A Travellerspoint blog

Feeling Manly

sunny 22 °C

After a long sojourn in the wildernesses of the world, we have finally made it back to civilization. We are in Sydney; to be precise, in a charming beach suburb half an hour ferry north of the town centre called Manly (the ferry ride takes in views of the skyscrapers downtown, the harbour bridge and the opera house! Think the Gosport ferry with better scenery and less feeling of impending doom). Manly, where the grass is green, the sky is blue, and the men are... Manly, of course! The people of Manly are rightly proud of their locale, and in the manner of smaller town centres many of the shops are named after the district, so we have seen a Manly Grill, a Manly Croquet Club, and most amusingly of all a Manly Beauty Salon.

We are staying with the stupendously lovely Karen and Mark. We only met them for 4 days doing the salt flats tour in Bolivia and they have thrown open their beautiful flat to us; we've been here a week already! And we don't want to leave to be honest. Deep in the depths of winter here, it's a chilly 22 degrees CENTIGRADE in the sun; the sky is blue; we've hardly seen a drop of rain all during our stay here. Everyone seems to go surfing on their lunchbreak (or after work in the summer) and the kids go to school in their board shorts! The outdoor culture is so prevalent here as there are so many facilities available year-round; running, swimming, surfing, even diving is possible nearby (which we er... haven't dared due to 14 deg water). We had a lovely kayak around the placid Middle Harbour one Sunday morning, ogling the $20mm houses perched on the cliff edges. Predictably, Angi and I in the same kayak managed to go about half as fast as Karen on her own. The coastline is so splintered and fractal that there is an abundance of interesting coastal walks; we spent half a day walking and only saw a small portion of the locale. And everyone is just so bloody nice and cheerful. It's the polar opposite of moaning London.

And to top it off, the food here is great! Successive waves of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and many other -ese immigration have left a huge Asian immigrant population, which translates to excellent food. Every time we've tried a hole-in-the-wall place for a little Korean barbeque or some Szechuan hotpot the meal has been what in London we would have rated worthy of a destination restaurant. Even the pubs, fish and chip shops, and random cafes along the way seem to take a degree of care with their food that is several notches above the average in England; we are very impressed. The microbeers are also fantastic, producing a wide variety of beer types. Even some IPAs and English style beers. Walking around Manly is a real trial as we just get tugged hither and thither by all the waves of nice smells.

We've also been able to do all the organisational things that we've put off for so long. Visas, post, repairs, health stuff... it's refreshing to be in a first world country where you can actually get stuff done. Civilization is a functioning internet connection, bookshops and q-tips, I have come to decide!

p.s. we're having some problems with photos again, normal service to be resumed as soon as possible

Posted by pendleton 22:06 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Paradise... at a price

sunny 26 °C

We left the crazy, strange, mildly inbred world of Rapa Nui late on wednesday night, after enjoying a final day of lazy sightseeing and a very nice dinner at a little modern bistro place.

I won a game of rummy with a straight flush!

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After that we flew to Papeete airport, in Tahiti. Immediately we were met with a bit more of the Polynesian welcome we expected - grass skirts, a flower in the hair for everyone, and ukelele strummers at the airport. Hurrah! We crashed out for the night and then got the ferry to Moorea in the morning.

Moorea is very close to Tahiti, part of the Society archipelago (French Polynesia is made up of 5 different island chains - Society, Austral, Marquesa, Tuamoto, Gambier). Tahiti is the only island with an international airport and hence the Society islands are by far the most heavily touristed. And the price of this tourism is pretty high. We were prepared for the high cost of lodging but were a little stunned by how expensive all the incidentals were - an hour of internet cost $9, and a simple burger lunch for two would run to about $40. However I was determined that we would have waterfront lodging!

So we ended up staying at the Club Bali Hai, a faded and slightly rough-around-the-edges place. We were entertained nightly by Muk, the faded and slightly rough-around-the-edges former owner, who regales all the guests every night with tales of coming to Moorea in the 1960s, spending every night drinking rum and carousing the local lovelies. One of the three of the guys that came over has sired 10 children by 5 different women! Full amusing story here http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/travel/world/article_1289983.php

Anyway, we had our waterfront villa, and very nice it was too, setting us up for a week of lazing around in the sun and diving. The diving was pretty exciting - all the coral had been killed by the crown-of-thorns starfish but the reef fish were all staggeringly pretty (every one colourful, or masked, or striped, or something exciting) and the place was crawling with sharks! One day we saw 5 different types of shark before breakfast, and we had 3 metre pregnant lemon sharks coming to within a metre of us while the DM brought a tuna head down for them. Slightly worrying actually.

And that was French Polynesia really. We would have liked to fly out to some of the outer islands where the culture (and the diving) are a lot more distinctive and exciting but we didn't have the time or the money. Next time - when we have the yacht...

Posted by pendleton 00:03 Archived in French Polynesia Comments (0)

Te Pito o te Henau

The Navel of the World

sunny 19 °C

I was massively excited about coming to Rapa Nui (mostly as a result of reading the excellent Jared Diamond book Collapse). It's sort of like the Galapagos of anthropology, as well as (possibly) being a microcosm of the way we are treating the world. And, weird and isolated as the place is, it definitely hasn't disappointed.

I mean, this place is reeeally isolated. Chile is 3700km to the east; Tahiti in French Polynesia is 4000 km to the west. It's so isolated that we don't believe it was colonised until the first millennium after Christ; and even then once it was colonised we don't think that the islanders had much contact with anyone else until the European era. Which meant that, unfortunately, when they cut down the last tree on the island they were a bit screwed: no wood hence no fires, no canoes (for fishing), no ropes (for building/transport/fishing nets), no tree cover for birds to live in... oops. And nobody to trade with. Which led to a bit of an apocalypse-type scenario. Anyway, more on this later.

The island today is home to about 4000 people, roughly half of them of Rapa Nui stock. It's small enough to drive around in a day easily, but there is only one town (Hanga Roa), where 95% of the people on the island live. The rest of the island is devoted to rebuilt statues and ceremonial sites, ruined sites, and the ground up bones of former ceremonial sites which have been used for walls to pen livestock in. The whole place is like a giant open-air museum. With wild horses walking around everywhere. We had a guided tour around several of the sites, the most important being the quarry where the giant stone heads - called moai were produced. This place was one of the most amazing sites we've been to on the trip - everywhere you look giant heads are poking out of the ground in all states of disrepair. As the ecological catastrophe developed on the island, they (sensibly) took the step of producing more and more bigger and bigger heads - there are about 400 in various states at the quarry, compared with only 900 found on the island at large. Quite an inventory...

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The next day we hired a quad bike and took off ourselves around the dirt tracks. The bike came with lots of helpful safety warnings, like

1 - DO NOT USE on public roads
2 - DO NOT USE with more than one person

which filled us with confidence as you can imagine. Turns out that they're a pretty efficient way to get around when the roads are poor, we managed to fill in most of the gaps on the island that we hadn't seen the day before, including the beautiful crater lake.

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The building of the larger and larger heads unfortunately but inevitably coincided with the cutting down of the last trees, leading to the ecological collapse which in turn led to a fairly vicious civil war as the sustainable human population adjusted itself. There was also a shift in the belief system away from the moai (which were all toppled and broken during the war) towards awarding respect as part of the Birdman contest. This basically involved, once a year, all the dozen or so tribes nominating a champion from amongst their young men, for a test of strength, fearlessness, and all that good stuff. The young braves would have to climb down the (fairly sheer) cliff at the side of the Rana Koa crater (a 300m drop to the sea), get past the crashing surf into the sea, swim a couple of hundred metres out to the motus (a couple of offshore rocky crags), avoiding the sharks while they did so, not get dashed to pieces on the far side, climb up onto the rocky shore, and wait there (for up to a month) until the black terns migrated back and laid their first eggs. Then, they would take the egg that they have found, strap it to their foreheads in a load of padding, and reverse the process! Including the 300m cliff climb. The first guy to bring back an undamaged egg would be top dog for the year. Obviously, a little bit gutting if you get to the top of the cliff and you've smashed your egg...

We also managed to fit in a couple of days diving, which was c-o-l-d, but interesting to see the different endemic fish (fun fact - islands generally support isolated populations of fish as well as land fauna, as most fish just hang around reefs or areas of interest, not cruising the ocean at wide) and on the last day diving around one of the motus we had 60m visibility! Which was pretty amazing. On the penultimate night we had a traditional dinner/dance combo - normally something we would have run a mile from as there is nothing more depressing than a load of really depressed people doing a dance but this was great fun, everyone seemed to be really enjoying it (probably because they were professionals and had taken the dance around the world already!).

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We also met a man in a yellow sleeping bag (see link to the right). More on him when I can figure out how to upload pictures to a Mac...

Posted by pendleton 19:20 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Happy Easter

sunny 25 °C

We are in Rapa Nui, the navel of the world. Although technically part of Chile it definitely feels like we´ve left South America and arrived in Polynesia. The grass is green, the sun is shining and the sky is blue.

We haven´t done too much so far but initial impressions are of crashing surf, wild horses and the eponymous stone moai heads everywhere. Tour (and more excitement hopefully) tomorrow!

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Jon

Posted by pendleton 17:56 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Bass Freaks

sunny 18 °C

Another day, another bus ride over the Andes. We had only a couple of days to kill in Santiago; excitingly enough, it´s winter there and the mountains are very close... Close enough that you can do a day trip out there. We spent a day at Valle Nevado, which was fun to keep our hands in, but the snow wasn´t up to much and it all ended up being unbelievably expensive as we had to rent EVERYTHING. A Bailey´s and a hot chocolate to put it in came to $16!!

(and I forgot the camera, again. Sorry)

We managed to fit in some more good food as well; a great sushi joint, a PROPER curry house (Kiran please note), curiously located in a Best Western hotel; and a wonderful seafood restaurant called Puerto Fuy. A little bit too posh for scabby travellers such as us but lovely food. We started off with the best clam we´d ever tasted, encaged in a cheese gratin with some slightly sweet tomatoey stuff inside

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and a selection of sea urchin prepared 5 ways, which had Angi in raptures

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and then for mains, an interesting comparison of sea bass VS chilean sea bass. Didn´t even realise they were different fish, but although the chilean sea bass was very nice we preferred the sea bass, it was one of the nicest, meatiest, umami-est fish dishes I´d ever tasted. Nummm.

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Finally the dessert was enlivened by a more-than-slightly-silly misting of an alcoholic beverage of your choice from a selection of mini perfume sprays. Pretentious? Yo?

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And that´s it for South America! Next stop Polynesia: sunny skies & grass skirts (we hope)... So long Americas, and thanks for all the carbohydrates!

Jon

p.s. lots more bolivia/argentina/chile photos have been posted... unfortunately this bloody site keeps on losing the names. Sorry. Will update them all when I have a spare day or two...

Posted by pendleton 17:43 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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