September 2017 - Off to South America on my final gig as Tour Director for
Interlude Tours. Our small tour group of
8 pax flew from Sydney to overnight in Santiago then onto Peru to begin our exciting
26 day South American adventure visiting Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
started in Lima, Peru’s capital, known as The City of The Kings with a very
informative local guide. Plaza Mayor, the main square, located in the historic colonial centre is a
UNESCO World Heritage site. Around its edge are stunning architectural buildings including the Government
Palace, Cathedral, the Archbishop's Palace, and the Municipal Palace. The
square was the headquarters of the Spanish Colonial Government and was
apparently heavily damaged during the earthquake in 1746. It was in this square that important
happenings took place including the proclamation of Independence of Peru in 1821.
|The Municipal Palace Lima|
|Lima Cathedral and Town Square|
has many beautiful plazas, museums, churches and gardens.
There was a large heavily armed police
presence in the city. According to our
guide, the police are there to control and suppress protests mainly by Uni
students on the streets and in the squares. We did not see any evidence of any
trouble and felt very safe.
It didn't take long for the girls to hit the shops looking for genuine Alpaca garments
Not far from the Main
Square is the historic Santo Domingo Convent with its distinctive tower, over 46 meters high, rowned
by a dome and a statue of the Angel of Fame.
The first black and first
Peruvian Saint, Saint Martin de Porres,
spent most of his life here. Initially he
was left at the convent for being an illegitimate child, he lived there as a
monk, and was buried there. In the crypt of the
same convent lies Saint Rose of Lima, the first American saint, patron saint of
Lima, of Peru, of the New World and of the Philippines.
Inside the convent are five cloisters, with
varying decorations including carved wood, Seville tiles and painting, oak
roofs, baroque processional altarpieces and impressive carved oak
A treasure of the monastery is the Library
with unique and extremely valuable books. Among them are some of the oldest books
used by the Dominicans.
There was an alluring peace and silence here which tempted one to
linger a little longer but we had other places to visit.
Among them, the famous Mirafores district and the Parque del Amor
– a sort of lover’s lane with imitations of Antoni Gaudi's work in Parc Güell Barcelona, and a great view of the Pacific Ocean.
|Very much like Gaudi's work|
night tour and dinner in the privately owned Largo Museum was special. Housed in an 18th-century vice-royal mansion,
surrounded by stunning gardens, it showcases an excellent overview of development of
Peruvian pre-Columbian history and finest gold and silver collection from ancient
The famous erotic archaeological pottery collection was a little
in-your-face but totally fascinating and had some of our group giggling like
Our next stay was
in Cusco, another UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. At 3399 m about sea
level, our group took all the advised precautions against altitude sickness. We
drank plenty of water, coco tea (surprisingly pleasant), rested and moved around at a
slow pace. Something worked; no real
effects, although we all found we tired quickly in the heat.
We based in the historic centre of Cusco in a striking
Luxury Collection Hotel, Palacio del
Inka, a mansion dating back nearly five centuries and situated
directly across from the Koricancha.
|Palacio del Inka Hotel Cusco|
|Palacio del Inka Hotel Cusco|
The Koricancha is an old
Incan palace and main centre of worship to the Sun God. When the Spanish conquered Peru, the
Dominican order built a lovely church over the foundations of this temple, which
is still there. There is still clearly
no love lost by the Peruvians for the Spanish.
|Locals selling their wares in the courtyard of the hotel|
|In the courtyard of the Koricancha|
|Wonderful stonework in the old temple |
Our tour of Cusco started
in the main square, Plaza de Armas, on a
rather hot day
Then a tour of archaeological
sites which are important religious and administrative centres for the Inkas. Located on a hilltop overlooking the
city of Cusco was the incredible Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman Fortress built of
enormous stone blocks somehow brought to the area and expertly shaped by the
|Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman Fortress|
Of course one cannot go to Peru without a visit to the
Sacred Valley of the Incas. We enjoyed our time in the colourful Pisac Markets
which is full of traditional arts and crafts made by the local people (be
warned, some are from China).
|Girls looking at alpaca knitwear|
Then onto tour the Ollantaytambo Fortress built by those busy little
Inkas in the XVIth century and the fascinating agricultural terraces of Moray,
built in natural holes in circular form.
The Incas were beyond
their time in scientific thinking. Studies done on the soil prove that the soil
comes from different regions and must have been brought to the Sacred Valley. Another
fascinating point about the Moray ruins is that they never flood, even in
Peru’s merciless rainy season. It is believed that there must be underground channels
built to allow the water to drain.
|The Ollantaytambo Fortress |
That was a big
day with a lot to take in and wonder at. One cannot help but be overawed by the forward
thinking and intelligence of those clever little Incas
A highlight in Peru of course is Machu
Picchu, now listed as a new seven wonder of the world plus a UNESCO World
Culture Heritage site; it certainly did not disappoint. The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu was lost to the Amazon Jungle
for hundreds of years, until it was re-discovered by Hiram Bingham, an American
We ventured into the Amazon
Jungle by river boat and stayed a couple of nights in an eco-lodge where
open-sided rooms looked directly onto the surrounding tranquil rainforest. The jungle excursions were more suited to a
younger traveller, so the majority of our time was spent relaxing, socialising and
enjoying down-time without venturing too far. The
rainforest region of Peru is colossal, covering 60% of the country and is
second only to the Brazilian rainforest in size but only parts of this jungle
are accessible to tourists.
Two more terrific
highlights of Peru still to come; One,
the Belmond Andean Explorer, an overnight
train across the Andes from Cusco to Puno and Lake Titicaca, the
birthplace of the Incas.
|A welcome drink before boarding the Belmond train|
We boarded the train around 11am
and disembarked the next day at 8am. This train is pure luxury and listed as
one of the top 10 rail trips in the world.
The train or rolling stock was designed and manufactured in Queensland Australia
and after it was purchased and splendidly refurbished by Belmond, began this
extremely picturesque run in 2016.
|Our compartment on the Belmond train|
A highlight was to get up early
to see the sunrise over Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially
navigable lake in the world.
60% of the Lake is in Peru and 40% in Bolivia.
|Sunrise over Lake Titicaca|
The next destination was to the
floating Uros islands in Lake Titicaca, settled by the Uru decendents,
indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia, who believe they own the lake. The
islands are about 3810 metres above sea level.
They are man-made out of bundles
of dried totora reeds. Dense
totora roots interweave and form a natural layer about one to two meters
thick. These support the islands and are
anchored with ropes attached to sticks driven into the bottom of the lake. New reeds need to be added frequently. An island lasts about 30 years if maintained
well. There are over 80 islands, larger
ones house about 10 families.
|A demonstration of how the islands are made|
There is a small hospital and traditional school. The islands were originally settled as
defensive strategy. Tourism is the main industry selling handicrafts and tours
of the islands. Their diet is mainly fish, part of the totora reed, birds,
ducks and few cattle raised on the island. They barter totora reeds in Puno for
other supplies such as quinoa. We saw
some evidence of modern technology; boats with motors and some solar panels on
a few houses.
|The ladies had fun dressing us in their clothes|
Altogether we had 12 fantastic
and wondrous days in Peru, the third largest country in South America. We
visited the amazing top sites but feel we only scratched the historic surface.
things we learned about Peru –
Peruvians are very
friendly and usually short in stature.
Peruvians LOVE food.
Eating is their favourite pastime.
Guinea pig is a
delicacy in Peru, cooked whole and eaten with the hands. Tried it under protest, but could not get a
picture of the sweet little creatures out of my mind,
There are many
excellent restaurants in Peru and the cuisine (forgetting the guinea pig) is
· Both Chile and Peru claim the classic Pisco Sour as their own. Our vote
says Pisco Sour cocktail
in Peru is definitely better than the Pisco Sour in Chile.
The potato is
originally from Peru, and there are over 3,000 different varieties
has 3 official languages: Spanish, Quechua and Aymara, but east of the Andes
in Amazon Jungle regions, it is said that natives speak a further 13
Goodbye Peru and
& Iguassu Falls. Our hotel was on the Brazilian side of the
Iguassu Falls. The waterfalls originate from the Iguazu River on the border of
Argentine and Brazil. They are the
largest waterfall system in the world and jointly owned
by the Iguazú National Park in Argentina and the Iguaçu National Park in Brazil
both UNESCO World Heritage Site.
|The point where Brazil meets Argentina on the bridge.|
Lucky again with Eder, a very
informative local guide who took us to the Argentina side first where the falls
surrounded by trails & a train running through the jungle.
|On the train to the falls on the Argentina side|
What a magnificent
spectacle; we thought could not get any better until we returned to the Brazilian
side where we all agreed the falls there pipped the Argentina side for spectacular
beauty and size.
|Stunning Crested Jay can make 16 different sounds. |
|The Brazilian side of the Falls|
long pathway along the canyon (on the Brazilian side of the falls allows one to
get close (and a little wet) and wonder of their natural beauty and power. The falls can experience four seasons in one day.
The spectacle of these 275 individual drops is overawing. Three
of our group took a helicopter flight offered over the falls which they said
was well worth the money.
According to our guide, these Falls have the greatest average
annual flow of any waterfall in the world, twice that of Niagara Falls. Having
seen both, I do not doubt it.
|Meat, meat of every kind and every cut - so tender and tasty|
was here we had our first taste of the renowned Brazillian BBQ in Brazil! Oh just thinking about it now makes my mouth
water. Every type and cut of meat and poultry, superbly carved and served on
request, supplemented by a choice of an incredible variety of salads. Yummie! Pasta if you preferred. Not us! Great floor show too.
Rio next. The flight from Iguazi to Rio de
Janiero took just under two hours. . I liked the feel of Rio immediately. Our
local guide for this city was Giordanna (Dana for short); A gorgeous outgoing
girl who loves her job and does it superbly.
She made Rio come alive for us.
|Our gorgeous guide, Dana|
Our hotel in Rio was just a hop across the
road from Copacabana beach. Fantastically close for walks on the beach or just
people watching. Water was cold but that
did not stop our intrepid swimmer from taking early morning dips.
|Sunrise over Copacabana beach|
|John enjoyed early morning swim|
So many top sights to visit in Rio – Firstly
an early morning visit to the tallest
religious statue in the world, the gigantic statue of Redeemer made of concrete and soapstone.
Luckily we did start out early and beat the
other dozens of tourists for seats on the
train for the 20 minute steep journey through the sizable Tijuca Forest
National Park up to the top of Corcovado mountain to see this amazing statue up
close. Within a city it is quite amazing
and unexpected to see such a huge forest; this one with a claim to be the
largest urban forest in the world. The thousands of trees were all hand
|Train to top of Corcovado mountain|
|Tijuca Forest National Park|
|Tijuca Forest National Park|
Construction of Christ the Redeemer statue took 9
years (1922-1931), was funded by the RC Church with the purpose of showing that
Christ loves all, to spread peace and to display the devotion of the city towards
the almighty. The statue joined the New Seven wonders of the World
list in 2007. It is 30m tall and the arm
spread is said to be 28m. These figures vary on research. Whatever, one gets the impression everything
is pretty big in this city, including our next excursion by cable car to Urca
A cable car took us to Urca Hill then another
cable car to the top of Sugar Loaf (395m).
What magnificent views from Urca Hill of Guanabara Bay, The Rio-Niteroi
Bridge and Corcovado Mountain. From
Sugar Loaf more splendid views over Rio including Copacabana
beach and the Santa Cruz fortress.
|Urca Hill and Sugar Loaf|
|Great views |
Our scheduled tour of the Favela was
cancelled due to serious trouble there between the army, drug lords and gangs. The favelas in Brazil came into being when squatters occupied vacant land on the outskirts of the city and built shanties of second-hand and often stolen materials.
Firstly it was impoverished former slaves and then the wave of migration from
the country to the city responsible for the explosion of the favelas which in
Rio are settled on the side of steep hills. It has become quite a tourist
attraction to tour a Favela. It is said about 6 percent of Brazil’s total
population live in favelas.
|A Favela - the one we did not see!!|
We enjoyed a delightful
4 X 4 jeep tour through the Tijuca Forest then visiting the old neighbourhood
of Rio, the hilltop hippy district of Santa Teresa, with winding streets lined
with elegant original old mansions, 19th
century architecture and today home to many artists and sculptors.
|In the Santa Teresa region |
|Touring in the jeep|
loved the impressive vibrant, staircase covered in more than 2000 pieces of
colourful tiles, mirror and ceramic called the ‘Selaron Steps' links the
bohemian neighbourhood of Lapa and Santa Teresa. They are the art project of
Chilean-born painter Jorge Selarón who said it was "my tribute to the
Brazilian people". He began by using only blue, green and yellow tiles in
honour of the Brazilian flag, but soon people brought tiles from all over the
|Sitting on the Selaron Steps|
|We found a tile from Australia|
|The artist Jorge Selaron|
The artist sadly died in 2013 but what a legacy he
Some things we learned about
It is the
largest country in Sth America and 5th largest country in the world.
language is Portuguese. Portugal ruled
Brazil for 300 years.
‘Brazil’ come from the name of a tree called ‘Brazilwood’.
discovered in Brazil in 1695 adding to the world’s gold reserve in 18
made Brazil a wealthy nation
during the late 18th century.
During the 16th century, the
Portuguese established sugar plantations in Brazil.
has the largest population of Roman Catholics in the world
the leading producer of oranges and
the second largest producer of
fuel in the world
carnival in Rio de Janeiro is said to be the world’s largest party.
Brazilians love to travel
I-phones are the most expensive in the world in
Brazil....and most stolen item.
Around 60% of the Amazon Rainforest is located in Brazil.
Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Brazil. The national team
of the world's most successful.
Brazilian public health system provides free sex-change operations. It
considered a constitutional right.
It’s goodbye to our lovely
guide Dana and Rio and a flight to Argentina to meet our local guide, Diego, in
My first thoughts of Argentina’s
capital city Bueno Aires, often called the Paris of South America, was how
different it is to Rio.... quite flat, no hills. The city has some rather
glamorous and trendy neighbourhoods with unique architectural, historical and
|A few of the fabulous mansions of Bueno Aires|
Dog walkers with dozens of dogs and more dogs!
Our visit to the famous
cemetery of Recoleta with many glorious ornate
mausoleums was fascinating. One of the main attractions for visitors is
the tomb of actress turned first lady, Eva Peron (Evita).
The exciting La Boca neighbourhood famed for
its colourful houses, its tango and its soccer team;
world-renowned club, Boca Juniors was another
fascinating area . The centrepiece is the picture perfect cobblestone strip, El
Caminito, or little walkway. This
pedestrian lane is lined with artists selling their works and tango dances
prancing on the sidewalk offering tourist photo ops.
Another day; another venture. Off we went out into
the countryside to the Santa Susana Ranch. Surrounded by beautiful country landscapes, this
traditional ranch offers an up close experience to be entertained by Gauchos with
folksongs, dances, equestrian activities and shows of traditional gaucho horse
races and horse games. A Gaucho in Argentina is simply a country person,
experienced in traditional livestock farming, a skilled horseman, and according
to our guide, usually brave, generous, also crafty and tricky! It was a good
|Entrance to the ranch|
|Meat of all types on the BBQ|
Meat lovers will know Argentina has a well
deserved reputation for growing excellent lip-smacking meat, particularly steaks. All the
meat we had in Argentina was tender and very tasty, however the meat in
Brazil was every bit as scrumptious
|Entertainment during lunch|
|The head Gaucho likes the girls (even the old ones)|
|Fantastic horsemen showing their skills|
|We dined on typical national asado (BBQ) empanadas and excellent Argentinian wines|
Impossible to be in Bueno
Aires, famous for its nightlife and not go to a tango show or try to tango! Diego says Tango is a vertical expression of
horizontal desire! What fun to be
introduced to the art of tango by a professional Tango dancer for a 1 hour
lesson. Of course it is a tourist thing to do but we all had such a good time
and lots of laughs plus the following Tango show and dinner was fantastic; in
fact quite unforgettable. Unfortunately photography was not allowed in the tango show.
|The locals call the Tango the 'Vertical expression of horizontal desire'|
We left the city behind and
entered a world that has not changed greatly since 1920’s when we boarded a Tigre
Delta boat cruise to see part of the biggest river deltas in the world. It was
relaxing and fascinating cruising through
the narrow channels and streams around the islands, passing many beautiful
riverside villas, yacht clubs, English gardens and Victorian docks, most with
dogs lolling around watching the passing river traffic or perhaps just waiting
for their owners to come home from work.
|All aboard the boat to cruise the Tigre Delta|
Some things we
learned about Argentina
· Argentina is the second
largest country in South America
· Official language is
(soccer) is the most popular sport in Argentina
beef is famous around the world. Argentina has the highest consumption of
red meat in the world.
· The Latin
dance and music called the Tango began in Buenos Aires.
A flight to Chile’s capital Santiago
is next. Santiago is also Chili’s largest city and nestles in a valley
surrounded by the snow-capped Andes.
|The view of the snow-capped Andes from our hotel window|
Santiago’s main square or
Plaza de Armas in the heart of the old colonial historic centre of the city is
full of life. Surrounding this square
are several attractions, in particular two striking neoclassical landmarks, the
National History Museum and the Metropolitan Cathedral. It is a busy square full of local people just
relaxing, some playing chess and groups of tourists plus artists displaying and
selling their wares.
|National History Museum|
We wandered the nearby
cobblestone streets and visited original colonial areas where old mansions
reflect the elegance and richness of the early twentieth century when mining
and the discovery of Silver brought an
influx of great wealth to the neighbourhood.
The one street we did not wander but
drove through, is the amazing oh so elegant street, Alonso de Córdova in the Vitacura neighbourhood which goes for 6
blocks and is lined with fine luxury boutiques selling prestigious
international brands and unique accessories. No stopping or shopping or photos for us in this
Four of us enjoyed wandering and dining in the fish markets. Excellent fare.
Nearby is San Cristóbal Hill,
reached by cable car with a massive statue of the Virgin Mary and a stunning
panoramic view over Santiago.
|Virgin Mary on San Cristobal Hill|
|Fabulous view over Santiago|
Beautiful birds and swans in the Santiago park
We departed Santiago for our
final destination; the Bohemian seaport town of Valparaiso on Chile’s coast
about 120km from Santiago. En route we enjoyed an excellent 5 glass tasting session
of premium quality Chilean wines and a delicious lunch in the beautiful Casa
del Bosque vineyard. Feeling no pain,
we continued onto Valparaiso.
I was really eager to visit
this Valparaiso which has a reputation of being quite odd and unsafe. Indeed it is a
most bizarre city with loads of amazing vibrant street art/ graffiti, very
steep winding streets, funiculars and alleyways lined with colourful mostly ram-shacked mansions. It’s sort of chaotic and exciting; I loved it!
|Amazing street art|
can’t describe the feel of Valparaiso any better than the Chilean poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda who said: 'Valparaíso, how absurd you are…you haven't
combed your hair, you've never had time to get dressed, life has always
|Girls find the shops wherever we go|
unsafe reputation I assume comes from the dock and port areas where there is a
transient population of dockers , sailors, and according to our guide, ladies
of the night! That was a bleak and
unsavoury area I would not venture into.
What we learnt about
· The official name of Chile
is the Republic of Chile.
· Chile is the longest
north-south trending country in the world and has one of the longest coastlines
in the world. On average it is just 150 km wide from west to east.
· Chile is one of the most
stable and prosperous nations in South America.
· The currency in Chile is
the Chilean peso.
· Chile is a World class
· Chile’s Andes Mountains have
many large and still active volcanoes.
· Chilean husbands and wives have different surnames because
women keep their maiden names.
· The Atacama Desert is Chile is the driest desert in the world, in fact parts of this desert have
not had any rain since the beginning of recordkeeping
· Chile has the world’s largest reserves
of copper, and is the number one exporter of copper in the world.
· After Norway Chile is the world’s second largest exporter of
Football (soccer) is Chile’s
most popular sport
all good things must come to an end; and so it did for our fabulous tour of
South America when we boarded our flight in Santiago; destination Sydney.
|Arriving in Sydney safe, sound and happy|
The tour may be over but the marvellous memories of our experiences and the fascinating people we met along the way will be with us forever.