Rosario

We got our act together in the morning and took a hit but otherwise very comfortable bus to rosario after stocking up on food for the 4/5 hour journey. We got to the hostel (posado Juan Ignacio), which had been specifically selected because it had a pool despite being pretty expensive. It lacked air conditioning in the bedrooms and wasn’t really worth the price but otherwise it was nice and the staff/ other guests were good too. On arrival there were a couple of guests about but no staff, so we “self serviced” our way into the pool to await them and escape the heat.

A guy who had just started working there, originally from France but had been travelling for about two years now, rocked up and we eventually checked in and had a nice chat to get our bearings. We’d decided as the place was quite expensive that we would cook tonight and headed out to a Chinese supermarket that was fortunately open and got some nice entrecot to cook back at the hostel. We couldn’t find any matches but made do with the naked flame from the boiler and some carefully wrapped tissue paper… either way the steak and wine was great. The plan to have a chilled one as I was feeling the toll of the last week or so plus the allergies and lack of sleep. But apparently there was an event on and I didn’t need much persuasion to go out for a caipirinha, then have a chat into the night with staff/ guests. I slipped away earlier but Joao stayed involved until about 3.30 in the morning. It was around this time that disaster struck my mobile and it found itself in an endless loop of waking up, then switching off again achieving nothing useful in the interim.

Also, on navigating the way back I was chastised by an Argentinian girl for taking my map out… as apparently this is a big flag to potential muggers.

The next day the plan was to quickly resolve a few errands and see what could be done about my phone situation. I realised quite how reliant I was on this little device and it was painful. After a few crushing defeats (Joao’s attempt to have a functional SIM card also thwarted at every turn).

I had no luck in town with the main issue of my phone but did at least get to buy a back up smart-ish phone. We had to journey to another part of town to find a store suitable to restore my phone, which kindly obliged without quibble. It took hours to do but we managed to pass the time browsing and eventually I managed to persuade us to play some arcade games when we really had scraped the barrell but the restore was still not done. Beat the game on a basketball thing after spending a lot of time there. Eventually, and with aching arms we made it back to the store and picked up my phone late afternoon after the guy who started it for us had left. As we were leaving I suddenly got asked for 500 pesos (half the cost of my new back up phone) for the service. I asked if he was joking as this was the first we had heard of it… he wasn’t… but after arguing that it was just a bit of electricity, plus that I had no cash he accepted that if i hadn’t been told this upfront I couldn’t really be held to account for it. I think I got lucky to be honest as they probably did normally charge that large amount usually!

We then headed out to something called colectividades which was a really cool festival of loads of different countries (but notably missing UK and Portugal we thought!). There was a strong focus on food and drink from each but also most had a stage of something more to show performances or something cultural. It was really good, I had some Argentinian choripan (basically a nice hot dog type thing with chorizo), empanadas, abacaxis (caipirinha from a pineapple!) and an extremely potent and sizeable “shot”/ small glass of limoncello… only 20 pesos from the Italian stand. We didn’t do much the next day, with just a bit of wandering around the area and chilling until dinner.

We bought some more beef, this time a different cut which was also pretty good (lomo – and we are pretty sure it was meant for stews/ roasting but we fried it anyway and it was good) along with a good ration of spinach which was extremely expensive surprisingly (more than the meat in fact?!?!). That night we headed to a language exchange event and it was really good to have a proper chat in Spanish again with sympathetic speakers, the beer was good too and the dudes there were good… also very keen to hear about Brexit! The beer was also some of the best I’ve had in this continent too. Later on some more people arrived, and a nice girl from rosario, Sofi, invited me to join her kayaking around the islands the next day which sounded perfect as we’d planned on hitting the islands the next day anyway. She also suggested a good ice cream place nearby. I shared with Joao the good news on both accounts and we headed off the three of us for some nice ice cream to finish up the day.

Late morning we headed to the beach to eat our pic nic and later meet up with Sofi and the kayak group. It was super hot to start with and we had a nice dip to cool off and then the wind really picked up. This seemed to increase the amount of allergens carried tenfold and pretty soon we found ourselves trying to hide from the semi sand storm, whilst frequently being bent double sneezing our faces off. It was unpleasant… I checked my phone and saw Sofi had texted saying kayaking was cancelled due to the rubbish weather and a storm was expected shortly. This was pretty much what we wanted to hear, and we gladly (and eventually… after a bit of a faff) found a bus to take us home. We ate the rest of the food we had and chilled with the hosts and readied ourselves for leaving the next day. I realised I possibly hadn’t appreciated all of the cultural richness of the city but it had had its moments, I’d eaten well and could not cope with the allergies so wanted to get out of there sharpish!

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Buenos Aires

(Phone died so I lost some key photos 😦 )

I figured it made sense to check out the Hostel the two guys I had been travelling with had booked. It seemed ok so I checked myself in as well and we headed out to find some food as we were pretty starved after 24 hours in the bus living of snacks (plus the foot long subway I have got into the habit of buying for long trips). We found a nice looking place that advertised steak for 240 pesos, about £10. For another pound you could get one with salad, drink and pudding less the fries. Given my carb heavy snacking recently this sounded perfect and I have to say it was delicious! The wine was a generous cupful and turned out to be the best I had in this stint of Buenos Aires but apparently the tortilla was disappointing.

We then wondered around the city a bit and saw the Obelisk and a few key buildings around the main square which was beautiful. That night I cooked for first time in my entire trip as we made some chicken and pesto pasta for a fraction of what we would otherwise have spent. We also each selected a bottle merlot from the extensive selection in the supermarket and made a competition out of who could pick the best one, and this night started with the cheapest that was ok but not great as we got to know a few of the other guests from the hostal, mainly Sebastian from Chile and Mathias from Argentina.

Cemetery and mall

A fairly relaxed start to a lovely sunny day day saw us at cemetery. It was ominous and impressive in equal measure. Each mini mausoleum was an intricately made unique structure precisely located in rows of others. This place is also the final resting place of Eva Perón (Evita!).

Next it was to the nice air conditioned mall for a browse of the fancy shops and some amazing Argentinian empanadas, which had letters “stamped” on each indicating the filling… Of specific note here is the spinach and cheese one which was out of this world. Two of us went back for a second which was freshly cooked and the contents like lava but we powered through as it was so good.

The power adaptor that had served me so well in Brazil was now redundant and I got ripped off for an Argentinian one but at least it does the job… the real kick in the teeth is that most sockets actually accept European ones… D’oh!

More wine that night, this time a portillo Malbec from 2015 which was my choice and narrowly the favourite overall, before heading out for a taste of the Buenos Aires nightlife. The Fernet cocktail apparently a specialty here, via the Italian influence. Similar to my experience in Madrid, it was pretty quiet until 1am with people having their dinner al fresco and in the various eateries in the main area of Palermo soho where we were hanging out. We passed the last of the time before club at a craft beer place where we each ordered a recommended tipple. One was rubbish but the other two were ok!

There Is an interesting rule with the clubs here in that the age restrictions for entry 19 girls 21 guys. I guess that something similar happens in the UK as well but it certainly isn’t written down and stated officially! Either way we put me at the front and pretended that the guys behind me couldn’t speak Spanish (despite Sebastian being Chilean and Tristan having lived 10 years in Spain!!). Either way I had a nice chat with a surprisingly pleasant bouncer and no IDs were requested. It took until about 2am to get full but was good fun by the end of it and met a few locals, ahead of a delicious hot dog (or two) and a cab home.

Pizza and san Telmo

The next day to remove the last of the hangover we headed to a place called Pizza guerrin where you could buy delicious pizza by the slice. I got an extra piece racking up 3 big slices and was really full for not much cash. We then headed to the San Telmo area and saw a bit of live music, checked out antique shops and stopped by a few friendly people with dogs who were eager to speak with foreigners. There are also loads and loads of goths here… didn’t know that about Buenos Aires but it seems to be the case!

That night we cooked carbonara for all five of us. This got off to a false start as we realised the pasta we bought had weevils or some form of grimes bugs in eurgh… but ultimately with some back up pasta we managed it and it was incredible, I ate so much. Then I headed out with Sebastian and Mathias to visit the museum of beautiful arts (el museo de bellas artes). I wasn’t expecting/ up for another night of partying so found bit disappointing that most of the museum was shut and really it was just a place to drink. There was at least live music and I met a couple of their friends so had an ok couple of hours ahead of making it to a very welcoming bed (so far as a hostel bed goes…).

La Boca

The next day I met up with Max and we started in San Telmo again before walking over to La boca which was beautiful and has a load of the stereotypical buildings you would associate with Buenos Aires. El caminito is a cute walkway flanked by nice little cafes serving food and drink most of which had some tango dancers to watch during your refreshment. By a twist of fate I heard a shout of my name, looked over and found Roshan, a friend of mine from work who by chance had ended up in the same spot as me during his 3 week trip here.

We wandered around the streets here and eventually settled at a place with some hot chocolate and churros whilst watching some tango dancers. I managed to throw most of my hot chocolate down myself pretty early on when it was still really hot resulting in crushing disappointment for the tragic waste of good chocolate + owww! The former at least was remedied as the waiter kindly brought me another free, but afforded himself a sly chuckle at my expense. Fair enough, it was pretty stupid…. I put it down to lack of sleep!

We went back around the hostel later on to have a nice milanesa at “el club de milanesa”… I wish I’d taken a picture of it, it was massive and tasty… as well as a beer deal before heading home to hear about the other guy’s day, as he had met up at the park with a girl from the club two days ago.

Colonia de Sacramento

The next day was a painfully early start to make our ferry for a day trip to colonia sacramento passing over to Uruguay, which happily was totally worth it. I did the Old town tour in Spanish (guide was not that sympathetic as the other 30 people were native speakers…) and did my best to regale the info back to the others afterwards as we walked around again in slow time. Lunch we were recommended an all you can eat “san jardín”, the quality of which was not good but it came with a carafe of wine each and so we had a pleasant enough couple of hours, mostly talking about physics as it happened…

That afternoon we rented a bike and cycled “la rambla” (effectively the beach run) and stopped halfway to enjoy the beach itself. It was a nice place and we chilled with a beer later on until the sunset and the two guys I was travelling with headed back on the late ferry back to Buenos Aires and I to my hostel for a quiet night at a pleasant hostel called bit hostel, with decoration of the old style video games.

Brazil and Iguaçu falls

A few of the lunches in my last few days in Santa Cruz I had were at “Pensions” Which is effectively where Someone opens up their house around lunchtime and you can go in and have a complete meal. Usually with soup, potatoes and vegetables buffet and a main all for a low price of between 10-15 bolivianos which is less than £2!

I packed in lots of salsa classes including 3 hours in one of the days and reckon I’ve got the gist now. As well as a couple of big ones to make the most of the night life here. As well as a couple of lazy days in a hotel to recharge after two weeks in a hostel 8-man dorm room.

When I finally left, my trip required the use of the “death train” so named as back in the day used to come off the tracks and in the jungle area there were quite a few wild animals about to spectate such misfortune. However, I was quite safe and father it has improved a bit over the years. That being said there was one point where the brakes squealed as we ground to a halt and definitely ran over something. We then reversed a bit (presumably to confirm the kill) and were rewarded with another similar bump before stopping in silence for about 15 minutes. I am told it was likely a cow! Other than that the 15 hour journey was relatively uneventful and I enjoyed a couple of movies on the screen and a very reasonably priced dinner in the dining cart before attempting to sleep overnight. When that failed, I decided to try and learn some Portuguese. It’s harder than Spanish apparently…

I got off slightly too early through panic as I woke up with a start and thought I was too late for my stop. This cost me a bit more in the taxi fare but no real harm done and I was at the Bolivian border by puerto quijarro. NB there are two puerto quijarros in Bolivia… both on the border. I’m not sure which genius came up with that idea but he fooled me for sure…

The crossing over to Brazil took a few hours but was not too bad save for the heat out here! I spotted another guy who looked European. He wasn’t at all, and was in fact Brazilian so apparently the natives can look different here! What ensued was my first (very short) conversation in Portuguese. We managed to swap a few bits of genuine information and he remained a nice enough guy despite my extensive repetition requests. I exchanged the last of my bolivianos for a few Brazilian reais which was more than enough to get the bus fare to Corumbá, my first Brazilian town.

I wandered around here in the heat and eventually found a cash machine (but they all seem to charge here…) as well as my way to the terminal, where I was persuaded to take a micro (minibus) in place of a coach on the basis it would leave sooner and get to my destination (Campo Grande) sooner. Well he was half right… in that it left sooner. However there was a lot of faffing on the way and we ended up taking from midday to 7.30pm for the “six hour journey”… the aircon was not great so in hindsight I reckon the coach could have been better but oh well. I met a nice Austrian couple and a kind Peruvian lady that helped me at the other side, translating Portuguese into Spanish for me and helped me find the bus that would take me to Iguazu Falls! I’d been told initially that the bus left at 8 so had thought we had just made it but alas apparently there was no bus at all that night! I was stuck there and so needed to find a hostel…

I jumped in a taxi and the driver recommended a place called “hostel inn campo grande” and this turned out to be really good. The owner Rodrigo and the guys (Elias is the only other name I can remember) were really welcoming and good fun. They offered to pick up a takeaway for me seeing I was pretty tired after the solid 36 hour or so travelling but I figured this may be my only proper meal in Brazil so instead took a recommendation and walked a bit to the nearest restaurant. This turned out to be awesome, it had a buffet of salad which I’d been craving again and they kept bringing out freshly cooked bits of meat/ kebabs (overall the meal type was called Rodizio and is famous in Brazil) until I had to tell them to stop as I could not eat anymore. It was delicious and easily the best barbecue food is had in this continent so far. Brazil is more expensive generally but this was good value with the meal and a litre of beer (smallest bottle they had apparently!) for about £5.50. I would share the name of the place but there wasn’t one bizarrely!

I made the error of not taking the address of the hostel and so took way too long to get back… but eventually did so and had a good night sleep.

The breakfast at the hostel was good, and the guys introduced me to a girl from the Philippines, Riza, who was shortly travelling to bolivia and so I shared a lot of what is done over the last month and in particular the recent journey getting from Santa Cruz to here to shed some light on what she could do for the other way. It had been playing on my mind a bit already that maybe I should be less hasty to escape Brazil and get back to a spanish speaking country… and so, realising that I had no real obligation to make my 2.30 train to Iguazu we spent the day in campo grande. At first navigating the bus system with some difficulty but success ultimately… then lunch at the shopping mall followed by a film. It hadn’t crossed my mind that they would be showing something in English but indeed they were, at a fraction of the cost back home and with portuguese subtitles so I could even learn something. I have wanted to watch an actual foreign film in a foreign country and that desire persists, but this fulfilled half the criteria at least! We then spent a short time at the lovely parque de Nações indigenos as the sun set.

Then the plan was to load up on beer from the supermarket and head back to the hostel. I managed to steer this into the “more cultural” pursuit of cahaça, lime and sugar and so began the caipirinha factory that attracted much interest from the others at the hostel too. We passed the evening swapping songs and stories. Curiously, one of the portuguese guys who couldn’t understand a Spanish song originally could in fact follow the words when I sang it which was bizarre but cool… perhaps my (sub par spanish and) English accent was the necessary bridge between the relatively similar tongues? Anyway, the amount of sugar we got through was pretty obscene… we also nearly headed out to a concert nearby but sleepiness prevailed and we got a fairly early night

The next morning I managed to assuage my fears of being without cash (I’d had 0 success withdrawing something with my MasterCard in the mall previously) and found a friendly cash point (Caixa automático) in the university right by the hotel… as had been recommended to me by some Canadians I’d met the day before. Further, Rodrigo at the hostel deftly persuaded me to stay longer, reasoning that there was little point arriving at Iguazu in the early hours and much better to do so later to arrive in the morning. They were also doing a barbecue and so did a whip round of 20 Reais to buy the necessary which to be honest, of which I was pretty keen on being part. I also met a Dutch guy who was happily making his way to Iguazu that night (having suffered the same fate I had the night before) so I had completely run out of reasons not to stay. A couple of booze runs later (caipirinhas, skol beer and Budweiser) and we had a great afternoon enjoying music, food, drink and some mercifully cool weather which followed the thunderstorm the night before… I seem to be taking thunderstorms with me these days…It was cool, and the hostel team were great… despite my phobia of being in a country without speaking the language well I think I could figure out this one relatively quickly given my Spanish and I’ve had such a good time in a short period I may have to return here… carnival in February?? It could be a goer.

“I forgot that brits can drink”. Words once, heard thusly, would have made me proud…. we got through a lot of alcohol that afternoon but still made the bus to Iguazu to start the 15 hour slog. Oh joy. Another night bus!

Ken’s lonely planet guidebook yielded the Tetris hotel in Foz do Iguazu as the best option for our stay that night. It’s a nice place, built out of 12 shipping containers but has a pool and bar with a free caipirinha each day! I managed to save us an extra 5 Reais each by haggling for our dorm… I didn’t know that was a thing you did until very recently! We checked in early and headed out pretty much straight away to see the Brazilian side of the Iguazú falls. We met a Frenchman, Tim, and two… brits… the first I’d seen in ages, Leigh and Laura! The falls overall boast an impressive 280 waterfalls ranging from 40-80 metres each and we had a fun day larking about in the waterfall spray and dodging the coatis (small, highly brazen, raccoon type animals). In the evening we played some pool, had some drinks and chatted with some other guests and staff.

Despite getting up early for our guided tour, we decided to sack it as the weather was atrocious. There had been a storm the previous night and it was tipping it down here still with more storms forecast all day. So we had a lazy day and I eventually figured out what I was doing next… Buenos Aires was my final decision with flights to Rio, bus to Asunción, paraguay being close contenders. Albeit this means a 24 hour bus!

Up early again the next day but this time with clear and sunny weather forecast. I breakfasted with my Dutch friend and said goodbye as he set of early on his own, and I waited for pick up on the guided tour to the Argentinian side along with a Brazilian couple from the hostal and we picked up a German family, who got accosted by some Japanese travellers at the boarder who were obsessed with their Arian looks and beautiful children, requesting photos and holding the kids. Apparently they get this a lot in Brazil!

The queue looked long but our guide took care of the paperwork to cross the border and I instead had a wander around to see if Ken was still here, and sure enough bumped into him on his way out the other side! From here it was back with the tour group and we made our way round the stunning scenery of the Argentinian part of Iguazu falls.

(Last pic I’m standing in Argentina with paraguay on the left and Brazil on the right… Yes I caught the sun a bit)

I just about got back in time for a quick shower and then it was the Halloween party “hostal crawl” where we got in a bus and picked up some other hostalers nearby and had a drink at each of the hostal bars. I was pretty tired so didn’t quite make it to the end but it was great fun. Now I’m sitting in the bus terminal the next morning, using WiFi a Brazilian guy helped me get (you need a Brazilian mobile phone to get a code!) about to make the 24 hour bus journey to Buenos Aires. Bye bye Brazil!

Santa Cruz

I got settled in after my short flight at the coco jamboo hostal, which was well located centrally a few blocks from the square, and sorted out plans to meet up with a friend of mine Cinthya who had been amazing and taken a week off her work as a strategy consultant (this place is the corporate capital of the country!) so we could go travelling round together. I had a huari (Bolivian brand of beer, my favourite here) while I waited and had a chat with the barman who told me a bit about the area and that he wanted to start learning English one day! Then eventually dinner of steak at the same place when Cinthya arrived at cafe Lorca, before a cocktail at a nearby place with a great view of the main plaza (la pascana) and then out to circo for some dancing, where I finally learned my first couple of Latin moves! It was so hot in the club though… don’t know how they bear it here! We cooled down in the square which was really nice and tranquil at this time afterwards for an hour or so before turning in.

“You have been here over a month and have only partied with gringos?!”

Harsh… but accurate for the most part really!

Three of the Sucre group had made it Santa Cruz too and so I spent a few hours the next day at their hostal which was nearby …and amazingly had a pool… which was extremely welcome in the heat! A couple of us also did a bit of souvenir shopping (finally have something for mum!) before heading out to the “super exotic” Irish bar in the plaza for a drink, dinner from a fast food complex, followed by a final cocktail with a beautiful back drop of the plaza cathedral (Catedral de Santa Cruz) to wave them off as they returned home the next morning.


For us the next day was Parque Guembe, which is a nice resort full of wildlife and an impressive complex of swimming pools. After doing the guided tour and a bit of wandering around we spent most of the remainder by the pool given the heat but there was also a kayaking lake and mini golf that looked pretty good but will have to be another time… we just about got back in time for some food and an event with a speaker… I understood some of it! Not much though, but also said a quick hello to Cinthyas family who were there too.


The next day was going to be museums and cultural visits but after speaking with a traveller finishing her stay at my hostal I decided to last minute change plan and head to the waterfalls at espejillos. This turned out to be awesome and I even found the cramped trufi (which is treated like a bus with people getting in and out… but is actually just a car and we had to squeeze into the front seat) as well as motorbike taxis getting drenched going through fords. The treat of the waterfalls at the end of it was well worth it and we had a nice picnic of empanadas by the top one.

We got back to town just in time for a salsa class (finally) which was awesome, and entirely manageable given the crash course Cinthya had given me earlier while we were waiting/hoping for someone to take us back as we missed the planned transport! We split to shower and change for “Parlana” which was a language exchange event at a cool bar called Panorama where I spoke to a couple of locals and it wasn’t long before we had a group for beer pong! A couple of rounds of that, then some dancing to the electronic music which got very dull very quickly, we left and went to a different bar and control over the jukebox!

The next day we went on a hunt for a good chifa restaurant. Chifa is effectively a mix of Chinese food and a local touch, thus far I hadn’t tried it as I’d heard mixed reviews and have favoured more traditional dishes or good old comfort food depending on mood. They seemed to be closed at funny times and so we instead were directed to the Ventura mall (which is quite impressive) on the other side of the city so jumped in a taxi. We found our chifa in the food court as well as one of the guys from the night before who was chilling with his girlfriend about to see a movie so we ate with them before they headed off. We wandered around for a bit before heading off ourselves after a hasty and fortunate wallet retrieval from the food court… we hit a few cultural spots and galleries then relaxed at the hostal and had a think about plans for the rest of the week.

Lomas de árena (sand hills) was the next day’s plans. After reading a few reviews we tried, unsuccessfully, to find somewhere to hire a quad bike. This was because apparently cars generally had difficulty navigating the terrain to get to where we wanted. After the fruitless faffing we hired a taxi and possibly unsurprisingly… the car got stuck and so ensued a time of trying to dig it out of the sand. It was never going to work in hindsight, but we were rescued by a passer by in a 4×4 and towed out. However it still left us some way out from our destination. So we wandered around the area and eventually found someone who was willing to take us there on the back of his bike… probably in no small part due to Cinthyas charms! The bike fared better relatively but in the end also succumbed to sandy oblivion and could take us no further. This meant walking the rest in the blistering heat and lack of shelter as we had not timed it well with high noon.

With heavy sneakals (my shoes were full of sand) we eventually came across an area that apparently used to be a resort but no more. There was sign of life and we eventually got let in by a really nice guy who prepared some hamburgers and a pitcher of lemonade for us. Could not believe our luck! In no particular hurry to get back out into the sun, we took our time and eventually journeyed on by foot when it was much cooler and bearable. There was one other group at the hills when we got there but they didn’t hang around much longer and we had the place to ourselves. I’d seen a few deserts by now (yes I’m spoilt) so it was nothing new to write blog about but what was quite interesting was the sudden transition between desert and greenery as it had a sort of oasis type feel to it. Either way after the day we’d had so far it was a really nice place to relax and watch the sunset.

Ah yes, the sunset… didn’t really think that one through… we made our way back in the dark on foot until the pick up point that we’d managed to convince the guy from earlier to come and get us. Apparently he’d been waiting a bit before we reached him but still was happy to take us back, not just to the park entrance but all the way to Santa Cruz, which was a result. His light didn’t work so the two of us used our phone lights to guide the way and happily we stayed on the whole way home! We walked past a restaurant that was apparently traditional (pacumuto) plus I was starving, so we dived in and had some barbecue type food, and importantly buffet of vegetables! (Id not eaten many of these in a long time so gorged myself here). I barely had space for the actual meat (very average so no biggie and cheap) but drank loads of chicha and mochichinchi to rehydrate.

We then spent a few hours into the night at Cinthyas house and I spoke to her mum and sister. Thankfully without the hustle and bustle of the event I’d first met them my ability to understand was greatly enhanced and had a really nice chat on a personal level that I cannot imagine would even happen in Europe with people you’ve just met (…sober). I also learned a huge amount of medicinal knowledge about all the fruits and how to prepare them in various manners to treat an array of ailments, with an account of a diabetes cure by drinking juice made from the “segunda cáscara” (second shell, i.e. Not skin but white pithy bit) of a grapefruit. With my background I remained sceptical but no smoke without fire? It seems to be pretty widely accepted here, with people regularly turning to natural remedies to avoid unpleasant side effects of conventual medicine, and I got a few personal testimonies for certain issues now resolved in such a manner.

I also have to mention the empanadas here. I was super full after my meat and veg binge but politely accepted the various samples of fruit from the garden which paired with some of the chat and Cinthyas mum also brought out some empanadas. These were incredible! I hadn’t cared much for cheese empanadas here as they had tasted a bit sweaty… apparently it’s the age they’d been sitting around… but this one was exquisite!

Edit

In the early hours I said my goodbye and impulse bought some flights to cochambamba the next day as we had pretty much run out of day trips in Santa Cruz by now. Unfortunately I ended up with the 5.40 am flight out despite my best efforts which meant about 30 minutes sleep…. NB try and use an iPad or better yet a real computer to do this, apparently the airline websites doesn’t work as well as intended on the mobile.

So as a result, not much later I was back and we got a taxi to the airport. I attempted a casual enquiry as to whether there were anymore empanadas going. Possibly to subtly as it wasn’t twigged… but nonetheless we were on our way and despite some semi debilitating yawns were determined to make the most of our 10 hours in cochambamba. First up was climbing the mountain (big hill… but I’m tired and it’s at altitude) up to see the Cristo de la Concordia monument, which is the second largest Jesus monument after Christ the Redeemer in Brazil. The views were awesome, the city looks a bit like La Paz but more beautiful from up there. We strolled around at the top a bit, saw some kids get shouted at for climbing the monument and then headed down markedly quicker than the ascent. There were still people running up and down the stairs… mad.

We then had a short break with a relatively substandard empanada… grumble… but some really nice Api and Tojori. I can’t really compare these to anything European … but they were a bit like chicha in that they were natural, thick and sweet beverages. Interestingly as a curveball these were also hot… why not. We sat down in a square afterwards and I started nodding off but we powered through and went to an archaeological museum. I vaguely remembered some info on the paleobiology I’d learned at uni which was relevant here and so focused on that to keep my brain awake and shared what I was capable of sharing with that level of cognitive function. We just about had time to squeeze in a late lunch of pica macho (not a great rendition thereof, and I think most ultimately got transported and eaten by Cinthya’s dog) but I still like this stuff. Then back to the airport, we split to shower and change for Friday night out (I think that was a joke…) but ended up crashing for the night and between us managed about 29 combined hours of sleep.

We reconvened the next day somewhat later than intended on account of unplanned falling asleep… twice!! And I’d decided after enough meat and cheese again it was time to try something healthy and so lunched at a vegan place then walked to the last couple of viewpoints in the north west part of town and parque arenal. On the way we also stumbled across a dance school and managed to persuade them to squeeze us in for the last hour so I got some more salsa in and tried merengue for the first time. The teacher was quite impatient, which suited me as I need to learn fast …but was pretty harsh too. Apparently he shamed someone by pointing at me on one of the few bits I could do and saying even the gringo can do it! I didn’t notice this until being told afterwards on account of my brainpower being entirely spent on trying to stay upright leaving nothing left for Spanishing. It was awesome though and by the end of it we could do a little pair routine… that I could see myself repeating ad absurdum in a club at my nearest opportunity.Earlier in the morning I’d booked an awesome restaurant called jardín de Asia which was Japanese fusion place and we had amazing lomo (beef) and llama (actually llama) saltado/a with a local cocktail and a blissful bottle of French fizz, it was so nice to have some nice wine… I’d definitely had enough of Peruvian / Bolivian stuff. The ambience and whole experience was excellent. Then on to an open roof club with live music called favela which was quite cool but not really the vibe we were after so didn’t stay long. It was also Brazilian music which I’d suggested might be the case given the name and was no place to show off my new moves! So it was back to circo like last week and we had a great time. There wasn’t quite enough space to try the four step pass ( I have no idea what it’s called in English really, but imagine something that needs space) but we got pretty much everything else in!

The next day was cotocá, a place we’ll know for its culinary delights and religious significance (Virgin Mary appeared here according to legend). We wandered around the various spots, ate/ drank and got some suitably cringed friendship bracelets which this far in the whole trip I’d managed to resist, arguing that I’m not on my gap yah but have now relented.

Raspadillo – slush puppie type drink with many flavours of syrup

Batido de tamarindo – fruity blend, gringos beware motezumas revenge apparently. But it was good, I was restricted to just a small amount and had no problems.

Tablilla – peanut brittle

Arepa – Bolivian version is just the crispy cornflour and cheese part but without a filling

Sonso – the longer sausage type thing which is not too different to arepa but not quite as good as it lacks the crispiness!

Some more snaps of the following few days… including where I got interviewed by some school kids. I like it here but really should get back on the road soon!

Sucre

I basically hung out in the common area with the hope of meeting some new people and pretty quickly bumped into a Dutch guy who was travelling with a mate of his from home and two French dudes all same sort of age. We had what was actually a really good dinner in the Kultur Berlin restaurant part of the hostel and a few drinks, bolstering our group over time with further individuals from Canada, Germany, Austria, Holland and Sweden. I realised I was actually the only Brit, but thankfully everyone spoke good English! That night we had a dance in the hostel’s club area before I turned in, turns out some of te others made it to a karaoke bar! Gutted I missed it!

The vague plans we had didn’t materialise the next morning due to the 5am finish for some the night before and so instead I thought I’d go for a walk and check out the sites myself while everyone recovered. On my way out I bumped into one of the girls, Hailey, who seemed to be faring better than most and so we wandered around for a bit. She had actually been there a while so knew where stuff was and kindly showed me around the various spots and plazas, including one with a curious mini (and bright orange) Eiffel Tower structure in the middle of it, apparently designed by the same architect.

We then met up with the others for a lazy lunch and eventually headed out for the mirador (viewpoint) and a half-hearted inclination to make it to a nearby museum before returning for the sunset. Instead we just hung out there the whole afternoon – it was a beautiful place and a really nice group, plus there was good sangria.

(Closest thing to a full group photo, left to right: Sander, Caroline, Sonja, Hailey, Me, Lieke, Cristian)

We eventually left, had an amazing burger at a chain called Xtreme and had a couple of drinks at the hostal bar then out to another one nearby… our numbers waning the later it got by virtue of the last night’s activity until ultimately just two of us that made it to the club “mitos” and stayed until the early hours talking and dancing with some locals.

A relatively slow start the next morning and a brunch of amazing salteñas from a place called Flores if memory serves. Then on for covering a bit of distance by foot to check out the last of the sites on the list but not yet seen. Hailey and I also made it to the museum planned for yesterday and muddled through the Spanish explanations of exhibits. I’d refused the English booklet and nearly regretted it given it was a textile museum with a fair amount of specialist vocabulary… but I think we did pretty well and got the gist. Massive Mexican for dinner then a Bolivian traditional dance show out on in the hostal that night before some daringly late time on the dance floor ahead of my flight to Santa Cruz the next morning. I made my goodbyes that night in the knowledge there was a good chance some wouldn’t make it to breakfast before I left, but repeated some then next morning too before I made it to the airport. Definitely hope to see this lot again some day.

Death road and salt flats

We spent our last night in Rurrenabaque and had some nice pizza and chilled at a bar called funky monkey, which was nice but admittedly a bit dead on a Wednesday night like everywhere in this place apparently! Then had a night at a much nicer place called hotel oriental (would avoid hotel tucanes!) before flying back to La Paz the next day to chill, and I went to a really nice Mexican place called Kalakitas.

The next morning I said goodbye to Lisa and Mike, the last two that remained from the original group but were heading home today. Today it was time for the Camino de muerte bike ride: a bit of a cycle down the new road (tarmac) before getting to the main event of 33km pretty much all downhill on gravel. I’ve never really done proper mountain biking before, nor ridden a bike with proper suspension on both wheels. I was amazed at how well it handled the rugged terrain. It was awesome!! Can’t believe how quickly it went but was so fun. I pushed it a bit too much round one of the corners where there were a lot of loose stones and stacked it, coming away with a couple of “souvenirs”, but the protective gear took the worst of it for sure. Lunch was at a hotel on the way back and we relaxed by the pool with a beer, and I find out quite a few of the group were staying at the same hostel as me that night (wild rover, they have a few round this part of the world and have quite the reputation). 

I got back around 7, grabbed my gear from the previous hotel (estrella andina, which was really nice) and made my way to the hostel. I was given the tour, then spotted tonight’s theme was black and white so threw on some relevant clothing and headed to the bar. I was straight away asked if I wanted to join in a game that was just about to get started, and bumped into an American girl from the cycling earlier. The game was flip cup, and she felt it paramount we win for US pride, which we did despite my best efforts to cock it up as last man in the counter-long team against the bar staff. The evening continued in a similar manner with some familiar and new faces and the occasional free shot being doled out by someone running down the bar with a bottle of something disturbingly fluorescent. Then we headed to te after party at a place called Plan-b and afterwards five of us made it to a further spot called Pagoza (I think) making it to bed around half 6. Awesome night. Slow morning.


I spent the afternoon figuring out next steps re accommodation/ transport and chilled with a couple of people from the night before, ahead of getting some pool in with a couple of stalwarts from the pagoza leg. I met some more cool people and after a couple of beers felt pretty keen to go again but eventually managed to tear myself away when someone bought me a tequila shot (no shortage of other takers following my rejection) and I made my way to bed, lauding my own good sense given te 6am taxi to the airport… but still slightly in two minds. I can see how people regularly extend their stays here and even work a short time. This was exactly what Freddy behind the bar for most of my drinks had been doing, and my first night was just first one not as a tourist! Anyway though, not to be this time as I was off to the Salt Flats of Uyuni.

I flew to Uyuni in the morning and after 25 minutes waiting someone as the company (Altitude or Perla de bolivia) had clearly cocked up and no one was at the airport to pick me up. I eventually took a taxi with a couple of other people who had been equally stood up. The driver by chance worked for Perla de bolivia and told me no one had told him anything! But fortunately it also meant I didn’t need to pay and faff with refunds as he just sorted it directly.



Our first stop was the train cemetery where a few old trains that used to service the area are quietly corroding in peace. It’s insanely windy around here and every now and then you have to stop and protect your eyes/ mouth from the dust. Then on to the salt hotel, which is the only one of its kind actually on the flats and is now a museum as it was decreed a while ago that none are allowed there anymore.
From there, we hit the salt flats themselves and took a load of classic photos. At its deepest the salt is 110m deep, and covering over 10,500 square kilometres holds 10 billion tonnes of salt.

We then visited one of the “islands” which stands above the salt and wandered about around the giant cacti.

Then it was on to the hotel and dinner. We got to know each other a bit over a bottle of Bolivian wine and the pisco I’d bought a while back, then headed to bed. Our rooms that night were made out of salt bricks and despite it being freezing out actually kept it relatively warm inside.
The next morning we headed to the Stone soldiers (soldados de piedra) so named as this area was effectively the battlefront in the fighting between Chile and Bolivia over the ability to mine in this mineral rich area.


We visited some lagoons with a variety of colours which was generally determined by the mineral content. I also learned that they are called lagoons instead of lakes because they remain shallow throughout. Always wondered that. There were loads of flamingos sifting through the water in the hunt for microorganisms, and actually one of the lagoons was red/orange as a result of the colour of these organisms themselves.
That night was a bit less comfortable with all six of us sharing a room barely bigger than the beds occupying the floor… the 5am start and 4,300m altitude didn’t help matters much either. However, we had a nice dinner and a good time chilling there beforehand.


The fumaroles were the first stop of the day, big natural steam vents and hot pools caused by the volcanic activity underground. Quite a lot of sulphur too so it was pretty eggy. Then on to another desert, a quick stop at the hot springs and we dropped off Julian at the Chilean border who was making his way there as opposed to coming back with us on the long drive to Uyuni.


We had a nice dinner at a place called minuteman pizza (not too exotic!) then headed to the bus area where everyone except me was heading back to La Paz whereas I was staying over a night and going in the morning (have had enough of night buses!). I needed a hard copy of my bus ticket for tomorrow apparently, so I thought I’d be smart and get it directly from the company that night. but had no internet and my confirmation email from “tickets bolivia” unhelpfully did not have the company name (just a link to the ticket) so I went asking around to see who had a bus leaving at my allotted time, which was quite comical. I eventually found it and it was shut!… so headed back to the hotel and managed to convince the guy at reception to let me come round, find the email and between us figured out how to print my tickets on the last two pieces of blank paper left in the hostal. Victorious I returned to my room, treated myself to an almost warm shower and headed to bed.
The next morning I was up early to go straight my first bus which was going to potosi and found out it was delayed… but the joke was on them as it gave me a chance to have a nice breakfast at a cafe nearby ahead of commencing the journey. I am not sure what the altitude was like but definitely felt the familiar pangs of headache en route so sought out some sugar and didn’t overexert myself trying to read a new Spanish book I’d bought “el alquimista” – about a young Spanish shepherd who travels around Andalucía with his flock, seems good so far!
The change over at potosi could have been a bit hairy but fortunately I bumped into a French guy doing the same thing and was just leaving the “wrong” bus terminal so we shared a cab to the nueva terminal which was the “right” one. We swapped a few stories of what we’d been up to in Spanish despite almost certainly being able to communicate more effectively in either of our native languages… but that wasn’t the point!
We split up before he next bus as he went with a different company and I managed to snag a bus that left two hours earlier and enjoyed the improving weather as I journeyed on to Sucre. I wandered around the terminal until finding a taxi, and suddenly two German girls said hi and seemingly started hijacking it as I loaded in my suitcase. I eventually clocked that I’d met these two the day before at one of our stops on the tour and we were sharing the cab to our hostels. Ok… cool! Despite mine having a German name, they were off to a different one ahead of catching another night bus on the trot at 6pm (sucks to be them!).
Now I’m chilling with functional internet at last having sorted life out. Apparently this place has free salsa classes (yessssss!) tonight so will be checking that out…

La Paz, Rurrenabaque and Jungle!

Bus to La Paz, really smelly Peru Tour – would not recommend!! There were some roadworks going in so we needed to walk a bit to get to the migration office and walk over the border to enter Bolivia. The plans was for the bus to pick us up the other side but some fairly rubbish instructions meant that this was a bit of a palava but Ricardo managed to get hold of the company and get the message to the driver to come and pick us up. We crossed at a place called desaguadero which was pretty grim, one of the meanings of its name is sewer and that seems appropriate!

That night we went to “sabor cubano” which was a lovely place with great food, then to a bar called sol y Luna, had some cocktails and chilled playing some pool before a good night’s sleep.

The next morning we were up and exploring La Paz which is a very cool city. We took the teleférico (cable car) to the top to reach el alto which is effectively a spill over city for La Paz but is now quite big in its own right. This afforded us some excellent views and Ricardo told us a bit about how the government had decided to build this teleférico without asking for permission and other gung-ho but pro-Bolivian activity that had led to a 15 year term given the popularity with the masses. However, it was pretty unpopular with the wealthy individuals that spent a lot of money on nice houses only to have a cable car right on top of them!


We then rode it all the way back down and past where we started then got a short taxi to la Valle de la Luna (the Moon Valley), which is a surreal place that does look like it’s not from this planet. Looking out from one of the various viewpoints I couldn’t help but think of the analogy of a giant field of was candles that had melted down to their bases. The material is clay and what you see is the result of rain over many many years eroding it down.

That night it was dinner at a nice mexican called la cueva then back to sabor cubano for some live music and drinks as we said farewell to Ricardo and thanked him for everything this far. Probably stayed up later than we should have given the early morning flight to the jungle next but ah well.

The flight to Rurrenabaque was followed by a short drive then an awesome boat ride into the heart of the jungle up the river with a 200 boliviano (£20) entrance fee. What really hit me after spending a couple of weeks at altitude was the heat and humidity, but the cooling breeze as the boat zipped along was excellent. We were going against the current and at times one of the boat hands had to use a big stick to punt us along where it got too shallow for the motor to work. There was also one point where both he and the skipper jumped in and were manually trying to haul the boat along a particularly shallow bit. The vessel came to a standstill and and Michael, Lisa and I looked at each other quizzically. Part of me was thinking that these guys must know what they’re doing so best to leave them to it… this thought was abruptly cut short when one responded, after being asked if we needed to help, “puede ser” (could be!). So after hastily chucking phone and wallet into rucksack I joined everyone else in the water and eventually we managed to get it moving in the right direction and into water deep enough for the motor to function effectively. I should also add that there was a quick question pre jump as to whether there were piranhas in this part, and the answer was no! We would be fishing for them at some point later though, so a completely justified query.


A quick interjection here about the wheelie suitcase versus big rucksack discussion (try not to get too excited…). Up to this point I had been extremely smug not having to carry stuff on my bag or faff with digging everything out if I wanted something buried deep. However, the walk from boat to camp was not easy and my neck muscles got a serious work out as I carried it on my head for this part… that being said, we were meant to drop these off at the tour office and pick them up at a different point but something went awry. Had it not done so, the wheely suitcase would have remained a clear winner throughout IMO!

We had two days under the canopy in the jungle and this was spent with a walk on the first day, dinner, night walk then a long trek the next morning. The scenes were incredible and our guide and cook, Zenon and Chachi were both amazing. Zen on tells me that he has been doing the job for 27 years and is always learning something new. The encyclopaedic knowledge the guy has about the flora and fauna around here is such that you can well believe it.

Mapajo – huge tree with roots that are above ground and like walls. Particularly good to spent the night if you get stuck out here. Sit with your back to wall and light a fire in front of you, as the jaguars go for the back of the neck and are afraid of fire.

Colomero – a sort of fruit that grows around here and the campsite had some,!cotton material is found in the middle of it. I learnt about this one as one fell and hit Zenon in the the back of the head as we were having lunch in the first day.

Hormigas del fuego (fire ants) – so named as when they it you it feels like fire. Apparently back in the day people were punished/ tortured to death by being tied to a tree full of these nasties.

We saw a few different types of monkeys (mostly capuchins and howlers) as well as various species of birds and on the second day spent quite a while stalking a herd of wild boar, which was no easy feat. They are very jumpy and with all the dry leaves on the ground was very hard to sneak up on them but with some perseverance we were rewarded with some good sightings. Zenon’s ability to find all these things was very impressive and he told us in the jungle you learn to see with your ears first.

There were also spiders. Lots and lots of spiders, apparently it’s spider season. A few tarántulas too!

Gusano – caterpillar type thing that never goes through metamorphosis. So I suppose it had to make itself look funky to make up for it.

We packed a lot in and were extremely lucky to see all that we did. Apparently the group before us hadn’t seen nearly as much and spent three days there so you really can’t predict what you are going to get! Pretty tired but very pleased we jumped on the boat and headed back to Rurrenbaque, where the next stint of our jungle adventure awaited. We had a nice dinner at a place called El Nomadico run by an Aussie guy called Paul who had moved over here a while back.

Also to note – being out of altitude is amazing. I feel so much stronger and healthier generally, so not looking forward to going back up! It more than makes up for the profuse sweating that comes with jungle climate, and with long sleeves and bucketloads of DEET we have all done well with mosquito bites too. Only picked up a couple of new ones since the salcantay trek.

After a very basic breakfast the next day we were picked up and driven for a long and hot journey into the pampas (flatlands) of the amazon basin. The earth was dry and red, and was kicked up into a flurry by any vehicle that drove over it. I asked my compatriots in the back if they’d seen Mad Max and the driver chuckled, he knew what I was on about! Some parts were better than others and this was apparently the result of the odd truck we went past that was spraying water on the ground for that purpose.

We stopped for lunch (and all got ill shortly afterwards so reckon it was dubious…) then met our guide Luiz and jumped on a boat to spend a couple of hours on the river looking at the wildlife and reaching our lodge for the next few days.

That first afternoon we went out again to see a few animals then met up with a few other groups to have a drink and watch the sunset ahead of going out for our night boat trip. This is where you shine your flashlight from the side of the boat and are met with hundreds of yellow/red pin pricks of light reflected back at you. These are from the eyes of the Caimans (similar to crocodiles/alligators) and there are so many!

It was really hot and sticky that night, but we had kind of resigned ourselves to being uncomfortable as that is the price of being in the jungle. We had cabins and functional (tepid) showers so couldn’t complain too much. I think the bad food affected my group faster than me and they took an early night, I had a beer or two with another group (met some aussies, Germans and Spaniards), convincingly lost a game of pool against another guide then headed to bed myself.


The next morning we went anaconda hunting in the swamps (two of us made up, but neither Ines stomach feeling great) and squelched through some almost knee deep marshland and saw a few cool things… lots of crabs… but unfortunately no snakes. Luiz told us earlier that it’s better when it’s hot and sunny as they bask like the caimans do. It was looking like rain and so thankfully cooler but meant our hunt was to no avail. We got back to the lodge just in time to say goodbye to a few of the new people we had met, and then the heavens opened. Torrential rain for a few hours and we were glad to be inside unlike the others who had a couple of hours in it to get back to the harbour. We had a pleasant lunch, siesta then went out and saw lots of pink dolphins when it had stopped raining and had done an it of swimming “with them” (at a fair distance but still counts). I wasn’t entirely sure how Luiz knew we wouldn’t have problems with caimans or other hidden beasties, but figured if I gallantly stayed boat side of him and the open water would at least be second in the menu if things went south and this be able to make good my escape. That being said I definitely got nibbled a bit by something… but without drawing blood and so remained safe from the pirañas.

I made it out solo the next morning and had my own private tour around 6am on the river which yielded a slightly different array of wildlife and was extremely tranquil with no one else on the water. I also got some Spanish practice in as Luiz had no need to speak English. My real reward for rising early however materialised only once id got back to camp, and Luiz told me there were lots of monkeys about (I hadn’t noticed…) and suggested I asked the cook for some bananas to go and feed them. It was amazing, so many monkeys!! Tiny yellow monkeys!!

I reconnected with the group at breakfast and this time Mike and Lisa tagged teamed and this time the latter joined me to go fishing for pirañas. I managed an impressive zero fish (all those hours on lakes in Hampshire, Dad must be so proud…). Lisa somehow caught a dogfish despite us using cow as bait and was disappointed but Luiz instead was delighted and said it would be great to use as bait… then proceeded to catch 3 pirañas. Jerk. I was consoled by reminding myself I didn’t like fish anyway, so was only justice if they didn’t like me back but hoped there was some other meat for lunch. There was chicken, all was well! The piraña was ok to be honest and didn’t have much of a flavour, but I tried some nonetheless!