My alarm went off at 7.30 am and I quickly got up to pack my stuff. I didn’t want to forget my clothes at the hostel like it happened when I left New Zealand. I went to the train station to top up my travel card, but the machine froze with my money inside. Damn you technology. I use my last 10 dollars to top up again my card, this time at the ticket office. I arrived at the airport, had my last glass of wine and meal in Australia and board the plane. My flight took off at 11:30am from Sydney and after 12 hours of sleeping, drinking wine, meditating about life and my trip, we landed in Santiago de Chile. It was 11:10am and it felt like I travelled back in time.
I’m really excited about the next six months in South and Central America. I will travel from West to East coast and from the south all the way up to Mexico. That’s a lot of countries and a lot of new stamps on my passport. My travelling mood is back, the online Spanish classes are almost finished and I am ready for new adventures.
Chile is the most developed and the safest country in South America, but also the most expensive. Other than the nature, this country doesn’t have anything that stands off. Food is below average for South American standards, accommodation is expensive and English is not very common. If I had the money, I was probably going to Easter Islands for something unique, but the flights are very expensive.
Santiago de Chile
I’ve spend a few days in Santiago mostly to get over the jet lag and get used to the new culture. The city is not very beautiful and doesn’t have any impressive landmarks, but it has a good vibe and a lot of cool places to have a beer or a glass of wine. There are many universities in Santiago and the student areas are very busy during the weekend when young people are partying until 4-5 in the morning.
Valparaiso (Valpo’) is an old colonial city on the coast just two hours away from Santiago. It’s original name was Valle del Paraiso (Paradise Valley) because of the beautiful views from the hills surrounding the city. It was an important port for the ship vessels coming from Europe to the Pacific coast of Americas via Cape Horn, but business here started to decay after the opening of the Panama Canal. Today Valparaiso is part of the UNESCO world heritage and it is considered the cultural capital of Chile.
The most beautiful part of Valparaiso is the street art that can be found all over the city. It started with political messages as a sign of protest against the dictator Augusto Pinochet and then it transformed into a form of art accepted by the community and the local council.
The alpine crossing
From Valparaiso I took a bus to Mendoza in Argentina on the other side of the Andes mountains. The crossing is an experience on its own with breath-taking views. The curved road goes up to 3200m above the sea level where the border between Chile and Argentina is located. The same pass was used in 1817 by the Argentinian armed forces to invade Santiago and liberate Chile from Spanish rule.
Probably the most Europeanized country in South America, Argentina is well known for the good wine, delicious steaks (with chimichurri), tango and football. You can find all these in Mendoza and Buenos Aires, but I wish I had warm clothes for visiting the amazing nature in Patagonia. Cruise boats to Antarctica are also leaving from south Argentina, but only in the summer months.
It’s history is not much different from other South American countries and it involves many dictatorships, civil wars and unrest. Nowadays, Argentina is now a democratic country, but for the past few years it struggled to overcome the economic problems that led the country into bankruptcy and huge inflation.
When I hear Mendoza, the first thing that comes into my mind is wine. As a wine lover, I couldn’t do a round the world trip without including this region in my itinerary. I wanted to explore the area, visit the wineries and taste the best wines.
Malbec is the most famous grape grown in Mendoza and it was imported from France at the beginning of the 20th century. It found here the perfect growing conditions like nowhere on Earth: altitude between 800m to 1500m, dry and hot summers and a rich red soil. It quickly became the signature wine for Argentina and it is now recognized all over the world.
What I didn’t really planned for was the bronchitis that got me since I arrived in Santiago. I had to stay almost a week in Mendoza for my bronchitis to go away before I was able to taste wine properly with a functional nose.
Once I was able to do the wine tasting in Mendoza, I took a night bus to Buenos Aires. Other than visiting the city, my other top priorities in Buenos Aires were to sort out my visa for Bolivia and get a (free) Yellow Fever jab. Two things without I couldn’t continue my trip.
I think the best way to describe Buenos Aires (aka Baires) is that it is an European looking city with a South American vibe. It used to be called the Paris of South America because of its cosmopolite lifestyle and architecture. Other European influences can be seen in the language (they say birra for beer like in Italian), sports (biggest football teams in Argentina Boca Juniors and River Plate were founded by Italian immigrants) and culture (tango is a mix of European dancing styles).
It is a shame that instead of admiring the architecture, you have to pay attention where you step not to break your angle into a pot hole or end up with shit on your shoes. I don’t think I’ve visited a city with more dog shit on the street than Buenos Aires, especially since it doesn’t have many stray dogs.
Iguazu falls or Foz do Iguazu (in Portuguese) is one of the most impressive waterfalls in the world. It is located at the border between Argentina and Brazil and both sides of the Iguazu River offer spectacular but different perspectives of the falls.
I arrived at Puerto Iguazu from Buenos Aires after a 20h night bus ride. This is the cheapest way (around 80$) to get to Iguazu falls. The ‘cama’ buses are very modern with reclining seats that are very comfortable to sleep in. They also serve you dinner and breakfast and sometimes offer free WiFi.
The Argentinian side takes around 5-6 hours to visit and it costs around 30$. It has an upper and lower trail plus the famous Garganta del Diablo (The devil’s throat) path. For some money extra you can do a boat tour under the waterfall or a helicopter tour.
The Brazilian side is a bit smaller (and cheaper), but it offers panoramic views of the waterfall. Another cool thing to visit on this side is Itaipu hydroelectric dam, that broke the world record in 2016 with over 100,000,000 MWh generated.
I can’t really say which part is better, but if you are going to visit Iguazu Falls, then I think it’s worth going to both sides. You can easily do a day trip to the other side and usually you don’t even get a stamp for crossing the border. Buses run every 30 mins and cost around 1-2$.
Travel vaccination is an important topic especially for those who never went to high risk areas, like Asia, Africa or South America. There are a few common questions among new backpackers. What vaccinations do I need? How much does it cost? What if I don’t do some vaccinations? My advice is definitely to ask a doctor that can recommend vaccination based on your medical history, age and countries you want to visit. Usually the consultation is free at the travel clinics or with your GP. There is also a website from the US Department of Health that can help with this. What I am trying to do here is maybe help you reducing the cost of your vaccinations and tell you why I have/haven’t done some recommended vaccinations.
In my opinion the minimum set of vaccinations that you need are the Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus/Polio/Diphtheria and Typhoid fever. In most of the developed countries you get them during childhood and you can get a free booster before travelling. These are very important in countries with poor hygiene or when you get in contact with a lot of people from all over the world. Anti-tetanus is good to have when you walk a lot bare foot or in flip-flops. I remember in Thailand when I tried to climb a Buddha statue and I got some bad scratches from a rusty wire or in Vietnam when a nail went through my flip-flop and deep cut my foot.
Anti-Rabies vaccinations is an controversial one. Rabies is a disease that is usually transmitted to humans from infested dogs, monkeys, bats or cats. Even though it is one of the diseases with zero survival chances without treatment, many people don’t bother having the anti-rabies shots. The main reason I think is the fact that this vaccination doesn’t actually give you protection against rabies, but increases your chances of survival and gives you more time to get proper treatment. Another reason is the high cost of the full course. You need 3 doses that will cost you over 200$. I only did this vaccination for this trip after seeing a lot of stray dogs and aggressive monkeys in Asia. There is now (2018) an outbreak of rabies in Thailand, South Africa and Israel. My tip here is to stay away from animals and if you want to save some money, try to get the intra-dermal shots which are usually cheaper and offers the same protection.
Yellow fever is a mosquito transmitted disease that is common in some parts of Africa and South America. It has a high mortality rate and many countries in the risk areas will ask you for the Yellow Fever certificate before entering the country. There is currently an outbreak of Yellow Fever in Brazil, especially in Ilha Grande. I could see signs everywhere that were recommending the vaccination. In Europe this vaccination is very expensive, but you can get it for free in countries like Argentina or Chile. I’ve got mine for free in Buenos Aires and it was very easy.
Malaria, dengue fever and zika are three other mosquito transmitted diseases without a cure or vaccination. They can be deadly and the best protection is to avoid mosquito bites. For Malaria there are some Malaria pills you can take that reduce the symptoms, but the side effects are very bad. I’ve never taken them and I’ve met very few people taking these pills.
After Iguazu falls I went back to Buenos Aires and then flew to Rio de Janeiro.