We´re now in South America and loving it!
We flew from Auckland to Santiago on the 2nd April but arrived in Chile before we´d left New Zealand which wrecked our body clocks for a couple of days and it immediately became apparent that not knowing any Spanish could be a problem. We´d learnt a few phrases from a CD and book Jose had bought us but the first question threw us and we were only asked if we wanted rice! It also became clear very quickly that the transport costs given in our guide book had doubled....
Santiago is a big, busy, modern city but not that pretty. It was also covered in a thick layer of smog when we were there which was a real shame as it meant the Andes that loom over the city were hardly visible.
We stayed in Santiago for 2 nights and then caught a bus over the Andes into Argentina and to Mendoza. Thanks to our wedding present from Linda and David Snoswell we stayed in a brand new hotel and even had our own living room!
We´d met Pete and Juliet on the bus from Santiago and found we had
something in common.....we all wanted to rent a bike and get pissed at a few wineries the next day! We had brilliant sunshine, sampled plenty of the excellent local wine and the Falklands were only brought up once - we had a really fun day! We also really liked Mendoza itself, with it´s town squares, umpteen restaurants and relaxed feel.
We decided to splash out on our bus journey to Buenos Aires 4 days later and went 1st class. Brilliant and a must for at least one journey! Our big leather seats reclined 180 degrees, we had a choice of films on our own tv screens, a good meal, wine and bubbly!
Well we absolutely loved Buenos Aires! Gorgeous buildings, loads going on, mostly good weather, our hostel - the Art Factory - was great and we met some really cool and friendly people, and we had THE BEST STEAK EVER! We stayed for a couple of weeks, the longest we´ve been anywhere since we left England, and we could have stayed longer. The main reason for staying so long was the week long Spanish course we decided to do, which as well as being 100% helpful, was
great fun and gave us something completely different to do for a change. We´re certainly not great at Spanish (and we probably talk with Argentinian accents) but we can now get by more successfully than before which is all that matters. Our first weekend there was actually really cold (well, about 13 degrees so it felt bloody cold after 7 months of sun) but a bit of booze at the lively Sunday San Telmo market soon had that sorted. There were people dancing the tango, loads of musicians and even pianos on the street, antiques everywhere and much more. We also visited Recoleta and the famous cemetry which is home to Evita´s grave, and La Boca, an area known for it´s brightly painted buildings and street tango dancers. Buenos Aires is also known for having a great nightlife and many locals don´t even go out to eat until midnight. We weren´t that wild due to school but were proud of ourselves for staying out til 8am one night with friends Claire and Jonathan who we´d first met in Thailand.
The city was bizarrely clouded in smoke for a few days as fires started in the farmlands surrounding the city got
out of control. The smell was really strong aswell as flights being cancelled and roads closed.
Whilst in Buenos Aires we caught a ferry and went on a "city break" to Montevideo in Uruguay, thanks to Gav and Liz for this pressie. Montevideo is much smaller and less hectic than BA and the bin men even use horse and carts in the middle of the city! We had a good day seeing all the sights and sampling a couple of bottles of local vino tinto before heading to Colonia on the way back, a lovely, cobbled Mediteranean looking town next to the sea with golf buggies as hire cars and old bangers as plant pots (see picture)!
We reluctantly said goodbye to Buenos Aires but were excited to be flying to Ushuaia and the end of the world! We weren´t sure if we´d have adequate gear as we knew it was autumn but once we´d bought some thermal undies we were fine! And it was a lovely time of year to be there, freezing but the colours were gorgeous and although it had cost more we were so glad we flew in as the views were amazing. We
had really wanted to go on a boat trip along the Beagle Channel but it was either too windy or snowing so we didn´t make it but we enjoyed just being there, knowing that we were in the southernmost city in the world..... We made the most of some good weather and set off up a small mountain for the views but, as the weather there changes so frequently, it was no surprise that by the time we had climbed out through the forest all we could see was cloud and rain!
After Ushuaia we moved on to Puerto Natales, still in Patagonia, but in Chile. We´d had a short ferry ride as part of the journey where we saw a seal, a black and white dolphin and David swears he saw a couple of penguins and is not just saying it to wind me up! The main reason for going to Puerto Natales is to visit the stunning Torres del Paines National Park. We stayed with a lovely family in their home and as our hosts were both former guides and still rented out equipment, we toyed with the idea of camping but after a freezing walk round
town we changed our minds and bought ticktets for a day tour instead! We had a great day and the weather was as usual perfect for us. Although the tour is the easy option, it ensures you get to see all the best bits of the park in 1 day, and we saw llamas galore, rheas (like an ostrich), condors, foxes, flamingoes, lakes, icebergs, a glacier and of course the mountains and the towers (Torres). A couple of guys we met in Ushuaia were camping for a few nights so fingers crossed the weather and conditions stayed good for them.
After 3 nights with Solidad and her family we were back on the bus this time to El Calafate, back in Argentina. We were travelling with Nathalie and Lucien who we´d met in Ushuaia and again in Puerto Natales, so the 4 of us shared a dorm and the next day a rental car to the amazing Perito Moreno Glacier. We were really looking forward to it and weren´t disappointed. We all loved it and somehow managed to spend 5 hours just watching it (and trying to capture the odd moments where a chunk of ice would fall off
Fast food Argentinian style.
on camera!). We´d read that El Calafate wasn´t a pretty town but we really liked it. A lot of the roads were unpaved and there were stray, but friendly, dogs everywhere, but the main street was really pretty and resembled a town in the Alps.
We were then on the move again, 32 hours and 3 different coaches later and we had arrived in Bariloche, a big ski resort town. As with the other towns we´d been to, Bariloche is situated next to a lake and mountains.... (I think we´ve started getting a bit blase about the scenery!). We´d unknowingly timed our visit with the town´s birthday so got to see a big street parade, which included loads of fire engines, the local bikers and amazingly also the local chavs in their suped-up boy racers!, and fireworks, although we never found the advertised free chocolate! The next day we got a bus out of the city to climb up to Refugio Lopez, a walk recommended by the owner at our hostel who we later found out had never done it! We nearly didn´t make it all the way as the first hour or so was so steep Ruth nearly
gave up, but we perservered and were rewarded with fantastic views. We had to trek another 5km at the bottom to catch the bus but we´d had a good day.
After Bariloche it was another mammoth bus session, 40 hours in total, north to Salta. The bus we first got on had come up from the south and was full of ash due to a volcano in Chile having erupted so after a while we changed buses and set off again. Yesterday our hostel booked us onto a free tour of the local Salta brewery, which was great fun and especially interesting for David, but even better were the goody bags containing several cans of beer.....result! We´re still in Salta at the moment and are going out for steak tonight, recommended by the couple we ate brilliant steak with in Buenos Aires so we´re expecting... THE BEST STEAK EVER!!!
Tomorrow night we leave for Bolivia ...... It will be sad to leave Argentina as we´ve had a brilliant time here but we´ve got lots to look forward to.
Hope you´re all well.
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