Sunday, 15 April 2012

Eka Chakra, Catemu, Chile 14 Feb - 16 March, Argentina 17-25th March

And here it is, my last post. Eighteen months and eleven days - all done. And what a great way to finish - volunteering at the Eka Chakra farm in central Chile then 9 days visiting friends in Argentina. I cancelled the idea of going to Patagonia and extended my time at the far below as I liked it so much. This is the road leading up to the entrance.

And here is where the person in charge, Maharaj, welcomed me in very cordial fashion with a really genuine smile which set the tone for the next month. The figure you can see in the background is Krishna and the farm is run by an offshoot of the original 60s Hare Krishna ISKCON movement that attracted a lot of controversy in the States 20 years ago. However, all the people who had recommended I come to one of these places were more than proved right in their glowing praise. Vrinda is a break-off from ISKCON and seems to be a thoroughly healthy spiritual organisation.

Like many ashrams, the location was just idyllic. This was across the road where we went to an adjacent property to cut cane to start our construction job.

And here is Lacey working with the aforesaid cane.

Whilst not working we could eat at these lovely benches in the shade or just read and hang out. Work was from 10-2pm. Three meals a day and accomodation for 10USD a day.

The place was a truly exotic burst of Indian culture in the heart of Chile. This is a nice close up of the Shiva shrine. A little place where all could go for some personal time.

A bit further down the same path was the river. The Andes, my faithful companions for all of 2011, were still here to comfort me in 2012.

Here's Lacey, her compatriot, Jen (Canucks) and Jen who arrived shortly after. It's a tough life being a volunteer as you can see :)

There was a real family air to the farm and we were invited by one of the devotees to her parents' farm an hour away. 

Chris, from stateside, a great companion in the boys dorm for around 4 weeks. Good times :))

So Lacey and Jen left after 9 days or so and reinforcements came in the shape of Anita and Dani. And with the reinforcements we ramped up the work rate. Mixing up and applying adobe with aplomb!

Good times :) Miss y'all...

This was where we mixed up the adobe. Under the adobe is a circular hole in the ground where we added dirt, straw, sand and water, walking around in it to mix it up. Then we ended up changing the mixture and it was a lot harder work. Cutting up the straw, sieving the dirt and the sand...ugh... But it seemed to work better.

Every sunday there was a lovely atmosphere as the ashram threw open its gates for a free yoga class followed by a free feed for anyone who wanted to come. From left Giri, Parikshit and a devotee who visited for a day and gave the scripture talk. They also did music as you can see. We all played football too and you'll be happy to know I put at least one in the back of the net to hold up English pride!!

Great view of the temple.

The light in the evenings was spectacular...

I absolutely loved walking barefoot around here. The hut on the right was the home of nandi, the enormous bull and on the left is the organic garden where we made organic fertilisers called purín. Some of them smelled pretty bad, but they really were all totally natural.

Three or four times a week we had yoga. And if you were lying on your back, this what you saw. Magical...

This is our yoga clearing. I practised here on my own a few times. Incredible...

And our delightful teacher, Malini.

The community is lacto-vegetarian so no eggs but milk, yes...After three months of reluctantly eating meat in Pachachaca, it was a joy.

 We only had one cooking class, which was a shame, but Rani made it a good one. We cooked up some beautiful stuff, and, of course, ate it all. Rani looked after the volunteers most of the time and was a truly lovely person to have as a "boss".

The food was utterly amazing and extremely plentiful. It was a struggle not to overeat all the time. And their sweet stuff was to die for.

Veggie heaven.

Some of the ladies producing the gorgeous food which the devotees went out to sell in local communities. Went like hot cakes by the sounds of things.

And the accommodation was lovely too. This is the girls. As these are Jen and Dani's photos. My camera died in Bolivia, sadly.

So, I was extremely happy with my time in Eka Chakra and would like to thank all the community for being wonderful. Especial mention goes to Hector who was, quite simply, a star.

I had been very kindly offered hospitality in Córdoba, Argentina by Martín who I met in Guadalajara. He thought I meant March 2011, but it was March 2012!!! As my camera died and Martin didn't take any pics, I'll just put in a random of Nueva Córdoba, his barrio. Just down the road from here there was lots of cafés and the atmosphere was just great with loads of students around.

Martín looked after me very well, cooking vegetarian food (in Argentina!!!) and showing me around. Hard to believe he is only in his early 20s. We went to my first rugby match in a long while to watch his brother play at the wonderful facilities of the Córdoba Rugby Club.

And from there it was onto Buenos Aires, where I stayed with Flor, a friend I met in Medellín, Colombia. You woudn't believe she was only 20. Just like Martín, very warm and friendly and very independent and sophisticated. 

Didn't do much in BA as I was a bit ill, but I did cook lovely veggie food in Flor's kitchen. And I did make it out to the Plaza Italia and the Botanic Garden and a quick visit to the book market. Very relaxing.

And to top it all there was a huge street demonstration on my last night which I walked right through the middle of to the disapproving looks of many of the participators... Well I didn't realise, did I? But no photo, google is not obliging.

So that's it.


Hope you all enjoyed it,

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Valparaíso 1-13 Feb and 27/28 Feb

So I didn't really know much about Valparaíso before going there. Just that it had been recommended to me by a couple of really nice Chilean guys who I had met on my Machu Picchu tour. So I recommended it to Mum and Dad for our two weeks together and they liked the look of it. 

In the above you can see the bit of town where the naval museum is and Mum and Dad's first bed and breakfast. They then stayed in another flat in Bella Vista before moving to the cerro Barron where we met and spent a wonderful 15 days in total, including 2 when I slipped away for a break from the yoga farm, just before they left Valpo.The church below was about 5 mins from the flat, on the way to the beach.

The sea lions were an unexpected bonus. Amazingly they had learned how to jump out of the water onto this leftover of older times at the industrial port. We would walk past this on the boardwalk down to Portales beach or when I went out for a run in the morning (yes, I'm back in training, triathlon here we come!)

And here are the guilty parties :) Huge thanks to Mum and Dad for putting me up and putting up with me for two weeks! Had a lovely time, like this day, walking around bella vista and the surrounding hills. And having the beach 15 mins walk from the flat really changes the feeling of a city. The fresh breeze for the hottest part of the day, and sun until 8pm!!! Wonderful.

This give you an idea of just how steep the streets were!! And the woman you can see half way up was carrying shopping bags!!

There were some real architectural treats in Valparaíso, built before the opening of the Panama Canal turned it from bustling port to a place in ever increasing decay, along the lines of Liverpool really. Difficult to see whether Valpo has been able to turn the corner like Liverpool and Manchester. There was much more obvious poverty than in either Viña del mar (the little brother that has outgrown its once mightier neighbour) or Santiago. Gave it an interestingly "edgy" atmosphere, but ...

There were plenty of beautiful views and colourful street art though..

Lots of street art!

Nice views from up the hill.

Outside the Espiritu santo café (rather posh), just down the way from Pablo Neruda's Valpo residence that we had been visiting (La Sebastiana). The house was a stunning affair really, very well set up for visitors.

This was the view from the 13th floor flat where Mum produced the usual succession of stormingly good food and one or two glasses of wine were drunk, even by me!

So on or around the 12th of Feb, we went to the naval museum, passing by this main square where the tourists get tipped off the enormous cruise ships. Sadly people come from far and wide to try to rob the tourists and Mum had been robbed a week before I arrived. Very unfortunate, especially as Mum had already been robbed once in Buenos Aires and had only just got round to replacing many of the things. Ladies with enticing looking bags in foreign cities, beware!

We didn't go up one of the few actually functioning lifts to the naval museum as the queue was far too long. So we had a look round the museum which was extremely interesting. Surprisingly enough the first admiral of the Chilean navy was an Englishman and his improbable victory over the Spanish at Valdivia all but sealed Chilean independece. More about the surprising amount of history between the two countries can be found in the excellent book, "Pinochet in Piccadilly"

Was a great pleasure to see Mum and Dad as it really had been a long time and, of course, I hadn't been home since seeing them in Oaxaca, Mexico.

And had to include this photo from the beach where we had so many nice afternoons!!

And this will probably be my last blog from South America, as, with a bit of luck and a following wind, I fly from Buenos Aires to Madrid to spend a month in Spain before I come back to the UK.

Am really excited I will be able to see some of you in May. Obviously I shall be totally skint, so can't promise anything at this stage, but will do my very, very, very best.

Lots of love,

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

San Pedro de Atacama + Santiago 23-31 Jan

So San Pedro de Atacama is close to the driest desert in the world. Not a place to arrive with no cash of any kind and a bank card that's playing silly buggers. 

Managed to make it to my excellent hostel, recommended by two Chilean guys I'd met after the Bolivian jungle tour in Rurrenabaque. Easy to remember - The House of the Rising Sun!!.

So after talking to a guy who made it all sound easy (yes, my male vanity came into play), I hired a bike and set off to have a look around. Armed with 600ml of water, I set out for a 2-3 hour trip. The first place I went was called the tambo de catarpe and it was utterly amazing. Had to take the opportunity to do some yoga :)

So I then set off to the dunes near the valle de la luna, the other side of a tunnel, hoping to then be able to return the next day to do some sand boarding. The terrain looked roughly like what you can see here. Obviously these are not my photos as my camera was out of action.

After failing to see the dunes, I got to this passage way through to the next valley.

The valley of death... There was a sign saying that it was 10km to the next emergency phone but no discernible end to the trail. As I was turning to leave I saw a car speeding across the middle of nothingness in the distance, but thought.... no way. It may look ok now but what if I get lost etc.

So I tried to get back to the tunnel. And failed to find it. So I went back to the passageway above, and then tried again. And failed again. I'm big enough to admit I was shouting for help by this stage, but I didn't completely panic. The people below obviously weren't as inept as me.

So with about 20ml of water left, I took the only option left, went back to the passage way AGAIN and set off into the valley of death. Sweet...

Long story short, I made it to the highway which aforementioned highway and got to the top of the first very long hill expecting to see San Pedro in the next valley. It wasn't. So 5 hours into the ride and a bit tired to say the least, I flagged down a vehicle to ask how far was left and it was a small truck with a dog on the open back. They told me it was far and offered me a lift I vey gratefully accepted.

Needless to say, I took a day off the next day. Then went to Santiago to see Viviana who I'd met in Mexico City in October, 2010!!! First, I spent a day chilling in the centre while Viviana was at work. The plaza de armas was really nice...

And then it was off to the smaller houses and quiet streets of Providencia.

Was great to spend time cycling around her neighbourhood and hanging out with her lovely friends. I did a nice little outing to the Fine arts museum (bellas artes) but it was closed, so all in all it was a really untouristy week.

So it was then time to say a huge thank you to Viviana and head to Valparaíso, to see them for the first time since Christmas 2010 in Oaxaca.

Lots of love to you all,