Au revoir South America

1 03 2010

I got a bit involved with Facebook and chatting to people on MSN and Skype that I didn’t worry too much about getting to airport 3-hours before the flight as preferred by the airlines.  My complacency came back to bite me on the arse though when the taxi didn’t turn up for 45-minutes after the original estimate of 15 minutes: the traffic in Buenos Aires was horrendous.

The trip to the airport took even longer too because there was a burning car on the main highway which was caused even more traffic. Once we finally got to the airport the machine refused to give the remise driver a ticket so that he could exit the airport afterwards. Finally someone came over and reset the gate so he could get his ticket.

I was one of the last passengers to check-in but I passed through security and immigration quite smoothly so I got to the gate long before it was boarding. I was on my way home to Europe for a brief respite before continuing my travels again.

Nearing the end

28 02 2010

I switched on the telly in the morning and after watching Completely Neurotic News for a few minutes we finally discovered why everyone was panicking so much about the earthquake – 8.8 on the Richter Scale and tsunami warnings all over the world. 300 people were already dead but the newsreader cheerily informed us that Hawaii was okay. I decided to charge my phone a bit and saw some messages from my sister and Sue so I quickly sms’ed them back to let them know that I was okay and that where I was in Argentina was quite a way away from the epicentre in Chile.

The breakfast at the hotel was really good – probably the best that I’d had all trip – although considering it was only the second time I’d stayed in a 4-star hotel in South America that was probably understandable. I was also finally able to use the hotel WiFi in the restaurant and responded to a few more panicked messages on Facebook.

After checking out we wandered around Salta for ages looking for the hostel that Jola had decided to stay in for the night. It turned out to be full so we made another long trek to one of the sister hostels instead. After Jola dropped her bags off we had a last drink together in the main square and then went back to the hotel to pick up my bag and head off to the airport. Jola and I said our final goodbyes and then it was time to go.

Last look at Salta

I got to the airport an hour and a half beforehand which I thought was way over the top for a domestic flight but it was probably only just enough time. Lan’s computer systems were hosted in Santiago and were currently down due to earthquake damage so the whole check-in process was being done manually.

After a pretty uneventful flight I arrived in Buenos Aires where I took a regular taxi back to the Tango Inn hostel in San Telmo where we’d nearly stayed a week beforehand. Fortunately they had a bed so I checked in. Once on Facebook I arranged to meet Sandra later, a German girl who used to go to Proef, my local bar in Amsterdam. She was learning Spanish in Buenos Aires for a bit. I chatted briefly to one of my dorm-mates and then headed down to the basement bar for a few beers. Whilst there I chatted to a group of English girls who were hanging out with two local Argentine guys. One of them didn’t speak any English so I can’t imagine that he was enjoying himself much.

After a while I left to go and meet Sandra. We’d arranged to meet just down the road from me at a jazz bar called Guebara on Calle Humberto. It was less than four blocks from my hotel but I was still accosted by a drunk, high man who wanted to sell me coke and, when I said I didn’t want any, he wanted me to give him some money for beer. After refusing this request I walked on, hearing his angry voice shouting behind me. It was first real encounter with the darker side of Buenos Aires and I decided that I’d definitely get a taxi back.

We both got to the bar around the same time but it still looked quite quiet so we went to the neighbouring Plaza Dorrego and had a Heineken. I found it a bit surreal that two ex-Amsterdam expats were sitting in a square in the middle of Buenos Aires drinking Dutch beer. We had a chat about the people back home and all the changes that had happened to Proef (now technically called Golem) and then headed off to Guebara. The music was pretty good and there were a lot of people in there so it was a nice vibe. After a drink there (Waarsteiner I think – clearly there was going to be no local beers drunk that evening), we headed off. Sandra and I shared a taxi and I got out at my hostel where I had a few more beers in the basement bar before heading off to bed for my last night in Argentina.

Salt flats, earthquakes and jacuzzis

27 02 2010

We’d planned to get up much earlier but I think the multiple bus journeys of the last few days had tired us out more than we expected. Jola’s phone kept going off with lots of panicked smses about some earthquake in Chile. We asked the hotel owner if he knew anything about the terremoto in Chile but he shrugged his shoulders with a look that said, “Who cares what happens in Chile?”

We put our bags in storage on the street by the bus stop and found a minibus heading to Salinas Grandes. The whole trip would take about 3 hours. There was a big crowd of guys from Buenos Aires on the bus; another woman from BA, Marta, and her French friend who also spoke Spanish. Jola and I were therefore the only people on the bus who didn’t really speak Spanish. We took quite a windy road as high up as 4170m and then descended down towards the on the salt flats. The scenery was very dramatic with lots of rugged mountains all around but nothing could compare to the sheer whiteness and vastness of the flats themselves. It was really hot so I joined the BA guys in divesting my T-shirt and effectively sunbathing on the flats.

Me at the salt flats

The bus back to Purmamarca was lots of fun – everyone was singing along with lots of Spanish songs. When we got back to town we went to lunch with Marta and the French girl (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten). After lunch we headed around the market to buy some souvenirs and then headed to the bus stop. Unfortunately the bus depot (along with our rucksacks) was closed so we just had to hope that he’d come back in time for the next bus so that we could buy our tickets and get our stuff. Fortunately he did.

The bus to Jujuy was also quite basic. As we were loading our bags into the boot I managed to whack the bag boy around the head which, when I also didn’t have any small change to tip him with, probably pissed him off even more. Once again I really worried about whether our bags would arrive at our destination. Halfway through the police boarded the bus – I’m never really sure what they’re looking for – and looked through the luggage hold, I began to worry even more that some corrupt copper had removed our bags from the bus so that he could rifle through them in his own time.

As we pulled into Jujuy we saw lots of people celebrating carnival and throwing flour and water over each other. Originally we were going to stay in Jujuy for the night but Marta had really slated the place so we decided to see if there was a bus to Salta instead. There was one within 10 minutes at 20:00 so we quickly booked ourselves on it and jumped back on a bus. Since it would be our last night as travel companions we decided to blow the budget a little and celebrate by staying in a four-star hotel instead of a hostel.

After looking up some options in the Footprint guide (for some reason the Lonely Planet on a Shoestring doesn’t include the more opulent options) we eventually found ourselves at Ayres de Salta Hotel. You could feel the sneers from the hotel staff as they looked down on us scruffy backpackers. Jola is an aquaphile so even though it was almost midnight she decided that we should hang out at the roof terrace pool.

We also decided that we should get a bottle of champagne to celebrate the end of our travels together. Having looked at the exorbitant price of the tiny bottles in the mini bar I went downstairs to ask if there was an off-license in the neighbourhood. The concierge told me that it was too late for such places but I decided to ignore his advice and wandered back into the hotel 5 minutes later with a bottle of Argentinian sparkling wine under my arm that I’d found less than a block and a half from the hotel.

We got up to the pool but there were no towels and we thought there might be more lights so I went down to reception again and the guy arranged to bring us some towels up. There was no additional lighting in the pool, however. Whilst he was there he asked us if we wanted the jacuzzi filled up to which we of course replied in the affirmative and after a lot of rummaging around in a weird basement under the decking the jacuzzi started filling up. He told us it would be full in half an hour but not to use it before then.

After a few laps of the very cold pool we got into the jacuzzi which was lovely and warm, and we sat drinking the champagne whilst looking out over the city of Salta. It was a fine end to our travels together. After a while we tried switching on the jacuzzi but it didn’t seem to work. Also the water level kept on increasing and started to slosh over the side into the basement below. I also thought I could smell burning. Eventually I had to telephone reception (the real conversation was longer):

“Hi. I’m in the swimming pool and the jacuzzi is overflowing”
“The swimming pool is closed, sir”
“But I’m in the swimming pool”
“It’s closed, sir”
“Anyway, the-jacuzzi-is-overflowing”, I said, as slowly as possible.
“I’m sorry, sir, I do not understand what you mean”
“Agua to dos”
“I don’t understand you, sir. I shall send the concierge up”

After some time the concierge came up and turned the pump off and then informed us that the jacuzzi wasn’t actually working which was why we couldn’t get any bubbles in the water. As he locked up the basement door he managed to drop the keys for it between the slats of the decking back into the basement. I’m not sure what he said in Spanish but I’m sure it was “Whoops!” We all laughed a lot.

After we’d finished the bottle of wine we headed back to the room for some much-needed sleep.

Reconstructed Inca ruins

26 02 2010

On the morning we headed into the main square of Humahuaca to have a quick look around the town that we’d not really seen yet and Jola also wanted to get some cash out. Unfortunately her card didn’t work in the machine there (it seems to be a quite common phenomena that your card only works in certain machines). We then hopped on a small bus to Tilcara just down the road. Someone at breakfast had told us that the “Inca” ruins there were well worth visiting.

Town centre of Humahuaca

Because the guide-book told us that the ruins didn’t open until 4 o’clock we dropped off our bags at a luggage storage place at the bus station and spent our time wandering around the local markets and an interesting cemetery. After killing some time we went and got some lunch – it was possibly the best yet. I had some llama stew and I think Jola had a salad that was really fresh – unlike the rest of Argentina the lettuce was green!

After our lunch we headed up the hill to the Inca ruins of Pucará de Tilcara. In the market just outside the ruins Jola bought a new bombilla (straw) for her mate gourd (for some strange reason when she left her gourd behind in Córdoba she also left the straw behind). It turned out that the ruins were open all day so we hadn’t needed to wait for so long before going there. We even bumped into the people from our hostel on the way who’d recommended it to us – the guy was going there for the second time. Jola and I were deeply disappointed, however, because it turned out that it was a monument built sometime late last century dedicated to the archaeology team that had been investigating the Inca ruins. Also the nearby houses had been built in the 1960’s.

Pucará de Tilcara

Afterwards we got on a really small local bus to Purmamarca. Since we’d paid so little for the bus ticket we couldn’t really see why the bag boy should get a tip but I worried that our bags wouldn’t actually be on the bus for most of the way there. The bus seemed to stop all over the place and at one point I thought we were the only gringos on the bus but I noticed a couple more as we got off at our destination.

There isn’t really a bus station at Purmamarca: it’s just a little street leading to the town centre. The town centre itself is literally one square with a few streets leading off it. The whole town sits in the shadow of Cerro de Siete Colores (the seven-coloured mountain) and is really quite cute. We headed to the tourist information centre and he marked lots of places to stay on the map but most of them were either expensive 4-star establishments or hostels that were such dives that even the cockroaches wouldn’t stay there (and that for a price of more than 90 pesos). Another guy showed us a place that we could stay at but it was effectively his house so it was a bit dubious. After wandering around for an hour we were just about to go back to one of the places that had offered us a room for 120 pesos (and wasn’t prepared to negotiate even though it was late in the day and there were unlikely to be any other customers coming through) when we bumped into a guy who gave us a card for a hotel that offered us an en-suite room for less.

Unfortunately when we got back to his hotel there was no one there and we couldn’t get in. We were just about to give up on that too when suddenly he turned up and showed us the room. It was by far the best and most reasonable option that we had seen so far so we were very pleased. After grabbing a shower we headed out to the main square where we had arranged to meet Lea and Rachela the previous day. They didn’t show up so it is possible that they had struggled to find reasonably priced accommodation too and given up on Purmamarca and headed further afield.

Jola and I found a cheap restaurant just off the main square and had our first tamales and humitas. It was good food but I think we were the only customers there for the whole evening. The town seemed deserted even though we were expecting some carnival celebrations somewhere. As such we headed back and called it a night.

The killer sheep of Humahuaca

25 02 2010

The breakfast at the hostel was pretty dire: the toasted bread looked like it had been there a few days already. I headed off to the Lan office and they still couldn’t access the flights for the Sunday so I started walking back to the hostel. Whilst I was walking I suddenly wondered about changing my return flight to Europe and headed back once more to Lan to see if they could sort that out. On my return visit though the original flight suddenly became available and after an ineffable amount of typing she printed out my booking: I had an extra day in North-West Argentina!

I rushed back to the hostel and we headed to the bus station at a frenetic pace. Unfortunately I’d chosen to wear my flip-flops that day and could barely keep up with Jola. Luckily the bus to Humahuaca was not leaving at 10 as we thought; but 10:30 so we had time to spare. The bus journey passed pretty much without incident and we spent a lot of it chatting to a really nice Spanish guy.

When we got to Humahuaca it felt like we were in a different country. A lot of the houses were made of mud bricks and some of the people were had big broad hats on. As recommended by the LP and the guy from the hostel the night before, we checked into the Posada del Sol: it was a really, really cute place although once again not really much like a hostel. The surrounding landscape looked Martian with red mountains all around. After we’d dropped off our bags we decided to take the short trek to the peña blancas. We initially walked the wrong direction and ended up in the town. Whilst there Jola managed to pick up a new mate gourd and a neck scarf (which the woman then told her would look great on a table). Newly attired in her table ornamentation, we headed back past our hostel towards the mountains.

On the walk there a sheep was being really friendly with us, almost acting like a dog and allowing us to pet it. As we walked away I think she got annoyed that we were no longer paying it any attention: I felt her licking the back of my leg and before I knew it I felt a pain in my calf as she latched her incisors into my flesh. The sheep had actually drawn blood. We went back to the hostal again so that I could get some antiseptic cream and Jola could give me some homoeopathic medicine which according to her would probably stop rabies.

Jola wearing a table cloth with the sheep wot bit me

We then finally headed up the hill into the peña blancas. The scenery was spectacular and lots of strange cacti abounded. Whilst standing on top of one of the hills we got chatting to Lea (German living in Italy) and Rachela (Peruvian). They’d met up on their travels and were heading North to Lima together. We arranged to meet up with them in the square later on for dinner.

Views of the peña blancas

As we left for the centre it started tipping it down with rain but neither of us had brought any coats with us so we got quite wet. We met up with the girls in the main square and headed around the corner to a nearby cafe. I had the menu of the day but I can’t really remember what it was now. We then all ordered coca tea – it was the first time I’d had it. I think it tastes better than mate but it will never become my favourite beverage.

Lea and Rachela at dinner

After I’d drunk it, Rachela read my fortune with the leaves. She asked me to specify what was most important: Money, Health or Love. I went for Health, Love and Money in that order. I wonder if those would have been my priorities a year ago. I was quite pleased with the reading – the answers were what I wanted to hear. After a while the rain stopped and we all headed back to our hostels having arranged to meet the next day in Purmamarca by the church (we assumed there would be a church there somewhere).

Salta and vinegar

24 02 2010

We arrived in Salta about two hours behind schedule. I’m not really sure why but we seemed to stop off at every two-horse town en route. We went to one of the hostels recommended by the guidebooks but they couldn’t put us up in the main hostel and we instead ended up in the annex building which didn’t feel like part of the hostel and felt more like a hotel.

We dropped our bags off and then wandered over to the main square to get some lunch. We then meandered across to the Museo de Antropolgia de Salta (Salta anthropology museum). There were no signs in English so I felt like we missed out on quite a bit – although one guy there was playing all the native instruments which sounded awesome.

Salta beer

Just as we left the museum, a downpour started so we quickly dashed back and cowered in the lobby but when the rain showed no sign of relenting we decided to head out into the deluge. Once again we got absolutely drenched. I still needed to try and arrange my transport back to Buenos Aires and Jola needed a bus to San Pedro de Atacama on the Monday (they didn’t go everyday).

I first investigated a flight with Aerolineas Argentinas since if I flew back to BA it would give us an extra day’s travelling. Unfortunately they were fully booked. I then bought a bus ticket but had second thoughts whilst still in the office and cancelled it and decided to try Lan for a flight instead. They had availability and even though it was more than twice as much as the bus I decided it was worthwhile given the amount of time it saved (2 hours flying on the Sunday instead of 21 hours on the bus on the Saturday). Unfortunately just as she tried to book it someone put a temporary hold on all the available flights and I couldn’t book it. I agreed with the travel agent to come back the next day and hopefully they’d be available again.

We walked down the main street looking for a tour to take us to the Salinas Grandes and were considering booking it but because it meant I wouldn’t be able to make it to the Lan office for the next day we decided to try the trip independently. Maybe we’d be able to sort something out if we headed up North to the nearby town of Purmamarca.

Jola decided that she couldn’t face eating out and decided to cook so we grabbed some pasta and vegetables and headed back to the main hostel to cook it. I don’t think Jola was very pleased with my appreciation of her food but being a devout carnivore and missing any sort of sauce it didn’t rock my boat that much but it was nutritious enough . Whilst there we chatted to one of the staff at the hostel – who gave us lots of tips of where to go and where to stay (we decided to head to Humahuaca the next day) – and also a really friendly Finnish girl. Apart from that though the hostel seemed quite dead – although we never made it up to the main bar: perhaps that’s where everyone was. Eventually we headed back to the annex building to get some sleep.

Drink met mate

23 02 2010

In the morning Jola went and bought some mate (with a hint of peppermint) for her gourd but then discovered that she’d prepared it incorrectly overnight. Instead of steeping it just in hot water you were also supposed to put some tea in it and leave it overnight. The mate gourd was therefore ruined and she needed to get a new one. The ongoing quest for the mate gourd was back on!

Since we’d barely seen anything of Córdoba the previous day Jola and I decided to head into town. We were diverted a bit by an art museum just near the hostel. The collection was quite varied: including traditional portraits and landscapes, modern art and a rather freaky series of paintings apparently where there were naked women being tortured by evil-looking inquisitors.  We were already hungry so we decided to head to a parrilla where we had two different types of steak, some fries and a salad between us. It was way too much food but at least it set us up for the day.

On the way back from the river the previous night we’d past a “cursed” church where they’d not finished one of the towers because of something had happened whilst they were building it (not sure what). Jola was determined that we had to find this church (even though we didn’t know what it was called) so we wandered around seemingly every single church we could find on the map (and there are a lot in Córdoba) to no avail.

One of the many churches in Córdoba - this one unfortunately had all its spires

Eventually Jola decided that she’d have a go at navigating and, true to form, she got us completely lost in the main shopping streets; where surprisingly there was a distinct absence of places of worship. (Unless you’re like Becky and worship high-end shoe stores).

Eventually we gave up trying to find the church and headed back to the hostel to get ready to leave. Foxy regaled me with a few tales of his sexual conquests (despite his direct approach he’d managed to snog Clare the previous night; although they were barely speaking to each other now) and then it was time to say goodbye to everyone. I was especially sad to say goodbye to Rory and Foxy although there was a vague possibility that I’d meet up with Rory again later on since he was travelling for quite a while.

We headed off to the bus station with an hour to spare but Jola was still stressing even though it was only a 15 minute walk. Since Córdoba was a much smaller bus station than Retiro it was a lot less scary but Jola was unable to relax until our bus turned up and we loaded our bags ready for our overnight trip to Salta.

Swimming in Córdoba

22 02 2010

I woke up as we were coming into Córdoba feeling surprisingly refreshed considering I’d just spent the night sleeping on a bus. We met up with Rory again as we waited to get our bags and decided to head into the bus terminal for a coffee to work out what hostel to stay in.

After consulting the Lonely Planet and Footprint we decided on the Tango Inn hostel (seems to be a common name in Argentina). It was quite a walk from the bus station but since it was really nice weather and it was still early in the morning we decided to walk there. Before we left, Jola and I booked some bus tickets for the next leg of our journey to Salta for the following evening.

We all managed to get a bed each in a dorm and, after grabbing a quick shower, we were debating what to do next when Felipe, one of the staff at the hostel, told us that a bunch of people were heading out-of-town to a nearby river for a barbecue and drinks. It sounded like good fun so the three of us signed up for it straight-away.

Although we were supposed to leave at 10:30 there seemed to be a few logistical hitches so it was nearly an hour later before we all left the hostel. With Rory, Jola and myself there was Max (English), Eva (from Munich), Isabella (Belgian), Jacob and Sofia (Danish), Hanna (Swedish) and Mike (Swiss). We first headed to the nearby bus station to catch a local bus up to the river. It took probably an hour for the bus to get there.

When we arrived, Felipe introduced us to his family who were preparing the barbecue for us. It was quite weird kissing guys on the cheek to say hello but I guess when in Rome you should do as the Romanians do.

After lunch (there was a lot of meat!) we headed down to the river for a swim. The current was absolutely mental and if you put your shoulders underneath you quite often found yourself flung a hundred metres downstream after being dragged across the rocks. It was an interesting experience!

Swimming in the river

Between swims we sun bathed and passed around a hollowed-out melon filled with wine (apparently a local speciality) and some large Quilmes beers. After a great afternoon we then headed back to the hostel. We got a different type of bus this time and it took forever before we arrived back.

Back at the hostel we had the option of getting a home-cooked dinner (chop suey) for 24 pesos (8 bucks). It seemed like a cheap and easy option so we decided to do that and washed it down with a few beers. We discovered that the beers from the supermarket next door to the hostel were cheaper than those sold by the hostel but we were still allowed to buy them and bring them back. At dinner we also met Clare (from Michigan) and Foxy from Ireland.

Foxy told us that he worked for the Irish government and that he was travelling for 3 years and still getting paid. Apparently he had a brilliant contract which meant he was effectively employed until retirement age and because of the economic downturn they had offered him 3 years off work whilst they paid him a small monthly stipend (a lot less than his monthly salary but enough to live in South America for). I think everyone at the table was insanely jealous.

We then played a drinking game “This is the witch” where you have to hold out an object (for example a bottle) to a person around the table and they had to reply “The what?”. This had to be repeated back down the chain until you got back to the first person who then said “The witch” which then when back up the chain until the new recipient replied “Ah, the witch!” and then selected a new victim.

It was quite an easy game (although Jola still struggled) until the chain got too convoluted and went back and forth to people who were already in an earlier part of the chain but when Foxy joined in it was even more confused mostly because he only wanted to pass the witch to Clare and was using it very directly to chat her up.

I couldn’t really work out how he expected such a direct approach to work but apparently it had paid dividends on more than one occasion. After a few more drinks I decided to call it a night – although I could still hear the others in the courtyard drinking and laughing so it wasn’t the best night’s sleep ever.

A brief sojourn in Buenos Aires

21 02 2010

We got the ferry back to Buenos Aires and after arguing with a taxi driver about how many pesos he wanted to charge us, we decided to walk to San Telmo from the ferry terminal.

Jola and I checked into the Tango Inn hostel and paid up. I also sent our Gap rep, Nadia, an email to see if she wanted to meet up a bit later since we were in her neighbourhood. We then headed off to the Retiro bus terminal on the subway. The bus terminal in Buenos Aires is vast and extremely confusing: there are lots of bus companies competing for the same routes and although it is organised geographically it can be extremely intimidating. We wanted to head up into the Northwest of Argentina and were considering going to Salta (21 hours) or breaking the journey up with a stopover in Córdoba (10 hours).

After a lot of stuttering Spanish we eventually chose the later: because it was the only option that gave us seats together and having to travel for 21 hours next to a complete stranger didn’t sound that much fun. The guy at the hostel had said that we could cancel our room before 3pm so we decided to get the bus that evening rather than spend any more time in Buenos Aires.

It was then a case of choosing the 20:30 or 22:30 bus. We chose the later one because this got into Córdoba at 8:30 instead of 6:30. This seemed like a better option to ensure a decent night’s sleep.

We then went back to the hostel, cancelled our room and then went off to meet Kaśka at Catedral. It was really cool because we were still able to keep our luggage in their storage room even though we’d now not paid anything. I checked my email (on the free WiFi) and saw that Nadia couldn’t meet us that evening because she was inducting a new group (just as well since we were off to a new city) but she was possibly able to meet for a coffee. I sent her a mail giving the time and the place we were meeting Kaśka but whether she got it on time I don’t know.

After we met Kaśka we went to the hostel that she’d booked online a few days beforehand (for a different day but they agreed to use her pre-payment against a different day) and then headed to the San Telmo Sunday market. Here Jola finally bought a mate gourd – although it was at one of the first stalls we saw and was probably much cheaper further down.

The market was extremely busy and hordes of tourists flocked there. It took us a long time to get through the crowds to the main square where we finally grabbed a late lunch. After wandering back through the market we headed to the shopping area of Florida and had a coffee in one of the malls.

The coffee was good but what was really nice was that we got a sample of some delicious caramel ice cream with it. We then said our goodbyes to Kaśka and headed back to the hostel.

Jola took a shower (another unpaid-for benefit) and (at the hostel’s recommendation) we flagged a taxi down on the street. This took a long time and we were both panicking a bit but there was still plenty of time. On the way to the terminal we passed some street kids which was quite upsetting – they had no shoes and seemed to be eating the black bin bags. Even though we got to the terminal in plenty of time Jola was quite stressed.

The Argentinian bus company did nothing to relieve her stress though and our bus refused to appear on the board. Whilst I stood watching the bags and scanning the screens, Jola walked up and down the bus terminal to see if she could see our bus. As it got close to the time of departure we met a Kiwi guy called Rory who was also on the same bus.

We hoped that he could speak Spanish and thus understand the Tannoy announcements: no such luck; or that he’d travelled on Argentinian buses before and knew that this was normal behaviour: again no dice. So although Rory couldn’t help us in our predicament at least we had a fellow human being to share our misery. Finally, twenty minutes overdue, our bus appeared on the boards. I went back into the terminal to see if I could find some beers (after all that stress it seemed like a good idea) but couldn’t get any from the first place I tried and I didn’t want to wander around the terminal and miss our bus.

We loaded our bags onto the bus, found our seats and were finally able to relax and head to Córdoba.

Back to BA

19 02 2010

We all said our final goodbyes to Ana at Ushuaia airport and boarded the plane heading North to Buenos Aires. Once again the plane stopped off at El Calafate (apparently the airline looks at where most passengers are going before working out which airport is the first destination – apparently we were always against the flow since we had to stop off both times) so it was a long and dull flight. Until we got just outside Buenos Aires; the turbulence was so bad that you could feel your stomach in the back of your throat. The whole plane went quiet and I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we finally touched down.

At Buenos Aires airport we were once again reunited with Nadia and headed back to the Hotel Carsson. Even though they checked us in together this time, Per and I still had lots of fun with the room keys not working simultaneously. Per was heading back to Norway the very next day but the rest of us decided to get the ferry across to Uruguay to the nearby town of Colonia del Sacremento. So we headed off to the nearby Buquebus office with Nadia to get our tickets. Unfortunately Gordana forgot her passport (which Nadia had told us we needed) so Zoran had to run back to the hotel to get it.

We actually got served before Zoran got back and the guy was being a complete dick about the passport details being missing – even though Nadia assured him that Zoran would be back in a few minutes. Eventually she persuaded him to create the booking and fill the details in afterwards but in all the confusion and unfriendly customer service she forgot to mention that Zoran and Gordana wanted a return the same day (they had to catch their flight). Kaśke, Jola and I were not buying our return yet since our plan was to go to Colonia; on to Montevideo and across to Punta del Este.

Once Zoran turned up Nadia had to go back to the same sales rep and get a return ticket. The guy continued to be difficult and once again Zoran blew his stack and started shouting at everyone. Nadia for not getting the return and the guy for being awkward. This almost led to them not getting any tickets because the guy didn’t want to serve him. Unfortunately I missed this outburst since I left as soon as I got my ticket and only heard about it later on from Nadia and from Zoran. It was quite amusing how neither version quite matched the other.

It was absolutely chucking it down in Buenos Aires so Jola decided to get an umbrella. For some reason she decided that a bright yellow one was the way to go – no accounting for Polish taste – and was happily walking through the city streets with her lurid umbrella. Fortunately it was raining so heavily that the murky light diminished its gaudiness a bit. Even with the umbrella though we got absolutely drenched as we headed the short distance back to the hotel.

Me sporting the drowned rat look

In the evening we all went for our last dinner together. This time we went a bit further afield to an excellent steakhouse in San Telmo. En route I decided to duck into an ATM to get some more cash and then lost the others. I nearly gave up on them and was about to head back to the hotel to get my phone so I could phone Per (the only person whose number I had) when Jola turned up and led me back to Nadia; the others had already got a taxi to the restaurant.

The food in the restaurant was really good and cheaper than the first restaurant we went to in the Florida area (and after Patagonia it was all really cheap). Nadia’s manager, Tom, also joined us later. He was from Macclesfield and had a Polish mother so we all had something to talk about. Although I found it quite surreal when he started babbling away in Polish with Kaśke and Jola.

Since Poland seemed to be the theme of the evening Tom took us to the nearby Krakow bar where I decided that I’d have to try some Polish vodka. The Polish bartender recommended one and I must admit it was really good – it had a hint of caramel in the taste. Jola was really pissed off when we got the bill at the end of the evening, however, because he’d sold us one for 30 pesos (around 10US$) per shot

Kaśke, Per, Jola, Me, Zoran, Gordana, Nadia and Tom in Krakow pub, BA

And so ended our Gap Adventures tour of Patagonia. From here on in it was back to the world of independent travel – no longer would someone tell us what time to be up, what bus to catch and give us boxed lunches. After two weeks of being spoon-fed, this was both daunting and liberating at the same time.