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We wanted to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a holiday we'd never forget - we reckon 6 months of travelling the world (from trekking on the Inca Trail and through the Amazon to riding an elephant in Thailand) should just about cover it!

Monday, 27 October 2008

Lima,Cusco and the Inca Trail

We arrived in Lima in the dead of night -luckily the hostel had agreed to pick us up from the airport for a few dollars and our taxi driver was waiting for us. We clambered into the back of his beaten-up old banger (the cars in Argentina were barely road-worthy so we didn´t bat an eyelid when the door nearly fell off) and took in the sights as he took us to the hostel. The sights consisted mainly of fried chicken restaurants and casinos, brightly illuminated against the black night sky.
When he stopped the car and announced that we had arrived, we both did a double-take and thought there must be some misunderstanding. We were parked outside a huge colonial-style old building, which was detached and had a big manicured front garden. It was so different from our previous hostels, so we walked gingerly up the long driveway and rang the bell. The big wooden door eventually creaked open and we were let in, passing several high ceilinged rooms full of antiques and old tea chests,we were led across a courtyard and shown to our room. It was around 2am so we just crashed out. In the morning we headed across the courtyard to the breakfast area which was completely deserted. There was a little bell, faulty-towers style, that you had to ring, then a member of staff would bring some tea and rolls with jam.
The whole atmosphere was a bit eerie - very quiet, still, and very old and in slight disrepair. It felt as though it were once a childrens home as there were huge washrooms with rows of communal showers and big dorms.
We explored the local area, Miraflores,which is an upmarket area of Lima and were amazed at the architecture and bright colours of the houses and buildings: each one was quite large and had a completely different structure to the next, making for an interesting and colourful neighbourhood.
The roads are chaotic in Peru, with crazy driving and horns beeping continuously. There are thousands of "micros",which are old Bedford midi vans used as buses, customised with destinations, ribbons and logos hand-painted on the sides. People are literally spilling out of them and a "conductor" hangs onto the side, pulling passengers on and shouting out the destinations trying to get you on board. The smog and pollution are terrible, I don´t think the term green or eco-friendly applies over here.

This district had some lovely restaurants and a few large shopping malls,where I couldn´t resist buying an utterly impractical pair of 4 inch heels, that I now have trouble fitting into my rucksack and haven´t even had the opportunity to wear yet. I´m not sure the Peruvians are ready for a 6ft blonde stumbling around on the cobbled street in a pair of virtiginous stillies - they´d probably mistake me for one of the blokes in drag, only they have better legs.

Atfter a few days it was time to check into the Hotel Exclusive for the start of our Inca Trail trip with Gap Adventures.
After a stressful morning in the bank, when the bank staff had incorrectly filled the dollars ATM dispenser with Sols (which are worth considerably less) and then took away our card and held us in a side room for 2 hours arguing when we tried to explain their error and get the currency that we´d actually been charged for, we were ready for a bit of luxury. And we weren´t disappointed: the hotel was 4 star with cable tv, comfy beds and a huge bath (a bath! hadn´t had one of those for 7 weeks!).
We met the rest of the group who we would be doing the Inca Trail with and were told everything we needed to know in preparation. The group were a cool bunch of people: 4 Americans, 1 Canadian, an Aussie couple on their honeymoon, 2 Belgians and 3 other English.
We took a flight to Cusco the next morning and spent the day getting our bearings, acclimatizing to the altitude and preparing ourselves mentally for the hike ahead. Well, I did apply some self-tan and dye my eyebrows whilst everyone else probably did more cultural stuff.And OK, so we may have had a few Caipirinhas, fags and burgers as well. We had agreed not to smoke/drink/eat junk for a few weeks before the Trail to prepare ourselves but alas,we are weak and the call of the nightlife was too strong. OK, so we won´t drink ON the trail,we said, but even that wasn´t to be as there were little stalls along the way selling Cusquena, the local beer, and Marlboro Lights, so even on the side of the mountain there was no escape from our evil vices!
We spent a day hiking around the Sacred Valley, an old Inca site, with our guide Marco, which he said would be a warm-up for the Inca Trail. This site had many terraces, carved into the mountains,which were used to grow crops such as potatoes and corn. It was amazing how they had managed to create these terraces on such a steep incline. The buildings themselves that were used for adminstration, astronomy and as religious temples were built from huge rocks, which had been transported by the Inca people from another mountain 8km away and then split by boring holes into the rock, introducing wooden rods then adding water which expands the wood and cracks the white granite rock along the vein so that it can be broken and carved into a brick. The craftsmanship was amazing: each rock had been perfectly carved and slotted together seamlessly with the surrounding rocks,making a perfect wall which would be admired for it´s intricacy even today,and these buildings were over 500 years old.
We spent a day marvelling at this great achievement and the patience required to create such a work of art - apparently these small Inca habitations took about 50 years to complete.
The next day was the first day of the Trail - we had an allowance of 6kgs each for essential clothing such as hiking boots, warm fleeces, hats,gloves,hiking poles, snacks etc in duffel bags which the porters would carry and any other items over the 6kgs allowance we could carry in our daysacks.
Obviously mine was full of make-up and wetwipes - I don´t care if I´m up a 4000m mountain, I´m not going without my mascara and Juicy Tubes lipgloss for anybody.
The first day´s hiking was not too difficult - we climbed up and down but there we no passes (peaks) on this day and we were all in high spirits, chatting to the group and our guides Marco, Rosa and Uber and marvelling at the strength of the porters. The porters are absolutely amazing: these little guys are around 5ft tall and carry 3 peoples duffle bags each, plus all the cooking equipment, tents etc for the entire group. At each stop, they erect tents, the cooks prepare delicious 3-course meals then they take it all down again and literally run up the mountain to the next stop where they do it all again,so that when you arrive at the camp puffing and panting several hours later they have put the tents up and prepared dinner and are standing around waiting for the group to arrive. They wear sandals made from old tyres and their little legs are bulging with varicose veins, yet they greeted us with applause at each stop and were really sweet and friendly, although I tried to avoid bumping into them in the toilets,where the noises and stench they made was ungodly.
The "toilets" were just holes in the ground, with a basic chain that rarely worked and rationed toilet paper. With several hundred people trekking the Inca Trail at any one time, they quickly became filthy, and you had to roll your trousers up before entering.Breathtaking is a word I would have preferred to use to describe the scenery, not the toilets. Not very glamorous, especially at 3am when I woke up with my bladder bursting. When it became impossible to ignore it any longer I woke Liam up (well,someone had to hold the torch!) and we crawled out of our sleeping bags to make the treacherous journey across rocks and around other tents in the pitch black to the baƱos (loos). I regularly tripped over tent pegs and almost landed on people snoring loudly in their tents, or stumbled down the bank alongside a sheer 12000ft drop half-asleep on my toilet runs. (Runs being the operative word, since most of us had upset stomachs at one time or another).
The hardest day was the second day, which was mostly uphill at what seemed like a 90 degree angle, which combined with the altitude and plenty of rain made for a tough hike. The awesome views made up for the difficulty of the climb, although when we tackled the notorious Dead Woman´s Pass, which is ther highest point of the trail at 14000ft above sea level I must admit I was flaking slightly. Liam seemed to find it easier than me and shouted encouraging (annoying?) comments to try to help me. I was purple in the face, munching my coca leaves (our guide insisted we all chew them to prevent altitude sickness and to give us strength) and felt as though my legs were made of jelly. In a strategic move to keep me going, he ran ahead a few steps with the water bottle. As I choked on my coca leaves and begged for the water I had no choice but to keep up with him, and finally collapsed at the top of the mountain, exhilarated at having completed the toughest part. A few members of the group were suffering from altitude sickness and arrived white-faced at the top quite a while later. Actually, we were some of the first to arrive so didn´t do too badly at all.
The third day should not have been quite so tough, yet the torrential rain and hail made this day just as difficult: part of the trail was steep downhill steps,which had been turned into a river by the rain. As we clung to the side of the mountain slipping on the rocks and mud and trying not to look down at the sheer drop on one side I think most people were a bit scared. I know I was - what if my mascara ran?
Along the way we passed several Inca towns, which were amazing in their craftsmanship and our guides told us of their history. When the Spanish invaded and took control of the country they destroyed many buildings and took the bricks from them to make their own houses, and as they didn´t believe in the Incas tradition of worshipping various Gods (such as Sun God, Moon God etc) they destroyed all the temples. The reason the Incas built their cities high on the mountains was because they belived they would be closer to their Gods,they were safer from attack from enemies and also because the conditions for farming were better.
On the 4th and final day of the trek we were awoken at 3.45am to make the final stretch to arrive at Macchu Picchu (translated as old mountain) by sunrise. I did my usual routine of a full wash using wetwipes, applied my make-up by torchlight and I was ready. We were finally going to see the lost city, which had been deserted after the invasion of the Spanish and had been covered by undergrowth for years before being rediscovered by an American called Highram Bingham in 1911.Even today, only 40 percent of the entire city is visible, with the remaining 60% being covered with dense undergrowth. It cannot be uncovered as it may cause the buildings to collapse, and the city is already slipping by 1cm per month.
As we reached the Sun Gate and gazed out over the ancient ruins of this new 7th wonder of the world, all the efforts of the last 4 days became worthwhile. Watching the sun rise over the mountain and taking in the awe-inspiring scenery was truly magical,and something I will never forget.
We spent part of the day exploring the ruins where around 2000 people had once lived, worked and worshipped, which took 100 years to build and were not even completed, before going to Aguas Calientes for lunch and to take the train back to Cusco.
Although it had been wet for most of the trail (making parts of it treacherous),the weather on the morning that we arrived at Macchu Picchu was perfect,with blue skies and bright sun.
Liam even climbed another mountain (whilst the rest of the group declined and recovered),which he managed to climb up and down in around an hour. When you see the pics of this beast you´ll appreciate this acheivement, as he had to complete the hike by running up the mountain as we had to catch the bus down to Aguas Calientes in less than an hour and a half. Extreme Tourism,Liam called it.
Having completed such a challenge, we all agreed a night out to celebrate was in order, and although we were absolutely shattered we all took a much-needed shower and headed out in Cusco. After a drink in the Irish Bar and a lovely meal in the main square we went to Mama Afrika to dance the night away. It was a miracle we could even move as our knees and ankles were all busted, but it´s amazing what a few pisco sours and mojitos can do when combined with a pumping house beat.
We had done it..completed the Inca Trail. Our smokers lungs and 30plus bodies had not let us down and we were all on a high. The old Shaman tune "I can move, move, move any mountain" was going round in my head as I drifted into my first decent sleep (in a bed instead of a sleeping bag on some stones) in a week....

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Whale-watching in Puerto Madryn

After recovering from BA on the loooong journey south to Puerto Madryn in Patagonia we struck gold by finding a cool little hostel run by a great Argentinian guy called Gaston. This guy was the hostess with the mostest and really couldn´t do enough for us.
After helping us book a tour for the following day, he cooked up the best barbeque ever and also did a wine-tasting session, whereby he took us through a range of fine argentinian reds. Neither Liam nor I are usually partial to a glass of red, but this was not like the vinegary rubbish that we had tried in the past. The BBQ´s or Parillas as they are called here in Argentina are fantastic, with delicious, perfectly-seasoned soft meat which just melts in the mouth (mmm, I´m drooling all over the keyboard just thinking about it) and the wines are fantastic too. No deep-fried shapes for tea in this neck of the woods.
The following morning Liam, Neil and I were collected by our tour guide and taken on a long and drawn-out journey to see the elephant seals, which come up onto the beach at this time of year to mate. Each male seal is surrounded by upto 6 adoring females, like an aquatic Puff Daddy video.
After being shown sheep and rabbits (can we just get to the seals, we´ve got millions of sheep at home thank-you-very-much) for a few hours on the journey, we finally arrived at the Peninsula Valdez. The seals were an amazing sight, hundreds of them on the beach blubbering about and calling to each other. The males were literally huge, and were scratching and making belching noises just like their human counterparts do!
After getting as close to them as we were allowed we had lunch then it was back on the sweltering bus to continue to the whale-watching part of the tour.
We were all a little tired and drained by the time we arrived, but as soon as we boarded the boat and the brisk wind slapped our faces we were awake and raring to see the Southern Right whales.
And they didn´t disappoint...within minutes of getting out onto the ocean we were surrounded by a "copulating group", a rare treat whereby upto 7 males work together to surround a female in order to mate with her. There is no competition involved, just a romping frenzy! The females can be 18m long, whilst the males are only 12m so I guess it makes sense for them to help each other out. The female plays hard to get, however, and spins upside down so that they have to work at turning her over in order to mate.
We got to watch this amazing spectacle from only a few feet away, as our boat lurched and swayed from the force of the water being churned by the whales. We clung to the boat as we snapped away, getting some cool footage of the whales cavorting and splashing around. At one point one whale even spurted water from his blowhole right over everyone on the boat.
It was truly humbling to watch, and the sheer size of these creatures makes you realize your tiny insignificance in the universe.
After a few hours it was time to return to the hostel, and fired-up from the excitement of the day we enthusiastically relayed our experience to Gaston. After a few minutes we realised he wasn´t quite as excited as us , and the horrible truth emerged that we´d made a mistake with our booking and had to leave the hostel there and then. It was gone 10pm, and we thought we´d booked for 3 nights, but once again the Spanglish had let us down and we were homeless.
It took a second for it to sink in, so Gaston somberly marched us into his office, where all our worldy goods had been rammed into plastic bags by a member of his staff. As it was bank holiday weekend, everywhere was fully-booked and the only place we could stay was the local 4-star hotel.
Not such a hardship, you may think, yet we´d already smashed the budget and I was not up for blowing a fortune on a hotel room. After throwing my flip-flops around for a bit I gave in and we taxied it across to the hotel where we would share a cosy room, all 3 of us, Liam, Neil and I...romantic.
We went out on the town to a bar and a cheesy club, only to be turfed out of our room a few hours after we´d got to bed.
Tariq arrived the next day and the boys had a lads´night whilst I stayed in watching movies on Neils ipod.
After a recovery period it was time for more sight-seeing so the 4 of us hired a car for the day and went to Trelew to see the huge penguin colony, where over 500,000 penguins can be seen during peak season.
Weirdly, one of the main languages in Puerto Madryn and Trelew is Welsh, as Welsh settlers staked a claim on this part of Argentina a few hundred years ago. You can even go for a Welsh afternoon tea...very strange when you are in South America!
After messing around amongst the penguins for a while we took another boat tour to see the dolphins. Again, right on cue, the black-and-white dolphins swam around the boat and we even got to see another whale, eyeballing us in close proximity. This boat was considerably smaller, and we were so close to the sealife that you could almost reach out and touch them.
After a fun day it was time for Liam and I to say goodbye and catch the bus back to BA, in order to go back to the airport to catch our flight to Lima.
Just a few days of healthy-living and hydration before some serious trekking. The Inca Trail awaits...

Back to BA to partaay!

Satisfied that we had seen the Valle De la Luna, a Unesco World Heritage site, we unfortunately had to sacrifice our next stop, Mendoza, due to the dozy Tour operator messing up our tight schedule.
Instead, we boarded another overnight bus back to Buenos Aires in order to meet up with Neil, his sister Jess and her boyfriend Paul, and a couple of crazy Scots, Nicola and Keith.
When we rolled off the bus with sleep in our eyes and bedheads we weren´t feeling or looking our best but when we clapped eyes on Neil and co we actually looked fresh in comparison since they were at the wrong end of a 3day bender.
So we´d finally managed to catch up with Neil, but still hadn´t been able to synchronise our route with Tariq...although whilst looking through Neil´s photos of Pacha we realised that he had! Weirdly, the only person Tariq had met at Pacha out of around 3000 people was Neil, and only after going back to someone´s house for an afterparty had it emerged that Neil and Tariq were both due to meet up with us...small world!
The next few days were spent visiting the zoo, the Boca region and the Boca Juniors stadium and going for dinner before donning our gladrags and heading out to a club called Rumi. After several VodkaSpeeds (cheap voddy redbulls) we were revving up into fifth gear, were soon on first name terms with several Argentinians and spent the night tearing up the dancefloor.
The Argentinians have been really friendly towards us and the only real annoyance we have encountered has been getting fake 50 peso notes from various cabbies and restaurants after a few vinos.(Some of the fakes have been laughably bad in the cold light of day!)
Back at the hostel we decided to carry on the party but the hostel bar was a bit pricey and poorly-stocked, so we smuggled in some more bevvies in a rucksack and continued our revelry on the roof terrace with the ipod. After a fun-filled day of ripping the Scots about whose country was best, Liam, Neil and I boarded the bus to Puerto Madryn to go whale-watching. We hadn´t been to bed and were a little worse for wear but the 24hr bus journey gave us plenty of time for catching up on some well-deserved shut-eye. Luckily we had paid the extra for luxury reclining seats, meals and dvd´s so it wasn´t as painful as it may sound...

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Valle De La Luna

Weeeell...slight change of plan. We travelled to San Juan specifically to see the amazing rock formations from the Triassic Period, but when we arrived in San Juan after yet another epic bus ride it emerged that the Valle De La Luna is actually a 5-hr bus ride away..although it is in the San Juan region it is actually closer to San Augustin, but that is a tiny village so people generally stay in San Juan. We stumbled, tired and crumpled from the 18hr bus journey, around the town attempting to find a travel agency which was a) .open and b) .able to speak enough English to explain the tour to us.

A) was proving to be the biggest hurdle, as San Juan has a ridiculously long 5hr siesta every day. 5 hrs! The lazy buggers. The shops only open for 3 hours, then the whole town closes down from 12.30 until 5.30pm.

We eventually booked our tour of the Valley de La Luna, but somehow the communication gap (or should that be canyon) meant that despite us getting up whilst it was still pitch black outside for our tour and waiting patiently for our guide...he never showed up!
And angry conversation in Spanglish (my version of Spanish) revealed that the tour operator had sent our guide to the wrong hostel to pick us up. We had to then rebook for the following day, thus losing a whole day as there wasn´t much else to do in San Juan. This was pretty frustrating, but when we finally managed to see the ancient rock formations we both agreed it ws worth the effort and the wait:
The day of the tour started off well - the guide actually turned up, so that was a bonus. Unfortunately his car came complete with two old french birds, who proceeded to twitter on in French for the entire 5hr journey.
Then, something miraculous happened....I rememebered every word of the French language that I had ever been taught. It seems my French A-level A grade was not in vain after all, and before long I was babbling away to the Frenchies like a native. Liam was well impressed, and I spent the day translating everything into English for him. We had a little system going - the French women spoke Spanish, so the guide told them some history, trivia etc, then they translated it into French, then I translated it into English for Liam. OK, so a few things may have got lost in translation, but I reckon my French teacher, Madame Perryhomme, would have been proud.
The Valle de la Luna was incredible - we saw amazing rock formations in gravity-defying shapes, eerie moon-like terrains and fossilized fish and dinosaurs.
We had lunch of empanadas (or ipanemas as we called them - duh!) and then set off for the 5hr ride home with our new french mates.
On the way home we visited a shrine, which thousands of Argentinians make a pilgrimage to every Sunday. It was a shrine to a woman who had died in the desert trying to find her military husband. Her body was found with her tiny son clinging to her breast. Miraculously he survived, and her tomb has become a shrine, with people bringing gifts to her from miles around. These ¨gifts¨included their stuffed pets, wedding dresses, football shirts, papier-mache replicas of their houses, photos, all sorts. It was a very weird sight to see all these people bringing random objects to the grave. There were also thousands of bottles of water, meant to stop her from getting thirsty ever again (she died of thirst in the desert).
An interesting end to a memorable day...

Friday, 3 October 2008

Buenos and beyond...

Population of Argentina:40million.
Population of dogs in Argentina: about the same.
Number of piles of dog poo dodged each day: hundreds.
I kid ye not, there are millions of dogs here, most apparently strays but they also appear well fed and cared for, and I have been known to save my brekkie on numerous occasions to feed a few.
Much to our relief, Argentina is much cheaper than Brazil. After living Richard Branson´s lifestyle on Oliver Twist´s budget, it was time to reign in our spending a little. We decided to explore the city by subway to save money (one journey on the tube is only .90 pesos, which is less than 20 pence), and bumped into a Brazilian guy who we´d met at the bus station the previous day who obviously had the same idea. Luckily Adriano, as he was called, informed us that he was a "Paulista" (resident of Sao Paulo) just before we were about to launch into a tirade about how awful a city it was, and our least favourite place in the whole of Brazil. For once, I managed to stop myself from putting my size 8´s in my mouth.
We explored the city with Adriano for several hours, before breaking off on our own to go for lunch. We wandered down by Puerto Madero, a port which is similar to London´s Docklands, with huge skyscrapers and flats alongside the river, combined with swanky restaurants and bars.
Much to our delight, it was possible to get a delicious 3-course lunch with complimentary champagne and a bottle of wine for about 25 quid for both of us!
Compared to the aformentioned deep-fried everything in Brazil, this was absolute heaven, with perfectly-cooked steaks and luxury chocolate deserts. What with the beautiful view over the river and lovely hot sun, this had definitely been the best food we´d sampled so far.
After lunch we continued exploring the city, although after all the wine and champers it ws pretty hard not to crack up at the most inappropiate things, and we ended up having to leave the cathedral in a hurry as we had a fit of the giggles...
That evening the hostel had organised a pub crawl, and we should have realised from this title that it was going to be a trashy affair aimed at 18-year olds. When we realized that the meeting point for this bar crawl was the local town square we were not impressed, and I was suddenly overcome with memories of getting bladdered on Diamond Whites down Danson park.
The bars they took us to were actually pretty nice, but there were a couple of irritating Americans who were cramping our style. As I was also a bit hungover from lunchtime and tired from all the sightseeing I was not in the mood to suffer fools, and dealt them a swift blank.
The evening culminated in a visit to a club called Lost, appropriately named as I managed to lose Liam when I went to the toilet (yes, I know I´ve done this several times before girls), then also managed to lose our Mastercard. . Doh!
The next day we visited the Eva Peron museum, which was really interesting, and crashed out in the sunshine for a while in the botanical gardens. We also went to San Telmo and watched some live tango shows in the main square and wandered around the markets and antique shops.
As we are returning to BA next week before travelling south we will visit the Boca neighbourhood and Recolleta then.
From BA we travelled to Rosario, where it rained non-stop for 2 days. Apart from Che Guevara´s birthplace and the memorial to him we didn´t find too much to excite us here, so continued north to Salta.
Salta was fantastic - we explored the city, went up in a cablecar to get a panoramic view (and almost lost my lunch in the process, it was wobbling around so much), and booked a trip on the "tren a la nubes" (train to the clouds) and to the salt flats.
We were picked up from the hostel at 7am, along with a group of 6 Irish nurses (who looked at me blankly when I did my best Catherine Tate impression, you know the one where she does the ginger irish nurse) and a few others. It was such a good day, through miles and miles of mountain ranges and desert, before visiting San Salvador and San Antonio Des Corbres, where llamas wandered about, and the people looked tiny and ancient. They are descended from indigenous tribes, and live in the middle of nowhere. One of the towns (I forget the name) had a population of 26 people! It´s amazing to see a lone old lady walking through the desert with only a goat or two for company, wearing full traditional costume, with nothing for miles around.
We invested in a couple of knitted woolly hats made from llama wool complete with ear flaps and llama patterns which we bought from the local women, as it was pretty cold due to the high altitude (4200m above sea level at the highest point), before we headed for the salt flats.
The salt flats were an incredible sight, just pure white plains as far as the eye can see. As you can imagine, we had great fun messing about taking photos of us all sprawled out on the salt, plus a few funny ones of the men who work at the flats, collecting the salt for processing.
As these guys work here for long periods, they wear balaclavas and glasses to protect them from the wind and bright sunlight reflecting off the salt. All very practical, but absolutely hilarious to look at.It was like chilling out with a gang of terrorists. They were a bit camera-shy though, so I had to buy a little piece of the slate they were carving llamas into just so they would let me take a few snaps of them. Maybe they didn´t appreciate us rolling about with laughter at the sight of their get-up...got a few choice piccies though! Unfortunately most internet cafes won´t let you upload pics so I haven´t figured out how to share them with you yet. I then got terrible altitude sickness (payback for laughing at those guys), which didn´t ease offf until we came back down.
We also went to a traditional BBQ, where we ate more lovely steaks (we´ll probably be digesting all this red meat for as long as it takes to pay for this trip), and danced (badly) with some locals to their traditional music, before hitting a club called Babylon with the Irish and a few others.
We also went to a really great archeological museum in Salta. Digging old stuff up for fun has never interested me that much, but this place was awesome, and housed perfectly-preserved remains of 3 inca children which were over 500 years old. As they had been offered to the gods on the top of a mountain, the conditions meant that as well as their skin, every hair, eyelash and fingernail remained intact. It was as though they died yesterday, and was a little creepy but fascinating too.
As this seems to be a record-breaking post, I´ll sign off now (well done if you made it this far!), and just say that we are now in San Juan. Tomorrow we are visiting the Valle De La Luna (Moon Valley), which is a huge Unesco National Heritage Park, where you can see ancient eerie rock formations. Then we will travel south to Mendoza, the main wine-producing region.Hmm, a few wine-tasting tours are in order methinks...

Thursday, 2 October 2008

mini rant... and breathe...

We finally arrived in Buenos Aires after planes, trains and automobiles (plus every other form of public transportation known to man). The flight itself was only a few hours, which was extremely infuriating actually as we were totally engrossed in our films (me- Sex and The City, Liam -Troy) when the pilot interrupted to say he would be switching off the in-flight entertainment for landing. We were literally 20 minutes from the end so it was tres annoying to say the least. (We had spent a blissful few days in the beautiful town of Paraty, but unfortunately had to travel south to the slightly less aesthetically-pleasing Sao Paulo for the flight to Argentina, which meant a 20hr journey before we arrived in Buenos Aires).

Long bus journeys are a big part of travelling, especially if you are on a budget (which we are smashing, by the way), as flights tend to be at least twice the price. When we started this trip we baulked at the idea of an 8hr bus ride, but now we are used to regularly spending 24hrs on a sweaty bus and 8 hrs seems like a walk in the park. Whilst I´m on the subject of the more negative side of travelling, let me just have a quick rant about other irritating aspects, just to get them off my chest.

1.Every laundrette shrinks your clothes, so much so that I´ve had to chuck away 2 tops and 3 pairs of knickers (which they shredded somehow?) already, and a few of my trousers are beginning to look scarily like they´ve had a row with my ankles. What do they DO to them , for chrissakes?

2. Carrying a huge backpack around on your back is not fun. I´ve developed a curvature of the spine in recent weeks. By the time we come home we´ll probably be crawling on all fours.

3. Some of the food in South America (Brazil particularly) is just plain WEIRD. Take for example the beef stroganoff that I ordered. (I didn´t know I´d ordered it as I couldn´t understand a word of the menu so just pointed at something randomly and tried to look confident in my choice). It came with a deep-fried banana in batter sticking out of it. I mean. A banana. In batter. The filthy, fruit-frying, b*stards.What was the chef thinking when he created that particular little delicacy I wonder. Perhaps he just stuck that in there for a laugh to try to confuse the gringo in the restaurant, looking smug that she´d managed to pronouce something for once.
Or how about the various assorted shapes they serve as snacks, which Liam and I lovingly refer to as UFO´s (unidentified fried objects). A typical discussion when ordering these goes something like this "what do you fancy ordering Liam? Well, we had a couple of triangles yesterday, so why don´t you try the square and I´ll have a few of these oblongs". The scary thing is we don´t know what the contents of these culinary delights are even AFTER we´ve eaten them.

3.How come everything came out of the rucksack, but now we´re trying to repack it (which we have to do every few days when we´re moving to a new place), only half the stuff will fit back in? It seems to take us at least an hour to leave the room each time, and even then it´s with half our belongings swinging on the outside of our packs cos we couldn´t face rearranging them for the umpteenth time.I guess our interpretation of travelling light is a bit different to everyone elses. Other travellers smirk when they see we´ve got half of Dixons in our bags, what with 3 mobiles, a PSP,an electronic translator, an iron, straghteners, hairdryer, ipods etc all bulging out.

4. Dorms were created by the devil. If hell exists, it will be a huge foreigner-filled dormitory) We´ve only stayed in them when we´ve arrived in the dead of night in a new place with nowhere to stay and this is all that´s available. The last time we did this I was on the top bunk. about an inch from the ceiling (some dorms even have 3-storey bunkbeds) sharing a room about the size of a postage stamp with 5 overexcited Spanish girls on a hen do, who rolled in at about 5am waving plastic willies and half-empty vodkas and then proceeded to throw up for what was left of the night.

I know it´s totally self-indulgent and spoilt-brat-like to have a moan when we are on the trip of a lifetime, but I´m hungover, feel sick and it´s my blog so I´ll do what I like.

I´ll be back with a proper post once my head is removed from the vice-like grip of this migraine....

Argentina is fantastic by the way.