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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Getting back in the bloggy swing...

...with a few photos from our trip 'up North' in July.

Mouth of the Tamar from Low Head

We hadn't spent much time in the north-east of Tasmania so went off for a little trip to celebrate me being home and spend some time together.

Beaconsfield Gold Mine

People all around the world know this Gold Mine now where two miners were trapped for two weeks and one was tragically killed after a rock fall last year. The museum was very comprehensive and interesting - just crammed with nostalgic items that all told a story, and not just about mining but also about Australian life in another era.

Ah bliss

Of course the highlight of the trip was being asked to marry my lovely fella - the place where we stayed was just perfect with rolling paddock views and a real playpus sighting in that there dam to top off a great weekend :-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tchau to South America

Hi everyone, I´m homeward bound and just about as excited as when I was ready to go seven long weeks ago..... we were supposed to have 16 hours here in Santiago airport waiting for our connection from Lima to NZ, but due to heavy fog and snowstorms in Chile we had a 9 hour diversion to Concepcion (an hours flying south of Santiago) and only have a short time to fill in here now. A bit frustrating in part as we had to mess about with our suitcases and go through immigration again, but I have another stamp in my passport now, we saw some amazing glaciers and snowy peaks from the plane, and the weather looks clear so I think we will be on schedule from here onwards (touch wood/head).

Cusco

Ever since ´Mysterious Cities of Gold´ was my favourite after-school cartoon and the Capybara (world's largest rodent) was my favourite animal at the Taronga Zoo, I think I have been destined to come to Peru. There´s so much to tell but it´s also really hard to put into words - I didn´t suffer from any altitude sickness here in Peru apart from feeling strangely breathless when walking up stairs etc (maybe that´s my fitness though) - one effect it seemed to have on me was to make the whole time here feel as if I was walking around in a dream. The perfect way to describe this amazing country I think.

Cusco

The tour I joined was a GAP Adventures trip and was really fantastically organised and run. It ended up being three couples and me for most of the time, but we all got along so well and I only felt like a nigel every so often! The whole Inca & pre-Hispanic plus the colonial history of Peru is so fascinating. In Lima we saw some beautiful colonial buildings like an old Franciscan monastery with catacombs underneath, and big city cathedral built on an old Inca temple (sorry don´t have my notes with me and wouldn´t spell the names right anyway!!). On day two we flew to Cusco (highest we went, about 3600 metres altitude) which is the historic heart of the Inca empire, though the spanish conquest has had a huge impact on its appearance and culture. Fantastic food here and all the classic peruvian handicrafts - plenty of colourful weaving and knitting - llamas and tiny andean people - I really felt like a gigantor towering over all the locals! Helped to escape from the maddeningly persistent street sellers and beggars though with a few long strides :-)

Machu picchu

From Cusco we took a train to Aguas Calientes (meaning hot water) which is the town at the base of Machupicchu. They have some hot springs there (hence the name) but after seeing the colours of the ´natural medicinal waters´ and thinking about the hundreds of dirty smelly Inca trail walkers who are soaking there every day I gave that a pass and read my book in the bar with the river flowing next to me and the shadows slowly creeping across the mountains.

Machu Picchu

Taking the bus up to Machupicchu the next morning at 5.30am was another moment out of a dream. We walked to the top of the site and watched the sun rise over the surrounding peaks. Apart from the famous ruins, it´s in the most amazing location - towering mountains on every side and steep, steep cliffs dropping down to the Uragamba River (meaning ´Ballet of the Spiders´) which cuts its way all around their feet. The river was actually called something more like ´Sacred River´ in Inca times and they believed that it was a reflection of the Milky Way, so the cities they built around the area are built in the shape of constellations - Machupicchu was built in the shape of the condor; Cusco is a puma and another site we visited called Ollyantatamba really looks just like a llama.

Machu picchu

It was so amazing to be there, I really can´t describe it and the photos won´t do it justice either. My camera actually decided to take a day off after I took my first two pictures. You can imagine what that felt like, but luckily S came to the rescue and loaned me his spare so I still have some awesome pics. Speaking of travelling companions, two of them got engaged up there at sunrise so that was very exciting and romantic. We had a few celebratory Pisco Sours that night!

I´m glad we didn´t end up walking the Inca Trail as it sounds like a really hard slog (4 days and we just didn´t have time), but we did climb Waynapicchu which is the pointy mountain in all the classic Machuupicchu photos. Muito muito steep but it was such a great feeling to get to the top. Amazingly there was perfect phone coverage all over the place up there and it was the perfect time to get a hello message from a favourite person at home. That day was really just perfect. I got to be there right at the place I think I most wanted to see in the world right from childhood. I don´t think I really realised it until I was there but that was it.

Jungle

The last few days we stayed at an eco-lodge in the Peruvian part of the Amazon rainforest. Another amazing time and completely different from the other parts of the trip. My highlight was seeing a two-toed sloth on our spotlighting tour on our first night, and also swimming in the lake where 30 minutes earlier we had caught a few little pirahnas. The guide didn´t tell us until afterwards about the black caiman (crocodiles) that also lived there but apparently they don´t attack humans......... often. Plenty of mosquito bites even though we were wearing long clothes and stinky insect repellent all the time. We were all pretty stinky actually when it was 29 degrees and 90 per cent humidity. The lodge was in a fantastic location - 45 minute plane trip from Cusco (it would take more than 24 hours by car apparently due to the condition of the road), then one hour in a bus and two hours up the Tambopata River on motorised canoe. Right in the middle of a national park and wildlife all around. Falling asleep each night to the sounds of frogs, monkeys and cicadas I had the best sleep of the trip so far.

Jungle lunch

Once again this wee email doesn´t come close to describing the experience. You should all definitely put Peru and the rest of the continent on your must-visit list. I honestly didn´t think that South America would really be my kind of continent but it is the most amazing place. I would love to come back and have a look at Chile and Ecuador one day. Definitely not just a once in a lifetime trip (as Wolf would say - what do you mean once!!)

So that was the journey. Maybe I´ll write another tying-everything-up kind of email when I get home (plus pics from Peru) but for now I am happy to be heading back to see the next things that I most want to see in the world - my fella, family and friends. Can´t wait to catch up with you all.

Tchau amigos, Jill xoxo

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Music and passion are always the fashion

Ola, Me again! Here in Rio de Janeiro and about to head off for a final churrascaria dinner together before we go our seperate ways and I head to Peru tomorrow.

Staying in a hotel only about 150 metres from the South Atlantic Ocean and Copacabana Beach, and you can even see it from our window if you kind of bend your neck the right way.

Vive Brasil

Not much time for emailing but a few pics to make up my word limit!

And I thought of some more things to tell you about Brazil: the condensed version. I can elaborate when I see you if you like...

Minimum wage is 380 reais per month which is about $230 Australian dollars. Beer costs only about 2 reais for a long neck which is how it's usually served, with enough vegemite glasses for everyone: cheaper than milk. Haven't seen much fresh milk either, even in the country, all UHT or frozen.

Forgot to tell you there is always cake for breakfast!! You just have to carefully check that it's not fish cake. Also forgot to say that the phone company 'Oi' - that means 'Hi' here!

74% of the population is Catholic which accounts for 134 million people. The Pope was here a couple of weeks ago - he must be pretty happy with this statistic!

Ah that will have to do. I'm home in 11 days but there is a whole other country to explore before then!

Signing off from Brazil (tchau)

Jill xo

PS. Pics are Typical lunch in Brazil - note rice and beans ;-)...

Pork anyone?

... the amazing view from the Sugerloaf or Pão de Açúcar...

From the Sugarloaf

... and the girl from Ipanema (sun!)

The girl from Ipanema

:-)

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Monday, September 17, 2007

When my baby smiles at me I go to Rio.......

Ola everyone,

Last day of exchange today! In some ways it has really flown and in others it still feels like we just arrived. It will be quite strange to have to navigate ourselves around and not have a schedule for every day - also to have to pay for things (in 5 weeks I have only bought myself a meal once) . The program has been really fantastic but we're all pretty tired and definitely ready for some personal space. Onwards to Rio tomorrow and probably a day of sleeping and lying by the pool - if the weather is good that is. It has been freezing here in Juiz de Fora, I'm wearing the explorers and scarf I didn't think I would need until Peru!

Juiz de Fora

Thought I would jot down some random/funny facts about Brazil that haven't made it into an email yet, as we only have a few more days in this crazy country.

The main telephone company here is called 'Oi' !! :-)

A motel in Brazil is a very different thing to those in Australia. A hotel is a place for holiday accommodation, but a motel is a pay by the hour establishment for the 'purpose of sexual relations - Brazil is a very sensual country' (as explained by our very proper english translator). Most people here live with their parents until they get married but would take their 'namorado/a' (boy or girlfriend) to a motel for privacy and to show respect to their families. Also handy if you are having an extra-marital fling or pick-up in the local samba joint. We have seen some excellent names including Motel Love Story, Motel Free Love and Motel Sexy Love te he.

Kids only attend school either in the morning from 7.30am to 12.30pm or the afternoon from 1pm to 5.30pm. Many schools become universities at night so they are operating for up to 18 hours a day. Brazilians that we have met are very motivated to study and improve themselves - kids might go to school in the morning then a special english college in the afternoon. Many uni students are studying two degrees at once - one during the day and one at night. Many adults also study english or spanish as the job market is very competitive and you need all the extra skills you can get.

Someone told us yesterday that Brazil is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. Many young people that we have met have their own business - or two. Every man and his dog is out selling bits and pieces on the street to passing cars, or has opened up a little shop or bar in their garage.

School bus kombi style

There are lots of young women married to old men, though apparently only if the man is rich. It's quite difficult to guess the age of people over here. Women are ALWAYS in stilettos. Jeans are standard uniform at school and in the workplace.

Lunch is the main meal of the day and most people have a two hour lunch break from work. We went to the most amazing place yesterday for lunch - a 'churrascaria' which served all types of BBQ food plus Japanese cuisine. I tried sashimi for the first time - tuna and it was really good!

The advice given by our friend Micchi was to refuse all the salad, chips and extras that the waitors try to offer you and just go for the meat. W and K were very dedicated carnivores but I tried lots of different salads, fried bananas, BBQ cheese (like haloumi), fried potatoes and manjoica, sushi, BBQ garlic bread as well as the meat, all BBQed on long skewers over charcoal - chicken, pork, beef, chicken hearts (no thanks been there done that), fish and sausages. The best meat is this stuff called 'picania' (not sure of the spelling) which I think is beef backstrap with a thick crust of fat, served very thin and quite rare. Ooh it's making me hungry talking about it - must be lunch time.

Everyone has one of these, they are beside your plate - when you've had enough you turn it over to NO - if it says YES they'll keep on bringing the meat!

Sim - Nao

Tchau for now - only four more days of portuguese then I have to get out the spanish phrasebook!! Não fala espagnol!!!

Jill xoxoxoxoxo


PS. Peru photos now up on Flickr - nearly up to that part of the story!

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