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Day 297: Mendoza – Argentina – April 10th

Breakfast at the hostel, for the first time in a long time, they actually had eggs and pancakes for us! Something about South Americans and a light breakfast consisting of tea, coffee, and bread+jam. Don’t know how they do it, but even with our skinny frames we get pretty damn hungry like an hour later….

Today we’re paying a visit to the wineries of Mendoza! The wineries are spaced out in several regions, and some of them aren’t accessible unless you have a car or book through tour agencies. Then, there’s the town of Maipu, which has frequent bus services from downtown Mendoza, and it also sports a “wine route”, which pretty much is a single road with wineries jutting out on both sides. This was a highlight before going, but the best part for us was because you could rent a bike there, and ride to all the wineries along the route! It sounds like a fabulously fun idea, riding along the calm country-side with a tandem bike, wind blowing in our hair and not a care in the world…

We hopped onto the bus, and actually bumped into the couple we met last night on the bus! We shared a few tips, and they were quite excited themselves as they seem to love wine as much as we love to drink it. We actually booked a hostel in Maipu instead of having to go back to Mendoza at night, but mainly because our hostel was fully booked already haha. Checking into the hostel, we were the only two staying there that night along with another Canadian! It wasn’t much of an hostel as it is a house with a friendly old lady and her son doing the business. Very friendly old lady, and always great as she’d do the grandma thing of picking up on our bad Spanish, and correcting it (not in a mean way, we can always learn!).

Picking up two bikes for a reasonable $9USD, we first attempted a tandem bike but those things are tooooo scary despite its laid-back appearance. Happily riding along, Jiajia’s minimal experience riding bikes was a bit of a worry at first, but a few hundred meters in she was riding like a pro. Problem was, the roads are NOWHERE what you’d imagine in Argentina. About 1km out from the town, the road turned into a dirt road with dust flying everywhere, trucks zipping next to you as we weaved in and out of construction zones. It felt more like Nepal than anything! After a while, construction stopped and it slowly turned into the quaint, tree-lined roads you’d imagine when thinking of wine country.

First stop, also the furthest stop on the official wine route, was a small winery called Carinae. The winery is very small, owned and operated by a French couple who knew nothing about wine before they bought this operation as a ‘retirement’ plan. Respect. The tasting was very organized and were really impressed with their Octans blend, and a first experience of a grape known as Torrontes. With the floral bouquet of moscato, the wine isn’t overly sweet and dry, hence the winery labels it comically as a liar grape. Bought a bottle of that awesome Octans and we were on our way to the next stop!

Some things seem to go together, like having gourmet chocolate shops next to the expensive butcher? And here in Mendoza, across from the Carinae winery was an olive oil factory. You can smell the hint olive oil from afar, it was awesome! They don’t offer tours, but the tasting was an awesome snack as you load up on olive oil and bread to line the stomach for more wine.

One of the more popular visits in this part of the wine route is the Di Tommaso winery, started by Italian immigrants in 1869, and the winery is declared as a national heritage site, so they can’t actually do any of the manufacturing there anymore. The wine tours were cool, taking you into the depths of their brick vats that are no longer used. The whole place has this awesome old-world feel to it, except the problem is their wines sucked horribly. Horrible.

With our visit to Di Tommaso, it was getting late and we’re running out of time before most places close. We still haven’t had lunch, but the lunch place was rather far, so we stopped at the next winery closest to us, Tempus. Part of the fun with visiting wineries is that, each one has their own style of wines, but their architecture says a lot too. Tempus winery is a modern winery, from the massive gates, to the font of their winery and most importantly, the building itself, is very modern and very cool. The tasting bar is on the 2nd floor, and we went for two ‘flights’, and tried out all their reds as we sat on an outdoor patio overlooking their vineyards. Their regular reds weren’t spectacular, but we ordered a steak which made it all worthwhile. The best though, was their expensive reserve wines, which we ended up buying. While enjoying the sunshine, the ambiance, and the buzz from drinking so much wine, our friends we met from the bus joined in and we had a nice chat as well. The reserve wines of Tempus was very exceptional, and we happily rode our bikes back to the town of Maipu as the sun set over the dusty roads.

Cooling down with a glass of fruit juice at the bike shop, we looked around for some food. Problem is, it was too early for most Argentines to eat dinner being only 7:30pm, but in Mendoza they eat late even for Argentine standards! We ended up eating 2x massive sandwiches, a litre of coke and sitting outside a nice yard as the stars twinkled above. Nice day…!

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Day 282: Villa Castillo & Marble Caves – Chile – Mar 26th

Sleeping in later than usual, we were welcomed by the warming sunshine on our cabin. Making the best of what we had, we made another pot of vermicelli and ate it outside in the garden. There wasn’t much distance to cover so we took our time and decided to head back on the road at 10am. We stopped at the supermarket for the last two packs of vermicelli and at the cash register, Alan even taught the attendant how to cook them. Seems like the locals have no clue how to cook them, so we’re REALLY wondering how they even get them in the first place!?!? We headed to ATM for some cash. Problem with the card….. !?!? Shit, so we head back to the hostel where the internet connection is fantastic (no sarcasm!) to Skype our bank… they didn’t have a problem so we tried again. Turns out, the ATMs didn’t have a connection to the VISA network since our MasterCard cards work… damn. Then we needed to get gas, since the gas stations are spaced far apart and we try to fill up whenever we can to avoid any unnecessary surprises, and then we couldn’t find the stupid gas station after asking around so we headed back to the hostel once again to ask…. haha, what a morning! But wait, there’s more!

Finally by noon, we were ready to go! The towns here are very small, and there’s usually two roads. One coming in, and another heading out, and we as we drove closer to the road out we see two hitchhikers. Thinking about how bad the bus service was, their standard backpacker’s look we said why not and were on our way out with two new friends! They were a nice newly-wed couple from Poland, traveling in South America for their honeymoon!

The drive was extremely scenic the moment we left town. Twisting and winding, uphill and downhill, we were driving along the coastline of Lago Carrera. It was an amazing lake with a distinct hue of blue and a wind swept surface rippling across the waters, and the Andes were the backdrop. There were a few mines, and a few small cattle/sheep ranches would pop up here and there. The more frequent sights were wooden signs advertising fishing, horse riding, cabanas and asado (grilled meats) as a form of cottage-country travel for people. Those log cabins look very, very cozy, but we must beat on!

One big motivation for us to come to this area was because through talking with our HK friends from trekking, they mentioned about how they failed to visit the marble caves at town called Puerto Tranquilo (awesome name!). Googling some pictures, we were so mesmerized at the colours and contours of the caves and really wanted to go. When we were at Chile Chico, and they only had tours going every Mon/Thurs/Sat, and we weren’t waiting 3 days. To add insult to injury, it costs $100USD per person!! So we dropped our hopes and gave up going to the (now even more attractive because it is unattainable) caves…. but hearing from our new Polish friends, they were saying that it was possible to get a boat outside the town and it was cheaper. They heard this from a girl who rode a bike 120km through hilly+rough gravel roads to see them…talk about dedication!

The scenery while we drove definitely made it awesome, but we stopped so many times for pictures and the poor road conditions made it really slow despite being only 150km or so away. We were quite afraid that, this being rural Patagonia, that the boats would stop after a certain time, and we didn’t know how far it was to go or how long it took! All these uncertainties layered above the anticipation for doing something unexpected and previously thought unattainable made it oh-so-exciting. Alan had to channel his inner Colin McRae rally racing skills, and we made it to the outskirts of the town, but Alan actually sped past several signs without reading them properly…we turned back in curiousity, but turns out the sign was pointing down towards the dock for a trip to the caves!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EXCITED. And to make things more fun, the road down was a 45degree winding dirt road with hairpin turns!

We got to the dock, and our Polish friends with his Spanish skills, talked us into a boat taking us out for $15USD per person. FOR SURE! Everyone was so happy and excited! FINALLY WE CAN SEE THE MARBLE CAVES! The boat ride from the dock was only 5mins, and when we got there……anticipation turned into a bit of disappointment…. The marble formations were really pretty and totally amazing as we sailed our boat right into the caves, but the were darkly lit as the mountains blocked the sun as it was already in the Western horizon… It was nice, but nothing compared to what we expected! Aahhhhh! Oh well, not everything’s perfect.

One big constraint with our Polish friends was that, they had a flight to catch, and they were never sure if there was any transport to get them to the airport. We ended up convincing them to join us as we went further along Ruta 7, closer to the airport and more likely there would be transport. We drove 3 more hours into the dark, and the slippery roads and tight corners made driving a bit more dangerous especially under moonlight. There’s a full moon, and it was extremely scenic as it casts its glow onto the overlooking silhouettes of the mountain ranges.

It was late, we were tired but we were so glad we saw the lights of what can be called a town. It probably has more than 10 houses, too! It’s hard to know what to expect around here! We looked around for a hostel using our LP, but turns out the hostel didn’t have any signs, it was really just some person’s house, and for some strange fucking reason, they were FULL. We drove around, asked 2 more hotels, and they were also full! W T F? We really doubt them, but apparently there’s a Chile vs Uruguay World Cup qualifying match going on, and we think they are all in a bad mood because Chile is losing. One last try, we landed ourselves in a simple but clean hostel with cheap beds at $15USD per person. FOR A BED. W T F Chile. At least it’s clean.

We wanted to get here at Villa Castillo to do a day-hike up to see the mountains, but our hostel owner says a 2-day hike is required as it’s a long walk. So, we can’t do a day-hike tomorrow but our Polish friends are much happier, because now we can drive them to the airport and save them the uncertainty of waiting for a bus and waking up at 6am to wait for one! Awesome!!

And now, we’re off to bed while the cows are having a mooing party in the distant. Not joking… cows have been mooing in the fields non-stop since 10pm, and WE CAN HEAR THEM IN OUR ROOM. Haha, you can’t make this stuff up.

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Glimpse of Nepal

Since I’ve been asked quite frequently for some pictures of our trip, but considering we’ve taken over 150gb of pictures, it’s pretty hard to do.
Here’s a quick glance at our trip through Nepal. Looking back at the pictures, it really reminded us what a great trip it was and we miss it already…

Enjoy.

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Day 142: Pokhara (Nepal) – November 6th

Although they recommended a light breakfast, Alan had about one and a half plates of momos for breakfast which he’ll regret a bit later. Jiajia was smart and had one of those banana chocolate-chip cakes. We were then shuttled off by a Mahindra jeep and were off up on the mountains before we knew it! Problem was, we were once again seated laterally in the jeep, and bumping up and down, making sharp turns up the mountain for about 30 minutes. Uhhhh, stomach was queasy and we were all ready to throw up at the top of the mountain. Walking away from the road and down a narrow trail, we weren’t really sure where we were headed until two people just glided right above us with their chutes sailing towards the wind. What a nice welcome! Continue reading

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Day 138: Ghorepani (Annapurna Circuit) – November 2nd

Sleeping in for the first time so far on this trek, nobody woke up until 7:15am, our designated breakfast hour. The guest house we stayed at was ran by the eldest son of the family, a hardworking Nepali whose going to Nagoya in a few weeks to work in a restaurant there, and he was a good cook inded. Very hard working and nice kid with a charming smile, something you’d wish you had in your porter. Eating on the patio as the sun slowly drenched the surrounding villages, it was very cozy, sipping some tea and watching villagers come by. Playing with the neighbour’s baby daughter, we snapped a few pictures with her and an elderly lady, all of whom seem very shy at first but seem to love to take pictures (without being followed by “Picture XX rupees!”). What a lovely village!!

Today was going to be a long hike up, and we didn’t know how long until we finished it. We climbed about 1600m over the course of the day, but its amazing how the scenery, landscapes,fauna and even the people seem to be significantly different than before the pass, on the east side of the Annapurna massif. And because of the altitude, the produce is more abundant, but so were the insects! Think we were followed by a group of 3 mosquitoes for about 2hrs before they finally stopped tailgating our heads. The hike was long but it was much secluded and winds through the mountainside, giving a great sense of nature unlike before hiking in the 3000m+ area where you’d see specks of trekkers 5km ahead of you on the trail.

It’s also nice that whenever you reach a small ledge and take a peak, the towering Daulighiri mountain still stands tall above the gathering clouds.

We were making slow ground today, but finally reaching Ghorepani, the whole city seems to be sprout out of nowhere as you hike up. It was hidden from view below, and it was even harder to imagine that tomorrow we’ll take another hr trek up to the famous Poon Hill. The city of Ghorepani (which I’ve aptly named, At the Foot of the Poon) is at the foot of the Poon Hill lookout where you can, if you’re lucky enough, see a breathtaking panorama of the Himalayas. Even in the town itself, we manage to get a hotel room with a pretty awesome view already!

Tonight, we eat drink and be merry, as it’s our last day on the Annapurna Circuit. Tomorrow, we’ll be heading back into Pokhara, the second most popular city in Nepal!!

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Day 123: Kathmandu (加得满都) – October 18th

Alright, our time of slacking has come to an end as we continued being the good tourists we are. Jiajia is still recovering but the main motivation is we booked our trek to the Annupurna Circuit. Annapura is another 8000m tall mountain, but it is nearly impossible to climb with a fatality rate of over 40%…. we’re trekking around the mountain ranges, and this trek is rated as one of the best all around treks for its vast scenery!

Hankering for some Chinese food, we went back to the same place for lunch before heading to Pashupatinath, one of the most sacred Hindi temples in the Kathmandu Valley. No foreigners were allowed in the temple, but the surrounding areas were just as interesting. Situated on the sacred river of Bagmati, the temple is a shrine to Shiva where a sacred lingam resides in the temple. Walking into the temple, an overwhelming smoke smothers the area (more on this later). Photogenic sadhus sit around, welcoming anyone to come for a picture, but for a small donation of course. Sadhus sit there from morning til dark, contemplating the deep spirituality of the world and legally smoking pot to help them relief pain and to aid in meditation. No comment…..

Since the main temple was banned for us foreigners, we can only stroll around the riverside and take in the interesting history, lingam temples and architecture that lays here, in addition to the dead bodies. Continue reading

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Day 67: Manigange (马尼干戈) – August 23

Heading out to the lama temple after breakfast, we got a ride with his ‘friend’. Again, not sure what to expect we hopped onto their car with a sense of adventure, and a bit of skepticism about what’s to come. Then, the music comes on and it’s the familiar sound of melodic Tibetan chants. At that moment, it hit me that, it would make an awesome intro to some sort of Metallica-type song! Then, before I could share my thoughts, *cue hard guitar riffs*, Tibetan-Metallica starts playing!!! This was a start to an adventurous day… Continue reading

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