Latin America Adventure – third stop, Lima

After the Singular, we stayed overnight at a small hotel ‘Hotel Ilaia’ in Punta Arenas as our flight was for a 6am departure. It’s run by a mother and daughter team  – extremely hospitable and the hotel is located near the downtown area, which is 30 mins from the airport.  Sadly, we arrived at 9pm so we quickly got ready to rest for a 4.30am start the next day. They don’t speak much English so a few handy words in Spanish is highly recommended to arrange a taxi and to pay to pay the taxi CASH so make sure you keep some spare pesos! We needed to make this overnight stay because The Singular located in Puerto Natales – which was still another 2 hours away from the airport at Punta Arenas….. Once you are in Chile, you realise people drive great distances all the time (2-4hrs one way easily).. it’s the norm.  Having lived in Singapore for over 3 years… 4hours gets you to KL!

We flew out from Punta Arenas at 6am to Lima, Peru. We were planning to fly over to Lake Titicaca via the airport at Juliaca. And the rule is that you have to fly through capital cities when coming from another country in South America…. … thus, do build this into your itinerary for time consideration… you do end up staying a night here and there invariably. Our first impression of Lima is that  it’s definitely not as ‘safe’ as our little cocoon in the Patagonian region of Chile.  Lima is a big city with lots of immigrants and you can sense it the moment you land. Most local’s have their luggage cling wrapped, presumably to guard against theft and smuggling. You need to screen your luggage to exit the airport – each one of us had to which you can imagine, caused a big delay in leaving the airport….  not really well streamlined.

We bee lined ourselves to the taxi limo queue to arrange for a drop off to the Boutique Hotel ‘Second Home‘  run by Lillian Delphin. It’s in an arts district of Lima and we reckoned it would take us 40 minutes to get there. Our taxi driver got lost!!! … and we ended up arriving at our destination after over an hour. Needless to say, Mr K was not a happy bunny… but still. we’d rather be IN the cab than out of the cab. We drove through some rather dodgy looking neighbourhood, lots of incompletely construction and derelict homes…. most of the shops, if not all the shops had metal bars on the doors and windows.

Realisation – Boom… we are back to the big cities… certainly a far cry from Patagonia where we saw only a handful of people on a daily basis…..nature vs. urban jungle.

To be fair, we’ve read a lot about Lima and it’s art scene so we were looking forward to it. After we checked in, we walked around our neighbourhood which was a pleasant up and coming art area, lots of galleries, small boutique shops and quite a lot of American influence… we even saw a cupcake shop next to a … Taco shop haha.   The particular hotel we are staying is run by the daughter of a famous Peruvian sculptor Delphin. She’s extremely well learned and educated. We enjoyed our breakfast encounter with her and told her a little bit about Singapore… she was a thin lady, with dark attractive eyes…. a arty type, almost French looking but Peruvian of course. The hotel is actually the grounds for a museum by day, with huge sculptures scattered in the balcony, gardens and all four corners of the home. It’s truly spectacular and a sight to be behold.

If you ever get to visit Lima, stay in the art district and say hello to Lillian for us – not too many make it there from Singapore 🙂

Second Home Lima

Second Home Lima

Latin America Adventure – 2nd stop, Puerto Natales, Chile

After the Explora, we arranged a transfer to The Singular which is located in Puerto Natales. The Singular is a new luxury hotel located within the premised of an old European cold room which housed all the meats which were to be exported to Europe from that part of Chile.

The property is an impressive long architecture  – each room faced the peer which  juts out into Last Hope Sound.  When we arrived, it was evening and I could see the lights on the jetty – it was a moody grey evening – stunning to see through ceiling to floor windows. The bedrooms were really luxurious and spacious – twice the size of the rooms we had in Salto Chico.  We can see how the guides at Explora were so excited for us when we told them this was our next stop. They told it was it ‘really luxury’… and by then, we had already thought the Explora’s Salto Chico was luxury…..

But I can understand their meaning after arriving at The Singular – first of all you will be impressed with the entrance – a glass elevantor brings to you the front desk which was like a top rated restaurant reception area. Mood lighting and spot lighting on specific historical objects and artefacts illuminate the hallway.   It’s less of the ‘lodge’ and more of the boutique hotel you might find in big cities.  But… don’t forget we are at the end of the Earth here… and this used to be… essentially an abattoir, cold room for exports – not glam at all. So whomever thought of converting this building into a hotel had the project cut out for them. The end results was impressive and achieved what the owners were hoping for – something luxurious and special in Peurto Natales.

view from our room

view from our room at The Singular

As we arrived after trekking part of the W inside the Torres Del Paine, we headed straight for dinner. The restaurant was the thing that completely amazed me – it was like dining at the Ritz Carlton in London. The dining room was decked in oak, walnut long tables and antique chairs with red velvet and rich colours to warm up even the coldest of nights. It was an open kitchen and I can see the chef and the staff working away, cooking up a storm. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in!  The food surpassed our expectation in that, it was really comparable to some of the restaurants we’ve had as fine dining in France and Italy from the Chateaux Relais guide. After a hard day’s trek, my toes were curling with delight… to be pampered with amazing food in a beautiful setting – that reminds me of the ‘Downtown Abbey’  🙂

Smoke Salmon with salmon caviar

Whilst staying with the Singualr, we choose several activities tailored to our needs as we are no longer grouped with other people. We had a guide decidicated to look after us for the next 2 days. So we went cycling in the morning and then horse riding for about 3 hours in the afternoon. Horse riding with our guide ‘Cherchin’ was one of our most memorable days… it was the feeling of absolute bliss… freedom, outdoors and wilderness… the feeling of ‘life’ from the concrete jungle. The wildlife and fauna here is something we are incapable of dreaming of…. Small stunted dried up trees were like museum objects littered everywhere, bright yellow fungus growing on the tree branches, sheep and ox and brightly coloured birds in green, yellow and blue flying above our heads… not to mention condors souring above us during our ride.

As there’s only two of us, we practically had private lessons… by the end of the day, our horses cantered and galloped 🙂 and we can’t have asked for a better day.

Horse Riding with CherChin

Horse Riding with CherChin

We would highly recommend those who need a little pampering and a bit of luxury now and then to stay at The Singular – it’s truly customised service for the discerning travellers.

You won’t regret even a minute, we promise.

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales

Latin America Adventure – GEAR we used and why

As mention in my previous post on Latin America, Mr K and I went on a long vacation to South America earlier this spring. Turns out a few friends have been asking us what gear to bring with us since it is indeed a very different climate from tropical Singapore and it’s a long trip so travelling with a compact and smart wardrobe is required.  We covered an area from the end of Chile, Patagonia to Havanna, Cuba so all in all the temperatures ranged around 30 degress. Mostly we were focussed on being waterproof and windproof – yet being light, durable and …. haha… to look stylish too!

Mr K and I both have snowboarding gear so we have our snow pants and jackets. But they are very bulky…. we decided against bringing that because it’s not something that are thinnish layers we can take off an pack away easily.

I researched on gear quite extensively in SG because well… in short, there ain’t much of the outdoor stores we see back home like Blacks, Ellis Brigham, Millets, Snow & Rock, Patagonia and a multitude of other special boutiques for snow, mountaineering, camping etc.  In Singapore… the concentration of such shops appears to be in Novena Square – around 5 shops.  There you’ll find ‘Saloman, Outdoor Life, X boundaries  and a few others…  … Sadly most of them are twice the price of that in the UK. Sizes are limited too since… frankly we’re of very average asian sizing so they tend to run out of S and XSs. Pffff……

So off to the internet it was for me… research, buy and send it to my family in the UK (since we had to stop in London anyways)….. we figured it’s cheaper and better that way or for really important stuff, send it to Singapore so we can try it and return if it we had any problems.  I discovered a WONDERFUL BRAND called Norrona by recommendation from staff at an outdoor store based near Preston, UK.  I’ve never heard of them before and wasn’t too keen to take the risk with a brand I’ve not heard of especially since it was not cheap.  However….. I can’t express how impressed we were of this brand not just because the quality was really good (we wore our jackets every day we were there!). But their design and forward thinking company philosophy tells you … these guys KnOW nature and they LOVE being right in it!  Their gear design, function, quality, level of detail is frankly…. another level.  They would have thought of little things that would make the world a bit better for you when you are walking against the wind at 60mph…. with rain coming at you at right angels… you will find their little head adjustment strapper to hold your hood up…. a real godsend….  ** two thumbs up **

I managed to find a stockist of Norrona with Tamarack – a family business run up north in the UK. The chap was really helpful and he had pretty much all the sizes and designs we needed. What they didn’t have in stock, they ordered from Norrona HQ and restock within a week.  A bonus was that we bought the things from him UK VAT free 🙂 hehe… always good when VAT is 20% but it did incur a shipping cost…

When you are thinking about what gear you’d need, my advice would be prioritise them so you list out the ‘key, must have’ gear vs. nice to haves. It’s easy to get carried away and buy a lot of stuff when in reality, it’s going to be 3 weeks of your life trekking one of the most beautiful places on Earth then you’ll back back to reality… work etc. So unless you feel you’ll get due mileage from the gear, be mindful of what’s to splurge on vs. what to borrow and get by.  For us, waterproof jacket, trousers (your outer shell) and boots were THE priority. Hence we spent more to get the better stuff.  But honestly… we wore them every day and just changed the inner layers. For boots  – you must really be able to try them on before you buy so we went with whatever we could find in Singapore.  We were pleased to find ‘Garmont’ which is an Italian brand that specialises in Alpine gear actually.

So.. our gear line up is as follows:

His

  • Norrona Bitihorn – waterproof trousers with 3/4 zip off
  • Norrona Falkentind – waterproof and windproof jacket
  • Garmont Vetta Boots – extremely comfortable, no broken toe nails at all 🙂 We bought these are a store in Singapore.. inside Novena. It’s called X Boundaries – the staff were really nice and helpful. We recommend them if you are in SG.
  • Thermals – get the ones made from merino wool as they breath better. Several will be required.
  • Get nice thick socks – trust me… they make a difference when it’s -10 degrees at the top of the Torres Del Paine.

Hers

  • Norrona Trollvegens – warm thermal tights, super comfy… I wore these as inner layers with waterproofs on the outside
  • Norrona Falkentind – waterproof and windproof jacket
  • Norrona Navrik warm 3 fleece. This was really useful indeed. I even wore it whilst in London as it was really cold back in April 2012.
  • Garmont Tower Boots– extremely comfortable especially as I have a weak left ankle… these are good ankle supports for all the uphill and unevent rocky surfaces you’ll encounter on the treks and good also for horse riding. We bought these in Singapore 🙂 X Boundaries – They are the only distributors in Asia….. none in Malaysia….. I wanted to get my friend Z to buy them as he was going to the Antarctic for a shoot but alas, he had no time to come over to try them on.

Let me end with this little picture of our boots at the top Winya Wayna, part of the Machu Picchu Trail.

winya wayna

Our reliable boots – stood the test of machu picchu trail @ winya wayna

Hope this helped whomevers doing research for similar travels! 🙂  Enjoy planning for your trip!

Ciao,

PT.

Latin America Adventure – first stop, Patagonia.

It’s been a good few months since my last update because…… I’ve been super busy exploring, eating, shooting, cooking. Finally,  I am back to home base and will share some of my experiences.

This March, we travelled to Patagonia, Lake Titicaca and Havana in Latin America – it’s super far from Singapore hence, previously we’ve always waited till we go back to London to make this trip but alas, it seems we’ll be in SG for a few more years yet. Thus, our epic journey begins.

Our journey highlights is as follows:

  1. London -à Patagonia-à Cusco and Macchu Picchu, Peru-à Havana, Cuba -à London.

Perhaps this may be useful for people who may be planning similar trips:

Flight/Transit path:

  1. Fly from SG to London
  2. London to Madrid, Santiago and then to Punta Arenas
  3. Explora pick us up at PA airport to transfer to the Torres Del Paine National Park. Explora is the only lodge that operates within the park so it’s a real treat.
  4. Road transfer from Torres Del Paine to Puerto Natales – stay in The Singular.
  5. The Singular, transfer to Punta  Arenas, fly to Lima via Santiago.
  6. Stay overnight in Lima in the art and culture district in Second Home by Lillian Delphin – daughter of the Peruvian famous art sculpture.
  7. Lima to Juliaca airport for a land transfer to Lake Titicaca, stay at The Titilaka
  8. Oriental Express train from Puno to Cusco
  9. Stay in The Garden Hotel in Cusco, visit Sacred Valley, Pisac and Cusco city.
  10. Hike Machu Picchu with Llama Path
  11. Fly from Lima to Havana, stay at Casa Diana
  12. Fly from Havana back to London.

The first of the series of write ups will be of our experience with Explora in Patagonia.  After about 30hours of flights, transits etc since leaving London, we arrived at the Explora lodge, Salto Chico.

Salto Chico - Explora Lodge

Salto Chico – Explora Lodge

The Explora lodge is a pioneering tourist concept based on sustainable, luxury travel experiences.  I first heard of this from a friend, S and A who had stayed with them 10 years ago for their honeymoon! I was pleased they were still around, in fact, flourishing!

We had elected to stay here for 4 days and 3 nights with daily excursions arranged for us based on a selection offered. The lodge operates like a well oiled machine, young good looking guides who speak often fluent English will discuss your plans and arrange with you the night before.

The meals were really quite delicious and international. The matre de is a wonderful lady named Rosario whom it turns out was a little star struck when she found out who Ken Duncan was (famous Australian landscape photographer who has landed early one morning unannounced and caught Rosario off guard. She wanted to shoo him out as he was not a guest at the lodge!). When we told her who he was and showed her his works…. she turned  bright red and all of a sudden, schoolgirl shyness came about…. was just wonderful to witness! A genuine group of guests that caused a real stir of excitment especially amoung the young guides were the  Louis Vuitton  PR team of stylist, make up artist, models and directors as they were filming for a new menswear ad from Salto Chico. Alas… it was menswear so only male models…. much to the disappointment of the guides!

Here are just a couple of pictures of what we saw during our wonderful stay at the Explora……our highlight has to be trekking part of the W circuit, heading 10KM uphill to the Torres Del Paine base camp (last photo). And shoot and trek session around the national park grounds with Oso where we saw beautiful fauna, guanachos,  several Condors, various angles of Cuernos del Paine (Horns), Torres Del Paine (Towers), Sarmiento Lake and Lake Sofia. We even spotted a few flamingos but alas, too far for us to capture….  My advice? Go and see it for yourself with your own eyes. Pictures really can’t do it justice.

Explora near Pingo

Full Rainbow capture – Explora

Waterfall in Rio Del Paine in Torres Del Paine

Waterfall in Rio Del Paine in Torres Del Paine

The Base Towers – part of the W trek

These days cameras are all looking… very vintage!

I lost my beloved Panasonic Girlfriend 1 (GF1) on a plane on the way back to SG from Seoul….. till date, no one has handed it in…

Hence, I’ve been shopping around for a replacement and can’t help but notice a huge trend of the new cool = the vintage deal!  The statement of owning a camera can be so much fun with personalisation of the colour, the half cases available and the straps. Of course, the body of the camera must also be looking cool and vintage. With this, I had a quick history tour of the classic film cameras –  I still remember those!

“So why would anyone in this day and age still be hankering after hardware evolved from an analogue design philosophy more than 100 years old, which inevitably, because of its specification, adds another few hundred grams of weight to the gadget bag? The question is rhetorical, for in the process of pushing the envelope in one direction, the irony is that digital technology has simultaneously taken the capability of analogue photography in another to the next logical quality level – the one many of us once spent endless hours in a darkroom trying to achieve without much success.”

[2010, British Journal of Photography]

I conclude, a lot of people still LOVE the art of photography, the craftmanship of the vintage cameras – albeit, no longer love of the post processing film development. Instead – instant gratification in digital format is what we love……

For those of you who’d like a leather strap and live in SG – you can visit Andy’s store. Those lucky enough to get hold of the leather Roberu ones – please get me one too!

Film Cameras have 3 main groups
Box Folding-Roll View Finder
Exactly as it’s described. Looks like a simple box.Was very popular because affordable and simple, yet still capable of excellent results under most conditions. Box cameras were usually fitted with a single-element lens, a limited range opening control, and a single-speed shutter. These are the ones where the lens can pop out like a jack in a box!Folding-Roll Film Camera, which was also very popular but not quite as much so as the box camera. The folding camera came in several types of formats, but basically, it was a box camera whose lens was included into a movable disk that could slide back and forth on a rail, allowing the lens to change focus from close to long range.
The fact that the lens can fold made it appealing and easy to carry – for those who love to travel like me!
Such cameras do not use the lens to focus on subject, instead its via a separate viewing system in the camera.The range finder camera allows for accurate focus, however, by using two views of the same subject to adjust focus. In this camera there are two images in the viewfinder. One is usually only a portion of the viewer area and is usually slightly yellowish in color. The photographer adjusts the focus ring on the lens and as they do the two images move. When both on directly on top of each other they blend together and almost disappear which signifies that the camera is in focus.
This is the one that’s the Leica rave 🙂