Thursday, 29 November 2012

Flying visit to Argentina

We left Bolivia via the border at Villazon and our first stop in Argentina was Humauacha. It all worked pretty smoothly, taxi to border, visit two border offices, out from Bolivia and stamped into Argentina. Humauacha was a quaint little place and we just did an overnight as our first real stop was Salta in NW Argentina.

 Salta was busy and hot and the accommodation was expensive and some of it grotty. Eventually we got a small room in the Plaza hotel, right on the main square........we didn't have a window so we could have been anywhere........but it was clean and comfy and had air-con. We had already met several people who had travelled in Argentina and said the prices were crazy so our plan was a little sortie here and assess the costs and decide what to do.

Our first night in Salta we had dinner in the square and enjoyed the evening temperatures. We booked our onward travel to Cafayete and a horse-riding trip with gauchos!! Chris had never been on a horse and I once let Amy persuade me to get on one in Ireland and didn't really enjoy it.

We wandered around Salta and came across the Union of Syria and Lebanon .............mmmmmmm. Apparently there are lots of these social centres across Argentina. They made fabulous home cooked food at very reasonable prices, I had delicious meat loaf and lovely bread pudding!!

We were ready bright and early for our horse riding but there was confusion about what time were were to leave, eventually we left at 10am or 10.15 Argentinian time!! Our host was David a huge bear of a man who had played rugby for Argentina under 19 and then shattered his ankle and couldn't continue. We picked up 2 other guests for the day and headed of to the finca. Our co-riders for the day were two Austrian brothers who were actors, one on the stage and the other in film.........the latter had whisky and fags just to leave Salta and a beer as soon as we arrived at the finca. He took his hip flask riding and most of the time he was pale , sweating and had the shakes!! Daaarling!!

We had  great 2 hours on 2 very gentle horses, wandering around he lovely countryside . Afterwards we had lunch of asado and salad washed down with wine.......a lovely relaxing day

For about 48 hours I thought I was going to continue on this trip alone, Chris' sister has had a lot to cope with at home and he was feeling like he should go back to the UK and be with her. However he spoke to people at home and he decided to continue.......

Our next stop was to Cafayete, a wine growing area!! A lovely little sleepy town, we booked a hostel on the outskirts of town. This was fine most of the time, and it was run by a laid back guy called Geronimo. The Spanish in this part of Argentina is very hard and sounds more like Italian!!

We had a nice relaxing weekend, Friday was the day of wine so there was free tasting at the wine museum and we did a couple of bodegas too.

 On Sunday we at at the market restaurant with the locals and had a lovely asado and salad and of course wine!! I went to mass in the lovely church and it was very lively with lots of singing, there was no service sheet but I get the gist of the format of the advantage of every mass being the same!!

As we got back to the hostel on Sunday night we could hear  a party in full swing ( Monday was a holiday) and we weren't able to book a Monday we got up at 4.45 and had to walk the 40 minutes for the bus with our luggage, thank heavens for wheels-which even managed the first bit which wasn't paved. The party finished at 5 am and the locals were all on their way to bed as we left.

Our 6am bus got us to Tucaman and we stayed in hostel a la Gurda, a new place run by a family, only been open a month and still a few teething problems. By this point we decided that the original plan of a 2 months in Argentina was not affordable, prices are between 50-100% more than when we planned and Patagonia more expensive again.....and it will continue to rise as the economy worsens. We were at the limit of our daily budget and would have spent 2 months constantly thinking about money and not able to do some of the things we wanted.

We booked an overnight bus from Tucuman to Mendoza, 13.5 hours.........and it cost us 505 pesos, about £70. So we had a whole day to wait in the heat of Tucuman, not my idea of fun. The good bit was the bus terminal is air conditioned but that did not help when we turned up for the bus at 7.30 to find it was late!!!No explanation and certainly no apology!!

Anyway it wasn't too bad and we are now in Mendoza in a place called "wine apart", where we booked a room but they have given us a suite, so we have a kitchen and a bit more space and a little patio. Chris cooked chicken and veg in a BBQ sauce last night and it was good to have veggies!!

Today we are hoping to book to horse ride again tomorrow and then Saturday we head to Chile, to Santiago where we have booked an apartment for a week. It is in the centre, opposite the market and I am looking forward to a week of home-cooked food. We will use the time to sort out Plan Z and think we will head up the Chilean coast and back into Peru before working out a route to finish the trip in Iguazu as it was my number one must do and sod the expense we can have a couple more days in Argentina before we head to Sao Paulo for our flight home.

Sorry no pictures this time, over the last week or so I've lost interest in taking them..........but normal service will be resumed next time.

Take care, where ever you are

Norma xx

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Well that was Bolivia!!!

We are now in Argentina but the last week in Bolivia for me was the best of the trip so far. We left lovely Sucre in a taxi, fairly cheap but the driving was terrible!! We had an overnight stay in Potosi, the highest city of its size in the world.........air please. It is the centre of silver mining in Bolivia and the mine has a sad air about it. The miners still work in Victorian conditions and the Spanish used thousands of slaves to extract the silver, including black Africans who were enslaved and died beacuse of the cold and then once the Spanish realised they weren't the answer to their desire to get the silver out they resettled in Coroico. Guayasamin, the famous Ecuadorian artist, painted a haunting picture of the Bolivian silver mines. We were only there overnight and didn't visit the mine.

The centre was nice with lots of colonial buildings and the square was occupied by miners, stopping some of the city centre traffic. Its called a paro and is the South America way to protest!! We got up early and headed to Tupiza on the bus. We checked into a nice family-run hostel called La Torre. Tupiza is a lovely little town but our main purpose was to sort out our 4 day trip to SW Bolivia. We booked through the hostel and knew we were sharing our trip with 2 French Canadian women ,Francesca and Aline. Spent a quiet day in Tupiza , which has a Pizza restaurant on every corner including one called Tu-Pizza!!

We set off at 8 o'clock in our jeep with our driver Elvis and his mum nancy, our cook, and they proved to be an excellent combination. Elvis was a lovely friendly, patient soul and a really good driver and his mum Nancy was so organised. The set up of these tours is there are 4 people in the jeep and a guide/driver and they carry all of the food and a cook to prepare it. There were 3 other jeeps in our group. 

The first day we drove through awesome scenery, colours changing every 10 minutes . We stopped for lunch and Nancy had prepared a lentil stew, rice and salad the first of many lovely meals.There were llamas all over the place, with coloured ribbons to determine whose flock they were. When we got to the National Park the office was closed and we eventually hit a blockade........after much discussion they let us in, and we were the only people in the park for 3 days!!

We knew our accomodation was going to be BASIC and it didn't disappoint.........we payed a bit extra to have a room to ourselves but we still shared one sink and 2 toilets between 20!!

The next morning we set off at 8 and visited the lagoons in the park, green, blue, colorado and all in fabulous settings and full of flamingos. One area is called the Dali desert as there are natural sculptures that the man himself could have created. We had a soak in fabulous thermal pools and then a beautiful lunch overlooking the pools. In the afternoon we visited the geysers, blowing off huge clouds of sulphur. Becuase of the paro we had to return to the same 5 star hostel and it had been a long day and I was shattered............and then Elvis said we need to get up tomorrow at 3.30AM to "escape " from the park and avoid getting blockaded in!!

It is cold at 3.30 on the altiplano and we set off in the dark, there are no real roads, just tracks and we were driving up a riverbed at one point. We crossed a stream and then we had to walk up a hill , as driving was going to be too difficult loaded with people. Our jeep got across the stream but got stuck in sand on the hill!! It took about 90 minutes to get it sorted, meanwhile we had to build a fire to keep warm, we then got lovely pancakes for breakfast and by 7.30 we were back on track.

It was another long day, we visited the valley of the rocks with funky shapes etc, the black laguna which was very peaceful and then had lunch with views of the mountains of Chile. At his point a French couple from Toulouse lost it as we were in the middle of nowehere and no place to sit in the shade and relax and have have to wonder sometimes.........and it wasn't sunny!! The area we drove through was a quinoa area and we bought some beer but it was only just okay. We visited a cemetry where the bones of small local people were placd in hollowed out volcanic rocks. Our final destination was a salt hotel on the edge of the salt flats near Uyuni. It was made from blocks of salt and the kids (in their 20's) took great delight in licking the walls!!

We paid extra to get a room on our own and it had ensuite and a after 2 days with just a sink. Dinner was again delicious a veggie lasagne. We had a bottle of wine with it!!

Another early start, 4.30 for a 5 Am departure but this was to me the highlight of the whole trip ..........the salt flats. We were up in time to see the sunrise on the flats and then went to isla de pescados ( an island covered in ancient cacti). We had breakfast and then drove through the flats which are just stunning............white as far as the eye can see.

Our trip ended with lunch in Uyuni ( not a very pleasant spot) and we said goodbye to the Canadians and we set of back to Tupiza. We got back about 5pm tired but having enjoyed a fabulous trip and it only cost is 130 pounds for four days. We had a lush bacon pizza and then got sorted to head off to Argentina.

We left Bolivia on Monday and travelled to the frontera( border) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Lovely friendly people, fabulous scenery, not too touristy and cheap but on the downside, everything is slow travel, service etc but all in all loved the whole experience.
The 5star Iowa suite

llamas of course

Maflingos.....a Harris in joke!!

Sunrise on the Uyuni salt flats

Chris on the salt flats

If the kids can do it so can I !!!

Next instalment..........don´t cry for me Argentina......sorry couldn't resist

Buena suerte

Norma xx

Leaving Sucre today.............

Thought I would do a short update before we set off on the next phase of our trip. We survived the week of early mornings and Spanish classes and all in all it was good. I will have happy memories of Sucre, it is a fabulous city and it is vibrant and cultured. However in 8 days we were in 3 different hostels or hotels ........the first one had rubbish wi-fi and indifferent staff, the second had built in terror show from 5pm to 10 pm and our final, more expensive, weekend boutique hotel had loud music from a nearby bar Friday and Saturday and we had to move rooms!!

On the upside our , the Posada, has comfy beds, wonderful hot power shower, lush big towels and great buffet breakfast ..........luckily we always have earplugs so managed to sleep through the noise. Friday was great as there was a night of the Museums. All of them were open till midnight and free and some had music concerts. We listened to a couple of youth orchestras and there was a jazz band playing in one of the streets. We ended the night with crepes at the French patisserie.
Saturday we had a great day quad biking for four hours, we were out above Sucre, the scenery was fabulous and it is good on a bike as you get the air and dust in your hair!! We had a double quad but I had a go as well. Our guide was Roberto who had just returned to Bolivia having been in London for 5 years. He had worked in one of Antonio Carlucci's restaurants and it took me about half an hour to realise he was speaking English with an Italian accent , typified by the use of F***ing hell!!
Sunday was our last night so we went back to our favourite restaurant and has steak to die for..........and nice wine. All served at once and not ten minutes apart which is quite normal in Bolivia.

Then Monday we set off for the next bit of our adventure..........coming soon

Very ornate but delicious goats cheese salad

Need any ideas for your house?? Grand hotel Sucre

Above Sucre

Quad biking

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

La ciudad blanca SUCRE

Hola de Sucre, una cuidad muy hermosa y colonial con edificios antiguos. Hay mas jovenes aqui que en otra lugares porque la universitad y la mas vieja y popular en Bolivia. A las siete de la tarde las calles son llenos con jovenes. Este semana estudiamos espanol en una escuela que llama "Mea gusta", las classes son 4 horas y tambien tenemos tareas!! Estamos en un hotel colonial pero yo espero que po la fin de semana vamos a cambiar a un hotel mas lindo . Lunes vamos a Potosi y despues Tupiza y despues a Argentina.

Greetings from the fabulous city of Sucre, it was the original capital of Bolivia, and is steeped in history. Simon Bolivar was the first Bolivian president and he helped liberate Bolivia and the first act of Independence was signed here. The first Bolivian university was also begun here.It is like a colonial Spanish town, beautiful white buildings but with a South American vibrancy  It is full of young people and at about 7.30 in the evening the streets are just flooded with them.

But back to last week..........Coroico was a fabulous place!! Our journey was about 2 1/2 hours on the new road which parallels the deadliest road in the world. We climbed up and out of La Paz to La Cumbre and then a descent into the cloud forest. The town was small and friendly and we got a taxi up to Sol y Luna. Our cabana ( bungalow) was a five minute walk uphill but worth it for the views, and the walk was though a lovely tropical garden. We has a cabana for 7 just for the two of us, a lovely patio with hammock and a big kitchen and bedroom. Our nearest neighbours were about 5 mins walk away and it was so peaceful  We delighted in going to the town to buy food to cook, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. We bought half a chicken and he cut it in half with a huge ax!! We got the half with the head too!!
Guarding the President-old and new

The most dangerous road in the world 

our little oasis in Coroico

The view for breakfast

Competition to make bread for Day of Dead

The Cloud Forest

I loved cooking and we had a fire pit so Chris did his man bit and BBQd the chicken and some pork. We spent the days lounging, walking to town and generally chilling. The weather was lovely and one morning we set off to walk up hill but it was steep and the heat so bad we got an hour uphill and came back. We returned to La Paz on Friday- a holiday in Bolivia .........the day of the dead.

I hadn't really like La PAz the first time but after Coroico it seemed dirtier and noisier but it was only for one night as we had a flight booked to Sucre the next day..............or not. We were due to fly at 1pm and at 9.20 the airline cancelled the flight, we had to undo a booked taxi and check back into a room we had only just left. Another day in La Paz, we did an afternoon bus tour to get away from the smog of the centre. 

Anyway the next morning we flew to Sucre............where of course all of our previous arrangements had been changed to!! We were having difficulty contacting our Spanish school so we booked into a hostel. I found it while Chris stayed in one of the many "chicken" cafes, when I got back the table was covered in plates of chicken and chips!! As we were leaving Elisabeth from the school spotted us and we cancelled our homestay and arranged to meet at 8.30 the next day for classes. The hostal was nice a room looking onto a big courtyard, so we unpacked and went in search of a veggie restaurant, it was closed but we had  a lovely Chinese instead. 

We had an exam first and then we were assigned our teachers, mine is Gabriella and we have been revising irregular verbs and the past tense!!It is hard work , four hours is a long time one to one. After Mondays class we decided to move hostels as the wi-fi wouldn't connect and we needed to use it. Chris had some bad news about his nephew and needed to be in touch with his aunt and sister regularly.

So we are now in room 18 of the Grand Hotel, we have a massive room with TV and a small ante room with comfy chairs and the bathroom is off this room. Its a place with two outdoor courtyards. Nowhere is perfect and from time to time we get the sound effects from the "House of Terror" which backs onto our room.

Last night the school did a city tour so we went with Noelia and she talked about the city. It was fascinating and we ended up at the Parque Bolivay, where the students are revising for their end of year exams. There was a band playing an some people doing a local dance, which for the girls was lots of skirt swinging but for the boys was quite energetic.

We had a lovely meal in a restaurant but then the heavens opened and it started to drip into the restaurant!! We got soaked walking back though. My stomach hasn't been too good since La Paz but it was ropey in the night and I have spent most of the day in school!! Think maybe the spicy chorizo sandwich in the market was just the final straw??

We hope to chill over the weekend, we have to be up early to go to school, and then make our way to Tupiza which will be our last stop in Bolivia. We can do the salt flats tour from there and then we have decided to skip the northern part of Chile and go into north west Argentina next. The delights of independent travel............till next time.

Love Norma xx