Tag Archives: animals

Isla de la Plata

The affordable alternative to the Galapogas Islands, Isla de la Plata is an exciting day trip off the south west coast of Ecuador. Supposedly named after guano from the bird population (and less likely, the hidden treasure of an English sea captain), Isla de la Plata has many of the charms of the Galapagos Islands, just not in a comparable abundance. We had a great time and recommend it, especially if you are at the tail-end of your holiday and running out of kish cash.

Mosh pit.

The above photos were all taken from the landing beach. Not bad eh?

A view of the island.

Frigate birds clustered on a tree.

The charismatic frigate bird. The males inflate the pouches to try and pull the ladies.

A baby frigate bird.

A popular reason to visit Isla de la Plata is an opportunity to see blue-footed boobies nesting. We were lucky to be there at the right time.

As a final treat we were visited by a bale of turtles (that's what a group of turtles is called, apparently). They were pretty big, jumping in the water did not seem like a good idea…

 

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Montañita

After a long overnight bus trip from Mancora with very little sleep, we arrived in Ecuador. Montañita is a little oasis of touristy delights. Perched right on the white sandy beaches of the Pacific ocean, the town is full of western bars and restaurants to cater for the steady stream of backpackers and holiday makers.

By the time we arrived, we were pretty travel weary so we made good use of the hammocks and the sand. The water was unfortunately freezing, which was disappointing! Even though we were so close to the ecuator, it was far too cold to go swimming but we did brace ourselves and jump in for a quick dip.
While we were there, we had the opportunity to go whale watching and spend a day in Isla de la Plata, an island off the coast commonly referred to as the “poor man's Galapogos” because it has some of the same animals but without the exorbitant price tag. The day trip was fantastic and highly recommended! We saw so many whales! They were breaching and playing all around us, one even went right underneath our boat. It was huge! An incredible experience!!

In the next post we will share our experience hiking on the island.

 


No Molestar los Animales

The photo above shows a tourist holding a yellow squirrel monkey. It was taken during our pampas tour in Bolivia's Amazon. The poor monkey was snatched with child-like glee from a tree that our guide had plowed into. Apparently animals are cute toys to be touched and handled for our entertainment. We also saw people almost jump out of our boat to touch a crocodile!

Kids from our tour try to get up close with the monkeys. We were with Fluvial Tours.

The same operators will catch anacondas and let people hold them for photos (and shit on the tourists out of fear) and we heard reports of people getting so close to dolphins that they were bitten.

We were shocked at the approach of the tour operarors, who clearly knew that some tourists wanted an up close experience and competed with each other to get their boats closer to the action. All the operators in the pampas that we saw behaved the same way, despite signs in Rurrenabaque warning people not to 'molestar los animales'.

We would encourage you to do a bit of research before committing to a tour in the Amazon (note that most operarors run tours in both the pampas and the jungle). We think it is really important that this behaviour is not encouraged. Surprisingly, this operator was recommended by Lonely Planet but in their defense they did warn about this sort of behaviour. We will be sure to raise this with them all the same.

Thanks for reading,

Mark and Saskia.

 


Bolivian Amazon: Pampas

There are are two tours that people commonly take when they get to Rurrenabaque: a jungle tour, which we just covered, and a pampas tour. The environments are very different. Whereas in Madidi National Park you are surrounded by dense jungle, the pampas is a large, flat, wetlands system. The pampas tours seem to be popular because they provide three unique opportunities:

  1. A morning hike searching for anacondas.
  2. A swim with the Amazon's pink freshwater dolphins.
  3. A boat trip to catch piranhas.

There are a range of tour operators offering pampas tours, with those promoted by Lonely Planet being the most popular. They are typically very cheap and some also offer a budget jungle tour. Apparently they all do the same thing but we would recommend doing a bit of research to see which ones are currently in favour.

We ended up going with Fluvial Tours, a budget operator. The choice was mainly driven by price – Chalalán was a bit of an outlay (although cheaper than the Pantanal) so we wanted to squeeze in another trip on the cheap.

Sunrise over the pampas.

The whole tour takes place in Pampas del Yacuma National Park, a protected area three hours drive northeast of Rurrenabaque. The tour was unique for us in that it was confined to the river. All travel is by boat, with accommodation provided by a series of lodges along the banks.

Travelling on the river is like cruising through an animal theme park. We saw many storks, herons, turtles, caimans and large capybara. The first afternoon was spent slowly cruising up the river to our lodgings. It was a beautiful day and very relaxing.

Chillin.

Fun with filters. A vulture soars above us.

The herons were quite striking. They are large, graceful birds and very photogenic.

We wrapped up two hours on the river with sunset beers. A nice opportunity to meet people and to watch as dopey tourists found their Dutch courage and got close to a caiman (no-one was harmed).

Searching for Anacondas

The next day we went in search of anacondas. This required a full morning trudging through marshlands in search of the python. Unfortunately we were unsuccesful but we knew in advance the chances were 50/50. It didn't help that our guides were not very informative and after some time our guide actually lost us. We wandered around for awhile, then decided to head back to where the boats were on the river. We eventually caught up with him back at the boat but no apology was given, which we thought was pretty slack given that he was supposed to help us find the anacondas!

Muy macho.

The land alternated between knee high water and dry grass islands.

The good news is we later found anacondas in a park in Trinidad. There are five of them in a cage near the military airstrip, much easier than trudging through the marshes!

Swimming with Dolphins

Everybody likes the idea of swimming with dolphins, and these dolphins are special. They are pink! The Amazon River Dolphin can be found throughout the Amazon Basin in South America in fresh water rivers. The dolphins have been there since South America was covered by a salt water sea, and got stuck in the basin when the sea receded.

They are a slightly stubby (uglier) version of the dolphins you might see in the ocean and are practically blind due to the murky river water. As a result, swimming with them is not as romantic as it sounds, and we heard several stories of people being bitten on their hands and feet while they were splashing around in the river. We jumped in the water when they were close by, but didn't get too close. They are quite shy and are after all wild animals. Still, it was a exciting experience to be swimming in a river in the Amazon surrounded by pink dolphins, caiman and piranhas!

Fishing for Piranhas

Another big draw is the opportunity to catch piranhas. Now, we'll be frank about this one. Piranhas are actually quite small and are not the flesh eating beasties you might believe them to be. Very anticlimactic. Still, they are infamous and people want to catch them. We gave it a go but the little buggers kept wriggling off the line (hooks were too big). We caught a few sardines and a catfish but otherwise were unlucky. Don't go out of your way for this experience.

Our guide with a little cat fish.

Monkeys Everywhere

We were surprised at the number of monkeys we saw. Our camp lodgings were visited by a pack of yellow squirrel monkeys several times a day. They would run along the hand rails and two even got inside a dorm room. We also saw kapuchin and howler monkeys several times.

A yellow squirrel monkey looking to snatch some food.

Howler monkeys staring at those funny homo sapiens.

All in all it was a good time. It was more social than Chalalán due to the mingling with other groups but we saw less animal species, although the ones we did see were in abundance. We would recommend a trip, it is good fun but bear in mind that they churn through tourists here and the wildlife is not always respected as it should be. Also, the guides may disappoint. We can't provide names of some the animals we saw because we never learnt them!

A Tiger Heron.

Two jabirus in their nest.

A capybara on the river bank. They seemed to be bigger here than in the Pantanal.

 


Bolivian Amazon: Jungle

Having had our fill of the altiplano it was time to get a taste of the epic Amazon Basin. Most often associated with Brazil, the Basin actually covers more than half of Bolivia. Surprisingly, this part of Bolivia is not very popular with tourists, who tend to limit themselves to a short visit, if they go at all.

There are two main entry points to the Basin: Rurrenabaque and Trinidad. We opted for Rurrenabaque as it was closest to La Paz. Our plan was to use Rurrenabaque as a launching point for a trip to the jungle and the pampas (grass wetlands). We then planned to fly to Trinidad, from where we would travel to San Ignacio de Moxos and see what Lonely Planet has claimed is the best cultural festival in the Amazon.

The Jungle of Madidi National Park

The flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque is beautiful, passing over snow capped mountains, winding rivers and endless jungle. Getting out of the tiny plane in the palm tree-lined airport and being instantly confronted with the humidity and heat was a shock to the system after the freezing cold altiplano, but it also felt like paradise.

We wanted to do a jungle tour and after looking into our options, decided to go with Chalalán Ecolodge. A key selling point was that Chalalán is five hours up river and consequently goes deeper into the jungle of Madidi National Park than other tours. Also, Chalalán is rated by National Geographic as one of the top fifty ecolodges in the world (and its the most affordable of the pick), so we thought that sounded like a great opportunity to do something special.

We spent the night in Rurrenabaque enjoying local fresh fish and caipirinhas (its good to be so close to Brazil!). Our guide Rico picked us up early the next morning, along with our trekking companions Madeleine, Ruth and Simon, and we set off in our little banana boat.

The jungle exhales after a night of rain.

The lodge is accessed from the Rio Tuichi, which branches off the larger Rio Beni. The boat trip is stunning. We were able to see capybaras, monkeys, caiman, turtles, as well as many different types of water birds and birds of prey (there is a list at the end for those that love lists!). We had seen many of these animals and birds before while we were in the Pantanal, but it was wonderful to see them again in a different environment. Check out our posts on the Pantanal to see the photos.

Arriving at Chalalan.

We arrived at Chalalán around lunch time and were met by a group of happy guys from the local community who thankfully helped us carry our bags the 2km walk to the lodge.

Within minutes of getting out of the boat we were surrounded by colourful butterflies, a snake (which turned out to be a Ferdiland snake, the second most venemous snake in the area!), beetles, tree-cutter ants, birds and the distant sound of howler monkeys. There was a definate sense of sharing space with nature, and the constant noise of the jungle reminds you that there is so much life around you. It was quite amazing!

Cow Bird; Butterfly; Tree Cutter Ants.

Chalalán is set on a lagoon amongst beautiful rainforest. The Ecolodge was established by the local indigenous community of San José de Uchupiamonas. The community decided to set up the lodge in the early 1990s as a way to earn money, provide jobs and development for their community whilst also protecting and preserving their land and culture. They worked with many people to secure funding, including an Israeli man who helped write a proposal and get funding from Conservation International and the Interamerican Development Bank. With this money, they were able to build lodges in their traditional style, train members of the community in business and hospitality, and market the ecolodge to tourists. The community is now fully responsible for running the business of Chalalán Ecolodge and through this has ensured that their culture and environment will live on for future generations.

Sleeping huts and canoes by the lagoon at Chalalán Ecolodge.


Chalalán Lagoon. We went out on the lagoon every afternoon.

We spent four days/three nights at Chalalán occupying our day looking for animals by walking through the jungle or rowing around the lagoon. The day was broken up into a morning walk, an afternoon siesta, a twilight walk and paddle and a night walk. Basically we were given plenty of opportunities to see the flora and fauna.

A Meeting with Monkeys

It was on the afternoon of our first day that we had our first close encounter with monkeys. We were paddling out on the lagoon when Rico guided us to a spot that the monkeys like to visit at twilight. We watched with joy as yellow squirrel monkeys popped out of the thick vegetation. They were followed by kapuchin monkeys, affectionally known as cappuccino monkeys because of their brown colouring.

They came right down to the water, precariously hanging off drooping branches before spinning around and scampering back up the tree. It was great fun and provided us with good photo opportunities.

Things almost came to a bad end though – Mark spotted a caiman gliding in under a low hanging branch. Two yellow squirrel monkeys were less than a metre from the water's surface, oblivious to the arrival of a predator. We waited with baited breath but, possibly because of our presence, the caiman did not make a move. A National Geographic moment was averted!

Brown Kapuchin Monkeys and Yellow Squirrel Monkeys.

More Monkey Madness

On the second day we went on a five hour loop walk to try and find spider monkeys. The jungle was quiet though and apart from the startled bolt of a tapir, the morning was fairly uneventful. Eventually we reached a small cliff and began following it to the right. Soon we heard the unmistakable sound of a holwer monkey giving voice to his throaty growl.

 

We flipped into stealth mode and began creeping in the direction of the howl. We crossed into a thicket and all of a sudden sound exploded all around us! The trees above us were shaking with the movement of several packs of monkeys, moving together in a raucous wave.

We recognised the distinct high pitched squeek of the yellow squirrel monkey, accompanied by kapuchin monkeys. Then Rico yelled out to us – he had spotted a spider monkey! Now we were running through the jungle trying to keep up with spider monkeys, who with their long arms and tails were quickly swinging through the canopy. Surprisingly no-one ran into a tree.

It was an exhilerating experience. Four different species of monkey all in one spot! Magic. The howler monkeys had gone quiet but our guide managed to spot them in a tall tree. A couple of them came down to the lower branches to get a good look at us and we found ourselves at the receiving end of a sightseeing experience.

Wandering through the rainforest looking for animals.

Stalking White Lipped Peccarys

On the third day we were making our way around the northern side of the lagoon when we heard the grunts of wild pigs, or peccarys. Rico signalled for us to crouch down behind trees and we went into our best stealth mode. These pigs have been known to surround people and kill them, and had done so to one of the local members of the community not that long ago. Even jaguars are wary – they have learnt to pick off strays at the back of the pack to avoid getting mauled. We looked around for trees to climb, but were not that convinced we would get up any quickly enough if we were surrounded by angry pigs!

Rico had cleverly predicted that they would come up the slope and cross our path. We waited and waited as the sound of twigs snapping and pigs grunting became louder. There seemed to be a lot of them…

It was really exciting when they finally appeared. At first they didn't notice us, but a male eventually did and we found ourselves being stared down! Time literally stopped. He was so close we could almost count the white hairs on his snout. Fortunately he decided we weren't a threat and we watched in amazement as around 100 peccarys passed in front of us. There were so many, from huge males to tiny babies running after their mothers. It was impossible to get a good photo in poor lighting while crouching under a tree hiding from a herd of pigs, but we tried!

Walking through the jungle; herds of peccary rushing past; Mark in the rainforest; mushrooms.

We spent plenty of time searching for animals, which we could sometimes hear but not see. We found a hole in a tree where an ocelot sleeps and saw lots of holes in the ground that had been abandoned by armadillos. We heard tapirs from a distance, saw jaguar and puma tracks a short walk from the lodge, but we were unable to actually catch a glimpse. It rained quite a lot while we were there, which made it difficult to see the animals because they too wanted to get out of the cold weather.

Jaguar footprints.

Creepy Crawlies

Many of the animals in the jungle only come out at night so we ventured out after dark to see what we could find. Mark was struck by a bout of Australasian stupidity and went out only wearing thongs (aka jandals or flip flops). This quickly proved a bad idea when we came across a coral snake within five minutes. In fact it was an eventful night: we saw an amazon tree boa in Madeleine's roof and along the track Rico introduced us to a giant black tarantula (as big as a man's hand). We also saw a golden orb spider, false scorpion spider, spitting spider (20cm range), tiger spider, plus lots of other creepy crawlies. Ironically, Madeleine and Saskia were bitten by hundreds of tiny ants despite the fact that they were wearing shoes and socks and Mark didn't get bitten at all!

Golden Orb Spider.


Snakes and spiders everywhere! Clockwise from top left: Tiger Spider, Amazon Tree Boa, Black Tarantula, Tiger Spider, False Scorpion Spider and Coral Snake.

Green Things

The plant life was abundant and dominated the landscape. Some of the trees are really unusual. The walking tree, for example, can shift its location to better catch sunlight. It does this by growing new roots, similar to a mangrove tree, which it slowly shifts its weight onto (see the photo below). The strangler fig is a parasitic plant that slowly grows around a host, then seals it off from light. The host then rots away inside. Brutal.

The lodge itself is made out of local mahogany, which remain in the park thanks to the vigilance of the locals, and we saw huge 200 year old cedar trees. Rico also pointed out the medicinal uses of various plants and fungi and warned us about which ones not to touch.

The roots of this tree spread up to ten metres along the ground.

The tree roots are actually very shallow because there are no nutrients deep in the soil. As a result we were constantly stepping over roots. One species of tree had red roots, creating the impression of being the veins of the jungle.

Vines and orchards live on other trees, some of which are incredibly old.

In addition to the many walking tracks around the lodge, we also had the opportunity to use the canoes on the lagoon. This provided a quiet way to approach monkeys in the trees and to see birds flying over the top of the canopy. We also went swimming from the pier to the amusement of most other guests who were too scared to go jumping in the water when there were caiman close by. We weren't scared…those caiman have got nothing on crocs in Australia!

Top: Mark paddling the canoe with Rico and Madeleine; Bottom: Simon and Ruth look for monkeys in the trees from their canoe.

All that would have been great but the staff arranged a cultural night for us. We had a traditional dinner, with fish cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves (also a common way of cooking fish in the Pacific). We learnt about community traditions and how to make an offering to mother earth, or pachamama. This involed taking a shot of 'puma milk', a combination of singani, milk, cinnamon bark, sugar and hot water. Suffice to say it is one drink the world could do without. We spent the rest of the night dancing with the staff to traditional music, which was lots of fun!

Traditional music; coca leaves and baby puma milk; fish in coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves.

Overall, our experience at Chalalán was wonderful and we highly recommended a visit if you ever have the opportunity!

 

The Lists

So as promised we have included a list of the wildlife we saw, many of which are not mentioned above. Might be helpful for peeps weighing up whether to make the trip.

Monkeys

Note that about 12 species of monkey are endemic to the Park.

  • Howler monkey
  • Kapuchin monkey
  • Night monkey
  • Spider monkey
  • Yellow squirrel monkey

Spiders

  • Black tarantula
  • Brown/banana spider
  • False scorpion spider
  • Golden orb spider
  • Golden silk spider
  • Spitting spider
  • Tiger spider

Snakes

  • Amazon tree boa
  • Common musarana snake
  • Coral snake
  • Ferdiland snake

Birds

According to Wikipedia the Park has over 1,000 bird species, representing 11% of the world’s 9,000 bird species.

  • Amazon kingfisher
  • Blue heron
  • Cap heron
  • White necked heron
  • Rufescent tiger heron
  • Grey egret
  • Snowy egret
  • Chestnut fronted macaw
  • Red and green macaw
  • Blue and yellow macaw
  • Blue headed parrot
  • Black winged vulture
  • King vulture
  • Whitewing swallow
  • Crimson crested woodpecker
  • Russelback arapendula
  • Chachalaca
  • Hoatzin (cow bird)
  • Blue throated pipe pidgeon/guan
  • Cormorants
  • Tucans (not sure which types)
  • One badass harpy eagle

The rest

  • Red deer
  • White lipped peccary
  • Caiman
  • Capybara
  • Turtles
  • Amazon tree frog
  • Many butterflies, moths, beetles and a centipede

 


Cretaceous Park

Apparently Bolivia has one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world. Just outside Sucre you can find the Cretaceous Park, which is at the site of a cement quarry. Workers accidently uncovered an entire mountain wall of dinousaur footprints embedded into the ground after they exploded the side of the mountain. Part of the wall fell down recently (you can see a triangle shape in the photo below), and although a significant amount of the footprints were lost, interestingly enough, another layer below was exposed. These were even older still.

The footprints were once horizontal of course, but the collision of tectonic plates that lifted up the Andes also pushed up smaller mountains containing the fosillised footprints. The Cretaceous Park has replicated all the dinosaurs whose footprints have been found at the site. We weren't sure what to expect, but it was really interesting and the replicas were incredibly realistic!

Littlefoot!

While we were in Sucre Mark went on a three day hike through the local hills. The hike visited the villages of Maragua and Potolo and featured dramatic, buckled landscapes with near vertical tilts of old sedimentary layers.
The hike is notable for the dinosaur prints set in lava. The ground is currently used for agriculture and only partially uncovered, so who knows how many more are in the area.

The footprint of what is likely to be a large predator.

Mark tried to match the stride. The step almost split him in two.

Likely to be a type of titanosauros.

During the hike local kids would come running down to sell bracelets and fossils they had dug up. Mark bought a fossilised sea shell (below), which was found at around 3,500 metres above sea level. A good demonstration of the changes the land has gone through in South America!
Mark went hiking with Condor Trekkers, a non-profit organisation that helps to support village economies. The guides were great and the accommodation was surprisingly good. Highly recommended! Condor Trekkers also recently opened a café not far from the main plaza in Sucre. Its all non-profit and the money they make goes back into training local staff. The food is all really cheap, good quality vegetarian food, which is a nice change from the standard South American fare!

The large, four room huts (plus a bathroom) are run by the community.

 


Day Two: Tupiza to Quetena Chico

After looking into our options, we organised our trip with Tupiza Tours. We left early in the morning in a convoy of four jeeps, each loaded with food, water and fuel. We had to be self-sufficient as our accommodation was very basic. So, in our car we had our guide (Alberto) as well as a cook (Veronica) and we were joined by Claire from Ireland and Tyler from Canada.

The crew. Pic taken near Palala Village.

We started out by covering the same ground as the previous day's mountainbike ride to El Sillar. This time we visited the top of the ridge, which gave us a great view on either side.

Looking down to the Rio San Juan del Oro.

At roughly 11:30 am we passed near San Vincente, the alleged site of the killing of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This was and still is mining country and Butch was in the neighbourhood staging robberies… but that's a whole story on it is own so we will try and get back to it later.
We stopped for lunch in Cerillos, the largest in a cluster of hamlets that largely exist because of the mining industry. Although this was the largest hamlet, it was not much more than a tiny shop and a few mud brick houses. We took some notes on this hamlet out of curiosity, which is covered in the next post (we won't make a habit of it though).
The day was long, dusty, and due to the altitude, cold. Several people in other cars were suffering pretty badly from altitude sickness. We were ok but hadn't realised how important it was to acclimatise first. Fortunately the scenery was dramatic and kept changing at every corner, so it wasn't taking away from the trip.
About midway into the afternoon we came across a truck that was bogged in an icy river. For some reason that did not inspire caution with our drivers and one of our jeeps was bogged too. Our guide stopped so we could get out and lighten the weight of the jeep, then he got across and tried to help his mate. Then another jeep from the same company came up behind us and also got stuck…shambles. Eventualy we all got out…
Shortly after this we passed a small convoy of trucks loaded with cars. We thought they were crazy to be trying to cross through this country while the rivers were freezing over but our guide informed us that they were using these backroads to avoid the police…those cars were stolen and this was basically a smugglers route.
The scenery was stunning the entire day. We were constantly in awe as the landscapes changed every few hours. We ended the day watching the sun set on Uturuncu Volcano (6,008 metres).
Later in the evening we arrived at the first nights accomodation at Quetana Chico. We know its winter, but there is nothing that could prepare us for how unbelievably cold it was, and without any internal insulation or heating, it was difficult to get warm. The lady in the office at Tupiza told us that it would get down to around negative 30 degrees celcius overnight, and around negative 15 degrees inside. We managed to distract ourselves with card games, music and wine but went to bed fairly early to keep warm and get some sleep before the next day of adventures!

That was a long night and it was the coldest on the tour.

 

 


Tilcara

From Salta we headed north to make our way into Bolivia, but we thought we would break up the trip by stopping in Tilcara. We had no idea what to expect, but the little town was beautiful and looked like it was straight out of a country and western movie!

Apparently there are a lot of artists around here, which is evident from the high quality of market stalls and craft shops. There are also a lot of really good quality restaurants and bars, which was a nice surprise!

The surrounding mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the activities you can do here. We spent one afternoon wandering up to the indigenous ruins not far from town. The Pucará de Tilcara is a pre-Inca fortification that has been partially reconstructed to show the design of the buildings and llama enclosures. There are also graves that have been uncovered, which show small circular stone holes where people were buried curled up in the foetal position, so that they could be reborn into the next world.

Pre-Inca ruins; a monument at the Pucara site; stone graves; llama enclosures.

After talking to some English backpackers who showed us photos of their day, we decided to do a trek to see the surrounding mountains accompanied by llamas who carried a picnic lunch for us! The Caravana de Llamas is totally aimed at tourists, and not normally something we would do, but we thought it would be a fun way to spend our last day in Argentina. The views were amazing, the food delicious, and the wine was an added bonus!

Overall, a few days in Tilcara was the perfect way to end our time in Argentina and get us excited for new adventures. Next stop, Bolivia!!

 


Farm Life in San Rafael

We really enjoyed our experience living on a farm for a month, and would recommend WOOFing (Working On Organic Farms) to any travellers interested in doing something a little different! It was a fantastic opportunity to relax and recover some energy after a few months of solid travel, practice Spanish and make new friends. All the people we met and worked with were lovely, and were genuinely interested in learning about us and where we come from.
We had heard that WOOFing is a bit of a gamble, but if the people hosting volunteers are reasonable with the amount of time you are expected to work, and the food that they provide, then it can be a win-win situation. We worked a few hours a day, doing mostly farm maintenance work, picking olives and feeding animals, which was actually really enjoyable. We got to help out with work that they otherwise would not have had time to do, and it was a nice change from working in an office staring at a computer all day! Living on the farm really gave us a taste of what it would be like to own property and animals, and while it all seems very romantic, it is a lot of hard work!

Farm house in San Rafael

San Rafael is beautiful and we probably would have stayed longer if it wasn’t getting so cold. The farmhouse where we were staying was quaint, but lacked modern appliances. For example we had to light a fire outside underneath a hotwater tank in order to heat water for a shower, which was a novel experience. We did however enjoy drinking local wines and sitting by the fire to keep warm!
We also had plenty of animals to keep us company on the farm. There were lots of dogs, chooks, rabbits (who kept having babies) and a swarm of bees who apparently produced a lot of honey for export to Germany! It was nice to be surrounded by animals and nature, and forget about real life for awhile.

Bees

I do love olives, so I was quite interested in seeing the process of production. Turns out it is really easy, it just takes a long time! We picked several buckets of green olives which were then put into salt water that was changed regularly. This process can take several months before the olives are edible. They used a different technique for the black olives, which simply involved putting them into an air tight bag full of rock salt, with no water, and then just leaving them there for about a year. Seems like a lot of effort for something that is so cheap to buy, but they taste amazing!

Picking olives

We got to know the town of San Rafael quite well, and spent many afternoons in a local café called Nina’s using their free internet and trying everything on the menu. It is actually quite a nice town, which seems to be the next big thing after Mendoza. It offers a similar experience, without being too touristy or crowded. There is a feel of stepping back in time as the pace slows down, and the cars all look they are stuck in the 70s (some for the good, while others are literally taped together and should not be on the road!). The vineyards are equally old and beautiful, the wine is amazing, the local organic produce is delicious, the streets are lined with old trees that look particulalry stunning in Autumn, and the town is slowly being renovated to become more modern and tourist-friendly.

Bianchi Champagne, Autumn trees in the streets of San Rafael, Folk Dancers

Classic cars

While we were in town, we also had the opportunity to check out the surrounding area. We spent one day at Villa 25 de Mayo, which held a festival on Revolution Day (25th of May). It was a cute town with people dressed up for folk dancing, lots of Agentine music, asados and local foods to try. We also went to Valle Grande and El Nihuil to see the magnificent Atuel Canyon.
Overall, working on a farm in San Rafael was a great experience! We love Argentina and feel very lucky to have been able to spend as much time as we have here!

Not a bad alcohol collection for a couple of backpackers!


To Swim in an Aquarium

Our trip to south western Brazil included three stops: the Pantanal via Cuiaba, Chapada and Bonito. The last stop was tagged on when we learned about the amazing snorkelling to be experienced in the many rivers nearby.

 

As you can see, the water here is crystal clear. The cause? To quote Lonely Planet, “the river waters spring from subterranean sources in a limestone base, almost entirely free of clay, which releases calcium carbonate into the water. The calcium carbonate calcifies all impurities in the water, which then sink to the riverbed.” We filmed one of those springs in action.

The following shots are taken from a two hour snorkelling trip along the Rio Prata, near Bonito.

 
 

A freshwater crocodile, a caiman. Sorry for the blur, he is in the centre of the pic.

 

And to wrap it up, a bit of film…