After over 70,000 blog views in 113 countries, visiting 21 countries over 15 months and quite a few memories along the way, the time has come and our travels have ended. We’ve now been back in London for about a month and we’re depressed, bemused and discombobulated. It’s cold…too cold…far too cold.
It’s hard to put into words how much fun we have had. It’s also hard to pick out specific highlights. Lots of people have already asked us ‘what’s your favourite country’, and it’s really difficult to choose one over another.
So we thought we would write a quick summary of everywhere we have been and talk about what we liked and didn’t like. So here goes…
01 – China
Our first stop and still one of our favourite countries, China was an amazing place to begin our trip. We found it an easy place to get around with a very good train network. The people can take some getting used to, especially the constant spitting and coughing but on the whole they were friendly and very interesting to watch. Probably the highlight of China was the food, specifically dumplings, hot and sour soup, Peking duck and schezuan food. The Drum and Gong on a tiny hutong in northern Beijing provided us with the best food of our whole trip, hands down.
02 – Hong Kong
In Hong Kong we were treated to some lavish accommodation and wild nights out courtesy of Dave, Shiona and friends. With Katy as my guide we squeezed a lot into our two weeks there. It’s probably not the most accessible place for a traveller due to the cost of everything, but we both really enjoyed our time there. Even though it is a fairly small space, there is so much to do there outside of Central. You definitely need to explore to get the best out of Hong Kong.
Vietnam was by far the cheapest country we visited on our trip, and very easy to get around. Ha Long Bay was one of the highlights of our entire time away, and even though it is one of the ‘Wonders of the World’, it was peaceful and serene without hoards of people elbowing you out of the way. I was very ill in Saigon, and we had to miss out Hoi An and Huế due to flooding which was a shame. It was interesting to learn more about the ‘American War’ and visit the Cu Chi tunnels…especially when Katy got stuck in the hole.
04 – Cambodia
One of our favourite countries, and I’m still trying to persuade Katy to buy a hostel here. Hot, humid and packed with culture, great food and friendly people. The coast (if you avoid Sihanoukville) is idyllic and somewhere we would both love to visit again (to look for hostel locations). Bus journeys are an experience here, but we got what we paid for. We have mixed feelings over Angkor Wat, we loved climbing over all the ancient temples, playing with the local children and listening to them counting to 10 in about 5 different languages. It’s just a shame we couldn’t have had the place to ourselves for the day.
05 – Laos
Our most adventurous and unforgettable country of the trip saw us zip wiring through the jungle, tubing down rivers and motor biking for the very first time through the remote southern region. We had some travel partners in Seb and Sophie, who helped us see in the new year at a Laos bowling alley after bumping into them on a hellish bus journey. The transport and ‘Laos time’ was probably our biggest challenge but taught us how to be more patient. Our favourite Laos dish was the Laap, a spicy minced beef or lamb salad packed with fresh coriander and chilli…delicious. Laos is a fantastic country; cheap, beautiful and very friendly.
06 – Myanmar
Probably my favourite country of our trip, Myanmar is so different to everywhere else we visited. There is no western influence there at all, so no Coca Cola, Malboro etc…anywhere to be seen and that just added to it for me. It has a huge Indian influence, so eating biryani from a coconut leaf with your hands is all part of the experience. It’s a tiring place to travel around with a very bad and uncomfortable bus network, but it’s all worth the effort. Bagan is just the most amazing place I have ever been, and with so few tourists, visiting it almost feels like you have the place to yourself.
07 – Thailand
We spent just over 6 weeks in Thailand, 3 of which were spent on a beach on the beautiful island of Koh Lanta where we got to recharge our batteries. The food was a real highlight for us, especially the massaman, green and red curries. We liked the food so much that we took a second Thai cooking lessons whilst we were there. We learnt how to scuba dive which was amazing and also got to play with real life Tigers. Bangkok was hectic, expensive but great fun, especially when we met up with Dave and the HK football lads.
08 – Malaysia
Our highlight of Malaysia has to be the food. From the amazing tikkas and curries in Penang to the cream teas in the Cameron Highlands. We definitely indulged. The Grand Prix in Kuala Lumpur was a wash out but a great experience, and the music festival although fun was disappointing. We got to visit my Mum’s old school (now an army base) and found some photos of her in a local tea room. We didn’t have enough time in Malaysia which meant we missed the East coast…but there is always next time.
09 – Brunei
We had only two days in Brunei which to be honest was enough. Not a lot to do or see and it wasn’t helped that we couldn’t even have a drink to pass the time. We did however get see their National Park which involved a very funny boat ride in a coffin and a climb up on what can only be described as scaffolding to walk a series of bridges high above the trees…a fantastic sight but not very in keeping with the jungle. The food wasn’t very exciting which meant that we ordered in Pizza Hut on both nights we were there. Maybe the Sultan needs to invest a bit more into his restaurant scene.
10 – Philippines
With some of the best beaches and views I can remember, the Philippines will definitely be somewhere we will visit again. In fact we have already checked prices for 2014. EL Nido was simply stunning, and the diving in Malapascua out of this world. A definite highlight was diving with Thresher sharks and snorkeling with Whale sharks. The Philippines did see Katy have a mini breakdown though when she decided that she needed a holiday. It didn’t last long, especially once she had a beer in her hand and watched yet another amazing sunset.
11 – Indonesia
We have many highlights from Indonesia; the amazing diving, hunting for Komodo dragons in Flores, climbing the volcano Mt Bromo and relaxing on the beaches of the Gili islands. Bali was disappointing as it was far too touristy and Jakarta was just a massive concrete jungle. Some of the rooms we stayed in were basic to say the least, with sinks and throne toilets nowhere to be seen. It’s a big place and we barely touched the sides, so we’re definitely thinking of going back for another look some day.
12 – Singapore
Singapore was very expensive and saw us stay in our first dorm room of the trip. It’s a big city, pretty easy to get around but not really that much to see. We did venture to the zoo though where I got to see my favourite animal…a Malaysian tapir. Being on a budget we didn’t get to experience much of the glamorous side of Singapore and settled for street restaurants and the odd happy hour beer. It is a place that I could quite easily see us moving to, as there is a great expat community…and the weather is slightly better than the UK.
13 – Japan
So Japan beats Singapore hands down for being the most expensive country we visited…£12 for a pint of beer…enough said. The tube and rail network in Tokyo is immense and took some getting used to but we managed to take in most of the sights. The restaurant scene wasn’t that easy; secretive and expensive so we ate our fair share of pot noodles that week and of course squeezed in as much sushi as we could.
14 – Ecuador
Ecuador saw us swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos, climbing volcanoes, whale watching, learning Spanish (sort of) and watching a very uneventful European cup. We visited South America’s largest handicraft market which was the start of Katy’s alpaca addiction. We ate our fair share of almuerzos…a set 2 or 3 course lunch for $2-3 and tried our first of many empanadas. Our real low light of Ecuador was having our camera stolen on a bus near the Peru border.
15 – Colombia
Colombia was a nice surprise. We were expecting it to be bit dodgy but the people couldn’t have been friendlier and they couldn’t have put any more police on the streets if they tried. The big cities of Medillion and Bogota were average (we do tend to prefer places out of the city) but the real highlight for us was the Caribbean coast, particularly Cartagena and Tayrona National Park. We really enjoyed San Agustin where I rode a horse the first time and visited the ancient statues scattered across the countryside.
16 – Peru
Peru started badly with us getting mugged in Mancora. It took us a while to shake off the experience and probably ruined our time in Peru if we’re honest. It wasn’t all bad though as we enjoyed sand boarding in the desert, driving through the Andes, climbing Wanapicchu at the top of Machu Picchu. Our first half an hour on Machu Picchu was wonderfully quiet, serene and beautiful but it soon became overcrowded and just another disappointing tourist attraction. The food was pretty good and we became quite adventurous trying cuy (guinea pig), alpaca, Llama and ceviche.
17 – Bolivia
What a beautiful and extremely diverse country. We visited the highest city in the world, fished for piranhas and swam with pink dolphins in the Amazon, hunted for anacondas and capybaras in the jungle, rode horses across Bolivia’s wild-west and spent three days visiting the amazing salt flats. We had some of the best food in South America, especially the saltenas (empanadas) and enjoyed some very nice (and cheap) Bolivian red wine. The only downside was that we didn’t see a sloth.
18 – Chile
Arriving on a National holiday wasn’t the best start (you’d think we would have learnt by this point of the trip) and meant that we stayed in some very average hostels. Chile for us meant civilisation after being in basic Bolivia for a month so we took advantage of the wines (of course), being able to choose what and where to eat and paying for things with a credit card (a real novelty). We were there out of season so the snow had melted and the coast was just too cold.
19 – Argentina
What’s not to love about Argentina…amazing wines, steaks, beautiful scenery and the friendliest people we met in South America. A real highlight for us was of course the wines but Patagonia was simply stunning. Our walk across the Perito Mereno glazier was incredible and an experience we will never forget. Katy even enjoyed our trek to Fitz Roy. It’s another huge country with so much diversity. Patagonia although expensive was worth every penny. We had five weeks in Argentina, and that just wasn’t enough.
20 – Uruguay
Punta Del Diablo although out of season was a great place for us to chill out for a few days. We enjoyed walking in the national park and along the extremely long beaches (we won’t mention the cows as Katy is still having nightmares), some home cooked meals (not that we had a choice with all of the restaurants closed) and catching a little sun along the way. It was a place that I am glad we stopped in. We really enjoyed our time there, although I’m not sure we would go out of our way to visit there again.
21 – Brazil
As Brazil was our last stop, we treated ourselves to several nice hostels, meals and private transfers. The food was a real highlight, especially the rodizios (all you can eat meat buffets) and of course we drank our fair share of caipirinhas too. Florianopolis was beautiful and we really enjoyed chilling out there for a few days. Iguassu Falls was incredible and we especially enjoyed the Brazilian side. Rio was a great city to end our 15 months away and we celebrated with visits to the many sights including a very interesting Favella tour, a couple of Lapa street parties and of course many more caipirinhas along the way.
So there you have it. We want to thank everyone we met whilst away; you helped to make this an amazing trip for us and it wouldn’t have been the same without you. If any of you are ever in London, make sure you get in contact.
We also want to thank everyone at home for reading the blog and keeping up with our exploits. The blog has done really well with over 70,000 hits in over 115 countries. We even won a best photo of the week competition along the way.
So you don’t have to hear from us anymore. You’ll just have to buy us a drink when you next see us to welcome us home. I am still unemployed after all.
Until the next time…
We arrived in Rio de Janeiro excited but slightly apprehensive as it was our last stop before flying home. We didn’t get too much time to dwell on it though as when we walked into our hostel we bumped into some friends from Bolivia, Chris and Zoe. It was their last night travelling before their return to England, so we had a few caipirinhas with them before they left. Our hostel (Bossa in Rio) was really nice and had a great happy hour, so we quickly made some new friends while acclimatising to the sweltering hot weather.
We were in Rio for five days but had a lot to squeeze in during that time, so the next morning we were up early and headed to see one of the big attractions, Christ the Redeemer. We went with an Aussie couple called Nathan and Kate. Christ reminded us of Big Buddha in Hong Kong and although it’s a very impressive and symbolic sight, it was the views that won us over. As with all these sights, it was full of tourists but we managed to elbow some of them out of our way for some great shots of Rio.
The afternoon was spent wondering around Leblon and Ipanema, some of Rio’s more affluent neighbourhoods. We had planned to watch the sunset from Ipanema beach as apparently it is amazing but unfortunately after about half an hour of watching the beautiful people on the beach, the weather suddenly turned and huge rain clouds came over ahead. We ran for a bus in the pouring rain and made the most of our hostels happy hour instead.
The bad weather continued the next day so we took a walk to the Santa Teresa steps, beautifully tiled stairway by a Chilean artist. It was raining so we took a few pictures and had a quick lunch before heading out for the afternoon.
We had booked ourselves onto a favela tour with a tour group called ‘Don’t be a Gringo, be a Local’…quite apt. I was really looking forward to having a walk around a favela within the relative safety of a tour. We were taken to the biggest and most famous favela in South America called Rochina which houses over 69,000 people. We started at the top which provided amazing views over the whole favela and Rio and then slowly made our way down through the narrow lanes.
On our way down we were treated to some live Samba by some of the local kids. They were part of a Sunday school and had been encouraged to do something for money rather than just beg so they had put together a small band…if you can call it that…some old plastic tubs and saucepans. Some of the younger kids joined in and started dancing for us. It was all very sweet and obviously planned for our visit so we rewarded their efforts with a small donation.
The favela is like a city of its own, it has its own hospitals, schools, shops and even internet cafes. This particular favela has not been pacified yet but is starting to go through the process. Most of the favelas in Rio have now been pacified, which basically means that the drug lords have been kicked out and they are now run and supported by the police. Most favelas have seen massive improvements in terms of sanitation and some have cable cars or lifts being built (not for tourists but for the locals).
When we came out of a particular bad lane, having walked through sewage and god knows what else, we were greeted by four massive police men carrying machine guns…not a sight I expected but apparently all part of the pacification. Our guide told us that the majority of local people have welcomed the change and are working with the police to improve their living conditions. It was a truly interesting experience.
The Aussie couple we met, Kate and Nathan were great fun and one night Nathan let us into a big secret. He had arranged for Kate’s sister to fly into Rio and travel with them for three weeks and Kate had no idea. Alice was arriving during happy hour so we settled down for a few drinks and when she walked through the door, Kate’s face was a picture…what a brilliant surprise!
We celebrated Alice’s arrival by heading out to the infamous Lapa street party. The whole neighbourhood came alive with live music on the streets, cheap caipirinhas and an amazing atmosphere. We watched some of the locals strut their stuff and show off their samba skills and I decided to have a go. Well, I can tell you that samba is one of the hardest dances I have ever tried. It obviously has a rhythm but I couldn’t find it so I sort of jumped around on my feet trying to wiggle my bum at the same time…not a pretty sight according to Sam!
It was a great night and we managed to come home with our camera and wallet still intact. One of the couples we were with had their iPhone stolen from their pocket unfortunately, and it’s notorious for theft and muggings.
Feeling slightly worse for wear the next day we headed to Copacabana for a walk along the famous beach and possibly a dip in the sea. Unfortunately the weather didn’t co-operate so we settled some lunch followed by some Havaiana shopping much to Sam’s delight. We returned to Lapa later that night for some more samba and the strongest caipirinhas I have ever had. They were served in pint glasses and were very cheap.
Sunday was a bit of a wash-out unfortunately…two nights out on the trot were taking their toll so we had a lazy day in the hostel. By the evening we were feeling much better so a group of us headed out to a local restaurant which was recommended by our hostel; Bar Do Maneiro. It was a great little place which offered traditional Brazilian food at a reasonable price. We each shared some bean and meat stew, which we later found out was made with pigs ears, tails and other meat delights. It was delicious though and I am glad I didn’t really know what I was eating. We also ordered the fish stew which was delicious and we couldn’t resist ordering a plate of crackling…Mmm. It was a great last night for us.
We packed our bag for the very last time, careful to protect the three litres of cacacha we’re bringing back and headed out to our final tourist spot, Sugar Loaf Mountain. We had wanted to go up for sunset as the views over Rio looked incredible. Because of the changeable weather this wasn’t possible so we headed out around lunchtime and had a couple of hours soaking in the amazing views, even finding a couple of loungers to relax on. We also enjoyed watching the planes come in as they have to bank quite sharply over the water in order to land on the short runway of the local airport.
Although we had a lovely day, trying to get Sam to smile in any of the photos was hard work. He is definitely not looking forward to coming home so he was a bit miserable all day. I had fun though and even though I wish we could continue our travels together, I am excited to be coming home to see all my family and friends.
What a city and country to end our 15 months of travel…a definite must see for you all and one that we’ll be coming back to. We’re now at Frankfurt airport waiting for our flight to London and the only thing that is keeping us going (apart from a Starbucks coffee) is the thought of eating bratwurst and ordering some champagne!
Coming soon…the round-up of our trip
After two flights, a quick bus ride through Rio and a further five hours on a bus we were finally in Paraty; just another ordinary travel day. We’d been told that Paraty was a must see and we were not disappointed. It is a picturesque seaside town with cobble stones, colonial buildings and has hundreds of surrounding islands.
We booked a boat tour of the islands for one of our three days and had a great day taking in the various islands and beaches. Being typical travellers, we opted out of the lunch option on the boat (v expensive) so instead enjoyed our packet of peanuts and beer whilst everyone else on the boat tucked into fresh shrimp and salad…it wasn’t our best decision.
The rest of our time in Paraty was either spent on the beach, walking around taking pictures of the beautiful cobble stoned streets or drinking Caipirinhas…when in Rome! Paraty is one of two places in Brazil that produces cacacha, the spirit used to make the famous Caipirinha. We found a Cacacharia and immediately started sampling the local stuff which is so much nicer than the cheap cacacha you see everywhere else.
We could have stayed longer in Paraty but we’d booked our transfer out and our next stop was Ilha Grande, a beautiful island that has been in our plans since the beginning. As this is our last few weeks, we decided that we were done with buses so booked a transfer which would take us door to door for the remainder of our trip, including Rio. The boat dropped us right in front of our hostel on the island and we were excited to dump our bags and start exploring.
The hostel (Aquario Hostel) was a bit of a let-down unfortunately. We had a nice room, overlooking the sea front but the staff were a bit moody and the whole place just felt a bit shabby and dirty. Oh well, Ilha Grande is a big island so we spent our days out on the various beaches and our evenings in town doing you know what…drinking caipirinhas.
On our first night we met another English couple, Laura and Philip and we decided to book a boat trip together. We chose a smaller boat (max 15 people) which took us to a couple of beaches, a couple of snorkelling sites and included a BBQ lunch.
The only disappointment that day was that there was nowhere to buy drinks so all we had was warm water. That was until a local man in is kayak arrived with iced cold beers just as we were about to sit down for lunch. Talk about timing.
One of the main things to do on this island is a beach called Lopes Mendes. Everyone we had met told us that we must make the effort to go to this beach. There are two options; the first is to walk there and what they describe as a relatively easy 2-3 hour trek, the second option is to get a boat there.
As we were in holiday mode, we had discussed getting the boat there and back but then I woke up one morning and it was fairly cloudy and I had one of my moments of madness and suggested that we should walk there. I have never sweated so much in my life. Sam kept telling me was a good thing but I just kept wishing we had paid the £10 and got the boat.
The walk started badly as we took a wrong turn and ended up walking an hour in the wrong direction. Once we were back on track it took us a further 2 ½ hours of fairly tough climbs in incredible heat…not what I would call relatively easy. Sensible as ever, we walked it in our flip flops!
The walk took us through some quite thick jungle but then opened up onto smaller beaches along the way. When we finally reached Lopes Mendes it was really busy but we could see why it was a must see. A beautiful white sandy beach as far as the eye could see stretched out in front of us and this was one of the best beaches we have seen in South America.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so the pictures do not do it justice at all. We found spot to collapse onto, grabbed a couple of beers and just relaxed for a few hours watching the surfers. Of course we got the boat back and we ended the day slowly sailing back to the main town.
Our last day on Ilha Grande was spent on the beach, fearing this would be our last beach day for some time we sweated our way through it. It was so hot that we were constantly in and out of the sea, playing frisbee and I think Sam walked up and down the beach about 20 times as it was too hot to lie still. Sounds terrible I know. Last stop Rio.
As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:
Until the next time…
We spent nine days in Florianopolis, but we left wishing we had more time there. It was such a great place to relax and enjoy some sun that we didn’t really get to explore the island that much. We weren’t too discouraged however as we had more exciting things on the horizon.
After a short five hour bus journey, we found ourselves in Curitiba. It’s a city two hours from the coast that we were using as a brief stop-over before getting a flight two days later. We didn’t have much time and the hostel recommended a city tour on an open top bus…not really our thing but she somehow managed to persuade us it would be a good idea.
We started the tour with a quick trip the botanical gardens… not much to say about the gardens other than it’s a pretty place with a big greenhouse (or crystal palace) in the middle. After a brief walk around the park, we boarded the linha tourismo to begin our tour of the city.
Now I’m no expert when it comes to these buses, but it really wasn’t that great. Katy had been telling me that we would have headphones with an English speaking guide to talk us through the sites. We also thought we would be able to get on and off when we wanted if we saw anything of interest along the way. What we actually got was no headphones, a pretty poor route map and we were allowed only four stops along the way. Undeterred we tried to keep track of the sites by reading our leaflet which thankfully had an English translation.
All in all the tour was average, but we did get to see a lot of the city. Curitiba is a fairly nice looking city with lots of very expensive areas but there was nothing that stood out as a must see. The historical centre had lots of nice colonial architecture and churches, but after six months of seeing this in South America it all becomes a bit of a blur. It’s similar to seeing temples in Asia…after a while they all look the same.
The next day we were back on a plane to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Iguazu Falls. The falls are situated on the border of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, but we were starting on the Brazil side in Foz do Iguaçu.
The flight was a bit comical, as the spaces between the seats were so small that I struggled to even sit down. The air stewardess just laughed at me as I tried to wedge my legs in. On the bus into town Katy kept on saying to me that she could smell soy sauce…I just thought the heat was getting to her. When we arrived at the hostel, we soon realised where the smell was coming from, and it was not good news. For the past two weeks I had been carrying around a bottle of soy sauce for Katy’s home cooked delights, and this had come open in my back-pack and covered half of my clothes. Most of the sauce had eventually soaked into the sleeping bag that I have carried around for 15 months and only used twice (now in the bin). On the bright side my bag is looking half empty now.
That evening we went to a Rodizio restaurant, which is a Brazilian style steakhouse. We helped ourselves to some salads and sides, and then a precession of waiters began to bring us meat…lots of meat, non-stop for about two hours. There were over 32 different types and cuts of meat to choose from, and we just didn’t know when to stop…so we didn’t We tried pork, beef, rabbit, chicken and about ten different cuts of beef. But the meal finished on a high (for Katy anyway) when the waiter brought a full joint of pork with a huge bit of crackling on the side. She said “don’t bother with the meat; just give me the crackling”…in her best Portuguese obviously. It was a huge meal that was finished off with home-made ice cream.
We were up early the next morning with a meat hangover for our first visit to the falls. Originally we had wanted to do the Brazil side first, but our flight times the previous day changed so we didn’t have time. We decided to take a tour as it supposedly made it much quicker and easier to cross the border to Argentina. We had also been told that we could just get dropped off and make our own way around the various trekking routes at the falls and meet the group later for our lift back into town.
What actually happened was it took us nearly three hours to cross the border, which included a half hour stop whilst our tour guide disappeared with our passports into his friend’s house (to photocopy them no doubt). When we did eventually arrive at the park we were told that we had to stay with him. He refused to give us a meeting point, and when Katy kicked up a bit of a fuss about it he was quite rude to her in front of the whole group. As you can imagine this didn’t go down well at all.
Our first stop in the park was Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s throat), a walkway which takes you over the river and above the falls…amazing. We had to get a small train to the start of the trail and were accompanied by thousands of butterflies along the way. The walkway ended right above the main waterfall and I am sure our pictures do not do it justice but the sheer size of the waterfall let alone the thunderous sound it made was just incredible.
We got covered in the waterfalls spray which made it hard to take a decent picture and we also had to elbow quite a few other tourists out of the way but it was such a spectacular sight as tonnes of water per second pours over the cliffs and the mist rises amongst the jungle. They are taller than Niagara Falls, and twice as wide. Numerous islands along the 2.7km edge divide the falls into about 275 separate waterfalls, varying between 60 to 82 metres.
We continued our tour of the falls by following the upper and then lower trails each giving a very different perspective of the falls. We opted out of the boat trip which actually took you under the falls but it did look amazing and a lot of fun.
After a long day in the searing sun, we made our way back to our hostel still on the Argentinian side to meet our friend Candy that we met in Florianopolis. We enjoyed dinner and drinks and compared notes on our falls experience so far.
The following day we got on a bus for another trip to the falls, this time on the Brazil side. Most people try and see the falls from both sides as each side offers a very different view and experience. We’d been told that the Brazilian side was not as good but we were really looking forward to exploring this side especially as we were tour guide free.
It was another really sunny day, and thankfully the walkways through the jungle were much quieter and more relaxing then Argentina. It probably helped that we were not being herded around in a group, but we immediately preferred this side of the falls. The views were amazing, although you aren’t quite as close as you are in Argentina. We spent a few hours slowly making our way along the path until we reached Garganta do Diablo, this time on a walkway in front of it rather than above it.
As with most attractions like this, the experience is slightly tainted by the amount of people you are competing for space with. It was the same at Angkor Wat and various other places we’ve visited. This is just the price you pay for visiting such a unique attraction. Perhaps we planned badly and shouldn’t have visited on a Saturday…perhaps we shouldn’t have got a tour guide? At the end of the day it was well worth the effort to see the falls and we got to tick off our fourth natural wonder of the world.
With just a few weeks left we’re headed for the beach and trying hard not to think about cold and rainy London.
As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:
Until the next time…
From Uruguay we travelled across the border to Brazil with three lovely (and mad) Irish girls, Maeve, Cliona and Mary, who we’d met in our hostel. The journey started with a bit of drama…Cliona had left one of her bags at the bus station containing hundreds of dollars, and it was unlocked…oh. After some tears, frantic phone calls and a very helpful local lady at the border, she was eventually reunited with her bag seconds before we had to leave on our connecting bus (lucky). Disaster averted. This was our last overnight bus (whoop!) so we thought we’d travel in style and treated ourselves to cama seats (full recliners). Once on board we sat back, relaxed and enjoyed a dinner of dry chicken and plastic tortilla.
After a good night’s sleep we were finally in Brazil…our last country of this trip and which takes the tally up to 21 visited in 15 months. We were both really excited about Brazil as we had heard such good things from fellow travellers. However a depressing thought was at the back of our minds…just four weeks until we have return to a cold and rainy London.
A few weeks before Brazil we decided that we wanted a stress free month so we booked as much in advance as we could including hostels, transfers, buses and any flights we may need…more time for the beach. Our first stop in Brazil was Florianopolis (or Floripa as the locals call it), a large island with over 40 beaches, famous for its amazing surf and a chilled out vibe.
Happy with our hostel choice, we quickly admired the sea view from our window and headed out to explore the small fishing village of Barra de Lagoa. We were starving after our 14 hour bus ride so treated ourselves to an amazing seafood lunch, prawns three ways; breaded, in garlic and grilled, fish in a prawn sauce and crab cakes. It was great to be eating fish again after all the red meat in Argentina.
It was still a bit out of season so for the first few days we pretty much had a beach to ourselves…it was heaven. In the evenings the hostel offered free caipirinhas in the bar which were delicious and a great way to meet people or just admire the amazing view from the balcony.
The Irish girls were staying in a different hostel so we arranged to meet them on the beach for Sam’s birthday. They had bought him a Brazilian flag sarong which was great and his only birthday present. Before you ask where his present was from me, let me remind you that he spent £150 on a football ticket not so long ago…that was his birthday treat!
In the evening we headed out for another delicious seafood dinner and Sam got to enjoy his birthday with four lovely ladies. We ended the night in an English bar called the Black Swan and were joined by a few more people…more girls, one of which asked Sam if I was for keeps (rude). I evidently had far too many caipirinhas as I can’t remember a thing, but I do believe Sam said that I was.
The next few days were pretty chilled out and involved applying sun tan lotion, playing frisbee, eating acai berry smoothies and relaxing in the hostel bar. I have to say the acai berry things have been a real highlight…they are absolutely delicious and apparently very healthy (bonus). They blend frozen acai pulp with bananas and serve it with chopped bananas and granola on the top…it’s like a frozen yogurt type thing and makes a great (and cheap) alternative to lunch…see…healthy!
We discovered (well Sam actually) that the Black Swan would be showing the Arsenal match on the Saturday so of course it was decided that we would go into town and watch it. What a dull game it turned out to be but luckily the rugby was on at the same time which kept us more entertained. After a few buckets of beer we headed back to our hostel and straight to bed…what lightweights we have become.
Our hostel was always very busy with lots of people coming and going and we got chatting to a couple of Irish lads, Tom and Darra and an English girl called Candy and immediately hit it off. We spent our last few days and nights hanging out with them and even had a mini beach party when the Irish girls joined us for their last night.
Florianopolis was a fabulous start to Brazil…we’re tanned, healthier (thanks to the acai) and really looking forward to seeing more of Brazil.
As always, in case you’re interested, there are more images available via the RSS feed on the blog, or via the following link:
Until the next time…
We arrived at Montevideo airport in Uruguay ready for some sun, and that is exactly what we got. It was nearly 40°C and we were quick to get to our hostel and find a nice spot for some lunch and a beer. It has become a bit of a tradition to see in a new country with a few beers, and it was a very enjoyable afternoon just soaking in the sun and the sights over a few cold ones.
What we noticed while sunning ourselves is how much the locals like hot-dogs (panchos). People go for lunch and just order five of them. We’ve seen a lot of fast food in South America, and a lot of hot-dogs, but Uruguay seems to have taken it to a whole new level. There are hot-dog vans all over the city, and most seem to be open 24 hours a day. Not the healthiest or appealing national dish, but that doesn’t surprise me at all with South American food.
Another thing they go mad for is Mate (pronounced Matay), a traditional drink made of dried leaves of yerba mate mixed with hot water and drunk through a silver straw…tea basically. We tried some in Argentina and Katy thought it tasted like cabbage juice. We’ve seen a lot of people drink it recently but in Uruguay it’s almost like they’re addicted to it. They carry around thermos flasks of hot water everywhere they go either under their arms or they have special bags to carry both the flask and the traditional style Mate mug. I thought us Brit’s were mad about our tea.
We were only in the capital for two nights, so we decided to have an early-ish night to ensure we didn’t sleep in the following day. What we had forgotten about places that are hot are the mosquitoes. We were in a dorm room with no fan or air-con, and it was ridiculously hot. There were literally hundreds of mosquitoes in the room; so many that we could hear them buzzing around our heads. We had to sleep with the cover over our heads and dripping with sweat. Let’s just say it wasn’t the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. That’s what you get when choose the cheapest hostel in town though.
The next day we still managed to get up early and decided to take a walk along the famous promenade that the hostel owner had highly recommended. It was really hot again, and we were looking forward to seeing some nice beaches. What actually happened was that we walked along a walkway that was next to the sea; a sea full of sewage. The walkway was adjoined by a very busy duel carriageway and the walk took us through some very dodgy parts of the city. There were various very drunk tramps keen on getting acquainted with Katy, so it wasn’t quite the romantic walk we had imagined especially as it was recommended to us. On the brightside, it was still sunny.
We hadn’t originally planned to come to Uruguay, but we decided that it might be nice to get some beach time after a few months of countryside and cities. That is the beauty of not having a set plan when travelling; you can make it up as you go along. One thing you can’t count on however is the weather. We have been so lucky on our trip as we have not really hit any sustained bad weather along the way. We counted a total of about ten days that it has rained during our trip, and that’s not bad in 14 months.
This week however our luck ran out. We had been hoping for ten days sunning ourselves in the hippie beach town of Punta Del Diablo, but when we arrived it was grey and overcast…a reminder of what we have to look forward to on our return to London. The weather forecast for the rest of the week didn’t look much better either. On our second night, there was a huge storm which knocked out all of the power and left everyone stranded in the hostel.
Most of the town was closed as the season doesn’t start until 31st December. That meant that there was a supermarket and one very expensive restaurant open…and that was it. It may have been a blessing in disguise though, as it really helped us save some money. We’ve been having some really nice (and healthy) home-cooked meals courtesy of Katy while we have been here, and it has saved us a fortune. We had our first jacked potato in 14 months, and it was absolutely amazing. It’s quite funny what gets us excited when it comes to food nowadays.
Thankfully the weather did pick up, so the first thing we did was visit the Santa Teresa National Park. We got a bus about 15 minutes up the road to the entrance to the park and began our trek. It was very quiet along the paths, and it almost felt like we were the only people in the park that day.
The path runs parallel to various beaches, and there is plenty of wildlife to see along the way, including llamas, horses, peacocks, monkeys and hundreds of different types of birds. There were green parrots everywhere we looked.
Some of the beaches we saw were stunning, and we were the only people on them. We had been warned that it was a long walk back, and it was beginning to take its toll in the hot sun. We had been told of a short cut towards the end of the walk which would take us directly back to our hostel. We thought we had found it as we followed a small path leading from the beach. We had actually walked into a cow field. It was all fine until two of the cows started charging towards us. I don’t think I have ever seen Katy panic so much. She even decided to take her red cap off in case it was attracting them.
Eventually we lost the cows, but we were still stuck in a farmer’s field. Rather than turn around and risk being chased by cows again, we decided to follow the fence round until we got back to the entrance. As we approached the farmer’s house in the corner of the field, two dogs came charging towards us, and let’s just say that they weren’t too happy to see us. Thankfully we got away without being bitten by rabid dogs or trampled by cows and eventually found our way out of the field. The problem was that we were actually about 1km further back than when we entered the field. It probably added an extra hour and 4km to our trek, but it was quite funny none-the-less.
Thankfully the good weather continued, and for the rest of the week we enjoyed the sun. We went on a few more walks down different beaches, watched another great North London derby and prepared for our final month of travelling. Just one more country to visit before our flight home…Brazil.
Until the next time…
Sometimes this blog is quite difficult to write, or at least write and keep it vaguely interesting. It has got harder as our trip has gone on, but is usually hindered by the fact that sometimes we do very little of any interest. That’s not to say that we haven’t been having a great time…just that we’ve had a quiet few days or weeks…and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing in Buenos Aires.
We had a pretty action packed few weeks in the south of Argentina, so we booked an apartment for our time in the city, and it was good to have our own place rather than staying in dorms for a change. It turned out that our friends Kristin and Matt were here at the same time, so we offered them our sofa bed for a few days…in exchange for wine of course.
Our first few days were dominated with very little other than eating and drinking. We were staying in a nice area of the city called San Telmo, which has loads of small restaurants and bars to visit. BA can take some getting used to though. Most locals don’t go out for dinner until well after 21:00, they might then pop out for a few drinks at about 23:00 and won’t hit the clubs until at least 03:00. Luckily we’re far too old for clubs nowadays, so that wasn’t really a problem.
One thing we had both said we wanted to do while we were here is watch a football match. It’s such a huge part of their culture that it is a must for a person visiting; especially in Buenos Aires. When we looked into it, it turns out that the big derby game was on at the weekend. Now this isn’t just any derby game…this is River Plate vs Boca Juniors…El Superclásico.
The rivalry between Boca and River Plate is the most intense in Argentine football and in my opinion the rest of the world as well. Buenos Aires has the highest concentration of football teams of any city in the world, and River and Boca are the two main clubs. Both clubs are originally from the dockland area of the city, but 90 years ago it was decided that one of the clubs needed to move to a different area of the city. So they played a game to decide who should move, and Boca won. River moved away from the area to a more upmarket district with a more affluent fan base, hence their nickname, Los Millionarios.
This now leaves without doubt the fiercest, most vibrant, loud and violent derby experiences in the world. Anyone who doubts this really should take the time to look at some of my videos of the game below. This game was even more intense as it was the first time they have played each other in 15 months, as River were relegated to the second division last season.
Tickets for the game were a budget busting £150, including a guide, pizza and beer. We had also read that this might not be the best game for women to attend, so Katy decided to leave it to me. I thought this all may have been slightly exaggerated, but when we got our security briefing on the bus, I realised that I was wrong. I was told not to speak in English to anyone. If anybody asks a question in English, just reply “no entiendo” (i.e. I don’t understand). We were told not to get our cameras or tickets out before we had to and all bags should be left on the bus.
Let’s just say the walk from the bus to the stadium was a bit tense. It was so obvious that we were a group of tourists; mainly as we were the only group of people within three square miles without club colours on. Thankfully before we drew too much attention, a group of Boca fans already in the stadium started to throw things from the balcony down on the entering River fans, diverting any attention away from us. All this and it was still two and a half hours before kick-off.
Most of the stadium is old style terracing with the rest unreserved seating. Even though we were so early, most of the stadium was already full and watching the equivalent game for the reserves. The noise even at that point was deafening, and made the atmosphere at most big premiership games seem rather drab. There is a capacity of 65,000, but so many people were pushing through the turnstiles I would guess that at least 75,000 were in there.
After a long wait we were treated to a 2-2 draw with Boca scoring in the last minute to equalise. To be honest though, what was going on in the stands was drawing more interest. Just before the second half started, the River fans inflated a giant pig dressed in Boca colours, suspended directly in front of the Boca fans. I’m not sure how they got this through the strict security and into the stadium, but let’s just say this didn’t go down very well.
The Boca fans proceeded to rip up every chair from their section and throw it down onto the River fans. Some stewards were sent in to try to calm them down, and just got a severe beating (see my video below that already has over 40,000 views on YouTube). We have since heard rumours that two of the stewards actually died from their injuries.
It was all a bit bizarre as while this was all going on, the game continued below as if nothing was happening. Apparently this type of thing is quite common, and so much so that away fans are banned from most grounds. It was an amazing experience. I got to see a pretty good game, but the sheer noise of the crowd were what really made it for me.
While all of this was going on, Katy, Kristin and Matt were in San Telmo for the Sunday market. Somehow I think I got the better deal. We visited the market the following week as well, and it is a really nice place for a Sunday stroll. We went for an amazing steak lunch at a great restaurant called Gran Parrilla del Plata, which is one of many that had been recommended to us. We did our best to sample them all during our two weeks in town.
We also had a few nights out in Palermo, which is another area of the city with hundreds of bars and restaurants to choose from. It’s quite difficult to know where exactly to go as there is so much choice, but we knew a few people that lived here so they helped with a few tips.
We’re now getting ready to leave and head into Uruguay. Argentina has been incredible, and by far our favourite country in South America so far. It’s a big place as well, and there are so many areas that we didn’t get a chance to see. Hopefully we will get the chance to come back some day and see some more.
Until the next time…
After a comfortable two hour flight we arrived in El Calafate, located in the heart of Patagonia and home to the amazing Glacier Perito Moreno, the main purpose of our visit.
We splashed out on an airport transfer which meant being dropped off at our hostel door and were pleasantly surprised with our hostel choice, especially considering we’d gone cheap and booked a dorm room. We quickly dumped our bags, chatted to the hostel owners about the various tours on offer and had a quick walk into town to check prices etc. We decided to book our tour through our hostel and settled on a mini trek across the glacier which gave us three hours on the ice…perfect. The hostel owners even lent us there walking shoes as apparently trainers wouldn’t have been good enough.
We then checked the weather as it can be quite changeable and decided Sunday would be a good day…forecast clear blue skies and very little wind. We had two free days to fill in a very small town. We spent one afternoon walking around nearby Laguna Nimez which is a wetlands sanctuary, so great for bird lovers (which we aren’t) but it was a nice afternoon. Until, we were followed by a pack of stray dogs on heat which made me feel very uncomfortable. We took refuge in a nearby Dinosaur museum and tried to explain to the owner that we just needed to hide out for a minute but he didn’t understand and instead tried to sell us a tour. We would have done it too but he was asking for $10 each to literally walk around a shed of dinosaur pictures…no chance! The dogs disappeared; we made our excuses…no money etc…and quickly headed back to our hostel.
We had one afternoon in the local pub watching Arsenal lose to Norwich…the less said the better. We then spent our remaining time organising our last two months, booking hostels and remaining flights we might need. It was a pretty depressing task to be honest but we have managed to book some amazing places (on our budget anyway) and we now have a lot to look forward to. We rewarded ourselves with some home cooked (well by the hostel) Patagonian lamb stew and a bottle of red.
Sunday finally arrived and after a very early breakfast we were picked up and on our way to Perito Moreno. The glacier is located about 80km out of El Calafate in Parque National Los Glaciers. Before I tell you about our experience, here is how the Lonely Planet describes it.
Few glaciers on earth can match the suspense and excitement of the blue-hued Glacier Perito Moreno. Its 60m jagged ice peaks sheer off and crash land with huge splashes and thunderous rifle cracks, birthing small tidal waves and large bobbing icebergs. What makes this glacier exceptional is that it is advancing – up to 2m a day – and constantly dropping chunks of ice off its face.
For once the Lonely Planet has got it spot on…we had the most incredible day and the glacier was AMAZING! We started with a view point so we could take it the sheer size of the glacier before boarding a boat which took us right in front of the wall. After about ten minutes on the boat we were greeted by our guide for the day (who was great) and told that we would walk about twenty minutes towards the glacier, get our crampons on and start our trek across the ice.
Whilst waiting for our crampons we had our first ice falling experience of the day. None of us were able to catch it on camera but the noise it made and then watching the ice fall was spectacular. Apparently the day before there had been a huge piece of ice fall and we were experiencing the after effects. At this stage we couldn’t wait to get on the ice. We were taught how to walk properly with our crampons on and after a few minutes it became very easy. It’s a bizarre feeling walking on what is basically a block of ice but we were assured that the glacier was stable and to just relax and enjoy it.
Our guide took us up as high as we could go without having to start ice climbing…probably a good thing. Along the way up we had to walk over crevasses and gorges, had our photos taken by ice lakes and just got to enjoy the glacier from a totally different perspective. About half way down we were rewarded with a glass of Jameson’s whisky on the rocks…courtesy of the glacier and got to relax and take it all in for ten minutes or so.
After handing back our crampons and with our feet feeling 100 pounds lighter, it was time for lunch. Well I’ve eaten sandwiches in worse places…our picnic table looked right over the glacier and the whole setting was just stunning. Whilst I was unpacking everything Sam was busy taking photos and was in the middle of a panoramic shot when the biggest chunk of ice fell so unfortunately he didn’t catch it on film but look at the photo carefully and you’ll see the ice falling.
Once lunch was finished we got back on the boat for the final part of the day. We were taken to a series of walkways which are purpose built for tourists but provide amazing views of the glacier wall. We had about an hour, so we headed straight to the walkway nearest the glacier and sat and watched, waiting for more ice to break off.
We were just about to leave when we started to hear loud cracking sounds. Camera at the ready we waited…and waited until a big piece of ice broke off and crashed into the water, creating a massive tidal wave. Fortunately this time Sam had the video ready and pressed record at just the right moment. What a truly amazing day, one we will never forget and a definite highlight of our 13 months travelling so far.
Next stop El Chalten; Argentina’s trekking capital and home to the incredible Fitz Roy mountain range. I know some of you are thinking…Katy and trekking is not something you hear often in the same sentence but Sam somehow managed to persuade me that it would be a good idea and nice way to end our time in Patagonia. It’s only two hours away from El Calafate so we arrived by lunchtime, were greeted by a park ranger and told about the various walks we could do…some long and some smaller easier ones, obviously more my style. It was at this stage that I started to feel a little out of place amongst all the proper trekkers in their smart outfits and walking poles…there was us with our trainers and alpaca hats!
As Fitz Roy is the main attraction we decided we would definitely do this but probably just as far as the mirador which is about a three hour round trip. You can go as far as the summit which sits at 3441m but this was definitely not on our agenda. We had arrived on a beautiful clear blue day and the ranger kept telling us how lucky we were as the weather can change very quickly and that the following few days were forecast to be cloudy and very windy.
We quickly checked into our hostel, had a bite to eat and began our trek up Fitz Roy. As much as I moan about trekking, this particular trek was stunning. The scenery was just beautiful and with the Fitz Roy range as a back drop it was a constant reminder as to why I was struggling to breathe.
We made it to the mirador in record time…55 minutes instead of the advertised 1 hour and 30 minutes. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or Sam! Anyway at this stage I was still feeling pretty perky and the view was just amazing so Sam talked me into the doing the next stage, a one hour walk to the base of the summit climb. I think it also had something to do with Sam offering to take me for a steak dinner that evening…he obviously knows me far too well! I reluctantly agreed and off we went.
The next stage had been advertised as reasonably flat which is another reason why I was so easily persuaded…well it wasn’t The terrain got harder to walk over and the wind suddenly picked up so it was time for the Alpaca hat to make an appearance. It was all worthwhile though as the views just got better and the closer we got to Fitz Roy the more impressive it became. We’d run out of water by this stage so took our chances and filled our water bottle up from the steam …mistake? Well we’ll soon find out! When we eventually made it to the end we rested our legs, drank our stream water and shared a packet of peanuts…very romantic!
It was time to head back as the temperature was dropping. Sam kept assuring me that it would all be downhill so it would be really easy. I think he’d forgotten that I had just walked the same trail as him so I knew it wasn’t all going to be downhill. I’m not sure how many of you realise this but neither of us have proper walking shoes, Sam has the same pair of £30 trainers he set off with 13 months ago and I have a pair of £10 Pan trainers bought in Thailand. Well it was at this stage of the walk that I really wished I had invested in a decent pair of hiking boots.
There wasn’t much I could do except carry on through the pain and by the time we were about half an hour from town I had totally lost my sense of humour. Sam said he’d never seen me looking so grumpy and fed up. Anyway we managed the trek in 5 1/2 hours, bang on time…not too shabby for a novice trekker wearing crap trainers. It is time to say goodbye to the trainers now though. I don’t foresee and certainly haven’t planned any more treks, well nothing that my flip flops can’t handle. I don’t expect any more cold weather in our remaining two months so it’s goodbye and good riddance Pan trainers.
I was so exhausted after our trek that I couldn’t even be bothered to go out for Sam’s bribe of a steak dinner, instead we settled for home cooked Chorizo risotto and of course a bottle of red. Our last day in El Chalten, as forecasted was overcast, cold and rainy so we had a day of recovering and enjoyed the view from our hostel.
Until the next time…
The bus to Bariloche was long, slightly uncomfortable and tiring, but actually wasn’t as bad as we expected. At home we wouldn’t even consider getting on a bus for 20 hours, but in South America it’s pretty much the norm. We were entertained along the way with a few films, and Katy’s highlight was playing bus bingo. Every time she got a number she almost jumped out of her seat. A warning to all her friends back home…Gala Bingo may be on the agenda on our return.
Bariloche is a really nice city built in the foothills of the Andes. It overlooks a beautiful lake with snow-capped mountains in the background, and we arrived with clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine. I’ve since learnt that it is famous for harbouring Nazi war criminals, including Hitler after WWII. You can see why they may have settled there, as it looks like a Bavarian town with wooden houses, barbecued sausages and chocolate shops everywhere to be seen.
Somebody we had met in Bolivia had recommended a restaurant there (La Parrilla de Tony), so on our first night we decided to check it out. It wasn’t cheap, but we were both craving meat and were almost drooling as we looked through the window. We ordered the mixed grill for two and a nice bottle of wine and waited in anticipation. When the waiter brought the meat over, we were both slightly disappointed as there wasn’t very much of it. That was until he continued to bring meat every five minutes. Lamb, fillet steak, sirloin steak, pork loin, chorizo, chicken…it just didn’t end. Eventually we had to tell the waiter that we couldn’t eat any more. We certainly got our money’s worth though, and then slowly waddled back to our hostel.
The hostel we were staying in was pretty bad, so we changed to another hostel our friends Nathalie and Adam were staying in. It was a bit of a walk out of town (up a very steep hill), but had great views of the lake and the mountains. The four of us decided to hire a car and take a visit to the national park, to see Ventisquero Negro (a black glacier) and Mount Tronador.
The entrance to the Nahuel Huapi National Park was about a forty minute drive away with some stunning views of the lakes. These views only got better once we entered the park. Crystal clear lakes surrounded by forests and mountains, with the odd farm or camp site thrown in along the way. The road wasn’t the best, and was dusty and bumpy, but the scenery made up for it. We were driving for about two hours before we stopped for a picnic near the base camp of the mountain.
After our lunch we were ready to see the main attraction, but we were slightly underwhelmed by the black glacier. It is black because the ice has been covered in dirt caused by landslides and avalanches from the mountain. It actually just looks like rocks, so not really that impressive. Again, maybe we’re getting harder to please.
So we continued up to the base camp of Mount Tronador. There were signs telling us that the paths leading up the mountain were closed, but we were all determined to get closer to the top so we could play in the snow. It’s coming into spring here, so the ice and snow is melting causing mini waterfalls all over the place. When we reached the snow, we all turned into little kids and had a snowball fight and just enjoyed the view.
Mount Tronador gets its name from the sound it makes when avalanches occur. We soon got a shock when a mini avalanche came down close to us making a huge noise like thunder. It was at that point that Katy decided that she had spent long enough there and wanted to go back to the car. There was a huge layer of ice and snow just above us, so it was probably a good idea.
We finished the day with an ice cold beer back near base camp before the two hour drive back to Bariloche. It was yet another great day out, capped off with a nice home made dinner with some good red wine back at the hostel.
After saying our goodbyes to Nathalie and Adam, we made our way to the airport for our flight to El Calafate in Patagonia. Yes you heard it right, our flight. After spending so many hours on buses all of the way through South America, we finally managed to find flights cheap enough for us to afford. It was actually the same price and getting the bus if we bought a multi city ticket, so we have more flights to look forward to as well.
Until the next time…
The Chile / Argentina border crossing was very simple and the most thorough we have come across. A customs officer took Sam’s bag and asked to take a look inside. He immediately found the frisbee and started asking us what it was for. Rather than try and explain in our broken Spanish, Sam demonstrated by throwing the frisbee to another officer who became very excited…surely they have seen a frisbee before? A quick game followed before we had to get back on the bus…funny.
So we were finally in Argentina and on our way to Mendoza. I couldn’t have been more excited. Since the day we left the UK I have been dreaming of rare steaks and amazing Malbec wines. We were actually both feeling a little worse for wear as we’d had a few too many the night before, so our first night in Mendoza was surprisingly a dry one. We made up for it the next day by ordering the biggest steak we could find (and afford) accompanied by a bottle of their finest Malbec (within our budget). This was followed by a Cabernet Sauvignon dinner back at the hostel.
The next few days followed the same suit with the odd home cooked meal thrown in and occasional beer just to mix things up a little.
A popular thing to do here is biking around the vineyards, and our hostel offered us free bikes for a day if we booked for four nights…perfect. We’d heard a lot about a bike rental company called Mr Hugo, and I was really looking forward to a nice romantic bike ride through the Maipu wine region taking in the sites and sampling some of Mendoza’s best wines. Instead we were faced with an 8km bike ride down a very busy main road taking in the dust from the trucks zooming past and freezing because we’d chosen the one day it wasn’t sunny!
We visited three vineyards, each very different. The first was a small and very old family run winery which produced only 40,000 bottles per year and only sold their wine in Argentina. It was a really interesting tour and their reserve Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon wines were delicious…a good start to the day. The next winery was a bit different, producing double the quantity as the first but we weren’t offered a tour. We each choose three wines to taste and rested our legs for an hour or two. The last winery was very modern looking offering a self-guided tour and was in an amazing setting; just a shame about the weather. Again, we each choose three wines to try and sat back and enjoyed the view. We ended the day in a beer garden and slowly made our way back to Mr Hugo’s trying our best to cycle in a straight line.
We decided to switch hostels after four days as our hostel was quite dull and expensive. So we moved to Hostel Lao and into a dorm room (more money for wine). After a reasonably heavy night with Ali and Matt (who we met in Chile) we decided that we had better try and have a dry day. It was going really well until the hostel introduced ‘free wine night’ and as most of you will know I’ve never been one to turn down free wine.
I really wanted to experience the wines in as many different ways as possible. The bike day was great but I really wanted to experience the pairing of wines with food. I found a winery with great reviews offering a five course tasting menu with wines for about £60 a head…a bargain back in the UK but on our budget Sam took some persuading. I had also emailed a friend, Ben who works for a wine merchant called Jascot’s in the UK to see if he had any contacts over here. Anyway it couldn’t have worked out better. The day we were meant to go for our fancy lunch, our hostel was offering a BBQ with as much wine you could drink for about $20 and we received an email from Ben detailing our visit to the La Chamiza vineyard including a tour with their Agronomist and a tasting with lunch with their wine maker…result! So we quickly cancelled the booking with the other winery and joined in with the hostel BBQ.
The BBQ was amazing and included huge hunks of steak and pork, chorizo and blood sausage (surprisingly delicious) accompanied by copious amounts of red wine. It was a great day and a great way to meet everyone in the hostel.
In preparation for our visit to La Chamiza I managed to persuade Sam that I needed some shoes and possibly a new top (or two). So that’s exactly what we did…shop! I managed to squeeze in two new nail varnishes and a pair of sunglasses too…hurrah! After the BBQ we decided that we’d have another attempt to have a dry day but it didn’t last long as the hostel owner Mike (from Derby) persuaded Sam to go out and buy some empanadas for us all and give him directions to the nearest wine shop…here we go again I thought.
Our day at La Chamiza was amazing. We were picked up from our hostel by Ramiro, our host for the day, and driven about 40 minutes out of town to one of their vineyards. We were met by their Agronomist who is basically a specialist in soil and looks after all the vines. We were shown around their premier vines…exclusively used for their top wine, Martin Alsina Malbec. Ramiro translated and told us about the growing process and the irrigation system which is a very organic irrigation system of using the water from the mountains.
We were then driven back to town for a tasting of their top end wines which included the Polo Professional wines, the Legend wine and finally the amazing Martin Alsina Malbec. We went to a restaurant called azafrán and were shown into their tasting room or wine library which was just beautiful and included ponchos in case it got too cold. We were greeted by their wine maker, Martin who guided us through each wine and provided us with tasting notes. Then a series of tapas style dishes were served which was the perfect accompaniment to the wines and made for a very relaxing tasting.
Not to go on too much about it but the Martin Alsina Malbec was possibly one of the best wines I have ever tasted (and I have tried a few). It has even won the ‘Best Malbec from Argentina’ award over the last few years so it’s a wine that they are deservedly very proud of and a wine I feel very privileged to have tried.
We have had an amazing week in Mendoza but it’s time to move on and give my liver a rest so tonight we head South towards Bariloche on what I hope will be our last overnight bus of this trip.
Until the next time…