Hello and welcome to the penultimate, Inspiring Around the World Travel Blog or IAtWTB for short. The travels are sadly coming to a close, and with only one month left, the focus of this edition will be on Argentina, the second largest country in South America.
The last blog ended with a visit to the salt flats in Bolivia, and it was from here that we travelled to the northern Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama. A dust bowl town, which had a certain charm about it, it was in San Pedro where we discovered a new love of ours, table tennis. Our first day in Chile saw us play pong for six hours, so we decided that the next day should be spent doing something productive, and we booked ourselves in for a dawn tour of the El Tatio Geysers, a two hour drive from San Pedro and 4300m above sea level. The geysers were an incredible sight, but I’m not sure that Tom or I truly appreciated there beauty, due to the minus twenty temperatures that greeted us. The tour had advertised breakfast though, so we were expecting some eggs and bacon, with a cup of tea to warm ourselves up, but were a tad disappointed when we were handed (cold) ham and cheese sandwiches, with a glass of OJ to wash them down. Our spirits weren’t dampened though, and we spent the next hour taking turns to play Matthew Kelly, as we re-enacted ‘Stars in their Eyes’ walking out of the geysers steam.
The next evening we decided to take a star gazing tour, where we travelled to the Atacama desert, and spent the evening staring into the night sky whilst our eccentric French astronomer tour guide, talked us through the constellations and whether aliens exist. An incredible evening was made complete when he brought out a hot chocolate for everyone. It was like liquid gold.
We left Chile on 21st July (my birthday, and our one hundredth day away), far better table tennis players than we had entered the country, travelling back into Bolivia, and the town of Tupiza. Reminiscent of the American Wild West, Tupiza had been the setting for Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid. In an attempt to recreate the film, but at the same time stay away from Brokeback Mountain territory, we decided to don our chaps, cowboy hats and shirts, and hired horses for two days. Neither Tom nor I had ridden a horse before, so I was looking forward to some clear instructions on how to control and navigate my trusty steed. Unfortunately our guide didn’t speak any English, so all instruction was given in Spanish, resulting in a pretty terrifying first day. I’d say at no point was I in control of Lucero or ‘Bitey’ as he soon became known. Despite making the kissy noise a lot, he seemed to go when he wanted and stop when he wanted, and at one point bit Tom on the leg when he tried to overtake (hence how he got his name). Although I was secretly pleased that he had bitten Tom, I decided the next day I needed to show Lucero who was boss, and should take the reins a bit more. By the end of our two days riding, we were pretty accomplished in the saddle and were even using cowboy language such as ‘you look a little lost there friend’ and ‘something must have spooked her.’ Before we left Tupiza, and crossed the border into Argentina, I thought it was a good time to get my final travelling haircut. Unfortunately the hairdresser didn’t speak a lot of English, so to compensate I found a photo of David Beckham in a magazine on the waiting room table. Despite walking out the hairdressers looking nothing like Becks, I felt I hadn’t really lost out, as it had cost me just £2.
Our first stop in Argentina was the northern town of Salta; from here we travelled down the country to the student city of Cordoba (it has seven universities). The plan had been to do a skydive there, but the weather wasn’t on our side and four days of overcast skies allowed us to hone our table tennis skills even more. Bizarrely, we were challenged to a game of ping pong (sorry to keep harking back to this) by a muscular, five foot tall Argentinian man who worked at the hostel. After we demolished him at table tennis, he challenged us all to arm wrestles. We let him win the arm wrestle, in an effort to enhance his self-esteem.
We left Cordoba on 31st July, and travelled west to the wine-making district of Argentina, Mendoza. 70% of the countries wine comes from the district, so we spent three days there trying to sample as much of it as possible. Renting a tandem bicycle, we set off with maps and cycled around the various vineyards, observing how the wine was produced, and being taught the correct ways to taste and ‘appreciate’ the wine. At one point we found ourselves in an olive oil factory, where Tom suddenly became a world expert in everything olives, answering every question fired at him by the guide. After drinking a few glasses of olive oil, we decided to move onto something a little stronger, and headed to an absinthe factory. Although not as strong as whiskey boliviano in Bolivia, it still did the job, and we were very merry on the way back on our bike, accompanied by our police escort.
Our penultimate stop was the capital, Buenos Aires. Our first experience in this bustling city was not a good one, a friend’s bag with her passport and wallet was stolen immediately after getting off the bus. Luckily the situation was resolved pretty quickly, and she went straight to the police station and then the embassy to get a new passport. I think they took extra sympathy on her, when she walked into the Australian embassy and asked ‘does anybody speak English?’ We tried to take in as much culture as possible whilst in B.A., going to the local markets in Recoleta where I have never seen such a vast collection of dream catchers, and animal tooth necklaces. One afternoon was spent in the Muse Nacional de BellasArtes, which I would like to say had been a planned excursion, but unfortunately was more of a backup activity as the zoo was closed. It would have been wrong to go Argentina and not sample the world famous steaks, so one evening we decided to go and splash some pesos at a steakhouse that had come highly recommended. I went for the T-bone, and it was over an inch thick. It was so good, I didn’t even need mayo or tomato ketchup to help wash it down, certainly a contender in the ‘best meal abroad’ category for the much anticipated travelling awards. Our final day in the capital saw us travel to the vibrant area of ‘La Boca’ or ‘the mouth’ as it translates. Being the ‘footy mad’ lads we are, we decided to take a tour of Boca Juniors stadium, the Bombonera, ‘the chocolate box.’ Unfortunately we were pushed for time, so couldn’t wait for the English tour, so we decided to see how far our Spanish had come in the last four months, by going for a Spanish guide. We came out of the tour knowing as much about Boca Juniors, as we had going in, knowing in our hearts that maybe we should have waited an hour and gone for the English option.
The final destination in Argentina saw us travel north to the border with Brazil, and see perhaps the greatest natural phenomenon of our trip, the waterfalls at Iguazu. The morning of our trip to the falls, the hostel provided us with the hearty breakfast of cake, probably my favourite breakfast of our travels, and something I’ll be trying to bring to the Livingstone household when I return home. We stopped off at an animal sanctuary for sick and injured animals on the way to the falls, where we had yet another classic case of the guide saying a lot in Spanish, and then turning to Tom and I and saying ‘some monkeys.’ Arriving at the falls mid-morning, we spent the day taking in the breath taking views of the national park. We decided to take a boat into the mouth of the falls, the Garganta de Diablo (the devils throat), where we were completely drenched, and began to laugh hysterically as we were so cold. I’d like to say it was a good view, but we were completely blinded by the water and spent the rest of the day trying to dry off.
That draws to a close yet another blog. Final edition coming soon, where the globetrotters enter Brazil (and Barcelona for one night!). Again, I’m still looking for Twitter followers so if you want updates from my life back on the coal face, follow @therealjonnyl.