?

Log in

Closed

This journal has been permanently closed

It will remain in it's current, partially public state for the foreseeable future as a record of what has been; more for my personal reminiscences than anyone else's enjoyment.

All friending requests will, regrettably, be ignored.

Thank you to all who joined us on our trips and travelled vicariously through this journal.  Without a reader a blog is worthless, so you were everything.

Thailand - the Return.

I can’t begin this entry without first talking about the international headline making news of the storming of Suvarnabhumi airport.  Our flight left a matter of hours before the PAD stormed the terminal.  It’s so shocking to see the news footage (such as this) on roads that we travelled along (at 160km/h in a taxi) just a few hours ago.  Indeed, the footage on the Guardian website is just a little along the road from our hotel.  I don’t know how much coverage the situation in Thailand has been getting in the West, but the protests have come as no surprise to Thais.  On Sunday the Bangkok Post (an excellent English language news service, I'm reading up-to-date reports on the situation now on their website) reported that the PAD were aiming to overthrow the government by Wednesday and if they didn’t successfully block the amendment of the constitution on Monday (which they did, by cutting off electricity and water to the government offices and occupying the temporary government offices at Don Mueang airport) they would call a general strike on Tuesday.  Evidently they decided it was no fun not being able to strike so they stormed the airport.

When Ali and I found out the airport had been closed we were a little disappointed we weren’t there to experience some rather dramatic history in the making, upon seeing the news this morning and the rather scared, very stranded tourists at the airport, we revised our opinion somewhat.

Our itinerary, (which it barely counts as on a trip this short!) was as follows; Thursday 13th we flew out from Heathrow at 9:30pm to Bangkok.  We arrived early evening on Friday and after an accidentally massive layover, exacerbated by a delayed flight, we had a 1 hour flight to Phuket, arriving at our hotel at around 1am.  On Saturday the 22nd we flew back to Bangkok and finally left Thailand on Tuesday 25th at 13:10 arriving back into Heathrow at around 7pm, which is when we heard the news about the storming of the airport. 

Basically this was a chill out holiday, which is something I’ve never done before.  You have to really put effort in to go to Thailand and not experience something of Thailand, so it wasn’t some sort of super sanitised trip to little-England.

 I was amazed how much of Thailand I had forgotten, it has been a little under 2 years since we were there last but already my memories of it had faded, I made a note when we were in Phuket to that effect, it reads thusly;
“I didn’t realise I had forgotten Thailand so quickly! I forgot the disregard for personal space; the self styled reputation as ‘land of smiles’; the Thai engrish; the motorbikes – and their common use as transport for up to 4 people at once; the driving and the terror and joy it inspires in a passenger; the balmy nights and the noise of seccadas.  I can’t wait to rediscover the sun, the food and pace of life – Thai time.” 

I think that is one of the great joys of returning to a country – remembering or rediscovering the little things that made you fall in love with a place or a people. 

Phuket wasn’t exactly what we were expecting – the island was much bigger than we expected and getting around in taxis and tuk tuks was a little on the expensive side.  It’s also quite Westernised with Italian restaurants far outnumbering Thai ones.  The Thai food markets and small on-street food vendors were largely too far out of the way of the hotel for us to comfortably get there in the evening for dinner so we didn’t eat as much Thai food as we would have liked to (although for me, as a vegetarian, this was in large part due to every dish including seafood – the inevitable result of a place which traditionally relies on the sea for employment and sustenance) and what we did eat was substantially more expensive than we had expected.  Tourism has undoubtedly made a big impact on life in Phuket and it would be easy to stay there and completely fail to get a feel for Thailand/Thai life.  We made the effort and took a few trips out to temples and beaches frequented by locals rather than holiday makers. 

Don’t misunderstand me though, Phuket is a really beautiful place, like other places in Southern Thailand that we have visited previously, and the ‘real’ Thailand is still there for those who care to make the extra effort.  The weather is glorious, the sea is warm and the beaches are stunning.  We greatly enjoyed our stay and we got what we went for – a long and lazy week in which we really unwound. 

We had a couple of overcast days in, luckily they came at the end of our time in Phuket and as a result it did not dominate our stay.  They also did not make the temperature any lower or prevent me from burning my shins one day on the beach!  As a result of the more unsettled weather we also got to see a few spectacular thunderstorms.  One night, in Phuket, Ali and I sat on the balcony of our room and watched the heavens empty.  The thunder was particularly loud when the following happened;
Weather: [lightning]
Both: Wow!
Ali: I’m just waiting for it to go b-
Weather: [BANG!]
You gotta love being interrupted by the weather.  Made us both chuckle, simple things.

We flew back to Bangkok on the Saturday and plunged (which is the only possible way to enter Bangkok) back into the chaotic world that is the capital city.  I think Bangkok can be best characterised by the scene which greeted us when we left the airport – literally hundreds of taxis and minivans, all beeping their horns while the drivers shout to each other and to the tourists, the vehicles are queued up, parked and abandoned across the three lanes which run past the exit of the arrivals hall. Ali and I both expressed the same sentiment – “oh my god…!” followed by my observation which turned into a recollection – “it’s chaos!....oh! – it’s Bangkok.”

Driving into the city, seeing the ever changing skyline, the endless queues of traffic, the smoggy haze and the massive billboards advertising everything and anything you can mention I felt somewhat nostalgic at being back there.  Bangkok is a crazy city and everyone who visits seems to have a marmite-like reaction, for Ali and I it is firmly love.  Returning there sort of takes your breath away because everything is flying by you so frantically, but it’s not all perpetual motion, there is a slower rhythm of life which means being in Bangkok is like being at the eye of the storm.  You have to adjust to Thai time – your food might take 5 minutes or an hour to arrive, you can sit and watch the world go by, nursing a beer for a whole afternoon.  You can absolutely relax in Bangkok, you just have to let go of your normal standards of cleanliness and never try and run to a schedule.

We visited various weekend and night markets and did some shopping and ate good food in questionable (by European standards) establishments.  We got ripped off (although only to the tune of £5) by a taxi driver and inhaled enough exhaust fumes to knock a few years of our life expectancy in a tuk tuk in central Bangkok during (the unending) rush hour.

It was a glorious trip.  We were also incredibly lucky that we flew out at the time we did, even 5 hours later and I think we would have been affected by the storming of the airport and possibly not got out of the country at all.

There are photos, which eventually I will put up.

FAQ - How the hell do I do it?

I've been asked to tell 3 different people about the ins and outs of travelling in the past 6 months, so I've decided to write an entry here to point people to.

How do I find and book flights?:
We went into STA travel, sat down and said "we want to go round the world".  They were fantastic at helping us work out how long to leave between flights, which countries to add to our itinerary (as they were near places we said we wanted to go to - for example, we knew we wanted to go to Thailand, the travel agent suggested we travel overland through Malaysia and Singapore and fly to Australia from Singapore, saving money on the flight) We were able to say how much we wanted to spend on airfares and the travel agent helped us get the most from that money with a round the world ticket for £1,400.  We took away a provisional itinerary, had a look, made some changes (flying from Heathrow rather than Manchester and so on) and returned a week later to book and pay. 

Without their advice we would not have travelled overland as much and so seen much fewer countries and less of the countries we were in. The best way to see a country is to travel overland rather than fly - we would never have appreciated how huge Australia is unless we had got the Greyhound bus 6 times as we travelled from Cairns to Syndey. STA travel also do a range of affordable insurance, rellly well tailored for backpackers - it covers all the extreme sports (apart from zorbing!).

How do I plan and book domestic travel and plan an itinerary?
:
We had only a loose plan of what we do when we were setting out - we planned the first month in detail but then booked hostels as we went and made plans only for the next month...for eg, before we left we booked our accomodation for the whole time we were in Bangkok, and booked onto an organised (backpacker) tour to get us overland from Bangkok to Singapore.  We booked accomodation in Singapore about half way through the tour.  When we got to Singapore we booked our accomodation in Cairns.  When we got to Cairns we spent an afternoon planning our time/travel/accomodation for the month we were in Oz and booked ahead for all our accomodation and the trips we would do in Oz (the Whitsundays, Fraser Island).  When we got to Sydney we booked our tour (Kiwi Experience - don't do it) in New Zealand and accomodation in the first stop (Christchurch).  When we got to Auckland (last stop in NZ) we booked accomodation for Chile and Argentina, when we got to BsAs we booked a trip overland to Brazil and arranged a trip to Patagonia.  We used a variety of transport - public transport in Oz and Argentina and transport arranged by the tours we booked onto in Nz and Brazil and Asia. 

We met people who did their whole trips on public transport and people who did their whole trip with tours (expensive).  The two group tours (ie a group of people travel together, with a group leader who is a seasoned backpacker, on transport arranged by group leader and stay in accomodation booked by the group leader) we went on were organised by Intrepid in Asia, and GAP in South America.  I can't recommend Intrepid enough - if you can book onto the 'basic' level trips as they are cheapest and provide the best 'real' experience of the country, comfort and other level of trips tend to be populated by middle aged people and families - the Intrepid magazine does give a full explanation of what to expect from the trip.  STA travel stock the Intrepid catalogues so pick one up there.  GAP I wouldn't recommend, the eco-tourism focus of Intrepid fitted well with our concern for responsible tourism whereas GAP seemed a little impersonal/capitalist.  GAP are also, in our opinion, over priced.  Group tours are a fantastic way to meet people and take the hassle out of getting from place to place, especially when you don't speak the language/are not confident with the language.  The group leaders also always have excellent local knowledge so you get to see places off the beaten track and eat at FANTASTIC places that the guide books don't know about. 

Basically, you can and should book as you go.  Plans change quickly and frequently when you are travelling.  We had a limited amount of time so we didn't ever change our flights, most people do though - you need to keep your plans loose so you can pick up and disappear off to a new city when someone you've just met recommends a restaurant there!  Plus, that freedom is the whole point of backpacking!  Make plans, have an idea of when you want to get where and sit down once in a while and plan a couple of weeks meticulously - that can be just as rewarding as winging it.  Don't feel you have to know where you are going and when - if you do you will feel constantly rushed and at a disadvantage to the people you are meeting - people who you may want to travel with for a while.  We prefered to have accomodation booked about 2-3 weeks in advance, other backpackers turn up in a town and find accomodation when they get there.  I don't like that as you have to take what is available, rather than what you'd actually be comfortable staying in and hosteling is something of a lottery if you do it like that.  We used hostelworld and tripadvisor to look up reviews of places we were going to stay before booking (book through hostelworld or hostelbookers) so we could ensure it was secure, clean etc etc.  As far as the horrors of poor hostels go, I think my experience in Singapore is a suitably cautionary tale. It's always worth checking ahead to see if anywhere you are bound is having any sort of festival or event, it can bump accomodation prices up hugely and reduce room availability to nil.  We largely planned to avoid big events as we couldn't afford the inflated accomodation prices and weren't particularly keen on attending the events causing the inflation.  You may find the opposite - that you really want to attend a festival or carnival so you need to book accomodation much further in advance.

We bought travel guides/guide books when we stayed in a city for longer than 5 days - so we got one for Bangkok, Singapore, Sydney, Auckland and Buenos Aires.  Lonely Planet guides are good, but they are expensive, whatever hostel you stay at you can guarantee SOMEONE will have a Lonely Planet which they will be only to happy to let you borrow it.  NEVER EVER take accomodation advice from the Lonely Planet as they frequently recommend horrible dirty, unsafe places!  I can reel off a list as long as your arm of horror stories from people who have followed Lonely Planet accomodation recommendations - stick to hostelword.  Rough Guides are also good, cheaper than Lonely Planet and probably less read by backpackers, again don't buy lots/any books before you leave England, you will be able to beg or borrow these guides off other backpackers and most backpacker towns will have a second hand bookshop which will be brimming with guide books.

How much do I budget?:
We worked for 6 months with the explicit idea of spending every penny we earnt, so we paid our £1,400 air fare from savings then budgeted £1,000 a month, each, for everything else.  That £1,000 includes everything - accomodation, activities, internal travel, food.  This figure was on the excessive side for Asia and South America.  It was a little low for Oz and Nz and about perfect for Brazil (which is more expensive than the rest of South America).  Basically overall the budget was spot on.  We met people spending MUCH more money, which is fine if you have it, but not at all necessary.  The only thing I wish we had done that we couldn't because of money was go sky-diving a second time in NZ.  In 6 months that is pretty good going.  As far as money goes, I wouldn't consider having travellers cheques - they are difficult to cash in Asia and South America, you pay twice for exchange rate and they are a liability in terms of worrying about losing them.  Open a Nationwide account, they do not charge you for taking your money out abroad - which is really a Big Deal.  We were charged for taking money out so we took it in turns to withdraw the maximum amount from our accounts at ATM's - we essentially withdrew £250 once a week between us, so £500 each per month. 

Also, take a credit card but resist the urge to use it unless you need to as its easy to lose track of your bank balance like that.  My credit card had a £500 limit which was my contingency fund - I never needed it, but you should always have a financial fall back.  Make sure you set up internet banking as that it pretty much the only wat to manage your money - we had high interest instant access internet only (so no atm card) savings accounts which we put our £6,000 into before we left, and transfered money into the current account before we went to the ATM - a great way to make your current account secure as if the money just isn't in it then a stolen card won't really affect you.

Will I need to get a job whilst travelling?
Because we worked up a store of money before leaving we didn't work, also our limited time meant working would have really cut into our travel.  If you are careful and sensible with money there is no reason why you can't travel without working.  I know a couple of people who did - one guy was a hairdresser and planned to live in Sydney for 3 months and work before travelling again, a relatively easy thing to do when you have an easily transferable skill like hairdressing. I have a friend who is travelling now and she worked in Japan for 3 months to pay for her travel around Japan, then she started travelling more widely and did it on savings. She is in Australia at the minute having done 2 Intrepid trips in South East Asia.  If you want to experience living somewhere then yes, get a job while you travel, but remember you will have to get a different visa - often one that costs money - and stay put for several months to make it worthwhile.

What the hell do I pack?
Packing is probably one of the hardest things. The best advice is (and these are the upper limits) pack no more than 17kg, take a bag no bigger than 75 litres. If possible, buy a backpack you can make smaller - by zipping it up or strapping it down.  I went over that weight at times and either threw stuff away or sent it home, it is just *too* heavy, especially when you consider you have to carry it on public transport or up several flights of stairs to hostels etc. For us, we went to warm climate first so took one pair of trousers and 2 jumpers, everything else was summer wear. Obviously when we got to New Zealand it was winter, so we threw away, donated to charity and sent home about half our clothes and bought more jumpers and jeans. It is just not practical to carry heavy and bulky warm clothes when you won´t need them for the first month or more of your trip. 

In Argentina, in their winter, I had in my backpack the following; 3 jumpers, 2 pairs of jeans, 8 t-shirts, 1 (smart) skirt, 1 (smart) going out top, 1 pair of sandals, 1 pair of walking shoes, 1 pair of (smart) shoes, 12 pairs of knickers, 12 pairs of socks, bikini, 1 beach towel, 1 light weight-ultra thin travel towel, 1 raincoat, 1 pashmina thing to wear to a posh occasion which also doubles as a scarf, 1 pair of pjama bottoms, 2 pjama tops, 5 reading books (this is excessive, do not take this many!) 1 very thin blanket (which I will throw away as soon as it is warm again - its not an essential, Ali didn´t have one, but I get cold so it can be very useful in lower quality hostels and on overnight bus journeys) and 1 sleeping bag liner and then the essentials - travel journal, toiletries and camera and ipod chargers.

We met people carrying much, *much* less than us and others with much more (girls carrying GHD straightners and a range of going out/clubbing outfits for example!) But that is a fair guide.  If I did it again I would probably not have had the smart shoes, the beach towel or as many books!

Buy the best backpack you can afford, it will be the closest thing to a home you have whilst you travel so it is well worth investing in it.  Also get a backpack with - or buy seperately - a rain cover.  This handy item doubles in purpose by making it harder for people to put stuff in you bag or take stuff out when you have it on your back and obviously, it keeps your stuff dry when the heavens open.  You will need a day sac - around 10 litres, again if you can zip it down/strap it up to make it smaller when needed that is very handy.  I am a bit obsessed with bags, so ended up with a day sac and TWO handbag/shoulder bags, which is excessive!

Pack your bag 3 times before you leave home, take at least one item out each time, imagine each packing as sieving out the unnecessary clothing.  You can always buy items when you are away if you find you are missing something, it's much harder to bring yourself to throw stuff away!

But I'm queer, am I going to get arrested/I am a very British Brit, will they hate me?
Heh, that question sounds a little over dramatic, in some ways it is, in other ways it's pretty much exactly what I desperately looked up before heading to a few countries.  I'd also like to preface this with a reminder that my saying "we survived fine here" is catagorically not the same thing as saying that it is acceptable for these countries to continue to infringe on the human rights of queer individuals by retaining laws which criminalise homosexuality.  If you want to take anything up with me on this subject then head over to my blog and send me a message or reply to any entry tagged 'sexuality'

It's always good to know what the law is on homosexuality in the country you are visiting if you are queer, and what the actual cultural/social enforcement of that rule is (for example, in Singapore we were told - and saw no real evidence to the contrary - that despite laws which effectively outlaw homosexuality, it's unusual for there to be a problem for you to hold hands etc)  Our top sources for information on this issue were the Rough Guide guide books - they usually have a substantial section on gay and lesbian stuff, the tripadvisor forums and the BBC website (for example, they have this article on the law pertaining to homosexuality in East Asia).

As with most cultural differences though, the best advice is do some research, abide by local customs, respect the views (even if they conflict sharply with your own!) of locals and try not to be the loud, brash, offensive Westerner of nightmares.  Tone down your dress in line with what locals are wearing - you will end up buying clothes as you travel so try and keep in line with fashions where you are.  Obviously in some places - like Thailand - if you are white, you will never be able to disguise the fact you aren't local, but you can blend in better than the people who walk around semi-naked.  In Malaysia we covered up, knee-length shorts and skirts, covered shoulders at all times.  It's polite, it shows you respect the culture you are immersed in, and I think it means you're less likely to encounter any hostility.

Will I get mugged/will my stuff get stolen?
As far as general personal security goes, try to be as unobtrusive as possible, in countries where we were using a lot of public transport - particularly late at night (in places like Santiago (Chile) and Rio) we were very aware that by opening our mouths we were marking ourselves as definitively non-native, so we tried to talk quietly, or keep chattering to a minimum if we felt we were being sussed up.  Similarly, we tried to keep map reading for indoors - have a look when you are in a restaurant or tourist place (like a museum or gallery) but try not to stop in the middle of a busy street and shout to one another in English about how you are lost.  No doubt this all sounds a little dramatic/excessive, but at some point when you are travelling you will see someone being loud, obnoxious and advertising to all and sundry that they are a tourist - perhaps they didn't get mugged or have any trouble, but it is an unneccessary risk IMO - why draw attention to yourself?  You probably wouldn't do it in inner city Manchester.  Similarly, we tried not to have large amounts of money on us.

We had money belts which we used for holding passports, plane tickets, extra cash when we either couldn't secure our valuables in the hostel or when we were travelling between cities - when you have you backpack on your bag and you are heaving yourself onto a bus it is blindingly obvious you have money, passport etc on you, so keep a bit of cash in your wallet to buy bits and pieces, and keep the rest tucked away in your money belt, under your trousers.  There is every chance, especially if you are on an overnight bus or train, that your small or big bag will go missing so it's never a good idea to have all your financial eggs in one basket.  We knew several people whose bags got stolen, and they didn't have money belts so lost everything.

In Rio we fully expected to be mugged.  We were lucky and never were.  I say lucky, part of it is being cautious, we never took much money out with us (enough for a meal, train fare/bus fare and a drink) and only took one camera between us in case it got stolen.  We didn't talk loudly in English when we were around big groups of locals/few tourists, we always walked as though we knew where we going - which we usually did, but not always!  As I mentioned above, think about what you would and would not do in a big city in your home country and don't do anything that's going to make you really obvious.

We never had anything stolen from our bags in hostels/had our bags stolen.  Again though, we met people who did, you can take precautions - don't leave anything valuable in your dorm/bag, close your bag when you go out during the day (it just makes your bag the less tempting one in the dorm) and use a locker whenever they are available - but sometimes you are just unlucky and something will go.  Accept that before you go and feel lucky if you get home without losing anything.  It's a bit shit, but sometimes that's just the way it goes, don't let it ruin your trip, be easy going about your possessions and don't take anything away with you that you can't replace.

Still got questions? Ask away.

Bye Uruguay...

Hello Brazil! (or Brasil, as I keep writing, which is fine because that´s how Brazilians spell it so why do the British correct them with an uncharacteristic ´z´? Anyway....)

Uruguay was alright, nothing to get excited over.  We travelled out of Buenos Aires on the ferry across the world´s widest river (can´t for the life of me rememeber what it is called) for 3 hours arriving into Colonia in time for lunch.  We wondered round, took a few photos of the picturesque buildings and cobbled streets and generally got blown away, it´s bracing in Colonia I can tell you that!  After just one night there it was up and off for a 3 hour bus journey to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay and home to 40% of its inhabitants.  

We did a tour, tourist style, in a minibus around the city and saw the ´sights´.  We looked into the palace (inexplicably named because it is, and always has been, home to the house of representatives and congress) a cathedral and various statues.  2 nights in Colonia which was more than enough, on the second day I slept because I have a cold I can´t shake off whilst Ali went 3 hours out of the city to some beach or other, but she´ll tell you more about that.  Had a nice meal out on the second night with the whole of our group (all 16 of us) in an Italian where we got free tea and coffee after the meal for no good reason.  Bus time again and this time to Salto.  

All there is to do in Salto is eat and go to the thermal pools, which we did.  I sat in the outdoor hot pool and read Harry Potter (bloody good, if anyone tells me how it ends I will kill them) for 3 hours and then we had a looong lunch at an outdoor restaurant (on account of it being sunny - sun! I haven´t seen it and felt warm in a t-shirt since we were in Australia!) and browsed the artisan craft market before heading back to town.  Salto was a one night gig so after a freezing night in our manky room (so manky I cried, I am not a fan of budget hotels in Uruguay) we got taxis over the border into Argentina and caught the overnight bus to Iguaçu.

After waiting 3 and three quarters of an hour for the bus to arrive we finally borded and were on our way north.  I slept reasonably well even though the bus was more like a coach than the aeroplane-first-class-splendor of our previous trip on Argentine buses.  Upon arrival (12 hours later) we discovered one of the girls in our group had had her iPod, wallet and camera stolen from her bag as she slept - I´m relieved I wasn´t also robbed as I was sitting just behind her with my bag in the same place as her - at my feet.  After she´d been to the police it was time to go over the border once more and get another stamp (passport is filling up nicely now!) and bam, we were in Brazil, number 9 of the 10 countries we will visit on our trip. 

Today I also realised that in 2 days time we will have visited all 10 countries (day trip to Paraguay on Sunday!) and there are just 19 days left of our trip.  I can´t quite believe we are so close the end of this marathon journey.  

Photos of Uruguay to follow sometime in the next few days and in time I will get pictures from the main draw of Iquaçu - the spectacular and largest in the world water falls.  Today we visited the Brazilian side and were blown away by the size and beauty.  Tomorrow we cross the border into Argentina one final time and visit the Argentinian side as well as going on a speed boat up to the falls.  Fingers crossed the sun is out and the weather is as glorius as it is today.

More photos!

This time a selection of my photos, last time I stole them from Ali´s online album...



Photos!

Mini update: Getting kinda bored of BA now, I think we´ve done all there is to do, in lieu of new activities we will eat our way through our remaining days here.....

Mini pic spam:

The complete lack of updates over the past few weeks can only be explained by our lack of activity.  However, we do something worth mentioning and took a 20 hour bus journey to Bariloche in Patagonia, the most southernly province of South America.  As the most southernly area, it was bloody freezing - we´re talking minus 5 in the middle of the day!

Ali convinced me, against my better judgement, to go skiing and I utterly disgraced myself with my lack of coordination or skill, it was a bit of a disaster and I spent the afternoon in a cafe whilst Ali took to the pistes and did some grown up skiing (as opposed to watching me fall over on the nursery slopes *headdesk*)  I was actually quite enthusiastic despite my infamous experience last time I tried to ski (I fell from the top of the dry ski slope to the bottom and landed on my head and cut my eyelid open, the next day my eyelid had swollen to the size of a golf ball) but I got pretty disheartened when I took two hard falls to the shoulder within minutes of each other and walked to the bottom of the slope in a stubborn, in-pain sort of fashion.

The next day we went horse riding at one of the huge polo ranches nearby, there was about 3 feet of snow coating all the fields.  It was stunning, although it was  bloody freezing and despite several layers, thick gloves and socks it was a half frozen Lizzie who half climbed, half fell down from the horse after 2 and half hours of riding through stunning landscape.  Whilst we were riding it started snowing pretty heavily which was so picturesque.  Aside from the scenery I didn´t really enjoy the ride that much because the snow was so deep, and later the roads were so icy it just wasnt physically possible for the horses to do more than walk with the odd trot.  I was lucky and my horse was very sure footed, unfortunately Ali´s horse slid all over the place and at one point fell over on the ice, rubbish.

Another couple of days was spent enjoying chocolate in various chocolate shop cafes in the town and eating mexican food from the only half decent restaurant in town - in sort, getting fat.  Then it was time to catch our luxury bus (we´re talking fully reclining super wide seats with lots of complimentary wine, food and champagne!) back to BsAs where we discovered it had snowed for the first time since 1918! Trust us to leave the summer in the UK for an especially cold winter in Argentina.

And on that note, I think it´s time for some more Malbec....chow chicos!

Tags:

Arhentina!

Spanish lessons are....slow progress, for me at least.  However, we persist and the odd pronunciation gets better and I recogonise a new word when I read a menu, so it is surely worthwhile.

It´s hard to say exactly what we have done with our time in Buenos Aires.  We have drunk an awful lot and eaten our own body weight several times over - mostly in pizza.  It seems to be that aside  from huge hunks of beef served up alone on a plate, italian food is the other national dish of Argentina.

Italian is also what I assume the Argentinians load up on before going a-protesting.  We´re staying right in the centre of BsAs and it seems that every day someone is protesting about something.  Aside from the obvious bemusement we feel upon seeing this day in and day out we are a little disturbed,  You see, the British Foreign Office´s only advice for travel to Argentina is avoid involvement in any kind of political activity or protest, we find ourselves running out of the path of protests as they sweep bystanders along with them when they pass along the all-too-narrow streets.  Interestingly it is not just the conscientious Brits that run, but the locals too.  I guess there comes a time - sometime between the 100th and 200th protest passing by your front door - that you just want to flee rather than lose your whole day being swept across the city by protesters who don´t clearly state their purpose.

BsAs is a nice city.  Relatively safe, liberal, friendly people.  In recognition of all this, we are leaving on Tuesday to go to Barriloche.  Those of you who are especially hot on Argentine geography will know that Barriloche is some km away from BsAs and a mere 20 hour bus journey (vs a 3 hour flight)  As I´m sure you can predict, we chose to take the bus.  Apparently our seats are like business class on a plane, they fully recline and we get free wine!  I´m excited.

Buenos noches chicos.
xx

Tags:

Don´t cry for me _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _!

Well, we survived Chile, just about.  The hostel we stayed in was absolutely freezing.  There was no central heating and just a few very inefficient gas heaters in the living room and reception.  As such, Ali and I shared a single bed to benefit from the others body heat and pooled the blankets from 2 beds into one - in total we had 5 blankets, 1 duvet and both slept in our sleeping bag liners which are effectively sheets in a bag shape.  During the day we wore 3 layers and our coats indoors.  I came away with a chill, it´s taken me two days to get warm!

At night we were advised not to go out because it´s just not a safe city for 2 girls to be walking around but we did walk into town during the day and were pretty much underwhelmed by the city, we couldn´t really find anything to do, or any cafes where we could just hang out (in the warm!) - apparently Chileans like to stand and drink as all the coffee houses were open fronted affairs with bars to rest against and no chairs.  The atmosphere in the city also seemed to be quite threatening, we just didn´t feel very comfortable so bought some wine and returned to the hostel where we read and watched yet more movies.  Actually, if nothing else, we did make a massive impact on our books (useful as I am currently reading War and Peace which is just too heavy to carry around for a long time, I need to get through it!) and saw an awful lot of movies.

There was also an interesting drugs trade going on, orchestrated by the reception staff.  This seemed harmless enough if annoying because of having to encounter total wankers who were high and so convinced they were possessors of the most fascinating opinions ever aired.   My opinion changed slightly one night when, whilst watching Batman Begins with some nice (non druggy...) people  we heard raised voices, indistinct through several walls which got louder and louder, eventually a man was distinctly heard to be shouting "where´s my fucking money? I want my fucking money!" and a woman shrieking in response.  Nice.

However, as ´firsts´ go, I had my first every nose bleed on the first night we arrived.  After we finished dinner I blew my nose as it felt really strange et voila! a tissue filled with blood.  Turns out Santiago is 1,700 feet above sea level and as well as nose bleeds some people have been known to experience altitude sickness!  I was ridiculously excited, I don´t think Ali really understood why.

After all that, we were thrilled to be leaving Santiago and heading to the metropolitan Buenos Aires.

The flight over was just under an hour and a half.  The journey from the airport through the traffic chaos of B.A. took two hours.  We were pretty amused by that.

The hostel we are at now has central heating, thank god, and it is filled with long term travellers, like us, who plan to spend several weeks, or even months, here.  It was with such people that last night we went out to experience B.A. nightlife.  This being Argentina, we went out at 1am just as the cafes and bars were starting to get busy and stayed in a cafe drinking beer until 6am.   I love being nocturnal, for me, as well as the Argentinians, it feels natural.

We start a 2 week language course on Tuesday so our vocabulary will finally grow from its very basic current state - we can ask for beer, tea and the bill, everything else requires elaborate sign language and pointing, it works, but not perfectly, I suspect knowing and using words will improve the situation tremendously.

Yet to take any pictures, but when we do we´ll let you see them.

It's chilly in Chile, apparently.

In a matter of hours we will be on a plane and on our way to Chile, passing over the international date line and travelling backwards through time (which is cool) to arrive several hours before we left on the same day.   We have been told not to go out at night and to leave all valuables in a safe in the hostel because we will very possibly get mugged, we were also told not to talk English in the street so that nobody knows we are tourists, I am more than a little bit scared.

Much more excited about Argentina in 4 days time where they are (according to our guidebook) very tolerant and relaxed and fast taking Rio's crown as gay capital of South America, which is a very welcome status.

Just gotta survive Chile, yikes...