24 December 2013

22 December 2013

It turns out you don't forget

Monday 18th November

Today, for the first time in about 20 years, I rode a bike.

OK, technically I borrowed Petra's whilst in San Pedro and spent about 30 seconds on it, but today I hired a bike and spent a few hours cycling the streets of Pucon.

To my surprise the old adage "you never forget how to ride a bike" is true - I didn't. The best part of 20 years since I'd last ridden a bike just weren't there and within a very short time I'd gone from "wobbly, but cycling" to "cycling".

Yes there was, is, a long way to go in terms of rediscovering my confidence and ability on two wheels, but that is a matter of time, repetition and possibly a little training.

It was really good to be peddling around San Pedro - a small, quiet, town, at low enough altitude that I didn't have to worry, where all I had to do was keep an eye on traffic.

I have already asked a friend of mine for advice on what I should be looking for in a bike for when I return to London - it would be a nice option. I have also asked for any pointers on training courses, specifically aimed at safety.

I shall be spending as much time researching bike seats as everything else - good lord they are uncomfortable.

And don't worry - there will be no lycra.

Kayaking in Pucon

Saturday 16th November.

Having tried and loved white water rafting whilst in Arequipa, I wanted to try other watersports. Pucon is one of the best places to do kayaking and I was there at one of the best times of the year to do it. Another opportunity to prove that few look good in a wetsuit.

The day started on the lake, learning the basics - paddling and control of the kayak. This mostly involved trying not to capsize the kayak whilst getting yourself around the lake, although obviously it resulted in a lot of getting cold & wet. It was a hot day, but the water was cold.

When you get in to a kayak for the first time there is a perfectly natural worry that when, not if, you capsize it you'll not be able to get out and will end-up trapped upside down underwater. From chatting to my instructor this is something everyone worries about; having capsized a kayak many times I can confirm that it is really easy to get out, so easy that I fell out a few times whilst trying to learn Eskimo Rolls.

An interesting part of learning to do Eskimo Rolls is intentionally capsizing the kayak and getting use to being upside-down underwater, which the first time you do it is scary and a lot easier after that. You just capsize the boat (very easy), wait for a bit (harder that in sounds whilst hanging upside down in a lake) and then have your instructor flip the kayak, bringing you back to the surface. Do that a couple of times and any fears about being trapped soon go - in my case as I fell out of the kayak the first time I tried it.

After a few hours on the lake doing a mixture of basic manoeuvring and failing to learn how to Eskimo Roll I was tired - a lot more tired than I was expecting. A 1.5 hour lunch break was most welcome.

The inability to do an Eskimo Roll made the afternoon's activities a little more interesting - 2.5 hours of paddling, covering about 10km of grade 2 river. My only choice if I capsize would be to pop out of the kayak and swim for the bank, keeping my paddle with me (something my instructor stressed several times - he would sort out the kayak.). Although the river was only grade 2 (i.e. mostly calm, a few faster & choppier bits - rapids-ish) and I'd very happily rafted down a grade 3-4 (i.e. lots of big fast rapids), this was more daunting.

Sadly I couldn't take my camera with me as there was no way of keeping it dry, and Gil was busy flying off a volcano (no, really) and so had her GoPro. This is a real shame I'd love to have captured the calm and beauty of slowly paddling down the river - the views of the river itself, along with Pucon's most famous view, the volcano. Stunning.

To my surprise, and that of the guy who runs the company, I managed to do the whole journey without falling in - I think in part as I was really *very* keen on not getting a soaking; I'd spent the morning cold & wet (and loving ever second).

Being cold & wet for hours, along with being surrounded by new germs - part of the fun of travelling - meant that the day after I was starting to come down with a cold, one that Gil had been fighting for a few days and for the rest of my time in Pucon I wasn't feeling well enough to get back in to the water - something I wanted to do.

Southern Chile is a place I want to return to and explore - I'll be back in Pucon and on its rivers.

21 December 2013

Airport security

As all regular traveller and most infrequent travellers know, airport security is joke. Security theatre at its highest.

Catching up on some reading today and found this, via Crypto-Gram.

The far easier way to to just buy a bottle of spirits and smash it - a broken glass bottle is a very effective weapon.

Thankfully we are safe from those evil terrorist plots which require more than 100ml of fluid </WeaponsGradeSarcasm>.

19 December 2013

Salt Flats Tour pics - day 3

The day started with more amazing scenery...

... including this lovely lagoon. Those little black dots on the right of the lagoon are people. 

On the other side of the tracks...

...another reminder of the scale - the little black dots at the waters edge are people. If you could see the pink dots, you'd see...

... flamingos.


18 December 2013

Salt Flats Tour pics - day 2

Day two started with llamas - cute and delicious.

We then had to drive through a little water.

With the rest of the day being all about the views. Again.

Photographically this isn't anything special - it is all about the scale of the landscape. Those little black dots next to the blueyblack bigger dot are people, next to a Landcruiser.

A patch of snow in the middle of the desert. We were somewhere north of 4500m if memory serves - it's cold up there. And yes, we did have a snowball fight in a desert.

Shot from exactly the same place as the above picture, just turned through 180 degrees. A patch of snow surrounded by all this.

 Ending the day at the red lagoon.

16 December 2013

Salt Flats Tour pics - day 1: The Sunset

These pictures don't do justice to the sunset I witnessed that evening, but they're all I've got. Enjoy.

15 December 2013


I was planning a post on protecting your data whilst travelling, but some events this evening mean that I want to write and publish this ASAP.

CrashPlan is a well-known system for backing-up data and I have been using it without a problem since some point early this year. Part of the data it has been backing-up are my travel photos - about 7000 photos. 68GB of data. 7000 totally irreplaceable pictures.

Part of my backup solution is to have the files within my Google Drive folder on my laptop, which in turn is backed-up by CrashPlan to their cloud system and to an external hard disk.
NB: Google Drive is very useful, but it is not a backup service and should not be treated as such.

I took a look at the data which was backed-up tonight as my external hard disk is dying and that tends to focus the mind. Looking at what CrashPlan says is backed-up (i.e. what I can restore) vs. what is in my Google Drive folder of my laptop and there is a major difference between the two - CrashPlan simply didn't show me most of the content as available for restore (i.e. I know I've got it backed-up).

Houston, we have a problem.

I spent a couple of hours tonight looking at why this is happening, as from what I had seen through the user interface the backup of my Google Drive data was working as I'd expect. I eventually found this support article: https://helpdesk.code42.com/entries/23348058-CrashPlan-and-Google-Drive
The user interface was reporting that everything was being backed-up properly and yet it wasn't. Whooops.

Given that I work in IT security you'd think that I'd have manually verified that the backups were working as expected and that the data was recoverable (an untested backup is useless) - simply, I hadn't. My bad.

One very quick change to the laptop later and CrashPlan "found" the data it previously was unable to do anything with and as I type it is currently backing-up the data to its cloud system.

There are similar articles for Dropbox, Skydrive and Evernote, for those interested - which if you are using CrashPlan to backup any of those services should be all of you, if nothing else to verify that it is configured and working as you expect.

Now would be a good time to verify that your backups are working as expected - the data is being backed-up and that you can restore it.

I'm a culinary genius

12 November.

And this year's Noble Prize for Culinary Genius goes to....

Argentina has a blood sausage, not dissimilar to Black Pudding, called Mocilla and it is delicious, especially when cooked on a BBQ.

Today's culinary genius, and it is up there with The Paco... The Mocilla Sandwich. A lump of Mocilla in a roll.

Yes folks - years of dedicated research has allowed me to create this wonder. But like all good super geniuses, I'm standing on the shoulders of giants - in this case Ryan (of travelled with in Kyrgyzstan fame), who pointed me in the general direction of BBQ'd Mocilla.

The Mosquitoes of Mendoza

9 - 12 November.

Having spent a lot of my time in South America at altitude I hadn't had to worry about mosquitoes for my entire time here - this is a nice relief, although something which has lulled me into a false sense of security.

Mendoza is a lot lower (746m, according to Wikipedia) and as the first night here was cold they didn't come out. On the second night things had warmed-up a lot (it had been a warm, dry, day, the exact opposite of Sunday when I arrived).

Oh how they chewed me on the 2nd night - I was bitten all over my hands, arms, legs and even a couple on my head (makes shaving fun).

My third night came with a liberal amount of bug spray over my body, something my fellow room-mates did too (one of which has also been chewed on the 2nd night). No new bites, but the existing ones are itching like crazy - far worse than the mozzies from Central Asia ever managed.

Pro tip: spending time in Mendoza - bring good bug spray. The locals recommend something called "Off".

14 December 2013

The Vines of Mendoza

9 - 12 November.

Mendoza, Argentina, is a place I added to my list back in Kyrgyzstan, based on recommendations from a lot of the people I was travelling with at the time - a few days of excellent wine sounded good. Having spent a few days in Mendoza, it is good.

The journey here from Santiago, a place I'd stayed overnight having left San Pedro, was a simple 8 hour bus ride over the Andes, which makes for some stunning views - it is well worth doing during the day if you like mountain scenery.

Mendoza itself is a fairly small city, but one with a nice feel about the place. A pleasant place to spend a few hours walking around, although having arrived on a Sunday I found that it, like a lot of the rest of South America, is closed on Sundays. It is also likes a siesta - so everything is closed in the afternoon too. As with the rest of South America - do stuff early, nap in the afternoon and then go out again. Or, if you are like me, forget this on a regular basis - have a lazy morning, "discover" that everything is closed mid-afternoon and then have a lazy afternoon too (I've read a lot in South America, which is no bad thing) and then cram too much in to the afternoons and evenings.

Whilst there are many things to do in and around Mendoza (rafting appealed, but I was saving that for Pucon), the main reason for visiting the area is wine. Lots and lots of amazing wine.

The two traditional methods of touring the wine region is either with some form of organised wine tour (driven from place to place, look around the site, try wines, etc) or a self-propelled tour, by bike.

I had wanted to do a nice wine tour, such as Trout & Wine which has an amazing reputation, visiting some of the better vineyards and trying some of the nicer wines, but it was only when I was in Mendoza did I discover just how expensive they were (the wrong side of $150 for a 1 day tour). I could have coped with about $100, but $150 is just too much for tasting a few (very nice) wines and having (what the reviews all say is) a very nice lunch
If I were in Argentina for a short break (a few weeks) - and given how little I've seen of the place, how much I've enjoyed what I have seen and what I've been told by others, I want to return - I'd happily budget for doing a couple of nice tours; not an option for me at the moment.

Part of me fancied the bike & wine option, but having not ridden a bike for the best part of 20 years drink-cycling my way around Mendoza seemed a little "interesting".
(side note: I actually tried a bike for the first time in about 20 years in San Pedro - I borrowed the one Petra had hired for the afternoon for a few min - and much to my surprise you really don't forget how to ride, even if I was a little wobbly.) 

I found reference to The Vines of Mendoza and it looked interesting - it gives you the ability to sample various wines at various prices from many different vineyards, without having to travel very far, and whilst being educated by staff who really know there stuff. Their online reputation is excellent (see this, for example).

I spent Monday night there, sampling 4 good wines and 1 which was absolutely stunning - it is up there with Diemersfontein Pinotage, which is no faint praise from me. I wanted to be able to afford to import a case or three, but the total cost of doing it ended-up at around £50 per bottle - totally unaffordable. I'll be doing my best to track it down  at home - it is stunning.
For those interested... Pulenta, 100% Gran Cabernet Franc, 2010. The irony of going to the home of Malbec and falling for a Cab Franc isn't lost on me.

Tuesday, my last day in Mendoza, was an easy day of another Meat Coma and a return to The Vines of Mendoza for a sample of another 5 great wines, which thanks to Ezequiel (the guy who runs the tastings) being a nice guy turned in to 7 great wines. Whilst the 7 were good and some were very good, none touched the Cab Franc.

As much as I would like to ship many cases of the Cab Franc home, I just can't. I can, and did, take one bottle with me back to Chile; something to enjoy whilst in Pucon with Gil. Buying the wine also allowed me the opportunity to do something I get a slightly odd kick from - mess with people.

There is a certain stereotype of people who go to nice wine tastings and it would be fair to say I'm not it; when in full backpacker mode I certainly don't look like it, not that I look any more like it most of the time anyway.

So picture the scene... you are sat in a nice wine tasting place, looking like the type of person who goes there, when in walks a dirty backpacker - it would be fair to say my shirt was probably a day past when it should have been in the laundry - who is carrying two bags with him (see this picture, although the hat is now lost :-() who has just had a warm greeting from the guy on the door and an even warmer greeting from the guy who runs the place and one of the other staff.

Imagine your further surprise when the guy who runs it grabs you some water (I'd just walked with my packs from the hostel and was obviously a bit hot & sweaty) whilst the waitress thanks you for her present (it's her birthday and she joked on Monday night that I should bring her cake - so I did) and offers you a drink, on the house.
Imagine your shock, being the person I sat next to, the type that looks like sitting next to backpackers happens to someone else, when a glass of wine is brought to me before I can even ask for what I want and it is very obviously my favourite - the wine I'd gone to buy.

I then proceeded to sit there, enjoy my wine, chat with the waitress. Sadly the wine ended and I had to find a cab - one was called as it is a lot easier. The taxi arrives and there is a round of warm goodbyes from all.

I do wonder what those sat around though as the whirlwind of oddness passed through. Based on their looks, bewilderment I suspect.

I do get a rather twisted kick from watching the reactions from those around me when I do stuff like this - see Sushi in Cape Town, for example.

13 December 2013

Travel Tips: logout

I'm going to write a detailed post about reducing risk when using random computers whilst travelling - simple measures which you can take to protect you and your data. Until then one very quick, very simple and very important one.

Use the logout button.

If you are using a public computer to access the likes of e-mail and Facebook then make sure you use the logout button once you are done. I have seen it all too many times when people don't - I've sat at computers where I've found people signed-in to Chrome/Gmail/Facebook, giving me them access to a lot of stuff I suspect they don't want me or anyone else to have access to.

Use the logout button; wait until it is confirmed you are logged-out (e.g. back at the login page) and then close the browser (i.e. close all the browser windows for that browser). Congratulations, you are now less likely to have opened-up your life to exposure you probably don't want.

You should also consider the use of the "private browsing" mode in most (all?) modern browsers, as this helps prevent leaving your "trace" on the computer - just remember to close the browser after.

12 December 2013

Salt Flats Tour pics - day 1

A few pictures from day 1 of 4 of my tour through the Bolivian salt flats.

The first stop on the trip was to see views like this - I knew I was in for a very happy time.

A few hours latest and a quick leg stretch.

A small village in the middle of nowhere where we stopped for lunch. 

The houses were all made of mud bricks.

To say it was remote doesn't begin to cover it. The building on the left is the school.

It did have a church though - which isn't a surprise.

Another big landscape.