Pedro is a pretty enough town but there’s not a great deal to do once you’ve wandered around the shops, museum and church. This place is sadly all about the tours. What everyone has come here to see isn’t that accesible without a 4×4 and a good map, which means the tour agencies make a killing and you have to troop after your guide for the day and do as your told.

I spent three days in San Pedro at the lovely Hostel Sonchek  (C/Gustavo le Paige 170. 10,000 CP per night for a single) and ended up having to book tours with 3 different agencies. Lonely Planet recommend Cactus Tour and Cosmo Andino. Both of these book up really fast and after taking Cactus’s Tour to the Altiplano Lakes, I can see why.

Valle de la Luna

Tourist Hell in Valle de la Luna. Photo Natasha Young

Famous for its beautiful sunsets and moon-like landscapes (hence the name), everyone does this tour. The cheapest (around 7-8000 CP) and closest of all the excursions out of town, it’s hard not to feel like a sheep being herded around by an over-enthusiastic border collie. Our tour guide didn’t actually say ‘ARE YOU ALL HAVING A GOOD TIME?!, I CAN’T HEAR YOU! but I’m sure it was on the tip of his tongue. Saying that, it is a beautiful other-worldy place full of ghostly crackling salt formations and gigantic dunes. We climbed up for a view of the sunset with at least a hundred others and then got whisked off onto the bus just as it was getting good. A bit of a let down to be honest. I went with Turis Tours (Cactus and Cosmo Andino were both full). Word on the street is they have a reputation for rushing. Cactus apparently don’t climb that dune and go to a secret spot where they get the view to themselves.

Nice view though. Photo Natasha Young

Altiplano Lakes

I did this with Cactus Tour and it was a joy from start to finish. Stopping at Laguna Chaxa in the Salar de Atacama to see the flamingos, Lagunas Miñiques and Miscanti and the towns of Socaire and Toconao, they deliberately set off way before any0ne else to get to the flamingos first. These weirdly proportioned pink-feathered creatures quite rightly don’t like being stared at when they’re eating their breakfast, so when all the other mini-buses start arriving, they all fly away. We crept in at first light and got to observe them in their natural habitat, a lagoon in the middle of a crusty salt flat, surrounded by mountains. An extraordinary experience and well worth getting out of bed early for. Cactus charge considerably more than other agencies for this trip but if you want to see the flamingos, have a knowledgable guide whose English doesn’t make you wince and a decent breakfast, they are a fine choice.

Flamingos. Photo Natasha Young

El Tatio Geyser. Photo Natasha Young

El Tatio Geysers

You don’t to see many geysers in Europe. El Tatio is one of the reasons you come to San Pedro and I can’t deny they are impressive. However getting up in the middle of the night and dressing for minus 10 is not normally my idea of a good time. In fact, I realised as I got up at 3.3oam that I’d never actually been out on the streets at that time sober. I did this tour with Atacama Connection. The guide was the handsome moody type, which I’m normally all up for, but a silent tour guide doesn’t leave you very well informed. As I boarded the bus at 4am, I was told that it would take 2 hours to get there and we could all have a nap. However the road was so eyeball-shakingly rocky and the van’s suspension having seen better days, I didn’t sleep a wink. The geyers are at 4300m above sea level and three of our group were feeling decidely rough. One little boy’s reaction to seeing his first geyser was to vomit sadly as his older brother, who was utterly unaffected by the altitute, gaped in wonder. My favourite part of this trip was spotting the wildlife on the way back. We saw a viscacha (like a big rabbit with a squirrel-like tail), vicuña (the sort of animal you normally see getting ripped apart by lions on wildlife documentaries), llamas and a whole load of birds I don’t know the names of.

Vicuña. Photo Natasha Young

So…

Accomodation: Hostel Sonchek for clean and comfy rooms, friendly staff, a nice patio and a garden with hammocks.

Trips: Cactus Tour get a double thumbs-up.

Food: Two places not in the guide books are El Tribu on the corner of Calama and Gustavo le Paige for great vegetarian food  and Chilean classics (2,800 CP for veggie fajitas with rice and salad) and Terra Oasis for fine food with a gourmet touch at a fraction of the price of the places on Caracoles (3,800 CP for a 3 course set lunch). The food stalls behind the museum knock out a fine Cazuela de Ave for 1,200 CP and the tomato, basil and cheese empanadas sold around town are very special indeed.

I’m currently in Arica and have paddled in the sea. Next stop, Peru.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Chile: Puerto Montt – worse than Mansfield

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

The Lonely Planet were being kind when they called Puerto Montt a ‘grimy transport hub’.  It’s a hole of a place and even worse than Mansfield

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

It should be nice. There’s a giant volcano towering over it,  salmon galore and it’s the centre of the lake district but it’s truly horrible. Transient workers look for work in the salmon industry or cement factories and hotels charge by the hour.

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

If you have the misfortune to find yourself there, stay in the bus station with your rucksack to the wall and pray your bus connection arrives on time.

I left the bus station for a few hours to have a look round.  You quite literally have to step over grubby overalled men sleeping in the street with their flies open to cross the street. As you do,  men yell at you out of car windows and rubbish blows into your face.  It’s got a leery, unpleasant vibe to it as if you’d somehow accidently walked into a mining town roadside bar dressed as a stripper.

Puerto Montt. Photo Natasha Young

Check out the pigeon on the left, walking all over the produce and nibbling as he goes. Photo Natasha Young

Meanwhile, less than 20 minutes down the road is the divine Puerto Varas with friendly folk, lakeside views and good food. You would have to pay me a million pounds to live in Puerto Montt. Per hour.

3 Comments

Filed under chile, Travel blog

Chiloe: I fell in love

Palafitos. Photo Natasha Young

After falling for Ancud, I really wasn’t feeling the love for Castro. All the guide books tell you that if you only have time for one place in Chiloe it should be Castro. But after 11 months in smoggy, noisy Santiago, the chaotic streets of Castro weren’t winning me over. Admittedly, the houses on stilts over the water were pretty and photogenic (known round these parts as palafitos) and the seafood stands at the market served incredible cerviche, but I just wanted a bit of peace and quiet.

And so it was I took a guided tour to Dalcahue and the smaller island of Quinchao. I could have done it independently of course, but time was short and frankly I couldn’t be bothered faffing about trying to find a boat to take me there.

Fishing boat at Dalachue. Photo Natasha Young

My jovial guide was Sergio. A ex-taxi driver/civil servant/office manager, here was a Chilean who could talk the legs of my own mother. Like any self-respecting taxi driver (ex or otherwise), Sergio had an opinion about everything. He was outraged about the government not paying teachers what they were owed, foreigners buying up all the land in Chiloe, ‘work-shy’ Mapuche, youngsters not keeping up the local traditions and crafts, the salmon industry and world politics. Imagine if you will, standing in the middle of nowhere, in front of a tranquil lake with views of the snow-capped Andes and a voice behind you saying sadly; “my grandfather told me the yellow people were going to take over the world and I didn’t listen, I didn’t listen”. It was like I’d accently invited the spirit of Bernard Manning to come on holiday with me.

Sergio tour guide and orator. Photo Natasha Young

Lorenzo was also along for the ride. A Catalan from Tarragona, avoiding the European winter, it was a joy to hear a lispy Catalan accent and chat about Barcelona. He didn’t seem to mind that I kept steering the conversation back to beer so I could his Spanish pronunciation of ‘cerveza’.

We started out in lovely Dalcahue, a small fishing village a few kilometres from Castro from where boats depart to the smaller islands. Everything and anything that needs to be transported across the water comes here and the dock was busy with people, boxes and cars queuing up to board boats. Housewives brushed steps, kids giggled their way into church for the Xmas carol concert, shoppers passed the time of day with the greengrocer and dockers yelled at each other.

We crossed by car carrier to the island of Quinchao. Chiloe looks a lot like Britain – with its green hills, rain-loving potatoes, trees and lakes – and no more so than here.

PHoto Natasha Young

Like Scotland, Salmon is huge business here but intensive and greedy fish farming techniques borrowed from Norway have caused many problems. The remains of an abandoned salmon farm could be seen in the beautiful mill-pond still lake as we drove down the hill towards Curaco de Velez and Sergio muttered about gringo landowners and upcoming world super powers.

Photo Natasha Young

Most people stand in hushed reverence in front of the old wooden church at this sleepy village, but as an athesist seafood-lover, I got distracted by a big sign that said ‘Oysters this way’. With Sergio and Lorezno in tow, I went in search of my own nirvana.

I’d never tried oysters before but had always wanted to. Costing the bargain price of 300 pesos each (about 40p) and just out of the sea fresh, I can only say that I fear now that I really will have to marry a millionaire. I can’t remember eating anything I’ve liked as much. I quite literally had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to the car.

Divine dining. Photo Natasha Young

I didn’t really care what we did after that. Even the nearly-ready mirador with views of the sea, islands, green fields, horses, the Andes and two volcanoes (one still smoking in Argentina) couldn’t quite match up to my first taste of oysters. It was a damn fine view though, I have to admit. After lunch in Achao and more churches crossed off the list, we headed back to Castro and the market for a wee bit of shopping . Sadly, they weren’t selling oysters.

It’s been a pretty much perfect few days in Chiloe. I’m smitten. Valpo has got competition.

Dolls in Castro market. Photo Natasha Young

1 Comment

Filed under chile, Travel blog, Uncategorized

Chile: I want to be a penguin in Chiloe

Humboldt penguins hanging out. Photo Natasha Young

I’d quite like to be a Magellanic penguin. The ladies seem to have it pretty easy. The male penguins head here to Chiloe in September to get the nest ready, tidy up and sort stuff out before the girls swim over in October. While the boys have only one life partner until the day they die, the girls get the odd free pass when a handsome stranger waddles into town. Once the little ones are born, it’s the girls that get to go shopping and get the food in while the men stay home, pay the gas bill and take the kids to swimming classes. Plus you get to eat fresh sardines all day. It really can’t be a bad life.

Ancud where the sun finally came out. Photo Natasha Young

I came here to see the penguins. Chilean friends had told me that Chiloe was a special, beautiful, magical place like nowhere else on earth. Meanwhile an English friend described it as ‘exactly like Wales with Welsh weather’, whilst another thought it was ‘a bit boring’. After a couple of days on the island I’ve concluded that they’re all right, although it reminds me more of Scotland or Ireland.

Dressed to impress. Photo Natasha Young

It would be completely unfair for an English girl to complain about the weather, so let’s just say that Chiloe is green and lovely and I won’t mention the squally rain and dark clouds. If you come, just remember to bring waterproofs, a brolley and warm layers.

It starts to feel pretty special even before you arrive. To get here you have to cross the water from mainland Chile. The bus pulls up onto a long cargo boat and the low-flying cormorants and playful sealions help to guide it into the bay across the water. Then it’s mile upon mile of green nothingness before you arrive in Ancud.

It was general election day when I went to see the penquins. That meant that all the local buses were being used to ferry voters in and out of town (if you’re registered to vote in Chile you can be fined for not voting so the buses were popular) and I had to go with a tour. It was more expensive but Manuel the driver was full of useful titbits. Judging by how many times he honked his horn, he seemed to know just about everyone on the island.

Chiloe or Ireland? Photo Natasha Young

After a 40 minute drive from Ancud through rural farm land and protected wildlife areas, we drove onto a rugged windswept beach fiercely guarded by giant seagulls. Local fishermen doled out the lifejackets and giant waterproof ponchos (you clearly have to look your best for the dinner-jacketed residents) and in choppy waters we headed to the Pinguinera Puñihuil.

These three tiny islands of the coast are the penguin equivalent of a small town nightclub on a Saturday night. If you are a penguin and you need some loving, Chiloe is where you come. This is the only place in the world where Magellanic penguins from the south and Humboldt penquins from the north meet. Though you might think this might be a West Side Story of bar brawls and wounded egos, they seem to get along pretty well. However as Pedro the fisherman made startlingly clear with a range of insightful hand gestures, they are only friendly up to a point. There will be no inter-species marriages on this rock anytime soon.

After a short but delightful half an hour of penquin, otter, cormorant, gull and sea crow spotting, our time was up and we headed back to the beach for empanadas de loco (abalone in English, apparently). I left with few decent photos of the penguins. It was one of those moments when I realised that I could try in vain to take photos from afar with no professional lens or I could just enjoy watching these fabulous creatures in their natural habitat. I went for the latter. Look them up on google if you want a proper gander.

Curanto. Photo Natasha Young

In the afternoon I finally got my first taste of Curanto and a personal guided tour of Ancud from Juan, a Santiago Couchsurfer who grew up in Chiloe and was back for the weekend. Ancud is a wonderful wee place, full of rugged empty beaches, wildlife and colourful houses. For me though, Ancud wil always be the place where I got to watch the waddling gait of those tiny penguins.

I’ll leave you in Castro where the sun is doing its level best to shine and I have just had one of the best meals of my life – Cerviche de Erizo (that’s raw sea urchin for you Brits). If you want to know how much I liked it, check out my happy, contented little face.

Loving the Cerviche de Erizo.

Palafitos in Castro, Chiloe. Photo Natasha Young

5 Comments

Filed under blog, chile, Travel blog