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Published: October 12th 2016
Hello family, friends and fellow bloggers! Our first entry abroad comes from Buenos Aires, where we arrived yesterday after nearly a week on the road.
Last week we had the chance to enjoy some final home comforts before we set off with both sets of parents and in laws, including a walk up the Grand Union Canal, a pub dinner, a final pint of IPA and some home made chocolate cake (thank you Lyn - we will miss these!). After some last minute resolving of a broken iPhone, a small flood in our bathroom and saying all of our goodbyes, after the longest of 10 month countdowns, we were finally ready to go...
A long but very comfortable flight saw us arrive mid-evening for an overnight stay in Rio, to one of the most shiny and modern airports you'll ever see. Straight away however, something felt odd: the airport was completely bereft of any other passengers. A huge duty free, and a plethora of designer outlets were all open and waiting for customers, but there just wasn't anyone there to shop in them. We later heard that more than $570m was spent on redeveloping this airport alone, as one of the major infrastructure projects ahead of the Olympic fortnight in August. The IOC bandwagon has now private-jetted out of town, leaving behind a set of defunct but impressive facilities, alongside 1.4 million people still living in poverty in ramshackle housing in the city's 'favelas' (shanty towns). It continues to be a tragedy that the good and the great of worldwide sporting administrations are lured by cash and corruption to award places like this major events, ignoring an ambivalent and non-enthused local population desperate to see a fairer distribution of investment to support the city's real issues. Off the high horse I climb...
Onwards from Rio we headed south to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. With near total literacy and minimal corruption, Uruguay ranks with Chile as the most stable country in Latin America, but also the smallest, with the exception of Surinam. Flying overhead, the landscape was lush and green with gently rolling hills, and very much comparable to parts of the UK. Some car hire hassle with Avis aside, we spent our time in the capital strolling around its grand but faded streets, squares and parks, going on a run along the river promenade, and even bumping into a pavement dancing club with a dozen elderly couples dancing the Tango more eloquently than we could ever hope to! We also enjoyed eating a fair amount of meat, or 'asados' - a type of BBQ - as they're locally known. For a country boasting more cattle per capita than anywhere else in the world, could we do much else?! In a packed marketplace near the port, rival asados compete for your custom and we enjoyed a full grill alongside a bottle of Tannat, the leading Uruguayan red that is beginning to be seen in Europe.
A real highlight of Montevideo was visiting Estadio Centenarrio, the national stadium which was built to host the first football World Cup in 1930. Incredible to think that the nation won two out of the first four. Today the stadium looks like it hasn't seen redevelopment since that first World Cup success, with rusty barbed wire separating stands, crumbling concrete seats and heaps of uncleared litter from the international held there a few days before.
The car hire confusion instead saw us take a 2 hour bus ride west upstream of the Rio de la Plata - the widest river in the world - to the middle of the countryside, where we stayed on a farm run by a passionate and charming Uruguayan couple (passionate in more ways than one - but that's another story). There we ate more beef, went on a couple of short hikes, and enjoyed a morning of horse riding. Vicky looked the pro as she seems to at just about anything sporty, and despite the usual co-ordination and balance challenges, Dom managed to stay on. Great fun though, and given the pain still being experienced, evidently a solid workout for the abs and legs! We had a great time there, and a very positive Trip Advisor review followed.
Taking a bus from a nearby village, we carried on West towards Colonia del Sacramento, a Unesco world heritage site built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and conceded to Spain a century later. After walking the ancient streets and ascending a lighthouse, we said goodbye to Uruguay by having our last 'chivita' (a huge steak club sandwich) before getting on our ferry to Buenos Aires.
Having noticed all of the advertising boards switch from Suarez to Messi, we're here now until Saturday, when we will be flying south to El Calafate (landing in the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia for a quick stopover), to begin the trekking part of our leg in Patagonia...
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