Blockage in Bariloche

As irony would have it, Buenos Aires was beautifully sunny on the day Ollie and I packed our bags to leave. After a 25-hour bus journey, we arrived in Bariloche, a city in the Lake District of Patagonia. The coach was surprisingly comfortable, although their food left much to desired. They were even playing films, including an over-the-top Chinese Kung Fu film dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles, which provided much amusement for the two of us. I have never seen so much drama outside of Bollywood. I also added to the theatrics by spending a lot of the journey in tears, already worried about Ollie’s return to the UK in a couple of weeks’ time whilst I would continue alone.

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Bon Appetit

Apparently, Argentine students flock to Bariloche in the winter for a skiing holiday/piss up, which we discovered when walking through the city centre at night. It felt so familiar: inebriated, fancy dress-wearing students partying in the street, similar to the skiing holidays I had experienced at university. Some of them were wearing shorts and ripped up fancy dress t-shirts – bear in mind this was winter in Argentina and the temperature was close to 0 degrees. No judgement here though as I probably would have done the same thing given the chance…

The next morning brings me to when I originally started writing this post, in Bariloche itself. I was lying across the bed in our quirky log cabin of a hostel whilst writing these notes about our journey, patiently waiting for Ollie to fix the toilet. Our only private bathroom for the entire trip and the plumbing was less than satisfactory.

We ended up spending the entire morning trying to fix our inconvenient situation and then gave up because it was too difficult. We made lunch instead.

“Are you actually going to do anything today?”

Out of nowhere, Cecilia, our hostel owner, piped up with this question. The cheek. We would’ve been out already if it hadn’t been for your weak plumbing, Cecilia! And so began our song: ‘Ceciiiilia, we’ve broken your bog’.

Contrary to our cynical hostel owner’s beliefs, we actually did manage to do something that day. We took the bus to the end of a beautifully scenic route to Llao Llao National Park (pronounced ‘jao jao’), where we were greeted by some incredible views. I love mountains and their impossible peaks; they make me feel small but also peaceful and inspired. We took in the magnificent scenery around us as we walked down towards the lake, its stillness only broken by Ollie skimming stones. We were alone; it felt like we had stumbled across an undiscovered treasure.

It seemed less undiscovered, however, as we continued our walk along the lakeside. Only sections of the lake are open to the public, the rest is monopolised by huge houses and privately owned land. Strolling along the path, we imagined what it would be like to live here, breathing in the clean air and waking up to breath-taking views every day. Just as we were dreaming of a future life in Bariloche, a family stepped out of one of the houses and kindly invited us to explore their garden and enjoy the wonderful vistas.

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The family’s back garden. We weren’t allowed to walk on the rickety bridge.

On the bus into the city centre, we witnessed the clouds turn into flames as the sky split into glowing hues of red and purple. We arrived on the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi just in time to see the sun descend behind the silhouetted mountains. Sitting on the pebbles for a few minutes, we enjoyed the last few rays of sunshine before the cold seeped through our winter coats. Then we did what any sensible people would do in these conditions and went for ice cream.

We finished our second night in Bariloche with a first: we cooked a meal in the hostel. Limited on spices but rich in herbs, we discovered that rosemary tastes really good in pasta. And, you’ll be pleased to know, later that night, we managed to fix the toilet! What did you do with your day, Cecilia??

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Final Days in Buenos Aires

The rains continued.

I have never experienced weather like this in a country that does not have a monsoon season. For three straight days, fat, insatiable, gluttonous droplets were spat out of the oppressive sky. And Buenos Aires wasn’t just wet it was also cold. Ollie and I spent a day attempting to explore Puerto Madero, the business district, but we struggled to find the art gallery that we were looking for let alone keep our eyes open against the onslaught of rain and had no choice but to eat at McDonalds as all the other restaurants were too expensive. I must admit though, I do love a good Maccy D so I wasn’t complaining too much. We finally managed to find the Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat gallery, which was stunning. But our day was further dampened back at the hostel when I managed to melt my flip-flops whilst warming my feet next to the electric heater.

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After our failed day, the next morning we were up early, sporting some terrible bites on our faces. We arrived in Recoleta, ready to see the famous Recoleta Cemetery, which we were told is a must-see. I tell myself that I am not superstitious but I’m still uncomfortable around graveyards so I wasn’t too keen on our visit. Additionally, Ollie and I were sceptical about how interesting a cemetery could be anyway.

We discovered that it was an intriguing and eerily beautiful place. It turns out, if you are rich and Catholic, you can afford to be ostentatious in death. We took in the hushed atmosphere, the grandiose marble-walled alleys and the mourning angel statues. Numerous cats lurked in and out of the tombs like shadows. The most expensive graves were spotless, polished and clearly looked after well. There were also smaller, ignored tombs at the edges of the compound next to the fencing separating the cemetery from the city. These vaults were dilapidated and full of withered leaves that hadn’t been raked away. It seems that there is even a discrepancy between the rich and the filthy rich. Supposedly, one can purchase a vault in this famed burial ground for approximately US $150,000.

The tomb of Evita Perón, the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952, is also in Recoleta Cemetery. We searched for a long time to find her tomb, it is in an unexpectedly unexceptional location within the cemetery and relatively modest in comparison to some of the other graves. We only managed to discover it due to the small crowd of tourists standing around it. Evita was widely loved in Argentina and known as the ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’. She fought for women’s suffrage and for the poor and was given a state funeral, something usually saved for heads of state, showing just how important she was to the Argentine people.

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Evita was buried with her family under her maiden name, Duarte

After the cemetery, one of the highlights of the day was coming across our first West Highland Terrier of the trip – we were so overexcited that the owner of the dog was laughing at us. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I have a Westie at home that I talk about all the time. We also wandered through the leafy parks of Palermo where we were impressed (and made to feel slightly guilty) by the number of people exercising on the green.

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I have mentioned before that online information in Buenos Aires was difficult to find and, if there was any, it was often inaccurate. Dodgy wifi connections didn’t help either. On our final night in Buenos Aires, the clouds finally cleared up and the rains ended! I planned for us to go salsa dancing in a local club as, according to my online source, Wednesdays are the best night for salsa. To my disappointment (and Ollie’s delight) we arrived at the club to find that it was most definitely closed. Apparently, according to the doorman in the hotel opposite, the club is open every day expect Wednesdays…

Nevertheless, we ended up finishing our few days in Buenos Aires in true Argentine fashion: bar hopping, eating steak and drinking lots of red wine.

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A Day of Culture

Another cold and rainy morning in Buenos Aires began with my discovery of Ollie’s burn book, featuring me. Because he is the person that he is, his diary was written in another language. So after a few challenging minutes of translating the short entries whilst he was in the bathroom, I discovered that his jottings consisted of complaining about how long I take in the shower. Naturally, it wasn’t just the weather that was cold that day…

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Intellectual and arty

The mal tiempo that morning resulted in us deciding that we needed a day of culture. So we headed to a modern art gallery in San Telmo (sorry, that should be contemporary – modern art is quite different, I’m told). The exhibits were…interesting to say the least and we enjoyed analysing what each blob of art meant, which I actually loved doing. There was an exhibition about ghosts of memory, featuring the eerily distorted sounds of two audio tracks resonating simultaneously at opposite ends of the exhibit. We played around with the perceived symmetry of some of the other pieces, which we discovered were actually asymmetrical and we just weren’t looking properly.

After amusing ourselves in the gallery, we hopped on a bus to explore Recoleta, an affluent area in Buenos Aires with well-to-do residents. We discovered its wealth as we entered an Italian restaurant, which turned out to be more upmarket than we expected – the place had its own two-floor bookshop. I ordered a glass of red wine with my meal and our eyes widened as I was given a bottle instead; it was going to be an interesting day.

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Bookshop in a restaurant – because why not?

The rain was still pouring when we left the restaurant but since we were significantly drunker, we didn’t mind as much. We were laughing as we got soaked, dancing what we thought was ‘tango’ in the streets. Turns out my body can’t handle half a bottle of wine as well as it used to. Unfortunately, it soon became much colder as the sun set and we walked all the way to Palermo, another district in Buenos Aires, for a tango class, which turned out to be much further than we expected. The skies were positively bucketing water down on us by this time and we were sodden, sober and miserable by the time we arrived at the venue, which turned out to be…closed. We looked at each other, shivering as water dripped off the end of our noses, frustrated by our miserable and fruitless hour’s walk.

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-17-19-12However, just as we were about to turn back, our saviour, a heavily bearded man, appeared out of the haze of rain and opened the door for us. La Catedral, the venue and our sanctuary from the weather, was beautiful and designed to look like a vintage tango hall. It was dimly lit, the sofas had burst open with their foamy interiors spilling out, the floorboards groaned under our weight, many of the windows were shattered yet there was gorgeous art everywhere. We had taken a step into the past and were expecting crimson clad tango dancers to glide into view from the shadows.

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Photo credit: Oliver Collard

Nevertheless, in typical Argentine style, we ended up waiting for over two hours for the class to begin or for anyone other than the two of us to show up. Finally, when enough people had arrived, the instructors demonstrated how the tango is performed; it was emotional, passionate, measured and flowing. When Ollie and I tangoed, it was staccato, clunky and heated because we were getting angry at each other for forgetting the moves. Regardless, we enjoyed our lesson and our journey home under the continuous downpour was made slightly less dismal as we stopped in the streets to practice our newfound Latin moves.

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Markets, Tours and a Little Bit of History

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San Telmo market

My sleeping habits were slowly improving! I managed to stay awake for a little longer than the night before and we were feeling energised and raring to go on Sunday. We explored the goldmine of San Telmo market, a hodgepodge of fascinating junk located just down the road from our hostel. Amongst the random array of bits and bobs were typewriters, erotic novels, maps, vintage postcards, Christmas cards with messages in them, journals from the 70s, hair pins, screws and bolts, far too much cutlery, personal memoirs, mate cups and much more. It was a collector’s paradise. However, being a vocal anti-hoarder and, more importantly, possessing an already overfull rucksack, we firmly walked through the market, trying our hardest not to spend anything.

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Ollie thinking he’s Will Self and getting excited over the typewriters

Ignorant as we were, we mistakenly thought this market was the famous San Telmo Sunday Market but it was just the regular, everyday market. We came to realise this after walking down a few more streets to Plaza Dorego where we discovered the real Sunday market. Here was an even more excitingly eccentric mix of gadgets and gizmos ranging from matchstick art to knitted Pokémon balls. I secretly loved the hipster vibes of San Telmo although I wouldn’t admit that to Ollie…I do think he felt the same though. We were certainly mesmerised by the unconventional charm of the barrio that we called home for that week.

‘We can’t miss this tour again,’ I told Ollie and we laughed at the thought of never experiencing a guided tour around Buenos Aires because we were too distracted by food. But then we stopped laughing as we realised that the odds of that were far too likely. Sacrificing a sit down lunch for take away empanadas, this time we managed to make it to the tour early and met our guide, Fernando. Sporting a steaming mate cup and an orange rain jacket, he gave us an overview of the political history of Argentina whilst taking us to important landmarks in the central area of the city. We all stood with our coats zipped up to the top to keep the cold out, standing under any shelter we could to avoid the rain, eagerly listening to his stories. Did you know that the British invaded the Rio de la Plata area of South America (modern day Argentina and Uruguay) not once but twice? Classic Britain.

Fernando also described what he referred to as Argentina’s “party” period in the late twentieth century where 1 Argentine peso was equivalent to 1 US dollar. He painted a picture of luxury but reminded us that all highs are followed by a low. The peso is currently one of the world’s worst performing currencies, along with the pound sterling…

He also informed us about Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group of women whose children were “disappeared” between the years of 1976-1983 during the military dictatorship. He told us that during the dictatorship, groups of more than two were banned from public areas and anyone who challenged the regime was “disappeared”. In protest, the mujeres wore a white scarf around their heads and, in groups of two, walked around all the major parts of the city, including Plaza de Mayo right outside the President’s Casa Rosada (Pink House). People are still fighting for justice for the disappeared people and Fernando said that women still wear the white scarf and parade around the Plaza every week.

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Symbol of Madres de la Plaza de Mayo

Café culture is huge in Buenos Aires. Walking past a seemingly never-ending line of people braving the cold and rain, Fernando informed us that what they were queuing for was a seat in the oldest café in the city. We managed to get a peak inside this renowned eatery as one of our guide’s contacts on the inside kindly let us enter, but the exasperated faces of those at the front of the queue stopped us from staying. Our tour ended with a recommendation of submarinos y churros, a particular type of hot chocolate and a pastry dessert, which, as it was still pouring with rain, we quickly found ourselves ordering in the closest café before we had even decided that it was a good idea. We didn’t regret it.

 

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Actually, they ran out of submarinos y churros so we had cafe, torta y medialunas instead

As per usual, our weekend ended with me falling asleep before dinner.

 

Arriving in Buenos Aires

We arrived safely in Buenos Aires on Friday 2 September to Hostel Carlos Gardel in San Telmo. Our room was a tiny double with a door to the balcony and a little electric heater to make it cosier. But for all the warmth the little heater chuffed out, the balcony would blow in a much icier breeze. One thing you should know about winter in Buenos Aires is that it is bloody freezing. Ollie, who is never cold, laughed at my whimpering and weak attempts to warm myself, until he started shivering himself. We were arrogant in our expectations: surely Argentine winter must be like a British summer. We were so wrong.

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Our hostel room

On the first evening, we decided to get a feel for San Telmo, the district I chose as our base, providing much amusement for Ollie as it is described as “edgy” in his guidebook (I’m really edgy you see…). We had been warned that San Telmo wasn’t the safest area in BA but we felt quite comfortable until we left the enclosed little side streets and wandered onto exposed Avenida de Mayo, the widest road in the world, where you are left to fend for yourself. Another thing you should know about Argentina: there are protests almost every day. In addition, Argentines don’t do things by half. In the middle of the widest road in the whole world  (because if you’re going to be build a huge road, it might as well be the biggest),  we happened to walk right into the middle of a massive demonstration. We still don’t know exactly what the protest was about but it was the first of many, albeit the largest, that we saw throughout our time in the capital. I don’t think Ollie has ever squeezed my hand so tightly as we walked through hordes of shouting people. It was the moment of realisation: we are on the other side of the world and we are alone. And it also didn’t help that neither of our bank cards were working (we very quickly realised this was because we both were typing in the wrong pin codes…).

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Avenida de Mayo

We soon discovered another aspect of Argentine culture: everything is late. If you are reading this and know me half well, I’m sure you are raising your eyebrows, smirking, thinking how well I must fit in to a culture of lateness. And, as true as that is, I was still shocked! British Asian me, who has dinner at 10pm in England, was bemused by the nocturnality of it all. The night owl flavour of the city should have been perfect for me, except for the fact that I was severely jet lagged.

In the end, our first evening consisted of marching against crowds, panicking about our bank cards, dodging low-lying protest banners and, eventually, concluded with me falling asleep in a restaurant with spaghetti half way to my mouth. It was so early we were also the only people there. For the first time in years, I fell asleep before 10pm. Ollie would like to take this moment to interject that me falling asleep became a theme of the trip…

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San Telmo street art

The next day, our first full day in Buenos Aires, we unwittingly wandered towards La Boca, a district that we were warned off by hostel staff with a big ‘X’ on our map. This warning was repeated by an elderly man who randomly came over to chat to us, giving us some essential tips for avoiding theft. It served me well throughout the rest of my travels so I will share it with you: when sat at a restaurant or a bar or a cafe, never hang your bag off the back of the chair, always keep it in your lap. And if you are draping your coat across the back of your chair, make sure the pockets are empty. I heeded this advice for the entire three months of travel and was safe from theft, whereas I did meet people who had their possessions stolen in this way so it was useful advice! We were also stopped on our journey to the no-go land by a lady who invited us to some Christian events. As expected, Ollie’s Spanish was excellent and mine was not. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t practice.

Ollie once again demonstrated his superior Spanish skills in the Museo Histórico Nacional where he had to translate much of the information for me with much complaining on his part. The museum taught us about Argentine history and the development of a national character, which we found really interesting as it focused on both the development of gaucho culture and the changes that European colonisation brought (anyone who knows me is aware of my interest in anything to do with colonialism). Unfortunately, our time in the museum was cut short as we wanted to catch a free walking tour, which, in an annoying but typical turn of events, we ended up missing anyway because of a far too leisurely lunch.

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Museo Histórico Nacional

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The lunch that made us miss our tour

Breakfast in an airport in São Paulo

After nine months of working in retail, thinking about brushing up my Spanish (but never actually doing it) and planning my next big adventure, it’s finally here. I am currently sat in an airport in São Paulo, Brazil, waiting for my next flight to Buenos Aires with my lovely boyfriend, Ollie, who is taking the piss out of everything I write.

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Ollie and I

But, as my mum has always told me, I should document my experiences, mainly so she can read them and know exactly what I’m up to. I also have to text her everyday, even if my message is just ‘K’. That’s 40p per text put to good use there.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I am travelling around South America for three months: 1st September 2016 to 1st December 2016. My boyfriend, Ollie, and I are visiting Argentina and Chile together before he has to return to begin his Masters at Oxford (nerd) in October. Then I will be continuing on my own through the north of Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil.

I thought, as every travel blogger does, my first posts would consist of my preparation for my trip. Instead, I spent a lot of my time in Meadowhall (my local shopping mall) buying last minute items, like malaria tablets and a rucksack (you think I would have planned ahead with those…). I also thought that I would make a packing list of all the items I’m taking with me in case anyone else decides to travel to the same places but, being a serial over-packer, this proved impossible. You can see how many clothes I initially planned on taking (I had to cut down a lot since they didn’t actually fit in the bag).

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A reasonable amount of clothes…

As anyone who knows me might have guessed, I had plenty of drama prior to catching my flight at Heathrow. I had a reaction to my new contact lenses two days before I left. This meant, on the day of travel, I was in Specsavers, desperately pleading with them to let me buy some daily disposable lenses so I wouldn’t have to lug five bottles of special saline solution around for my monthly contacts. I am eternally grateful for their help. I also managed to fall over in the street and literally land in a gutter just before I left…

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So instead, my blog begins now. In a cold airport at 8:45 in the morning, sitting at the table of a closed café. We flew with LATAM (a South American airline) who served surprisingly good gnocchi but desperately needed more toilets (I was waiting for 20 minutes). We also had a perplexing moment where we thought we’d booked different flights to each other but Cesar, the check-in man, assured us it was just a fault in the system. The same fault that said we’d been upgraded to first class but we were actually still in economy…

We’re looking forward to the next flight and arriving in Buenos Aires in the afternoon. Until next time!

A little game: spot the dog

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Waiting for my Megabus to London