A Travellerspoint blog

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Vegetarians need not apply.

semi-overcast

Wednesday 12 - Sunday 16 July

Our expectations of South America were not running quite as high as we'd hoped when we touched down in Buenos Aires, but what a difference a country makes! A friendly taxi driver whizzed us from the airport to our comfy (but reasonably priced) hotel in the heart of the city, and straight away we were struck by the almost palpable upbeat vibrancy of the place.

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Despite its huge size, Buenos Aires feels remarkably safe - welcoming even - for travellers to wander around, even at night.

We'd decided upon a hotel for our first two nights as we'd missed little luxuries such as electricity, hot water and sleep. No such worries here though... Zzzzzzzz.

Argentina is rightly famed for the quality of its beef, and its true that you can't walk very far in Buenos Aires without coming across a steak house. Its not just beef though; here you can choose just about any cut of just about any meat you care to name and watch as it is cooked to perfection for you on a large open charcoal grill.

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'Animal Hospital' suffers when Rolf's not around

Meals are generally very good value, but definitely not for vegetarians or the faint-hearted!

By Friday, we were suitably restored from our recent travels and moved from the hotel to a nearby hostel. No less comfortable, but a bit more basic and certainly easier on the wallet.

With only four days at our disposal here, we felt we really didn't do Buenos Aires the justice it clearly deserves, but we thoroughly enjoyed the time we had just strolling around the city centre and harbour, browsing the seemingly endless shops, admiring the architecture and just generally filling ourselves with the ambience of the place.

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When Sunday evening arrived and it was time to take another overnight bus (groan) to our next destination - Cordoba - we felt genuinely sorry to be leaving. We hadn't felt this way about a place for some time now, but -happily- it was a feeling that would become common throughout our Argentinian adventure.

Now, this entry marks the halfway mark in our round-the-world adventure and, following a flood of two emails in praise of my electronic scribblings, I've decided to succumb to my ego and allow you good folks to add comments. Let me know what you think of the blog; praise, offers of employment and/or undying admiration are welcome, abuse is not (that means YOU, Grayzza).

Until the next exciting(?!) episode, take care.

Andy and Sharon
X

Posted by andymoore 14:42 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

San Pedro de Atacama back to Santiago

Taking the Pisco

sunny 18 °C

Friday 7 - Monday 10 July

Today we met a new set of travelling companions as we rejoined our tour of Chile for the four days' journey back to Santiago. With only seven of us in total, we had a bit more breathing space on the minibus.

Leaving behind San Pedro for the desert once more, we eventually arrived at a well preserved but otherwise deserted mining town; a relic of Chile's once-profitable nitrate mining industry.

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The town's sole inhabitant now shows tourists around the place, making his living from donations.

The beautiful theatre:-

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now serves as a museum, charting the town's history from its mining days to a darker period during which it was used as a detainment camp for political prisoners; this simple tree carving is a poignant reminder:

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With a lot of ground to cover in four days, the rest of Friday was devoted to making our destination at the Pan de Azucar National Park. After a teriffic barbecue, we pitched tents on the beach and fell asleep to the sound waves crashing against the shore.

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Saturday 8 July

Another solid day of travelling. Leaving Pan de Azucar late morning we piled into the minibus and headed for the town of Vicuna in the Elqui Valley. Stopping only for food and loo breaks, we arrived in Vicuna at around 7pm.

Because of the particular clarity of the night sky around Vicuna, the area is dotted with observatories, and after dropping our bags at tonight's hostel we headed up to the Mamalluca observatory which sits atop a nearby hill.

A highly enthusiastic Chilean amateur astronomer (he has a deal with the observatory; he guides tour parties, they give him free use of the equipment!) gave us a fascinating and educational talk about the night sky before letting us look - and take pictures - for ourselves.

With very little light pollution from the nearby town, a clear night sky and an almost full moon, the results were awesome:

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Having witnessed Alpha Centauri (only visible from the Southern Hemisphere) and seen the Milky Way up close, we left with a new found enthusiasm for star-spotting and fell into bed.

Sunday 9 July

An hour or so's journey from Vicuna, we arrived at the charming old village of Pisco Elqui.

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The Elqui Valley receives around 330 days' sunshine every year, perfect conditions for growing the sweet grapes used in the distillation of the local brandy - Pisco. In fact, in 1936 the village changed its name from 'La Union' to 'Pisco' in order to trademark the name and protect the local tipple.

Naturally, a visit to the distillery was on the cards, but first we were up for a spot of horse riding. I've ridden a donkey before, but Sharon claims this doesn't count; but hey - how hard can it be?

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What a great experience! We rode up into the mountains around the village along narrow rocky paths; luckily the horses were very sure-footed, and we were treated to amazing views of the vineyards and citrus orchards along the valley.

Returning from a relaxing few hours on horseback, it was time for a drink. We made for the tiny Tres Erres (Three R's) Pisco distillery for a brief tour. The guide only spoke Spanish, but luckily we had a willing translator on hand.

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Making Pisco the old-fashioned way

After tasting the different Piscos (strong and very strong) in the bar, we enjoyed the sunset before returning to Vicuna for a group evening meal.

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Monday 10 July

The final leg, and a long day's journey back to Santiago. We broke around lunchtime to spend a couple of hours at the Fray Jorge National Park; a bit of an oddity - it's like a small hilltop rainforest in the middle of the desert. The moisture comes from coastal fogs which are 'trapped' inland and support plants that would not otherwise flourish in this climate.

Again, we were captivated by the views.

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At last, the city lights of Santiago beckoned and our whistlestop tour of Chile was over. We would spend one more day in Santiago (to explore the unmissable Pre-Columbian Museum) before flying on to our next country - Argentina.

Posted by andymoore 15:26 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Taking it easy in San Pedro

Chillin' in the Sunshine

sunny 18 °C

Wednesday 5 and Thurday 6 July

Safely back from Bolivia and not due to rejoin our small tour of Chile for a couple of days, we decided to relax and explore the town of San Pedro a bit more.

Just off the main square is a museum founded by a Belgian priest, Padre Gustavo le Paige:

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which houses a collection of thousands of Atacaman artefacts, including mummified human remains and skulls, covering an 11,000 year period of Chilean history.

The museum is surprisingly modern, well lit and excellently laid out and we spent a fascinating afternoon learning about early Atacaman culture. And taking spooky photos of the exhibits.

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"Are you sure this is right, Dr Atkins?"

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Later, we found a pleasant bar across the square just perfect for sitting and people-watching in the sunshine. Which we did, right up until the point when a bird sitting in the eaves above chose my head for target practice...that's the second time this year!

Thursday 6 July was spent in much the same way, giving us our last photo opportunities of charming San Pedro

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and to catch up on emailing, blogging, packing and the like. Another warm sunny afternoon, and so we returned to the bar in the square (sensibly sitting in the courtyard this time; no birds above), where we were happy to be entertained in traditional Chilean style.

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Posted by andymoore 14:39 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bolivia - Part Two

All Aboard the Vomit Comet

sunny 5 °C

Monday 3 - Tuesday 4 July

...1 am Monday morning. I was woken by the mixed sounds of rapid salt-crunching footsteps outside our room, urgent whispers, and loud groans - some of which were emanating from Sharon. Without warning she dashed from the room. And then the devastating stomach cramps hit me.

It emerged that 14 out of the 15 in our group had succumbed to severe food poisoning. No-one slept that night. By dawn, the Salt Hotel's toilets resembled an action painting. I was lucky, suffering merely(?) from explosive diarrhea; others looked to be at death's door. The hotel staff were unsympathetic - "it happens often", they told us as they cheerily prepared a breakfast (fried eggs) that nobody ate.

In varying states of distress, and not daring even to cough, we reluctantly made our way to the jeeps for what should have been an exhilarating day's sightseeing on the way to our destination, Uyuni.

First on the agenda today was the immense, and - in the sunshine - spectacular Salar de Uyuni salt flat. We felt so ill following the jolts and rattles of the journey that we couldn't even exit the jeep to take photos.

By the time we reached the Isla de Pescador (Fisherman Island) a couple of hours later, we needed to force ourselves out to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. This cactus-covered islet rises high above the salt flat and provides incredible views, but the effort of climbing in our weakened state took the shine off the whole experience for us. At least there were much-needed loos here.

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"Shall we dance?"

Unsurprisingly, we skipped lunch and continued onward to Uyuni, via a stop at another abandoned trainyard.

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At last we arived in Uyuni. Here, our tour operator tried to blame the group's sickeness on everything but the previous evening's meal. Some heated "negotiation" encouraged them to reconsider the evidence, and everyone was offered $5 US in compensation.

For most of the group, Uyuni was the end of the line as many folk were heading on to other destinations from here. For Sharon, me, and a couple of girls from Edinburgh (Cheryl and Jennifer), a further four-hour journey back towards the Chilean border, and San Pedro, awaited.

This four-hour period travelling across anonymous desert in pitch-darkness was the longest of our lives, and on arrival at the tiny village of Villa Mar we gratefully collapsed into bed and slept.

Tuesday 4 July

It was still pitch-dark at 04:45 when our driver roused us to make the onward journey to the Chilean border. Despite the early hour, we all felt a good deal better than we did yesterday; well enough to appreciate the spectacle of the star-studded sky giving way to a Bolivian sunrise.

Thankfully, the long journey back to the Bolivian border was uneventful and we arrived mid-morning to a breakfast of bread rolls and coffee (unbelievably tasty in our desperately hungry state!)

Passports duly stamped, we were on our way back to the relative comforts of Chile and San Pedro. At the Chilean border we unexpectedly met our friend Cordula whom we had last seen in Santiago; we were never happier to see a friendly face!

Back in San Pedro, we booked into a comfortable double-room, took a good hot shower each and headed out to a good restaurant.

Posted by andymoore 07:10 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bolivia - Part One

Freeze a Jolly Good Fellow

sunny 5 °C

Saturday 1 - Tuesday 4 July

A party of fifteen gathered outside the tour office in San Pedro at 07.45 on Saturday morning and the air buzzed with anticipation. Presently a minibus arrived and bore us to the Chilean exit point a short distance from town. Thirty minutes after that we arrived at the desert outpost which serves as the Bolivian entry point. Immigration completed, the group was divided into three parties with each taking a separate 4x4 jeep; easy to see why - proper roads are virtually non-existent in Bolivia.

This first day was dominated by lagoons; no bad thing as they are all beautiful. First up was Laguna Blanca (White Lagoon). After the warmth of San Pedro, and despite the brilliant sunshine, we were surprised to find that the shallow lagoon was frozen!

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Stepping out of the jeep, harsh reality hit us - Bolivia is cold.

Our next stop was at the deeper (and therefore unfrozen) Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) which gets its vivid colour from copper and magnesium deposits.

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Already chilly from wandering around the lagoons, we were heartened by the sight of steam rising from the ground at our next destination; a collection of thermal pools.

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The braver amongst us immersed themselves in a particularly inviting pool, but as they emerged into the cold air teeth soon began to chatter. Sharon dipped her toes; I kept my warm, dry clothes on.

Having travelled some considerable distance from the border, our final stop before reaching tonight's accommodation was the flamingo-dotted and strikingly red Laguna Colorado

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Our digs tonight were in an unheated refuge, where we were pleased to learn that overnight temperatures could be expected to drop as low as -20 degrees! Despite sleeping fully clothed in a sleeping bag under a pile of blankets, we awoke with icicles on our noses and windows frosted on the inside.

Sunday 2 July

After defrosting over a breakfast of hot coffee and bread rolls we hit the 'road' again. Altitude sickness (we had steadily climbed to around 4,900 metres above sea level yesterday) and a ropey night's sleep in the cold slowly began to take their toll. We had a long journey ahead of us today, but we were excited by the fact that tonight we would be sleeping in a hotel constructed entirely from salt!

First stop, though, was at some curious rock formations in a place known as the 'Salvador Dali' Desert.

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Bright sunshine once again masked the fact that once outside the jeep, the day was pretty cold. Heading on, we had to negotiate some rocky terrain before arriving in an area dominated by three more lakes for an early spot of lunch.

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Here, we were lucky enough to encounter (and feed) an Andean Fox; apparently an endangered species.

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As the afternoon progressed the going got tougher still as we surmounted a plateau across which the little-used Calama-Uyuni railway line crosses, disappearing toward the distant mountains.

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Not withstanding a little difficulty with jeeps running out of fuel - apparently not uncommon on these tours - we eventually reached the Hotel du Sal (salt hotel) and, yup, it really is completely made of salt; walls, floors, beds, tables, chairs - all blocks of salt. Stealth here is impossible - the floors are satisfyingly crunchy to walk on.

After a pleasantly warm shower (thankfully, the bathrooms are not made of salt) we settled in for the evening.

And what a great evening; we were escorted to a large salt dining table and served a delicious meal of meat (possibly llama), quinoa rice, salad and veggies and a complimentary bottle of red wine. A band of local children entertained us with drums and pan pipes. We made pleasant conversation. The evening wore on and slowly everyone retired to their beds, tired but content. Until...

Posted by andymoore 19:13 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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