Sep 182018
 


As I mentioned in a few previous posts I always felt a little guilty when I finished every country that my experiences in Mexico City had been pretty much limited to border regions.

Then, this spring came my first trip to Mexico City for work. Then another trip to Mexico City for work. Then an overnight on an Aeromexico ticket on the way to Chile. Now, it was just August and it was time for my fourth trip this year to Mexico City! I had a couple of very packed days of meetings with clients, but opted to spend the weekend as well so I could dig a little bit deeper. A couple fun shots from the “business portion” of the trip though.

Firstly, the view from my client’s offices of Santa Fe – hard to believe this business/industrial district is almost brand spanking new:

Apparently, it was the season for Chiles en Nogada, or chilis with nuts. A rather different dish served COLD of a chili served stuffed with ground meat and then covered in a nut sauce and pomegranate made to look like the mexican flag. Wasn’t exactly my cup on tea, and unfortunately despite drinking some mezcal to kill any bugs I think this is what did the slow number on my stomach:

A rather unusual sculpture/statue outside the restaurant. Weird, but I have to say I liked it:

After meetings out in Santa Fe, I took a taxi late Friday night into the city so I could spend the whole day Saturday walking around and exploring. Firstly, the weather was gorgeous. Mid 70s, no humidity, and sunny skies. Unfortunately, I got a bit of a food-borne bug, so was feeling pretty sketchy the whole day. Fortunately, I felt just well enough to walk around, and walk I did. Nearly 15 miles during the duration of the day, and I ended up seeing a lot of great sights thanks to some recommendations for friends. I’ll let the photos tell the story.

The Torre Reforma, an office building. I love the unusual architecture:

The other side of the Torre Reforma, taken later in the day. I just find the building really cool:

Continuing my walk from my hotel, and praying that my innards would hold up at least for the stops between venues/sights with baños, I encountered something I definitely didn’t expect to find. The Mexico-Azerbaijan Friendship Park…complete with a large statue of Azerbaijan:

Back side of the monument….

Finally, after a bit over a mile of walking, I made it to the National Museum of Anthropology. Thankful to have not had any…”incidents” along the way, I was greeted out front by a fun group of dancers:

Let me get my one critique of the museum out of the way first. The place is huge. Super huge. No way you can see it all in one day huge. It’s divided into different “halls” around a courtyard by time period and civilization, but beyond telling you what is where, you really have no idea where to start looking for the featured pieces if you’re limited on time. Having a bit of a short attention span for museums, and wanting to see as much of the city as possible, I really wanted to hit the highlights. Thanks to around 30 minutes on google, I managed to find them.

Oh, and since I highlighted my one critique, I should also highlight the biggest unexpected positive: the museum was free today as a “gift” from the new government to the people of Mexico. No, it’s not really that expensive anyways, but it was a nice unexpected bonus, and the place was super crowded.

A Mexica (otherwise known as the Aztecs) death complex sculpture. Something about this one I really enjoyed:

Another Aztec carvin:

The giant Aztec “calendar stone” – I had to wait nearly 15 minutes for a group of people to all take their turn taking their selfie in front of it…so of course I couldn’t resist doing the same. The picture doesn’t show the sheer magnitude of the thing, which was 3.5 meters in diameter!

Statue of Xotchipilli, Aztec God of Art and Games…who by the look on his face enjoyed playing games while totally stoned out of his mind:

Montezuma’s headdress, made of quetzal feathers…although there is significant doubt that it’s the “real deal:”

Jade necklace and mask of Pakal the First, a Mayan ruler…that doesn’t exactly look terribly comfortable.

Overall, I super enjoyed this museum, and spent nearly three hours exploring it, which is probably a record for me in a museum. Normally my attention span is gone well before that time, so combine that with being ill this museum is a definite must-see when you’re in Mexico City.

After re-fuelling with caffeine and carrot cake at Starbucks outside the museum (don’t judge….anyone who’s had stomach issues knows that if you find something that sounds good, eat it!) I continued my walk into the park Bosque de Chapultepec which was right across the road. I always find local birds really interesting:

It was beautiful weather, and lots of folks were out on the lake in paddleboats:

After that I walked up, and up, and up, and up, and considered bailing since I wasn’t feeling great, but at the top finally made it to Chapultepec Castle and the National Museum fo History. I was museum-ed out for the day so just wandered the grounds for a bit and took in the sights. I’ll definitely come back to check it out in-depth another time though.

Great views of the city, however, from the castle grounds up on a high hill:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. See, believe me, lots of problems:

The Altar de la Patria in Chapultepec Park:

I was running a bit shorter on time than I realized, and it was already around 3pm at this time, and I still had one more sight I really wanted to try and squeeze in. I had hoped to take the metro down to the Trotsky Museum, but since I was short on time I took an Uber since it was only like $6. Unfortunately, due to traffic, it still took like 45 minutes to get there (Mexico City can have absolutely terrible traffico) but I still made it with an hour to spare. I loved the entrance of the museum:

Trotsky’s grave:

The Casa de Trotsky – his house – where he lived in exile after being expelled from the Soviet Union. As a student of Soviet history, I found this museum super interesting:

Trotsky’s office, where he worked while in exile, until dying by a pick-axe to the head:

Gotta have a selfie with Trotsky’s grave!

After the museum, I took the nice mile or so stroll to the metro, where I stopped in a mall next to the metro stop for a small snack before boarding the train back towards my hotel. One thing I found really interesting – and somewhat depressing – is that part of the platform in the Mexico City subway is blocked off for women and children only. Interesting, because I applaud them for taking this step to protect people, depressing because it indicates that men are poorly enough behaved that women need to be protected.

Another shot of barriers in another station, along with what the trains look like:

I had to giggle, because it turned out my hotel was apparently right across the street from a string of gay bars, and being Saturday night they were absolutely swarming with 20-somethings. I felt old. But you have to love a place named “The Gayta Pussy Bar” Hah!

After a bit of exploring, I decided to hop back on the metro and check out a bar called The Beer Company. It was about 30 minutes and a short walk away by metro, and being a gorgeous evening I enjoyed a few beers on the patio. The place wasn’t at all crowded, but had that nice neighbourhood bar feel…and the complete lack of English spoken only made it feel more fun.

While “checking in” the new beers in the Untappd App I saw that there was apparently a tap takeover going on at another bar in the city, and despite being tired and worn out I had to check it out. I headed over to Tasting Room which had not only some incredibly funky alien decor (I finally figured out the mysteries of Easter Island):

…but also had an amazing draft list. This place was a gem in Mexico City, and I’ll definitely be back here for drinks the next time I’m in Mexico City.

By this point, I was absolutely exhausted, and really impressed just how much I managed to see for a day when I was seriously not feeling well.

With that, it was time to fly off the next morning for a few days in Minnesota with family for my birthday on the way back to DC…and to get a bit of rest before beginning an incredibly busy travel period – even by my standards!  Post to come on that in the coming days before I head off on probably my craziest two months of travel ever!

Jul 242018
 


Had a nice leisurely morning since we were in no rush, and let the host know we wouldn’t need breakfast since we were going out for one last long walk and would just grab something on the way. In a way, I think they were a bit offended we didn’t want to eat breakfast there, but at the same time…it saves them money. I’ve never understood how a hotel/etc is such an important part of the experience that it’s so important – but then again I’m not a big breakfast person. Give me a nice strong cup of coffee and maybe a small roll or such, and I’m good to go.

Strolled around the city for a bit, grabbed coffee at Polynesian Coffee and Tea again, and after only two days the proprietor was sad to see us go. Seriously, if you go to Easter Island and like good coffee, this is the place to go to!

Our host dropped us at the airport (after making sure again that everything had been perfect, and nothing was wrong with the breakfast) and gave us leis again as a farewell. A fantastic island experience that made us feel more like family than hotel guests, and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re looking for a unique experience.

I just realized, it seems like I’m gushing about this trip. Maybe that’s because I finally spent four straight nights in the same place on vacation. Maybe it’s because we tried a few unique new things and really enjoyed them…either way, it definitely ticked the box of a nice relaxing vacation!

Nice quick check-in at the tiny airport, and grabbed a shot of our plane from the other side of the fence while waiting to be let through into the secure side of the airport. I’d say the departures hall but, well, it’s not so much a room as just the open air on the other side of the security screening!

In the security line is when I realized I still had the key for the geodesic dome. I went up to the coffee shop in the airport, and figuring since it was a small island, I could just ask her to call the owner…and then leave the key with her. She wasn’t able to get ahold of him, but promised she’d hold onto the key until she could get ahold of him and he came to pick it up. There’s something to be said for small places where everyone is like family!

LATAM flight 844
Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile (IPC) to Santiago, Chile (SCL)
Depart 11:25, Arrive: 17:45, flight time: 4:20
Boeing 787-8, Registration CC-BBB, Manufactured 2012, Seat 2H
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 61,049
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,581,324

Ooooh welcome aboard and pre-departure beverages offered by a friendly crew…including champagne and mixed nuts…before takeoff!

Today’s flight path:

I decided to go with the tuna steak, which was kinda meh, but the whipped sweet potatoes (at least that’s what I think they were) were delicious in a balsamic sauce…salad was ok, but the passionfruit creme bruleé (if I’m remembering right…maybe it was mango) was delicious:

Nothing much to say about this relatively short flight. Domestic flight so we went straight to the taxi area, and probably 10 minutes from the door of the plane opening we were in our taxi. Unfortunately, it was absolutely pouring rain, and there were multiple accidents all over the place, making our drive to the hotel take over TWO HOURS. Yes, I get that it was rush hour on top of it, but what a nightmare experience.

We didn’t have much energy at that point for anything other than a quick dinner, so walked a few blocks to Tiramisu which had opened a new room since the last time I’d been there, that was a bit of a bar with 20 craft beers on tap. The perfect place to destress after a long taxi ride.

Slept in a little the next morning, and went down to enjoy the breakfast buffet at the W. I wasn’t all that hungry, but it was nice to have a wide variety of fresh fruits to choose from after being on an island where that was slightly lacking. The Belgium-France football game was underway in the lobby/bar area as we went to breakfast, and it seemed like half the hotel was there watching it:

Not a bad view from our hotel room in the morning either:

It was a pretty overcast day, so we decided to just take it easy and having a casual day before meeting up with the Free Santiago Walking Tour. I had done this tour when I was there the previous August and really enjoyed it, but it had also been raining which made it not so fun, and since Phil had never been to Santiago again we decided to go.

Not too much to say, but I enjoyed it way more without the rain…and we ended up having the exact same guide which I had had almost a year before! I ended up not taking any pictures, not intentionally, but I think I was just focused on seeing everything I had missed the prior time when I was focused on staying dry and taking pictures.

After the walk we ended up at KrossBar Bellavista, where we enjoyed a few good craft beers while warming up from the slightly chilly walk:

We ended up heading back to the hotel after KrossBar, and grabbed a really quick dinner at Tiramisu again before getting to bed earlyish. We wanted to be up at a reasonable hour to do a bit more sightseeing before we headed to the airport for our flight home. We fortunately had a 4pm checkout, so that would give us time to sleep in a little and still see some things.

First up was a walk to the SkyCostanera, and a ride up 60+ floors in the escalator to the observation deck. We had one of the supposedly rare crystal clear days in Santiago, and the place was pretty crowded because of it. But look at those views!

Looking the other direction:

From the 61st floor you could take an escalator up one more floor to the 62nd floor outdoor observation deck. Looking up, nothing but blue sky!

One more look at the mountains….what a view:

Bit of a wide-angle shot so you can see the windows too…I was a bit surprised with my fear of heights that this didn’t bother me at all:

In the mall at the bottom was a grocery store, with something I’ve never seen in any other country. Choose your shopping trolley by volume!

We still had a little time, so hopped on the subway and headed to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, a museum and memorial to the thousands of people who disappeared under Pinochet’s dictatorship. Museum from the outside:

Wall containing pictures of “los desaparecidos” – the disappeared:

I think the story of the disappeared is one of the earliest political memories I have – thanks to a song by Sting of all people about the mothers who danced alone in the square with pictures of their disappeared loved ones hung around their necks. Out of fear of being arrested themselves for protest, they danced in silence with the photos…which I imagine must have been a terribly powerful sight.

Back to the hotel to head home, I noticed this collection of colourfully painted park benches near the hotel:

Another colourful bench:

…of course, we couldn’t resist stopping for one last pisco sour, which was by far the strongest and tastiest of the trip…and there might have been a second just to be sure.

…back to the hotel where the Russia/Croatia game was wrapping up, and a 4pm checkout turned into 5pm…but the W was fantastic about it, and happy to give us the extra hour. Next time, no doubt I’ll be returning here again. Now…off to the airport to begin the long, long trek home!

Jul 232018
 


Our last full day on Easter Island, and we were up again for a 9am half day tour. We’d found a rumoured coffeeshop on TripAdvisor that supposedly opened as early as 7am, so decided to stop by on the way to the tour. Polynesian Coffee and Tea turned out not only to be open, but have a super friendly proprietor and brewed a very nice strong double espresso. I would definitely have the energy to power through this tour!

Much smaller tour group for the half day tour, only about eight of us, including a couple of people who’d also been on the full day tour before. I made a couple more efforts to engage them in conversation, but it was in vain – they were just completely uninterested. Well, their loss 😉  First stop of the day was on the south side of the island at Ahu Vinapú.

Runs of several moai knocked off a platform…against the ocean. Easter Island sure knows how to make even an amateur photographer look pretty good!

Ruins of the platform, and the head from one of the moai. One thing that was different about this site is that the stones on the platform were set absolutely perfectly next to each other with little gap, leaving them to wonder…why.

Sad moai face looking up at us:

After Ahu Vinapú it was time to drive back up to the crater we hiked the first day. I was really looking forward to this, because it would give us a chance to appreciate it not winded, and in much better light. See what I mean? Look at that view down into the crater!

We were also not too tired to go and find the village of Orongo. We might have actually gone on the first day if we had known how relatively easy it was…a simple walk around the “right” side of the crater….until you come to “end” of the crater, which you can see in the first picture above as well from the other side:

So, this is a good place to talk about the Legend of the Bird Man (known in Rapa Nui as the Tangata Manu). Every year, one young man from each tribe would live in seclusion out at Orongo, training for the annual bird man competition. Whenever the first sooty tern (bird) would return to the island and lay an egg, all the young men would swim out to the islands of Moto Nui and Moto Ini and look for the eggs. The islands:

First one to bring it successfully back to the main island, their patron (you didn’t think they’d actually get the reward, did you?) was named the Bird Man for the next year, and basically lived like royalty. Yes, many of them died while attempting it, including falling from the cliffs and being eaten by sharks.

The houses in Orongo where they lived while training. Those doors are barely a foot high, and the inside 3-4 feet high. The idea was that when visitors came, they would have to crawl in on hands and knees, automatically making them submissive to the owner:

Near the ruins of Orongo were also some recreations of cave art which had been found:

One more look down into the volcanic lake:

One last stop on the way back to town, at the very same caves we’d walked by the first day and been unable to go in because the cave was collapsing. Oh well, a great chance to get better pictures in a bit better lighting:

After being dropped off from the tour, we headed across the street and had lunch at what TripAdvisor called the best bargain on Easter Island: a restaurant called “Club Sandwich.” Lots of reviews mentioned they ate here every day because it was such a good bargain. I had the Rapa Nui Burger, which was basically a hamburger with cheese and grilled peppers…sort of like a cheesesteak version of a burger. Delicious, but omg so heavy and filling.

After lunch, I wasn’t feeling overly mobile, and it was a gorgeous day, so we parked ourselves next to the ocean and just enjoyed it…and had a few pisco sours…and watched the ocean…

Back to Mama Nui Glamping for a little bit of late afternoon relaxing, and enjoying our geodesic dome one final time.

After a bit of a rest, we headed to the ice cream place by the glamping site, and had ice cream with the locals one last time. No idea why this place wasn’t more popular with tourists, but it was always packed with locals. Mmmm, rum raisin:

I made a friend who wanted a bit of my ice cream….I was sad I couldn’t take him home!

…I’m a sucker for that sad face!

Back to Te Moai, where we enjoyed one last round of sunset pisco sours:

…and Mother Nature cooperated and put on a spectacular show!

The place we were thinking of eating was hard to find, so we eventually ended up at a different place….which brought me a huge octopus carpacio and bowl of mushroom risotto. Waaaaay too much food today, but delicious!

Full and happy, it was back to glamp for one final night before getting ready to fly to Santiago for a few days in a real hotel!

Jul 212018
 


With a 9:00am tour, we wanted to get up in plenty of time to get some coffee. Our glamping dome didn’t serve breakfast until 8:30, but was nice enough to pack us some brown bag breakfasts….which contained several rolls and muffins, an apple, several other smaller items….and a can of Marley brand matcha. As someone who doesn’t normally eat breakfast all this fuss was nice, but waaay more food than I’m used to. Another plus to the glamping place: a huge breakfast to start your day off!

While snacking on it, the offender who tried to wake us up every morning starting around 4am wandered by….

Took the shortish walk to Mahina Tours, where our group was just assembling for the day. We had an actual small bus, and there would be 20 or so of us doing the full day tour. Strange tour group, in that even by the end of the day nobody was the least bit chatty, and meeting other people was quite difficult.

First stop of the day was way off to the other side of the island on the east, Rano Raraku, where the vast majority of moai were carved out of the volcano before being transported to other parts of the island. This has been determined by scientists based on their mineral composition being the same as the rock on the volcano, but nobody has any idea how these many ton statues were transported. Personally, I’m buying into the aliens theory.

When we got to Rano Raraku, it was off on a guided hike of the moai that were still hanging around the site. We hiked for about an hour, and our guide for the day gave a really complete explanation in spanish, followed by about 75% of the same information in Spanish. You definitely got a little more out of it if you understood Spanish, but the English part of the tour was great as well.

Right, with no further ado, moai #1 of the hike:

Bunch of moai, you know, just hanging around. Note all the lichen on many of them:

The side of the volcano was literally covered with them…most looking out towards the ocean:

Perfect lighting:

After the hike and more moai than I could count, we had about 30 minutes of free time, and we used it to climb up the side of the volcano so we could see the crater lake. This volcano wasn’t nearly as high as the previous one, and we were rewarded with a nice view nonetheless:

After that it was back in the bus for the short 10 minute ride to the coast, and one of the most impressive lineups of moai on Easter Island: Ahu Tongariki.

I really wanted to get a picture with all of them, but despite being there nearly 45 minutes people would go and stand in front for like 10 minutes…and hold long conversations, despite multiple people asking them to move. Every country visited, and I’m still amazed just how many people are so inconsiderate of others.

Right, that said, I took my pic in a minute and got out of the way:

Well-worth waiting 45 minutes to get this shot:

After Ahu Tongariki it was approaching 1pm, so we were back in the bus for the ride back to town and Mahina Tour’s headquarters where lunch was served. It was nothing fancy (juice, grilled chicken leg, rice, cabbage, etc) but was definitely better than expected, and more than enough to get us through the tour. Getting artsy with some flowers out in front of their building while waiting for everyone to get back on the bus:

Final stops of the day were on the north part of the island, with amazing views to the ocean:

A magnetic rock…don’t ask me…but for some reason they felt it really important to show us. A bit of a let-down after all the moai!

Our final stop was Anakena, a beach on the north part of the island. It might have been fun to go for a swim (although the water would have been freezing cold) but we opted just to walk around and enjoy. We’d considered the hike/walk from Anakena back to town on our last day, but it would be around 6-8 hours, and we weren’t convinced we’d see anything that new or unusual so decided to skip it. Right, the beach:

Another moai platform at Anakena….bright sun made for not the best pic, but I do like how they were throwing shadows from the sun right behind:

Stop was a bit longer than it needed to be if you weren’t swimming, but the great tourist hoards had been planned for, and there were a couple of cafes on the beach. We decided to enjoy a beer while we waited, and quickly made some new friends:

The tour was excellent, and since we had no plans the next day we decided to book another half day tour with them the following morning. We hiked back down the beach for sunset, but unfortunately it was super clouded over, so we weren’t able to really get many good pictures.

We also hadn’t made dinner plans, so ended up at the highest rated place on TripAdvisor on our walk back: Neptune Island. First, we were a little concerned because the restaurant was empty. Empty as in we were the only people in the huge restaurant the whole two hours we were there.

But, the food definitely lived up to its billing. I went with the seafood curry as recommended on TripAdvisor, and it was absolutely amazing…as was the quinoa “risotto.” Both were unique and delicious, and I’m glad we tried it despite breaking the usual rule of don’t eat anywhere that nobody else is!

…and as the meal was ending, they came by with “traditional” headdresses and insisted that we put them on and take a pic. Despite protesting they were having none of it:

Back to the dome for an early night, and we had the pleasure of a “pet” in our bathroom…who would hang around for the next two days:

Off to bed…lots of moai and another tour for our last full day the next day!

Jul 192018
 


After a wonderful night’s sleep and finally catching up from several short nights in a row (it’s amazing what a night in a geodesic dome can do for you!) we were off to wander around.

But first…breakfast at Mamma Nui Glamping. Short of buffets, it was one of the most elaborate breakfasts I’ve ever been served at a hotel: a platter of fruit, meats, cheeses, multiple kids of breads, toast, rolls, juice, fried egg…the list goes on and on! More than enough to fuel a day of adventure.

We had decided the next day would be the tours to see most of the island, so today’s plan was to wander around, try and find a tour, and just orient ourselves to things a bit. We hadn’t seen much of the town given we hiked straight out on the first day, so today was really all about exploring.

After breakfast, we headed to the northern side of town and passed our first moai of the trip on the way:

Some more restored sculptures on the northern side of town – you can see just how perfect the weather was!

Crystal blue water, clear skies, and sculptures…pretty close to paradise!

Not sure what this one was supposed to be….a fist gripping something…maybe a fish or weapon?

As we continued out of town, we passed by a cemetery, which was also guarded by a moai:

A group of restored moai at Ahu Tahai on a platform:

Another perspective:

The bright blue sky with the sun overhead made a great contrast with the moai, and was fantastic for taking pictures:

By this point, we’d wandered several miles, and were starting to get hungry. The skies were also beginning to cloud over, so we decided to take refuge and get a small bite to eat. Pisco sours and tuna and cheese empanadas….how can you go wrong?!

Just as we sat down, the skies opened up and very heavy rains started. We were sitting across from the local football / rugby field, and had a great view of the rugby practice that continued despite the heavy downpours. Personally, sitting drinking pisco sours, I thought we had the better way to wait out the rain!

While having lunch, we attempted to figure out which tour company to go with. We’d seen great reviews of Easter Island Travel, but their office appeared closed, and when we sent them a message on WhatsApp we got no response. Strange for the highest rated tour company on the island. We later found out it was a public holiday – the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (which we affectionately referred to as the feast of Peter, Paul, and Mary for the rest of the trip) and thus they were closed.

On the walk back, we walked into Mahina Tour which seemed to be doing good business, and had good reviews on TripAdvisor, and offered a full day tour of the main sights…and the price was fantastic…so we booked hoping for good things. It was pretty much a 9-5 tour the next day, but would let us see all the highlights.

After the rain cleared, we headed back to Mamma Nui for a bit to recharge phones/etc, before heading out again to catch sunset and dinner. Walking back the same way we’d gone in the morning, we passed a horse just hanging out in front of a sign giving the distances to a variety of South Pacific islands:

The moai of Ahu Tahai at sunset…unfortunately, it was a little too cloudy to get a great pic.

…that said, I do like this rather artsy shot of a solo moai with a little sun behind it:

As the sun was almost set, we stopped in the Te Moai Sunset restaurant to grab some dinner. First up was some spicy shrimp as an appetizer:

…followed by an amazing ceviche for dinner:

There was also a super tasty desert, but that was consumed so quickly that I didn’t even get a picture of it.

After dinner, we decided to head back to the Mamma Nui and walk off dinner, but there was one small problem: there was no light pollution at all on the island, and it was pitch black and we couldn’t see where we were going – even using iPhones as flashlights.

After just a couple of minutes we decided to admit defeat and went back to the restaurant to have them call a taxi for us. It was probably only 1.5 miles or so back to Mamma Nui, and fortunately (unlike almost everything else) the price was extremely reasonable.

Bit of wine back at Mamma Nui’s restaurant, and off to bed – we had a full day of touring planned!

Jul 182018
 


Alarm went off way too early, but fortunately check-out was nice and easy, and despite the dubious legality of Uber in Chile our Uber showed up in two minutes and we were off to the airport. A fun fact that we discovered about Chile, which I think I’d previously since forgotten: if you allow hotels to bill your credit card in US Dollars instead of Pesos you don’t have to pay the approximately 15% VAT on lodging – a pretty sweet deal – especially since they bill in actual US Dollars quoted and not some horrid Dollars to Pesos back to Dollars exchange rate that lots of hotels try and pull. I’m pretty sure this only applies to foreign tourists, but still a nice benefit!

Got to Santiago Airport in under 30 minutes, and then were faced with an interesting question: is Easter Island from the domestic terminal or international? We couldn’t find a flight board to verify (nor a gate!) so decided to head to domestic security. Lots of these far-flung island parts of countries can be considered international for customs/immigration purposes, so you can never be sure. Fortunately, we were right, and right past security was Starbucks. Looks like Fils and Joseph are off to Easter Island!

Flight was completely full in business class and about 80% in economy, but unlike Aeromexico there was nobody at all in the premium line, so we were able to be the first on board.

LATAM flight 841
Santiago, Chile (SCL) to Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile (IPC)
Depart 08:30, Arrive: 12:25, flight time: 5:55
Boeing 787-8, Registration CC-BBF, Manufactured 2014, Seat 4A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 58,713
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,578,988

Too few airlines seem to use the mood lighting on the Dreamliner, so LATAM was very eager to make up for it. Ugh to the 2-2-2 seating configuration, but yay to the warm pink/purple glow that greeted us onboard:

I am definitely not a fan of 2-2-2 seating and having to climb over people, but I did love how open the cabin felt. I might not have felt the same way on a nighttime flight, but for this daytime flight it was a really spacious feeling…or maybe that’s just the mood lighting….

Another cabin view because…either I’m obsessed with the mood lighting, or I was impressed how roomy it felt. I never take this many cabin pics, so you can decide for yourselves.

Pre-departure drinks consisted of water or orange juice, and a tiny amenity kit. Had the only thing I really wanted for a daytime flight (socks) so I was happy enough with it. Honestly on a flight this short I don’t expect an amenity kit during the day anyways.

Shortly after takeoff – the view of the Dreamliner engine with the curved wing never gets old to me…

While everyone was settling in they turned the mood lighting to a cool blue…and Phil was trying very hard not to look at the ghost that was seated across the aisle…

Breakfast was a rather uninspired omelette, some tasty, but meagre fruit (though I can’t remember the last time that I was given pear on a plane) and plenty of carbs to go along with it. The frosted lemon cake was delicious, and while I took the croissant for science, I’m happy to report it was properly buttery and flakey, and entirely consumed with a little marmalade.

The flight passed quickly, and soon we were spotting Easter Island:

It was a gorgeous day when we deplaned via stairs, and I loved seeing the very unique airport. There are too few airports that are this unique these days, so I love it when you get to see them:

Thatched roof and all…we’re definitely in the South Pacific!

After purchasing our national park permits at the airport (available with US$, Chilean Pesos, or by credit card) it was out to the parking lot to wait for our driver. We were getting a little nervous when we didn’t initially see the sign, but right on Island Time we spotted him and we were off in the pickup truck to Mamma Nui Glamping.

So, as anyone who’s read my reports for any length of time knows, I can be a bit of a princess and I like my accommodations comfortable. There was one high-end option on the island, but the price was insane and the location didn’t look great…so when I spotted the opportunity to sleep in a geodesic dome, well, I ran with it. This wasn’t for one night either, it was for a whole four nights! This was either going to be an adventure that I loved…or hated.

Leis on arrival at the airport, and a quick “King of my Geodesic Dome” photo:

It was early afternoon at this point, and we’d decided to do an afternoon hike that looked doable from the Dome, but first, we decided we needed some lunch. We went to Restaurant Dominican right around the corner from the hotel (chosen 99% based on location and 1% on TripAdvisor reviews) and were quickly served a huge plate of absolutely delicious ceviche. It wasn’t cheap, but at maybe $30 for the lunch with a beer it wasn’t outrageous either:

So, off we set for a hike from the Dome. We walked south along the coast, coming first to Ana Kai Tanata – which was supposed to have some really cool cave art. It definitely had an amazing view out to the ocean:

The lava volcanic landscape reminded me a lot of the big island of Hawaii:

Unfortunately, the cave art was closed because, well, the cave had apparently been collapsing over the previous months and was no longer safe to be inside. Oh well, it was a short detour, and rewarded with great views of the coast.

Continuing on, we started to ascend the Rano Kau volcano. Fortunately, it wasn’t too hot, because the climb was pretty much straight up, and just when we thought we saw the summit up ahead it would keep going and going:

About 90 minutes later we were finally to the top at around 400 meters or so, and rewarded with a great view down into the volcanic crater lake:

Panoramic of the volcano:

Mandatory proof I was here selfie:

One more…because the view was just that mesmerizing, and after that hike we’d definitely earned it:

We knew that continuing the hike would take us to the old village of Orongo, but it wasn’t entirely clear how to get there…and we were pretty tired and jetlagged by this point so after a rest headed back down the volcano. Going down still took a while, but was so much easier than going up. Great way to spend the first afternoon, and an even better way to get some exercise and walk off all the airplane food!

…which was an excuse when we got back to town to grab some ice cream, which turned out to pretty much be the theme of the trip! Back to the glamping place around 6pm, and the setting sun did a nice job of showing the dome:

Unfortunately, despite the outside temperature being around 22 degrees celcius, the temperature inside the dome from the direct sun hitting it was well over 30. So, what better to do than to decamp to the attached restaurant for some pisco sours and eventually some delicious pizzas for dinner. Given it was our first night there, some relaxing was definitely in order, and we just hung around the restaurant for the evening playing with the resident cat and dog, and enjoying unwinding. We had absolutely nothing planned that we had to do the next three days, so for once, I was really looking forward to actually being on vacation!

By the time we got back to the dome around 10pm it had cooled down nicely, and the outside temp was maybe 13-15 degrees and the dome was the exact same temperature – wonderful for sleeping! Managed a solid 9 hours of sleep in the wonderfully cool dome (thankfully I’d brought ear plugs, because the sound of roosters at 4am combined with dogs barking would have woken me up otherwise) and was ready to actually get out and explore Easter Island!

Jun 052018
 


Time for another throwback post, this time back to 2008 when I was alerted to a mistake fare that Lufthansa had published. The fare was meant to be for DC to Helsinki, but when publishing it in the list of permissible connecting cities they accidentally put the code for Johannesburg. This meant that for a “normal” sale business fare to Helsinki you could add in several more miles earned plus have the chance for a 12 hour stop in Johannesburg! Back in the younger days when I flew more just for the adventure this sounded like a wild deal. I was sold!

Of course, I had nearly 14 hours in Frankfurt on the way to Johannesburg, and that just wouldn’t do at all. At this point I was at only 63 countries visited, so I started looking if there was a sidetrip from Frankfurt that I could pull off within 14 hours. Noticing the frequent flights from Frankfurt to Zurich, I decided that pulling off Liechtenstein would be possible, so a quick booking and I was set to try it!

Fast forward to the flights were relatively uneventful, so few details. Fortunately I was into Frankfurt on time and had no trouble making my connecting on SWISS. Fortunately, since they were both on separate tickets it could have been trouble. This was also in the dates before inflight WiFi, so it’s not like I could just log on and cancel the SWISS ticket if we were going to be late.

Fortunately, no problems.

United flight ???
Washington, DC, Dulles (IAD) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart approx 17:30 Arrive: approx 7:00 next day, flight time: approx 8 hours
Boeing 767-300, Registration N657UA, Manufactured 1993, Seat 6K

SWISS flight 1071
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 10:20, Arrive: 11:20, flight time: 1 hour
Airbus A319, Registration HB-IPY, Manufactured 1996, Seat 10F

Landed right on time in Zurich, and I had exactly 7.5 hours between flights to go see Liechtenstein. Down to the train station in the airport, and a first class ticket to the Swiss town of Sargans purchased. It was just over an hour to Sargans, where upon arrival I bought a connecting bus ticket to take me the rest of the five miles or so into Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

First impressions, a bank with some very modernist architecture:

More walking, and I was really impressed by just how green everything was:

This was around the time it seemed like every city had to have statues that represented the city, painted a bunch of different ways. DC had its donkeys and elephants, Berlin had its bears, and apparently Liechtenstein has its….cows.

…again just how green it was. But brrr, it was mid-August and everyone was still in jackets.

Herzlich willkommen!

Small tourist train running around Vaduz:

After walking around for around three to four hours, I decided to walk back to Switzerland, you know, as one does. There haven’t been a whole lot of international borders I’ve crossed by walking!

Old wooden bridge between Vaduz and Switzerland:

Apparently, the local graffiti artists are less fond of Switzerland:

…and walking back into Liechtenstein one more time for good measure:

…and back into Switzerland. How many different border signs can I find!

…just one more, I swear!

Caught the bus on the Swiss side back to the train station, and back to the airport in plenty of time to relax in the lounge for a bit before flying back to Frankfurt. Very productive stopover!

SWISS flight 1076
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 18:55, Arrive: 20:00, flight time: 1:05
Airbus A319, Registration HB-IPS, Manufactured 1997, Seat 36A

No need to clear immigration since at this time Switzerland wasn’t in an immigration union with the Schengen countries, so got to stay in the international area the whole time, and plenty of time for a stop by the lounge on the way to the plane. Best part of the flight down to Joburg? I was so exhaused from sleeping on the plane the night before and walking around all day that I passed out. Plus, this was the old 747-400 configuration with 4D, the solo seat in the nose that people used to call the “Captain’s Chair” because it was in the middle of the deck.

Lufthansa flight 572
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB)
Depart 22:35 Arrive: 8:50 next day, flight time: 10:15
Boeing 747-400, Registration D-ABTF, Manufactured 1991, Seat 4D

This was also in the days before the Gautrain, so I had to hope a shared bus taxi into the city, which dropped me right at Nelson Mandela Square. Looks just the same as it does now 10 years later! I had a great lunch Al Fresco while walking off the jetlag as much as possible before heading back to the airport to fly right back to Frankfurt!

Most awkward part about flying back to Frankfurt? It was the same plane I had come in on in the morning, and I had exactly the same seat heading back! Third straight night sleeping on a plane, and fortunately the seat was still form-fit to me so I quickly passed out and slept just about the entire way to Frankfurt. Three nights in a row on planes will do that!

Lufthansa flight 573
Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 18:55 Arrive: 5:25 next day, flight time: 10:30
Boeing 747-400, Registration D-ABTF, Manufactured 1991, Seat 4D

Lufthansa flight 3102
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Helsinki, Finland (HEL)
Depart 9:35 Arrive: 12:55, flight time: 2:20
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIQW, Manufactured 2000, Seat 4C

Spent the first day in Helsinki walking off jetlag and playing tourist a bit, and then it was time to head to Estonia for a night. I’d never been on a helicopter before, so it seemed the way to go!

Loading the baggage….much easier than a plane!

Excited to be boarding my first helicopter. Back in 2005 Copterline had a crash on this route killing all 20+ aboard, but I wasn’t nervous for some reason….I’m not sure why, but…

Copterline flight 140
Helsinki, Finland (EFHE) to Tallinn, Estonia (EECL)
Depart 17:00 Arrive: 17:20, flight time: 20 minutes
Augusta Westland 139 Helicopter, Registration OH-HCR, Manufactured ?, Seat 2A

Look at those views! We passed over the Tallink Ferry, which would be our ride back to Helsinki the next day:

After landing at Tallinn City Hall Heliport:

One last evening picture…back when it was cool to have holes in your jeans, I know…

Took the more direct route home, not via South Africa, and really did make the most of a five day weekend! Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, South Africa, Finland, Estonia…any trip where you have more countries than days is pretty successful!

Lufthansa flight 3103
Helsinki, Finland (HEL) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 13:40 Arrive: 15:10, flight time: 2:30
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIQW, Manufactured 2000, Seat 2F

Great surprise….an operational upgrade at the gate to first class for the last segment back to DC. What a great way to end what was a fantastic trip!

United flight 933
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Washington DC, Dulles (IAD)
Depart 17:00 Arrive: 19:44, flight time: 8:44
Boeing 777-200, Registration N768UA, Manufactured 1995, Seat 1A

Hopefully these throwback posts make an interesting read – I’d love to see how some of these places have changed with time – share your stories!

May 252018
 


Despite the lack of air conditioning and any city noise at all on Moon Mountain I slept like a rock and woke up just as the sun was coming across the horizon. View from my private plunge pool just outside my tent:

Yup, I think if I spent a few more days here I might have actually managed to relax enough to enjoy the peace and quiet of the amazing surroundings:

The road into Moon Mountain…it’s definitely “real” and “remote” Africa:

Leaving breakfast, the sun was coming up just over the mountains:

Headed out to get an early start, because I wanted to make it to Windhoek in time to see a bit of the city. Of course, I stopped at the bakery in Solitaire one last time for another piece of apple pie. Third visit, and I finally noticed the pictures of Moose McGregor hanging in the bakery:

So, this is where things got a bit messy. Maybe 30 minutes out of Solitaire, I saw a warning on the “D” road that I was on that trucks were not permitted due to steep inclines. I figured hey, how bad could it be, there would be some sort of serious warning if it was that big of a deal – right? I should probably preface this by saying that I don’t really deal well with heights.

Well, after 30 minutes more of driving, that’s when I saw it. The road took a very sudden right turn, and started heading up the side of the mountain, on a long and winding road with switchbacks and no guardrail, at roughly a 15% incline. It also kept going and going. I froze probably a minute in, and was like “ok, backing DOWN this thing at this point is going to be even worse, not to mention 2-3 hours probably out of the way to find a better route, so hey…you’ve lived a good life. Go for it.”

Yeah, I’m being a little dramatic because I hate heights, but it really is a pretty bad road. Fortunately, it’s been bricked over so at least you’re not sliding on gravel. The road crossed up over the Spreetsoogte Pass which is bad enough to have its own Wikipedia entry. According to Wikipedia, the road varies between 16% and 22% grade, making it even worse than I thought.

I was way too whiteknuckles the whole way to stop for pics, but a couple from google:

So, I admit that based on these pics it doesn’t look too terrifying, but if you need to see for yourself, the D1275 from Solitaire towards Windhoek will do it for you. I promise.

Anyways, I lived…and at the top I was terrified that if going up was rough (when I looked down at the road in front of me the whole way), I was scared how bad going down would be when I couldn’t avoid looking down, down, down. Well, surprise surprise, we never went down. We were actually drive up onto a plateau, so thank God for small miracles?

Driving the rest of the way to Windhoek was pretty easy, and the road actually turned to asphalt for the last 45 minutes or so. Waze did a great job of guiding me all the way into my hotel at the Hilton Windhoek, and had no problem getting the car parked and surviving the trip without wetting myself. After patting myself, I checked into my first super comfortable hotel with great AC in a few days and went for a walk.

Right outside the hotel was a statue of Curt von Francois, the founder of Windhoek in 1890:

Along the walk I stoped at Cramer Ice Cream, which tempted me with a waffle with amarula ice cream:

One of the best parts of Africa is the streets named after dictators:

Christuskirche:

The Independence Museum, with a statue of Sam Nujoma in front of it:

Very North Korean looking statue – it would not at all surprise me if Mansudae Overseas was responsible for this in addition to the statues in Senegal and other places.

Speaking of streets named after now former (sort of, since he’s still living in the Presidential Palace) dictators, it’s Uncle Bob Avenue!

After a long hot walk, I retired back to the rooftop pool at the Hilton where I had a couple of ciders and just relaxed.

View from the roof wasn’t half bad at all:

At the recommendation of friends i negotiated a taxi on the streets to take me to Joe’s Beerhouse, which was supposed to be a Windhoek institution. Based on the literally hundreds of people hanging out drinking and eating, I’d definitely found the most happening place in the entire country. The oryx lasagne was definitely a one-of-a-kind treat too!

Back to the Hilton, where the city looked just as amazing at night:

Off to bed, because it was time to get up early and fly to Zimbabwe in the morning!

May 242018
 


I was clearly tired from the night before when I slept poorly due to being up with food poisoning half the night, because even though the cabin was very bright and there was a fair amount of noise as people got up for sunrise at the dunes, I slept…and slept…and finally woke up at 9am just in time to get some breakfast and check out of the lodge before heading into the park.

A view of my cabin/room/tent from the outside:

First stop inside the park was at the lodge where I was able to buy the park permit, and drive into the park. I guess I hadn’t paid all that much attention when planning, as it was nearly a 40km drive to the first big dune, “Dune 45:”

Feeling much better today, I decided to head up the dune. Note the little person for scale:

Up we go! Fun with perspective:

More fun with perspective and shadows…it was a very hot and dry climb to the top…and surprisingly windy up there!

After hiking up it was back in the car to drive 30 minutes further to the main attraction…Dead Vlei, Big Daddy Dune, etc. So you have to (well you don’t HAVE to, but unless you’re good with a 4 Wheel drive on very loose sand you need to) drive to a car park, and from there take an overpriced shuttle the last mile or so.

Dropped off after a mile, I’d managed to chat up a nice Portuguese couple which was fun for the Portuguese practice…but trust me when I say, following them was NOT the best idea. Normal people? They walked in a line towards the Dead Vlei, but I figured the Portuguese must know what they’re doing…so followed them to the left on this pic, up that big dune…not following the line of people and the semi-worn trail:

Big mistake I learned after 20+ minutes of very hot hiking to the top…only to realize I was absolutely no closer to Dead Vlei…but hey, at least I could see it from way up there. Down, down the due we go. Now, mind you, it was nearly 100 degrees fahrenheit at this point because I was stupid and had started late…and there was zero shade obviously, and I hadn’t brought a head. Smart right?

But once I finally got to Dead Vlei, the sights were amazing. The contrast of the dead trees against the sand and the bright blue sky was absolutely stunning!

Again, amazing….and I take terrible pics!

Slowly starting the walk away from Dead Vlei:

Not being well-prepared, I opted to skip the hike up the Big Daddy Dune. If you’re going to do it, bring lots of water, covering for your head, and start early in the morning.

On the way out of the park, I stopped to snap a pic of the UNESCO World Heritage Site marker:

After leaving a park I stopped at the lodge again to grab a small snack and some diet coke and water to rehydrate before getting on the road. It was about an hour drive from the park to my lodging for the night at Moon Mountain Lodge.

It was about 20 minutes out of the way, but I totally backtracked to Solitaire again because…I was hungry and the apple pie was THAT good!

First off, let me say, the setting is stunning. The lodge is perched on the site of Moon Mountain, and unless you’re VERY good with a 4 Wheel Drive there’s no way you’re making it up to the lodge yourself. Fortunately, they see you coming and send a car down to get you.

First off, the big down side: internet is only available in the lodge, and has been broken for nearly six months. Coincidentally, they’re also recently under new ownership, and it definitely seems like upkeep hasn’t been great. In addition to internet, the path lighting to the tents at night was out, and if I hadn’t had my phone as a flashlight it could have been a dangerous walk.

Right, first off, the inside of my tent…well, “Executive Suite”, but it was a real tent…canvas walls and all. Note the door on the right to the bathroom…which was almost the same size as the tent, and connected with a small walkway:

Did I mention stunning views? Sunset from the lodge:

Sunset in the other direction:

One of the best things about the lodge in addition to the view was the dinner buffet. Plentiful selections, and with maybe 40 guests in the whole place there was plenty to eat…and really tasty as well. Drinks were a la carte, but very reasonable, and the staff really did go out of their way to be as helpful as possible. Overall, it was a really enjoyable night, even without AC and internet.

Off to bed…another long day of driving tomorrow to Windhoek!

May 232018
 


Fortunately after falling back to sleep around 3 or 4am I managed to sleep until 8am, and only woke up feeling terrible – and not like death. I felt well enough to try and shower and leave the room, and at least see what breakfast looked like. I was craving salt for obvious reasons, and figured I might get a little food down.

The breakfast buffet all looked totally unappetizing, but used it as an excuse to force myself to eat some cinnamon buns and bacon, and get some calories and nutrients back in. I was feeling so dodgy I even skipped coffee and went with tea, and actually started to feel  moderately human afterwards.

Human enough that I decided to go for a little walk outside and see if I could see anything more in the daylight. To say it was a little foggy out would be an understatement:

Woerman House, now a museum and library:

Under the pretence of needing calories and caffeine, I stopped for a nibble at Cafe Anton for their Apfel Struedel as a few friends had recommended. Unfortunately, my piece wasn’t very good and the crust was actually a bit raw in spots. The espresso was, however, pretty good, and there may have been a second one….and still no signs of the upset from the night before other than feeling slightly nauseous. This might be the quickest bout of food poisoning I’ve ever dealt with!

The Leuchtturm – lighthouse – and one of the symbols of the city:

Rather gory war memorial near the lighthouse:

Für Kaiser und Reich!

I found the monument rather fascinating in all its gore!

Memorial to those killed in the Two World Wars:

Walking back along the still foggy beach back to the hotel:

Got back, packed up, took some meds, and hoped I would be well enough for the long five hours of driving ahead. At least I reasoned that if I started to feel too awful again I would at least be in the middle of nowhere where nobody would be witness!

After checking out I got back in the SUV and stopped by a grocery store to stock up on supplies for the next three long days of driving. Lots of water, caffeine, and some Pringles for good measure just in case I needed the salts. Headed out of town, and within an hour I was near the turnoff for Dune 7. It was pretty good roads all the way here so far, and I was beginning to think this might not be too bad. Well, except for the fact there was exactly zero cell reception at the dune. Note the tiny people climbing the dune to get a sense of perspective:

Golden sand against clear blue sky: #nofliter

I still wasn’t feeling 100% so opted to skip climbing the dune and proceeded further east. Had to stop in front of the Walvis Bay airport sign for a selfie to prove I was there:

However, soon after the airport the road turned to gravel, and then even rougher gravel. The car was handling it pretty well for the most part with minimal sliding and despite the challenging terrain, it was even worse off the road:

I probably drove another 90 minutes to two hours, stopping every 20 minutes or so to give the arms a rest from the jarring of the bumpy roads on the steering wheel. Eventually I made it to the Tropic of Capricorn. Hey baby…what’s YOUR sign?

Finally after nearly four hours of driving I made it to the “town” of Solitare, which is located in the middle of nowhere in the desert. I thought I was probably just a little over an hour from my destination at this point, but it was nice to finally sit down at the cafe and rest a bit. This is the only sign of civilization for hours, so a popular waypoint with tourists on their way to the dunes.

Old abandoned petrol machine in Solitaire:

Grave of Percival “Moose” McGregor who had died just a couple of years prior, and was well known in Solitaire for his bakery.

Rusting out truck cab. Spectacular against the blue sky and desert:

Rusting car in the desert:

Welcome to Solitaire sign:

After enjoying a piece of apple pie it was back into the car to finish off what was hopefully the last hour or so stretch to the lodge. Waze was acting a bit crazy (did I mention there was no data signal anywhere in the desert, and only the gas station in Solitaire had weak wifi?) and took me a bit of a longer route off of a “C road” and onto a “D road.” If the C roads were gravel and bad, I shuddered to think what a D road would be like. Fortunately, it was really no worse…maybe even better…and after a bit finally made it to Sossusvlei Lodge.

First disappointment: again no internet, except in the reception area and bar, and even that was rather weak. Fortunately, my hut/tent/whatever you want to call it for the night did have one small weak AC unit, but I was able to move the bed right under it and sleep really well:

Plenty of space in the room:

Huge spacious washroom with walk-in shower:

Sunset on the edge of the desert:

Gorgeous pink hue in the sky:

Wandering a bit further from the lodge, and hoping not to run into scorpions or other wild critters, the sunset got even more vibrant:

Dinner was a buffet affair, and tables were assigned. I sensed a sense of pity from the staff that I was all alone, and they acted like it was the first time they’d seen a visitor not in a group. They walked me over to my sad and lonely table for one, and I set out to explore the buffet. It was a carnivore’s dream, with just about every type of wild game you could imagine for grilling:

I guess I was feeling better and my appetite had returned!  Boerewors, oryx, haartebeast, springbok…had to get my protein levels back up!

With that after a long day of driving I was exhausted, and crashed hard for eight hours. I was told it was a good idea to get up for sunrise over the dunes, but I just couldn’t be bothered…