Cusco and NGO Taxi

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First stop in Peru was the historic, beautiful city of Cusco. We had a few days to explore before we relocated to the village of Tipon, around forty minutes from the centre and one mighty uncomfortable minibus ride back in.

Tipon is famous for its Guinea pig, which I tried and was just not worth the hassle; too little meat, too much staring into petrified rodent face. More importantly is it also the home of NGO Taxi, which is our most recent Workaway place. More accurately, it is the home of Yudy, a wonderfully awesome woman who accepted us into her beautiful house and made us feel at home.
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On our arrival at NGO Taxi we were, I must say, a little confused. We thought we were heading to a charity running volunteer placements and instead found two men, an idea, and not much more. Also, and this was the biggest stumbling block for me, it probably won’t ever be a charity, but a company.
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Not to dwell too much on the details, I can safely say we had a good, if quiet, three weeks, largely due to the constant cheery company of Chris, whose optimism is overwhelming, beautiful, sweet Yudy and the wonderful Yoel, whose delicious cooking I hope to replicate. Unfortunately we (which is obviously to say I) had our fair share of disagreements with the founders Stefan and Kristof, who are really passionate about, if not extremely good at coherently explaining, their dream. We were unexpectedly left alone a couple of times, time which I used to perfect my crochet (I now make socks too!), luckily after a run of constant traveling we were glad of some quiet time, but really we had signed up to be useful, not crochet! (NB egg does not crochet, only me). Hopefully we were helpful, and one day the organisation is up and running helping people.
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Other things about our time in Tipon; Noel and Leon and the puppies running around the garden, our second stay with no hot water and a return to bucket showers (plus my realisation that they are probably not better for the environment), many attempts at making a successful fire with wet logs, some furniture rearranging, delicious mate with herbs from the garden, a strange fire volcano and many really good night’s sleep.

Meanwhile, we were lucky to be in Cusco for Easter week, so we got to see the procession of the master of the earthquakes. This was pretty impressive.

We passed a delightful Easter weekend hiking up to the ruins in Tipon, and then watching the sound of music with homemade mug cake. Other social highlights include Tuesday night film nights in Cusco (a catalogue of ever more brilliant but depressing films), poker night and a lovely leaving meal.

Egg had mentioned that I need to say about coca brownies. He loves them. It became our Cusco treat, he even argued with the lady in the shop once for a bigger brownie. Coca is interesting actually. We went to the coca museum (and the cocoa museum!) and we chewed coca leaves (I dribble green and egg gets confused and eats them).

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Workaway by the sea in Puerto Montt

From goats we moved to another farm, forty miles or so outside the very dull port town of Puerto Montt.
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When we arrived we found not so much a farm, as a living family project. A thriving kitchen garden, various construction projects, a lot of land and some chickens (because Everyone has chickens). Steve and Loreto have built a beautiful home overlooking the ocean, and we were lucky enough to snag the first cabin before other volunteers arrived.
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Here in return for our three or so hours of work, six days a week we received what can only be described as an incredibly generous breakfast and a place to call home with a path to the beach.

Our first night set the tone for the rest of the stay; we pulled the table out on to the grass to share dinner cooked for us by the outgoing volunteers, enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the water, and then were invited in to Steve’s home to enjoy a bottle of wine by the fire. To be honest, I’m not sure my three hours of leisurely painting earned this (although egg’s slightly less leisurely hacking out of the troublesome gorse roots definitely did!).

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This is a cat, finding the most comfortable seat. Cats are great.

So, that was what we did, a bit of painting, a bit of firewood moving, a bit of weeding. Steve showed us his plans to generate his own power hopefully by harnessing the water that runs through his property, as well as providing their own water supply. We helped paint the foundations for a sauna, which will be incredibly pretty and just missed blueberries becoming ripe. The raspberries and fresh peas were delicious, and the latter reminded me of eating the peas fresh from the pod at my grandma’s when I was a little bit smaller.
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As I said, the beach is only a hop, step and a jump away from the cabana, so after our back breaking labour this is where we often decamped to. It is again a pebble beach, which at least for now I prefer (no pesky sand to stick to your face) but with an amazing selling point….. DOLPHINS! We had no idea and seeing something in the ocean thought it was a man swimming. But no, DOLPHINS. Well, our first clue was the fins, shortly followed by the recognition that there were several all playing together, maybe 20 feet from the shore. Incredible. Egg saw them once more, but for me that first beach visit was my only sighting. He managed to count them the second time, six dolphins having a swim. We were to excited for photo taking, and caught by surprise, so instead here is a photo of Odine, the adorable puppy who joined us on our walk to the beach a couple of times.

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I continued my two main non-travel pursuits here, baking and running. Putting it like that’s they seem like unlikely bedfellows, but I see them as complimentary. Actually I went a bit overboard with both. As I made my own gluten free flour for the first time, I had a larger quantity than usual and didn’t want to take it with me, so I made brownies, chocolate sponge, lemon and raspberry polenta cake, cheese biscuits, traditional Argentinian bread, pizza and banana bread. We were only there for ten days! Luckily we had help eating all this from the other volunteers and Steve and Loreto.

Similarly, after a very slow reintroductory run with egg (around 14 min per mile), I decided I wanted to see if I could comfortably run faster so tried for 11 min/miles. Being a bit fitter than I thought, I accidentally went a bit to fast but was pleased with my first 9 min/mile. Regulating myself a bit more, egg and I then managed a comfortable 4 miles in 44 minutes, which I was very pleased with. Having gone from exhaustion after 3 minutes, to maintaining a conversation at that pace we are very happy (and yes we are aware that all things considered we are INCREDIBLY slow, but we were incredibly unfit to begin with, so baby steps).
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Definite highlight of the trip was the asado we did one day all together. Great weather, great food, great drinks, great people. Put my pisco sour skills from the lodge into practice and everyone seemed happy (and tipsy).
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Being far from Puerto Montt, we had to hitchhike to get to even the bus stop, which we achieved comfortably and this spurred us on to hitching to Chiloe, our next stop. Egg put his design skills to work and made us an impressive sign and it must have worked because we waited not even 5 minutes for our first lift! This got us closer to the very crossing to Chiloe, and our second lift took us all the way to the town we needed and again was a maybe 3 minute wait. Both great people and a very nice experience. We may try again later.

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And we met a llama!

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Christmas with goats

And the search for something less touristy terminated swiftly with our arrival at Praderas del Sur, a goat farm just south of Osorno.

So, I had been dwelling a little on the terrors that Christmas outside of my warm family home might bring. A little, a lot, potato, potAto. Especially as we were arriving on 23rd December, so close to Christmas. So we bought each other some presents in Bariloche (I did anyway, egg was more prepared), downloaded some Christmas songs, bought a teeny bit of very nice chocolate, wrapped our presents and headed to Purranque.

On arrival we met Katrin, her two sons, Aaron and Nathan, Tommy another Wwoofer, 3 cats, 5 dogs, 1 horse, a flock of geese, 2 ducks, a bunch of chickens, 95 goats and 35 baby goats. And we immediately felt welcome.

I was initially disappointed that there was no tree, but this turned out to be amazing as it meant we got to go and choose the tree on Christmas eve. It also meant I had a Carrie moment when I emptied a bucket of water to use as the base only to discover it was full of goat blood and guts. Oops. And ugh.

So Christmas eve we spent getting to know the farm routine which is briefly:
Milk goats
Watch goats
Eat lunch
Rest/play with dogs
Fix fences so goats don’t escape
Pick cherries
Watch goats
Chase escaped goats
Eat
Have bucket shower
Sleep

It sounds quite busy but in reality these tasks are juggled so you have about 6 hours work a day. And we really enjoyed all of it.

Goats are so much fun and really affectionate. Some have names,- by the time we left we could identify friendly goat, diahhorea goat, baby diarrhoea goat, Bambi, Elvis, the jumper family, canela, zebra goat, mangy goat and naima. They are also a pain in the arse and even after two sells it took us at least 20 mins (but normally more like an hour) to get them back home after grazing. 20 minutes of chasing, yelling, coercing, running hell. Oh sorry, I meant fun.

Christmas itself was pretty special. It was only us three wwoofers, so we got all the work done and had a lovely festive lunch and dinner together. I made Christmas custard (which worked) and meringues (which did not). The meringues were not really my fault as I left them in the oven too long due to the fact we had some  unplanned goat chasing to do. For a while I was very concerned that we had managed to lose a third of Katrina,s goats on Christmas day. But they were recovered and all was well.

Most importantly egg made the day very special, I even got a stocking, and we had after eights as our one thing that felt very English.

Christmas eve is the more celebrated day here, so the night before the day we had the family’s traditional dinner, chicken with chips. Maybe not our idea of traditional but very good chips all the same.

The time went very quickly here; we used our free time to go to Frutillar, a lake side town we nearly did some workawaying in. We were glad we didn’t. It is a very stuffy, very quiet place, where the only thing of note was the very well designed theatre. So we decided to not even spend the day there and instead hoped on slither bus to Puerto Varas, which we much preferred. We found some internet too so I could catch up a bit with people which was nice.

New year’s eve was passed by Katrin’s friends joining us at the house, a big meal, lots of wine and a big fire outside onto which we put things from last year that we did not want to carry into 2014, so we will see if that worked.

I miss friendly goat and rocky (my favourite, and probably in general the least loved, dog) already.

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Bienvenidos a Bariloche and Universal Travel Hostel

So to Bariloche, gloriously touristic heart of the lake district. We arrived at Universal Travel Hostel (terrible name but nice place), a new hostel we had been in contact with in order to get free beds and do a bit of work in exchange. It turns out it is only volunteersFoto 10-12-2013 12 01 09 and the owners as they can’t quite afford other staff yet. Interesting owners, very chilled out place, and in exchange for our help at breakfast and washing some sheets were had free beds in the, otherwise very pricey, city.

And we made the scones ourselves

And we made the scones ourselves

Bariloche is a town that looks a lot like how I imagine a Swiss ski resort town does, and the as the main tourist drag is almost exclusively chocolate shops (painfully expensive but there were free samples plus I looked sad if people didn’t let me eat some chocolate animals each day) the feeling is exaggerated. It is based around many lakes, the largest, lago nahuel huapi has a nice pebble beach that you can go and nap on. It is best for skiing in the winter and waterspouts or trekking in the summer. It was here that we discovered that despite our hatred of camping, we really enjoy a good hike.

But first we started our physical exertion with circuito chico, or the small circuit, which is a 27k bike ride around some spectacular scenery, culminating in an incredible view over the lakes. Not that I enjoyed it that much as it is frickin STEEP! Oh it hurt, it hurt so much. That said I enjoyed it and we had a really nice picnic lunch by the river. Only real downside was these really annoying big bug things. They are pretty harmless, they do bite but it isn’t so bad, they just buzz all around your head and face and they are big and fuzzy and bothersome. I have no idea what they are called but they travel in groups! More on them later.Foto 13-12-2013 11 52 34

We then went up Cerro Cathedral to refugio Frey, it is a 3-5 hour climb up and then you are rewarded by a beautiful lake at the top where we lunched and then 4 hours back down. More of those big flies attacked us constantly and i think our combined kill was around 100 for the day. All our time in Bariloche was super hot, so even the gentlest incline felt punishing but overall this was a really good climb, not to strenuous, very beautiful, and a friendly cat joined us at the top to cheer us on the only scrambly bit.

Shortly after we heard that the best view was from cerro campanario, and it is only a half hour climb. So this we did too, obviously.wpid-Foto-17-12-2013-16-23-16.jpg

As well, we were lucky to see a watersports competition on the lake for a few days, so we sat and drank terere (cold mate with orange juice and lots of ice) and watched people do very impressive things with surf boards.

The people staying in the hostel were very nice indeed and on our final day everyone in the hostel made a big asado and some salads and bread and we sat down to a big meal. The owner said they would do secret Santa on Christmas day, and as I had an excess of wool I made an extra present for anyone who lacked one. I hope my name your own beanie plus instructions was well received and they weren’t too confused.

One thing I nearly forgot to mention about Bariloche is that they have many, many St Bernards around to charge you for photos. This made me dad add the dogs looked more sad than StBernards often do, and it seemed to got to keep then in the sun all day without exercise.

During our time here we statuses squeezed in a visit to nearby renowned hippy town El Bolson. Honestly we were a bit disappointed by its conventional appearance and the market which it is famous for was only so-so. Only the mates were something I have seen before and many were beautiful. And I didn’t like the hostel. They actually shshed you after eleven is you spoke at all, like a library. That being said I would have lied to spend more time there because there are some amazing walks but almost all require at least one night on the task and we didn’t have the time. Instead we went on a comfortable day trip to lago puelo and spent the day on the beach. Which was nice. And there was a pizzeria that had a coeliac pizza! Not as good as mine but certainly less effort. And another (!) Incredible ice cream place, jauja. The peanut butter, dark chocolate and candied orange and fig and walnut will take a lot of beating.

All in all, nice place, nice time, nice people but we move on looking for something less full of tourists.

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Best Workaway experience so far! Neuquen

From Pucon a quick hop across the border lands you in Neuquen province Argentina, and we were headed for the capital, funnily enough, named Neuquen.

We were to stay with Daniel and Gisela and help then with their English, so we didn’t know what to expect and frankly we had both assumed that they would be very good indeed and we wouldn’t get to practice our Spanish much. As it happens they weren’t bad at all, but preferred speaking in English only in “lessons” so it was a very Spanish week! They were very patient with us and I loved being so immersed in the language, certainly this was the least English environment we had been in ever.

Daniel and Gisela are THE NICEST PEOPLE we could have hoped to stay with (they are so nice that they merited what I believe to be my first use of capitals!). They made us feel so at home and were so friendly and warm that when they said we could stay longer I really wished we had more time.
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This is us on the balcony of their beautiful apartment overlooking the river. So I should now mention Sofia, my favourite dog in all of Argentina. That’s her, there on the right, refusing to look at the camera. She is such a cool dog, face of a chiuaua, body of a terrier, and equally fond of belly rubs and running in sprinklers. When I said I was going to sneak her into my back pack I was only half joking.
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So, our ten days here passed really quickly, too quickly, what can I tell you…. It was hot. Consistently over 30. And my leg finally healed enough to stop going to the doctor. Nearly every day we took Sofi for a walk along the river, we explored the city a bit- there’s a really nice craft market at the weekend and lots of musicians and dancers perform around the central part of town in the summer. We went kayaking for free thanks to the neighbouring town’s tourism event. We watched Daniel perform at a classical concert and at a gig in town- he plays cello and guitar and it was really fantastic to go and hear him play. He also started teaching egg how to play guitar, which he really enjoyed. So much so that I considered getting him a guitar for Christmas but we really can’t carry one. I think he may take it up at home though.
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I enjoyed watching a bit of Argentinian TV and seeing how much I had progressed in understanding since the last time I had access to foreign channels. A little bit. Also did some more gf baking- polenta chocolate brownies, lemon sponge and a creme Catalan, my first custard.
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Speaking of gluten free, Gisela and Daniel were the first couple who really got what being coeliac meant, and I was so grateful to feel safe with their delicious food and not have to explain everything a hundred times. It really made me feel normal as we didn’t really talk about it at all. And we had some very good food here, the highlight probably being the mountain lamb we had cooked on a grill in the park after our kayaking adventure.
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Incidentally, egg and I did not enjoy sharing a kayak, it seems we would have much preferred racing than cooperating. (Photo thanks to the Cipolletti tourism people).

We also went on a trip to a nearby lake which amazed both egg and I by being so massive, both easily agreeing it was the biggest we have seen. This amused and surprised our hosts, and now we are in Bariloche I can see why. Never the less it was very relaxing way to pass an afternoon and an excellent mate drinking spot.

When we left we gave them a hat with a flower that I had adjusted for Gisela, and they gave us our own mate, which is now amongst our most treasured possessions. We drink from it, and think back on our amazing week.

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Oh, and this turtle can flyyyyyyyy…….,

Return to the Lodge 6\11 – 25\11

There isn’t really any need to talk about the lodge, if you’re very interested please read our earlier post from our month long stay a month ago. Things are the same, except it is warmer and sometimes I can make dessert for the guests. And I’m running. A few times a week for a while now but I think I’m actually enjoying it now. And I just signed myself up for a half marathon training schedule. Not because I intend to do one anytime soon, just because I need a bit of structure so I don’t push myself to hard now that 5k is a constable distance. I’ll see how that goes, if any running updates creep in it is more a motivator for me than interesting for you, so, sorry.

Therefore, (that was more than I was planning on writing. See, just did it again!), this post will be a photo diary. Lots of photos.
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