Tag Archives: solo travel

Pucon ist wunderbar!

I love everything about Germany (well, except for their history of starting wars and slaughtering innocent people by the millions), so when I found out there’s a town in Southern Chile that looks like it’s straight out of Bavaria, I had to check it out. After a number of run-ins with the locals, Santiago was getting a bit hot for me anyway, so I went to the airport and told a passing pilot, “Hey bro, take me to Pucon!” He told me to go lay an egg, but I was able to find a flight that was heading that way, so I took it.

It was worth the trip, because Pucon is absolutely beautiful. It’s nestled on the banks of the crystal-clear Lago Villarrica and surrounded by densely forested mountains. Oh, and there’s a massive fuck-off volcano looming over everything, that’s so magical it’s hard to believe it’s real. The big fella is known as Volcán Villarrica and he’s 2,860m tall, so he’s quite spectacular and extremely active (just like me!). Pucon is a tourist town, with adventure-seekers from around the world rocking up to go hiking, white water rafting, and skydiving. There are also tonnes of good restaurants and lively bars, so if you’d rather sit around and get drunk and fat, you’re in luck.

As I strutted around, I really did feel like I was in München or Wanknōbbel – not surprising, seeing as the area was largely settled by sausage guzzlers 100 years ago. The buildings have been lovingly constructed in the traditional German style, and most of the people look European. The only thing that broke the illusion was the lack of schnitzels the size of my head. So I smashed about a thousand empenadas instead, then bought some el cheapo (my Spanish is already getting better!) beer to drink by the el agua. The weather was miserable, but I was enchanted by the scenery around me.

With so many fun-lovin’ people in town, it came as no surprise that my hostel was absolutely packed and full of life. The Chili Kiwi is right on the lake and has a great little bar stocked with a wide range delicious local beers, so I set about testing them all out. I’m pretty thorough when it comes to that sort of thing, so I ended up drinking close to my body weight and getting riotously drunk. There’s a party atmosphere there, so a good, safe and responsible time was had by all (except when a few of us started drinking a mixture of beer and red wine out of a flower vase).

As the night got blurrier, I wound up picking a fight with a pot plant and passing out in the toilet, thus ensuring that none of the good sorts in the hostel wanted anything to do with me. The next morning I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand to look at the volcano, let alone climb it, so I just sat around the hostel watching episodes of Becker and eating cold completos I found in the bin. I live a full life.

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A Gran Torre Day Out

Santiago is a monstrous metropolis, but like most South American cities it’s not exactly overflowing with skyscrapers. Most of the buildings are about as high as Danny De Vito’s dick, with low-rise walk-ups spreading for kilometres in every direction. There is one high spot in the Chilean capital, however – the Gran Torre Santiago, which at 300m is the tallest building in Latin America. Sure, it’s no Burj Khalifa, Ostankino Radio Tower or Riga Love Construction, but it’s a record holder, so I had to check it out.

The tower is only a few kilometres from the centre of town, and within walking distance of Bellavista, so I decided to hike over there. One thing unique about Santiago is that at most sets of lights there are little blokes who wander into the street to entertain stopped drivers. Many of them are quite talented, and put on extravagant displays involving fire twirling, gymanstics or wandering around on stilts. But then I found a bloke who didn’t quite have his routine down pat. I saw him have five or six cracks at juggling his bowling pins, and he fucked up every time. As he was crawling around on the ground I gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, padre, if this doesn’t work out I’m sure you can go back to your regular job as a brain surgeon.”

Alright, let’s get back on topic – that massive fucking building. It’s a bit pricey to get up to the viewing platform 15,000 Chile-pesos, or $25 Aussie – but I paid it because I doubt I’ll be back this way anytime soon. Unlike some other towers around the world, there’s no line up, so I was able to climb straight into the lift, nod dumbly at the pretty guide as she told me all sorts of fascinating things in a language I don’t understand, and seconds later I was at the top of the world.

The view is bloody good up there, and much better than from San Cristobel, due to being situated within the actual city. Santiago seems to ramble on forever in every direction, with every patch of land built on. Smog clings to the place, making everything look heavy and dirty. Neat streets with leafy suburbs nestle up against slums and ghettos. The putrid Mapocho River splits the city in half, with its brown waters winding through the suburbs before disappearing from sight. From up there, the contrasts of Santiago are obvious.

In saying that, ‘up there’ isn’t really that high. In fact, I was around nine times higher whilst paragliding in Manilla last weekend. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a hero. I made sure to let a group of attractive young Chilean ladies know all about my exploits, but they pretended not to understand me and then sent their soccer shirt-wearing boyfriends over to have a quiet word with me. I couldn’t understand them and their breath smelt like they’d been eating turd-filled empenadas, so I raced for the lift to get some fresh air.

I’d heard about a bi-curious park that was nearby and being bi-curious myself (in that I’m curious to watch bisexual women having sex with each other) I trotted over. Imagine my disappointment when I realised it was actually the Bicentennial Park, built to celebrate Chile’s independence or something like that. It’s still a nice place, with some decent water features, unusual statues and pleasant plants. It’s also the only park I’ve found that isn’t overrun with grubby homeless blokes. Which is probably why, when I collapsed under a tree to sleep off my lingering hangover, I was soon whacked in the nuts with a billy club and dragged out the front gates by a couple of overweight guards with half their completo lunches spilt down their shirts.

Shaken by my brutal confrontation, I grabbed a six-pack of Becker and drank away my sorrows in a dark alleyway whilst listening to the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans on my phone. When I finally emerged, I was confronted by a pervert in a kangaroo costume who was stopping traffic so that he could dance lewdly in the street. I was surprised to see a kangaroo drunker and more inappropriate than me, so I dropped my shorts and wiggled around whilst asking the ladies seated nearby if they wanted a bite of my completo. I didn’t have any takers, but I did end up with 2000 pesos in my pocket and a few sympathetic smiles, so maybe those street performers have the right idea.

Santiago Shenanigans

The winds carried me and my bright orange paraglider across the oceans. Over Samoa, where the volcanoes are angry and the people are wonderful. Past Fiji, with its golden beaches and endless reefs. I even swung past Easter Island, which is full of heads bigger and uglier than your ex-girlfriend’s. When the breeze finally dropped me from its loving arms, I found myself in a strange city surrounded by imposing mountains and populated by the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. I asked a little bloke who was digging through a bin where I was, and he told me, “Senor, you is in San Diego!”

“No I’m fucking not,” I told him, looking around at the throngs of people who swept around us. “I’ve been to San Diego and the women have arse cracks you could park a Sid Fogg’s in. And I haven’t had a wannabe tough guy try to stab me with a rusty kitchen knife yet. Where am I really?”

“Not San Diego, fuckwit,” he spat, whilst juggling a soccer ball. “You is in chilly!”

“It’s not chilly, you goose, it’s about 24 degrees and sunny,” I chuckled, then swaggered off to check out my surroundings.

Turns out I was in a place called Santiago, Chile, which I would’v learnt earlier if the locals didn’t run me around in circles. I traded my paraglider in for a six-pack of Austral and started exploring, and ended up discovering one of the most unusual cities I’ve been to It can be beautifu one minute, with elegant European buildings, exotic parks and brightly-coloured houses, and hideous the next, with poverty and dirt smeared everywhere. In many ways it reminds me of South African cities, with two disparate worlds somehow existing together.

Santiago is known for its food, and I was bombarded with options as I walked around. The mouth-watering scent of sizzling beef and chicken wafts through the streets, and it seems like the locals are constantly shoving something in their gobs. The main options are empanadas, which are a relation of the glorious meat pie, and completos, which are fully-loaded hotdogs. My dad has often regaled me with stories of all the foot-longs he gobbled in South America, so I was relieved to discover he was actually talking about hotdogs, and not man-dogs. There are also plenty of pizza places and hamburger shops, so if you’re looking to chuck on some weight this is where you should be.

I saw a big hill with some sort of statue at the top, so I downed an icy cold can in one gulp and sauntered that way to see what was up. The path up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal is poorly signposted and difficult to find (and possibly closed, since there was a big barrier in the way), but that didn’t stop meclimbing up there. The path is poorly maintained and eroded in many places, but the sweeping views back over Santiago make it more than worthwhile. Once I made it to the top, I realised there’s a cable carand some sort of train that canbe usedto scale it easily, but unless you’re a fat cunt or you once stepped on a landmine, I suggest making the 45 minute trek.

The main reason for scaling San Cristóbal is to check out the view, but that’s not all that’s up there. The statue, as it turns out, is of the Virgin Mary and stands 14 metres tall. Alright, she’s not as big as certain other hilltop religious statues I’ve encountered, but she’s still pretty impressive. There are also cafes (that don’t serve beer – trust me, I asked) and some little museums that I didn’t bother with. If you ever visit Santiago, you’ll end up at San Cristóbal at some point it would be like going to New York and not visiting the Statue of Liberty, or going to Wyong and not shitting on the floor of the public toilets.

I was pulling down my shorts so that I could takeone of my popular Drunk and Jobless World Tour Nude Selfies™ when a couple of horse police (police on horses, I mean. Not horses who have found emplyment in the police force) rocked up and politely suggested I fuckoff. I’m grabbed a cheap room in a hipster-filled part of the city known as Bellavista, which if full of bars and live music joints. Energetic Chilean rock bounces between the intricately-painted buildings and smoking hotsenoritas walk around in next to nothing, so it’s the place to be. The bars are great, with plenty of al fresco seating options, but the beers are a bit pricey – around six Aussie dollaridgeridoos each. The quality is top notch though, with Kross Golden proving a standout.

Needless to say, I got smashed on cheap supermarket beer in a nearby park and passed out halfway through eating a chicken and olive stuffed empenada. I’m stoked to be exploring my sixth continent (which means I’ve hit them all, except for the one that’s run by penguins) and have decided to hang around for the next nine or so weeks, so stick around for more mesmerising entries. Chile is already surprising and delighting me, and I can’t wait to see what else this bonkers country has to offer.

Patonga to Mt Wondabyne Overnight Hike

The seaside village of Patonga is one of the nicest spots on Central Coast of NSW, with calm waters, golden sand and spectacular views across the water to the Northern Beaches. If you just want to rock up, have a decent feed at the pub and enjoy the serenity, that’s great, but the area is best explored by hiking along the section of The Great North Walk that leads out of town. The views are tops, the track is well maintained, and for the more adventurous, it’s possible to make it over to Mount Wondabyne for an overnight stopover in the bush.

The track is easy to find; just follow the beach east from the pub, and you can’t miss it as it winds up into the thick coverage of the headland (but click here for in-depth directions if you’re worried about getting lost and being forced to live on tree sap and wallaby dung). It’s not long before the path offers up stunning views back over Patonga, across the legendary Hawkesbury River, and out towards Palm Beach. Warrah Lookout is around 2km from the beach and fenced, but there are heaps of other spots along the walk that offer more open views (just stay away from the cliff if you’ve spent the past four hours at the pub).

Most people turn around at this point, but if you’ve got enough provivions, the walk continues another 8km up to Mount Wondabyne (and another 120km or so up to Newcastle – you’d want more than a 600mL bottle of Coke and a bag of Twisties in your backpack to tackle that, though). It’s a good walk, crossing creeks and dipping into valleys while the cicadas sing loudly and birds flutter around in the trees. Mount Wondabyne is remote and beautiful, with a pak that offers jaw-dropping views out towards the coast.

I tried to hike to Mount Wondabyne a year ago, but had to abandon my adventure when I was caught up in a ferocious electrical storm and had to hide in a cave (and subsequently spent the night drying off on my lounge whilst watching the mid-80s sporting classic, Rudy). This time, I headed out in winds that were approaching 50km/h, because I’m an idiot. The wind was smashing in and getting worse all the time as I arrived and, to make it worse, the drought meant that the ground at the campsite was so hard I could barely pitch my tent (ladies, I swear that’s the only time I’ve had that problem). As I tried to sleep, the wind was gusting in at close to 90km/h, which was loud enough to tear me from my slumber as it tried to tear my shelter off me.

It’s possible to continue along the track and spend the next night at Mooney Mooney or Somersby, but my car was back at Patonga, so just after sunrise I retraced my steps. I was tired and grumpy after a bad night’s sleep, and things were made worse when I crossed paths with a couple of good-looking Danish sheilas who were heading up to sleep at Mount Wondabyne that night. If I’d headed up a day later, I could’ve shared a tent with them, because there’s looked quality. To lift my mood, I nipped into the pub for a quick beer… which turned into an all-day session, and I ended up having to pitch my tent in a local park to spend the night.

WHERE: Patonga, at the southern end of the Central Coast, in NSW, Australia
WHY: It’s a great spot for hiking and camping

DON’T MISS: As well as unreal views out over the Hawkesbury River, the walk provides a scenic look at historic Woy Woy tip

IF YOU’RE THIRSTY: The Patonga Beach Hotel is a beautiful old pub with a remarkable view and cold beers (just don’t expect them to be cheap)

AND IF YOU’RE HUNGRY: The Patonga chippie does great food (and also sells booze). Make sure you lead up before heading into the bush, or you’ll be eating bark for dinner

WOMENFOLK: In Patonga itself, you might be able to find a pensioner who’s up for it. Up at Mount Wondabyne, a possum might be your best bet

Leaving Santorini

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I planned to stay in Santorini for three days, but I ended up stretching it to five days, for a few reasons. A major reason is that, after two months on the road, I’m sick of checking into and out of hotels, so the idea of spending a run of nights in the same place sounds pretty bloody good. The island is certainly not beautiful, with dirty brown cliffs and tons full of scooters and idiots with tattoos and shit haircuts, but it has its own charm and is a pleasant place to hang out and do nothing. But the main reason I’ve stayed is because I’ve met good people, and when travelling alone that’s about the most important thing you can find.

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My hotel has a policy of grouping people of the same nationality together (or maybe they just like to put all the drunken Aussies together), and after a few months without talking to someone from my homeland it was a really welcome change.  I met some lovely Queensland girls (a phrase you won’t hear often) who were good value and shared a delightful Oia sunset and a few drinks with me.

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There’s even been a bit of romance with another lass I met. At two days (and not counting) it was one of my longer relationships. I felt like Lena out of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, except my romantic Santorinian experience didn’t involve a hunky Greek man who turns out to be married. I swear it didn’t – it involved a pretty lady. It was ships passing in the night, with me heading to Sri Lanka and her to Berlin, but that’s not necessarily bad because it doesn’t give things time to go bad.

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Being alone overseas means inevitably holding brief friendships closer to the heart than in normal situations. When you travel, you give a part of yourself to every place you visit and every person you meet, and in return they give you something, which is why it’s such a transforming experience. It’s wonderful and difficult at the same time, and a reason why I often find it easier to keep moving on when I’m travelling – cut down that attachment, and the resultant difficulty of moving on.

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Having a travel buddy (while not always a good idea) would alleviate a lot of those problems. Having a constant person who can be there when everyone else has left or been left would make it so much easier, but would that be a good thing? There’s something wonderful in the sweet sadness of leaving someone who’s just passed through your life, probably never to be seen again. Probably just the ramblings of a drunk, but it’s how I feel.

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Having spent most of my time in Santorini within spitting distance of my hotel, I decided to spend my last day checking out some of the other parts of the island. I jumped on a bus to the Red Beach at the southern end of the island and, well, I probably shouldn’t have bothered. The red cliffs that give the beach its name are nice, but the strip of dirty sand was nasty and covered in rubbish. The water was filthy, with sharp rocks constantly trying to poke into my feet. Unlike Naxos, Santorini is certainly not a place to visit if you have any interest in going to beaches that aren’t as horrible and red as Amanda Vanstone’s vagina.

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It’s time to move on to my final destination in Europe – the quiet, laid back island of Paros. Prepare for lots of posts about me lying in the sun, drinking beer and doing as little as humanly possible…

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