Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A bit of a tease...

So after saying a sad farewell to Rosario I made my way reluctantly to Buenos Aires (where I am right now). I´m going for a steak in an hour so need to get ready, hence i am stopping the story telling now... but next time, you will get to enjoy stories that include FOOD, CLUBBING, SHOPPING, CULTURE and.... THE ONE WHERE AMY WAS ALMOST ROBBED!!! SHOCK HORROR! ´Till next time... x

The one redeeming thing about Rosario, 20 July 2009

I´ve eaten A LOT of bread in Argentina. The Argies just seem to love it. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, snacks... always bread! And so, after so much bread I decided to set myself a challenge of a day without bread.

As I said previously the hostel in Rosario wouldn´t let me have any breakfast when I arrived so that was easy, I quite simple couldn´t eat bread or croissants because I wasn´t allowed to. So breakfast involved an apple and banana.

This probably explians why I HAD to have lunch at 12. Now, you are all going to laugh when I tell you where I went for lunch... I fancied a salad, a fresh salad full of lettuce-y goodness. I checked out a few places but nowhere was selling ensaladas... there was plenty of stodgy bread based meals, but no salad.

I ended up in Maccy Ds! Seriosuly, it´s a sad state of affairs when you have t resort to MacDonalds for a salad. It was quite a good salad, but not particularly fill me. I was tempted by a burger but resisted in order to keepmy day bread free.

I was hungry all afternoon, it became clear to me that the last few weeks of massive bread consumption had stretched my stomach and now I was in a position where i needed bread just to fill me. I resisted.

I had mushroom risotto for dinner. It was good and involved no bread. I then had kiwi fruit and yoghurt for pudding.

Success, a day without bread. Or, in other words, a day where i was very hungry!

Rosario, another Resistencia? 20 July 2009

Rosario is famous for two reasons: 1. it is the birth place of Argentine legend Che Guevara, and 2. it is the cultural capital of Argentina.

With recommendations about this place from Argentinians who I have met on my travels, I had high hopes for Rosario.

I found a hostel at 8am, but, annoyingly they wouldn´t let me check in until midday. Grr! They wouldn´t even let me have breakfast so I stole an apple when they weren´t looking! Seriously, what sort of hostel was this?

On my way to the hostel I had felt rain in the air. So I wasn´t really in a rush to get a wriggle on. In fact, it is worth pointing out that since being in Argentina I haven´t really had to get a wriggle on to do anything... nothing ever opens at 9 which means mornings are quite leisurely. In fact no one in Argentina seems to rush in the morning, work starts at 9 or 10 for most people... 9 or 10! So vague! It´s a very relaxed place.

Sorry, where was I, oh yeah, it felt like rain. But, because I was refused breakfast and refused check in, I didn´t like to hang around where I wasn´t welcome so I decided to chance the dodgy weather and take a look around the town. I only planned a night in Rosario and wanted to crack on.

When I left the hostel i realised the weather wasn´t quite so bad as I first thought, it was cloudy but I couldn´t feel the rain anymore. I wandered down the road towards the pedestrianised shopping street. It felt like every other pedestriaised shopping street that I have walked down in Argentina. I wasn´t impressed. Then I spied a really pretty building. I took in the splendour and carried on to some plaza where the Argentinian flag was raised for the first time ever.

The plaza was actually quite nice and in the middle was a big tower that the LP says you can climb... you can´t actually climb it. Disappointed that I couldn´t climb the tower I wandered down to the river side.

The river side was not all that. Just a brown river. Not impressed.

I decided to walk along the river through the parks (the lady in the hostel told me they were nice) and I figured the river might get better so I ambled along.

It´s winter here, and so, the parks were not at their best... the trees were bare and the grass was pretty dead.

The parks were a bit empty and quiet and actually felt a bit dodge so I took myself back into the centre of town to hunt out Che´s first house.

As I wandered I came to the conclusion that I really like blue skies and cloud... crazy eh given that I come from the UK. But really, an average park looks a million times nicer in the sunshine, so on a grey day I wasn´t really feeling the love for Rosario.

I found Che´s house. Well, the block of flats that he lived in. There was a little flag saying ´Che lived here´ and that was it. Nothing more, nothing less. Hmmm... why was I here again?

It was only 12 but feeling uninspired by this city I went and grabbed some lunch.

After lunch I was at a loss at what to do. I had ripped out the page on Rosario from my Lonely Planet (Rosario actually has a whole page!) and found my way to the Museum zone.

I tried to go to the Art Museum but it was closed for Siesta. Then I crossed the road and went to a Provincial History Museum that housed a ´spectacular collection of mate cups´ according to the LP... it was closed because of the Swine Flu until further notice.

I found a bench by an artificial lake and sat and watched the pedal boats.

Then it rained.

I went and got a cup of tea in a cafe.

(I´m painting a lovely picture of Rosario aren´t I).

Then at 2pm I went back to the Art Museum. Fifteen minutes later, I had ´done´ the art museum, there can´t have been more that 50 paintings in there, and they were all distinctly average.

Hmmm... what to do?

The rain had stopped thankfully so I walked along a nice avenue and saw lots of lovely buildngs and a really cool mural in a park. Actually, this is where I should perk up a bit.. the buildings were really pretty, really gorgeous, very French and very Italian,it was a bit of an eclectic architectural mix. The pretty buildings redeemed the day.

I then killed 40 minutes in a super market where I bought some food to cook up for dinner.

I got back to my hostel and me two Brits who had been in Rosario for 5 days! 5 whole days! My first question to them after discovering this was: ´What am I missing?´ Turns out they were only there hanging around for the delivery of a new debit card that was somewhere in the post.

The evening in Rosario got better as myself and the two Brits got chatting to two Argentinian girls who we ended spending the night drinking with.

I guess I´ve painted a fairly bleak picture of Rosario, but, it is pretty and would be nicer on a pleasant day. The lake would have been a nice place to hang out around on a nice day, probably. In terms of towns, it was better than Resistencia, but I probably had a better time in Resi because I was with Rich and Rhiannon, and we were drunk. But meh, take it or leave it I guess.

Also, before I finish this post, I would like to apologise to readers who were disappointed with my far from articulate account of Resistencia as being ´a bit shit´, but, I´m afraid there is no better way to describe the place. I don´t like using such vulgar words unless absolitely necessary, so believe me when I say it was ´a bit shit´. But Rosario was marginaly better.

My longest South American bus journey yet, 19 July 2009

Argentina is a big country, and long bus journeys seem to punctuate most people´s travels around this wonderful country. But so far the longest journey I´ve had to take was a mere 17 hours from Bariloche to Mendoza. My route has been a good one in that most places have been no more than an 11 hour ride away, which is pretty easy when you do it over night. But from Puerto Iguazu the nearest point of interest to break up my journey to Buenos Aires was still 20 hours away. So, after a Skype chat with Gwil and my Birthday Boy Brother I boarded the bus to Rosario. The food on buses is a bit hit and miss... sometimes you get a hot meal, othertimes you have to make yourself full on a cheese and ham sandwich. So, for this journey I was prepared: a box of Saladix (Mini Cheddars), a pack of my new fave biscuits (the hobnob type ones that i discovered in San Ignacio), half a bag of fruit flavoured Cheerios and a bar of chocolate. In the end I ended up with some awesome food, a sandwich for tea at about 5pm and a hot meal of stuffed peppers at 11pm,AND a breakfast of crackers and cheese. Although, despite all this food I still found room in my tummy for my super healthy picnic! Actually, the twenty minutes whizzed pass. I spent a good 3 hours knitting and watching the world go by through the window. I then finished my book, great book, The Island by Rebecca Hislop. And by that time I was all set for a sleep. 20 hour bus ride, Easy peasy!

Chasing Rainbows and Toucans, 18 July 2009

Puerto Iguazu is a bit of a dive. There is nothing there. Absolutely nothing. But, a thirty minute bus ride from the town takes you to one of Argentina´s finest attractions: Iguazu Falls.

I was disappointed to wake up to a sky filled with cloud. The weather forecast had predicted clear skies and sunshine. I was not happy with the cloud. The whole of the previous day had been wet and cloudy and I was concerned that my day would be the same. I knew that if the clouds did not clear I would not get to see rainbows. For the thirty minute bus ride I kept my fingers tightly crossed hoping, wishing and willing the skies to clear.

I started my tour of Iguazu National Park with the Inferior Walking Circuit.

The route was Inferior by name, but most certainly not by nature. As I wandered through the jungle I had a million butterflies in my stomach. I could hear the roar of the water, but I could not see it.

Then, I turned a corner and there it was before me... Iguazu Falls.

My first sighting of the falls was spectacular and my butterflies in my tummy flapped there wings so fast and so excitedly. I skipped around a little bit and then stood in awe.

There was just so much water, so much force. It was all so powerful.

I didn´t even care that it was cloudy, it didn´t matter anymore, it was beautiful.

I stood and watched in awe for a good while before continuing on the inferior trail to get up close and personal with one part of the falls.

Up close I was almost deafened by the violent roaring of the waterfalls. And in just a few seconds I was drenched.

There are several options to take boat trips into the falls and along the Rio Iguazu, but I decided to stick to my budget and take the free boat over to Isla San Martin.

Isla San Martin has three vistas that over look different parts of the falls. Every vista was incredible. I skipped around in sheer delight as I started to see the Falls from different angles.

Iguazu Falls are in the middle of a rainforest and all around the park you meet all sorts of brilliant birds as well as cute, but vicious, racoon type creatures called Coatis.

Midway through my walk along the Inferior Circuit I had met another traveller, Roman, who was also exploring the waterfalls alone. We had gone over to Isla San Martin together and when we returned to the mainland we decided to do something a bit different. We decided to do something that most other toursits at Iguazu don´t dare to do... we broke into the Sheraton.

It costs almost 300 pounds for one night in a double room at the Sheraton at Iguazu Falls. The hotel is situated inside Iguazu Park and its website raves about it´s spectacular views.

And for the grand sum of zero pesos, I got to experience the best that the Iguazu Sheraton has to offer.

Eager to experience Iguazu Falls from the most expensive vista in the whole of Argentina, Roman and I dared ourselves to get on the roof of the Sheraton. It sounds like an ambitious dare, but because of the slack security at this prestigious hotel it was all pretty easy, but exhilerating none the less.

We walked up to the front door and walked straight through the foyer into the lifts. We thought that the lift may require a room card in order to operate it. It didn´t.

We arrived on the 4th Floor and took a walk along the corridor in hope that we may find a window overlooking the Falls. To our disappointment there was no such window. Only rooms with closed doors.

Before we made our way back down we discovered a staircase with a sign marked ´Roof Terrace´. Oh yes. We raced up the stairs only to discover that the door required a special key which could only be gained from reception. We got in the lift and hatched a plan.

After making use of the free internet on offer to hotel guests we strutted up to the reception desk and asked for the key to the roof terrace.

When the receptionist asked our room number we rolled out the plan.

¨We can´t remember the room number. We´re not actually staying here, our parents are and they told us to come and check out the roof terrrace.¨

There was one flaw with this plan... what would we say when they asked for our parents´ names...!

But they never asked. Never asked. They just handed over they key and sent us on our merry way saying ´Don´t Jump!´

It was like getting into an over 18s night club when you are underage. We both wanted to skip with joy but remained composed and got back in the lift up to the 4th Floor.

We reached the door to the terrace and the key card worked. We were on the roof of the Sheraton. Oh yeah! And, the clouds had cleared to show a beautiful blue sky! Wooohoo!

The view was amazing. Of course it was amazing, the falls are amazing in themselves without a shadow of a doubt. But, I will complain that the hotel is probably a little bit too far away from the falls to be worth the hefty price tag.

After we made a casual exit from our jaunt we got on the Superior circuit and made our way to view the falls from above.

With the sun beaming down with full force, we caught our first rainbow. The crashing of the falls was spectacular from above and with the light of the sun making rainbows it was truly magical.

Onwards from the Superior Circuit we made our way to the Devil´s Throat. We had just missed the train so took the muddy option of walking along the path. Again, the Devil´s Throat was spectacular in it it´s thunderous glory, but we did get incredibly soaked. But we didn´t care we had another rainbow and another spectacular view. It was hypnotising to watch, as the water crashed down the water seemed to explode as it made impact upon impact.

After visiting the Devil´s throat, we had essentially ´done´ everything in the Park but we were keen to walk the inferior circuit again to catch more rainbows.

I had fallen in love with Iguazu Falls on a cloudy morning, but with sunshine and clear blue sky I discovered a whole new level of love.

The day exploring the Park was spectacular, but I still needed to see a toucan before I left.

Just as Roman and I set off to catch the bus back to Puerto Iguazu we saw a crowd gatherered around a tree looking up. Another monkey I thought to myself. Oh no... It was a toucan. It was THE most beautiful bird I have ever seen in the world. It´s beak had the most brilliant colours and was stunning. I had to pinch myself that I was actually staring a toucan in the eye.

I lay in bed that night looking through my photos. They didn´t do it justice. I closed my eyes and it was all infront of me again, the crashing, pounding force of the water falling over the high cliffs.

Rainbows, toucans, spectacular views, Iguazu Falls are quite simply: Wow!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Photos of Iguazu, 18 July 2009

Here are a select few photos og Iguazu Falls... Will write about it very soon...


Friday, 17 July 2009

Puerto Iguazu, 17 July 2009

I arrived in Puerto Iguazu at 3pm this afternoon and quickly found a hostel. It´s a bit scummy and nowhere near as nice as where I stayed in San Ignacio. I figured out the buses to Rosario for Sunday and then took a wander around Puerto Iguazu.

There isn´t a lot to see or do here. People come here fore the falls and nothing more.

I wandered down to the river Iguazu where I could see Paraguay and Brazil across the river banks. This was a bit cool.

I then wandered up to an internet cafe, and here I am now...

I am massively excited about seeing the waterfalls tomorrow, and I am pretty hopeful that tomorrow will be sunny, the weather forecast says it will be sunny, so I´m trusting it.

But now, it´s time to be off the computer. But at last, I am up to date. Woohoo! Enjoy reading I know that I´ve written masses in the last two days so take your time and enjoy.

Lots of love x

San Ignacio Mini, 15 , 16, 17 July 2009

I arrived at San Ignacio at 6pm on the 15th. I found the hostel recommended by Lonely Planet straight away.It was a bit pricey, 70 pesos a night. But, it was full.

This was the first time this has happened. I never book my rooms ahead anywhere so I was a little stumped at what to do next.

Then I had a brainwave, ask the hostel where there is another hostel. So in my best Spanish I mustered a phrase that I had never had to use before.

They sent me three blocks along. I was a little concerned when i saw this hostel, for one it was a hotel, not a hostel and for two it looked really nice and fancy. I enquired after a room and discovered it was only 35 pesos! Woohoo! Thats cheap for Argentina. I looked at the single room and was in love. It was lush, with a gorge bathroom, dressing table, wardrobe and air conditioning/heating unit. I checked in.

I decided a shower was in order and it was a lovely shower indeed. Very lovely. I decided to wash some clothes and undies figuting i could dry them overnight under the heating unit. I laid them out to dry and grabbed a dinner downstairs in the restaurant which was very reasonably priced. From the looks of the restaurant there were only 8 other people in the hotel, 2 families of 4.

After dinner I chilled out and listened to music in my room while reading my Glamour magazine (in Spanish of course!)

I went to bed in the cosy room looking forward to exploring the Jesuit ruins the next day.

I had planned to stay one night in San Ignacio, other than the Jesuit ruins there is nothing else to do here. But when I woke up and my clothes were still wet, I decided that I would stay an extra night.I was in no hurry to move on to Puerto Iguaza.

After breakfast I decided to catch up on my scrap book which I hadn´t done since arriving in South America, and then I wandered down to the ruins. It was a bit wet a miserable but I had a great tour by Rosa and then wandered around in the rain a bit more taking photos. The runins were a bit like those at Petra, but obviously were a bit different given that there were surrounded by orange trees and jungles.

After the runins I took a siesta!

This was followed with a wonder around the town, there really was nothing else to do so I cracked on to the interne and knuckled down to the blog.

After my blogging sesh I headed back to my hostel. I bought some biccies on my way home which turned out to be the Argentinian equivalent of Hobnobs. YUM YUM YUM. I ended up eating the whole packet to myself...this is the one downside of travelling alone and not having any self control.

I then cwtched up in my lovely warm room and fell asleep.

I woke up this morning and had another shower, i was determined to make the most of the nice shower before I left. Then as I was packing I discovered a bus timetable saying that the bus to Puerto Iguazu passed through at 9.45, it was 9.25 so i did some last minute packing and rammed the last bits into my bag. I ran to the bus stop and then waited, and waited... at 10am the bus finally turned up.

Bye bye San Ignacio Mini!

Resistencia with Rich and Rhiannon, 14 and 15 July 2009

I took the overnight bus from Salta to Resistencia and was due to arrive at 5am. Rich and Rhiannon had arrived the previous evening and found a hostel. I recieved a text telling me the address of the hostel and was shocked to read the text saying it cost 70 pesos (more than a tenner) for a single room, I was even more shocked that there were no dorms. Where on earth were Rich and Rhiannon staying? The Ritz? I consulted the LP and this was one of two hostels listed in the book. Oh well, I figured it must be a nice place for such high prices.

I arrived at the hostel at 5.30 and was not impressed. 70 pesos for this place! It was a dive. I even got my sleeping bag out to sleep in because the room was so scummy! Before settling in to bed i shoved a not under Rich and Rhiannon´s door to tell them what room I was in.

At 9.30 we were all reunited and there were lots of hugs and kisses. Rich and Rhiannon have been in South America just over a week and are travelling around for two and a half months. I hadn´t seen the two of them since January at my leaving party in Cardiff.

Rich and Rhiannon gave me the lowdown on Resistencia... it´s a bit shit.

R and R had a few things to do before we could enjoy Resistencia´s cultural delights, so we headed to the launderette and the bank to sort some bits out. As ever there was lots of chatting and exciting as the three of us all chatted about everything and anything that had happened in the last five months.

Now, the reason Rhiannon and I both found Resistencia appealing was because the LP says it is a place with lots of sculptures to enjoy. It paints a nice picture, a quaint little place with lots of lovely sculptures. Except as we walked to the launderette and the bank I quickly came to share R and R´s opinion on this place, it was a bit shit.

There were lots of scupltures thrown about the city, but none were masterpieces and they were jsut scattered around haphazardly.

The town itself was full of uninspired boring buildings.

Hmm... of all the towns, in the whole of Argentina, we picked the most rubbish town to meet up in.

We consulted Rhiannon´s LP and realised that we had just missed the morning sessions in the museums in the town. Damn the bloody siesta. What could we do?

Well, we found carrefour, grabbed a trolley and gathered together a picnic, and a magnum of red wine... we figured it would make the museums better.

We found a lovely bench in the sun near a sculpture and cracked onto our picnic in the sunshine.

We sat and wiled away the afternoon and got more and mroe drunk.

By the time we finished our magnum of red wine from our yellow plastic cups it was time for the museums to open again.

We set off for the art gallery and to our disappointment it was still closed and showed no signs of opening. So we made our way to the only other museum in Resistencia. After an hour of searching for the museum we eventually found it and it looked as it had been closed for two years. So we decided to take a photo on a statue of a train.

We then figured it was ice=cream o clock and found an ice cream palour.

On our way back to the hostel we grabbed another bottle of wine to drink before we went out for dinner. It cost one pound! we bought some coke to mix with it in case it was crappy.

We got ready for dinner and then went and chilled in the hostel lounge and drank our pound a bottle vino as we swapped travel tips.

Once we had necked the crappy wine we headed out to dinner, only to discover that it was closed. Rubbish. So then we wandered around the town and eventually foudn an open restaurant. A pizza restaurant. we ordered some pizza and a bottle of wine... the same bottle of crappy wine we had just drunk back at the hostel!

We had an hilarious evening which involved lots and lots of giggling cahoots.

After pizza we wandered to a classy looking bar that looked nice, we stepped inside and it was a pool house. Classy.

We had another drink and some more giggles before heading back home at 3am.

We all woke up the following morning with misty and achey heads. And made our way to the art museum that we tried to visit the day before. We banged on the door and they opened up the doors and we went in the museum. We had high hopes for the museum, but to be honest it was crap. It was like a big jumble sale full of crap and jumble. We were disappointed to say the least.

After the museum we went for coffee and reminisced over the crap city of Resistencia.

At 11 I left Rich and Rhiannon to catch my bus to San Ignacio Mini. Resistencia had been rubbish, but Rich, Rhiannon and I had had a fabberlous time.

Love you guys. x

San Lorenzo, 13 July 2009

On my first day in Salta I had met an American who told me that San Lorenzo was a nice place to visit while staying in Salta. I didn´t ask any questions about it, which I regretted deeply when I found myself on the bus to San Lorenzo.

As I sat on the bus I started to see signs for San Lorenzo, I was nearly there, but where did I get off. And what was there to do when I got there.

Let me just inform you that today was the first time in a long time that I was alone, so I didn´t even have anyone else to discuss the prospects with. Not that I minded at all, in fact I saw it as something as a challenge, especially seeing as i had left my phrase book back at the hostel.

I racked my brain to remember what the American guy had said to me, I had a vague recollection that he said there was a nice walk.

I tapped the bus driver and asked if this was San Lorenzo, he told me it was, and I got off.

I got off the bus and looked around. This is San Lorenzo?

Now, I should probably just point out that San Lorenzo isn´t mentioned in the Lonely Planet so I had no idea what to expect. I decided to visit San Lorenze knowing that it was only 30mins from Salta and thus a nice day trip before getting on the bus to Resistencia that afternoon.

Hmmm... what to do?

I walked down a street, it didn´t really go any where. I turned back to where the bus dropped me and followed the road the bus took.

I saw a sign for a church so wandered up to the church.I figured if I was going to end up turning around and going straight back to Salta on the first bus I may as well see something first. The church had a notice on the door saying it was closed until the 21st because of swine flu.

Oh great, I´d taken a gamble, gone off the beaten track, and landed in a place where the church is closed because of the swine flu.

I walked a bit further and saw a market. I figured I would by some bread and fruit and put my spanish to the test. I bought a picnic and walked a bit further to find a nice picnic spot.

And then I found it... A national parlk, with a walk around the gorge. Woohoo. This was the walk the American was talking about. Yes! I wasn´t going to have to turn around and go straight back to Salta after all.

I enquired in Spanish as to the distance of the walk and how long it takes and the guy told me it would take about 2 hours. I worked out that I could do the walk in 2 hours and be back in Salta in time for my bus at 4pm. So I got my groove on and started walking.

It was a very green walk through a forest that looked very English. It was a nice walk with nice streams and trickly waterfalls. The views around were full of green trees. I reached a really nice spot at the top of the gorge from where i could see Salta. I sat and ate my picnic before heading back to the bus.

I wandered throught the wood singing to myself very contentdly.

I don´t mind travelling alone at all. I have spent most of my time with other people, but today on my first day alone I really enjoyed it. I felt quite happy with myself that I had mastered to local bus system, bought a picnic and undertaken a pleasant and peaceful walk all by myself.

I made it back jsut in time to get my bus to Resistencia.

Cafayate, 12 July 2009

I´m in a bit of a rush while i´m in Salta. I want to meet Rich and Rhiannon on the 14 in Resistencia so I only have three days in Salta. My first day exploring the city was great, and my second day on a trip to Cafayate has also been fantastic. I initially thought it would be good to spend a night in Cafayate, but in order to meet up with Rich and Rhi instead I chose to take a day trip. It was such a great day trip.

I was picked up at 7.20am this morning... ungodly, I know. I met my guide, Claudio, and he was some what startled when I said I could only speak English. Turns out that everyone else booked on the tour was Argentinian. He ushered me in to the front seat of the mini bus, he explained that he would use the microphone to speak to everyone else and then he would explain to me in Spanish. I didn´t mind at all, I had the front seat, the perfect view for the trip.

We picked up everyone else on the trip and made our way to Ruta 68 and started our journey to Cafajate.

I´ve seen snow in Argentina, I´ve seen golden scrub land, and today I´ve seen red sand stone.

The landscape that we travelled through on Ruta 68 was stunning. The red rock landscape was spectacular. We arrived first at the Devil´s Throat and then the Ampitheatre formation. The ruta was incredibly long and Claudio was happy to stop for photos all along the ruta.

There were rocks that looked like frogs, castles, the sinking titanic, pilgrims and inca tribes people. The route was pretty desolate and devoid of life. But the red rocks against the clear blue sky were simply stunning.

We arrived in Cafayate at noon and indulged in a little wine tasting. As wine tasting goes (and I am now a connosieur) this was a rubbish wine tasting tour. We were rushed around the bodega frantically and then given thimbles of wine to taste.

That said, the wine tasting was well worth it as we got to try the local white wine Torrontes. This is an absolutely beautiful white wine, it smells sweet and druity like pineapples, but has a great dry flavour. Simply divine. I loved it. Sadly i only had a thimble ful. I contemplated buying some, but figured i wouldnt be able to chill it sufficiently in my back pack.

After wine we all went for lunch.

Now, being the only English speaking person on the trip, lunch coudl have been a nightmare. But it wasn´t it was lovely. I managed to muster enought Spanish to have a nice conversation, and i was able to understand most of what was being said. when conversation got tricky a really nice girl called Elisa from Buenos Aires came to my rescue and did her best to translate for me.

Lunch was great and very traditional... we had chickpeas and sweetcorn wrapped in a skin. it was very tasty. this was followed by Lorca which was a traditional stew type dish with sweet corn and lentils. desert was the strangest, it was pumpkin drenched in a caramel sauce, delicious but stranged.

After lunch we were all stuffed, but Elisa, Mercedes (another girl from Buenos Aires) and I still found space for the local ice cream... Torrontes and Cabernet Sauvignon flavour no less. It was divine. ANd the torrentes tasted fabulous in ice cream form as well as in wine form. Such a good varietal of grape.

There wasnçt much else to see or do in Cafayate so once we had eaten our ice cream we were back in the car and on our way back along ruta 68 to view everything from the other direction. the views were very different and with the sun in the sky at a different height the light created a different ambience. It was beautiful and i took even more video adn photos. I really did have the best view in the whole car.

BEfore returning to Salta we took a detour to a nearby lake, the lake was sutrrrounded by beautiful holiday homes and was really lovely.

It was a bit of a whistle stop trip to Cafayate but it was a lovely, lovely day and I met some lovely people. In retrospect I´m glad i did the trip in a day on a tour as there was very little to keep me entertained, the best part of the day was the journet and the incredible scenery we passed through en route to Cafayate. Just beautiful.

I liked Cordoba, I love Salta, 11 July 2009

When I got off the night bus and arrived in Salta I was wide awake and ready to explore the city. So, rather than heading straight to bed for a quick nap I made my way straight out to the MAAM museum, the Museum of Andean Archeology (i think that was it), well anyway it was a museum full of mummies that had been found on the mountains nearby to Salta.

The walk to the museum was lovely. the city was full of beautiful colonial builidings, all of which were well preserved and looked after well. It was beautiful. It was also incredibly quiet, at 9am there was hardly anyone about.

After getting distracted by my snap happiness I reached the museum. It was closed. My Lonely Planet said it opened at 9am, but actually it opened at 11am. Damn it.

I wandered around and realised that everything was closed, except for the church, but mass was jsut about to begin so I thought I best not get in the way of mass.

Eventually i found an internet cafe and killed some time by calling Gwil and calling home.

I had arranged to meet a girl in my hostel at noon so I dashedback to meet her (we had met when i arrived at the hostel first thing). Together, Laura from Switzerland and I headed for a walk up the hill to view Salt from above.

We chose the path over the cable car as we both shared the opinion that the view is always better when you work hard and walk up, rather than be lazy and take the cable car.

I hadn´t had anything to eat since the previous evening on the bus, i´d missed breakfast and hadn´t picked up anything for lunch. So, in the heat of the day, it was a bit of a struggle in my starved state. It took about 30 minutes to reach the top and the view ovr the city was great. The mountains around us were slightly hazy but it was a beautiful clear day. Once we had made the most of the view we wandered down to the centre and had a nice lunch in the plaza.

The weather was gorgeous, and it was such a lovely afternoon.

With lunch inside us we headed to the mummy museum. This museum is certainly not for the faint hearted. The information was all very inofrmative and fascinating but the remains of children which were sacrificed as offerings to the gods over 500 years ago were pretty harrowing. The children were all very young when they were sacrificed and the looks on their faces looked very painful and sad. I learnt that the children were probably drugged to sleep and the left up in the mountains to freeze to death. The bodies were perfectly preserved because of the high mountain conditions. it was really fascinating.

As night fell Laura and I wandered around Salta by night, whcih was very pretty indeed in the moonlight and with atmospheric lighting on all the buildings.

Salta is so incredibly pretty, I am falling in love with it big time.

We accept Visa, American Express and Oranges, 10 July 2009

So Ed, Annie and I were people watching in the plaza in Cordoba centre and I looked over to the window of a shop near by. In the door was a sign listing the payment methods accepted by the shop: Visa, America Express, Mastercard, Electron, Naranja. Now, for those of you not in the spanish know, Naranja translates as Orange. Brilliant, it´s 2009 but there are still places where you can pay with Oranges. It´s like an exotic variety of Medieval Feudalism.

Note, I have since found out that there is an Argentinian credit card called Naranja. Such a disappointment.

My last day in Cordoba, 10 July 2009

Cordoba is a great place to be based. I stayed 5 days in total. I spent the last of those days exploring further with Annie and Ed. We had hoped to check out the museums, but all the museums were closed. So we spent most of the day chiling in plaza cafes. Were it not for the prospect of meeting up with Rich and Rhiannon, I would have stayed longer and visited a couple more places on the outskirts of Cordoba. But i figured I couldn´t do and see everything while I was there and I left on the night bus for Salta satisfied with my time in Cordoba and happy and content wiht all the things I had done and seen.

Eat as much as you can... now that sounds like a challenge, 9 July 2009

Now, I can´t remember the Argentinian name for these restaurants, but they are really popular out here and they are everywhere.

Ed, Annie (an Irish girl from Ed´s hostel) and I headed there to celebrate Argentinian Independence Day (today was Argentinian Independence Day) and for the grand sum of 5 pounds we were challenged to eat as much as we could.

Steak. We had some good steak.

Salad. We had some great salad.

Sushi. We had some distinctly average sushi, but hey, they´re argentinian so we´ll let them off.

Curry sauces. We had some great curry sauces, except for the one that contained some kind of offal that looked like mushroom, that was an unexpected and unpleasant suprise.

Puddings. We had some great puddings. Great pancaks with rum and caramel and ice cream and some great cream cakes.

We were fit for busting by the end of it. And, i was so full that i couldn´t even finish the end of my wine. i was just soooo full.

I think I managed 5 plates of main meals and then 2 plates of pudding. Five pounds well spent.

The day after the skydive, 9 July 2009

There isn´t much you can do the day after a sky dive that can beat the thrill and exhileration, so, Ed and I decided we would go to a museum. Like I say, there isn´t much you can do the day after the skydive.

We jumped on the bus to the town of Alta Gracia and made our way to the Che Guevara House and Museum.

It was nice to see the house where he lived and see lots of photos of him growing that I have never seen before. It is scary that even as a new born baby he looks just like the icon we see branded on tshirts and flags. very scary.

There were some great documentaries on show with local people who knew him growing up and it was lovely to hear their fond stories of him. It was hard to imagine the nice, kind boy turning into Che.

After we toured the museum we headed in to the town centre. It wasn´t much of a town so after we had wandered around and checked out the church we were pretty much done and got back on the bus to Cordoba.

S.K.Y.D.I.V.E!!!! 8 July 2009

Oh yes, that´s right. On Wednesday the 8th of July 2009 I did a sky dive. Here´s how it happened.

During the walk in the National Park Condorito, Ed had mentioned to me that he was doing a sky dive the following day.

My ears most definitely picked up at this point in our conversation and I hurled a million questions at him... Where? How much? Have you done one before? Is it good to skydive here? Can I do it too?

Now, Ed had spent the last year living in Santiago as part of his degree in Spanish. He was spending the summer travelling round South America before returning home in August. Ed, who has a fear of heights, had been planning his skydive for the last few months. He came to Cordoba because of the skydiving. Apparently it was the best place to skydive in the whole of South America. And not only was it the best place to skydive, it was also the cheapest at 100 pounds.

I have wanted to do a sky dive for ages. It´s one of those things that I have always fancied doing. But one of those things that I never imagined I would ever actually get around to doing.

Here I was, faced with the opportunity to do a sky dive. I signed up for the sky dive as soon as I got back from my trek in the National Park.

I made the decision to do the jump before I had the time to really think about it. I got back to the hostel and told Petra. Then it sunk it, I had committed to doing a Skydive. Well, I hadn´t actually paid at this point so I could still back out. But deep down I knew there was no backing out.

I woke up on the morning of the sky dive and my first thought was: what if I had a heart attack on the way down. I know plenty of people that have skydived before and I know that there is little to worry about on the ´what if the parachute doesn´t open´ front, but what if i had a heart attack... that was a whole different kettle of fish.

I had a nice shower. If I was going to do a sky dive I had to be clean.

Then i faced my eternal dilemma... what to wear? Seriously, this was a big dilemma, and because i had convinced myself that i was going to have a heart attack on the way down I was not only choosing an outfit to jump out of a plane in, but also an outfit to die in.

Petra laughed at me lots as i tried out the different outfit combinations. Eventually I settled for black trousers, a white vest and a black thin jumper. I would also wear my fleece as well for a bit of warmth. I know, it´s hardly glamourous, but I figured that I would be wearing a jumpsuit outfit anyway so it didn´t need to be glamourous.

By this point it was 11am and I had two hours to kill before my pick up arrived to drive me to my fate.

I had to go withdraw some cash so I wasted some time getting cash out. I began to panic when i saw the queues for the banks. Every single bank in town had a ridiculously long queue. I waited 30 minutes for the cash machine so that killed some time.

Back at the hostel I decided to write a will which I emailed to Laura. I didn´t know if my insurance covered me for sky diving, but if it did I wanted to decide where the insurance money would go. Laura was the only person I told about the skydive. I didn´t contact Mum or Gwil about it... I decided resolutely that I would text them after the deed was done, after I had survived.

I wasn´t really scared, I was just excited. Really excited. And at the same time fixated on ´what if i don´t make it´. I had the occasional pangs of terror, but the thought of the thrill of the fall overtook the fear.

At 2.05pm my pick up had still not arrived. I was not impressed! At 2.30pm my pick up arrived.

Ed and I sat together in the back of a car with two Argentinian men who never said a word to us. The driver was the spitting image of Dara O Brien and had the same moody eyes and the other guy was very smiley but just didn´t speak. I felt like I was in a car with two gangsters. Ed and I chatted the whole way, it was nervous chatter, and then, we pulled into the aviation centre, both of us took a sharp intake of breath as both of our hearts ran into our mouths and the butterflies kicked in.

We got there and found two guys checking out parachutes and rolling them up. Still no one said a word to us.

Then Dara O Brien appeared and told us to sign our lives away on the consent forms. We both obliged and signed on the dotted lines with apprehension.

Then Dara decided that it would be a ´ladies first´ occasion and I was given a jumpsuit to climb into. I felt like the white power ranger in my suit and jumped around with nerves and excitedness.

We had to wait around for quite a while, but at 3.45 everything was ready for me to take to the skies.

I had had all the training and I recited the routine over in my head: hands across my chest, legs bent back, back arched, release the arms when my instructor taps me. I had it all clear in my head, but as the plane started across the run way it all fell out of my head.

In the plane with me was the pilot, my instructor (who i was attached to), my camera man, an Israeli who was on a 21 day sky dive course and his instructor. The 6 of us were crammed into the smallest plane I have ever seen. And as we chugged along the run way i was convinced that we would never get off the ground. It just wasn´t possible.

But we did.

My heart was in my mouth as the wheels took off the ground and we began to climb. There was only one way back down, and that was out the window.

I looked out the window at the incredible views. We were up above the Condorito Nacional Park. Yesterday I was looking up at the Condors, today I was flying with them.

Then all of a sudden the Israeli guy and his instructor started to move and they opened the door. As the wind streamed in to the tiny plane I was filled with terror. Total terror. I was going to get sucked out liek in some Hollywood movie. I wasn´t reaady. I was enjoying the flight, i needed another minute or two before i could jump.

The Israeli and his instructor did their jump and were gone.

The door was closed and we climbed higher.

Thank god, i needed it.

The moment when they opened the door was so scary. I sat in fear of that moment again. The next time the door opened it was going to be my jump. We got higher and higher, and i could see over the sierra grandes.

Then we reached 3000m and it was my turn. I was clipped to my instructor fully and my camera man opened the door and crept out onto the wing. As me and my instructor shuffled forward to the door i could see hte cameraman sitting casually on the wing waiting for me. I thought that sitting on the edge would be the scariest thing ever but it actually felt incredible... there i was on the edge of a plane with clear blue sky all around me, i was ready and i was excited. my arms were crossed and my legs were back, my instucrtor pulled my head back so i arched my back (i had forgotten about that bit, oops) we rocked forward once, twice and then we were out and we were falling.

The actual moment itself it a blye blank in my mind, all i remember is falling and looking ahead of me and seeing the camera man. the feeling was incredible and i had the biggest smile on my face as the g force pulled back my cheeks. i fell free fall for 30 seconds but it felt like it was only 5 seconds. it was such a rush and i already wanted to do it again. then the parachute went up and we were thrust upwards as the cameraman continued to fall.

With the parachute up I could take it all in. the ground below was miles away and the landscape was stunning from this view point. I was also alive. i felt incredible. i felt free and i felt sooooo incredibly happy. it was such an amazing feeling and we glided back down to earth after 5 minutes on a parachute glide. Knowing that i was loving it, the instructor took me for a spin and did some tricks and stunts.

Then, terror struck again. I was connected to my instructor with four clips and he starte to undo the bottom two. I was so scared and i tensed instantly. he told me not to worry, he had to do this so that we could land safely. very well i thought, but a bit of warning would have been appreciated.

I was predicting a Bridget Jones esque fall into a pig sty (which would probably have led to me catchin swine flu) but thankfully it was nothing like this, i was just a heap on the floor.

Oh my god it was amazing. I couldn´t believe it. I had just fallen from a plane through the sky. It was such an incredible buzz.

As I jumped around with pure giddiness Ed got ready for his dive. I got to view my photos and dvd straight away. it was so exciting to watch it again.

I couldnt wipe the smile from my face.

Even writing about it now gives me an incredible buzz. Simply incredible.

Fernet con Cola, 7 July 2009

After a good day´s walk Ed and I decided we definitely deserved a drink. Petra joined us too and she introdiced me to the local tipple Fernet con Cola.

I had heard about Fernet in Mendoza, but I knew it originated in Cordoba so I decided I would wait until I reached Cordoba before I gave it a try.

Fernet con Cola was suprisingly tasty despite the fact that it tasted very much like mouth wash. Yes mouthwash. It was really good. And after one my brain was definitely spinning round inside my head. No, I´m not a lightweight, they just have really big measures out here!

There is a drink that you can buy in the Czech Republic, a herb based drink, but I can´t remember what it is called (Dad please tell me what it was called, you brought some back from Prague when you went it has a yellow and blue label and comes in a green bottle). Well anyway, whatever that drink is called, it tastes like that.

Hmmm... not sure on the verdict on this one. I think I liked it, but I don´t really know why I liked it.

Quebrada Del Condorito, 7 July 2009

I don´t really know what to call this post... here are some of the titles I came up with whilst walking today:

A day with the Steve Irwin of Condor Hunting

Flight of the Condors

Walking in the footsteps of the Saber Tooth Tigers

Bird Watching in Cordoba

Cordoban Condors

The day I finally got to use my binoculars

Ok, well the key points to note here from these titles are that today involved trekking where Saber Tooth Tigers once roamed the land, whilst looking for Condors and other birds with a guide who was just like Steve Irwin.

I was supposed to be picked up at 8.30, but I was rushed when my pick up arrived at 8! Luckily I managed to grab a couple of pastries to wolf down in the car. I was shocked to meet my trekking guide, he actually looked like Steven Irwin in his khaki bush shirt and bush trousers. ´Crikey thats a beauty!´ I thought. Steve and I drove over to another hostel and picked up 3 others; Ed from Bristol and Stephanie and Manuel from Brussels. Steve then asked if we would prefer him to speak in English or Spanish, the consensus in the car was that he should speak Spanish.

The drive was 90 minutes to the Parque Nacionale Condorito and for the whole journey Steve spoke in Spanish.

I managed to understand a fair amount of what he was saying. Most of it was pointing out the surrounding moutains and hills, but then when conversation turned to the Falklands war I got a little lost. I find that when I know the context of a conversation I can listen for words that I expect to hear, thus a conversation on the Argentinian perspective on the Falklands was a little too much for me.

The countryside around Cordoba was beautiful, we crossed the Sierras Chicas, a low lying rande of mountains, and then made our way up to the Sierras Grandes. The land was a golden yellow and wild grasses grew all around.

Suddenly, Steve was pulling us over onto the stony verge and getting very excited. We hadnçt even reached the National Park but already we had reached some Condors. Flying over our head were three Condors, they were incredibly high up and even with my binoculars I couldn´t distinguish them definitively as Condors. But Steve was in the know, and he assured us that they were most definitely Condors.

I stood and watched through my binoculars for a good few minutes. I was amazed as I watched two condors fly and swoop together in perfect syncronicity. I put down my binoculars to see them with my naked eye and was confused as I could only see one bird. I put my binoculars on again and could definitely see two birds. I put my binoculars down again and looked really closely, but still there was just one bird. I then decided to twiddle the twiddly bits on my binoculars. Oh yes, that´s right. There was just one bird in the sky. I´m so dense at times!

We got back into the car and pulled off again. 200metres later we had stopped again and Steve was pointing out an Eagle to us perched on the mountain. It was quite incredible to see an eagle so close up.

After a couple more stops to view more birds of prey, we finally reached the National Park and we were greeted with stunning vistas set against a clear blue sky. The views all around were incredible. The land was so open and so vast.

We set off on our walk through beautiful golden fields of grass. At this point Steve switched to English (he continued to speak english for the rest of the day) and explained the risk of forest fires in these dry parts.

The walk was really steady with no steep climbs and we were in no rush at all. We took lots of stops as Steve pointed out the different birds. It was quite funny as every now and then Steve would suddenly stop and squat down to pick up rocks or point out animal tracks. He was absolutely brilliant. I half expected him to delve through animal droppings and pronounce what an animal had just eaten. The Belgians didn´t get the Steve Irwin thing, but Ed the Bristolian did.

We walked and walked and walked, and then we saw a sign which warned us to beware of snakes. At this point Steve pulled out an id card with lots of pictures of snakes on and showed us the deadly poisonous snake that was common in the park. Err... deadly snakes..! No one had warned me about this one! He reassured us that we wouldn´t see any of these unless we ventured off the path.

Ten minutes later Steve had seen a rare bird of prey on a rock near a stream. He started making a path through the waist high grasses and, fogetting about the poisonous snakes, we all followed in Steve´s excited footsteps to get a close up view of the bird. It was a beautiful eagle of some sort. Sadly it flew off before I managed to take a photo.

We contunied to walk throght the grasslands until I remembered the snakes. I made some comment to Ed which Steve overheard, he then made a direct route back to the path.

As we walked Steve told us about bones and fossils of Saber Tooth Tigers that had been found in this area. It was pretty cool to imagine that during the Ice Age Saber Tooth Tigers and Giant Sloths roamed these lands. It made me very excited indeed.

We eventually reached the Quebrada (Gorge) and climbed down to a viewing point to eat our lunch. Again, another fantastic lunch spot with no one else there to spoil it! I love these unspoilt places, they are just so perfect. We saw several vultures and a couple more condors as we ate our lunch.

I had some fears for my ham sandwich, but Steve assured me that Condors do not have thumbs on their claws, and therefore could not swoop down and grab my sandwich from me. Because of this Condors always feed on dead carcuses. I learnt a lot about Condors today. As we were eating and chatting a Condor swooped down about 10 metres above our heads. The sound was incredible as it swooshed over us with great force. It wasn´t circling us for our food or anything, the condor was just flying around minding his own business. It was incredible jsut how close he came to us though.

It was amazing to watch them flyung on the thermal currents, its pretty spectacular how they can jsut keep going without flapping their winds at all.

I´ve never really been a fan of Condors until today. When I´ve seen them in zoos and bird parks they always look really ugly and a bit frantic as they pace around their cages. But seeing them in the wild was amazing. Although they were close, they were far enough away that I didn´t have to see their ugly faces up close. They really were incredible to watch.

After a long and leisurely lunch we took a stroll back towards the car. We had intended to take a walk in another direction but the park ranger had closed off the path for some reason that I couldn´t understand. So, Steve produced some mate and some biscuits and took us to a stream for a mate session. The stream was sooo incredibly lovely and we all sat and chilled out enjoying the serenity. At one point an eagle flew over us really close and we could hear the power of its wings as it flapped over us. Wow! Really wow!

As i listened to the trickle of the stream I was thankful that the man in the tourist office hadn´t scared me off. Today had been a beautiful, perfect day. I was loving Cordoba and its surrounds.

First day in Cordoba, 6 July 2009

It was still dark when I arrived in Cordoba at 8.30am. Still dark at 8.30! Crazy eh! And as I stuggled to find a street sign anywhere through my tired and bleary eyes I grabbed a cab and made my way to the Grand Hostel and rolled straight into a bunk bed in a six bed dorm. Before rolling into bed I had enquired about breakfast, and consequently set an alarm for 9.45 so that I could make the most of breakfast before it finished at 10.

I was happy that I had set an alarm for breakfast... it was really good. I had a whole platter of custard and jam pastries before me and there was no one else to share them with. After breakfast I decided to have a shower (the shower at my hostel in Mendoza was horrendous = thanks for that recommendation Pippa and Harri!), and to my delight the shower was the nicest shower I had had since I was in Australia. It was so hot and I actually felt clean again when I got out. Lush.

By this point my room mate (there were only two of us in the six bed dorm, in fact there were only six of us in the 160 bed hostel!) had woken up. Yet again I had bumped into another Ozzie! They get everywhere dem Ozzies.

After we chatted for a while, Petra and I decided that we would spend the day together, we both had a few bits and pieces to do first but we set a time and place to rendezvous.

The girl who had recommended the Grand Hostel to me had also recommended that I take a trek into the Condorito National Park whilst in Cordoba so I headed down to the tourist office to book onto the tour.

In my bestest Spanish i made my enquiry. The guy was very unhelpful... he told me that I would need strong boots, that I needed to be fit, that I needed to be prepared for a hard day of climbing and walking, I would need to carry my own water, and I would have to walk for 8 hours. With this he gave me a pitiful look as if to say ¨You´ve got no chance luv!¨ He also told me the trek cost 200 pesos and that I would need to come back in the afternoon as I would not be able to do the trek myself and no one else had signed up to the trek by this point.

He wasn´t a very good salesman that´s for sure! In fact, I was almost scared off the trip. The girl who recommended the trek to me had told me it cost 120 pesos and that it was quite a pleasant walk. I didn´t know what to do, but I had to head back and meet Petra.

Petra has been living in Buenos Aires for a month doing research for her thesis in International Business, she had come to Cordoba for a break from the city and to do some interviews at a local business. The previous evening a friend of hers who lived in Cordoba had recommended a great flea market, so the two of us headed off to check out the flea market.

We wandered around some dead end streets and eventuallt found the market, but there were no stalls set up! Grrr! Turns out that today was the National Holiday of Cordoba so a lot of things were closed. We wandered in and out of a few incredible Antique Shops and then took a walk along the river, before checking out the Central Plaza and the surrounding area.

I had an instant liking for Cordoba, I already prefered it to Mendoza. The problem with Mendoza, and Bariloche as well, was that to do anything in these cities you had to spend a lot of money. But here was Cordoba, a city that was pleasant enough to just walk around. Every corner had a new suprise, a pretty pink building, some fantastic grafitti, a gorgeous church.

Despite the fact that it was Cordoba´s national holiday, all of the shops were open and all the locals were making the most of the holiday to do their shopping. The shopping centre was rammed.

I returned to the tourist office to see if anyone else had signed up for the trek to the National Park, Petra was keen to join me but didn´t have any appropriate footwear. When I reached the tourist office the man was gone, and instead there was a really nice girl working. She told me that three other people had joined up to the tour and that the trip actually cost 110 pesos. As I signed my life away on some insurance forms she told me not to worry, the walk was really easy. As I handed over the cash the guy walked into the office I smiled at him and gave him a smug ¨Ola¨. He didn´t look happy with the fact that I had joined the tour. He was a very strange man.

Petra and I then came across a bit of a plaza where everyone was sitting around drinking mate. We decided to sit down and chill out in the afternoon sunshine. It was nice to sit around and watch the world go by.

Then, from nowhere the fountain we were sat beside came to life, and, what sounded like the Disney Band struck up a tune. There we were in the middle of a fountain display to music. It was so dramatic in a Fantasia=esque style and everyone stopped to watch as they passed by.

Once the Disney had died down we made our way to the supermarket to buy some food so we could cook up a treat for dinner.

I had had a great day exploring Cordoba and I had a good feel for the next few days. I hadnçt really planned how long I was going to spend in the city, but with a great shower, a lush hostel, fab free brekkie, and good weather I could feel myself already wanting to spend a fair amount of time here.

Back online again

I arrived at Puerto Iguazu at 2.30pm, and in the last 3 hours I have explored pretty much the whole of Puerto Iguazu. So, you guessed it, I`m back online, fingers crossed I will be able to bring this blog bang up to date today.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

I´ve had enough...

Right I´ve been sat in front of the screen for too long and I´m hungry.

Unfortunately I´m still not up to date with the blog, but hopefully I will have one more stint and then it will be all up to date.

In the next exciting installment of eight months without heels you can expect: Condors, Sky Diving, Che Guevara, Salta, Cafayate, Wine Flavoured Ice Cream, My First Day On My Own, A Reunion with Rich and Rhiannon and lots,lots more.

A x

Next Stop: Cordoba, 5 July

Jess left to go to Santiago today. And I don´t feel any urge to stay in Mendoza for longer (I´m still bitter after the wine tasting!). So, I´m now on the bus to Cordoba. I´ve been recommended a really nice hostel there and I´m looking forward to exploring another new city. The weather forecast is good too, bonus.

My first Mate, 4 July 2009

No, it´s not mate (as in friend) it´s mate pronounced like latte (as in the coffee).

EVERYONE in Argentina drinks mate! EVERYONE! But today,on my pony trek,is the first time I have had the opportunity to try it.

Mate Yerba is a blend of herbs grown in Argentina that is mixed with hot water to make this type of tea. It is served in a cup and drunk through a bombejer which is like a straw but with a sieve at one end to filter out the herbs when you drink it.

It is a popular communal activity (no wonder they´ve all got swine flu) and everyone sits around sharing a mate cup between themselves. Most people in Argentina carry around a supply of mate, as well as the cup and straw and a thermos of hot water. It´s a fair amount of stuff to lug about on a daily basis,but theyall justlove it!

So yeah, I tried it today while out on the horses... it tastes like a strong green tea and with a spoonful of sugar is really nice. You expect to get a mouthful of yerba leaves as you drink it, but the sieve in the straw is really good and filters it all out.

The verdict on Mate... I can see why they all love it, but I could never be bothered to carry all the paraphenalia required to make mate around with me.

My first gallop! 4 July 2009

This morning was another early start,so I was up early ready for a day of horse riding, in the Andes no less.

Jess and I were ready and waiting for our pick up which drove us up into the low Andes and to our horses for the day.

The horses were gorgeous and as we waited for our gaucho to arrive Jess and I stroked the horses.

Before I knew it I was on a gorgeous tan coloured horse and we were off.

I had full control of the horse (i.e. I didn´t have someone leading the horse like in China) and this was the first time I had ridden properly since I was really young. We plodded along at a walk taking in some beautiful Andean scenery. Then we built up to a trot through the scrubby grasses.

Except, my horse didn´t like to trot. I kept kicking him to keep him going but it only responded to the commands of the gaucho. Everytime the gaucho shouted Gringo the horse picked up. I wasn´t sure if the gaucho was referring to me as being the gringo, but then i decided that he definitely was referring to the horse.

After an hour or so we reached a nice spot and we picked up a gallop.It was so scary. I clung on to the horse with dear life as the gaucho kept whipping Gringo from just behind us.It was so fast and I was certain I was going to fall off. But I didn´t. I was fine.Absolutely fine. Thankfully Gringo ignored the whipping and didn´t gallop on too far, jsut a 200m stretch.Once the gaucho had overtaken us he ambledback down to a trot. I wasn´t complaining.

It was a lovely day out on the mountains with the horses in the beautiful sunshine.

Bitter Wine Tasting, 3 July 2009

David, Jess and I had hoped to do the Bike and Wine Tour on offer in our hostel.However, due to popular demand we would have to wait until the following Wednesday before we could do that.As Jess was planning on leaving on the Monday we decided to give that a miss.

David had found another wine tour on the internet, it was a little more expensive 130 pesos but it included lunch. We checked out the website and booked on the tour.

So, this morning we were picked up at 8.30 for the wine tour. By 9.30 we were at the first winery, a winery which belonged to the Chandon Group which is part of a larger group owned by Louis Vuitton and Hennessy. This was a lush Bodega (vineyard). It looked so beautiful, even the wine makeing equipment looked stylish! After a really informative tour about the wine making process and the types of grapes that grow in the Andes region we sat down to a beautiful table to taste some wine. By this point it was about 10.15! We started very early!

We tried a Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc. All of the wines tasted beautiful, and they weren´t stingy with the portions either. We were shown how to taste wine properly and given bottles of essence to smell in order to bring out the flavours.

Before leaving I used the most beuatiful toilets I have seen in South America and stole cork. Don´t ask why, it just seemed a good idea at the time...blame the wine!

We then went to the Palenta Estate where we were given another tour of this slightly different winery which used traditional Concrete tanks for the wine fermentation (as opposed to modern steel tanks used by most other wineries). Here we had four more beautiful red wines from the region.

By 1pm we had sampled 8 different wines! Oh dear,I could feel another Australia wine tasting coming on!

The next winery included lunch and we were given a wine and food tasting. The menu was specially crafted so that the wines complemented the food.

Oh my god, the food was incredible! The best meal I have ever had in South America. I can´t remember the menu and the wine combos (I have these written in my scrap book, but my scrap book is in the hostel,I will write these in again later). The main course was delightful, it was beef, and it was the best bit of beef I have ever eaten.It was lush.

After our divine lunch we headed to the final Bodega which was very rustic and traditional. Again the wines we tasted were delicious and our wine guru was incredibly knowledgable.

The day was incredible, we had had great food, great wine in four great locations surrounded by the Andes moutains. Such a perfect day.

As we drove back into Mendoza, the perfect day was spoilt.

Our lovely guide passed us our bill and David, JEss and I went to take out our 130 pesos. Then we noticed that the bill did not add up to 390 pesos. No, the total of the bill was 1350 pesos. Err? That made it 450 pesos each. We questioned the bill with the guide and she said it was right. At this point we realised our error.

Everywhere in Argentina the peso is denoted with a dollar symbol $, EVERYWHERE. And on the website for the wine tour it said 130$, but the dollar sign on the website didn´t mean pesos... it meant dollars,US dollars.

The three of us bitterly handed over the equivalent of 75 pounds each.

We were in stone cold shock. We had expected topay just over 20 quid, and now it was costing more that three times the price.

I felt sick in the very pit of my stomach.

I´d say we were ripped off. We weren´t. The day was definitely worth 75pounds, but if I´dhave known I wouldn´t have chosen to pay that much for a wine tasting day.I´d rather have bought several different bottles from the supermarket and sampled them in the park.

It really left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I´m going to bed now. It´s only 9pm.

Oh to be warm again! 2 July 2009

I have been cold since I arrived in South America. But that all changed today.

Mendoza is on the same latitude as Santiago, but,it is significantly warmer and has 300 days of sunshine a year!

We had met an American on the bus from Bariloche (David) and the three of us spent the day exploring Mendoza. I didn´t quite brave the flip flops,but it was great to crack out my sunglasses again.

We wandered around the city of Mendoza and chilled out in the nice plazas and had a lovely lunch in a street side cafe.

Mendoza is famed for being a pretty city, but again I though I was missing something.It was nice, yes, the tree lined boulevards and wide plazas were nice, but all the buildings looked a bit grey and average.

After exploring the city we went to explore hte park. The park was great. It was big and lovely and the there was a nice rowing lake. We sat and enjoyed the sun and the surroundings until the sunset.

Our first day in Mendoza was pleasant, nothing too special, but pleasant. Mendoza isn´t really a place you visit to explore the city, it is a place you go to to do things... Rafting,trekking, skiing, wine tasting, horse riding, you name it, you can do it in Mendoza.

Ruta 40, 1 July 2009

Jess and I had intended to stay in Bariloche for a week, but when we got there we didn´t really fall in love with the place. Maybe it was because the weather was grey and cloudy. Maybe it was because it was super expensive because it was geared up for the skiers. Maybe we had just overdosed on lakes and chocolate. We just didn´t feel the need to spend any longer in Bariloche so we jumped on a bus and made our way to Mendoza on the famous Ruta 40.

Ruta 40 is the longest road in the world. It crosses the entire length of Argentina, and it was made famous by Che as he travelled it on his famous motorcycle journey. We travelled 586 miles along Ruta 40 for 17 hours.

We had booked the tickets the previous day and had gone for the budget seats on the bus to save a few quid. But when we got to the bus station the bus we were booked on to had been cancelled.So, we were put on the next bus (2 hours later) and given a free upgrade to executive class. Woohoo.

The journey way pretty impressive and the surrounding landscape was pretty special! Once we got out of the snowy region the land was very dry and barren and all the scrubland was a golden yellow colour. THe journey continued like this for some time, in fact it took us 2 hours to reach the first town. The town wasn´t very much, jsut a few houses and a petrolstation.It was really desolate.

5 hours into the journey we hit our first traffic light!

We were waited on with great attentiveness as the bus man did the rounds with drinks and coffee.

We enjoyed two films in English, Red Eye and one with David Duchovny and Maggie Gyllenhal. Then we took a pause from the films and indulged in a game of bus bingo! Yes, Bus Bingo! Sadly, neither Jess or I won the prize bottle of wine but we did improve on our Spanish numbers! It was a greatfun way to practice a bit of Spanish.

We felt like royalty on this bus, that was until they served dinner.

We were given a smelly plastic tray and on it was places a crap looking sandwich, a swiss roll and a portion of rice.

Jess was in fits of giggles at the face I pulled at the dinner. I was not impressed. I doused the rice in mayonaise (that was supposed to be for the sandwich) which made it more palatable and then ate the teeny tiny crappy sandwich. I left the swiss roll till last only to be disappointed that it actually was a swiss roll with ham rolled into it.Interesting.

I was not impressed at all.

But then, the lovely bus waiter appeared with hot dishes... it was a weird canneloni type thing made with crepes rather than pasta. It was yummy! Dinner was redeemed!

A hippy town? 30 June 2009

Lonely Planet describes El Bolsen as a Hippy town, the first town in the world to declare itself ´No to Nuclear´. El Bolsen is also famed for its craft market.

Jess and I had considered going to stay the night in El Bolson but in the end decided to suck up the 2 hour bus journey and go for the day.

We made our way to the bus early and so I slept most of the way.

We landed in El Bolson and everything was shut.We saw the market was being setup so we took at coffee and pastry at a little coffeeshop while we waited for the market to get going.

El Bolson is in a really nice location, it is surrounded by snowy mountains and sits in a bowl.Despite the nice backdrop,the town itself isn´t much to write home about. By that I mean it isn´t particularly aesthetically pleasing.

After coffee we wandered back to the market... El Bolsen is a strange place, and I wouldn´t say it has much of a hippy vibe... all the restaurants advertise steak and patagonian lamb (ok,i guess not all hippies are veggies, but you kind of expect it), there are a few posters advertising yoga classes and tai chi but that´s about it in terms of hippy-ness.

The market itself wasn´t particulalryl big, which was a little disappointing. and believe it or not,i didn´t even see anything i wanted to buy! (i think this was a side effect of my cough)

We bought some hot chips for lunch and an empanada (pasty type thing) and made our way to the bus stop.

On the way to the bus I spotted a wool shop and I bought my ball of Argentinian wool for my knitting-art. After all, what beter place to buy my Argentinian wool from than a supposedly hippy town.

On the way back home, I was wide awake, and thankfully so,the route that I slept thorugh on the way to El Bolson was simply stunning,lots of craggy black mountains,lots of snow.I even made some video of the journey because it was so nice.

Back in Bariloche Jess and I went and bought some chocolate before meeting Fraser the Farmer (the guy we met in the National Park near Pucon) for another free dinner!

Cerro Campanario, 29 June 2009

We met up with Nina this morning (the German girl we stayed with in Pucon) and headed on the bus to Cerro Campanario.

Thankfully this bus experience was easier than when we arrived and we jumped off the bus at the bottom of the hill (Cerro) without any problems.

The three of us decided that we would walk up the hill instead of taking the chair lift. We set off and climbed the hillside. There were several points where we couldn´t see the path so we forged our way up the hillside knowing that we wanted to go up. It was a steep bush bash (Jess the Ozzie came up with this name)!

When we reached the top after our 30minute climb we reached a UNESCO rated mirador.

Now,UNESCO may have rated this mirdaor one of the best in the world, but today was cloudy and overcast, an although the view of the surrounding lakes,hills and mountains was pretty, it didn´t quite deserve the UNESCO prestige. The three of us had definitely seen better in Pucon and San Martin. But it was nice none the less.

After an unsuccessful attempt to take the cable car back down for free we began our descent. We thought it had been steep going up, well, it was really steep going down and I think we all took at least one tumble on the way down.

At the bottom we waited for the bus and began a deep conversation about returning to places we visit. JEss and I had spent a lot of time in san Martin romanticising about returning in the summer, camping and enjoying the beautiful landscapes in the summer. But as we waited for the bus we asked ourselves whether we ever would come back to these places again? Would we hvae the time, the money, the freedom to do these things again?

As we waited for the bus the clouds started to clear, and as the bus pulled up I made a snap decision to go back up the hill and see the view again without the clouds. Nina and Jess didn´t fancy it, but after our deep conversation I just had to go back up for the blue sky. I jumped on the cable car and made my way back up.

This time, the view was far more worthy of it´s UNESCO title. It still wasn´t perfectly clear, but the view was much better than it first was. As I sat and enjoyed the view alone I was happy with my last minute decision to go back to enjoy the view. The girls were jealous when I met up with them later and showed them my photos!

A whole new breakfast experience, 29 June 2009

So not only do I get free dinner at this hostel in Bariloche, I also get free breakfast! Woohoo! In fact, I´ve had free breakfast everywhere I have stayed so far, but this morning has been the best breakfast yet!

Firstly, we had juice! Ok, it was just squash, but I´ve not drunk anything but water in the last few weeks!

Secondly, I´ve just had my first taste of DULCE DE LECHE.

Dulce de Leche is famous amongst travellers in Argentina but I this was the first time I had ever seen it. Now, if you will believe me, I don´t like Chocolate spread, and I think a campaign should be started to get Dulce de Leche on sale in the UK in place of Nutella and such like.

But what is dulce de leche? Well, it´s spreadable caramel fudge that you put on toast! It is so delicious. So bad for you, of course, but so delicious.

I had four portions of dulce de leche with my breakfast this morning. Jess had one.

I love the stuff. I can´t wait for breakfast tomorrow!

Free Dinner, 28 June 2009

Our hostel includes free dinner in the price.

I´ve just had a mountain of pasta with chicken and blackbeans. It was soooo yummy!

I think it tasted better because not only was it cooked for me, it was also free!

Still had to wash up my own plate though!

More Choclaterias, 28 June 2009

No one ever mentioned to me that Argentina was a place famed for Chocolate. Steak, yes, Chocolate, no!

We´ve just had a wander around Bariloche and have discovered even more Chocolaterias than in San Martin! There are literally hundreds. We´ve done the rounds for the free samples too, seriously, why buy chocolate when they give it to you for free.

I don´t really like Bariloche that much. ALthough there are loads of Chocolate shops they aren´t as nice as those in San Martin, there are no log cabin-esque buildings. It´s all very concrete and 70s. Hmmm, I´m not feeling the love for Bariloche. Let´s see what tomorrow brings...

Arriving in Bariloche in style, 28 June 2009

Bariloche is about 5 hours south of San Martin. It is a popular ski destination for Argentinians and people all over the world.

Arriving in Bariloche was hilarious... Jess and I knew that we could reach the hostel zone by taking bus 10 from the terminal... however, we didn´t know where to get off the bus. We knew the street name we were looking for so we spent the entire bus ride craning our necks to read the street signs as the bus passed by.

As the bus made its way into Bariloche centre more and more people got on the bus.

We drove through what looked to be the centre of town, but suprisingly no one got off the bus in the centre. We assumed that Bariloche must be quite a big town and that what we thought was the centre was actaully the beginnings of the town.

Just as we relaxed into bus ride we noticed the street name we had been searching for, the bus stopped just after it and JEss and I got up to get off the bus, but we were surrounded by people, in a can of sardines literally, and we both had our big,massive backpacks.

No one would move for us at all, no one could move for us.

Before we could get out of our seats the bus had set off again, we shouted the driver to stop but with the noise of a full bus our voices were lost.

AS the bus set off again JEss took a stumble and showered the woman next to her with the contents of her water bottle.

We were both in fits of giggles, but we still weren´t off the bus.

We still had to battle our way through the aisle of the bus,through all the people. We stuggled and struggled and eventually made our way to the back, after missing 3 more stops! Seriously this bus was packed.

When we finally reached the back of the bus we got off at the first available opportunity. Relieved that we were off the bus we fell about in giggles of relief and relived the moment when JEss´s bottle poured everywhere.

Then we saw a sign saying we were 5km from the centre! 5km! As soon as the thought of walking back entered our heads it quickly left again. We found what we thought was a bus stop. We waited and waited and waited and no bus passed.

Then we saw a cab which we instantly flagged down. The cab took us directly to the hostel street and we checked out a couple of hostels before we picked out one with an incredible view over Lake Nahuel Huapi.

I have a cough, 27 June 2009

I´ve had a cough for the last few days. I thought I could fend it off by gargling paracetemol. That plan has failed. I have had to buy cough medicine from the Chemist today. The cough medicine seems to be working, well, it tastes minging and I´ve gone more than thrity minutes without a coughing fit. I hate coughs.

Road Trip! 27 June 2009

One of the activites that Jess and I had wanted to do in San Martin was to travel the Siete Lagos Ruta, aka the Seven Lakes Route. This road joins San Martin with Villa Angostura and passes by seven of the Argentian Lake District´s finest lakes. The route is only open when the weather is fine and as Winter is in full swing it was uncertain whether the route was passable. When we first arrived in San Martin we checked out the conditions of hiring a car and although it was possible, it seemed a bit pricey for the two of us. We also checked out some tour operators running trips along the route and they were all apprehensive about booking places on the tour as huge dump of snow was due any day.

We decided that we would give the trip a miss. We didn´t want to have to pay for a tour that wouldn´t set off (and then get no money back) and the thought of driving in snow was not so appealing.

But this morning we met a Spanish guy, Borca, at breakfast. He was hiring a car and driving along the Siete Lagos Ruta. He was checking the weather on the internet and the route was open and clear.

Ten minutes later Jess and I were dressed, ready and in the car with Borca and we were on the Siete Lagos Ruta.

The day was cloudy and rain was looming, but from inside the car the journey was a pleasant one. We had the luxury of stoppping wherever we liked to take photos and enjoy the views.

Looking back at my photos the scenery and landscapes did not look very special, but to the human eye these scenes were stunning in an eerie and ominous way.

It wasn´t a conventionally beautiful journey, because of the weather, but the low clouds, snowfilled sky and crystal blue lakes were still incredible.

The road trip worked out cheaper than the tour and it was great to take our time and not rush.

When I come back to Argentina I will come in the summer and enjoy this route again but with blue skies.

Chocolate in San Martin, 26 June 2009

In my last but one post I mentioned that Jess and I wiled away an afternoon people watching in a cafe in San Martin... Well, it wasn´t actually a cafe, it was a Choclateria, and the hot drink we were drinking was a fine hot chocolate accompanied with a variety of chocolates including white chocolate with tropical bits, milk chocolate with malteser bits, milk chocolate and white chocolate swirl and a flake type thing. Oh my god! Such yummy, scrummy chocolate. It was the best hot chocolate I had ever tasted. Once we had filled ourselves with choc we decided todo the rounds of the other choclaterias to see if we could blag any freebies... we were successful in our blagging and managed to sample four other choclateria chocolates.

A confession by Amy Harrison aged 23

Now, as you are aware, I write my blog posts into my diary before typing them up to my blog. However, it is important that I write this confession before I write any more. If I were not to write this confession there would be several of you reading this blog in total disbelief, utter confusion.

I have been maintaining a lie for the last 12 years of my life, and now, in order to ensure that this blog is a true and accurate account of my travels I confess the following...

On my first day at Secondary School I remember the delight of all my new school friends as ´The chocolate trolley´ did the rounds at breaktime. While everyone battled with elbows high to buy Wildlife Bars, Boosts and Astros, I announced to my new friends that I didn´t really like chocolate that much. My announcement was met with shock and horror... How could anyone not like chocolate?

For the next seven years at the Herts and Essex High School I was the girl who didn´t like chocolate.

(Laura, I´m so sorry)

But, I will now confess that I do actually like chocolate. Don´t get me wrong, I prefer sweeties, that´s no lie.

What was I thinking? Why did I do it? Well, at that age I always wanted to be different. I was listening to Oasis when everyone was still listening to Boyzone, I was wearing a Tommy Hilfiger sweater while everyone else was wearing Adidas sweaters, and yes I was saying I didn´t like chocolate when everyone else was indulging in the delights of Cadbury. I guess it was just another way that I wanted to be different.

God, this blog really has become warts and all hasn´t it?

It hasn´t been easy maintaining this lie for the last twelve years, and believe me it was a relief to get to uni and undo this lie with my new uni friends and enjoy the delights of a chocolate fondue. But going through school there never was a right moment to retract my feelings about chocolate. Thelie just stuck. Until now of course.

To my friends who would buy me a bag of sweets at easter instead of a cream egg, I am sorry. I hope you are all laughing your heads off at me as you read this, seriously, depriving myself of chocolate throughout high school was the most stupid thing I ever did. And, I never got to try the chocolate pudding they served on a Friday, I missed out!

So this is the point where this blog becomes a Chocolate diary... Enjoy it!

Quila Quina, 26 June 2009

San Martin de los Andes is in the Lake District area of Argentina (incidentally Pucon was in the Lake District of Chile - don´t think I mentioned that before) and San Martin de los Andes is on the banks of Lake XXX. We decided that we would take the short boat trip across the lake to the Peninsula of Quila Quina and explore the forest and parkland there.

The boat ride was really pleasant and as we crossed the lake we realised just how enormous the lake actually was. We were also the only ones on the boat! Again, we would have a park all to ourselves (if you remember we had Park Huerquehue to ourselves when we were in Pucon).

We reached Quila Quina and with the help of a map near the jetty we worked out our route around the forest.

I say forest, it wasn´t really much of forest, more of a wood.

It was such a lovely pleasant day to wander around the lake through lovely woods. There were some gorgeous red berry trees that looked so pretty and we took lots of photos of spindly trees. The beaches around the peninsula were lovely pebbly beaches which were perfect for skimming stones (William, you would love it!) and we found a perfect spot to enjoy our picnic lunch.

As we were walking through one bit of wood we saw what I at first thought was a unicorn. Seriosuly, this place had a magical feel and would have been a perfect place for a unicorn to be! Anyway, it was just a white horse, but it was a beautiful white horse and the way that the light fell on it through the trees was truly magical.

We explored the park for around 4 hours before we caught the boat back to San Martin. On the boat we met two Argentinian women who delighted in talking to Jess and I, the only foreign tourists in San Martin. They were incredibly sweet.

When we got back to San Martin it was Siesta time, and everything was closed until 5pm! Seriously the siesta in San Martin was 12 til 5! Insane! So we went and grabbed a hot drink and wiled away the afternoon people-watching from the inside of a toasty warm cafe.

When in Argentina... EAT MEAT! 25 June 2009

Whilst we were in Pucon Jess and I had cooked dinner in the hostel every night, but we hadn´t actually cooked any meat. So feeling a little meat-deprived we decided that on our first night in Argentina we would treat ourselves to some famous Argentinian meat.

The owner of our hostel gave us a recommendation for his favourite Meat Restaurant in town and he recommended that we should try a Mixed Parilla so that we could savour Argentina´s finest culinary delights.

We reached the restaurant at 7.30 only to discover that it didn´t open till 8pm. Seriously, 8pm! We wandered around hungry for half an hour in the cold, and were then the first customers when the restaurant finally opened its doors.

The order of the night was the Mixto Parilla (mixed grill) and a bottle of Malbec.

The wine was poured into two enormous glasses (which made us feel very sophisticated) and tostadas with veal pate were brought out to the table. Oh my god the veal pate was beautiful, it certainly set the standard for what was to come.

Then it came. Our dinner. A massive grill FILLED with stacks of meat. OH. MY. GOD. It was a meatlover´s heaven and a vegetarian´s hell. Jess and I dug in.

The parilla was mixed and all the different types of meat were traditional local favourites. The ribs were great, the steak was great... and then it came to the other delights... blood sausage, intestines, and all manner of other bits and pieces of dead animal.

As I put the piece of intestine into my mouth it was enough to turn me veggie... but by this point I had already devoured too much meat to turn back. It wasn´t the tastiest thing I´ve ever eaten, but it wasn´t as bad as it could have been. The blood sausage on the other hand... well that was truly delightful. I can´t believe it but it was so tasty. There were several other meaty bits on the parilla and they also tasted great.

By the end of the meal my meat cravings had been satisfied and my first experience with Argentinian meat had been a good one.

Christmas, 25 June 2009

Arriving in San Martin de los Andes was like arriving into the ultimate Christmas town.

Around the small town were snowcapped mountains and all the buildings and houses looked like Swiss log chalets. The lights inside the shops were amber and there were log fires inside all the stores. Every other shop in the town was a Choclateria with window displays filled with chocolate snowmen, snow flakes and snow scenes. It was so pretty.

My First Border Crossing Chile/Argentina, 25 June 2009

Jess and I were up really early today to make our first South American border crossing into Argentina. After saying fond farewells to the lovely Felipe and Gloria at the Treehouse we found our way to one of Pucon´s many bus stops.

On the bus we were greeted with a cup of coffee and a biccie! Fab times.

The bus set off and we were on our way to Argentina.

People had mentioned to me in Santiago that it was illegal to carry fruit between Argentina and Chile... Jess and I had a banana and apple each in our food bag. We had intended to eat the fruit en route to the border but we reached the border quicker than we anticipated, so as the bus driver ushered us into the immigration office, Jess and myself were in a panic about our fruit.

As we stood in the queue with our fellow bus passengers the bus was searched by security. Jess and I spoke to each other out of the corner of our mouths and hatched a plan... we would plead ignorance. We did know that you weren´t supposed to carry fruit between countries, but we would play up the role of the ignorant gringo and mumble in broken spanish that we were sorry ¨LO SIENTO¨.

As the queue moved on slowly I examined the walls... There was only one poster... Only NEW fishing equipment could be used in Chile to stop the spread of some virus that was common in Argentina. Hmmm... if it really was illegal to carry fruit, surely there would be a poster to illustrate this.

I searched all the walls but there was no sign warning people off from carrying fruit.

Once we were stamped out of Chile and stamped into Argentina we were back on the bus which had passed its security clearance.

We assumed that our fruit would have been confiscated, but when we returned it was where we left it.

How peculiar.

As the journey carried on to San Martin de los Andes, I consulted the Lonely Planet for advice on crossing borders in South America with fruit. There,in a black and white I read that you could not take fruit into Chile, but nowhere did it mention that taking fruit into Argentina was illegal. Oops, maybe I should have double checked this before we crossed the border, it would have saved a lot of panic. It was a teeny tiny bit disappointing though, we had titled ourselves fruit-mules, and we had to lose that title when we found out we hadn´t actually been doing anything illegal.

As for the journey, it was very beautiful to cross the Andes and see the snow topped mountains all around.

It´s gunna be an epic one... 16 July 2009

Right now I´m in the village of San Ignacio Mini in Argentina. I arrived here last night and checked into a single room in a super-cheap but super-lush hotel. This morning I did the tourist attractions of this small village, and now, after my siesta (I´m such a Latino!) I´m going to wile away the rest of this wet and grey day on my blog. I should really have left to go to Iguazu this afternoon but I´m making the most of having a single room, a HOT shower and a heating unit... I washed all my undies last night and now they are drying. I can´t believe I´m staying somewhere just for the sake of clean undies! But by the time I return from the internet everything should be dry and clean so that I can continue on to Puerto Iguazu tomorrow. Woohoo... but for now... here come a blogging sesh of epic proportions! Enjoy! x

Sunday, 5 July 2009

That´s all folks for today...

I´ve not only spent today typing on my blog, but I also had a two hour MSN conversation with Gwil so my fingers have done a lot of typing and my eyes are now very tired. So, I´m going to head off and go for a walk. I´m still in Mendoza but I am leaving here this evening and heading to the city of Cordoba on the night bus.

I´ve updated you on all of Chile that I have seen so far, I didn´t really spend a great deal of time there as there wasn´t so much there that I wanted to do/see, but I will be heading back there after Bolivia to see the North of Chile. So next time I get on here and do some typing I´ll be telling you all about the incredible place that is Argentina.

Hopefully I´ll get this blog up to date at some point, i´d like to be more up to date with it but updating takes time and there are so many things here to keep me busy!

Lots of love to everyone who is still reading this thing!

A x

A midnight dip, 24 June 2009

Never ever did I think that I would find myself wearing my bikini, outside, in Chile, in the Winter, at 10pm... but I did.

I´ve just got back from Los Pezones Hot Springs close by to Pucon.

Jess, Nina and I headed there after we got back from our walk (Nina climbed Villarica today). It was so bizarre to be putting on a bikini at 8pm in the freezing cold, but as soon as we got into the first pool it was well worth it.

I´ve probably been cold since Perth. The last time I was actually warm was in Hong Kong. But tonight I was just so toasty. We took a bottle of vino with us and had a very relaxing evening chatting in the Hot Springs.

´We only tried two pools. The first was amazing at about 38 degrees and we stayed there for an hour before we made a quick dash for the hottest pool which was about 45 degrees. But this was just too hot and we spend most of the time sat on the rocks with jsut our legs in the water and we were still boiling hot! It was incredible and just what my muscles needed after two big days of walking! Bliss!

Oh my god... I´ve just climbed a Volcano, 23 June 2009

Yesterday I went into a few tour agencies to ask about climbing the Volcano this week. They were all a bit dubious and I didn´t really trust them. They gave me super cheap prices though to participate in the climb, but I just didn´t feel safe with these. I went to one more tour agent on my way home (the one that was recommended by my hostel). Aguaventura filled me with confidence right away. They said that tomorrow (today) would be a good day to climb the volcano. I asked if I could wait till Wednesday, but they told me I am better to do it on the first available opportunity which would be tomorrow rather than risk a turn in the weather. The weather was looking good and the prospect of raching the top was promising. The guys in the shop showed me the equipment and I was happy to hand a bit more money over to these guys. I was measured up for my kit and given all the pre-climb information.

I woke up this morning really early. To be honest I didn´t really sleep much. I had booked to climb a volcano that I still had not seen from the town, but that I had heard was steep and hellish. What was I thinking?

I made my way to the tour operators and they assured me that the volcano was good for climbing. I put all my gear on in the shop and packed up my bag filled with crampons, waterproof trousers, snow pick, back protector and helmet. I was scared as I packed my bag. What did I need a snow pick for? Was a helmet really necessary? What on earth had I let myself in for?

There was only me and one other guy on the trip but three members of staff from the tour agency came along as well as our two volcano guides.

It wasn´t until the minibus pulled up at the base of the Volcano that I saw VIllarica for the first time. It didn´t look that big. But it did look steep at the top.

I could see smoke billowing from the top of the volcano and got really excited. In a few hours I would be at the top of this active volcano looking out across the surrounding countryside.

The prospect of the walk was no longer a fear for me, it was going to take 5 hours to reach the summit we were told. The only thing that bothered me was the snow. I have never hiked in snow before and the volcano was covered in snow from top to bottom.

I have never seen so much snow in my life it was everywhere. But we put our bags on and we were off.

To be honest I got the impression that the other guys thought I wasn´t up to the climb. I was determined to show them otherwise.

It was a nice walk to begin with. It was a steady climb and the snow was not too deep.

But then the snow got deeper. Every step I took I sunk down to my knees. It still wasn´t steep at this point, but it was hard work with the deep snow. Moving through the snow was like climbing up really deep steps. I could really feel my muscles working but I was having a great time. The guys all looked on to make sure I was ok, but there I was battling on in spite of the snow with a smile on my face. I would show them!

The snow was a pristine white colour and we were the first group moving up the volcano.

We took frequent breaks which was a good thing so that we didn´t over do it. Half way up two of the guys from the tour agency decided to stop, they were tired and couldn´t hack it any more! Ha! And there they were expecting me to be the first to stumble and fall! I felt smug and as we walked away leaving them to make their own way down I was satisfied with myself.

After a while it started to get steeper. This wasn´t too bad at first and I continued to climb at a steady pace.

But then after 4 hours of hiking I was knocked with a blow. I thought we were on the final ascent to the summit and was super disappointed to discover it was a fake summit and that there was still a long way to go. My leg muscles were really starting to feel the burn and my motivation was starting to plummet. I kept thinking that I´ve never been beaten by a trek either on my Duke of Edinburgh or when I was trekking in Morocco. But I was able to justify the difficulties that I was facing by telling myself that this was the first time I had ever trekked in snow, and therefore it was going to be harder than anything I had ever done before. It was worse than running on sand. I kept on going but I was slower than the remaining members of my group. One of the guides, Felipe, hung back for me and kept asking me ´Que Pasa?´ What Happened? It was hurting, and it was getting steeper, that´s what had happened. He was really sweet and kept me going. I kept going because I´m too stubborn to give up. The snow got really hard and icy and we had to kick our feet into the snow to make footholes. The snow made this climb the hardest climb I have ever undertaken in my life. Every few metres I would stop because I found it so difficult. I asked if i could put on my crampons but Felipe said it wouldn´t be safe. So i carried on kicking out foot holes in the snow. I marched on and on like a trooper. By this point however I was miles behind the rest of the group. It was only my stubborness that was keeping me going and my body was really struggling.

Then I remembered Mick Clegg and our discussion about positive thinking and motiviation. With Mick in my head I found a new lease of energy and my motivation was back. The rest of my group and the other tour groups were having a break further up the mountain side and with my new energy I powered up the side of the volcano to join them and raring to take on the rest of the Volcano until I reached the top!

When Felipe and I joined the group I was so disappointed to discover that all the guides from all the tour groups had decided that it was too dangerous to climb to the top. It was the middle of the day, the sun was really bright and strong and the ice was starting to get wet and slippy. The guides deemed it unsafe to climb any higher.

In total the volcano is 2840m. We reached 2400m.

I was so gutted. I´d hit my wall, but I´d struggled on and broken through it and I wanted to reach the top. I was really upset as I was so charged to climb higher.

Felipe could tell I was sad and told me to turn around. For the first time i turned to see the view 2400m up on Villarica VOlcano. It was incredible. There was a bit of cloud but that made the view all the more dramatic. It was so fantastic that I definitely shed a few tears.

As I took in and savoured the view I was sad that I wouldn´t reach the top, but satisfied in the knowledge that I had the energy and the motivation to keep on going right up to the top.

I ate a sandwich and took some photos before we made our way down.

It had been a steep climb and the thought of walking back down would have been horrible, but we didn´t walk back down. Oh no. We SLEDGED back down.

In my bag I had a plastic round circle with a handle and this was key to getting back down. This was the best fun ever.

I had to use my ice pick to control the speed. And Felipe made me do emergency stops which involved rolling on to my front and stabbing the pick axe into the snow as a brake. There was no need for the emergency stops but they were jsut as fun as the sledging itself. Hanging on a steep slope from a pick axe was very very cool.

Felipe and I even did tandem sledging which took us down the hill even faster.

I´ve done some good sledging in my life, but this really was the best sledging ever! Watching the incredible views as I slid down was incredibly cool.

It was a long day of hiking and I was glad to get back to the hostel and chill out on the sofa. Jess even had dinner ready for me.

When I got back I had a text from mum and dad saying that had just been for a lovely two hour walk along the cliffs in Saundersfoot to Tenby. I wrote back telling them that I had just climbed 2400m of an active volcano, in the snow for eight hours. I think I won on that one!