The (very long) Road to Rio: Part 1 – Chile

Rio was never part of the plan, but I’m so glad it changed thanks to some extra time, being under budget and a very cheap flight home from there. This gave us time to take in some of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil over the space of the last 4 weeks of the trip.

Exiting Bolivia on the top of the Andes after a 3 day trip across remote salt flats and lagoons we were in need of a warm shower. As we sat in the bus down the mountains from the border into the town of San Pedro de Atacama we realised how much we were going to miss Bolivia. Driving down the Chiliean highway we could have been back in Europe, it all looked too sterile. The desire to return to Bolivia was reinforced further upon discovering the prices of basics like food and accommodation in Chile. A decent room for 2 in Bolivia would typically cost $15, in Chile a rough room approached triple that price! Our budget was in for a kicking over the following weeks.

At this point, I wasn’t too impressed with Chile – I’m northern. Now that doesn’t mean I’m cheap, I just like value for money! We decided not to spend too much time in Chile and hopped on a bus to Antofagasta the following day. After catching a movie and gorging on some fast food, there wasn’t too much more to keep us occupied in this company town and with a big gulp boarded a 21 hour bus to Valparaiso. Yes, 21 hours. I can barely do a 7 hour flight so can you imagine the moaning on a 21 hour budget bus? Feel very sorry for Kat.

Arriving in Valparaiso late the next day felt like an achievement (surprising considering all we’d done was sit on our backsides for nearly a day)! Valpa was one of those cities I’d always wanted to see and it really didn’t disappoint. Built on steep slopes overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the city grew exponentially through shipping and the attractiveness to European immigrants through the 19th Century. Were it not for the Panama Canal I’m sure Valparaiso would have continued to grow and rival places like San Francisco.

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The buildings in Valpa reflect the European history of the place alongside a sizable British influence including a British Arch and handy funiculars to take people up the steep slopes. They’re not actually that tough to walk up but I suppose that was typically British for the time. Add to this some of the best chips I’ve ever eaten as part of local dish, chorrillana, topped with steak, sausage, onions, eggs as well as chilli and ketchup. Ideal for a carbohydrate binge! To top it off, we could also get proper, tasty, dark beer. Just the change we needed.

I’m a bit of a wanderer and can happily kill time getting aimlessly lost in a city, watching the world go by. Valparaiso was the perfect city for that. Away from the colonial architecture, Valparaiso is brightened up by vibrant street art and an edgy side that gives the seaside city a real soul.

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Which is more than can be said for our next and final destination in Chile, Santiago. From the soul and attitude of Valparaiso, Santiago isn’t so fun. Writing this a few weeks after being there I’m actually struggling what to say about the place but for one thing that springs to mind…..coffee.

It’s not the quality, it’s not local sources, it’s about where it’s served. The world over you will see the typical Starbucks sign where you will be served a perfectly adequate cup of coffee (or other tasty beverage) in a homogeneous setting. I say that as a fan of Starbucks. You can do this in Santiago if you like, or you can go to a ‘legs cafe’.

In a legs cafe, found all over the downtown area, your coffee will be served short, black and with a glass of water, by a lady wearing a very short skirt and a rather big smile (enough to make even the British leave a tip)! I don’t know why we don’t haves these in the City of London.

And that was a quick blast through Chile. I’d love to return one day and see more but we had to move on, to Argentina! To be continued….

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It’s amazing what you learn in less than 2 weeks

I didn’t decide to go travelling for a bit of a jolly. Though I admit lounging on tropical beaches and climbing volcanoes certainly isn’t without its charms!

Travel has its charms.

Part of the reason for choosing Latin America was to learn Spanish and it’s going relatively well. Less than 2 weeks ago my Spanish was pretty much limited to “Dos cervezas por favor” following spending time in English speaking Belize and the formerly British Bay Islands in Honduras. Now however, I’m relatively confident to attempt a conversation with local Guatemalans about last night’s match vs. the USA as well as the ongoing Euro 2012 tournament while getting a pretty decent hair cut this afternoon!

I’ve not been in the learning mode for a while, probably since University or a few CIMA exams until I decided accountancy wasn’t for me. I expected it to be tough to get back into the discipline of learning but it’s been relatively easy.

I’m currently in Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala, which is a bit of a hub for those wishing to learn Spanish. For $100 a week I’m receiving one on one tuition 8am to noon from Rolando at the Antigüeña Spanish Academy and I couldn’t make a better investment. I can now pretty much converse in the present (and some basic future) tense with a small Spanish vocabulary which is growing with time. By the end of the week I should be able to use the past tense as well.

Time to hit the books.

I’ve long been embarrassed that my foreign language skills have been limited to some basic French and a few words of Mandarin.Following my crash course in Español in Guatemala I’m not only feeling confident about the rest of my trip from here to Chile but also (fingers crossed) utilising what I’ve learnt in the future.

Gracias Guatemala, yo estoy aprendiendo mucho aquí!

What I’m trying to achieve …

I’ve wanted to take a big trip for a very long time, since before University, then after University, then after my first job. Now I’ve got a good bit of experience working in two very different companies I feel confident in getting myself a job on my return (or maybe even while I’m away). My current employer has also kindly left a potential opening for me to return to depending on workload, very much appreciated.

Despite this I still want this gap year / trip to be stay relevant and give me something to stand out and help me get a job either on my return or while I’m abroad. That’s partly why I’m writing this blog (if I can entertain the readers and say something insightful, then hopefully it bodes well for getting employed.) I’ve got a few things in mind that I want to do while I’m away that I think will be good for the CV as well as my enjoyment.

The first of these is to learn a language! I get incredibly irritated when I can’t speak another language, then I realise I didn’t make the most of the opportunities for French or German at school and my ability to speak these languages (albeit moderately) has died away a little. This is why I hope to take Spanish lessons in Central America and immerse myself in a language dominant across almost an entire continent. I know languages are desirable to employers but it would make me feel pretty good if I’m speaking like a local in a Madrid meeting!

Next up in volunteering. I’ve always been quite fortunate and somewhat spoilt so I want to try and do something that will help people less well off than myself. I’m looking for the right project, somewhere I can really offer something rather than just show up look silly and leave a few weeks later. Watch this space. I’d like to think that by doing something a bit out of my comfort zone I’m going to learn new skills, many people will know I’m not exactly the most practical person.

Point 3. Business. It might be a bit of a bus man’s holiday but I’m fascinated by different ways of doing business. I intend to write about this from time to time and see how economies I’m less aware of are developing. I’ve heard so many things about the entrepreneurship in countries like Chile and Costa Rica I’d like to see that and share it. You never know, I might find a job there or it could be useful in the future. It’s good to know about these things 😉

From here the ideas get a little less relevant to helping me get a job, it’s more about life experience and having a bit of fun. I’m in love with Scuba Diving thanks to my Mum making me try it on a holiday to Greece. Since then I’ve got my PADI Advanced Open Water Qualification and have dived in Egypt. Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Indonesia & Cape Verde. I intend doing an awful lot more of this, including diving the world’s best dive site at the Blue Hole in Belize. It’s also time for my girlfriend, Kat, to learn how to dive. I’d love to be able to work with this passion so I might keep my eye out for somewhere to get to the level of Divemaster. Anyone with tips about good places for this or looking to train people up, give me a shout!

I’ve got a bit of a thirst for trying new activities and sports. I’ve learnt fencing (awesome) and snowboarding (painful) in the past year, now I’ve got surfing in El Salvador in my mind too.

Photography has been another new addiction of mine over the past year or so, it used to be something I thought was a bit poncy but now I’m finding myself spending a lot of time on Flickr but I’ll post some of the better ones on here.

Apart from that, I’m here to make the rest of you incredibly jealous 😛