The fat lady sang and the journey drew to finality. Buenos Aires was that fat lady and boy did she sing her heart out.
On the last day waiting for my flight back to the UK, I sat with Tim, Karen (who had met us in Bolivia on Isla Del Sol), Lisa from Ireland (who we had met in Ushuaia) and another Lisa who just came for a pint, and shared a beer in the little restaurant across the street from our hostel.
They asked me what were the best and worst parts of the trip, the highs and the lows, favourite countries and the people that I had met who I had liked (and disliked). Several things stood out and in no particular order, (well, marginally chronologically) they are as follows:
- Watching comedy masked wrestling, Mexican style in Mexico City.
- The amazing ruins of Mexico, including Teotichuan, Uxmal, Chichen Itza and my favourite – Palenque.
- Travelling around the Yucatan Peninsula with Franco, Elisa and Sophie in the Argentinian mean machine with Che Gueverra stamped on the back and Manu Chau playing over the stereo!
- The idyllic island of Isla Mujeres, where I spent two of the best weeks of my trip, and met some of the best people travelling, including Kerstin! The snorkelling on the reefs stands out as a great experience there. Poc Na Hostel gets a huge thumbs up. Joav and Gill stand out as two Israellis who are totally off their heads, but great fun. Joav drank mescal during the breaks between snorkelling, drinking through the snorkel, and Gill confessed that the state of Israel is essentially the same as Star Wars and he and all the other young people who had been in the army were actually Storm Troopers on call at short notice to fight against those pesky Jedis. No, believe me, I’m serious!!!
- Languishing in Antigua, Guatemala where I got real sick (bad), met some great people (good) and learnt a bit of Spanish, which then helped me to talk to other people aside from other travellers! Climbing the volcano of Pacaya stands out as a cool experience, especially peering down into the active crater of the volcano, and then the subsequent running down the scree on the side of the volcano. Being the only foreigner out of 600 people at Ingrid’s university graduation in Guatemala City. The experience of the chicken bus afterwards plus meeting her really cool boyfriend Jack was a great day out and a really interesting adventure.
- Lake Atitlan, Guatemala and the village of San Pedro, with its funny hippies left over from the sixties. Phrases such as “no man, you mean the Beatles have split up??”, and “fancy some space cakes today guys, there reeeeeal good”, spring to mind. Great breakfasts and one of the best fillet steaks outside Argentina in a fab restaurant run by a Dutch family are fondly remembered.
- Costa Rica’s brilliant sunsets every night from the hostel, and great hospitality from Conrad who sat with us and smoked Cubans all evening.
- The horrendous Panama airport, with the five christmas carols in Spanish, loud and on repeat for ten hours, which in conjunctiom with the luminescent overhead lights left us unable to sleep and ready for the looney bin. Chatting to an old Argentinian guy, who was living in Bolivia and in Panama for “business”, then caused us to have the most thorough check of our luggage that we had during our whole trip. Then being asked by the Head of Airport Security if “we know this man”, and then watching him getting searched. The sight of how he had three empty suitcases inside each other, no clothes and was blantantly a drugs mule was quite scary. We scarpered as soon as we landed in Bolivia and avoided him after that!
- Arriving in Bolivia to see Kerstin again and having a wonderful time travelling together. Poor Tim played gooseberry quite noblely!
- Experiencing the inside of the working Potosi silver mine with Tim saving my bacon (we don’t like to talk about it, but yes he did save my life!), plus blowing up plastic explosive and our amusing guides with the car that wouldn’t go uphill. Okay if you live in Holland, but not so good where the entire city is set against a moutainside at a 25 degree angle.
- Travelling in the 4×4 with Kerstin, Tim, Wouter and Linda plus our coca-leaf-chewing guide Louis around the Salar De Uynui. Possibly the most amazingly bold and expansive, beautiful and barren landscape I think I have ever seen. Shit hostels and no showers. Bathing in hot springs at 4,500 metres. Lakes of deep green and pink flamingoes. Tim banging his head on the door frames, made for the short Bolivians, 5 times before 8am, and the subsequent barrage if swearing that followed. Unmissable!
- First views of La Paz cupped in the hands of the surrounding mountains. The interesting coca museum, and our great hotel where we bargained a 90 dollar room down the 45 and a 80 dollar room down to 30. Culminating in a truely 5 dollar shower that was so desperately desired after the showers in most Bolivian hostels (the kind that heat the water electrically as the water passes through the shower head and electricutes you every time you try to adjust the temperature! Putting Kerstin on a plane to Argentina was a sad moment.
- Isla Del Sol in Lake Titicaca. One great walk that took a day to see the fabled birthplace of some of the most famous Inca royalty.
- Cuzco in Peru for Christmas. Great restaurants, food and some lovely people. Will be remembered for the company over Christams of Helen and Joanne as surrogate family, plus our infamous hours of shithead that coined the “Cuszo Classic Rules” of Shithead.
- Inca Trail and Machu Pichu over New Year, possibly the most memorable New Year ever. the second day of hell on Inca Trail and the rewards of the first views of Machu Pichu from the Sun Gate stand out. Staying in the porter’s village was an excellent experience that you can only get with Wayki Trek in Gringo Alley.
- Arequipa was only memorable for both Tim and I being sick, and watching TV and reading books in the hostel whilst we recovered. I had problems breathing, literally pain when taking anything but a shallow breath and Tim had a “brown laser” problem.
- Peru is not going to be that fondly remembered with the exception of Inca Trail and Cuzco. Lima will be remembered for the hassle from taxi drivers at the airport, notably the one who tried to teach us how to use a payphone. (hhhmm, money in, dial number, talk into handset bit…). After the crap journey via Colombia from Ecuador in one day I seriously thought Tim was going to hit the guy.
- Having fun in Bogota with Andrea, Matt and Andrea’s family, combined with their amazing hospitality. We got to go to the best clubs and bars, none of which are in any guide book, and saved us from the shithole that is Downtown Bogota. The amazing Musee D’Ore with the Colombian gold artefacts.
- The beautiful city of Cartegena with an unrivalled early colonial architecture, beautiful people and great night life. Notable events include our meeting with a American Embassy “offical”, who advise us not to talk to women from Cali, as “it’s like the wild west out there, and the boyfriends and husbands are likely to shoot you”. This was followed the next night by being invited to join a group of friends for a drink by a Venezuelan guy, who then insisted that Tim dance with some of his female friends. “Where are they from?”, I asked. “Oh, from Cali”, was his reply. I looked at Tim’s face which seemed to be paling to the dilemma that he either dance salsa with one of them and risk the fabled “getting shot”, or not dance and risk offending them and “getting shot”. Turned out to be fine and everyone including the boyfriends were extremely friendly.
- Actually that summed up Colombia in a nutshell. Everyone we met was extremely friendly, and compared the Peru, where the locals treated you like a walking ATM, the Colombian friendliness was confusing at the beginning, however with all genuity was purely that fact that they were happy to see tourists in their country. We met a great deal of pilots, including the only female helicopter pilot and one unnamed and undescribed who flew paramilitaries in and out of the battle zones. Again which group remains a mystery. For Colombians everything they have is the best. This “we have the best…” statement we found highly amusing. The statement usually along the lines of, “well, we have the best tasting coffee, the best looking women, the best football and well, quite frankly the best drugs in the world. I know these guerrillas are a pain and cause alot of problems, but they are technically the best rebels in the world”.
- Ecuador stood out for further hospitality given by the cousins of my friend Marissa’s, who now lives in Reading . It was mainly Ana who took care of us and showed us around the city. Ana’s joke about the statue of the Virgin high above Quito and it being “the only virgin in Quito”, was quite funny too. Great standing on the equator too.
- We loved the white water rafting in Baños and watching Tim fall out of the raft and start floating off towards Brasil was amusing. It was a pity I didn’t get any pictures, but then I couldn’t have taken the camera along without getting it soaked.
- Chile, well, was just a downer. Couldn’t get to grips with it, and the people had the “best attitude” similar to Colombians but it wasn’t deserved. Expensive and the only thing I liked was the Santiago architecture. Couldn’t wait to leave and get to Argentina.
- Arriving in Mendoza felt like a breath of fresh air. Was excited to see Franco and Elisa again. Got a brilliant welcome from them and their families, who were so sweet to us, plus Lucy who was tagging along with us too. Loved Mendoza and it’s airy streets even though the weather was oppresively humid. It was notably the most southerly point of the Inca dynasty’s reach. Had our first Argentinian “parrilla” or BBQ, in San Rafael and had a great time. It was sad to leave Franco and Elisa and wished I could have stayed longer.
- Barriloche will be remembered for the kayaking trip that I totally enjoyed to the full. Our guide and his wife made the experience completely brilliant for us. Food was pretty good there too and the scenery amazing. Felt just like being in Switzerland or Bavaria.
- The Perito Moreno Glacier was the second natural wonder that took my breath away. The blue ice, the massive walls of ice that slowly creep and groan before spectacularly crashing into the lake.
- Seeing penguins lived and in the flesh near Ushuaia and reaching the “end of the world”. No comedy glasses or funny hats as desired, but a great experience.
- The Iguazu Falls or “Cataratas Iguazu” was the final natural wonder. I so nearly missed it and so glad I didn’t. An amazing day, with an amazing boat ride under the falls.
- The beautiful city of Buenos Aires. I have fallen in love with it and have vowed to return. Argentina in general is stunning. I love the people, the cities and the vastly different types of landscape you can see there.
I had a wonderful trip and amazingly for me, stayed out of trouble on the whole, didn’t get robbed, assaulted, arrested or set up on drugs scams. I went out not knowing what to expect and got everything I could have wished for and more. I loved that I could speak Spanish and interact with the locals by the end, although often parrying the question, “how much do people earn in the UK”, with the answer, “a pack of cigarettes costs $8.70 USD, a litre of petrol costs $7 USD and the average house price in London is $1.8 million USD”!
I am so glad I made the decision to go, and consider the money well spent. If you have the opportunity to go to South America then do. There is so much to see and to do. It is truely beautiful and so are its varied peoples. I will treasure those people I have met, the things I have seen and hope to always stay close friends with Tim who was the best travelling companion for 4 months (snoring excluded). I have been lucky enough to have found the most amazing woman, which has now inspired me to go and learn German and to be with her!