03.01.2014 - 20.01.2014
We left off getting the bus to Sucre in Bolivia which was a pretty short (11 hours) however butt-hurting ride. Sucre is beautiful, meant to be the prettiest city in Bolivia and you can see why. It´s also a UNESCO world heritage site. Neon signs are banned, and the buildings - mostly Spanish colonial architecture with pretty patios - are all required to be whitewashed yearly. It´s so clean too! Although 5 minutes away up the hillsides from the centre of town the painting gets more and more dilapidated and there will be the odd pig on the side of the road. We spent most of our time here eating really good food - my first taste of llama mmmm - and just walking around the city, up to viewpoints and then having early nights as we were all sick. We went horseriding with our guide with the broken arm - he assured us not from the horses - which took us through the hills surrounding Sucre and some of the surrounding farming villages. The only issue I had, as the horses pretty much sorted themselves out, was when the dogs would come chase us and Rudy really did not like dogs. We were lucky to be around on a Sunday and headed out about an hour away to Tarabuco where there are huge markets. That was fun, except for the old ladies trying to sell things that put on a sad begging face and drape the ítems in your face, no matter where you are or what you are doing. While we were waiting for our bus to leave Sucre I got my tragus pierced, because I am apparently having a quarter-life-crisis, and then we headed south to Tarija, Bolivia´s wine región. Woooh vino!
This was our first lesson going into the high season to book hostels in advance as we arrived at 5am and couldn´t find any that were open and/or had space so we spent several hours going from café to café trying to find one where wifi worked so we could find beds! We managed to find one eventually after looking like bums in the park for too long and they cooked a big delicious dinner at the hostel the first night to farewell the hippie who had been painting the wall mural. Tarija was larger than I expected, it´s nice though with tree-lined avenues, colonial architecture, paved streets, many plazas and fountains.
We did a wine tour which stopped at a few vineyards and then a few sights around the área, which is very pretty. We were all forced to try Singani, the 96% alcohol distilled grape spirit and the guide had a laugh telling the first girl it was water so she took a big sip. It is potent! We met a really funny Bolivian family on the tour, the Mum was in set-up-my-son mode. The second half of the day we had another tour which took us to a dam, a canyon, a waterfall and some town but nothing exciting. Plus we were so tired from drinking the first half of the day and then sitting on the bus in the sun.
This was the end of Bolivia for the time being. It worked out cheaper to get a taxi to the Bolivia/Argentina border and we thought it was going to be an easy day, cross the border, get a bus on the other side to Salta and relax. Not with ´AMERICANOS! ´. Stamp to exit Bolivia - easy! Scan bags - fine, apart from the swarms of bugs in the humidity. Then came the confusión...where do we enter Argentina? 1km away up the hill in the stinkng hot sun being eaten by insects. That was´t toooo bad. Then we got intercepted in line by THE DEVIL! He took the girls American Passports and told them they needed to pay for the Argentinian visa on the Bolivian side. We had researched but hadn´t found anything saying it´s one you need to get in advance. (I love being British). Anyway, they ended up having to walk back and forth between the 2 borders 3 or 4 times, being told different things each time and not fully understandig the problem as the Devil doesn´t speak English. Oh he was such an A**hole, I caught him smirking as he walked off. Renee ended up throwing her money at him in frustration at one point. They had had to cross back into Bolivia and get a taxi to the nearest town to find an internet café and pay for their visa online then come back. When they passed the baggage scan again, a nicer man asked ´Americanos? ´as he could see there was a problem, so it must happen a bit. Meanwhile, I - whose stamp took 30 seconds! - was waiting with all of our baggage, had this one policeman keep making me move with it all for no particular reason, had the cleaning lady throw her bucket of wáter over the path and then sweep it towards me and all of the bags as I tried to move them screaming ´UN MOMENTO!!!! ´to which she did NOT wait un momento. The Devils wife? I was so mad when I fell asleep/passed out in the heat and the policeman poked me to wake me...then tried to tell me something which I didn´t understand. I hated him at this point, until he walked away on his phone for a bit and came back having used google translate to tell me to be careful of the bags. So we became friends.
4 hours later and we were ready to go, with our taxi driver Jose who had seen the girls doing laps and drove them up the hill the last time for free. There were no buses (well planned) so we got him to drive us 4 hours away to Salta which was actually pretty cheap. He got us through the many pólice checkpoints without a hassle, talking his way out of having them check our bags each time (assuming drugs often come in from Bolivia) and lent us money for snacks and wáter as we had no pesos. Even though I was ready for him to drive off with all of our stuff at each petrol stop (they often make you get out of the vehicle when filling up over here...this was our first time experiencing this) he ended up being so nice ´ok my darlings ´and even assisted us with our first money Exchange on the blue (black) market as you get so ripped off with the USD by the official rate. We were so nervous about this before arriving but you are almost halving what you get if you do it properly. So it was a drive-by transaction and he even gave us a lesson on how to differentiate fake notes from the real ones.
Salta is a nice town from what I saw - about 10 minutes. We stayed at a hostel 1/2 hour out of town surrounded by farms and with stunning mountain views from the POOL (needed for the heat). it was free to stay here as they are still finishing it off so even though some days there was literally no food and nowhere else to go except back to town until mid-afternoon it was worth it. We pretty much lazed around the pool the whole time, slept in and had fun times at the bar. We did have to leave the pool área one day and get a make-myself-feel-better slushie when the Argentinian girls showed up in their thong bikinis. Ummm does gravity not affect them? The boys were very happy when we brought their attention to it so we all sat outside with our perve-glasses on. Well, mostly us 3 girls, while downloading butt exercise aps we were sure we would use daily until Rio.
We decided we couldn´t work at this hostel due to the fly problem. I´ve never seen so many! Amongst them sandflies we would later find out as bites started appearing. One morning was weird waking up in the room to our Brazilian roommate playing the didgeridoo and then offering us LSD (don´t worry I said no). Only in South America. Luckily he checked out that day. We met some good Friends here, a bunch of guys motorcycling from North America down to Ushuaia, the Southernmost point in South America, and have since run into lots of people (mostly other bikers) who know them as by now everyone was on a similar route to us. This is fun when arriving somewhere like Buenos Aires and meeting people from La Paz etc.
Next destination was Cordoba, supposedly a 12 hour overnight bus trip. About 8 hours in we woke to hear the sound like an aeroplane engine (if you were IN the engine), drenched in sweat as the air-con had carked it and had to leave the bus and wait for another, slightly crappier bus. This bus NEVER worked properly. For several hours we drove at a snails pace as it kept overheating and then we would have to stop for 1/2 hour. It was equally as hot on the bus as off by now. Finally it died for good and no amount of wáter bottles could fix it. So then we waited on the side of the road for 2 hours - found a service station that sold beer and enjoyed this with an old Bolivian couple - for another bus to arrive. Cama class. The fancy class with only 3 seats across and even wifi so that I could let Couchsurf host #2 know that we would be late as 12 hours turned into 23!
Humid Cordoba is Argentina´s 2nd city, it´s really nice with lots of fountains, a few rivers passing through and beautiful buildings. You feel like you could be in Europe. And there is Subway. Couchsurf host #2 apartment was really centrally located and nice...he was nice and sweet as well but this was to be our last couchsurfing attempt as what we saved on accommodation we spent on dinners and drinks trying to avoid him at the apartment as we are finding that hosts are possibly people who.....lack social skills? His family were over for lunch one day visiting from Germany and we briefly met them - they were AWESOME! We tried to get to Alta Gracia where Che Guevara grew up but were too late for the bus that day so saw The Wolf of Wall Street instead and then lied about the time were were getting a bus just so we could get out of there and the awkwardness and instead spent an extra couple of hours at the terminal. We didn´t want to sit around and watch him ´play ´the guitar any longer. By now we were already noticing many Argentinians dislike of Americans and to be honest, weren´t loving most in return. ´Where are you from? ´- ´United States ´- *grunting noise* ´and you? ´- ´Australia ´- ´Oh! AUSTRALIA! Wow ........ *conversation with me, ignoring the girls completely*.
Next - Mendoza for some wine time! Hailey and I wasted no time getting out and looking for some good restaurants. Here they sprawl onto sidewalks and the atmosphere is great. Mendoza is another lovely city with plenty more tree-lined avenues (needed to escape from the sun) plazas, fountains, parks etc. I read that there are so many plazas in Mendoza as in the 1800´s the city was flattened by a huge earthquake so now they are all evacuation zones. Wondering if that is why all of South America so far love their plazas. OMG. Good. Wine. In. Argentina. Is. So. CHEAP. At. Restaurants!!! HEAVEN. And then there is the steak! We definitely splurged on meals throughout Argentina.
Instead of a tour, we got a bus to Maipu and hired bikes for the day for $6 from Mr Hugo. I had the BEST day. Wish I could do it all again. We just got a map and rode around to whichever Bodega´s we wanted (ran out of time for the Olive Oil farms). It was 40 degrees so we were some of the only idiots...i mean people... biking around. My favourite winery was this 100% organic one - you can drink as much as you want and not feel bad - where all bottles are hand labelled and bottled and we were able to simple the most expensive bottle which you usually wouldn´t as the owner had opened it up the previous day and with no preservatives it needs to be consumed within 24 hours. We helped. This was our first stop and we were already struggling in the heat. Plus, being dressed for bike riding in dresses and thongs made it easier. Not. We soon realised we were continually being followed by a policeman on a motorbike and worried that as an Argentinian he was going to target us for not wearing helmets. But as we held up our map looking lost at one point he came over and asked where we wanted to go then told us just to follow him. From this time he had him for the rest of the day. He would wait outside the bodegas and then ask where to next and lead us there. It was great when, as after a few wines you lose respect for time, we realised we were running late to return to Mr Hugo and Renee was sick and struggling so the entire way back he blocked a (the only) lane of traffic so that we could follow him back and told us not to worry about going too slow for the cars. SERVICE! He delivered us to Mr Hugo and explained our tardiness. A group of other people who had returned were sitting around Mr Hugo´s and all cheered when we arrived with the policeman, by this point we had forgotten this was not normal.
Until now we had managed to avoid doing our own blue market exchange - the biker boys did it for us in Salta - but it was time. We had our escape plan all worked out haha but all you do is walk down one Street in particular and men with bumbags see you are a foreigner and start saying ´CAMBIO (change) , cambio, cambio´until you pick one. He will then take you into a shop - ours was a jewellery & handbag shop - and disappear behind the counter and come back with your money. Done. Easy. And then he will help you find the bus stop.
We took a day bus to Santiago as had heard the drive through the Andes is beautiful and it WAS! And this border crossing back into Chile was easy, I asume because Argentina is happy to get rid of the Americans. Although it was funny that they kept bringing the sniffer dogs past us in line, SO many times we were laughing in the end, it was as if to say ´come on are you SURE you don´t smell any drugs on them?´. Snow capped mountains, vineyards, pisco plantations. Through these mountains you realice how miniscule you are on the earth. We had the best seats - front row so with extra leg space and full front window views (the driver is downstairs) so we were very please with how everything was going, bus timing and connections working out perfectly etc. until Hailey got pickpocketed at Santiago bus terminal with the few hundred dollars she´d just exchanged and more from the ATM we had just been to. We are sure we know who it was - 2 girls - and possibly how it happened - an older man who was trying to tell her something in Spanish...this could have been him being involved to distract her or him trying to warn her as they were hanging around for a while. Argh! So annoying. But we had plenty of hours to put together this theory, heading to Pucon in Chile´s Lake District.