South America, Day Three: Colonia, Uruguay

I’ve just re-rolled my sleeping bag and I can barely function. On top of that, there appears to be a bunch of apes outside our room (aka, gap year youths). I’ll probably give you a proper update while I’m at the airport tomorrow (Buenos Aires to Santiago) but for now I’ll give you a summary. Plus some titbits I’ve forgotten to mention on the way.

One: We tried an Argentine spirit called Fernet, which tasted like mouthwash. A rank version. A fellow backpacker insisted we try it, as to immerse ourselves in the culture. So we did. And we got hammered.

Two: Bring dollars and change them on the street. You’ll get double your money as the exchange rate is unofficially 18 to 1, or something like that. (I don’t really know what that means but you should do what I say anyway).

Three: According to our La Boca tour-guide, Ceri, the best thing to do if you’re about to get raped is… shit yourself. (Yeah, we weren’t sure how to handle that piece of advice either).

And, as for today’s summary; we popped over to Uruguay, had a wander, ate the best chicken stroganoff known to man at a placed called La Bohemia as we sat outside in the pissing rain (they call that ‘al fresco’, right?). Then we went to the most photographed street in Colonia (Calle Los Suspiros). Shortly afterwards, we got followed by a wild dog… so we decided to seek shelter in a bar called Buen Suspiro. (What a great excuse!) We drank Malbec, ate cheese and got a cheeky try of traditional ‘mate’ (after hinting very unsubtly to the bar tender, Daniel)… and then we nearly died on the ferry back (there was a gale and a puke-for-all).

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It’s gone midnight and we’ve got a plane to catch. Night.

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It’s the morning now and we’re at the airport so figured I’d continue where I left off. It’s technically tomorrow but I’ll keep to this entry for now. (If you’re confused, imagine how I’m feeling).

Before I do, we just checked our bank account. It turns out everything is not ‘muy caro’. One meal, for the both of us, came to £22… and that was at Cafe Tortoni (tango)! 2 steaks and a bottle of wine for £22; a tenner each! Turns out we’ve been working prices out with the wrong exchange rate. Instead of dividing by 7.5, we should have divided by 12.5. Ah well! Pleasant surprise!

Yes, so Colonia is rich in history. I’m not in a position to tell you about this history (no lo se, sabes nada), but I’d recommend you read up on it because it’ll make the daytrip more interesting. It’s such a beautiful place. Each cobble on the quaint streets is lined with moss… and the colours of the casas are just so pretty. It’s a very quiet place – we only saw a handful of people and a dog. It feels very safe and our backpacks could stay on our backs today. Even the stray dog was friendly – we didn’t hang about though, mainly because we’ve read / heard so much about rabies. And that’s all we need.

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To catch the Colonia Express, you need to take a taxi to the port. It’s within “the mouth”, aka La Boca, so don’t hang about. Get in, get out, and keep your wits about you. Out taxi driver took us for a ride (literally and metaphorically) – he drove us into the depths of La Boca, claiming he didn’t know the way (in Spanish), and managed to double the fair in the process. The half hour taxi cost about £5 so it didn’t really matter. We arrived on time, in one piece, so that’s all that counts.

I’ve just realised something!!

In yesterday’s Malbec frenzy, I forgot to mention THE STEAK!!! Not just any steak – the best goddamn steak I’ve ever had. It was so, so tender and, to demonstrate just how tender, the waiter cut it with a spoon. YES. With a SPOON!! It melted in our mouths – literally melted. The sweetest, juiciest, “muy rico” steak can be found at La Brigada. Order the ‘lomo’ and share it (you can always order more). It was honestly the best goddamn piece of meat I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting into my mouth.

Buenos Aires – a summary:

It’s a sexy, sassy, cosmopolitan city, bursting with colour and energy. Busy and vibrant, Argentina’s capital will keep you on the edge of your seat and on your feet. It hosts the world’s largest avenue (16 lanes) and it boasts some truly spectacular neighbourhoods. It’s a shame we didn’t explore Palmero or the markets in San Telmo properly – so if you allow yourself more time than us, you should give these areas more attention.

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South America, Day Two: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Today we wandered, more confidently, towards Recoleta (take two), where we successfully found the cemetery… and after a few [hundred] wrong turns, Evita’s resting place. The mausoleums are magnificent and, although the cemetery was flooded in sunlight, there was something – actually, a LOT – eerie about the place. Perhaps that’s something to do with the coffins that you can see behind the moth-eaten curtains and the distraught statues wailing overhead. I was expecting to see a lot of cats (we had been warned) but we only saw the one. We overheard a tour guide telling her group of tourists that there’s an old woman who comes to the cemetery every day, just to change the cats water.

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Then we got robbed… by Starbucks. No doubt this was our punishment for not boycotting them in the first place. Two coffees came to around a tenner… well, they did on our exchange rate. (While I’m at it, do not change your dollars in the official currency exchange places… do it on the street… you’ll get triple your money’s worth. Basically, none of the Argentineans trust the banks so the on-street currency-conversion trade is much more lucrative for tourists and locals alike!).

We then got further screwed over by La Esquina de Garafa (‘the corner of ARSEHOLES’). Our milanesas were rank, the waiter felt up Vicki’s boob (twice!) and then demanded a larger tip. He didn’t feel up my boob so we didn’t oblige.

Now we’re off on a private tour of La Boca and San Telmo. Apparently it’s pretty dangerous so I’m wearing my combat pants. So far, we’ve felt safe but grown men – the kind with muscles and shaved heads – wear their backpacks on their fronts. As two petit blondes with absolutely no core strength (ok, I’m speaking for myself here), we’re now doing the same. They should be called ‘Frontpacks’.

Quote of the day: “Why is there a ‘K’ on that statues bum?”

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Why indeed. He also had a gold penis. These Argentines have a silly side, it seems!

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…And a bottle of Malbec later… and a steak sent from heaven above…

Ok, so we did our private tour around La Boca and San Telmo. La Boca has to be one of the most colourful places on the planet. It seems such a shame that the place is so dangerous. It’s such a vibrant and artistic neighbourhood – and yet, it’s a hotspot of poverty and crime.

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Our tour-guide, Ceri, was fantastic. Originally from London, although born in Canada, Ceri speaks fluent Spanish and has an ability to befriend anyone and everyone who crosses his path. He knew an awful lot about the history of Buenos Aires (then again, as a tour-guide, it would be a pretty poor state of affairs if he didn’t). He also spoke to us plainly… about everything from ‘what to do in the event of a rape’ to cocaine. Rape and drugs aside (there’s something you don’t say everyday), he also gave us loads of advice about a) a gluten-free diet in South America and b) how to go about getting prescription drugs over the counter.

What a dude.

We saw most of San Telmo through our Malbec lenses… and by this point, he knew Vicki was a carpenter, and showed us some quirky interior design shops.

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This guy is an actor, dancer, DJ, carpenter, tour-guide, teacher and… a bit of a nightmare when he was young apparently. My kinda chap.

South America, Day One: Buenos Aires, Argentina

I’m writing this entry after a very fine bottle of Argentine Malbec… I’ve also had sod all sleep. Both of which will become evident so apologies in advance.

I guess our South American adventure really started after our accidental siesta. We arrived in Buenos Aires after a bucket load of drama: aka, a cancelled flight, a confrontation with some morality-challenged French business men and a touch-and-go riot in the queue for a taxi at Orly Airport, Paris. I mean, what a way to kick it all off? Thanks, Air France. Anyway, needless to say, it was quite a stressful journey. We met an Argentinean in Paris (as you do), so even if we had missed the flight (and it came close), Buenos Aires was still there with us in spirit. His name was… like the Spanish version of Nigel (I’ve later discovered it was in fact Ignacio – nothing like Nigel, but there you go) and he was nineteen. We become friends and shared a frantic taxi together in Paris – from Orly to Paris Charles de Gaulle. It could be considered romantic if it wasn’t so… wrong. All that aside, we caught our connecting flight from CDG and all was ok. I slept for a good eight hours (without a pill, I might add). Vicki didn’t. Subsequently, she hates me.

So, after landing, we braved the public bus. Mistake. This would have been a lot less terrifying if we didn’t need to change our notes into coins (the bus costs ten pesos, so you need x10 one peso coins – there’s a bank in the airport but good luck finding it). The journey took two hours and it’s a bumpy ole ride. The bus in question also lacked aircon. And seats. So don’t do ‘public transport’ if you like your creature comforts after crossing an ocean. We met a young German lad, Max, on a solo Latin American adventure of his own (this becomes important later on). We hopped off hoping we were somewhere in the vicinity of downtown. Having survived the journey – mentally, physically and otherwise – we botched our way to the hostel, waved goodbye to Max, ordered some bar food while we waited for our room – and, as the clock struck ‘check in’, dived head-first into a much needed nap.

Desperate to make every moment count, we surfaced from our slumbers, slapped on our faces and left without a friggin’ idea of what we were gonna do. We pointed our feet in the direction of Recoleta and hit our target after passing the Obelisco de Buenos Aires. Then we got cocky and tried to find Eva Peron’s resting place. We couldn’t find the cemetery, let alone the grave! In retrospect, it would have helped if we looked it up on the map beforehand. Or if we knew the Spanish word for ‘cemetery’ (which is, annoyingly, ‘cementerio’). We blamed the jetlag.

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The best bit about today…?

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The dinner and tango show at Cafe Tortoni. We shared a table with a Venezuelan couple and practised our abysmal Spanish by randomly shouting out things like ‘thank you’ (‘gracias’), fork’ (‘tendedor’) and ‘how’s things?’ (‘que tal?’) in different orders. We still blamed the jetlag. Then we watched a group of Argentine tango dancers get hot and slinky with each other. It was an unbelievable performance and – despite having next to no idea what was going on (it was all in Spanish) – it was a sensational show.
Tango is actually pretty damn sexy. Not the way we do it though.

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Now, the party is just kicking off at Milhouse Hostel and we’re in the process of locating our earplugs. Na night… I mean… buenas noches.