A Travellerspoint blog

Goodbye Argentina Hello Bolivia

sunny 32 °C

Well we had a 4 hour bus journey to Salta from Cafayate in order to make our way up north to Bolivia. Nothing particularly exciting about this one except at one point we all had to get off the bus in order for it to cross over a temporary bridge, I guess the extra couple of tons might have tipped the scales. Was interesting trying to interpret what the driver was asking us to do using only broken Spanglish.

Salta is quite a decent town, population is about 500,000 spread out between all the mountains at about 2500m above sea level, 8202 feet for anyone that doesn’t like metres. We spent our first day there just wandering about trying to work out if there is anything in particular worth doing there as well as eating ice cream, oversized steaks and getting my head shaved for two quid. We booked a bus up north for half five in the morning for two days later. The next day we took a gondola ride up to the top of one of the mountains to get a good view of the city as well as having a look at the oversized cross and statue of Jesus at the top. We were told that there is a good exhibition on at the local archaeological museum where they exhibit Indian “mummies” from 500 years a go. The bodies of the children are buried (alive from what I could work out) at elevations of over 6000m in the mountains with their heads facing particular ways for good luck. Their bodies are preserved extremely well due to the very low air pressure and cold temperatures and are rather creepy to look at. We weren’t sure whether we agreed with them being dug up and removed from their graves, who knows. We met a guy from Salta in the garden of the hostel that was trying to give us tips on speaking Spanish like speaking with a pencil in your mouth, which I couldn’t quite figure out but never mind. He told us he had a really scary story to tell us for when it was dark and after we had visited the mummy, we didn’t see him again but most of his stories ended up with him explaining how he was always laughing to himself. I think he may have followed us from Kat´s work.

The evening before we left Salta we went to a slightly more upmarket restaurant compared to where we had been eating, waiters with bow ties, Greensleeves playing on the CD player and free glasses of champagne on arrival. It was my last chance to have some typical Argentinean cuisine consisting of a mini BBQ being brought over to the table with a giant rack of ribs, half a chicken, two pork chops and some parts of beef which were unidentifiable.

We managed to get on our bus at 5am after having 4 hours sleep. Got some sleep until about 6:30am when the bus driver decided to put on a film (10,000 BC or something like that) which consisted of lots of men shouting and killing each other, all dubbed in Spanish. By this point it was getting light though and the scenery is stunning, especially as you cross over the tropic of Capricorn. It was at this point that Kat was curious as to how this would affect our stars and our horoscope….

When we arrived in La Quiaca, which is the border down in Argentina, we were now at 3500 meters above sea level. We had a walk of about 1.5km to the border of Bolivia and Argentina which isn’t that far, but with the lack of oxygen and weight of the bags, it leaves you pretty breathless. We figured it would be quite a quick border crossing into Bolivia as anything illegal is likely to be crossing out of Bolivia as opposed to into it. We got there and the queue was maybe 100metres long which equated to about 3 hours wait to be stamped out of Argentina, and then 5 minutes to get stamped into Bolivia, and low and behold, there is not even the facility to check over bags before entry.
Once we had crossed the border, it was a quick dash to catch a train to Tupiza. We didn’t fancy staying in the border town, there’s never much there except currency exchange places that use horrible exchange rates. There was one train a day which we managed to catch with 20 minutes to spare, tickets costing us 14 bolivianos each, and there are 11 bolivianos to a pound at the moment, so it’s pretty cheap for a 3 hour train journey. The scenery from the train just got better and better but you had to be careful taking photos out of the window as whenever you went past a small village there would be a few kids with water bombs to chuck at you.
Once we arrived in Tupiza, you can see a massive difference to Argentina, much less money, everything is cheaper and there are also a lot more indigenous people. We’ve just been out on a 3 hour horse trek through the mountains which was stunning, following a path that butch Cassidy and the sun dance kid took.

We’ve booked onto a 4 day trek that we start in the morning, will let Kat update about that when we get back to civilisation.

P.s we´re both safe and sound

Posted by HenryKat 11:23 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

You are nothing in this world...

Quebrada de Cafayete


Argentina is vast and that means many bus rides for many hours just to travel a piece of the North West. The views are stunning and the roads teeter on the edge of mountains constantly battered by the changing weather conditions. These nail biting, photogenic jounreys pass by swiftly. We have so far moved from Mendoza through to Tafi del valle and on to Cafayate. Tafi Del Valle is 2000 or so meters above sea level and is a very traditional village surrounded by lush green mountains. Its a place very popular with rich Argentines, who come here for shopping and trekking so meals and atrisan items command a price. Our spanish wasn´t quite up to scratch to figure out exactly what there was to do there - the lady at our rustic hostel gave us a trekking map and I understood that there one route that went to a lake and one route was not recommended. As we couldn´t work out which one was which we settled for catching up on the blog. It was raining heavily anyway... After one night we moved on to Cafayate, another region famed for wine and cheese.

We are once again staying at a lovely hostel (did I mention Chimbas Hostel in Mendoza? Lovely courtyard and rooms and BBQ). This is similar (Rusty-Ks Hostal) a big courtyard with vines hanging over the seating areas, a large BBQ area and well decorated rooms - all in traditonal Argentine style. There are rooms dotted around the courtyard which look really cosy, they have their own bathroom etc, we move into one of those today. Yesterday we managed to organise a tour to ´Quebrada de Cafayete´in English with a guy from the hostel. Quebradar literally means "to break" and the Quebrada is a huge canyon just a few Kms from the town. There´s cacti everywhere and everything turns suddenly dessert like and gargantuous. Wandering and clambering through the canyon we saw lizards, dung beetles and stick insects. The rocks are shaped like different things, a toad, a monk and a train. We climbed to a peak for an amazing view of the surrounding canyon, one of those typical travelling photos: 2 people standing on a peak up high with nothing for miles and miles but desert and red rock. I´m glad we got that shot.

As we walked around our proud guide kept asking us if we liked his country, his tour, the canyon, we nodded a lot and answered very postively in our best spanglish. At one point I told him the place made me feel very small. ´Yes,´ he replied, ´You are nothing in this world´. Looking around at these ancient structures, grown over millions of years without any heed or need of me, I had to agree; he had a point.

Posted by HenryKat 07:25 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Yo Hablo Espanol

A hop into chile, A skip into Argentina...

storm 6 °C

We landed in Chile a few days ago, our hostel was basic but liveable. Much like my spanish. There are some really nice parts to Santiago, the Arts Quarter for example. We went here for our first meal out where we ordered ´parilla´ which we found out was just several different cuts of meat and sausages all BBQd. No Veg, No potatoes. Henry was pleased. It was good, but just a plateful of meat felt strange. They really don´t eat vegetables here. They advertise ´guarnicion´ which is guarnish, but what it means is a token flake of lettuce. It suits us fine. We have had a big steak almost everyday. Im not sure how much good it will do us. Ive also had to brave a migraine and start drinking red wine (so has Henry!!) you are almost an outcast if you dont. We had bad jet lag as our flight left at 5pm, lasted 11hours and got to Santiago at 12.10pm the same day. We have just about got over it. Once in Mendoza ( a crazy bus ride over the Andes) we found a lovely hostel, met some decent folk and spent a couple of days just getting over our jet lag, getting to know the city and having more Asados (BBQs). We took a photo of the BBQ for Dad so he can get some ideas on how to build one next to the garage at home. On the day before we left Mendoza we went to Maipu to do the wine tours. Here, you hire a bike from Sr. Hugo (who plies you with free wine) then cycle the wide avenues visiting vineyards and beer gardens trying their wares for a nominal fee. They have liquors and Absinthes and olives. It was a recipe for disaster. We met some Americans (AJ and Christian) on the bus and went round the course with them. It was a really chilled day with good wine and good company and surprisingly no accidents, I wonder if AJ and Christian actually got their bus that night...

The next day we were due to go to Tafi del Valle on the bus. To get over our hangover we went to a helardaria (ice cream parlour) for a treat. The sky was black as we left and the air pressure was suffocating. As we got to the parlour it started to rain, then it started to pour then it started to hail like i have never ever seen in my life. We have a photo of one of the hailstones. Its not an exagerattion to say that some of the hail stones were as big as ping pong balls. Within 20 minutes the roads were rivers. And we were stuck in an ice cream parlour! There was a few minutes when it was really scary as if it hadn´t let up it could´ve been more dangerous. I thought it was a hurricane or something but apparently its normal. You can´t go outside though as the hail could knock you out. There was a couple of car windows smashed. We had to wind our way back to the hostel knee deep in water (from the drains...) it was exciting and scary. We wouldve missed our bus but the guy from our hostel came to the station with us so we could draw out cash and pay him there and not have to do 2 journeys. Lovely guy. The bus ride was 14 hours and the bus leaked the whole way on my seat. At first i thought the previous passenger may have had a wee accident on the seat but then as the water gushed through the baggage holder above me I realised the issue. Soggy and tired we caught the next bus to Tafi Del Valle. 2000metres high in the hills of Argentina this place is very sweet but life is very slow here and English is scarce. So far we´ve found out that there is a lake we can walk to but we are not sure where this is... It seems many people come here to trek. It is still raining. Our hostel is very basic but seems clean enough and is friendly. Bed soon I think, we´ve got a lake to find tomorrow...

Posted by HenryKat 11:31 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Return of the Blog

A whistlestop tour of New Zealand!

all seasons in one day

The South

We are still alive! Just too tight to spend money in net cafes in New Zealand keeping up to date with the blog. So here is a whistle stop tour of our last six weeks (this will probably be a long one). So the first thing is to say a big thnaks to everyone who kept us afloat in NZ with all your suggestions, Xmas presents and general gee-ing up. We didn´t think it would be here that our travelling started to take it´s toll. But as we journied through God´s Own Country it became clear that the more western somewhere is does not necessarily make it easier to survive there.

We touched down in Christchurch and headed out East whilst waiting for some parcels to arrive. Christchurch is a dowdy city with nothing much there except phenomenally high prices, which after living on around $20 a day came as an unwanted surprise (1.50GBP for a can of coke – Henry didn´t know where to put himself.) After a few days we realised our budget here was something we had really overlooked. We maybe would be able to survive here but all the activities were well out of our price range. We started looking at changing flights immediately...NZ was going to have to go some if it was to redeem itself. Oh it also it was freezing.

After a week of meandering close to Christchurch things started to look up (marginally), one of Henry´s parcels turned up, we talked ourselves into spending 35 quid on a Lonely Planet and we found the marvellous Pac n´Save (basically, Aldi). So armed with some new info and trying to be everly optimistic we set off South to the Otago Peninsular, first stop Oamaru.

Oamaru is famed for its colonies of yellow and blue eyed penguins. I think we maybe saw a yellow eyed penguin but it may have been a crow. The DOC make sure you can´t get too close. There is a blue eyed penguin sanctuary (60GBP for 1 hour) but if you wait around after dark all the little fellas come wandering out of their enclosure to give the cheapskates a free show. We waited around in the dark and saw about 15 of them all crossing the road to get to their nests. Very cute and very close up and very free. We moved down through Dunedin and to the tip of the Otago peninsular where we had our first failed fishing attempt (windspeed 30knots, no snapper that day). We had more up close encounters with Penguins and spotted some albatross. We did a walk that was meant to last a few hours but we got lost over hours and hours of sand dunes, I cried and we hitched home.

Further South after much Pac´n Saving we were able to afford our first activity – a boat trip into a glow worms cave in Te Anau. There were thouasands of them and they were a few centimetres from your nose, the boat went round and round in the dark to give us a really good look. They look like little stars and the hungrier they are the brighter they glow. Our next trip was on another boat into the Milford Sound. We stayed overnight at a DOC managed site – these are wildnerness sites with loos and usually in very pretty places. I didn´t see any whales on the boat in the sound but lots of fur seals and the scenery was stunning.

Carrying on round the bottom of the South island to Queenstown – this is where all the bungy jumping happens. Needless to say this wouldve taken 2 weeks budget so ínstead we did a tame gondola ride up the central hill and rode little buggies down. It actually was scary enough for a non-driver. At this point we were in the middle of a fight with STA and Quantas none of whom would change our flights for less than GBP270 despite us being told it was a 30quid flat rate before we left. We were missing asia quite a bit. Travelling and counting pennies gets tiresome and is stressful. We argued, our parents had phonecalls and we generally made a bit of a meal of it at times. We were just so used to easier travelling. Nothing was quite as accessible in NZ – miles of empty land with no one selling you everything you needed for pennies. We were having to be resourceful.

We reached the glacier country and did another massively tiring walk. This time the terrain was rocks and they were slippery as hell. I fell over a few times. The walk was posted as a 4 hour but we took 8. We were overtaken many times but valiently continued until we were above the Franz Josef Glacier and could see tiny people wandering on it. This is one of the hardest walks I´ve ever done. And we definitely deserved the fish and chips we had at the end of it. Do they give you fish and chips on Machu picchu? We soaked off our muscles in some natural hot pools. We were staying close by in Okarito and did a bit of kayaking the next day around some lagoons where we saw some white herons which are supposed to be quite rare..?

Next was onto Kahuranghi National Park and a DOC site that was 37km of gravel road up the side of a mountain with a sheer drop at the side. It was a terrifying drive and I was really trying not to give any form of instruction except the odd intake of breath which apparently wasn´t helpful. We made a big fire in the desserted park and had hot chocolate watching one of the clearest skies we´ve ever seen. The climate is subalpine in that region so it was freeezing at night with such a clear view of the stars. We wrapped ourselves in 2 sleeping bags in the tent. It was here that I fear we caught the bed bugs. These feature heavily for the next few weeks of our holiday as we spend time and money trying to elimate an infestation of the little bastards. Everytime we thought we got rid of them we awoke with more bites. Having seen other traveller´s little wandering bites on arms and legs it seems NZ may have a bit of an epidemic. They even manged to follow us to the North island and into our camper van...

The North

We managed, somehow, to change our flights for free leaving us just 2 weeks with a camper on the North island. We had had a really good middle few weeks in the South island but had been driven mad by bedbugs at the end and now i was ill again through the antimalarials (esophogytis, nails coming off and blistered hands and feet). We took the camper to the doctors and 100 quid later had some tablets and could finally get on our way. Without a lonely planet we were just cruising along finding our own way. We had a couple of nice days at some beaches in the Northland, Maitai beach and Spirits bay up at Cape Reinga. We met a guy from Bedford who we camped with for a couple of days and gave us some good beachy info and we just chilled out. We bought a fishing rod on day 4 and headed to Paua for failed fishing attempt 2. Some Danish guys helped us out by catching us live bait – I belive I had a kingfish at one point but it snapped my line. They lad caught us a nice Kharwhai for our tea and i cooked it into a lovely risotto in our little camper. By this time we had started designing our own campervan to live in when we get home. Henry thinks a Ford Transit will do the job.

We then set off for the coromandel peninsular in search of the hot water beach. This was one of my highlights of New Zealand. You grab a spade and wait for the tide to go out then dig a big hole in the ground, hot water springs up from the ground a creates your very own spa. We went late in the evening when it was a bit chilly and the water was boiling hot. It was bizarre and serene.

On our way back to Auckland we had a couple of days to spare, we had an argument over what to do which ended up with us stopping on a grass verge not knowing where to go next. A car came past and told us to pull the camper into the house on the hill, the guy said some other stuff but in such a strong kiwi accent we barely understood him so we stayed put. Next thing, 3 people came rallying up to us in a flintstone mobile honking the horn. They introduced themselves and we piled into the vehicle. Henry moved the camper. Then we were off to the nearest beach and plied with beer and wine. The guys were farmers and locals with a lot of money, they had just caught fresh snapper and kharwhai and did we wwant a BBQ? We had had 5 failed fishing attempts by now so we agreed. We ended up staying for the nicest BBQ of fresh fish and salad. Ray (the farmer) owns 2 Mustang Shelbys, a Ford mark 1 Zodiac and a hot rod (7 litre V8 based on model T Ford) that he races at weekends. And 2 lovley doggies. We ended up staying over in a little holiday cottage over the road and hanging out for a couple of days. The next day Henry went to help work on the Hot Rod and I went swimming with Liz (one of the neighbours who kindly lent us the holiday home). The swimming was cut short due to a very close shark sighting. They were lovely people and we had a good laugh with them – it was a good way to end the NZ stint.

Overall – it was a trying yet interesting 6 weeks. We saw more wildlife than I´ve seen in all my life, stingrays, Keas, sealions, sharks, penguins, albatross. But then there were the bees and mossies and bloody sandflies! The insects were worse than in Asia. The scenery was absolutely stunning and yet at the same time the land lacks an atmosphere that other places have – all the buildings feel too new and are made of ugly timbre. The architecture and the lanscape lack a certain symmetry and there is too much onus put on protecting every inch of the land to the point of not being able to enjoy it. We´re glad we went and have good memories but don´t worry, we won´t be moving out there!

Posted by HenryKat 11:23 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

South East Asia

Done and dusty.

Thanks to everyone for their Christmas presents it will all come in very handy starting tomorrow when we touch down in NZ. We couldn't have chosen a better country for Christmas - the Khmers know how to celebrate, from little kids dressed as Santa to setting off fireworks in the middle of a dancing crowd for new years. All week the Cambodians wanted to know what we would be doing for 'MerryChristmas' and how we would be celebrating 'HappyNewYear'. We Had a lovely hotel for Christmas (thanks Mum and Dad) and spent our first 3 days in Siem reap lounging by the sparkling pool, being waited upon, given complimentary cold towels and peanuts and jasmine tea and free massage. I treated the place like a spa- it was heaven. We had a 'fish massage' on pub street on Christmas Eve. This is where you dangle your feet in a tank of 'Dr fish' and they nibble your dead skin (I think i mentioned it in our first entry). I have a particular dislike to things being around my feet when they are in water and Henry has really ticklish feet so I'm not sure why we did this. I spent the whole 20 minutes squealing and puffing my cheeks out, much to the amusement of some Japanese tourists and Hen could only dip his heels in. There were some big fish in there and the little ones kept getting trapped between my toes and i had to wriggle them out. It was a nauseating feeling. I'm not even sure they had the right fish in there because they didn't just stick to biting dead skin.

For Christmas dinner we had 'Cambodian BBQ' of snake, kangaroo and crocodile which we cooked ourselves on a little stove in the middle of our table. Kangaroo is lovely. Snake a little powdery. After Christmas we had to leave our hotel a go back to a hostel. We got T-shirts a woven bottle holder and a photo with the staff when we checked out so I figured we were on good terms. I asked if we could come back and use the pool considering ordinarily we're not rich enough to stay at their hotel. The manager seemed to think this was funny and welcomed us back all week. We took his offer very seriously and went back the very next day. He gave us free spring rolls and peanuts and water and a cold towel and funny little jelly banana parcels. Then he booked us in for a free massage the next day. We were so excited. So we returned the next day for our massages and when we finished them he set up a free dinner by the pool in our own little booth - half way through our dinner the bar man came to explain that Mr Richard (the manager) had to leave as he was tired but 'everything is free for you tonight'. We had no idea why we were being treated like that but it was good fun. We went back the next day. And so it continued until we had to leave. I never will know what the reason for it was. Great hotel though. I'll already miss being called 'Miss Katie'!

We went to stay at a second guesthouse in Siem Reap that was involved with a free school and we were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to volunteer as English Teachers. It was such good fun and so tiring. We were there for one afternoon helping the kids with their speaking and listening. They all had a great sense of humour especially the little ones. We also went to a concert held by Dr Beat Richner a phenomenal Swiss-German Doctor who has set up 5 free hospitals for children since 1992. His work is amazing and he works tirelessly so that the children of Cambodia have access to medical care. His work is inspirational and it was very interesting to hear his views - all his hospitals run on donations so we bought his book. I wonder if James or Emily or anyone have ever heard of him - i think he is quite famous especially in the TB field.

New year was a good laugh. Pub street filled with people, they put speakers in the street and westerners and Khmers danced until dawn. Although somehow me and Hen found ourselves at the only gay bar in Siem Reap.

We are now back in Bangkok (ugh) it feels even worse than before now that we have the rest of SE Asia to compare it with. Henry shaved his hair off last night it looks really good - better than his old hair that was starting to look a bit like a lego man haircut (his words not mine.)

So we leave for NZ today and we have survived and enjoyed South East Asia. I think an accurate description of SEA is that is is an assault on the senses ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. The smells are pungent - from one second making you immensely hungry then the next making you wretch. We have seen some of the oddest and most beautiful things along the road, odd creatures, beautiful scenery. The soundtrack of Asia is either the peaceful humming of crickets or thumping club music; the food has been some of the best (pork fried rice) and worse (papaya and crab salad from the river) Ive ever had. I have had more massages in these 2 months than i have had in my 24 years and at times they have sent me into a deep trance at other times I have been biting my teeth together as a small Thai lady jumps on my back. The Buddhists believe in 6 senses - the 6th one being the heart and I think that SEA has definitely played on our heartstrings - we have fallen in and out off love with the place many times within the last 2 months but its definitely got a place in hearts and definitely a place we will be returning to.
Signing off - Kat and Henry

Posted by HenryKat 21:14 Comments (0)

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