(CP) Just a flying visit for now.....
06.02.2009 - 13.02.2009 25 °C
Any indication on our part that the bus journeys are a hardship, if I'm honest, have been mostly an exaggerated attempt to convey that travelling isn't always easy and does get tiring constantly being on the move but, truth be told, the buses have been fine. Its fair to say the Colombians drive too fast, which was a little hell raising at times, but all in all we've enjoyed them; comfy seats, movies (if the TV works) and time to yourself with no choice but to do nothing. That is until our overnight bus to Argentina! Bearing in mind we were leaving Chile, one of the most developed countries in Sur America, with Peru, Ecuador and Columbia behind us, we presumed they would only get better, but unfortunately not.
The border crossing was a nightmare. Having left Santiago in the heat, we hadn't accounted for crossing the Andes and how cold it gets at night. Three hours in and we have all settled into our seats and drifted off for the night, or so we thought. Midnight and the bus comes to a stop, we're at the border, all off the bus, queueing behind 4 other bus loads of people in transit, the most people we've encountered at any border crossing, let alone, the middle of the night!?! So we wait, we get stamped, we get back on the bus, wait some more until we finally drift off to sleep again. Not for long, 2 hours later we're off the bus again, having been stationary the whole time, and this time we are queuing for an entrance stamp... 10 yards from where we queued 2 hours ago. Following this, ALL the bags are taken off the bus and checked thoroughly. Efficient, yes, but i couldn't have cared a less at 3 am in the morning standing in the freezing cold. We set off again 4 hours later, enough for a quick snooze before arriving in Mendoza.
Mendoza is a calm, Oasis town in the Cuyo desert of Argentina and their main wine region. No surprises why it was on our agenda. Still, whatever they say about Argentina, great nightlife, parties till dawn were not for us on arrival, we checked into our hostel, gave five minutes to catch up with some fellow travellers we had met along the way and then we crashed.
The following day we had the tour of the vineyards, it was good, but a little stingy on the wine if you ask me, Mendoza Malbec is their main export but, not pretending to be a connoisseur, ill stick with the Merlot. This was followed by a visit to an olive farm.. wine, olives, sun dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar. Heaven, oh memories of a far of land.
Which leads me onto the food. Argentina, as everyone knows is all about the beef. Seeing as Laura and I are verging on Veggie's, we haven't yet sampled it. Kathryn did and it was delicious. Other than that the supermarkets are fully stocked like home. Only thing is, vegetables are expensive and so we're struggling. The other problem is on ever corner there is someone selling pastries of every kind you can imagine. Empanadas, as I'm sure we've mentioned before, as they are South America's signature food, Ham & Cheese toasties.. EVERYWHERE and dulce de Leche, a caramel like spread that they have on everything. I'm scared for myself. Breakfast is included with the hostels and so there is no escaping it, how can you refuse something delicious if its free. H E L P! And so i ask a local Argentine how come the women are so slim. She states, of course, they don't eat. What they do do, like all argentines, is drink a lot of Mate. A herbal tea that they carry round with them all day in flasks, Seems peculiar at first, but you soon get used to it and i understand now that it is part of their culture. Its a social past time, which i really like. You walk down the street and pass a park bench with 2 or 3 friends sitting there having a drink. Whoever's mate it is, pours boiling water into a cup with the leaves and you then sip it through a metal straw. It has a bitter taste but you get used to it and its like a caffeine fix. Oh, because they don't really drink coffee. It was the one thing we found really hard to buy in the supermarket. They'd only have one brand and it would be the filtered kind, a problem when you don't happen to be travelling with a percolator.
So, I've digressed. Back to our time in Mendoza. Although we we're only there for a few days, we had a chance to have a wee walk about and the towns really cosmopolitan. Everything is very orderly. The streets are wide and tree lined. It felt to me, like an American suburb. People we're friendly and the weather was sunny and mild but not too hot, altogether very nice.
As its nestled in the Andes it is also well known for its outdoor activities, hiking, rock climbing, biking, and rafting. Laura and her recently mended broken wrist, was limited to what she could do so we opted for rafting, full moon rafting in fact. So that night, 9pm, we get picked up in 'the fun bus' as we shall remember it. Seems like a standard 10 seater bus until we set off and on came the flashing red lights and pumping tunes from the sub in the back. This was all very amusing until we are half way through our 3 hour journey up the mountain when we get a blow out! I'm pretty sure we surfed the road on the alloy for a while before the driver realised. I wont bore you with the waiting and repairing but lets leave it with the image of 'the not so fun bus' for the rest of the journey. No music or lights.
The actual rafting was a bit of a disappointment, it was more like a float downstream than white water rafting. Still, all thing considered safety first i guess, it was 1am before we got on the water so better than a grade 5 in the darkness. The best part of the night was the full moon party afterwards with a huge bonfire in the most amazing settings. Only two choices at the bar though, beer or Fernet, a 45% alcohol, traditional drink. We tried the spirit, revolting, Ethnol, no, worse than that. Indescribable. I think it was a joke. Anyway, after that we stuck to beer.
With Kathryn with us and our agendas once again packed, the following night we were back on the buses and heading for Igazu falls. (This time a lovely, lovely bus, thank goodness). 14 hours later and we arrived in Puerto Iguazu. Funny little town, with nothing to do apart from the falls, so next day we were up early and ready for the tour. Well Kathryn was ready, as always, and Laura and I we're flapping about. We made the bus and we're all in eager anticipation of 'one of the planets most awe-inspiring sights'. Unfortunately it was overcast when we arrived at the park but with a packed tour in store, we thought little of it. That is until we headed to the first view point. Everybody passing in the opposite direction was wet. hmmm? not until we got a little closer did we realise why... there was a massive storm passing over and the sprays from the waterfall we're so strong they absolutely drenched us!
Amazing, Amazing sight, the power and the noise of the waterfalls are tremendous and also a very, very funny day. The three of us were completely unprepared. Fisherman pants, vests and sunnies whilst the rest of the parks visitors were in rain coats, waterproofs and umbrellas. After an hour we were too wet and cold to do the boat and 4x4 trip so we headed back to the hostel, luckily getting away with not having to pay for the tour.
The waterfalls are on the border of Argentina and Brazil. It is recommended to see the falls from both sides as they offer such different views. With the Brazilian tour booked for the following day we made sure this time we were fully prepared for the weather conditions. Not a chance our day would be cut short again.
Needless to say, the next day was a scorcher. Not only were the waterfalls spectacular but where the sun hits the water there are the most amazing rainbows.
You follow a circuit to each view point through the national park where we saw the most beautiful giant blue butterflies and also lots and lots of spiders webs with different species of spiders, including 4 torachalors being shooed away by park rangers. Laura's living hell, as you can imagine.
As we had gone to all the trouble of kitting ourselves out in preparation for rain we decided a photo was in order, much to the amusement of other visitors.
This was also an opportunity to hop over into Brazil, exciting. a new country, even if it was only for a few hours. Only real comment i can give is that they speak Portuguese, of course. Well that really was a shock to the system. We couldn't understand a word! It was embarrassing as we muddled through with the Spanish we know but also an eye opener into how hard it is to travel if you can speak the language. That's not to say we are in any way good a Spanish, YET, but we can get by and are improving all the time.
After the 2nd day at the falls we booked another bus for that night. 4 out of 6 nights on buses.. not bad going. Destination was Uruguay. How we got there was a little unplanned......
As for Argentina, what we've seen so far we've loved. In only two stops, one week, we have gone from the chilly Andes to the tropical rainforrest of the north. The country is vast and we look forward to our return.