Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the bitter end

I must tell the truth and admit that I´m writing this entry largely to kill time and stay inside the air conditioned environment of an Internet cafe. You see, I´m unfortunately and unexpectedly having to wait for 9 hours in the bus terminal in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Anyone who has been to this bus station will understand the unfortunate part. The wait is unexpected because I thought I would be passing through here yesterday evening at about 7pm and swiftly getting on to a bus to the north. Instead we arrived today at 11.30am, having been stopped at the Colombian-Venezuelan border for about 16 hours due to blockades. Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's esteemed leader and South America's favourite shit-stirrer has been at it again. He started shooting his mouth off about Colombia in a press conference yesterday, angry about the cosy relationship Colombia is cultivating with his arch enemy, good old Uncle Sam and has threatened to cut all imports from the country. Naturally this stirred tempers in the border regions, where things are constantly tense anyway and the locals decided to set up road blockades (by which I mean random bits of trees strewn across the road, but enough to cause major disruption). So it was a night spent on a freezing bus for me (they jack up the air con really high here) followed by a bus change and a mile walk with my rucksack on my back across the border. Having got back on the bus and arrived in Maracaibo I find out that the only buses to my chosen destination are night buses departing at 10pm so I´m just going to have to suck it up and wait here for the day. Why not leave your bags in a locker and explore the city for the day instead, you say? Well, if it were any other country that´s what I´d do, definitely. Venezuela is a different kettle of fish however.
At the risk of alarming family and friends, Venezuela really isn´t the safest place for a lone female backpacker. It´s dangerous, and expensive; and I don´t which is worse at this point in my trip. Travellers find themselves in a Catch 22 situation here with regards to money and safety. Chavez, in his wisdom changed the country´s currency a couple of years back to the new Bolivar Fuerte. Fair enough. However, he then made the arrogant decision to set his own exchange rate for the currency, valuing is far too highly but locking all banking and business institutions into this exchange rate. The result is a huge black market in cash. If I were to go to the ATM and withdraw money I would get 1/3 of the value that I can get on the black market. The result is people carry money (US dollars mainly) into the country and change the money on the black market when they get here. The longer you stay, the more money you need. Everyone knows you´re carrying a large amount of cash with you and given backpackers are pretty easy to point out (they´re the ones with the er... backpack, stupid) you may as well be wearing a giant target around your neck. Now, this would be all well and fine if you felt that if something did happen, if you were robbed, there was a place to go to report the crime and a trustworthy police force to take a statement and give you a nice form for your insurance company. Not so. The Venezuelan police force are the most corrupt in South America (and the police in South America are very corrupt as a rule). In fact, you are equally as likely to be robbed by a cop as a thief. Taxi drivers too are pretty untrustworthy. Why the hell am I here then, you ask? Well, believe me I tried not to be, but my flight is out of Caracas on Saturday and there was no other way around it. I´m taking precautions and being careful but in general it is all very dodgy. This is the reason why I´m staying put in the bus station.

The time since the last blog entry has had its ups and downs. From Cartagena I went to the beautiful Playa Blanca on one of the Rosario islands and had a blissful few days; sunbathing, sleeping in a hammock, swimming in the tropical waters and eating lobster or fresh fish for dinner every night. From here I headed on to Santa Marta, base from which to do the Ciudad Perdida trek I was so looking forward to. By a very unfortunate coincidence however the reserve where the trail goes through is closed until the end of the month so that indigenous tribes can hold their religious ceremonies. Now I tried to console myself and not take things too personally, but I´m sure this whole "religious ceremonies" thing is one big lie. How long does a religious ceremony take for chrissakes? My theory is that they are harvesting the illegal coca plantations in the reserve and don´t want the gringos to see what´s going on. Anyways, not only did the news leave me bitterly disappointed but with a 6 day hole in my plans which I didn´t really know what to do with. I spent a day in Parque Nacional Tairona, hanging out with a few new mates and enjoying the beautiful beaches strewn with massive boulders. Fate stepped in and decided to fill my time for me, however, by gifting me with an almighty dose of (there´s no way around this) the scuts. I was laid up for 3 days in the hostel in Santa Marta, in 30+ degree heat, on a top bunk, miserable. The first night at about 3am I became convinced that I had swine flu, because my first symptoms were a fever, shivers and aches & pains. Then I decided that it was malaria, definitely malaria, and I was going to die, alone, unloved and with no Mammy to look after me in a shitty hostel in Colombia (I was getting a bit delirious at this point). The next morning the hostel owner told me to cop on, assured me it was just a tummy bug and gave me a course of strong antibiotics to clear it up. It worked. When I had recovered I moved out of Santa Marta to a fishing village turned backpacker hangout called Taganga for a few days change of scenery and some sunshine.

And now Venezuela. I´m aiming to spend tomorrow in a national park 4 hours east of Caracas and then Friday will be getting to the airport for my flight early Friday morning. I´m anticipating not being in a bed until I hit Greystones, Wicklow around about noon on Saturday (thanks for picking me up Annie!). I really should have bought those Valium over the counter in Bolivia.

See ye all very, very soon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

the final furlong

Just having had a cursory re-read of my last blog entry it has surprised me that a whole month has passed since the two chicas left and I´ve been travelling solo. Surprised because I haven´t really been alone at all in that past month. Whilst everyone reassured me that I would meet people on the road to travel with, I was still worried about being by myself in South America, particularly in Colombia, because of its bad reputation. Paradoxically I´ve felt more safe in Colombia than any of the other countries in the north of the continent. Colombian people are some of the most friendly, open and warm hearted I´ve met. And the majority of people who are travelling in this part of the world are doing it alone which makes it easier to hook up with people and travel together.

My time in Ecuador was short. I was eager to get to Colombia because of the good reports I´d received about the country and also to maximise my time at the beach. The highlight was definitely a one day trek I did in Quilotoa ... a huge volcanic crater with a beautiful turquoise lake in the middle. The trek led past the crater and down an amazingly steep canyon with several precarious river crossings en route, severly testing my bridge paranoia. I keep on testing myself in these vertigo inducing situations, hoping that it will cure me of my fear of heights, but every time is just as hard as the last. In Quito, Ecuadors capital, I climbed to the top of a Basilica... on the outside with the wind whipping around me, and still I´m afraid to cross a pedestrian overpass 10 foot off the ground. Go figure.

In Quito I bumped into a Scottish guy who I´ve now met in four separate countries on the trip. It´s great just randomly meeting people like that, and it´s rarely the people you expect. We checked out two sites dedicated to the equator; the official, rip off one which is about 100ms off and the real deal confirmed by GPS where they do all manner of experiments to prove you´re actually in "Mitad del Mundo" like balancing an egg on the head of a nail and such nonsense.

After all that excitement I headed to Colombia with an English chick who was staying in the same hostel and we travelled together for about a week, stopping off in Cali and Bogota. I have to say much of my time during this period was taken up with my obsession with the Twilight series of books (Annmarie can take the credit) and I´m still carting around two ridiculously large hardback books in my rucksack because I´m too attached to them to leave them behind in a hostel.

Crossing over the border from Ecuador there was a noticeable difference between the two countries. Colombia is definitely alot wealthier with a much bigger African influence also. The cars are newer, the buildings slicker and thankfully, the buses better. Bogota, which I was expecting to be an unsafe dirty capital is actually an awesome town with a really well preserved old town called La Candalaria complete with random bronze statues of men hanging out of buildings. They are obsessed with an artist called Fernando Botero here. He´s a painter and sculptor specialising in really fat people, the majority of whom have squints.. you´ll recognise the stuff from prints in your favourite retro coffee shop http://images.google.com.co/images?hl=es&q=fernando+botero&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=Nf-CSqrADuCBtgfd7cDSCg&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=4. They LOVE him here and the guy is super prolific, if a tad repetitive.

After Bogota I headed to Medellin and though intending to stay there for just a few nights I ended up hanging around for six days to check out the local Fiesta de Flores. Yes, a flower festival. Now I didn´t think that a flower festival was going to be a hot event, but then I underestimated the enthusiasm of the Colombian nation for flowers. They got right into it, I mean people came from all round to take pictures of hanging baskets. It was a tad bemusing, but then again any excuse for a party. In fairness the main parade did involve little old men carrying huge, 10 stone, intricate flower arrangements on their backs for miles through the city which you do have to applaud. And also we have a festival devoted to salmon in Mayo so who am I to judge?

At the moment I´m in Cartagena on the northern coast. Have finally reached the beach - yay! I was irrationally excited about dipping my toes into the Caribbean for the first time yesterday. It´s hot here though. Seriously hot. I didn´t realise a person could sweat this much whilst not moving a muscle. Apparently Santa Marta where I´m headed next is even hotter. The joys. The final adventure is going to be one of the things I´ve been looking forward to since planning the trip back last Christmas - a six day hike to Ciudad Perdida, a lost ancient city in the middle of the Colombian jungle. What I´m not looking forward to is the ravaging by mosquitos which is an inevitable accompaniment to the hike. And they love my pasty Irish skin. Shudder.

So, only two weeks left and back to Ireland. See ye at home. Mines a Smithwicks.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Time to... say goodbye. And other adventures

July 7th saw an emotional, if somewhat rushed farewell to my travelling companion "young Haley" in Lima airport. So, be warned folks, she's again wandering the streets in Ireland. You'll find her in the premier drinking spot in Mayo (well, she does live there) and in the house parties of Dublin over the next couple of months.

Since the last blog entry there has been some amount of going and excitement, not least was the arrival of housemate and friend par excellance Miss Madden, but more of that later. The rest of Bolivia was a blur of nights on the town, cycles down the infamous "world's most dangerous road", chill-out-nights by the campfire in the Bolivian jungle, cross country horseback riding and getting caught up in political protests. After Potosi we headed to Sucre. It's a beautiful town; all white colonial grandeur with a dash of crazy Bolivian streetlife throw in for good measure. The people of Sucre are almightily pissed off that it isn't still the capital of Bolivia. Instead, that honour goes to La Paz, which unfortunately has to be one of the most ugly cities I've ever been in. It's built in a massive valley in the middle of nowhere and apart from the fact that you can sometimes see the snowy cap of Mount Potosi in the background in-between grey skyscrapers, it has little to recommend itself on the beauty side of things. However, it is also a hopping party city with a good backpacker scene and lots of cheap markets (family, all your presents were bought there). Also, it's close to the backpacker mecca of "the world's most dangerous road" and the jungle of Bolivia. Having more balls than me Mary cycled down this unsealed road and got the t-shirt. I, on the other hand, took the ever-so-slightly-less-dangerous option of getting a bus on what the Bolivians built to replace it. It should be named the "new world's most dangerous road", I'm sure the statistics will bear it out. The most awesome, stunning and shit-inducing drive of my life... twice! Never mind that we were driving around 3,500 metre mountains in a tiny minibus packed with devil-may-care locals, it was more the fact that the driver was eating his lunch over the steering wheel at the same time that concerned me. His preferred style was to overtake on bends, on hills and preferably on hilly bends while poking around with his hands in his plastic bag of chicken and taking swigs from his bottle of Fanta at the same time. They love their Fanta over here. I had to spend a few days in an idyllic lodge in the jungle just to get over the experience.

After a farewell night in La Paz which turned into a fancy dress party (I dressed as a ball of wool, Mary as a fairy) we had to say goodbye to Bolivia and head for Peru. Unfortunately we weren't able to carry on our "no flights" record and travel across the border by bus. There's been some political problems internally in Peru recently. Of course, given that we hadn't read a newspaper or any online current affairs (Jordan and Peter Andre's breakup besides) we hadn't a clue about this. Turns out the Peruvian president wanted to give a load of rainforest to oil companies and when the locals protested he sent the army in and killed 14 of them. Nice. So, there have been protests in the south of Peru and also in Bolivia mostly taking the form of road blockades. We got caught up in one on the way into La Paz. It was kind of scary when 50 men threatened to throw rocks at the bus but thankfully things cooled down and we didn't get stoned. Anyways, it meant that we needed to get a flight to Peru. Happily all was well and Annmarie arrived in Cusco the same day as we did (albeit in a healthier state since she hadn't been up all night socialising in the dodgy backstreets of La Paz). A few days of celebrating Annie's arrival and acclimatizing (read sleeping, dossing around and eating a lot) were needed before embarking on what was going to be the pinnacle of our trip, The Inka Trail. Some words of praise are warranted for Cusco though. It's a gorgeous city with beautiful archlined plazas and incan walls peeking out of white plaster wherever you look. Having said that, it's a complete tourist trap and every 5 seconds you find yourself rabbiting "no gracias" to the constant stream of hawkers selling paintings, woven dolls, postcards and (omigod) massages. It got a bit wearing after um.... ten minutes.

After our Cusco R&R we headed off on our four day, three night Inka Jungle Trail. Our group consisted of us three lovely cailins and four Yanks. Initially we christened ourselves as Team MJRIP (in honour of Michael J - Beat It featured heavily on the playlist) but once we became more comfortable in eachothers' company and the inevitable decline in decorum followed we became Team Wankstain (don't ask).

The first day of our trip was spent driving up to the top of a mountain pass then cycling downhill on winding roads for about 60 kilometers. I reckon I made it to kilometer 40 before i accidentally crashed into the side of the mountain. It was sore, and although at the time I was quite insistent about getting back in the saddle, thankfully the girls managed to convince me it wouldn´t be a good idea. 3 weeks later and I´m still picking the scabs off my knee and elbow (sorry to be gross). Thankfully too the injuries didn´t stop me from completing the rest of the trip. The next 2 days were spent walking to the base of Machu Picchu some of which on original inca trail (though we copped out on paying the $500 US to do the "real deal"), some through jungle, some along traintracks, some beside rivers. The fourth day was D-day itself. Rising at 3.45 am we hiked in the dark up Machu Picchu to get into the ruins as the sun came up. It was awesome. Even better was the view from Huayna Picchu (that big rocky mountain you see in the background on the postcard image of the site) which we hiked afterwards. We were all terribly proud of ourselves for making it up Huayna Picchu.. it was super tough but worth the amazing views from the top.

Our bodies were exhausted after the trip and it took a few days back in Cusco to recover. And then sadly Mary had to say a sad goodbye to us and South America... we all flew to Lima together and Mary headed off on her way home while me and Annmarie hung out in Peru´s capital for a few days. Lima is not exactly a picture postcard kind of place. Apparently it´s nice for a few months in summer, but for the rest of the year a grey fog hangs over the city. We did have a MacDonalds there though, which was nice. It´s true, they do taste the same all over the world.

After Lima we moved on to the central highlands of Peru, to a place called Huaraz which is close to the Cordillera Blanca (part of the Andes) and a big centre for hiking, climbing and moutaineering. We spent a day rock climbing (I sucked, Annmarie was better, it´s very hard) and another day hiking to Laguna 69 which is a beautiful turquoise coloured glacial lake, unfortunately not in the shape of the similarly-named sexual position, but stunning nonetheless. Having done all of this exercise we decided it was high time to give ourselves a bit of a break, catch a few rays and hit the beach. So we headed off to the Peruvian coast to a place called Huanchaco. However the sun refused to co-operate and it was overcast while we were there. This prompted us to spend alot of time in fancy fish restaurants eating slap-up meals and drinking bottles of wine, which was equally enjoyable to my mind. However sun was definitely on the agenda so we moved 8 hours up the coast to Mancora, Peru´s premier beach destination. Not exactly the Costa del Sol, but not banana huts on the beach either, Mancora knows how to party, and we did quite a bit of it while here.

Sadly that´s all at an end now and there was another goodbye today... Annmarie has left to catch her flight home to Ireland and now I´m a solo traveller. Travelling with two of my best mates was awesome fun, so I´m really quite scared about doing this on my own now. Tonight I´m catching a bus which crosses the border into Ecuador. It´s also going to be sad to leave Peru, it´s a great country. I´m going to have to dig that Spanish phrasebook out of the depths of my rucksack and get learning again. Wish me luck!


Monday, June 15, 2009

whistlestop Chile and chilly Bolivia

The last post came at the end of our time in Argentina. Saying goodbye to Bariloche ended up being quite a sad experience and some hasty plans were made to return there as soon as economically possible. We'll see what pans out, but if you ever are in that part of the world Bariloche definitely is worth a visit *wipes tear from eye*.

Anyways we crossed into Chile on an amazing bus journey through the Andes. In total we spent just 7 days in Chile though since we were eager to make it up to Bolivia. Firstly we stopped off in Santiago for 2 nights (not terribly impressive though did have a lovely fish meal there and unsuccessfully tried to go to a rock ballet). In our hostel we met Mike a Kiwi guy who had just bought a tiny little Mitsubishi van with a 550cc engine. His grand plan to make money and stay afloat in South America was to start giving travellers lifts in his van to their chosen destinations. And so it was that Mary and I went on the van's maiden voyage, to Valparaiso. There were some hairy moments given that the motorway is very hilly and there were 3 of us plus all our luggage on board, but thankfully it managed to arrive in Valpo and navigate the hilly, narrow streets to our hostel. A much needed drink was in order after the trip and of course we had to go native and opt for "pisco sours" which are made from a mix of pisco (popular spirit in this neck of the woods), lemons and (i think) egg whites. anyways, 3 drinks later and we were on our ears. A cheap night out though....

Valparaiso itself is a really cool city. Lots of brilliant grafitti all over the place. Myself and Mary felt in particular like street-art connoiseurs when we recognised murals by an Argentinian painter who we had seen on our BA street-art tour. The city is crazy.... definitely no such thing as planning permission required here; if you feel like adding another story to your house you just go right on ahead and do it. And paint it pink while your at it. Also it is mandatory for each building to have at least five dogs and seven cats as part of the homestead. The place is FULL of them roaming the streets, though thankfully they're very friendly. Our second night there was quiet enough, apart from a impromtu YouTube karaoke session with the hostel owner Coco that is. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to wipe away the memory of us wailing along to Pink Floyd while all the other hostel guests (well, all 3 of them) tried to get to sleep...

The next day we headed back into our luxury transport and headed back to Santiago, only to hop straight on a bus to San Pedro de Atacama in the northern part of the country. This was definitely the most horrible bus journey so far at a full 24 hours long and with very little water and food provided by the bus company. Good training for what is to follow in Bolivia and Peru I hear though. Apparently there are 5 bus accidents every week in Peru, not that the companies seem to care as they continue to drive like total lunatics. Anyways, on the bus journey we passed through several deserts including the Atacama, the driest in the world. San Pedro itself is a strange little oasis town with mostly unpaved streets apart from the main tourist high street. We arrived at night in the freezing cold; this was the first time we hit serious altitude and boy does it make a difference to the temperature at night. Thankfully we rocked up to a hostel which had an outdoor courtyard which contained a massive firepit in the middle so all was cosy. We spent 3 days in San Pedro checking out the surrounding weird rock formations and sand dunes and also organising our first big "tour"; a three day, two night trip into Bolivia and across lagoons, desert and salt plains. We had a brilliant time busting around on a 4x4 jeep during the day and staying in not-too-elaborate accomodation at night. We'd been warned beforehand that the temperature at night could fall as low as minus 14 degrees, which made me really freak out. In the end I wore so many layers of clothes and blankets I was too hot at night. Go figure... The tour was great though and we met loads of really cool people, notably a pair of crazy Weegies which we'll hopefully catch up with later on down the tracks.

After the tour there was the mandatory knees-up in our destination town Uyuni, which left me in ribbons the next day and only fit for the bed. Altitude really does make hangovers worse! The "a word" is a big thing at the moment as most of Bolivia is at quite a high elavation. At the moment we're in a city called Potosi, which is the highest city in the world. Thankfully neither me or Mary have had any bad side effects apart from a few headaches and some sinus troubles.

Next stop Sucre and onto La Paz for a party weekend I`m hoping. Dying for some good music at this stage; there`s only so many hours of pan pipes a person can take.

Until next time,

Thursday, May 28, 2009

other adventures in argentina

Two months down and three to go! The cash supply is running low, the liver is slightly less pink and healthy than before we left (not that it was particularly healthy before) and the amost-there tan from Brazil has well and truely disappeared. But, hey, currently we're in beautiful Bariloche in northern Patagonia surrounded by Andean snowy mountains and crystal clear lakes so we can't complain too much. Argentina really is an amazing place. Three days ago we were in a desert in temperatures reaching the early 30s, but yesterday we were climbing a frosty mountain and sliding home on icy roads. Ive had to invest in a scarf and gloves today. For a while there I was considering buying a balaclava; cosy and terrorist-chic!

In the end our departure from Buenos Aires was delayed because Mary had a mild dose of the swine-flu. It was all very emotional when we did leave the city - we had become quite attached to our hostel (having turned a blind eye to the paper-thin mattresses and semen-stained sofas) and to the people we met there. We left for Cordoba on a night bus and got our first taste of the "full cama" Argentinian bus experience. No champagne unfortunately... I think next time we'll just have to bring our own.

Cordoba is a weird mix of beautiful colonial universities and churches and the most hideous 1960s apartment blocks and business buildings with air conditioning units sprouting out of them like warts. We stayed there for 3 days and visited the Che Guevara museum in Alta Gracia - Che was hawt! Although a little bit too serious and probably a pain in the hole to be married too. He left his wife with 4 kids under the age of ten to go off and fight in the Congo, which is laudable but also a bit shitty. I'd have been pissed off if I were his wife. In the museum they had Che's motorbike and a push bike he cycled around northern Argentina when he was in college. At least we think they were the originals, it didn't actually say explicitly.....

After Cordoba we travelled south west to the city of Mendoza which is a sprawling city full of trees and open drains on the sides of the street which are easy to fall into if you are drunk. We were quite active chicas in Mendoza and did something cool every day. We started our time off there in the proper way; by having a champange picnic in the local park (and by champagne I clearly mean 10 peso sparkling wine). We've taken to these picnics as something of an Eilish and Mary tradition whenever we arrive in a new town and long may they continue. The following day we rented bikes and cycled round the vineyards in the region. All went well apart from when the pedal of my bike fell off into oncoming traffic and I had to scramble onto the road to retrive it and thereafter stop to screw it back on every kilometer or so. And our bums were a bit sore the next day too... Which is why we went to a natural hot springs resort in the mountains the next day - the water did wonders for our sore bums and the setting was pretty sweet too. The ongoing battle to get rid of my fear of heights has been continuing. We headed off hiking in the mountains round Mendoza the following day and abseiled off a 20 meter rock face (beside a waterfall!!!). And we got to do it 3 times so I´m practically Lara Croft now. I`m sure when I return home Ill be able to conquer one of my biggest fears and be able to walk the pedestrian flyover over the Stillorgan dual carraigeway without freaking out.

After Mendoza we headed north to a place called San Juan so that we could visit The Valley of the Moon National Park - a desert that used to be an ancient seabed and is a really important archaelogical site with fossils from all three periods of the dinosaur.... or something. I`m not exactly sure of anything about the place because the whole guided tour was done in Spanish by a guy who kinda looked like Michael Jackson (when he was black). The entire day was a bit torturous cos we were both very hungover and we had to get up at 5.45am and get on a packed minibus for four hours to just get to the National Park. Then we drove around in the same minibus for another 3 hours in the park and then another 4 on the way home. Added to that everyone on the bus was a bit past it.. I´m sure the majority didn't have their own teeth anymore. One old lady insisted on spraying herself with old-lady perfume every 15 minutes causing myself and Mary to dry retch on a fairly continuous basis. The one saving grace of the day was that we went to a really strange place where the locals worship a lady who went off looking for her husband who had gone to war. She had her kid with her. She may have died. I don't really know. Anyways, they all LOVE her and they have this elaborate altar to her in this town up on a hill and they make donations and offerings to her to ask for her blessing and to bring them luck and safety. The whole place is covered in photos, flowers, bottles of water and car license plates (to bring safe driving). The hill up to the altar is covered in miniture houses (some are quite impressive models) which represent the homes that they want for themselves and their families. It kind of reminded me of Fraggle rock a bit.

So, after all the excitement of the north we got on a bus down to Bariloche. Its so beautiful here its kind of unreal. Not the ski season unfortunately so we have just been going for walks in the mountains. Well, we went for a walk yesterday. And we left a bit late so we ended up stranded up a mountain, in the dark, without a torch, in a national park, in Argentina, in the cold. We were quite scared. But it was all fine and the stars were lovely and Mary had her Swiss army knife if anything went badly wrong which we were reassured by. Lastnight we celebrated the fact that we hadnt been eaten by pumas by getting quite drunken. Unfortunately this state of inebriation led to some bad decision making and we wandered into a dodgy local bar whereupon almost immediately Marys jacket was stolen. Hmmm... its the first thing which has been stolen from us, and it happens in chocolate box, touristy Bariloche.... Go figure.

So, weve another 2 days here and then were crossing the border into Chile. More snowy mountains. Theyre purty.

luv, e

and apologies for the lack of punctuation in the last part of the blog... i managed to screw up the keyboard, must have hit cntrl and one of those pesky function keys by accident

Monday, May 11, 2009

bye bye BA

Tomorrow we leave Buenos Aires. It makes me sad. This city is amazing. It has all the good points of Europe, but with a South American twist of it's own. I love the way everthing only gets going at midnight, that the place runs so well even though the Argentine people have been through so much crap in the recent past. I love the beer, I love the people. The men are hot. The restaurants are cheap. The cafes are cool. The ice-cream is delicious. The clothes are stylish. The leaves are golden...... Okay, I'll stop now. But seriously, if anyone is thinking about going on a citybreak and can stretch to the price of a long haul ticket, go to BA, it's fabulous darling!

The past week has seen me attend a Spanish course in the city centre. Probably mistakenly I opted to challenge myself and jump into Nivel 2... with not hugely successful results. Is it possible to be worse at a language after studying it for 4 hours a day, five days in a row? Well, I think I've proven it. My Spanish SUCKS worse now than last Monday. Hmmmm.... maybe if the teacher wasn't so hot I would have learned more?

Having to be up at 8am in the morning and commute into Plaza de Mayo made me feel like a real local. However, it did majorly hinder my social life for the week. There just isn't any point in going out before 11pm here so it was a quiet week for wee eili. On Monday night we did go to La Bomba de Tiempo, a drumming group who put on weekly shows of a Monday night outdoors in the courtyard of a cultural centre. Amazing beats and an interesting mix of backpacking gringos and be-dredlocked, week-smoking portenos. Add to the mix a few 8peso tumblers of wine and it all makes for a great night.

Apart from catching a cold and chopping the majority of my hair off it was a quiet week besides. Tomorrow we're catching a night bus to Cordoba in the centre of the country. Sad to say goodbye to BA but nonetheless it's time to move on.

hasta proxima,

Sunday, May 3, 2009

One month down, four to go....

How the hell have we been away for a whole month already? It really doesn't feel like it, though I have missed home a few times in the past week or so. Wee Conor has started walking which will be cool to see when I get back and I'm missing out on all the new Late Late Show host debate which I'm sure is raging back home.... Nevertheless one has to get over these trials and plough on with the travelling.

We´ve been in Buenos Aires for five days now. Arrived here via the Argentinian bus system which CIE could definitely learn a thing or two from. Fully reclining seats, movies and a guy who comes on board to serve you a hot dinner and drinks. Apparently if you opt for the highest class ticket you even get a glass of champagne before bedtime! What we´ve seen of BA so far has been great. We're staying in an area called Palermo Soho which is quite a trendy part of town and has lots of cafes, boutiques and bars. We haven't been rushing around to see everything in the city at a crazy pace because we're staying here for 2 weeks in total. Also given the nightlife here it's hard to get out of the scratcher before noon. The going-out scene here is crazy: people eat dinner at 9 or 10pm, start drinking at around 11pm and then hit the clubs at about 2am. Clubs stay open all night long - at least til 8am. I´ve been told that hardcore partying portenos will regularly get home at 6am, nap for three hours and then head off to work for themselves. It takes some adjusting to. We´ve been to one really good club here which had the unusual combination of been hosted by a huge drag queen troupe and also included a breakdancing show mid way through the night. As for steaks... well, we've still to sample some of the better restaurants of the city but we've definitely set our sights on few places. We're just back from a soccer match now. We were there in support of Boca Jnrs who were playing in their homeground. We didn't have tickets and only managed to get touts to smuggle us through the gates for the second half. This was after walking around the grounds of the stadium in the very dodgy area of La Boca, passing through police on horseback and in riot gear. There were a few moments where we wonered if the touts were leading us down an alley to relieve us of all our belongings (Mary and I have taken to stuffing money down our bras) but thankfully we managed to get in. The atmosphere was brilliant, with some really passionate chanting and some rather colourful language from some very small children! My favourite bit was when a sixty-something year old lady fully decked out in the Boca colours produced a rucksack full of caramel sweets and starting throwing them out into the crowd. Now there's a way to earn popularity points! The match itself was great and we're thinking about going back again next week. I think there might be a football fanatic in me waiting to come out.

We're planning on spending another week here and I´m starting a week-long Spanish course tomorrow morning. If I can manage to rise at 8am in the mornings for the whole of next week it will be a miracle.

Until next time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

how i learnt to trust south america and love a bus driver

I have to start this blog entry by recounting todays little adventure at the brazil-argentina border...
we left brazil yesterday on a 14 hour bus to come to the iguazu falls, a national park with 420 waterfalls. after getting off the overnight bus (slept a dream after necking back a few Piriton) we got on a local bus to cross the border and disembarked at the brazilian side. once i got to the the booth to get my passport stamped i realised i had left my shoulder bag with passport, wallet, cards, ipod, camera, EVERYTHING on the bus. at that stage racing off after it as it sped to argentina was pointless and i couldn't even follow in a taxi becaause a) the border is in the middle of nowhere and there were no taxis and b) because i didn't have a passport i wouldn't have been let me into the country. so, after 30 minute of freaking out with the brazilian police, border control and some poor chap who was doing surveys for the brazilian toursit board (the only person who spoke english acting as my interpreter), my only option was to wait at the side of the road for the bus to come back.... after it had gone into the border town in argentina and picked up another load of people who were crossing to brazil.
at this point i should probably remind everyone that south america is not known as the safest place in the world....
when the bus arrived back 40 minutes later there was no option for it but to stop, given i stood out in front of it flagging it down like a madwoman. when the driver pulled my bag out of a compartment above his head with my passport and all of my belongings intact i practically floored the man. i do remember telling him i loved him and may have proposed... it`s all a bit of a blur really. the fact that i am the jammiest girl alive right now was confirmed by all the people at the border who couldn`t believe that i got it back, "in this country, it`s a miracle"someone said to me. i haven`t stopped smiling since it happened. the prospect of a 2 day bus journey to sao paulo to the irish embassy to get an emergency replacement and everything else i would have had to have gone through (and put mary through) was so horrible... but it's all good man... it's all good. another reason to love brazil and one very good one to start to love argentina.

besides being the stupiest and luckiest girl alive today, myself and young healy have been knocking around florianopolis since my last entry. with mary not feeling well for about 5 days and the weather staying really good we decided to linger on there and maximise on our beach time. we moved hostel to a much more lively place for 3 nights and as soon as we did that the weather took a turn for the worse. the last few days in floripa were rain-sodden which doesn't leave much for a body to do when a place is all about the beach. we did however manage to have a couple of savage nights out. with mary back in full health we spent a few nights in a club called De Raiz in front of a massive sand dune fomarmation hanging out with the local brazilians, dancing to live samba and folk music and drinking (very strong) caiprinhas. the atmosphere in this place was amazing... sexy locals who were amazing dancers, the place was like a converted barn and was heaving with people... mary and i kept feeling like vinny jones was going to crash through the window because it was just like being in a bacardi ad! fun times, persian massages, samba lessons, 7 people packed into a vintage beatle, it had it all. another fun night out involved drinking champagne all night in a dance club and having a lock-in and mixing drinks behind the bar with the owner. ah, floripa, we will miss you.

it was sad to say tchau tchau to brazil but i've a good feeling about this argentina place (and not just because of getting my bag back today). there's something inside me that knows i'm going to love this place. off to see some waterfalls tomorrow. will leave passport behind.

hasta promixa,

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The story so far

so, it´s been two weeks in south america and having originally not been so pushed about visiting brazil, now i´m really happy that we´ve made it here. 
currently we are in a hostel in a place called Florianopolis. we travelled for about 24 hours to get here - our first long haul bus trip - and even though we slept practically 10 hours on the last trip we got here and spent the entire day in bed. mary aint feeling too well.... the first real illness either of us have had so far. i´m counting down the days to when i´ll be laid down with the delhi belly.
so, to start from the beginning. we arrivd in rio on the 2nd April and after a not-so-impressive bus from the airport (passing through some of the worst favellas in the city) we arrived in our hostel, Harmonia, in Ipanema (a beachside neighbourhood south of Copacabana). In Harmonia we met some really great people... Robert and his wife Eva who run the place, Sofia and of course Julio - the mentalist Carioca who took a shine to Mary´s sense of humour and let us both astray in Rio for our time there. 
Saw the major sites in Rio and managed to run off the side of a mountain in a tandem hanglide. 
Left Rio after 5 days to head south to a place calld Isla Grande - the 3rd biggest island off the Brazilian coast. Beautiful beaches and rainforests all around and once again some great people to hang out with. 
From Isla we went down the coast to a place called Trindade, a beach town close to the Portugese colonial town of Paraty. Julio was there to welcome us.... from his spot in the hammock on the deck anyway! We were there for Easter weekend, which is one of the big  holiday weekends for Brazilians (they get Thursday and Friday off) and Trindade was full of Paulistanas (people from Sao Paulo) holidaying (read on the piss) for the weekend. We encountered a totally unexpected festival atmosphere, with people camping all over the place and a dance tent (hideous trance unfortunately) on the beach front. Spent 5 days in Trindade.. lazing on the beaches and going for walks mainly (Mary surfed, but I wasn´t able / inclined due to having fell down a set of slippery steps and bashed in my elbow). Got the mandatory sunburning and began what I imagine is going to be a close 5 month relationship with mossie bites. 
And now here we are in Florianopolis.... hoping to stay here for a good few days and catch some more sunshine. We´ve treated ourselves to a private room as opposed to a ten bed mixed dorm (cos we´re worth it!). If I´m feeling courageous I may even do some surfing too.
until next time...