Carnaval! Barranquilla

Medillin episode isn’t finished but should really come before this…

It was an early start as I needed to rise at 3.30 to get my flight. I’d booked fairly late on so only myself to blame but at least got a few hours in a nice bed which I still maintain is better than a dastardly night bus… but obviously does a lot more damage to the wallet. I sleepily seemed unable to speak spanish but fortunately the airline staff coped. What’s more… I got bumped up to business class for both my flight to bogota and Barranquilla (yes you can go directly if you book far enough in advance unlike me). The flight was pleasant enough despite the hour but I was then struck by the heat as soon as I felt the sun when I left the safety of the airport air conditioning. I was also immediately mobbed by some kids asking for money who then stayed with me for the next 15 minutes or so as I waited for a bus. A taxi driver told me I was being stingy after rejecting his offer and wanting to take the bus (by rubbing an elbow with the opposite hand which apparently means that). Anyway, getting the bus isn’t that tourist friendly if I’m honest but some other dude helped me get the right one. I’m pretty sure I got overcharged by a whopping 50p but was not going to argue.

I planned to meet up with the Medillin group in hotel acuario where Rafa was staying and by some canny bus play was able to get dropped off less than two blocks away which was an absolute result having expected to need a taxi for the final bit. Bridge then turned up shortly after, a good few hours earlier than her sister who had opted for the night bus which was inevitably delayed, followed by Nick who had no such excuse for being late other than being distracted by others in his Airbnb. We cracked on with the first águila (beer) of the day and went shopping for some brightly coloured attire and other festival equipment, namely a cheeky shot cup you hang around your neck with a cord for drinking aguardiente/ what ever else is going round. Quite a clever idea I thought, but I realise these guys probably have all the experience in the world for partying – there’s bound to have been some wisdom developed. It was just nick, Rafa and I that had tickets for the stand today and Bridge was going to chill out a while waiting for Kirsten so we parted ways and headed to the stands/bleachers (balcones).

After some apparently deliberate misdirection from guys tauting for other stands that weren’t the ones for Which we had tickets we eventually found the spot and gleefully headed up to take our place spectating the battle of flowers (batalla de Flores). It was awesome, and sorry to anyone from Jersey, but it’s Someone better than the one there! Thousands of people, amazing costumes, celebrities of varying degrees and a cacophony of traditional and current music. Everyone is in high spirits, drinking, laughing and throwing around foam or cornflour… maybe the latter was mostly us but all in the vicinity got involved. Voluntarily or otherwise 😎. There was meant to be free beer *while stocks last. They didn’t last. Obviously and I think we got literally 1 tin among all three of us the whole day… but when a can is £1 and you have a bottle of aguardiente already it’s genuinely fine.

Then it was back to the Airbnb by myself to catch up with the Dutch girls before going for really nice Mexican, eventually being found again by nick and Rafa ahead of us all making our way to la troja (I think that’s name). This is a cool place where the streets are filled with fellow carnivalers until the early hours. We met a load of locals and had a great time, until I succumbed to fatigue of the early start and a hefty first half of my carnival weekend.

Up and breakfast then next morning surprisingly painless given the partying the night before but we went to bed pretty early relatively speaking which must have helped. I slowly made my way to meet up with Rafael and head into the stands once again, but this time with Bridge and Kirsten. We didn’t hear much from Nick but apparently he had made a new friend the night before so left him to it. We were also joined by Chris who we also knew from Medillin and had an excellent day at the parade. I bought myself some foam and early on and promptly got into a war with a kid who adopted the tactic of climbing beneath the bleachers and surprise attacking from behind. Reinforcements arrived in the form of Rafa buying a bottle himself and giving me a hand… by the time the actual carnival started I found myself with an empty cylinder and soaked! Ah well, another bottle cost little over a pound so no great shakes to reload.

When the parade was over we walked the streets a bit and stopped at an impromptu party where they had a fairly simple but effective speaker set up and no shortage of good cheer. Nick also turned up eventually! By this point it was getting dark and I realised that my prescription sunglasses would no longer cut the mustard. I headed back and pre hailing a taxi managed to stack it and slice my hand on some broken glass… so once again looked a bit of a sorry state trying to get the cab. However, with contact lenses in and rudimentarily patched up I headed back out to rejoin the crew. Some musicians from the parade had joined in and were playing for us there it was awesome! I have a video of a guy rocking out with a clarinet right next to me in the crowd. Everyone was really nice, sharing rum and dance moves (I had a good time failing to learn any).

Next we headed to the Main Street party in a nearby part of town. We couldn’t get in the normal entrance and instead headed round the back way which was guarded by police but we got in without too much hassle surprisingly (and without shelling out anything for the privilege!). The party was epic! A huge amount of people there and we met a nice group of locals and danced some more, this time helping them with their aguardiente.

Finally the last stop of the day was a club called barullo another cab ride away and met up with some friends Rafael had made earlier in the day, our number steadily decreasing as one by one people resigned themselves to defeat. Given the state we were in (flour-wise) I don’t know how we got in to be honest. The last of us left pretty late on and I got a taxi back to the Airbnb hoping Bridge or Kirsten would be conscious to let me in! No worries in the end and got some much needed rest.

The next morning was tough, and I shamelessly chowed down on my second maccie Ds of the weekend with relish. Excuse the pun, but it’s genuinely quite cool here – you get to help yourself to variety of sauces and get free reign over the gherkins and jalapeños! We thought about heading to the carnival again to squeeze in an hour or so before our bus left… for all of about 30 seconds and instead opted to chill out a bit, go for a walk and grab a detox smoothie. Even the prospect of dinner seemed a bit much so we just grabbed some snacks for the ride.

Thanks so much Barranquilla, I’ve had an absolute blast here! Loved it.

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The Galápagos Islands

I arrived to Guayaquil, Ecuador, pretty late thanks to the bus and had the skeleton crew manning the hotel (North Star). I’d picked this place because it was close to the terminal. The room was quite nice and had a fridge in it! The aircon didn’t work though so I’m wondering if it was a sort of DIY fix!! I was also surprisingly told breakfast was 9-11 which was good as I wanted to get a decent amount of sleep. It wasn’t. It ended at 9… sigh, apparently the girl that told me this error was new.

I spent the morning looking at galapagos tours last minute. Very curious that the system involves leaving a message and waiting for a response when it genuinely is last minute (some even seemed to be selling for same day!), a phone number might make more sense.

I tried a local place with some food I’d never heard of but spent most of the day hunting down trips for the Galápagos Islands. I’d cut it pretty fine as usual, leaving it to the day before and there was a bit of a palava trying to get cash out for a minimum cash payment as well as secure flights with a nearby shop as well (according to skyscanner there were no flights but fortunately that was a lie). After a bit of frantic running around I was booked in for 8 day’s on the islands, with 5 of them being a cruise.

I was pretty excited about this so perhaps was why I didn’t sleep too well. Either way I was up and made it in good time to the airport for the two hour flight to the Galápagos Islands, Baltra in particular was the name and was greeted by the tour guide Rafael and herded onto a bus with a few other tourists making up the 16 strong group on our boat. We got the the harbour and on to our boat for an int introduction to the crew and the standard safety briefing which included a drill with our life vests on the top deck. It was a nice vessel with a good common area and plenty of space to sunbathe!

The first stop was Islote Mosquera which is effectively a small mass of sand surrounded by some rocks, which as these islands are all volcanic, are black and igneous. We walked around a little in the sand learning some more about the flora and fauna, seeing a few sea lions before getting stuck in to some snorkelling. Admittedly there was not a great deal going on – just a few different types of fish and one shoal, so a Dutch guy called Koen and I decided to try off a different part nearer some sea lions. Low and behold a curious pup was staring at us and eventually joined us in the water with its mum joining shortly after so we managed to get a nice bit of footage with the cameras. I apparently got too excited at the start and didn’t press the button properly!.. but got another chance later on. Then it was back on the boat for some chill time, dinner and a beer before bed.

Early start the next morning for breakfast and a 7 am start at one of the island in plazas near Gordon rocks (which I noted as had been recommended as a good place to scuba dive so I may be back here after my cruise…). The early start was thanks to the fact that a massive 100-man boat was going to be there at 7.30 and Rafa wanted us ahead of them. It was pretty cool, we saw lots more sea lions, avian species and some iguanas – including a pair having a fight over a nearby female which was pretty cool. I couldn’t believe how close we were able to get and how tame the animals were…. they were literally right in front of you and didn’t care much that you were here. We even saw a mum sea lion nursing it’s pup right on the designated walking trail. Then it was back to boat to sail to Santa Fe, where we saw lots of sea lions, land iguanas and an eagle. In the dinghy back to the boat we came across a good few sharks right by the boat as well as sting rays in formation. Overnight sail to isla Española but still slept really well despite the rocking.

The next day I came across my first turtle whilst snorkelling, but it wasn’t doing much other than hiding under a rock so I left it be and moved on quite quickly. Later we headed to Punta Suárez and were pretty amazed with the marine iguana population. There were so many of them everywhere! Apparently this is the only place in the world you find marine iguanas and seeing them swim around looking for food was awesome. Further into the island we came across a load of Albatross, with a few chicks who, thought not yet able to fly, would be making the long trip to the waters at the south of South America, which is a substantial distance from here. The albatross is one of the few true marine birds meaning it can live without shore for long periods of time. We also saw several pairs of Nazca booby, which lay two eggs and the chicks battle at birth with only one survivor! We enjoyed the scenery around the cliffs and chilled out by the blowhole which shot up a spray of water under pressure whenever a big wave came into the cave beneath.

The last full day was at Isla Santa María where we started at Post office bay, so named because of its history of being where the post was dealt with for the islands for quite a long time… since the pirates in the 1700s. It’s still used a nice tourist attraction where you can put in a postcard into the barrel and hopefully another tourist will pick it up and endeavour to deliver it by hand. There were a couple for London I spotted so I have taken them with me for delivery when I eventually return home.

We then went snorkelling off the shore there and saw loads of turtles feeding on the plant life by the nearby rocks. Next up we got back on the boat and moved a shirt distance to Devils crown which had some amazing snorkelling, easily the best of the trip, also with some savage currents and it got pretty ropey at one point. As well as the many huge shoals of fish, I also saw Golden ray and white tipped shark, it was great. Then as though that wasn’t enough, an Aussie guy from our group spotted what he said was a whale from the dinghy as we were heading back to the boat. Unexpectedly (for me) our guide humoured him and we went speeding off in that general direction, we were all peering out in the distance when suddenly something big breached right in front of the boat, it was a 6-7 metre juvenile hump back whale. What an absolute treat. Within a matter of seconds half of us were back in the water frantically swimming after it and for the faster of us, were rewarded with the amazing experience of swimming with a whale and I even got some on my mini camera. Koen made an awesome video which includes a clip of this:

Flamingo lagoon and walk around Punta cormorán. Baking heat in high noon but we saw a penguin zipping along the shoreline trying to catch fish that were jumping out of the water to try and evade capture.

The next day a few of us waved goodbye to the cruise vessel and after a quick visit of the Darwin centre on Santa Cruz Island, the remaining guests staying on for a bit longer also. The centre itself was interesting with a lot of information in the flora and fauna of the islands, efforts to restore endemic populations along with the past and present threats to its success.

In the afternoon I checked into a hostel with two guys from the cruise also sticking around on these beautiful islands for a couple of days more. We then took a taxi to El Chato which is a nature reserve for giant tortoises and has three lava tunnels that you can walk through. We also larked about a bit inside some old tortoise shells, which if nothing else should give an idea of the intense scale of these guys… they can be 150kg plus and live 200 years.

Unfortunately they became endangered as a result of pests humans introduced as well as humans themselves… and there are records of ships taking loads of the animals on board to provide fresh meat over the duration of their voyages as you don’t need to feed them much and it’s not like they will get away… then it was back for dinner and a short trip to a couple of dive shops to kit out for the next couple of days of scuba is lined up earlier in the afternoon!!

I went to a couple of spots with Koen including las grietas which is a cool spot a short water taxi and walk away from the main dock. You can swim in the relatively warm water in a mini cañón.

My last couple of days in galapagos were focused on scuba diving and both days I got day trips out on a boat for a morning dive, lunch and afternoon dive at Mosquera and Gordon rocks as I’d hoped. I got very lucky with availability and hit the spots I wanted. I had dinner and drinks with Koen and a few Dutch/German guys we’d met and on the last night shared a bottle of wine with the hotel staff back in Guayaquil before my departure from the airport the next day.

Stopover in Peru…

Unhelpfully the agent I had booked my flight with had cancelled my ticket without telling me and as I write this I’ve still not received anything other than an order confirmation from them. I found this out after thinking to visit the Atrapalo agency in Santiago only to find its the head office or something like that and not useful for customers. I guess I should have spotted the S.A. Suffix at the end of the name like LTD in the UK as a hint… I then got back to the hostel to phone them and had a fruitless argument. I eventually got an apology but it was hard fought after asking how I was supposed to know this without communication. Apparently the problem was the payment didn’t work, the representative suggested as a result of my card being in dollars or something like that, which it isn’t… I can take cash out in all currencies I’ve tried in South America including Chilean pesos… so despite not being the problem wasn’t even the point. I just about made it to the airport in time to buy a ticket $200 more expensive. Ouch. I complained to the airline rep and said it was your agent who messed up and he advised me to complain directly to them… as expected but I wanted to get that advice anyway in case somewhere down the line I get told I should have said something to them.. GRR!! Rant over…

After being shafted for the extra fare the flight went without a hitch and pretty soon I touched down in Lima for the second time in my trip/ life. I was pretty hungry and so wasted no time getting myself in front of a Rocotto relleno and chicha morada. Delicious. I got talking to an American dude collecting investment for deep sea exploration, having apparently changed from life as a consultant. I made a swift exit after paying and nearly managed to get to the taxi in one go but got accosted again by some school kids trying to interview gringos… again.

I got to the hostel (Loki hostel lima, quite a renowned party hostel chain) and started to unpack and head for a shower. I briefly met a Canadian guy, Josh and later some Chileans in the room, who had been out for a tiring day, were from my previous stop – Santiago! I left them to it as they collapsed on beds. I was pretty tired myself but there was a good buzz in the bar so I went down for a quick drink just to soak up the atmosphere and buy the odd transport ticket, being pretty antisocial in the corner of the bar. The Chileans found me a bit later on and we got talking so the one drink turned into more, the girls were friendly with the staff and so a fair few free drinks materialised for the group which happily included me at this point.

It got a bit chaotic but was fun, with various levels of understanding exactly what was going on with the other Chileans that also seemed to have popped up. It was cool to have a change from only being with Europeans in hostels which had been the case most of the time.

The next day I met up with my friend from my first Lima visit and spanish practice before my trip, Karina. We headed to the Catacumbas where we saw an impressive but also slightly unnerving collection of bones in crypts underneath an impressive church. It was pretty amazing but annoyingly you weren’t allowed photos… so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I did manage to get a couple of legal photos later on in the church itself though. By the time we re-emerged there was some form of celebration going on with fireworks, dancing and music. Not sure exactly what it was for but it looked and sounded good!

We headed off from the church and went around trying a load of different local street food: Anti cucho Pancita, Rachi, Corazón de vaca (various viscera… didn’t like much except the cow heart was pretty good!). Then some very sugary things which I definitely needed to keep me awake: Mazamorra morada (fruity sugary purple goo), Arroz con leche (rice pudding) and picarones (donut type things with syrup). Then we strolled around the centre which was really nicely decorated for Christmas. It’s so strange being warm around Christmas and I’m not really feeling it yet but it’s really close!! Much kudos to Karina who as always had everything planned to the letter. I got back pretty late and decided against heading to the bar given my failed attempt for a quick one the night before and desperately needing some rest, Josh turned up soon after and we had a chat before the Chileans, Daniela, Andreas and Coni turned up. Not joining them at the party gained us the response of “Que Fome!” (How boring!) but nonetheless I felt pretty happy with choosing sleep this night.

We said goodbye to Andres who was heading off the next day and headed to the markets (famous but I’d somehow heard of) Polvos azules. Josh needed a new phone cable and was offered the gringo price of 50 soles, the girls sort of smiled patronisingly and suggested we just left them to it. Sure enough, about five minutes and a couple of stalls later the same cable was produced for a price of 10 soles and after a quick check it worked the deal was done. That’s basically £12.50 down to £2.50 so they clearly knew their stuff. We grabbed some food at the Kennedy plaza, I had some nice “pollo borracho al Oporto” (drunk chicken in port, great name) and was again reminded, with the aid of eating bits of other people’s food as well, that Peruvian cuisine was awesome!!

Karina joined later on after her day volunteering at an international surf competition (Peru won!!) for the hostel party as well as a girl Josh had met the other day and we kicked off with some darts and beer pong as the bar quickly filled up with guests and locals. A fair amount of my final bill was accrued this night. A good send off for my last night in the Loki!

The next day we said goodbye to the Chilean as Josh and I moved on to another (quieter!!) hostel and they went back home. It was dimmed a bit as one of the girls had had quite a bit of dollars and pesos taken from a locker!! I met up with Karina later on to see the Pachamama ruins (very impressive) just outside the city. We were somewhat delayed by the fact our bus drove into the back of a car that was changing lanes. I had said fairly recently that given the habits here I was amazed I hadn’t seen any crashes and clearly jinxed it henceforth… It was worth it when we got there though, with a nice museum and some cool old temples that had been excavated as well as some nice views of the beach and valley. I shovelled down some pretty tasty Chifa (Peruvian Chinese food, very cheap) for sustenance earlier on and just about had energy to get some pizza in the evening before a very quiet night relative to recent behaviour.

I had a serious Taxi saga trying to get to the bus terminal the next day with two drivers trying to swindle me. The second one i agreed the price in advance then later checked he was going to the right address only to be told that no actually where I wanted to go would cost me a lot more. Shocking behaviour when I had seen it all in writing in the receptionists phone app back at the hostel (a bit like uber). I said flat out, if he’s not prepared to honour it what was agreed, take me back and was glad that a good nights rest (relatively) had restored my spanish and appetite to fight my own corner. Back at the hostel before opening the boot, he demanded I give him something as it wasn’t his fault on the basis the app didn’t tell him the address. I said ok, show me the job on your app to which he said it was too late as it had been cancelled now. So I then said let’s look for a new job, because I bet it tells you the destination… he was obviously lying and at this point said ok no need to pay anything. So after the second taxi i was back at the starting point, without losing money but quite a bit of time in what would have otherwise been a very relaxed journey. I was furious, and genuinely shaking – this had not been my experience here at all last time. I gave up on the receptionists options and got an uber Which was great, far cheaper than what the other two had tried to fleece me for (despite me being told a price originally much cheaper than uber) and the driver was really nice so he definitely deserved a good tip!

I’d been using the website bus bud to see what was going on re ground transport but was really hoping it was wrong about saying that after 10 am the following morning there were no more buses to Guayaquil. Nonetheless I took my 18 hour trip pondering whether to take that 10am slot (planned arrival 8.30am in mancora) or Stay a few days until the next one and enjoy the beach and party life of mancora. I’d decided I’d partied enough recently and there were more impressive beaches in my future with a bit of luck and so geared up for a further 8 hours travel making a total of over a day solid on the move. We got it woefully late, past 11 so original plan was scuppered. But I walked around asking bus companies and there was an easy bus in a couple of hours for much less than I’d seen on the website so not sure what bus bud was playing at here. I used this time to scope out the famed mancora Loki (looked nice but unsurprisingly quiet this “early in the morning”) and had lunch on the beach. It’s pretty beautiful here, maybe I’ll come back and spend more time another day. However for now, onwards to try and squeeze in the Galapagos!

Cajón de Maipo and Concha y Toro et al.

Next morning I cracked on with the brekky a cool 20 minutes later than promised and ran to my walking tour of Valparaiso. I had of course already seen bits from the bus, but it had felt a bit rushed and wanted to cover it a bit more intimately by foot and was glad I did. One part I had seen people working on paintings on the side of houses the day before and was amazed to see this had now been completed. The group was good too. I saw some Of the same spots but could actually appreciate them better closer and on foot. It was also cool that some of the Paintings from day before that were in progress had now been completed so they must have worked pretty fast. The tour finished with a typical Chilean students drink which is wine and Coca Cola then I went for lunch with one of the girls who was free, Stefany, before we split as I headed off to val paraíso to enjoy the beach.

The next one was a pretty chilled day save some drama involving a padlock and a hacksaw…but I met an Irish guy, Patrick who had a lot of good stories from his travels. We went out that night with Stefany and a friend of hers to a place called La piajera and tried a Terremoto (earthquake) cocktail which comprises of cheap sweet wine, grenadine and pineapple ice cream. Lots of sugar and lots of booze as it’s effectively a pints worth. Bar nacional again for some chorillana which is junk food!! Fried meat, eggs and chips with some local beer.

Up early and fortunately snuck in a breakfast early doors before getting picked up by the Tour bus to do the Cajón de Maipo trip. Some breathtaking scenery, Which someone… somewhere… once… apparently… decided was the next most beautiful place after Machu Picchu in the continent. That’s a very big call in my opinion but it was awesome nonetheless. The huge reservoir is amazing and provides 60% of Santiago’s potable water.

Then it was off to the thermal springs to relax and take in the scenery.

Finally with a delicious picnic with Cabernet Sauvignon accompaniment, before heading home. It wasn’t cheap at 60k pesos (68 pounds) but worth it. The wine served was also a winner, really cheap at about £3.50 for a magnum sized bottle but delicious. Chilean wine has been the winner for sure so far. By a stroke of luck Patrick had a bottle of the very same back at the hostel which we polished off before heading out to a club called mito urbano. I didn’t really dance much but had a chat with lots of locals!

The next day we dragged ourselves to the vineyard for casillero del diablo, a famous name back home. It was good, 14,000 pesos (£17) so not cheap but a nice place to walk around. We also bought some good food for a picnic in the grounds.

That night I met Nicole, who I’d been practising some Spanish with and lived in Chile as well as her friend Fran. I tried the Chilean pisco sour and got into a fair amount of trouble for preferring the Peruvian version, then we got through a fair amount of sangria after Fran left as she had to work the next day. Somehow the staff forgot about us and closed up shop, and we didn’t notice… this resulted in us being locked in the beer garden for a quite a while with our sangria and Spanish songs, until it eventually got too cold and we decided to escape by climbing over the fence…It was pretty surreal.

I went to the Sky costanera the next day which is a high point about 300m up that has a frat panoramic view of Santiago, and incidentally much better WiFi than the hostel. I spent a couple of hours there chilling and taking in the view before having a fairly awkward moment with the guard when I collected the pen knife I’d dropped off on the way up for security reasons. He eventually gave back the correct one, the red one, “like communist!”. I laughed nervously and made a swift exit. I hung around the mall for a bit browsing and bought a couple of things, somehow resisting the draw of an ice cream but got a nice chicken curry. Then slept lots.

Patrick left to Patagonia the next day, and Nicole picked me up by car from the hostel and we headed to a new Baha’i temple. It was her suggestion and caught my interest because I’d heard of the faith not that long ago and thought it sounded really nice in principle as it effectively seeks to unite a load of the main religions.

Lunch was more cazuela at a super touristy but nice place with an English name in Bella vista. We went for a big sort of final night out with Stefany and her friend, who got picked up early by a local guy who turned out to be pretty cool in the end… before we even got to the club and he joined the crew. It was good fun and we hit the dance floor properly this time and larked about a bit/ I larked about… the locals can dance disturbingly well. It was an amusing night in all, but ended very late again.

The next day I got some Maccy Ds to soothe the head and we met up for some ice cream in the sun. The Chileans arriving at different degrees of punctuality… with one having fallen asleep…! we tried a bit of street food type stuff the name of which I forget but it’s a sweet liquid with peaches and some seed/ grain type solids in the bottom. We said goodbye to Stefany and her friend then wandered around the city a bit more before going our separate ways. I felt a bit lonely after all that as I knew I was leaving the next day, and a lot of goodbyes recently! The hostel cat, clearly sensing this, opted to stroll into my room and keep me company as I watched some TV and prepared for the flight to my next stop.

Chile!

I shared the taxi part way with the others heading to the airport and jumped out nearby my Hostal for the night. As I came in a German guy was nipping out and asked the receptionist if she wanted a beer, to which she said yes. He then offered me the same and I took him up on it. The German dude was adept in Spanish and we were joined shortly by another girl who worked there and had a nice chat and I learned a few new words as we sat around the table until the early hours. The other girl was from Ecuador so I got a few details, that country wasn’t part of the plan originally but it might be now… heard good things!

It was a nice Hostal and they just got new beds put in (Hostal cacao). Nice breakfast with eggs too, hadn’t had that in ages having been accustomed to just bread and jam with the occasional bit of fruit if lucky. I then headed out to the morning walking tour of the city, which was really good.

Chile has the first democratically elected president 1970. First democratic step down of a dictator 1990.

Centro Gabriela mistral had several previous uses but is now reserved for art. The group of Chilean schoolers in our group were getting interviewed by some tv show so while I waited I nipped inside and found a London Underground exhibit of all the old posters!

We visited the house of Salvador Allende, a rather eccentric leader who had a pet alligator.

December 1540 Pedro de Valdivia arrived on a hill in the centre which has a good view of the surroundings. Prisoners put to work to build park on hill!

In the main theatre 350-450 people are employed with 80 who literally just play the part of people in a crowd for productions. Another random fact is that as part of the various costumes the building contains 500,000 shoes, and when they get rid of them it can cost as little as 500 pesos (60p) to buy old costumes.

La quintrala, was a fairly beautiful, ginger, bloodthirsty ex inhabitant of the City that was extremely wealthy in high society but with a penchant for murder, and bumped off people that defied her. She owned a private Jesús statue that she visited regularly to ask for forgiveness… but apparently never quite got to grips with the repentance part of not killing people again. This statue was given to the church eventually and has its own story after la quintralas passing. The Jesús had a crown of thorns that fell around its neck in an earthquake, which was then followed by another tremor when they tried to replace the crown, so they just left it. Earthquake viewed as punishment for sinful behaviour so they took the statue out on a procession every year. A couple of times they didn’t bother with the procession (1985, 2009) and both occasions were followed shortly by a devastating quake, so now that custom is fully entrenched and happens to this day.

One of the churches you can also bring your pet to mass to get it blessed.

Lunch I got some recommendations off the tour guide and landed on a place called bar nacional, trying cazuela for the first time. This is basically a soup/ stew with a huge chunk of chicken in and lots of veg and sweet potato too, it was great and the portion size was massive so all good. I did another tour in the afternoon that was more visual than factual so not much to say but some nice parks and architecture to enjoy. I threw a couple of things together for dinner cooking at the hostel while talking to a few other guests, and was amazed that they were impressed with what I came up with. I was pleased for possibly the first time in my life to have the least tragic attempt at dinner at my spot on the table when I’d been the one making it. I wanted to go to to a place a few hours out of town the next day (ever since it had been recommended to me in Bolivia) and by chance a Brazilian from the hostel on holiday from São Paulo, Amanda, said she also had the same plan so we spent a bit of time figuring out logistics before bed.

Valparaíso and Viña del mar

Up early and out by bus from Santiago central to Valparaiso. Apparently this can also be done by riding the metro as far as possible in that direction and then getting a short bus but this seemed efficient enough. We didn’t have a huge amount of time and so whilst Booking the first walking tour we got found by a tour rep for a bus tour that covered both places in one day. We got a ‘great deal‘ discounted to 10k from 35k pesos as a promotions amount. I think this could actually have been because the tour bus had left already with a couple of spare spaces as sunk cost, but they could zip us up to the first stop in a car. Either, way it was very good for the price of about £11.50: 2 hours in Viña del mar, back to Valparaiso for lunch and then a few hours going there.

I was expecting a more beach town vibe. These places are actually quite big and built up in their own right. I get the feeling that if you can afford, it’s probably quite fashionable to have a place here to enjoy the beaches and a flat in Santiago for work. It’s picturesque in its own way, not so much by the beach and coastal area in my opinion but more the extensive Street Art that form a large chunk of any city scape view. It’s renowned for this and apparently a while back had a period of 6-7 years where other people from the continent came here to learn the vocation, most notably those that took it back to Mexico. The port of Valparaiso is vast so I spent a few moments in awe staring over the heaps of shopping crates and cranes. I heard that there are always war ships in the bay, and following on the naval theme there is a maritime museum there too that we visited. In the latter we could followed very conspicuously by a group of school kids that eventually decided to say “Hello, how are you” then ran away giggling

There was a bit of mess up with drop off points as we started heading back to viña del mar…. despite me telling the organiser back in the office that I needed to be in Valparaiso… unfortunately like pretty much every city, street names are shared and so both these conurbations share the same street and something got lost in communication. I had no other plans for the evening so it wasn’t a huge problem to wait until the end of the drop offs and go back, the guide needed to head back later anyway. We had a chat and then he shared his wife had died a couple of months ago, and talked about his daughter that he was about to pick up who was a teacher. As he pulls up he utters that there she is and she looks just like her mother… the feels. Turns out she was a big fan of English music, particularly Radiohead and we also talked about food a lot. It’s generally a bit awkward as these places have reams and reams of tasty recipes and I don’t feel I ever do a great job selling English food… mainly because all my favourite restaurants are from elsewhere. Well at least we are great at appreciating and replicating other foods. Nonetheless apparently it was her dream to come to England! Anyway, I got to my hostel which was a bit rougher than usual but the internet worked and breakfast was good, the dude even made it earlier especially for me so I could make my morning tour on time.

Mendoza / Luján de Cuyo

Some photos of group/ art I forgot from the last entry in Cordoba shoe horned in here…. Carrafa museum and the law tribunales. Points for anyone who recognises the band depicted:

Next up was the bus overnight Mendoza. We had been super diligent in the station, splitting up and asking all the companies for the best prices. We were repeatedly told that all fares were the same regardless of company as the watched us scurrying around amusedly. Nonetheless, our efforts were rewarded, we did find two that were offering a promotional discount of about 25% and one of those provided food on the way as well as the ability to recline 10 degrees further – and so it was a winner. I didn’t get much sleep but I did get through a lot of Peaky Blinders and the food was pretty good! At the Mendoza terminal we realised the Airbnb we got was actually in a place further south called Lujan de Cuyo, plus side was it was nearer the Best bodegas (according to one article I had read…) but the down side was a long taxi or another bus plus short taxi.

We took the bus option which was an outright failure as we had no success getting a taxi from where the bus dropped us…. I got a number and phoned up a guy but he was busy picking his daughter up from school. So we decided to walk it, and in the heat eventually decided to split up into two pairs and attempt hitchhiking (for the first time in my life!). We got about halfway and were then picked up by a nice lady who had visited london and I think had a child there now. She was super helpful and gave me her number for any queries we had whilst in Mendoza. This was actually pretty handy as our hosts for the Airbnb didn’t really want to be bothered with us (uncharacteristic of the area!). The other two sacked walking off a bit earlier than us and had waited for a taxi. They eventually arrived and after a bit of wandering around with unhelpful house numbering (local:” la sistema es un lío!” = the system is a mess) and it really was not in any discernible order… we found our spot, and it was beautiful! A nice wood cabin in a gated community with a pool and trampoline! As well as a cute but pretty cowardly dog called Toby.

It was thanksgiving and so we prepared a nice feast. The cabin was not equipped with an oven (despite the advert…) but he hosts “kindly” let us use theirs… but I n their terms… so it had to be right now rather than later as we had asked. Oh well. We managed and it was awesome, each taking turns to say a piece about what we thankful for ahead of tucking in. The afternoon was passed chilling by the pool and then we headed out to a large beer garden type place with live music and had some coronas. I also received a good dose of Spanish chat with a couple of the locals sitting next to us, as well as another number should we need further assistance. People are really nice here! Then it was home via a taco bar, I had something similar to a taco and really nice called a gringa (white girl ‘white on the outside, but dark inside’… make of that what you will… !) and some wine and cards. Interesting Japanese game called Hanobi.

I spent the next morning Bodega planning, about two hours in bed researching, breakfast, then another two ringing around to try and get one to accept us late notice. The others probably got sick of hearing the same Spanish introduction over and over again but glad it got done. I got a hit from a free one run by the Lopez family and we headed over. It was awesome, we just about got there in time to catch up with the tour group and pretty much followed what they were saying about the process with some challenging translational work. What struck me most was the massive casks they have and how they get cleaned. Every five years you have to crawl in through the tiny door and scrub the gunk out, then a big machine rotated the cask and you do it again and again until all cleaned up. Given the fumes in there you can only do 15 minutes before having an hour’s break and repeat. The process takes a few days! Then we headed underground and had some tastings!! I also bought a little bottle of red which I’d forgotten about until writing this so can look forward to it provided still in one piece in the suitcase… 50:50 I reckon.

We had a quick lunch of empanadas as I rang around some more bodegas. My preference (another free one, highly rated) finally picked up the phone and we were set – Carmelo Patti. Apparently the dude himself was unwell, but his daughter did a sterling job in his stead and was generous on the pour so no complaints here whatsoever. Then for dinner we had ravioli and cobbled together whatever leftovers we could, drank more wine and played more games for the evening interspersed with the odd “deep, meaningful conversation” for good measure.

The next day the plan was to bus to Chile but one the girls had taken a turn for the worse re stomach so we all decided to chill for a day by the pool instead and recharge, as well as have a play with the underwater camera Victoria one of the girls had. She was German too so I spent some time refreshing what I used to know of the language and learned a song to add to my evergrowing Spotify foreign playlists. We left the place only to go as far as getting stuff for dinner, which included a visit to a super smelly butchers where we got some mince… and made some delicious tacos! I made the guacamole, first time for that as well… I think I’ve never done it before because buying it is probably cheaper in the UK given avocados are so costly.

The next day I was up to cook breakfast and we headed out, catching the bus to Santiago as I racked up country number 6 for my adventure. We arrived to our accommodation late and just got a papa johns pizza and some local beers (bear and escudo, both great actually) and watched dodgeball… the film… excellent. The next day we ate some nice food and got our affairs in order… boring stuff like sorting money owed and laundry before I said goodbye to my companions of this week who were heading off to patagonia. One of them is going to Guatemala for Christmas and invited me to join her for that leg. Central America wasn’t originally on the menu and I’m really keen to go to Colombia next…but it could be pretty cool… I’ll decide some other time!

Córdoba and Carlos Paz

The bus to Córdoba took about six and half hours following an hour delay and I got to my airbnb having split for different accommodation spots with Joao. It apparently wasn’t a super cheap entire apartment as had been written. It was instead a private room with two other guys living there permanently. Any complaint I had was short lived as they gave me beer, asado (barbecue) and some quality games of table tennis, for the rallies that were spoilt by the cat trying to get involved.

The next morning started with a long walking tour at the San Martin plaza in the northern part of the city centre. We learned a bit about the history of the city and some key figures, as well as seeing the ‘worlds thinnest’ building with a width that varies from 3m down to 80cm! They couldn’t get a bed in it so it’s just used as offices and apparently they do generally let tourists go in and look around. Choripan is apparently something you have do in Córdoba and there is an international choripan festival here! We went to “el Dante” Which was recommended to us by the tour guide. It’s quite deep into the park so took a walk to get there and out again in the heat. It was nice enough, but nothing special… I preferred the first one I had in Rosario! But it was good to meet and spend the afternoon with some new people at least.

I then headed back to pick up my stuff from the Airbnb and after a quick chat with one of the guys there, headed to my new Hostel (babilonia, pretty good) where is treated myself to a couple of nights on a double bed. I chilled here for a bit, showered and changed then helped myself to one of the many guitars until I had to leave. I didn’t realise a couple of guys in the patio behind me listening in but as I left they asked if I cared to jam with them, and one gave me a pretty impressive demo from the makeshift drums he had. I apologised as I had to leave to meet up with Joao for food but suggested maybe later.

I had got a few recommendations from various sources and we checked out a couple of places before settling on a food truck place with music anfew minutes the other side of the canal ( La Cañada de Córdoba). I had a nice burger and a fernet cocktail… so a really unhealthy day of fast food. Joao ordered the same (lo mismo también por favour!) but they managed to cock it up and give him the other item in their two part menu. Not sure how they managed that but he dealt with it and ate the pork sandwich type thing which apparently wasn’t bad. We went to ‘Maria maria’ afterwards for a drink as we figured out what to do next and were handed some “resaquit” hangover cures at some point too by some passers by with free samples! Afterwards we met up with four people from the tour earlier and headed to a place called favela, Which had an impressive cocktail selection but despite the Brazilian name… no caipirinhas! Baffling, but the one I eventually got was amazing… something like a “pechentea” with Campari and some fruity elements. Some of the guys hadn’t eaten yet so after asking around we managed to find a place with a kitchen still open, before Joao, Raul and I headed to a club called Ganesha where we had a good dance and chat with some locals. I genuinely dealt with the Argentinian accent a lot better, and have recently read that there was a study showing a significant improvement in language ability after some alcohol! So I have my anecdotal evidence to add to the wisdom now!

They party so late here too and reminded me of my trip to Madrid early in the year… so I became a bit nocturnal having a lazy day with most of time watching Netflix, napping and chatting. I did venture out to the Shopping mall for lunch and got a chocolate sundae from an ice cream place I’d seen all around but hadn’t yet had a chance to visit. We went out to a place called canario negro, which was packed and good fun for that night as well.

I shifted accommodation and headed out for a guided tour on the south side of the centre which took you through a different part of town. I didn’t realise but apparently there is a zoo and snake sanctuary pretty central here. Apparently up in the mountains there are a couple of venemous snakes that can be deadly but the hospital is linked in with the snake sanctuary where they can produce anti venom as and when needed. Handy! We also visited the Bicentennial Park which has 200 colourful rings in it, with one for each year that has a fun fact of the city’s history. My birth year’s fun fact was an assassination of a senator… :/

There were some beautiful churches and other architecture as well as some cock ups:

A wheel built allegedly by Eiffel (of tower fame) was put together incorrectly so the material started warping and it can no longer be used.

A polar bear sculpture was commissioned for the Antarctic square and then it was realised that’s actually the arctic and it was shifted to a different part of the city to try and hide the embarrassment but keep what is a lovely sculpture in view.

A statue of Anne frank (second largest Jewish population in Argentina here) got damaged in a protest. The sculpture had died and so someone else took a crack at it… so now she looks like a dude. Poor thing.

They built a lighthouse as they wanted a tall structure and made a concrete surround which is to look like waves with very Steve sides. Tragically a small child died playing on these and now they have to employ a 24 hour police guard to stop people going on it.

It was an enjoyable tour and a cool group, the tour guide took us to a bar where she managed to get us two for one drinks all night. I also met up with a group that were going to Mendoza which was perfect as I’d been looking for some people with whom to go wine touring down there, and spent lunch and the next afternoon with them also.

The day after that I linked back up with Joao and we headed to Carlos paz, which is a quick bus trip (under an hour away). It’s a beautiful place, no doubt assisted by the brilliant sun and blue skies that have become a bit of an everyday occurrence here and now! There is a lake and riverside promenade called the costanera which we walked both up and down, and is definitely worth doing although the more savvy traveller would have got off the bus earlier and walked along it to get into town. It was then back into Córdoba for a tango class with Rocío. This was a bit disappointing to start with as it was very slow and we were just walking in time to music with 90% being chat about the music and general tango related trivia which wasn’t my desire or expectation! The lat thirty minutes at least were cool and we learned the basic step and Ro learned the “ocho” which is the figure of eight move for ladies. I tried to copy it a bit also to many frowns from the others so stopped…. then it was an average dinner at parilla de Raul Which came highly recommended so was a bit disappointing then bed relatively early but still 1 or 2 am.

The next day was free entry for tourists in basically all the museums so i made use of this opportunity to check out some places with Ro and the mendoza crew. Starting with the tribunales, then swapping over to the museum of natural sciences just after lunch, followed by the palacio de ferreyra and Emilio caraffa museum which were great. We also visited la memoria which was a small museum dedicated to the atrocities and political kidnappings plaguing Argentina’s recent history. The last part of the day was a nice beer or three having joined up also with Joao and Raul again to say goodbye to those guys. A good bunch, and will be keen to see them again one day – possibly relatively soon in Brazil for Joao and carnival if that happens!