Thursday, 18 December 2014

Touchdown Santiago, Chile …. With not a word of Spanish

Cool Sculpture in the Hostel
Felt like myself .. an idiot Gringo
When I first planned to go to South America as part of the larger portion of RTW travel I did realized that most people do not speak English in this country. I started thinking back on all my travels and realized that if you could survived Greece with no Greek travelling the suburbs then Spanish speaking country was not going to be much harder.

At lease the language is in alphabets that could still be read although it makes no sense yet. Flying into Santiago, Chile was my first stop in Latin America. Almost immediately everything was in Spanish even at the airport and I could slowly see the English language vanishing away as I step outside the departure gate.
“Where do you want to go?” asked the taxi man
Frowning I felt that these Great Taxi man that could speak marvellous English and was so friendly was bound to rip me off if not bring me to somewhere I would need to surrender everything I had. I spend the most time at the airport getting my nerve adjusted, getting money out of ATM, going to toilet to reshuffle everything, bombarding the information counter with question which responded with bare minimum English.
I forgotten how long ago since I visited Greece but was slowly gaining back the survivor instinct. Looking at signs, I found the bus stop, and with just one word ‘Santiago’ I boarded the bus paying the same fare everyone did. I was standing aside for a while to observe what local people do and how much they pay. I could hear the word Santiago and I carefully observed how much they paid.  
Getting off the bus at the large bus stop which I guess was the last stop since everyone departed. I slowly scanned the area. Signpost of ‘Metro’ caught my eye and true enough it was the subway. Hostel world guide to the hostel was working well now since I got the metro.
Republica ….. Re pla bli ca …. Ri pub bli ca ….. the ticket counter scratched her head ….
I was gathering a crowd now with more station warden trying to help make sense what I was saying. Loads of questions in Spanish which I just put on my dumbest look and shrug. I copy down the station name onto a paper and showed her on the window and suddenly they understood and said together with a huge grin …..
Ri Bu Li Ca …. Oh ….so that’s how it is pronounce … fuck me …   
Immediately out came the calculator knowing I have no idea how much it is in Spanish and I paid what was shown. Off the platform and looking at the local map inside the metro I located the Hostel location and started walking. With every street name passed accordingly to what I expect it to be I knew it was just around the corner.
As I neared the hostel a guy carrying rubbish called out to me.
“ Son? Son? “ he said ….
I said no shaking my head at the same time
“Hostel? Hostel?” he asked
Yes, I said
“Maio Vijero” he said and pointed onwards ….
I was so focus on getting to the hostel I did not bothered to remember the hostel name but only the directions.
I said no to the guy and shake my head, smile, shrug and started walking
Two minutes later I was standing in front of the hostel …. Street Toesca, Number 2335 and I saw the Hostel sign painted on the wall …. “Maoi Vijero” …. The door opened and immediately the new guy said “Son ? Son?” ….
I finally got it …. They were trying to call my name … Soon. .... as in Soon Heng.
They get so few Asian travellers here that I was like an exquisite cuisine, and made me feel welcome that they were looking out for me, expecting me …. Awaiting the new spice ….
“Espanol” the new guy who opened the door asked
No …. English ??? I asked back
“Welcome”, he said.
The guy whom I met earlier throwing away rubbish entered the door soon after and seeing me, gave me his biggest grin and said “son?”
 I laughed so hard …… No …. Soon ….call me Edwin please …..

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Favourite Place in Auckland

Auckland. There are many things to do in the city and tons of things to distract you and confuse you by the tourist information centre but my favourite time was walking up One Tree Hill amid all the crazy chaos.

Written in guide books and when researched in Wikipedia it was well known that the volcanic crater is at One Tree Hill with spectacular view of greater Auckland. Still when I arrive in Auckland all the map I got was partial, compacted into only downtown Auckland and all the information was to bring you elsewhere, skydiving, quad biking, island hopping, whale watching, anything but telling you about One Tree Hill.
One Tree Hill is a in between everything and high up where one can see the Greater Auckland. I could also see both sides of the sea (east and west) and it was a perfect place for a picnic. Most guide book will tell you to rent a car to get there but I would advise for savvy travellers with plenty of time to get the proper map from the big tourist information centre downtown. Ask for the big one greater Auckland and the bus route will show that for an easy NZD 4 from downtown one can take it all the way to the foot of the hill and thereafter a nice stroll/hike to the top.


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Road Trip & Camping in New Zealand

I only manage to do a small part of New Zealand which was the northern tip of Auckland and Coromendel peninsular. Thou a small country on a small island New Zealand is a unique backpacking experience whereby the tracks and trials are such that it is almost more suited for road trips rather than backpacking on a bus. I travelled with random people meeting up from the internet thanks to gumtree and ended up camping all over the place.

Thou it is said camping, there was still a price to be paid. I thought camping was supposed to be free but another country another context. So there was a few difference. You needed to get to a campsite which is regulated. You can’t just camp on the streets or a patch of grass like a homeless for if the Ranger gets you then a heavy fine would be issued. 
Cheap Tent Bought in New Zealand for NZD16
There are the absolute dirt free camping site where you don’t have to pay for it but there is absolutely nothing other than a toilet which is a hut, a toilet bowl with a very deep hole in it. Then there is the honesty box camping which is like the free one, sometimes with water and you have to put money in a box as per the stated price. No one to man the campsite and just a box to put your money in. How Honest are you?? Then there is the paid campsite which is like camping at someone back garden usually a hostel or a caravan park and there you have all the modern facilities, a power source, hot shower, wifi, kitchen, depending on campsite facilities defers but you get the picture.
Thou one have to pay for camping it was still much much cheaper than getting a bed in a hostel.
Going up the northern tip of New Zealand coast was a crazy road trip. Not the slow drive and stop that you would expect for even on single roads the speed limit was 100 and the drivers was determine to hit that mark. So we flew no stop. Of cause the landscape was a beauty looking out the window but even when we reach a town somehow we still flew through it pretty fast. 
Waterfall at Matakana
First stop was Matakana. Camp for the night in an YHA hostel. Still had to pay a NZD18 per person so I was shocked that camping was that costly. The cheapest way of travel was camping, pitching a tent and not campervans. For campervans cost more to rent and even more for gas. For a NZD16 tent alternating between free sites and paid sites I say we really knew what we were doing money wise.
Matakana campsite was next to a very nice waterfall which I and Mat took a quick dip in it. It was a long swim to the waterfall and deep waters too that there was no resting point. I almost drown swimming up to the waterfall as the water was so cold I was having difficulty breathing and at a point almost could not feel my legs. The splash thundering of the waterfall to the bottom cause a spray of mist which blew heavily onto us while we swim up making it harder to breath. I knew my limits … turn around and headed back … still it was cool.
First night at camp was good since it was paid so we had hot showers, proper kitchen, reading area, power to charge batteries and limited wifi of only 50mb per person.
Next day the long journey all the way to Cape Reinga the northern most tip of New Zealand brought us almost a whole day of driving with little stops. Some stops here and there but it was mostly driving and Chel did a good job getting us there. Bay of island which was supposed to be the highlight of the day turn out a bluff. There was no way to see the bay of island other than getting a boat which cost at least NZD100 per person and that would be 2 hours. We ended up taking the cheap ferry to Russells a walk around town and to the top of the hill for the viewpoint and moved on
We got to the campsite after dark. With the mist and fog and poor lighting it’s a wonder we made it in one piece let alone found the place. Camping grounds was an honesty system where you just drop your money into a box. We camped and by daybreak left without putting in any money. There wasn’t much at the camp grounds other than a toilet ….
Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga in the morning and to our disappointment the fog or mist was so think we could barely see 10 meters in front. By luck wandering the walking tracks we manage to locate the lighthouse before banging our heads onto it. Heading back down south we stop by the largest Kuari Tree in one of the national parks and it was magnificent. It reminded me of the tree in Malaysia where it just grow way bigger than the rest of the forest and even 10 people joining hand could not go around it. This tree was big and grand but still not that big
Final day was driving day again with few stops …. In a way I would say we did not do much in terms of activities but we see a great deal of the landscape of the north. That part of the journey I would not repeat in future for I think I had given it more than its fair share of travel.
Part Two of Road Trip - Coromendal Peninsular
We dropped off Chel and pick up another girl May which was from France as well. 2nd part of the travel to Coromendal peninsular we had in total nearly 4 long walks during the 5 days which took nearly 3 hours every day. I was super exhausted by the end for the shoes I wore was not meant to do hiking and I was not fit of course. Weather turned out to be sucky with rainy and cold draft always so I was just in a daze all the way. In fact I fell sick towards the end due to always being cold and damp due to the rain. NZD 16 tent is useless when it’s raining.
Hence if you ask me about Coromendel Peninsular I would not remember much of it other than one forest is not much different from the other in New Zealand. If you love nature then New Zealand is a good place to visit where there is no predators or poisoned insect that may kill you.
I will need to redo New Zealand for although I visited many rural places … it was not the heart and soul of New Zealand.