Travelling with Benno
Patagonia is natures' Wonderland
When you research a travel destination you see all kinds of photos and in the modern day we are becoming pretty savvy on which ones are real and those that are clearly photoshopped and filtered. Torres del Paine is one such place that surely is not real. Mountains just don’t look like that, lakes don’t exist in such a creamy turquoise blue.
Except then you see this make believe landscape, again, and again. And it just so happens to be real. Let's go!
Torres del Paine National Park is at the base of Chile and it truly is nature's wonderland. From Santiago you can fly 3.5 hours south to Punta Arena, and then it’s a bus ride to Punta Natales where you acclimatise and prepare for the hike. It doesn’t matter how much you have researched, no one is too experienced to go to the free talk at Erratic Rock each day. Here they walk you through the finer points of being prepared for one of the toughest hikes in the most diverse and unpredictable landscapes.
How to survive Torres Del Paine hike
The two most important lessons I learnt that day at Erratic Rock were (1) Expect every single type of weather, and you will probably experience it over the 10 day hike and in extreme ways. (2) Don't bother with a rain coat and don't change your clothes during the day. Take one set of clothes for day - this is your stink suit. And one clean set of clothes for when you get to camp.
Benno in his 'stink suit'
The most popular hike in the Torres is a 4 day “W hike” which takes in the stunning 3 granite towers at the centre of the park. My theory was that if I’d somehow ended up in one of the most remote places I’ll ever visit, there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable excuse to not do the full 10 day loop around the whole park, taking in the Patagonian Ice Sheet and the Dickson Pass.
It was truly worth it.
Lake views don't come much more delicious
Indeed the photos did not lie and Torres del Paine will remain one of world’s great adventures.
Top 3 things to do in Chile
1. Visit Torres del Paine national park, hike the "W" trail for 4 days or if you have it in you, do the full "O" trail over about 10 days. Breathtaking scenery of mountains, lakes, glaciers, snow passes, rivers, fields. Simply stunning
2. Take in the driest and most arid desert in the world - San Pedro de Atacama desert. Take a tour in a jeep through stunning landscapes, volcanic springs, salt flats
3. Partake in the latin american spirit in Santiago, the capital of Chile. The food, the culture, the music, the FOOTBALL. What a place!
Finding beauty in Brazil, Ilha Granda
The most beautiful beach in the world
"The most beautiful beach in the world”, they said.
A few hours mini-bus from Rio di Janeiro, the allure of such a bold statement could easily be missed. The island of Ilha Grande (“Big Island”) was our destination. Tropical paradise awaited and we were not disappointed. Bonfires on the beach. Fresh ocean fish with a barbecue grill. Jungle walks. Snorkelling trips.
6 months of reasonably hectic backpacking in South America and we had earned a week of relaxation. We chilled out in hammocks and lay on our sarongs. There truly was not a worry in the world. The beauty of Ilha Grande is there are literally no cars, barely a road for basic transport across the small township.
Yacht trip on Ilha Grande with the lads
Lopez Mendez. It echoed in our minds, we needed to go.
Accessible only by boat or a few hours hike across the island, we chose a jungle adventure. A group of unprepared travellers, taking the scenic route in the tropical sun.
The sand a stunning white. The water glistening turquoise blue. Jungle on all sides of the bay. Our minds were blown upon arrival and we simply didn’t want to leave. It wasn’t just the beach itself you see - but the experience. A challenging trek and this reward had been earned. We swam with schools of fish and kicked the football around with random travellers. Then lay about and browned our skin. As the sun started to set, we took the sail boat back to the other side of the island, our home for the week. A memorable day none of us will forget.
“The most beautiful beach in the world”, we said.
Top 3 things to do in Ilha Grande
1. Visit Lopez Mendez beach. Hike there, sail back! A stunning journey and an amazing day out. Take a book to read under the palm trees. A frisbee or a football will top it off.
2. Snorkelling - With lots of different fish in these crystal clear waters that surround the islands, jump off the boat and swim with the fishes. A stupidly great day out.
3. Hire a Canoe - Sun, sea and a bit of island hopping - why not! Canoe around the island and explore new beaches and some of the more untouched places. Make sure you have a bit of fitness on you, especially when the sea gets a bit rough.
Arrival to Lopez Mendez
Travelling Northern India - Agra
Every day in India is an adventure, and a day trip to Agra is no different. Agra is of course the one “must do” things in India. Among thousands of other unique adventures, the Taj Mahal stands as a true wonder of the world.
Leaving New Delhi, be aware of the scammers - from dodgy rickshaw rides to the middle of nowhere to fake train ticket cancellations - you need to be on your game, like any day in India. Getting past these potential disasters before I even got to Agra, I was not prepared the chaos at the train station as every rickshaw driver fought over my business (they literally exchanged pushes and punches). My good mate Matty recommended I contact Bunty, a tour guide for 400 rupees for the day (about $6 USD) - and what a brilliant day it was! We saw the sights of Agra, visited the old Fort, hit the shopping areas and of course spent a few solid hours at Taj Mahal.
Bunty. Local celebrity, rickshaw driver, legend
The Taj Mahal - Grand, Epic
A grand and beautiful building, a monument to the ingenuity of humanity. The Taj Mahal glows in the daylight and appears to change colour as the day goes on. Looked upon at different angles, it is challenging to keep your camera in your pocket and just admire. Seriously, try not taking a photo for 5 minutes.
Allow several hours in the venue to take in the beautiful gardens, stunning water features and walk a long slow loop around in outside of the grand centrepiece. Despite being a massive tourist hub, there are plenty of peaceful places in the gardens to chill out and admire and take in the amazement.
After the Taj Mahal, Bunty took me for lunch, and we ate the most delicious array of street curries sitting in the back of his rickshaw on the side of a highway. All you can eat curry for 40 rupees (60 cents). I made sure I gave all the kids making fresh naan and helping with serving a generous tip. What a great experience.
Epic view of the Taj Mahal, those colours
We ended the day watching cricket and drinking beers by the side of the road with some of Bunty's friends. We did this in the local chicken shop of all places. This was a little hut on the side of the road where they literally killed and plucked the live birds right in front of you, all as we had general chit chat and talked all things cricket.
India. A beautiful chaos.
Agra. Simply amazing.
Top 3 things to do in Agra, India
1) The Taj Mahal. The beauty captures your imagination to wonder how on earth they managed to pull this incredible building together.
Sample the local delights - and feast. If you are on a tour, don't let your tour guide take you to a western style hotel for lunch, challenge them to show you the real India, and get some local food.
2) The Thali (mixed curry plate) I had by issuing my guide this request was simply fantastic, eaten literally on the side of the road.
3) Get the local experience with a Rickshaw Tour. See the in's and out's and tailor your own experience by getting a real flavour of Agra and the sights. You won't end up having beers, watching cricket while chickens are sacrificed in front of you on the Hop On Hop Off red bus tour (probably a good thing).