Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Well this is it - my last entry before I fly back into the northern hemisphere. Thank God, you're probably all thinking, no more ramblings from me for a while. Well, no more written ramblings anyway. I'll just spend the next few weeks boring everyone at home with my pictures and starting every other sentence with 'When I was in....'.
It does feel quite strange though to be writing this on my last night in South America and the end of my eight month trip. Have I changed? Well I'm a bit rounder (who said I'd lose weight due to dysentry or food poisoning? There's nothing like a bit of cake to cheer yourself up when you're feeling a bit lonely). My Spanish is a bit better, which seeing as I started with absolutely nada isn't bad. And I'm a fair bit poorer. Long cheap bus journeys at the end of my trip are no longer fun or adventurous, just boring and annoying. Find me a flight anytime.
So Buenos Aires... despite having great plans to ´do´all the major sights when I arrived on Saturday, I´ve actually spent the past five days wandering around the shops, watching tango dancers in San Telmo, eating huge steaks and drinking copious amounts of delicious red wine. I've decided I've seen enough churches, museums and historical things over the past eight months to justify a bit of cafe culture for a while.
And sitting in cafes watching Buenos Aires go by has allowed me to indulge in thinking about all the things I've done and seen over the past eight months... such as watching Colombia appear on the horizon as we sailed from Panama, or digging up the coconut filled with rum on the paradise islands of San Blas, or perpetually arriving at hot, dusty border crossings with only enough money to get across.
I also won't forget how it felt to arrive in Mexico City way back in November - the incredible noise, the smell of gas and car fumes and the general craziness of it all and thinking 'this is it, the start of my trip'. Or the crossing from Mexico to Guatemala and being shoved onto a 1950s American school bus and then hurtling through the countryside in the pitch-black due to a power cut and not understanding a word.
I won't forget how it felt to try to climb Cotopaxi, the world's highest active volcano, and getting up at midnight in the freezing cold and not being able to breathe properly. Or the taste of tear gas at the back of my throat during my few days in La Paz and Sucre in Bolivia.
I've also met some brilliant people on my trip, not just locals, such as my crazy Brazilian chums 'Show' and 'Benio', but other travellers I know I'll stay in touch with.
I've just tried to offload my woolly Bolivian tights, my stained blue jumper and my other strange floppy sleeved jumper to my friend Will, but he was having none of it. Tights were too short apparently. And we're now getting ready for our last night in BA, so a bit of slap is in order, and I'll say ciao, adios and hasta luego and see you all soon.
For my travelling buddies, I´ll put some pictures of my new little nephew Charlie on my website in one of the many outfits I bought him along the way. Poor thing, he's going to look ridiculous!
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Well, what can I say? Rio has to be one of the coolest cities ever. Where else do men walk around a city in their speedos? Where else will you get sold barbecued prawns on the beach, or cheese, or bikinis or gorgeous passion fruit caiporinhas? And where else can you find the skimpiest bikinis in the world? Don´t worry I haven´t bought one, this is where I won´t be following the phrase ´when in Rome´!
I´ve just watched Brazil thrash Argentina at football by 4-1, and the streets outside the hostel are now full of people cheering and cars blowing their horns. I was lying on the beach earlier and could hear shouts of ´Goooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaal´every time the Brazilians scored. They sure love their footie out here.
Since I arrived on Saturday after my longest bus journey ever - 25 hours - I´ve done a lot of people watching from some lovely cafes, indulging myself for the last few weeks of my trip on coffees, beers and of course caiporinhas. I´m staying in Ipanema, a safe but expensive neighbourhood, but with a great beach which is just a few blocks from the hostel. There are plenty of ´beautiful people´here, but there are so many shapes and sizes on the beach that it really doesn´t matter what you wear, chances are someone will be wearing far less!
For the first night here I went out for a churrasca, which is basically eat as much as you like for a set price. The food was amazing, all kinds of tender meat and the salad, wow, I haven´t eaten food like this since I left home. I was totally overexcited by it all and of couse ate far too much. That´s what happens when you´ve been eating chicken, chicken and more chicken for months on end in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. I mean I couldn´t remember the last time I´d eaten rocket salad, probably in London back in November.
The only sightseeing I´ve done has been to see Christ the Redeemer who sits on a hill overlooking the city. I went with a Brazilian couple staying at the hostel, which was lucky, as my Brazilian language skills are non-existant. I´d only just mastered Spanish, so to arrive in a country where the word for hello is oi is a little bit confusing! Anyway, the views of Rio from the Christ statue are amazing, so it´s worth going, although I´m glad this is the low-season. I´d hate to see what it´s like full of tourists.
I´ve wandered along Copacabana beach, which is a little bit seedy, and hung out on Ipanema beach sunbathing and reading. And the cafe where the song ´Girl from Ipanema´was written is just down the road, so I´ve had a few drinks in there too. Generally just watching the world go by and enjoying myself!
Next stop is Ilha Grande, a beautiful beach about four hours away from here. Then I´ll make my way over to Buenos Aires... although I hear it´s a bit cold there, so I make take my time.
bye bye for now!
Location: Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
Well, I survived the 24 hour bus journey from Salta to Puerto Iguazu and think I've discovered the key to it all. I'd had so little sleep the two nights before I got on the bus, that practically as soon as it started moving I had dozed off. I'm sure I probably snored and dribbled and at one point I remember nustling against the shoulder of my burly neighbour thinking his arm was the chair, whoops. And I think we watched about 10 films in that time. Most of them, if not all, were copies, which meant they either ended prematurely leaving us guessing what the ending was, or they jumped all over the place, or they were just green.Oh, and if it wasn't a film then some classic 1940s tango music was blearing out, which kind of grates after a while! But I made it here in one piece.
Went to the Iguazu Falls today. I'd been told they were pretty amazing but wasn't prepared for just how beautiful they are. The walkway into the Devil's Throat, Garganta del Diabolo, the main part of the waterfalls, was full of really colourful butterflies, and I'd been told to watch out for stray cats, although didn't see any. Cats as in jaguar, not nice little pussy cats. The roar of the water at Devil's Throat is incredible, there is just so much thundering over the edges. I stood at the edge taking lots of pictures and getting soaked by the spray. Saw a couple of toucans, some coati and monkeys too so it reminded me of being back in Costa Rica. Being in cold, dusty Bolivia, I'd forgotten just how much I like tropical places. Bring on the sun please!
Well, this is just a little update. Having a hard time understanding the Argentinians with their strange accents, so will be even more fun trying to speak Portuguese when I get to Brazil. A nun on the bus tried to give me her shopping trolley wheely thing to help me with my luggage, but by the time I understood what she was saying the moment had passed!
Rio is my next stop.... fantastico!
Location: Salta, Argentina
OK, so everyone in England is enjoying a heatwave at the moment while here in northern Argentina it's cold, and they have 'winter fashions' in the windows. I guess I should have known the southern hemisphere was going to be chilly.
It's been a while since I updated my diary, but I've been busy in Bolivia dodging tear gas and trying to get through the blockades to get to the main city La Paz - have a look at the photos.
In my last entry I had just done Macchu Pichu in Peru. While it was amazing and the scenery beautiful I wasn't that blown away by it all. I think it was because I thought Aguas Calientes (the town nearest the ruins) was a total tourist trap, I was recovering from a bad stomach and I hadn't managed to get onto the Inca trail because it was booked up months before. But I still enjoyed it, and loved watching the ruins appear silently through the mist in the early morning.
After Macchu Pichu I went back to Cusco, stayed there for another day and then headed down to Lake Titicaca with an American guy and Italian girl I'd met. The plan for me was to get to Copacabana on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca and then into La Paz. I'd heard there were problems in Bolivia with transport strikes, but obviously the people who sold us bus tickets assured us everything would be OK. It wasn't. We got as far as the border with Bolivia only to be told the Bolivian immigration office was shut. Turns out they were just having lunch, but we still had to walk the 8km into Copacabana with our rucksacks as the roads had been blocked with rocks (check out the pics).
After spending a couple of days in quiet Copacabana, hanging out with other travellers and reading up about the problems in La Paz, I thought it was time to try and get through the blockades. The only problem was how. I can't tell you the number of times we heard rumours of buses going to and from La Paz, only then to be told these buses were actually ferrying the protesters backwards and forwards and there was no way they were going to take some gringo tourists into the city. The only option was to get to another border town and try from there. Well, that day was the longest of my life. Together with a German couple, Jan and Ina, we walked back to the Bolivian border, got on a bus to Desaguadero (nasty little border town) and negotiated a price with a mini bus to take us to La Paz. So far so good. About 10 minutes into the journey we were turned back by one set of bloqueos (or blockaders), so we headed for the dirt track along the high altiplano. Then we met some more angry protesters. The bus driver duly paid them off, placated them and we were allowed through - all this taking a good hour of talking. And so it went on, until we came to a particularly angry protester who herded the mini bus into a remote farm and shut the large metal doors behind us.
He asked for all of our passports and got very angry when he realised some of the passengers were actually Bolivian, and hadn't they been reading the news and what were they doing trying to get through the blockades...The problem in Bolivia is that the local indigenous people are never listened to, so the only way they ever get heard is by bringing the country to a standstill and carrying out transport strikes and roadblocks. In this case they were calling for their gas reserves to be nationalised, rather than all the money going to the multinational companies. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America but is the second richest (Venezuela is richest) in terms of gas supplies. On top of this, the rich states in the east and the south wanted autonomy from the rest of the country, as they are the states which have all the gas. So for weeks there had been transport strikes and demonstrations and no decisions from the president.
Anyway. Back to the farm. The leader of this blockade, who was wearing a poncho and woolly Peruvian hat but still managed to look officious and angry, kept pointing at us saying it wasn't our fault as we were dumb tourists and how were we supposed to know what was happening. We knew full well what was happening, but put on our dumbest faces just to please him. Part of my reason for trying to get into La Paz was that I'd been commissioned to write a piece for the Telegraph, and I wanted to actually see what it was like in the city. Then I heard him say that he'd make us stay in the farm for the next 30 hours as a punishment, which is when we got a bit worried, especially as it was freezing cold. This didn't actually happen and again the situation was smoothed over with money, but I did think 'what have I got myself into' and felt pretty stupid for trying to think we could actually get into La Paz.
So eventually we were freed, and waved off by the angry poncho man and were on our way again. The whole journey, which normally takes 3 hours, took about 12 in total. We were stopped every hour or so by people at the blockades, who were getting drunker and drunker, and with people shining torches into the bus. Add to this the chatter of the people in the bus, the woman who would shout 'la ventana gringita' (shut the window gringo) and the coughing man sitting behind me, oh and the fact we hadn't properly eaten for hours and it was freezing cold, it was a pretty nasty journey.
And then, to make matters worse at 3am the driver said he couldn't go any further as the blockades had become impenetrable and we'd all have to walk from here. Fine for those without rucksacks, but my rucksack was really heavy and it was cold and dark outside. I didn't feel in danger, just exhausted. We started walking along the road, tripping over rocks, and I could see the lights of La Paz in the distance. I couldn't believe what we were doing. Two hours of walking in silence later we tried to get a bus or car to take us to the city. Everyone was ignoring us, and in once case Jan walked towards a bus to ask for a lift but the bus actually reversed and drove off hastily down a side street. We couldn't believe it. We were so tired and hungry and I didn't think I could physically walk any further. Luckily we were picked up in the end, but it was looking desperate for a while.
Anyway, to cut a long story short we made it to La Paz and slept for ages. When we woke up we treated ourselves to coffee and apple pie and then heard what we thought was gun fire. In fact it was the riot police firing tear gas at the protestors and some rowdy protestors responding by throwing back stones. We were right in the thick of things, which was a bit stupid really. We moved to another hostel where I met my Swiss friend Caroline who I'd travelled with for a month in Guatemala, and decided what to do for the next few days.
That night we went out with the editor of the Llama Express, an English paper in La Paz, and his friends and chatted about the situation and just at that point the president announced he was resigning. This was going to make matters worse and we were advised to get out while we can.
In the end we flew to Sucre, a town south of La Paz, but on the same day Congress decided to meet and we shared our flight with politicians, including the leader of the opposition party Evo Morales, and cameramen and journalists. We realised the seriousness of the situation when we landed in La Paz to be greeted by snipers on the airfield and armed guards. Hmm. Not the best place to be. The airport was shut indefinitely after we'd flown in (we were the only tourists on the flight), and we spent the evening in our hostel huddled round the tv watching the live news reports as they happened outside, and shielding our eyes and throats from the tear gas. It was a lot stronger here and I'd had enough by 8pm and ran back to my room. Tear gas tastes really chemically and stings your eyes and back of your throat.
But the funny thing was that the next day an interim president had been sworn in, shops were open again and the protestors, including a lot of miners throwing dynamite, did a victory march through the town. So everything had changed.
This meant we could go to Potosi, our next destination, visit the mines and then hopefully go down to the salt flats on the Salar de Uyuni, the main reason I'd wanted to come to Bolivia. (I've put these pics on the site too. Check them out, the landscapes are amazing).
I'll tell you more about all of those later. I'm now in Argentina preparing myself for a 24 hour bus journey to Iguacu Falls tomorrow, but I really loved Bolivia, just because in a pretty short space of time I got to know quite a bit about the country and the struggle of the people and how unfair it is for them. The country is so poor and so cheap, and it's in such a mess.
Argentina is lovely too, but a bit of a culture shock as it's very westernised and not what I've been used to at all for the past few months. People here are tall (shock), and pretty glamorous and the wine is so good and so cheap and the steak amazing. I'm trying not to eat it every night but when a meal only costs around 4 pounds, it's hard not to. On the last bus journey from San Pedro in Chile to Salta we watched three films, all of which were copies and all of which annoyingly ended three quarters of the way through, and kept jumping all over the place. The last epic was Brother Bear. Oh joy. Wonder what the bus company has got in store for us tomorrow!