off for work again..

28 February, 2008

That’s right folks we are off tomorrow for another of Caths work trips. Our itinerary is as follows:

29th – 5th Mexico City

6th – 7th Lima

8th Nazca Lines

9th -11th Santiago

12th – 16th Buenos Aires

17th first visitors arrive yahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

So our well travelled friends and family, if you have any top tips of places to see, eat or drink in any of these locations, please let us know!

have fun y’all!


Greg and Cath finally get a home phone number..

27 February, 2008

Hey dudes and dudettes,

Thanks to magic of skype, we now have a home phone number you can call us on that will reach us wherever we are in the world.

The phone number is based in Australia, so basically you call it and pay for a phone call to Oz, Skype then redirects it (at no cost to you) to our laptop where if we are online we can pick it up like a normal call, or if we are offline, you can leave a voice mail and we will ring you back.

The number is +61 (07) 3103 2028 or if you are already skyping then you can catch us online as gregandcath.

Hope all is well in whatever country of the world you are in looking forward to hearing from you all!

g n c

A lovely weekend in a land where petrol is cheaper than water…

26 February, 2008

After only two days in Caracas, we knew we couldn’t spend a weekend in the city (it’s not that exciting or safe) and our hotel, like many in Caracas was just a shambles… more things didnt work than did work, and the place seemed to be running out of food…. Aparently due to the loss of value of the Bolivar Fuerte (or strong bolivar – the currency of Venezuela is named in honour of the great south american leader Simon Boliviar, and just in case you were wondering the country named after him uses the Boliviano as its currency) . Sorry i ramble, back to rapid currency devaluation, so the currency has lost at 30% of its value in the last year due to rampant inflation, so things are getting to expensive to buy, so businesses have just stopped buying stuff – like ingredients for food on the menu for example! But more on the Venezuelan black market later….

At least our hotel looked good:

Hotel Tamanaca, Caracas

Hotel Tamanac

So our initial plan to fly out to the island of Los Roques, but this cunning plan was quashed by the fact that in late January one of the two planes that services the island ‘got lost’ with its 35 passengers and 3 crew onboard, to date it’s still ‘lost’ though they have ‘found’ the body of the co-pilot. Poor beggars, it hasn’t been a good start to year for Venezuelan air travel, with another plane crashing while we were there killing 46 people flying out of a town high in the Andes.

So that was enough of a sign from the travel gods that this was probably not the best place to have a weekend involving a flight in a small plane, so instead we headed west of Caracas to a tiny little town called Puerto Colombia:

Porto Colombia, Venezuela

Porto Colombias main street

The town is at the end of a very very very very windy mountain road, the road is so windy they have a race up it every year, running or cycling, the road up has 360 corners on the upward drive, and climbs well over 1800 metres, from just near the equator warmth at the bottom, to nice and chilly at the top. Of course the road is rough and ready, often only one lane – especially it appeared around the blind corners, so all the cars, motorbikes, buses, tractors and trucks that drive the road spend the whole time honking, reversing or just barging their way through, exciting if somewhat scary stuff!

Road to Puerto colombia, Venezeula

The road up through the mist

So we stayed at a beautiful little hacienda just on the edge of town, the hacienda was a converted cocoa plantation house, really cool, olde worlde rustic, with a great swimming pool, and a little restaurant/bar serving fresh seafood straight off the boats.

Hammocks outside room

Must have a hammock to live here, my kind of lifestyle

The town itself was tiny and crazy, the oldest port in Venezuela, with just a couple of streets of old Spanish style houses and lots of little restaurants and bars, I imagine it is like Port Douglas (in QLD) was like before the resorts and developers arrived. I think the two taxi-buses that service the town and nearby Choroni pretty well sum the place up:

Puerto Colombia to Choroni Taxi

Thomas the tank engine – taxi

Puerto Colombia to Choroni Taxi number two

Postman pat post van – taxi

Local fishing boats were used to ferry sun seekers to the nearby beaches for a day of sun and surf, so on the Saturday morning we took got a 15 minute boat ride – no life vest, so safety briefing, just get in, sit down, and shut up, the waves were massive, each boat that made it out of the harbour without capsizing was accompanied by a cheers from the onlookers on the harbour, scary stuff, but the boat trip was definitely worth it, the beach was great, we were finally on the Caribbean!!!

Puerto Colombia harbour

The harbour – on Sunday morning, much calmer than Saturday!

The beach we went too had no land access, but like all the beaches along this coast, it was still full service – a family lived on the beach where they had built a little kitchen and bar – perfect for us, so we spent the day taking dips in the warm water, drinking ice cold beers and we had a cracking lunch with a german family we got talking too, fresh fish straight from the ocean grilled, with fried plantain (a kind of banana – but for cooking) and salad – the perfect meal for a beach, and only US$5 each including the beers!

After a relaxing day we headed back into town for another swim, some more ice cold beers – the only problem with their beers is the normal bottle is only 225mls, a mere nip of beer for people used to drinking a good English pint!

So Sunday we packed up and headed back to Caracas, a journey which had taken 5 hours on Friday, luckily it only took 2.5 hours on Sunday, we got talking to our driver and i asked him why everyone drove 4x4s in Venezuela, where as in Brazil and Colombia people just drove small hatch backs. He explained that petrol was cheap as chips in Venezuela thanks to the wonderful President Chavez, it was currently about US$10 for him to fill up his Toyota Landcruiser, but as he regarded this as still too expensive he usually bought his fuel on the black market, so to fill the 90 litre tank usually cost him US$2 – that’s US$0.02 a litre…. cheaper than a litre of bottled water, you can imagine his horror when we explained we were paying nearly a £1 a litre in England….

Ohh welll back to work..

also thanks for the correction info on the Chavez post, Chavez was infact a military leader, not a union official prior to becoming el presidente – must have got my south american dictators mixed up for a moment!

Lessons learned from travelling in South America part 956.

22 February, 2008

No matter how good a “Chicken Madras” may look on a room service menu in a hotel in Caracas, only a fool would actually order one right?

Visions of a rainy London night, a couple of Banghla beers, some popadoms and nice hot, thick rich gravy, chicken madras momentarily filled my head….

But it can only lead to disappointement… the chance of a Venezuelian chef being able to cook a good Indian curry would have to be about nil right?

Well i can now confirm after last nights room service dinner, thats right, what was described as a Madras curry was actually a capsicum loaded chicken risotto with a dash of curry powder, a liberal sprinkling of parmeasen cheese, and a decidely funny belly as a result..

Ohhh well you live and learn, back to steak for dinner tonight me thinks.

venezuela – an unequal distribution of good looks and oil money….

21 February, 2008

So, we are safe in sound in crazy Caracas, not much to say about the city so far. Initial impressions are that the airport was brand new and very flash and 1st worldy – but as soon as we stepped through into the arrivals hall, it rapidly took a very 3rd world feel, we were swarmed by ‘gentlemen’ offering all sorts of services, taxi rides, money changing, hotel bookings, i am sure i could have got an albino goat if i had just hung around long enough.

The airport in Caracas is right at sea level and the city is at 1,000 metres, so to get to the city its a fast and steady 1km climb straight up the mountain to get to the city. It was a bridge on this infamous motorway which just before christmas last year wibbled and wobbled and just fell down, turning a speedy ½ motorway drive into the city into a 4-6 hour wild west tour through the back roads and slums of Caracas to get to the airport. It caused chaos, a massive increase in carjacking and robberies, but as you can imagine it’s not that quick a thing to build a new motorway bridge over a large ravine half way up a mountain!

So Caracas and Venezuela is one of the most ‘interesting’ countries in South America at the moment, for those of you who like me are not up on your Venezuelan politics, here is my understanding of it in brief. Venezuela, as well as having many beauty queens also has the most oil and natural gas of any country in South America, so with oil at US$100 a barrel the country is officially rolling in it. Ummmm… unfortunately its also full of really poor people and really rich people, but heh its South America, you wouldn’t want it equally distributed would you?

As i have previously noted, Venezuela has also won more Miss Universe competitions than any othe country, but i have to say, that doesnt mean tha all the ladies we meet are 6 foot 2 inches with a passionate interest in plastic surgery and world peace, it appears that good looks, like oil money is also somewhat unequally spread around here!

So the country is run by the infamous President Chavez. He is an ex union leader who got democratically elected as president, then there was a coup that only lasted one day where he was ousted and now he is back again, causing his own brand of south American chaos. He was recently in the news for calling the King of Spain a Fascist – the point is not that the royal family aren’t or at least weren’t fascists, it’s just that it’s not the done thing to say that to a King… then he ‘nationalised’ a large Exxon/Mobile refinery because he didn’t think they were paying enough tax, called for the formation of a formal Anti-USA-League-Of-Nations, threatened to stop shipping oil to the USA, proposed a two tier pricing model for oil, allowing poor countries to buy it at just $20 a barrel, bailed out Argentina when they falling behind on their loans to The West, bailed out Cuba when they were running out of cash for their treasury, paid Cuba to send doctors to other South American countries to help out their health care systems, and lots of other crazy capers. Don’t get me wrong he aint no Robin Hood doing only good, he also tacitly supports the Colombian cocaine industry by not stopping them across his borders (and onto the USA), he also has declared that the FARC rebels in Colombia are not terrorists responsible for killing 100,000s of people – they are just misunderstood…. he isn’t quite sane, but he is at least entertaining.

The big problem down here is that historically national leaders in South America don’t really help each other out, they just kinda pick away at each other, so he is stirring up some real trouble by becoming something of a self appointed Latin American spokesman, and one that is totally left leaning, keen to lend money and support where required without the strings and rules of the IMF and world bank. He is also severely diminishing the influence that the USA has down here with the poorer countries, so he is now convinced that he will be assassinated or a victim of a coup led by the USA – as if they didn’t have enough on their plates at the moment.

So what that means for Venezuela at the moment is that the country is in pretty much total chaos, the President who could be spending the oil money to restore just Venezuela to its former glory, is instead splashing it all around Latin America and not really achieving a great deal, the currency is taking a real battering as he baits the USA and the oil companies and the country is paralized by strikes – the local fire brigade today got an 80% pay rise, but they said that it still wouldnt help, because only 3 of their ambulance are currently working, so they are still going to have ferry patients to hospital in fire engines, but on the good side, President Chavez does have his own weekly tv show – now theres an idea I think could really catch on…

Right that’s enough politics for today… time to go down to the pool for a beer!

Getting High in Colombia….

19 February, 2008

We arrived in Bogota the capital of Colombia on Saturday after a five and a half hour flight from SP.

As soon as you arrive in Bogota, you know you are high – at 2,650 metres, Bogota is higher than any point in Australia (mount Koszciusko tops out at 2,228 metres), only 1,110 metres short of Mount Cook in New Zealand and 1,500 metres higher than Mount Snowdon in Wales.

Bogota At Dusk

Bogota At Dusk.

So as soon as you arrive here – you are high… for those of you who thought I might have been referring to the cocaine for which Colombia is infamous, I can tell you that apparently it’s as cheap as a beer, but it has caused so many 1000s of deaths and is still responsible for many of the problems that Colombia faces so no – we didn’t inhale!
This was our first time at ‘altitude’ and initially it really took its toll, our hotel room was four stories up, but just trying to walk up those four flights of stairs proved to be a massive challenge, the air is so much thinner here, any type of exercise is really difficult, and both of us suffered from massive headaches, loss of balance and generally feeling like crap – our first and hopefully last encounter of altitude sickness….Bogota is also cold, 14-20 degrees every day – never more never less – the same temperature all year round, this minor fact was a bit of an oversight on our parts – we packed a little light, the weather is more like England in Autumn than you would expect being so close to the equator.

Before coming to Colombia, the only things we knew that came from the country were emeralds, the Escobar drug cartel, Juan Pablo Montoya and coffee. But it doesn’t take long to realise that this is a country on its way up, Bogota with a population of 7,500,000 is one massive building site, new apartments, shopping centres and buildings are being built everywhere, and the country is enjoying one of the longest, most stable periods in its fairly bloody history.

The Main Square
Cath in the main square.

Bogota is becoming something of a model city – not just in South America, but for the world, and we were lucky enough to see one of the most radical programmes they have put in place in the city – on Sundays from 7am till 2pm 110km of the cities roads (including several motorways) are closed to motorised traffic and opened to any other form of traffic. The city literally bursts into activity, cycle races, rollerbladers, walkers, runners and even middle of the road aerobics class fill the city with people in an amazing display of health and community spirit. Even when the roads are not closed the city still has to have the most kilometres of cycles paths we have ever seen, there is a cycle path to the airport which is apparently quite popular with travellers, but I think with our luggage we will stick to the cheap and cheerful taxis.

Lets Race!

Lets Race!

So there are lots of things to do in Colombia, but top of anyone’s list has to be the Museum of Gold and the Cathedral of Salt – unfortunately the museum was closed for renovations (doh)! But the Cathedral built in the salt mines about 100km north of the city was absolutely amazing… The Cathedral seats over 5,000 people, it is the second one to be built in the mines and was finished in 1995 and is staggeringly large and beautiful. The walls are almost 90% salt – I know cos I licked them to test it out, and the mine is still a working mine – 800 tonnes of salt are extracted each night after the tourists go home.

Salt Cathedral, Bogota

Inside one of the arms of the Cathedral

Jesus “thats salty”

Some rather salty art

Another must do on our time here was to visit ‘the worlds’ best restaurant and bar’ – now usually when you are told something is going to be amazing, it usually ends up disappointing, but Andres Carne De Res just north of Bogota in Chia – proved true to its reputation – its very hard to describe, the decor is completely mental – collections of the weirdest stuff you can imagine, handmade objects (some arty – some not so arty) stuffed into every nook and cranny – and its massive – it probably seats 800 people – the people are also stuffed into nooks and crannys – up half a flight of stairs, round a snail shaped hallway, over a little bridge, then you find your table, nestled between a collection of car parts and vases made of broken glass…. and they serve food! Thanks Gio for the tip.

Cath eating Colombian miny potatos in the greatest restaurant in the world

Cath eating the famous Colombian mini potatoes.

The Colombian hospitality has been tremendous, from the people in the street – helping Greg when he gets lost, waiters in restaurants, Caths workmates and everyone else we have met have been really friendly and very welcoming – if we keep eating out at the rate we have here we will turn into a couple of very large pieces of South American steak before we get home!

So while Cath is at work Greg has spent his time wandering around Bogota – its a mix of European style areas of really nice houses and apartment buildings, a big area of beautiful colonial area houses and shops, and lots of bits in between – like any South American city, the city is surrounded by large shanty towns – where most of the city’s residents live, but with the continued focus on education and health in Colombia at the moment, it seems like life is getting better for most Colombians.

Lets Race!

The old town

Tomorrow we are off to Venezuela – from what we have heard from the Colombians life is getting worse for most people in Venezuela, so it’s going to be really interesting to step into the land of president Chavez and see if the view we get from the outside of his presidency are the same on the ground…. So till Caracas – see ya!

damn it, have to take another work trip…

15 February, 2008

So we are off tomorrow on a one week work trip – Caths work, my shirk, we are in Bogota, Colombia for Saturday – Wednesday, then Caracas, Venezuela for the rest of the week. Then hoping to have an overnight trip to one of Venezuela’s many Caribbean islands for the weekend. Then back in SP for work/shirk monday morning.

I know its a tough life, but someone has to do it.

We don’t know much about our destinations except Bogota is the safer of the two cities – apparently thanks to a very progressive tax regime – whereby you can specify what you would like your tax dollars to be spent on, Bogota has undergone a massive renovation of the last couple of years and is now one of South Americas most livable cities. It sounds like Caracas and the whole of Venezuala under the control of the ever entertaining Mr Chavez has gone in the other direction and the economy is in something of a melt down…

So it sounds like fun. More news from the road – if we can get on the net!

Have a fun weekend