Mendoza

Departing La Rioja we continued the journey down south through Argentina, Looking at the map we had a choice of two stops, both sounded appealing but Mendoza just pipped the post and was only eight hours away by bus.

Mendoza quickly made an interesting impression; a local student stopped us outside the station to firstly tell us its a dangerous city, then use Google now on his phone to repeat the same phrase. Being unsure if his intensions were good or not, we jumped in a taxi to get to the hostel and save any hassle.

Lake in parkThe hostel was great; located in a prime location for the city and the large General San Martín Park a few kilometres north. A few morning runs were required around it burn off the daily beers and soon to be wine consumption.

The area is famous for its wine production (a recurring theme in Argentina) and fancying some exercise we decided to go with a bike and wine cycle. A little tour bus dropped us at the first winery which proceeded to give us a tour followed by the much anticipated tastings. Leaving each winery, we cycled along the country roads towards the next one. Every few minutes the peace was disturbed by a large lorry pushing past.

Wine & CyclingWe were there with a good group of mixed nationalities who all shared the same thought – less of the tours and more tasting por favor! By the third winery it was time to buy a bottle and top up our glasses and continue onwards.

The tour ended at a local microbrewery who made their own lovely strong wheat style beer. The dark one was especially good and a welcome change from Quilmes. The drinking continued long after the bikes went back in a restrobar as they call them over here, a fine day.

MendozaThe next morning, hangover present, we took ourselves out of town and up the Andres to the Parque de Agua Termas, a hot spring waterpark. The springs form a selection of pools with varying tempatures, from Scottish sea cold to burn your skin off baking hot.

Its a relaxing environment, though quite a lot of old people in the pools reminded me of a scene from Cocoon. Though there was a few slides for the kids, it wasn't quite a full water park, especially as the lazy river was not opened…

Next stop, Bariloche!

Full photo set here

La Rioja

Bus Dinner!Getting to La Rioja saw us taking our first long distance bus journey – a 10 hour night bus . Despite feeling a bit apprehensive, the journey itself wasn´t actually too bad. Much more stressful was finding the bus, given the relaxed Argentinian approach to timetables and any form of signage. Although we knew the platform the bus was meant to leave from, after waiting for over an hour, we were beginning to worry we´d missed it all together. Eventually it turned up, stopped in a completely different platform, and we hopped on (after Paul was politely reminded by the bag handler that it was custom to tip by repeating ´´tip tip tip tip¨´). Upon departure, we were given a complimentary dinner, made up of a ham roll, with a side of a small ham sandwich. A bit odd. And then we were off. Apart from the interruption of a scary Argentinian police man boarding the bus and questioning us as to why we´d left and returned to Argentina on the same day (during the Iguazu trip), it was quite uneventful.

Arriving in La Rioja at 8 in the morning, a little grumpy from the bus journey, we quickly realised there wasn´t much there. One of the main reasons we had decided to stop there was it´s proximity to Chilecito, a small mining town 150km away, and so we made a day trip there straight away.

Chilecito (´little Chile´) exists thanks to a cablecar built to transport gold and silver from the Sierra de Famatina. The cable car was nearly 40km long and climbed 3.5 km, though the only remnants now are the disused stations. The laidback museum in town laid out lots of artefacts from the mine, as well as a detailed tour (in Spanish, so it all went over our heads). In addition to the museum, the other main attraction of the town is a cooperative winery which gives free tours and tastings. Our first wine tour of the trip, and for the first time ever Paul enjoyed a glass of red wine. So we bought a bottle of the rose 😉

Having left La Rioja first thing in the morning, we arrived back at the hostel after midnight to find the owner and her daughter waiting for us. With the help of a translation service on their ipad, we established that they´d been worrying all day that we´d gotten lost, and so had stayed up to check we were okay. Feeling a little meek, we felt even worse by announcing that we´d decided to cut our stay short and leave first thing in the morning.

Although it was an interesting stop off, our time in Argentina is running out, and so we were keen to get to Mendoza, a much bigger city further South, an 8 hour bus journey away. So in 48 hours, we´ll have spent 24 of these on a bus. Let´s hope Mendoza is worth it…

Iguazu Falls

Having left the noise and bustle of Buenos Aires behind us, arriving in Puerto Iguasu was a welcome change. Coming in to land the airstrip was surrounded by rainforest and not much else, and so it was clear this was going to be a completely different experience to the city. Puerto Iguasu is a small town whose primary business appears to be serving the tourists who come to see the falls. We booked in for 3 days in the hope of getting some sun and rest (as well as seeing some massive waterfalls).

IguazuIguasu Falls was one of the things I had been looking forward to most on our trip, and they didn´t disappoint. One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, we went to the Argentinian side first, where the well designed walkways enable you to get up close to the falls, both at the top and bottom. We were lucky enough to go on a beautifully sunny day, and so the butterflies came out to greet us as well. The day finished with a walk to Devil´s Throat, the most popular part of the falls, as you´re able to stand at the very top and look down into the haze of crashing water below.

The falls cross the border between Brazil and Argentina, and so we also did an organised tour that took us to the Brazilian side of the falls. This side offers more panoramic views of the falls, and again excellent walkways that this time take you out into the bottom of the falls where you get absolutely soaked. The tour also took in a trip to Paraguay (noisy) and the world´s biggest dam, Itaipu, which is, according to our guide, considered to be one of the 7 constructed wonders of the world. However, it wasn´t totally clear whether it was the whole world who considered it a wonder of the world, or just the locals themselves. Either way, it was quite impressive to see. I´m sure being able to understand the guide on the bus would have added to the experience, but we had to make do with catching random words and then making up the rest.

IguazuThe other main attraction of Puerto Iguasu is 2km down the road, where the Parana and Iguazu rivers meet and act as the border to Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. We had aimed to get to this spot for sunset, but having stopped for a drink en route, we arrived at dusk, which was all the same very pretty.

Coupled in with a lazy day, this took up all our time in Iguazu. Time to pack up and move onto our next stop, Salta city.

Full set of Iguazu photos are on Flickr

Salta

Salta Evening SunsetWe chose to fly in from Iguazu, rather than take the 25 hour bus journey as we have plenty of epic bus journeys ahead and a full day just did not appeal, no matter how comfy they are rumored to be.

At the airport we decided to head for the bus rather than use another Argentian taxi (grr).  Fully aware of the issue with the bus only accepting coins, we headed to the bus with notes hand and a rough phrase asking if a kind local would pay for us on their bus card and take our money, it worked, hurrah!

The city of Salta, although small when compared with BA has a fair sized population, crazy driving is still evident. At each block where the roads cross it’s a game of confidence.  Cars race up to the junctions and push their way across, from a foreigner perspective it’s insane but seems to work.

San Bernardo Cable CarA cable car leads from the city up to the San Bernardo hill providing views across the city. We took the cable car up and the stairs down on the first day, the following morning is seemed like a good idea to run all the way up the thousand stairs.  It stated with a brutal 3k run and accent and turned in a lovely windy 4k decent down the road.  Not the easiest run but well worth doing.

The city hosts a museum dedicated to the Inca tribes, after an excavation in 1999 they have three preserved children’s bodies which the Incas sacrificed as part of a ritual, buried alive. One was on display, fascinating and somewhat creepy.  During the exhibition the power went out, so we had to cut our visit a bit short.

Pēna DancersOne evening we headed out to catch a local show called a Pēna, queue Spanish dancers, audience clapping and our first chance to try some local food. The restaurant offered us menus in English, we slightly foolishly decided and Annie ended up ordering a rather horrible dish that sounded like hummus, some form of pasty meat wrapped in a vegetable leaf. I went for the Lama stew, tasty meat though to be honest could have easily been a tender bit piece of lamb. We ordered six sides of Empanadas, like pasty like items containing cheese, beef and not very nice chicken.  The actual show was great to watch, the guys do what seems to be a mix of tap and flamenco dancing, we were right at the front and I was praying they did not do any audience interaction, I had enough of that during The Horne Section back in Edinburgh and luckily they did not.

Salta photoset is here

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires #argentinaWe decided our first stop in South America would be Buenos Aires. Personally I knew nothing about the city and didn’t really bother to do any research. We stayed at the Estoril hostel, which was six floors up with a rooftop patio/bar area. Friendly staff showed us to our dorm and around, we quickly realised that it was rather basic, but clean enough.

BA has a very European feel to it, the buildings all look old and rustic. Very little English is spoken, this fact I was aware of and is proving to be a fun challenge, though it seems daily I’m reminding myself of the basics of Spanish. By the end of the year I expect that will change.

Quilmes is the beer of choice around here, a decent drink though a little bit lacking. We went to find a bar that the guidebook said stocked 50 beers, the barman offered me Stella, I was suitably offended and disappointed and returns with a couple of Quilmes, beers over here tend to be served in litre bottles and shared between two. Bars sell them for around $25 Pesos (£2.70), not too bad for almost two pints, Brama is also commonly found, unsure what happened to that at home after it went though a big marketing campaign.

Brahma, big bottles!To work off the nightly drinking, we put our shoes on and did a few runs of the city. The eastern side of the city has a nature reserve with a calm 7.8k loop, first time was after a night of heavy rain and left us running though bogs, frustrating to say the least.

The reserve is a welcome calm from the city which is constantly noisy. Traffic is chaotic and the drivers are mental, horns are used constantly, lanes seem to be more of a suggestion, you regularly see three cars across two lanes, tooting and changing at every chance. Being a pedestrian and attempting to crossing the road starts off daunting but you soon learn to be confident and push out or the cars will just keep you waiting.

At this point we started to wonder why BA is held in such high regards, there really isn’t much to do in the city. We took the guides advice and headed north to Tigre which is a town where the locals head at the weekends. Instead of taking the direct train, we chose to switch to a coastal electric train and jumped off at Barracus. Just outside of the station lies a fantastic facility for kite/windsurfing, rock climbing and at one point skateboarding, though the pipe was in dire need of some TLC. Watching the surfers do full flips from the side was very impressive, keen to get out and get back on a windsurfer at some point soon.

Delta HomesBack on the train we arrived at Tigre and wandered towards the water passing the themepark which I almost dragged Annie into. The waterfront is full of boats offering trips along the open waters of the Delta, which is a series of waterways passing various homes and buildings. In amongst the tourists were water taxis and locals going about their daily lives, it was rather fascinating to see, as far as we could tell (the captain was speaking in Spanish) though the homes all looked remote, they appeared to have power and phone lines even without roads connecting them up.

Back to the city, the morning of our flight coincided with the BA marathon, I wasn’t aware of this before we arrived or I may have just entered if I kept the miles up, but alas we were leaving. Being nice and early for the airport bus, we got on with the exact change only to be turned away for not having coins. There is a massive lack of coins in BA, you always get $2 peso notes (22p) but coins are rare. Once we got off the bus, we realised we just had the required six peso coins so waited for the next bus. We waited for about 40 minutes before getting too anxious about missing our next flight so decided to hail a taxi, I think waiting would have been a better idea.

Annie's Gesture to the taxi driverThe taxi driver was hands down one of the most incompetent drivers I’ve ever seen, for reasons I suspect were financial motivated, he did not use the motorway but tried to cut under it on some backroad to the airport, this road was manned by the police and closed, so we were all being directed around the park due to the marathon… The driver basically put us in the worst situation possible, stuck in traffic chaos with our 13:20 flight getting closer and closer. What was a 25min taxi took us 80mins, we got to the airport at 12:45, utterly raging at the fact we were looking at paying for new flights due to his fuckup.

We ran to the checkin desk and the lady didn’t seem to blink an eye at the fact our flight was due to take off in 40mins, checked our bags in and off to the gate we dashed. It’s now becoming clear that time keeping over here isn’t something that the Argentinians bother with, the flight was already running 35mins late, phew!

Off to Igauzu we went….

Outbound

And so it begins, after what seems like an eternity of planning we set off on Monday evening for our journey.

The first flight was booked from Heathrow at 7am on Tuesday, which meant we had to fly down the evening before and stay in a hotel. Seemed a bit of a waste of money, though we had little option. After some deliberation, I fancied the look of the onsite Yotel in terminal 4. Upon arriving the check-in girl handed out a second pillow for the “single room”, those words didn’t sit quite right.

Turns out, an internal cabin on a budget cruise liner would be spacious when compared to this place. Two people literally cannot stand at the same time, the toilet is behind a shower curtain, it’s all very cosy. To be fair, for a few hours kip, it done the job.

Buenos Aires

We flew out from Heathrow an hour late, as per normal with that shithole, on Iberia who seem to be running a Spanish Easyjet, terrible. Landing with about 40mins before our next flight, Madrid was a bit of a chaotic rush, though we and more importantly our bags made it. Queue 13 hours with a shared TV showing movies we had already seen, think god for the iPad and a sneaky SD card with TV and Movies.

We landed at Buenos Aires at night, made our way to the hostel and headed to bed so we were ready for the week ahead.

A New Adventure

So here we are, I’ve kicked this old blog back to life, ran a purge on the 650 posts that cluttered it up and now left it with a travel only focus.

Will try and post at least once a week, internet access permitting, though I’m taking only the tablet and not a laptop this time, so expect the posts to be a whole lot shorter!

See you on the other side!