Posted by: nickrunner | May 18, 2009

Things that make my travels easier

Here is a list of some useful things that I brought with me on my travels. None of them are indispensable, but they have made my life much easier.

International electric socket adapter


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This little hermaphrodite will fit into almost any international electric wall socket and almost any appliance in the world will fit into it. I say “almost” because the big ol’ South African three-point plugs and sockets are not catered for – they seem to be unique in the world.
It enables me to stride into any place in the world and be sure that I will be able to charge my laptop, mobile phone and camera battery.

Small laptop


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I had a debate with myself before I went travelling on whether to take a laptop with me.
Pros: I can lie in bed or sit in a bar with a cold one within easy reach while I am compiling blog entries. I am lying in bed in a hostel in La Paz right now as I am writing this. In places with wireless, I can do my online stuff in my own time and at my own pace, as opposed to having to go to a cyber café or waiting in line for the only functioning PC in a backpacker’s hostel, and then having other people breathing down my neck, waiting for me to finish.
Cons: There is the risk of having the thing stolen or robbed from me. Extra weight. Having to charge it regularly. There is a chance that I would spend too much time online and miss out on the real traveller’s world right here on my doorstep.
I had decided to bring a laptop after all, but a small one. And I haven’t regretted it for one moment. I bought my Acer Aspire One for the equivalent of about USD450 in Kenya. It weighs less than a kilogram, has a 160GB hard drive, wireless, and a built-in camera card reader. The touch-pad is a bit finicky at times, so you need to learn how to stroke her just right.
An advantage that I had not anticipated, is that it makes you instant friends with people who need to transfer their pics from their camera cards to somewhere else, or who would like to have a look at their pics on a computer screen. And sometimes you get to keep their very nice pics on your C-drive!

Sporks

(Sorry, but WordPress’s pic uploader refuses to do this one.)

I had thought this was a uniquely South African invention, but then I encountered them in New Zealand as well. I brought two with me. They are lightweight and can be used to eat almost anything on the go. (However, I still prefer to use my hands whenever it is possible.)

Lonely Planet – South America on a shoestring


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A wonderful book for getting ideas for things to do and places to stay and eat and drink. It also helps with planning transport between towns and cities in terms of what is available and more or less how long a journey will take. I know there is a danger that you might spend all your time with your nose in the guidebook and discover nothing for yourself, but I haven’t succumbed to that.
Another good thing about this tome is that when people see you with it, they will hopefully realise that you are a hard-core, long-term traveller and not just someone who is zipping in and out of one country for three weeks!

Swiss Army knife
Just yesterday morning I fixed a broken shower tap with it. Need I say more?

Waterproof camera

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When I travelled in Costa Rica in March 2008 I had a Canon digital SLR with me. It took great pictures, but was a liability when I did adventure stuff such as going mountain-biking, hiking in the rainforest or white-water rafting. So I got myself an Olympus μ 850 SW digital point-and-shoot. It is waterproof up to 3 metres and the manufacturers claim that you can drop it from a height of 1.5 metres without damaging it. I haven’t put the second claim to the test, but it has survived a white-water rafting expedition in Tasmania and have withstood quite a few knocks during my travels. And I really don’t need more than the 8 Megapixels that it has.
I have to confess that it did pick up a bit of damp on the inside of the lens when I swam in a volcanic hot-water spring in the Bolivian desert. But I guess it was not designed to be used in water with a temperature of more than 35 degrees Celsius! But I opened it up (with my Swiss Army knife) and the damp soon evaporated.

Kikoy
This piece of cloth from East Africa comes in handy as a picnic blanket, a tablecloth, a makeshift laundry-bag and a mobile changing-booth.

Buffs


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I have used these two pieces of quick-dry, stretchable and breathable cloth as neck-warmers, head-warmers, to keep dust out of my mouth, ears and nose, to tie a dangling water-bottle down when I am hiking, and as sweatbands.

Other stuff that I haven’t really used yet
I also have a lightweight hammock, made of parachute material, and a plastic poncho that can be used as a raincoat, a groundsheet or a makeshift tent. The climate has not allowed or necessitated their use yet, so the jury is still out on whether it was a good idea to bring them along.

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Posted by: nickrunner | May 9, 2009

High and dry and cold and beautiful

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I am supposed to be keeping a travel blog, but it has been 20 days since my last posting. I have been through a whole country – Chile – without having written a word about it yet!
So I will try to make amends by giving the highlights of my travels since my last posting from El Bolsón, in Argentina, to Potosi, in the southwest of Bolivia, where I am now.

Bariloche
Pictures here.

My Patagonian adventure ended in El Bolsón, and from there I went to Bariloche, which is the capital of Argentina’s Lake District. The lakes and mountains remind one a lot of Switzerland, and it is very obvious that some of the architects that designed the buildings there were also reminded of Switzerland.
A large part of my second day in Bariloche was spent in hospital emergency ward waiting rooms. I went cycling with two friends and one of them – a woman from Buenos Aires – lost control of her mountain bike on a steep downhill and fell and broke her arm.
Probably the most amazing part of the whole experience (for me) was the presence of mind that she displayed when her father phoned her on her mobile phone as she was lying by the side of the road, in pain and shivering from shock, waiting for the rescue services to arrive.
I had gathered her scattered belongings after the accident and then her phone rang, with the word “Papa” flashing on the screen. “Esta tu Papa!” I told her. I answered the phone and held it to her ear. Her side of the conversation went something like this (translated): “Hi Dad!…Yes, I am having a wonderful time…Listen, the signal is quite bad – I will phone you later. Goodbye!” All not to alarm him unduly at that stage of the proceedings.
In Bariloche I also teamed up with three other people and we rented a car for a sightseeing trip to some of the lakes in the district. I had never driven a car with a manual gearbox and the steering wheel on the left-hand side of the car on the right-hand side of the road. So I was quite jittery when we set out and, quite predictably, my left hand kept bumping into the door when I had to change gears. But fortunately all went well and we clocked up more than 450km in one day without an accident.

Santiago

It was time to cross over to Chile, and I had decided not to spend too much time there because I had fallen behind somewhat on my schedule. My first stop was in Santiago to see my friend Guillermo, a Chileno who studied MBA with me in South Africa in 2003. Gracias, huevon! It was good to see you again! And we must still have that braai sometime.

Guillermo and I in Santiago

Guillermo and I in Santiago

Valparaíso
Pictures here.

I had been vaguely aware of the existence of a city called Valparaíso, but would have been hard pressed to tell you exactly where in South America it is if you had asked me. So I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived there (it is on the Chilean coast, about two hours by bus from Santiago) and saw how beautiful and characterful it is.

If I remember correctly, it was founded in the 1500s and is built on 45 hills facing the Pacific Ocean in a wide arc. The streets are narrow and cobblestoned, electric wiring form tangled birds’ nests overhead, the buildings are colourful, and some of them are decrepit in a way that travellers find cute and quaint, but not in a way that the locals might find pleasing in any way.

Bahía Inglesa
Pictures here.

From Valparaíso I headed north up the coast to a small place called Bahía Inglesa. It reminds me a lot of some places on the west coast of South Africa or the Namibian coast. The desert goes right up to the ocean. I guess on both continents it has something to do with cold ocean currents coming northwards from Antarctica and therefore not producing enough vapour for proper rain to fall. And then there are the most beautiful white beaches and an aquamarine ocean – just warm enough to swim in. Another similarity is the wonderful seafood!

San Pedro de Atacama
Pictures here.

This town is in the middle of the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The Atacama is reportedly the highest and driest desert in the world, but I have my doubts. Shortly afterwards I would travel through deserts on the Bolivian side of the Andes that are definitely higher, if not drier as well.
The town is quite small and is a base for all kinds of travellers and tourists who want to experience the desert, so it is also quite touristy. However, the battalion of bed-lice I had to battle all through my first sleepless night in town feel fuck-all for the reputation of their town as a tourist destination. I still bear the scars a week afterwards, though the itching has subsided.
For the record, the name of the louse-ridden hostel is Hostel Eden de Atacameña. Don’t stay there, and please spread the word.
However, I went for a very nice mountain-bike ride into the desert: up a valley with the only river (actually just a small stream) in that part of the desert, and into a very narrow and twisty and turny canyon called Gargantua del Diablo – the Devil’s Throat. With the red, craggy mountains rising up on both sides of the little canyon it is easy to see why it has been named thus.

San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni
Pictures here.

One of the ways to get from Chile to Bolivia is with a three-day 4×4 trip through the Andes into Bolivia and then through various deserts in the Bolivian Andes to the Salar de Uyuni – the Uyuni Salt Flat – the biggest in the world at more than 10 000 square kilometers.
This was a most memorable trip – it took me to the coldest, the highest and maybe the driest places I have ever been. And it is one of the most beautiful. (New Zealand still occupies the first place for beauty.)
Our driver and guide, Serapio, is a Bolivian who had been conducting these trips for 26 years. We did it in the same vehicle – a Toyota Land Cruiser – that was brand new when he started doing the tours 26 years ago, and it showed. We had to stop several times for some tinkering to the engine, and the left-hand side mirror came off just a few kilometres before the end of the trip.
We visited some beautiful saline lakes in the middle of the desert. Their respective colours – e.g. blue, white, green, and red – are determined by the prevalent kind of mineral deposits to be found in the water and the mud of the lake.
The conditions were quite challenging. The highest point of the trip was above 4 800m and the night temperatures were below minus 10 degrees Celsius. These were the highest and coldest conditions that I have ever experienced.
Added to that there was the matter of altitude sickness. All the members in our group had one or more of the following symptoms: headache, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, loss of appetite, insomnia and unusual dreams.
My usual resting heart rate is around 60 beats per minute. On this trip it was around 90 beats per minute. I also had headaches from time to time. I would wake up at night with that feeling in my chest that you get when you try to swim one length of a swimming pool under water and you realize at about three quarters of the way that you are not quite going to make it. It took some concentration and deep breathing to get the oxygen in my lungs back to a comfortable level. (Even here in Potosi at 4 000m, where I now am, I sometimes have to concentrate and breathe consciously to get enough oxygen into my lungs.)
On the salt flat itself we did the usual touristy thing by taking trick photography pictures that make one thing or person look much smaller or bigger in relation to another. This is possible because the white surface of the salt flat is quite featureless and…well, flat, making it difficult to get a perspective of how far away things are from one another and from the camera. In one of the pictures I am a giant stomping on one of my fellow travelers; in another I am sitting on a giant banana.

Silly salt pictures here. (Thanks to my travel companions Fabian, Fernanda, Laylian and Rosie for sharing these pics with me. My camera did not work at that stage.)

Uyuni and Potosi

The 4×4 tour ended in the town of Uyuni, where I went to a very strange pub that specialises in cocktails and shooters with very suggestive names. And in some cases they don’t tell you in which kind of vessel they are going to serve you your cocktail in, with the result that I had a drink in mug that was shaped like a woman’s bottom (with a little skirt and all) and one has to suck your drink from a certain orifice. Clue: it is not from the arsehole. (Pictures here. Not for sensitive people!)
On the bus on the way from Uyuni to Potosi I was severely taken aback when we were making small talk with two Bolivian women and one was asked to guess my age. She said 50 years!
Potosi is the highest city in the world (La Paz is at “only” 3 600m, being the highest capital in the world) and it exists because of the silver mining industry surrounding it. The “tourist” thing to do here is to go on a tour of the mines, but they warn that you should not go if you are claustrophobic or asthmatic. I have claustrophobia, so I decided not to go on the tour with my current set of travelling companions and rather do this long overdue blog posting.

The rough plan from here is to go to La Paz and Lake Titicaca, and from there to cross over to Peru to do the multi-day hike through the Peruvian Andes to Machu Picchu. And from there roughly Colombia, Venezuela, down to Manaus in Brazil, down the Amazon on a boat to the Atlantic Ocean, and then down the coast of Brazil back to Buenos Aires by the end of August.

Posted by: nickrunner | April 18, 2009

In Patagonia (with apologies to Bruce Chatwin)

I have spent the past two weeks in Patagonia, on the Argentinan side of the Andes, travelling from El Calafate in the south to El Bolsón in the north.

If you are from Texas, maybe Patagonia would not seem that big, but for this South African it is a huge place. You can easily do a 35-hour bus journey and the landscape would consist solely of semi-desert plains and low hills covered in dry shrubbery (not the sort that would have pleased the knights that say “neet!”), with the snowy peaks of the Andes lurking on the western horizon. It reminded me of the Karoo in South Africa, but the Karoo is tiny compared to this place.

Near El Calafate I went to see the Perito Moreno glacier, one of the biggest glaciers in South America (and probably the most accessible). It was quite touristy, but it is easy to understand why. This thing covers an area the size of Buenos Aires, and its front wall is 5 km long, 60m high and goes a further 140m down to the bottom of its glacial lake.

I went for a boat trip on the lake that took us to about 300m from the face of the glacier and it was wonderful to hear and see chunks of ice the size of small office blocks crash into the lake.

(Pictures of my glacier visit here.)

From El Calafate I went to El Chaltén, where I went for day hikes in the mountains, getting good views on some glaciers lazing about the valleys. And the autum colours were as good as those that I saw in Tierra del Fuego. I also continued with my tradition of swimming in some of the very cold lakes, though I have to admit that the one glacial lake that I visited was too cold and it was too windy.

(Pictures of El Chalten here.)

The sleepy but very pleasant village of Los Antiguos was supposed to be a stopover on the way to El Bolsón, but it turned out to be a very nice surprise. If you ever were to go that way and want backpacker-style accommodation, ask for a place called Sol de Mayo. Adrian, its owner, is probably the most agreeable and helpful hostel-keeper that I have met on my travels. As for lunch or dinner, ask the locals to point you to the restaurant that is run by Nick the Dutchman (what a coincidence!) – I have to admit that I can´t recall its name right now.

Yesterday, in El Bolsón, I and a group of fellow-travellers went for a six-hour walk in the mountains, and a f@¿#ing kitten decided to follow us. After a while it was too far away from its home for us to just leave it, so we had to accede to its loud requests to be picked up and carried from time to time. It was not fun trying to negotiate a rickety, swaying suspension bridge with old and creaking wooden planks underfoot over an ice-cold river while holding a squirming kitten in my arms.

But the rest was fun, as always.

Posted by: nickrunner | April 6, 2009

At the arse end of the world…but what a beautiful arse!

To view a picture album of my time in Ushuaia, click here.

It was here, in the Argentinian province of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), that I had my first taste of true adventure in South America. I was based in the town of Ushuaia, which is the southernmost town in the world, at around 54 degrees South.

It was also here that I realized, or rather realized anew, two important things about how I wish to travel in South America.

I spent three full days doing things around Ushuaia, and almost three full nights of partying it up in the backpackers hostel where I was staying.

So the first important thing that I realized (anew) was that I should not stay in backpackers hostels for most of the time during the five months of backpacking in South America that lie ahead of me. There are two main reasons for this:

Firstly, I will probably drink myself to death, if my time in Ushuaia is anything to go by. People who know me well, know that I am always willing and able to have a good party and good piss-up whenever there are other like-minded people around me. And in a backpackers hostel there are always such people and such opportunities around. I did not go to bed before 04:00 am on any of the nights that I stayed in Ushuaia. The parties and talking shit all night long were very nice, and I met some wonderful people that way, but it cannot continue like that indefinitely. Especially not if I plan to get any serious adventure-stuff done during the daytime.

The parties and the people are wonderful, but I won't be able to sustain this for five more months!

The parties and the people are wonderful, but I won't be able to sustain this for five more months!

Secondly, I will probably not be able to improve my Spanish if I were to stay in backpackers all the time. English is still the lingua franca of backpackers and it is too easy to regress into speaking English all the time.

So therefore I am glad that I am a member of Couchsurfing (see my list of favourite websites on the right hand side of my blog pages). It will be much better for my liver and for my Spanish if I were to stay with local people. Not that Couchsurfing does not also entail having some good parties! And obviously I will stay in backpackers whenever or wherever I cannot find a Couchsurfing host.

The second thing that I realized (anew) is that I appreciate nature much more when it involves some physical activity, such as trekking/hiking, cycling, rafting or kayaking, as opposed to just driving there or being driven around.

On Day 1 I went on a guided 4×4 trip through some impressive mountains that are covered in trees sporting lovely autumn colours. We stopped at a lake shore and had a very tasty asado (an Argentinian style BBQ or braai).

I did appreciate the sights and the nature around me, but on Day 2 I went for a hike up a mountain in the Tierra del Fuego Nature Reserve. Viewed objectively, the natural beauty was on par with that of Day 1, but somehow I enjoyed and appreciated it much more.

Autumn in Tierra del Fuego is the most beautiful I have seen.

Autumn in Tierra del Fuego is the most beautiful I have seen.

For some more autumny pictures, click here.

So, I will keep this in mind when I choose my adventure activities as I travel around South America. Motorised sight-seeing is the best way to go about it some times, but I will try to steer clear of it as much as possible.

On Day 3 I hiked up to a glacier overlooking Ushuaia with more or less the same group of people that I went hiking with on Day 2. It was more strenuous and more scary than I thought. The last bit up to the glacier was more climbing than hiking, and it was done in snow, something that I am not accustomed to. Coming down was especially scary. We had to inch downwards on some of the slopes on our backs, steadying ourselves by digging our heels and elbows into the snow, and going for some controlled slides down a slippery slope at times.

That speck is me, coming up an unexpectedly steep and snowy mountainside.

That speck is me, coming up an unexpectedly steep and snowy mountainside.

I left Ushuaia for the Patagonian town of El Calafate after a night of partying, seeing that one has to be at the bus station by 04:40 am. The bus ride was an uncomfortable 21 hours, but being able to cross the Strait of Magellan by ferry made it worthwhile.

To view a picture album of my time in Ushuaia, click here.

Posted by: nickrunner | March 31, 2009

The story so far…

I have now been travelling for three months exactly.

As I am writing this, I am sitting in the lounge of the Freestyle backpacker’s hostel in Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world, in the south of Argentina. This is the view that I have:

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I have been rather lazy with updating this blog during the past month, so this posting is a recap and will also point you to some new postings about what I have been up to recently. Please click on the links in the text to go to the relevant postings.

My travels started when I arrived in Sydney on New Year’s Eve. In January I visited my sister Hilda and her family on the coast north of Sydney, I went on a white water rafting expedition in Tasmania, and I went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

In February I visited some friends in Melbourne, and then I visited some friends in New Zealand and went on a hiking trip on New Zealand’s South Island.

OK, now for the new postings:

Then I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to take Spanish lessons for the whole of March to prepare me for the next five months of backpacking through South America.

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with lots to do and it was wonderful to be a “local” for a month while I had my Spanish lessons. I met some wonderful fellow students at the school. In addition to some memorable outings in the city, we spent a weekend away in Uruguay and one at the Iguazú Falls, in the north of Argentina.

And earlier today I have flown to Ushuaia, from where I will slowly backpack and trek my way northwards along the Andes on the Argentinian side. At some stage – I haven’t decided when – I will cross over the Andes to Chile.

Posted by: nickrunner | March 31, 2009

Viviendo en Buenos Aires

Living in Buenos Aires…

…was initially quite strange for me after having travelled in Australia and New Zealand for two months. And before Australia and New Zealand I had lived and worked in Nairobi, Kenya.

Buenos Aires is definitely not as modern and advanced as cities in Aus and NZ, but it is also a world apart from Nairobi.

In Buenos Aires you can walk safely in the streets at night in most parts of the city. And this is a good thing, because the porteños (people of the port), as the inhabitants are called, party and socialise until very late…I should rather say until very early.

Even during the week people don’t go out to dinner before 21:00. And it is very, very uncool to arrive at a nightclub before 03:00. So I have spent many a night socialising and partying until very close to daybreak, at which time the underground does not run anymore and I had to roam the streets, looking for a bus.

The Palacio Barolo, in downtown Buenos Aires,  where my Spanish school is.

The Palacio Barolo, in downtown Buenos Aires, in which my Spanish school is.

As part of the Spanish language course, I stayed with an Argentinian family who could not speak English. So it was quite challenging at times to make small talk at the dinner table, but this got better as my Spanish improved – admittedly from a very low base.

Me with my host family - Liliana Luzuriaga and her son, Francisco.

Me with my host family - Liliana Luzuriaga and her son, Francisco.

I lived in the neighbourhood of Recoleta, which is where much of the old money of Buenos Aires lives. This is obvious from the number of old women with big rings and small dogs roaming the streets, showing off their latest botox injections. It is a neighbourhood of narrow streets and old apartment buildings – the kind where you buzz someone by pressing a very shiny little brass button into a very shiny brass plate with all the apartment numbers engraved on it.

What I liked about Recoleta is that it is walking distance from the Spanish school and from downtown. There are countless little mom-and-pop stores that cater to your every need: bakeries, laundromats, restaurants, liquor stores, convenience stores, clothes shops, barber shops, and many more. No one needs to go to a shopping centre!

I clicked well with my classmates in the Spanish school and almost every afternoon after school we went to lunch at a different place and some afternoons we also went exploring parts of the city on foot. There were also some wild parties during the week and of course over weekends that I enjoyed a lot. It was good to be a student again in more ways than one!

D-I-S-C-O! Until the sun comes out.

D-I-S-C-O! Until the sun comes out.

The Spanish school assigns a “language partner” to each of its students – a local person who wants to learn how to speak English better and who can help the student with their Spanish. The idea is to go out and do social things together and in the process teach one another English and Spanish. I struck gold with my language partner. Ana Salotti does not quite fit the above criteria because she is a translator between Spanish and English and has a degree in linguistics. And to crown it all, she loves teaching people how to speak Spanish (in an informal setting). So I had the perfect language partner. I learnt a lot from her – not just about the Spanish language – and we had lots of good times together in Buenos Aires.

Ana Salotti, my language partner, and I

Ana Salotti, my language partner, and I

Some other random things and thoughts about Buenos Aires:
-It is on the banks of the widest river in the world, the Rio de la Plata (Silver River), yet the city does not make much of this in terms of having things going on at the waterfront. Maybe it is because the river is so polluted.
-The paper napkins that they give you in restaurants are made of the most inabsorbent paper in the world.
-Meat and starch are the main ingredients of any meal, so that was right up my alley. I have been to a restaurant where a Milanesa – a flattened piece of beef deep-fried in crumbed batter – serves as the base of the meal, like a pizza base would in a pizza joint, and then you can choose what toppings you want on it. And the portions come in the same sizes as pizzas do!
-I will add some more stuff here as it occurs to me.

Meat, meat and more meat. Wonderful!

Meat, meat and more meat. Wonderful!

I went to see Radiohead perform in Buenos Aires. I don’t know their music, but several people told me they have a very good act, and they were right. Their lighting show was fantastic. However, I also went, out of curiosity, to see the opening act, which was the German band Kraftwerk. I know them from only one song that they had a hit with in the 1980’s – The Model. I was very impressed with Kraftwerk and I liked their other music as well.

Radiohead doing their thing

Radiohead doing their thing

Posted by: nickrunner | March 31, 2009

A short visit to Uruguay

Uruguay is this little country wedged between Argentina and Brazil, and a couple of classmates and I decided to visit it one weekend.

We went to Colonia, which is a sleepy little town on the north bank of the Rio de la Plata. It was started in the 1600’s by the Portuguese, who used it as a base for smuggling stuff into Argentina across the Rio de la Plata.

I also went to Montevideo, which must be the most quiet capital city I have ever been to. But the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon maybe had something to do with this.

View some pics of the visit to Uruguay here.

Posted by: nickrunner | March 31, 2009

Wet ‘n wild!

The Iguazú Falls in the North-East of Argentina, at the border with Brazil and Paraguay, is not one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world. But it must have been a close shave.

The Victoria Falls, in Southern Africa, which I have seen, is one of the Seven Wonders. However, I was more impressed with Iguazú. Maybe it has something to do with water volumes and the seasons and so on.

Three classmates from Spanish school, Alexandra, Allison and Liv, and I went there for a weekend at the end of March.

We walked through subtropical forests, took a boat ride that took us to right under the falls, giving us the biggest shower of our lives, we went to the top of the Gargantua Diablo, which is the most vicious part of the falls, and went for a lazy swim in the river at the bottom of the falls.

Words cannot aptly describe how amazingly impressive the falls are, so I will let the pictures that I took, speak for themselves.

I also took some videos with my digital camera, but the quality isn’t very good and my fingers got in the way in one of them because I had to hang on the camera quite firmly underneath the waterfall.

Posted by: nickrunner | March 15, 2009

An honest artist…and a country that has vanished

I have been to a very interesting international art exhibition in Buenos Aires.

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It is called Buddy Bears, and consists of a 2 metre high statue of a bear for each of the 140 countries recognised by the UN – each bear is decorated by an artist to represent its specific country. This exhibition has been touring the world since 2002. In Buenos Aires, these bears grace the Plaza San Martin.

They are arranged alphabetically by country (in Spanish), so Afghanistan was the first one I saw. And it was the most honest one. Amongst other things, it depicts a mother comforting her crying child, and both of them look frightened.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Compare this with Iraq, which isn’t exactly a happy and happening country at the moment. If you knew nothing about international events and you looked at the Iraq bear, you could be forgiven for thinking it is a peaceful and prosperous country, with a magic carpet and all.

Iraq

Iraq

The same could be said of the bears of many other countries where there are lots of problems, including the bear of my native South Africa. So good on you, Nasima Sheerzoi, for being honest and realistic when you decorated the Afghanistan bear.

South Africa

South Africa

A classmate of mine here in Buenos Aires who is from Canada has noticed that there is no bear for her country. It should have been right there, between Cameroon and the Central African Republic, but it is not.

I went to the Buddy Bears website, where they have a drop-down menu for all the countries with bears, and lo and behold, Canada is not even on the drop-down menu!

Very strange, for the second largest country on earth not to have a bear.

For some more bear pics, click here.

UPDATE: 2009-03-25
I e-mailed the organisers of Buddy Bear and asked them why Canada is not represented. Below is their answer. I think they mistook me for a Canadian:

Dear Mr Bezuidenhout,

Thank you very much for your e-mail dated March 16th 2009.

From many people we have received enquiries questioning why Canada is missing in the circle including 140 United Nations member states.

A question that we can answer very easily:

It was only thanks to a private Canadian sponsor that Canada was represented in the first nine exhibitions (2002 until 2006) of the global tour of “United Buddy Bears”.
Since 2006, this first “United Buddy Bear” for Canada could unfortunately not travel any further because of its damageable structure, which could not be repaired anymore.

We therefore contacted the Canadian Embassy in Berlin in 2006, 2007 and 2008, again and again asking for their support. But Canada is the only larger (and rich) country of this world that keeps giving us a negative answer – something we do not understand.

On 18th November 2008, we received a letter from the Canadian Ambassador in Berlin, Dr Peter M. Boehm: “I am sorry to have to inform you that there will be no budget for a participation in such a project in the foreseeable future.”

We really regret this.

While some countries including Australia, Israel, Argentina and Germany are already represented with their fourth bear by now and many other countries show their second or third bear, Canada was not even able to fund the first bear and sadly no sponsor could be found to finance a new Buddy Bear representing Canada.

Every time a country decides to create a new Buddy Bear, the “old“ bear is sold at an auction in aid of UNICEF or other children’s relief organisations. We are proud to have supported children’s relief organisations all over the world with more than €1.5 million raised through Buddy Bear activities so far.

In order to facilitate the participation of poorer countries, we have often been able to help and in most cases we have found a sponsor to enable poorer countries to participate in the circle of “United Buddy Bears”. However, Canada is not part of this group of poorer countries.

We recommend that you contact your own government, your Prime Minister or your Minister of Foreign Affairs to highlight this issue. The investment is comparably small considering the enormous positive effects and the great reputation it creates for the country.

Another viable alternative would be to identify a sponsor financing a new “United Buddy Bear“ to represent Canada. This has already been the case for several other countries.

Please understand that we cannot finance all the bears, since we already invest quite a lot of money to organise all the exhibitions around the world.

For the benefit of the Canadian economy, Canadian tourism and particularly for the benefit of the unifying nature of the “United Buddy Bears” exhibition it would be fantastic to represent this very beautiful country in the circle of United Nations member states.

With kind regards,

Michael Stefanescu
BUDDY BEAR BERLIN GmbH

For some more bear pics, click here.

Posted by: nickrunner | March 8, 2009

Pamela and Liv

I am in love with New Zealand.

This I can admit publicly because I know that my wife, Aléta, will understand. She is not the jealous type and least of all will she get jealous of a country! 🙂

I started my eight months of travelling in Australia because I had had a trip lined up there before I had decided to go travelling for so long, and because I had wanted to see my sister Hilda, who lives there.

Later, when I did my planning for the eight month long trip, I took a look at New Zealand on the world map – dwarfed by Australia and all alone at the bottom end of the world – and thought to myself that I won’t bother going there.

But later my friend Anya, who lives there, convinced me to visit her on New Zealand’s North Island and even later another friend, Anwen, convinced me to join her for a hiking trip on South Island. So after I spent all of January in Australia, I went to New Zealand for the biggest part of February, and I am VERY glad that things turned out that way.

I like Australia and Australians – a lot. I will go back there some day because there are parts that I haven’t seen yet. I like the emphasis on outdoor living and exercise. I like their easygoing nature. I like the egalitarian approach to life (compared to South Africa) – the notion that everyone must be able to have “a fair go” at things. I liked to see blue-collar workers sitting next to laywers and docters in a pub and, as total strangers, discuss the news of the day or sport with one another.

I like the sense of humour and I like the interesting words and expressions that only Aussies use – hornbag, dunny, stubby, Acca Dacca, esky, chunder, scoffing the tucker, skulling the grog, and many more. I am very disappointed in myself that I did not get a stubby holder while I was there.

Many people say Aussies and Kiwis are very much the same, and I can see why they say that. They share the same attitude to life to a large extent, there is an overlap in the slang, and so on.

But there is something about New Zealand and New Zealanders that appeal much more to me on another level. (Obviously there will be many exceptions to the rule, like the rude man with the umbrella at Lake Hooker.) Kiwis seem to me to be just a bit more considered, humble without dissing themselves, aware of the rest of the world, and not quite as brash as the Aussies (again with exceptions of course). The sense of humour is a bit more subtle.

The natural beauty in Australia was wonderful – even though I had to keep reminding myself that all those eucalyptus trees are indigenous and natural, unlike in South Africa. But what I saw in New Zealand was at times beyond description. It seemed as if the colours and the lines in New Zealand were just that little bit softer.

At some stage during my hiking trip on South Island I asked myself how I would compare the two countries if I had to liken them to women. What follows is obviously highly subjective and I don’t expect anyone to agree with me necessarily.

Australia is a very sexy, outgoing surfer girl. It is great fun to party with her and to have a one-night stand with her. New Zealand, on the other hand, is a beautiful and no less sexy, intelligent, challenging woman – one that one would want to have a more serious relationship with.

So Australia is Pamela Anderson (about ten years ago) and New Zealand is Liv Tyler.

PS Tasmania, that little known Australian island off the south coast of mainland Australia, still has me thinking. It is definitely different from mainland Australia. I think Tasmania is Winona Ryder.

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