Mendoza. 

Reaching Argentina it was a given that we would visit the biggest wine region it has and arriving from Santiago it was a nice surprise to be welcomed by the wide tree lined streets and parks of Mendoza. 

After spending a few days eating our way around the city, and drinking copious amounts of red at our hostel, it was wine tour day. Coming from a wine region a day at the wineries wasn’t something out of the ordinary for me, so we chose to do our own self guided tour, by bike!  We met some great people at the hostel and the six of us set off, we reached the Maipú region and hired our bikes. It took precisely five blocks to realise, my fitness levels were not up to it, and another five for one of us to pop a tyre, a clear insight into how our day would unfold.  

 We made it to our first winery Viña el Cerno where we were sold on the idea of doing away with the tastings and hitting a few bottles instead. We got lucky, the previous few days had given us freezing winds, but the sun was out and it was quiet warm, the perfect wine weather if you will. After a few wines in the sun it was onto Tempas Alba for lunch, where we had been told the steak was spot on. It goes that Argentina has the best steak, I however do not like steak, I know, I know- I keep hearing it, who doesn’t like steak? Even the vegetarians staying with us ate the steak- and loved every bite. So I did it, well to an extent, in that I had a tiny bite, and… I still hate a steak, best in the world or not the blue cheese on top couldn’t mask that meaty flavour. The rest of the crew did give it a ten out of ten though. 

After a few more bottle tastings it was back on the bike and onto our third and final winery Mevi. The perfect spot to end our day, we perched ourselves on the balcony to catch the last of the day’s warmth and a pretty delightful sunset over the Andes.  

Before we knew it we were riding back, feeling much fitter than the ride there, the six of us were blissfully riding single file along the road, then it happened- what we knew was coming all day, the fall. The car was pulling out, unsure of if it would stop or not Ruth stopped, or attempted to, slid and as I turned she just slide into that huge ditch. A cut head and cars stopping everywhere, then we were in someone’s house, people rushing to wipe her face, appearing from everywhere. It was bound to happen, and I had all my money on it being Ruth, and by the looks of things it was certainly not the first time that family had witnessed drunk foreigners falling off bikes. 

Finally we made it back to return the bikes just a little late and make our way back to the city to cheers our day with a few more bottles of red and some football.   

  

Salar de Uyuni.

  The lead up to my South American trip didn’t leave much time for planning, from Honolulu I scored a cheap flight to Miami and from there I flew to Bolivia to meet a friend and start ticking of my Latin American bucket-list. Beginning with one of my top items the Uyuni salt flats. 

Once in Uyuni we set off to find ourselves a tour, the cheapest we could find. We ended up on a three day, two nights tour with six of us in the car and one lovely Bolivian tour guide.  The first day was the day I had been hanging out for, after a quick stop at the antique train cemetery, around three kilometres outside Uyuni. It is as it sounds, a heap of old abandoned trains, left there when the mining industry collapsed in the 40’s, which made for some quirky photos in itself. 

 Then it was onto the real spectacle, Salar de Uyuni or the worlds largest salt flats, covering over 10,000 square kilometres . The salt desert was once part of a prehistoric lake, and once it dried out it left behind two modern lakes and two salt deserts, a truely unbelievable natural site.

The salt flats are huge and spread as far as the eye can see, which leaves plenty of room for one to take copious amounts of ridiculous perspective photos. We alone spent over two hours playing on the flats, we were overshadowed by dinosaurs, stood on apples, drank from giant beers and the masterpiece- appeared from a giant Pringles container. The salt flats are unbelievable, so flat that mountains 250 kilometres away appear as though they were just in front, something I had been searching photos of since the day I thought up the idea of visiting South America.  

 There certainly could of been a lot more time spent there, but it was on across the endless flats to the Fish Island. This island that appears in the middle of the flats gets its name from its distant shape, said to look like a fish, something we did not witness. This huge island is covered in cactai that we were told grow one centremetre a year, which leaves for some very old cactai. As the island was once submerged by water the surface is made from coral deposits. An Island made of cactai and coral definitely an unusual sight, one that gave fantastic panoramic views of the open salt flats from the top.    

 After a night in a hostel made completely of salt it was on through the salt desert and onto see the next highlight. Arriving at Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve we were greeted by Laguna Colorada the colour was phenomenal, such a rich deep red it is hard to believe it was in fact water and to top this off, flamingoes, something else I was hanging out to see. The national park is home to four different species which all range in colour due to the water they consume and the minerals it contains. 

 After our final night in the desert we awoke before the sun and set off to catch the sol de Mañana, here we reached our highest point for the trip at almost five thousand metres above sea level where we would watch the sun rise as the active volcano produced bubbling mud and steam streams around us. At a crisp minus 15 degrees with a little snow, it was undoubtedly the coldest I have ever been but one hundred percent worth it.  

 From here it was a drive to the thermal springs, even with temperatures of 40 degrees I could not be coxed into talking my many layers off and entering. Once more we were on our way, with one last quick stop in the Dali desert aptly named due to the surreal stone sculptures said to mimic the artists work. A quick glance at lake Verde and we had reached the chilian boarder. Our trip through the desert was complete and number one of my South American bucket list ticked. An absolutely mind blowing few days and the perfect opening of what is to come in this adventure. 

Honolulu 

 Hawaii wasn’t on my agenda, but it just happened to fall on the cheapest route to South America. I am all about saving a buck and when I saw cheap flights from Sydney I jumped on that option. I was lucky enough to find a friend with some holiday time and a birthday the same week as mine, so we set off to spend birthday week in Waikiki. 

It didn’t take long before we realised we were in one of the biggest honeymoon destinations in the world, surrounded by couples wherever we went, being mistaken for a couple many times and certainly feeling very single the entire time. There were also plenty of families getting around, but certainly very few people in our position.We had ten days and planned to spend most of it tanning as we had just come from a touch of Australian winter. It was our first time to the States, and there was a buzz feed article to sum it up perfectly, our main confusions- why is everything so big? what the hell is a dime? and what is with that weird yellow cheese stuff? Safe to say we left feeling significantly heavier. 

Apart from eating, sleeping and tanning we made the trek up to Diamond head the iconic volcanic cone of Hawaii, it’s a nice casual hike up, although a lot tougher when you decide to walk from Waikiki and back in the midday sun like we did. It leaves for some amazing views over the sea and Waikiki as well as Downtown Honolulu.  

 After spending over an hour on a bus to get to Pearl Harbour it was a quick decision to hire a car to head to the North Shore, well worth the fear of driving into oncoming traffic. We stopped for lunch at Haleiwa a quant surf village that resembles what Hawaii looks like in years past. We then headed right around the coast to the Polynesian cultural centre, resisting the urge to stop at every beach we saw on the way! The Polynesian cultural centre is a theme park dedicated to the villages of Polynesia. You could easily spend a day if not more wandering between the different island villages and watching the performers. As we were strapped for time we spent around 2 hours there, watching the introduction movie and the canoe parade of all the individual tribe dances before it was time to move on to some of Hawaii’s most amazing beaches.  

 Turtle bay was next, and to our disappointment without a single turtle in sight, we had spent some time searching for the turtles in Waikiki after we had been assured they were everywhere, and having no luck we were certain turtle bay would provide the goods, but alas there were no sea creatures swimming beside us. After some time in the sun we started the drive back, stoping at sunset beach and getting a glimpse of the famous 7 mile stretch of surf that is said to be some of the best in the world. 

 If it weren’t for the fact travelling via Hawaii saved me some cash, and gave me a decent transition from full time work to full time travel, I’m not sure it would ever be my holiday destination of choice unless of course it was a honeymoon or family holiday. It does have a fantastic landscape and some surreal views and great beaches, but for two people celebrating birthday week, not the most exciting place although we did leave extremely tanned. 

Budva.

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Eastern European nightlife at its finest, starting from the old town walls you are engulfed by the vibrancy of this place. You wouldn’t even imagine that the entire old town was rebuilt in the 80’s after an earthquake hit.
To begin, you are surrounded by huge open air bars and restaurants and then you move a little further and reach what is referred to as Luna park. When I hear Luna park I automatically think of what I know, a huge laughing clown face welcoming you into an amusement park, as seen in Melbourne and Sydney. Luna park in Budva Montenegro isn’t so dissimilar, think bar after bar lining an entire stretch, all competing for your business. When I say compete I mean, try to blast their music louder than the competition, every night it’s like walking into another world, you can’t hear anyone speak you just wander, tap and point when you want to enter somewhere.
If Budva didn’t already have enough to offer in the night out category it is also home to Top Hill, Eastern Europes largest open air club, I visited this club both times I went to Budva. The first time there was a random Croatian performing, and it was packed, unable to move packed. This visit was a bit more relaxed and to my liking. As the name suggests it is on top of a hill just out of the city, but you can see it’s laser lights all over town, just as though they are luring you in.
After experiencing the nightlife a bit too much. We spent a recovery day as Jaz beach, which is about a ten minute drive from Budva, we found the local beach, which you have to carefully trek around a small path to reach, a little crowded. Jaz beach, was the perfect white pebble, clean crisp watered beach we had been hoping for to top off our fabulous few days in Budva.
I seriously can’t praise Montenegro enough, it’s beautiful, fun, cheap, the people are friendly and the nightlife is on another level.

Kotor.

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Montenegro was the next stop on our whirlwind European adventure, with a quick stop over for lunch in Dubrovnik.

As I’ve said before Croatia was my first independently visited European country, way back when I first set out to avoid a real job in 2011. Every time I think back to that trip I consider myself unbelievably lucky, and every time I think of this visit I cringe.  The beauty is undeniable, however the cartel of shirtless, hungover ‘Sail Croatia’ Australians are unavoidable. So after three hours and one significantly expensive meal, I was itching to get back on the bus and back to  The Bay of Kotor, another of my much beloved places.

Kotor is a stand alone in my eyes, Its beautiful pebble lined bay enclosed by mountains, makes this small town the perfect little hideaway. The fully walled old town has multiple hidden gems to wander between. And to top it off, a casual 1350 step walk up a very steep incline to visit the fantastic remains of the old fortress.

We used this humble little town for a bit of down time, tanning, swimming and eating amazing food around the bay. Until our final day when we ran into a previous travel companion, which always seems to be the case in Europe. It was then we set out to explore Kotors nightlife. My first visit I was living off pittance and at the end of my trip, so this was something new and exciting for me, unlike retracing those 1350 steps up to the fortress.

With a few local tips from our friendly taxi driver we easily found the places to be, an abundance of people huddled in the corner of the old town walls. It wasn’t until then we found out what those walls actually contained. Maximus a huge open plan nightclub, where it seemed the entire town came alive. It was here we spent our last night in Kotor, and ruined all that resting we had done in previous days.

Kotor, and Montenegro in general, I feel is still sliding slightly under the tourist radar, and it is certainly the place to be, and hopefully it never turns into what I see Croatia has.

 

 

Mostar.

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My first visit to Bosnia only took me to Sarajevo, this time Mostar was the place to see. Such a unique and intriguing city.
The feature of the old town, the Stari Most or the old bridge, where divers plunge 23 metres into the freezing waters below. Or better yet, where tourists pay 20 euro to be ‘trained’ by a local before conquering the height. It is not only the feature of the town, but also a symbol of the countries reconciliations after it was destroyed during the war, before being reconstructed.
We were lucky enough to score a tour with our hostel owners friend. It ended up just being my friend and I, which led for an interesting and amusing day. Our guide took us around the city, showing us the damage that still remains from the war, sharing his personal stories and his passion for his country.
We then went on to visit a cave with some of Europe’s most pure water and some beautiful waterfalls, before a stop in The City of stone a beautiful quant town just outside Mostar.
We remained in Mostar for a few more days, we just loved its feel, the ottoman influence, and the cheap Bakeries!
Walking down the street, where you can still see bullet riddled buildings, army equipment and sand bags guarding doors. It just shows what this small humble city has been through, and all too recently.

Zagreb.

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After a nightmare train from Budapest, we made it to Zagreb. Croatia was my first European city travelling independently over two years ago. One that I have held fond memories of, this Croatian trip varied my views a little. In the two years since my first visit, tourists have completely taken over, and it was slightly unbearable.
Zagreb, although it seems strange that such a beautiful country would have a capital such as this, I have been told, winter is the time to see it. Rather than through the stifling heat as we did.
Although not my favoured Croatian city, it is home to the very unique and fascinating Museum of Broken Relationships, which is always worth the re-visit, this trip however, made way to another unique experience.
It all started in a bar, as I’m sure most good stories do. The guy next to me, heard me speaking English to the bartender, mistook me for British, due to my messed up living in Italy accent. We swapped stories, he tells me he’s a musician, has an Australian wife and is travelling around Europe on tour. Now, we had been in Croatia for three days, but the entire place was covered in Robbie Williams posters. I jokingly add, are you a musician for Robbie Williams? Turns out, he is. I meet the entire band, minus Robbie of course. Before the night is out, they’ve added us to the guest list for the next nights show. Now as it goes, I struggle to believe them, things like this don’t happen. So we take a chance, we were booked on a bus the next day, we push it back another day, and head to the box office to pick up the tickets, which I still think probably wont be there because, things like this just don’t happen. An hour later, we’re standing in the rain in a sold out arena with 42 thousand people, singing along to Robbie Williams, in Zagreb, for free.
One of those things, I will never forget and totally happened by chance. Another unbelievable experience I have been lucky to experience.