Thursday, 5 July 2018

Welcome to paradise

After Eastern Island our next stop was French Polynesia. We landed at Papeete, which is the capital of the archipelago and the main island, Tahiti. All international flights arrive there, therefore it is the most developed city. However, it has a paradise environment, definitely far from a city look. On our first day the only thing we did was to arrive and go to bed straightaway, because it was after midnight, actually after one in the morning. Despite arriving so late, we were welcomed by a group of people singing and dancing some traditional Polynesian songs. They gave us flower collars as well; this is how they greet visitors there. On the following day our adventure started!

We began our day by going to buy some groceries for the next two weeks. Everything was so expensive due to the fact that the archipelago is far away from everything. To give you an idea, the closest country is Cook Islands (more than one thousand km) and the closest one able to provide some goods is New Zealand (more than four thousand km). After we bought our groceries (ham, cheese, bread, canned food, frozen food, etc.), we had breakfast and departed to our first destination there, Moorea Island. The picture below shows the view from our hotel, you can see Papeete's Airport and Moorea Island in the background.

From the airplane we could see the beauty of Moorea, even before arriving there. Our first day was dedicated solely to enjoying the beach and the sunset. The day after, apart from repeating the same activities obviously, we went to watch a group of people who were tanking part in the interaction with dolphins. We didn't participate in it because we prefer join such activities with wild animals plus we are a bit stingy, hehehe. We also did some snorkelling in hotel's  coral gardens and a bit of stand up paddle, all free activities, what a coincidence! ;-)

During dinner we've enjoyed a show of traditional Polynesian dances.

The following day we flew to Tahaa, the next island on our itinerary. We were welcomed with flower collars and a welcoming drink for a change. Once settled in our room, beach and tereré. When we went snorkelling among the bungalows, Maria saw a ray for the first time in her life! We ended that day watching a spectacular sunset! And as you can see in the pictures, we weren't alone.

By the evening we had eaten diner and watched a parade of black pearl necklaces. French Polynesia is the biggest producer of natural black pearls in the world. Obviously the parade was to advertise to those willing to spend a small fortune on the pearls. As usually, we just observed. The day after we went snorkelling in the hotel's coral gardens and them just relaxed in the pool. It goes without saying that the snorkelling was awesome. In the afternoon we watched Michael Phelps finishing second at Rio's Olympic Games while eating a hot ham and cheese sandwich. It was pretty strange because he always finishes first. For dinner we took part in a barbecue nearby the pool offered by the hotel, which actually was our first barbecue outside of South America. What a big disappointment for us as there were a few pieces of meat, so I thought the word barbecue was an overstatement, hahaha.

On the next day we did a tour on which we saw some sharks and also went to visit vanilla plantations; We tried vanilla rum. We went to visit a pearl farm and learnt about the production process from the beginning to the end. The next day Bora Bora was waiting for us!

After a failed attempt to watch the sunrise, we took our flight to Bora Bora. We landed and after we checked-in we went to relax on the beach, we saw some rays visiting the hotel's beach because the employees feed them daily. The day after we did parasailing for the first time. We were just speechless as it was stunning: the water colour was something that we hadn't seen before, with different shades of blue, green, turquoise, etc. It's something that pictures can't really show. During the afternoon for a change we went snorkelling and then just enjoyed the sunset.

On the following day we went diving for the first time after our basic diving course. We did two dives where we saw, among other things, different types of sharks, octopus (they disguise themselves incredibly well, try to find the octopus in the top left corner of the picture below), manta rays and maaany different fishes. The visibility was amazing, more than 30 meters for sure! In the afternoon we took part in an event offered by our hotel, which was wine tasting along with some finger foods. Of course we enjoyed the chance to drink and eat for free all we could! ;-) After the event we continued drinking with some Americans whom we met at the wine event.

We began the day with a tour during which we swam with sharks and rays, something very interesting and useful to help decrease our fear of these creatures. The rays were very gentle and it was possible to touch them without any problems. Later on we enjoyed a "barbecue" on a tiny paradisiacal island, imagine that! After going back to the hotel we enjoyed one more sunset with a delicious tereré. The day after we departed to Rangiroa, which was unfortunately the last island we were to visit.

The main reason why we went to Rangiroa was diving. Our first day was dedicated to relaxing, a bit of the beach time and tereré. At the end of that day we went to a place where around afternoon time it was possible to see dolphins passing by.  Unfortunately, we could only see four, but at least we watched a beautiful sunset.

We began the next day with two dives and as usual in that place, the visibility was excellent and the sea was full of life. It was our first time doing a drift dive, that is, we jumped from the boat and the current carried us, so swimming was unnecessary. It seemed like we were flying! And as if that weren't enough, after our first dive a few curious dolphins swam beside our boat for five minutes.

The day after we went diving again, unfortunately it was the last one. Again we saw a dolphin, however this time still underwater, which was very exciting. Marine life in French Polynesia is amazing! We ended up with tereré enjoying our beach time and we did some kayaking as well. The next day, one more leg of our journey started, which was our trip to the land of kangaroos.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Visiting Eastern Island

As soon as we arrived on Eastern Island, we could appreciate Mataveri Airport, a mix of rustic and modern construction. We were welcomed by a local group playing some traditional songs. After we picked up our backpacks, we went directly to our couchsurfing host's house and then to rent a scooter to be able to roam around the island during the three days we wanted to spend on the island.

After we had lunch, which by the way was a spectacular fish and octopus barbecue prepared by our host Manuel, we went to watch the sunset at Tahai, which is an archaeological site where we had our first contact with Moais Statues. After the sunset we had a rest because our plans for that night were to go fishing. It is good to point out that our host is a big enthusiast of spear fishing. In the end, however we gave up, as it was too cold for us to go underwater, so we ended up just enjoying a beautiful sky full of stars.

The second day on the island was a Sunday, therefore we took the chance to participate in the celebration of a mass in Rapa Nui, which is the language spoken by the original inhabitants of that island. Since the mass was celebrated in a mix of Spanish and Rapa Nui, we were able to understand most of it. We felt like in Paraguay, where sometimes the mass is celebrated in a mix of Guaraní and Spanish.

After the mass we went to Hanga Roa, which offers a panoramic view of the island. Later, we went to Rano Kau volcano and Orongo archaeological site. There, we saw some of the houses where the first inhabitants lived; we also learnt about the "birdman" ceremony as well, which was celebrated every July.

The ceremony consisted of a race where participants have swim to a nearby island and back.

Later on, we went to try the famous tuna empanadas that are made on the island and for lunch it was fish on the grill again!

In the afternoon we went to Haunga volcano, from where it is possible to see one of the most famous beaches on the island called Ovahe. After that we went to Anakena beach, to  appreciate the moais Ahu Nau Nau and Ahu Hure Huke and enjoy the beach, of course.

For our last day we had something special to do which was to watch the sunrise at Ahu Tongariki moai site. It was definitely worth the effort!! We went to Rano Raraku volcano, where we could appreciate the view of the lake in the former crater. Nearby we saw many moais, giant statues, some lying down, some almost intact and others crumbling in pieces, etc. It is believed that moais were made in this place.

During the afternoon we went to Ahu Akahanga and Ahu Tahai again, this time to visit the places in sunlight. To finish our visit to this mystic Island in great style, we went to Pea Beach to watch our last sunset there. After some roaming around Hanga Roa Town, we finally went to the airport to wait for our flight to our next stop, Oceania! 

Thursday, 7 June 2018

3 days in Santiago

Our first "encounter" with Chile was during the flight, while crossing the Andes Range, on the horizon we could see the mountains covered with snow. For us who had never seen snow before, it was very exciting; a landscape completely different from what we were used to.

We had 3 full days to visit Santiago de Chile, so we chose to focus on the capital solely and forget the nearby attractions, such as the wineries, Valparaiso, Viña del mar or the ski resorts.

On the first day we went to Bellavista which is a neighbourhood full of graffiti, restaurant and bars where you can grab some finger foods or drink a couple of beers. We could see many workers enjoying happy hour promotions in many bars. In the same neighbourhood we went to "La Chascona", one of the houses in which Pablo Neruda lived.

Our next stop was Baquedano square, which is a very special place where soccer fans celebrate . We enjoyed our delicious tereré there until lunch time. For lunch, we chose to go to "La Fuente Alemana" which is a very traditional place, something similar to "Lido Bar" in Asuncion. We had a pork sandwich called "lomito completo"! To give you an idea about its size, let me just say we could only finish one each.
In the afternoon, we decided to first visit the Museum of Fine Arts and then go to the Central Market. Although we are not art lovers, we found the first one very interesting, however, the second one was very disappointing. We had been expecting a place full of colours, aromas and flavours. In other words, a place full of life. However, what we found was a very touristy place with plenty of restaurants fighting for tourists and few stands selling fish and seafood.

To finish the day we went to "La Piojera" Bar which has been open since 1896 and became even more famous in 1922 when, according to a legend, the former President Don Arturo Alessandri Palma said something like "So you brought me to this lice nest"  after the director of the Investigation Police suggested going to a place where ordinary people go.
At the bar, we have enjoyed a "terremoto", a drink the place is famous for and yes, we can say that the place is a "lice nest" ;-) Highly recommended!!!

We started our second day with a visit to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, a very interesting place established in order to never forget what Chilean people had suffered under Pinochet's dictatorship.

Later we went to "Quinta Normal" a very big park where the National Museum, the Railway Museum and the medical college of the "Universidad de Chile" are located.

After enjoying a good tereré, we had lunch at de la Vega Market, a suggestion of our Couchsurfing hosts Rodrigo and Daniela, the place was a pleasant surprise, after all we finally found a true market frequented by locals! Aside from enjoying the market itself, we had the chance to try some from Chilean dishes. We got "pastel de choclo", Delicious!

Finally, we went to Santa Lucia Hill, where we could see the city from above, plus it was a good spot to watch the sunset.

For the last day we scheduled a guided tour to "Palacio de la Moneda", which is the President's office. During the visit we could learn a bit about the place, its history and visit some rooms, plus see the coins made for every president. Nearby the palace we saw the changing of the guards ceremony  and a flag-raising ceremony of the bicentennial flag as well.

Later on we went to visit the " Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda", a kind of museum with different subjects, always very interesting. At the time of our visit there was an exhibition of Egyptian mummies.

After lunch, we went to one more museum, called the National History Museum. The museum shows Chilean history through many objects, including weapons and indigenous objects. Later, we went to check out San Cristobal Hill. We had two options available: we could take a cable car and pay the return ticket or just walk uphill for free. Of course we chose the latter. At last, after almost two hours of walking, we were rewarded with amazing views from the top and a drink called "mote con huesillos", which was very tasteful regardless its aspect.

After one more sunset, we gave up walking the whole way down, and eventually took the cable car, paying half the price of the ticket.

By the end of the day, we said bye to Santiago with a great barbecue and a couple of beers at Rodrigo and Daniela's house. The following day we departed to Eastern Island!