Sunday, 30 January 2011

South America. Done....

....Kelly and I returned on Monday from our month long trip in South America. Just to remind you, we were given the opportunity after I won an award at work. In memory of Matt Elliott, a former employee of AMV who tragically died, the 'Radiator Award' is a 2 week travel bursary that, in his spirit, should be used for the 'adventure of a lifetime'. We extended our 2 weeks to a month and late last year booked the trip with Trailfinders, them helping us to work out the most suitable, productive route to take. So it transpired we were to visit Argentina, (Buenos Aires / Mendoza / Iguazu Falls), Brazil, (Rio) and Colombia, (Taganga / Sierra Nevada for the 'Lost City' trek / Cartagena).
This is, (as briefly as possible), how it all shaped up:

Buenos Aires, Argentina.
We spent 5 days here, staying in the San Telmo district, with it's antiques shops and a market on Sundays. Our highlight was an empanada cooking class in the suburbs of the city. It was hosted by Teresita, at her lovely home and included a vast, meat laden barbeque with plenty of wine. We also saw in New Year whilst we were here, dining al fresco on Plaza Dorrego - a superb evening. We also enjoyed Recoleta cemetery and La Boca.

(New Year's Eve)

Mendoza, Argentina.
We took an overnight bus, that was more akin to flying business class, to reach Mendoza. Here we completed a vineyard tour, in Chacras de Coria, by bicycle, spent a day horse trekking in the shadow of the Andes and ate our best steak, at Don Mario.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina.
Perhaps the highlight of my whole trip, the falls blew me away. They can be witnessed from both Brazil and Argentina, which we did. In one day. The sheer volume of water and the noisy rage that ensues, is breath taking. Our accommodation here was also spectacular in its own, hidden, secretive way. A wonderful couple of days.

(Our accommodation & the falls)

Rio, Brazil.
This, due to its brief nature, could almost be considered a token visit. Only 3 days. But boy was it worth it. We crammed in Corcovado, (statue of Christ), a Favela tour, Santa Teresa and time on Ipanema beach.

Taganga, Colombia.
We landed at Santa Marta, but our bags didn't. We moved on to Taganga where we had accommodation. 27 hours later, our bags were returned. Two hours after that, they were gone again: stolen, after our room was broken in to. One hour after that, they returned once more, after being gathered from the hillside behind our hostel, minus a few items. Drama. As a result of this, our time in Taganga wasn't as productive as we hoped, but still enjoyable.

Cuidad Perdida, (Lost City), trek, Sierra Nevada, Colombia.
An incredible five day trek, reaching the city on day three, then retracing our steps a day quicker on the return. The trek itself was a challenge, with some gruelling hills and ravine crossings, whilst the city exceeded all expectations in its scale, history and beauty. We were treated exceptionally well throughout, with our guide Ali & his team being informative, helpful, master chefs and fruit providers at the most crucial times. We walked with wonderful people and so had a wonderful time.

Cartagena, Colombia.
The final destination of our holiday and the most architecturally beautiful. The old city, surrounded by a thick defence wall, with cannons peeping out, used to keep pirates at bay way back when. The buildings within these walls have remained untouched, providing an almost living museum of colonial housing lining intertwined streets, each charismatic in it's colour and decay. Down the road, the oh so different new city, where high rise hotels and casinos are the backdrop to Cartagena's beach. It isn't the greatest beach, so Kelly and I visited the truly Carribbean Playa Blanca to really relax.

(Havana Cafe, Cartagena)

Home. London.
Now we're back, it has taken this week to fully recover. We lost a night's sleep due to travel, so have been catching up ever since. It has also taken a week to fully recognise just what an incredible month we have had. How fortunate we have been, what truly memorable sights and fantastic people that we've met. I would like to take the opportunity to once again thank AMV, for the generosity of the award, but also for the great spirit in which it is given. Also to thank Matt's parents, Rick & Sue and his sister Sarah for their endless positivity and warmth - the gift of a journal that they gave me, now fully filled, will be appearing on these pages very soon. (You can follow Rick & Sue on their antipodean adventure here.)

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