3 countries in 3 weeks

South America – it’s a bloody long way. To get to Buenos Aires (BA) alone, one of the easiest places on the whole continent to reach, there are two flights involved, one of which is a whopping 12.5 hours long. That, as it turns out, was the relatively straight forward bit.

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MASSIVE tree, Buenos Aires

Overview

Countries: 3 – Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.

Places Visited: 10 – Buenos Aires, La Paz, Rurrenabaque, Madidi national park, Santa Rosa, Coroico, Mendoza, Santa Fe, Puerto Iguazú, Foz do Iguaçu.

Transport: 10 flights, 4 overnight coaches, 2 Andean bus journeys, 2 4×4 trips, 7 boat trips, countless subways, taxis and local buses and 1 horse ride.

Beds: 14.

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A night out at La Bomba de Tiempo, BA

We hadn’t planned to go any further than Argentina. Rich and Leah (Andy’s brother and his girlfriend) were having a bit of a breather from their HUGE trip encompassing south east Asia, South and Central America and had rented a gorgeous little flat in trendy Palermo, BA. When we arrived we’d been up for a good 24 hours, we still headed out for the traditional first night bender though (why do we never learn?) and before we’d even had time to regain our eyesight, we’d booked flights on to Bolivia

They could have been trying to get rid of us, but we were, very convincingly, assured that the country was unmissable. We spent a week in Bolivia, a sort of holiday from a holiday, flying out to La Paz a couple of days after landing in BA and using the city as a sort of base to work out from.

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The witch market, La Paz

First, we wanted to visit the jungle and pampas – the famous South American grasslands. This meant booking yet another flight, this time to the small northern rainforest town of Rurrenabaque in the Amazon Basin, not far from the border with Peru.

From there we were able to take a small boat up the Beni river and back, spending a night out in Madidi national park, right in the heart of the jungle. This meant we could do some amazing treks, including one that took us to a cliff full of noisy roosting macaws. Then we journeyed two hours in a 4×4 out to the alligator infested pampas of Santa Rosa, bribing officials with bottles of Coca Cola (of all things) along the way, where we spent another unforgettable night, buzzing from the encounters with spider monkeys and capybara we’d enjoyed during the day.

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The new airport runway in Rurrenebaque

After heading back to La Paz for a night it was then on to sleepy Coroico and some relaxation at an eco-lodge in the leafy mountains. We took a local bus service, packed in thigh-to-thigh with locals, across the snowcapped foothills of the Andeas on the second most dangerous road – it was still pretty hairy, but the other is nicknamed the ‘Death Road,’ so it seemed a much better option. We only spent one night there, but it was the most perfect place to wake up, peering bleary eyed out across the peaks and valleys of the Yungas.

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Our porch

We were sad to leave Bolivia, but Argentina was calling. Once back in BA, we booked an overnight coach up to Mendoza in the western wine growing region close to the Chilean border. This was in June, their winter, so it was much too cold to head down south to the famous Patagonia or Tierra Del Fuego, anyway, we’d agreed to meet Rich and Leah at the Iguazu Falls in the north a few days later.

We spent three nights in the city, taking the opportunity to indulge our gaucho fantasies by horse riding in the hills, then shopping for handmade sandals at the local markets. Next it was onto Santa Fe for a day – the wrong day, as it turns out, as just about everything was shut – before getting straight back onto another overnight coach headed north to Puerto Iguazú.

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Me, king of the plains

We spent our first half a day on the Brazilian side, as is generally recommended. A local bus takes you across the border and back. We didn’t see much of Brazil, but I’ve got the passport stamp, so it counts OK.

The falls are so large, that their energy seemed to penetrate my flesh making me all giddy and excited. However exhilarating it was though, it didn’t prepare me for the Argentinian side. At the Devil’s Throat, El Diablo, the largest precipice of the falls, the water gushes with such incredible force that the noise and spray and electricity tingling in the air took my breath away, literally.

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One tiny section of the huge Iguazu Falls

We caught another overnight coach back to BA. It’s by far the best way to travel in Argentina, with their huge recliner seats they’re just so comfy. They also feed you, ply you with champagne, films and even rounds of bingo before turning out the lights. You’re woken in time for breakfast and, hey presto, you’ve travelled 600 miles AND saved on the price of a hostel for the night. We only had a few days left to fit in a few of the capital’s sights before, all too soon, that sad, sad day arrived – home time. We headed back to London a little bit deflated, still in denial about the true extent of our abuse of the credit card, but desperate to tell all of our adventure (whether they wanted to hear it or not).

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Sad face.

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A Fussy Eater Abroad: Argentina

A (fussy) vegetarian in Argentina

Argentinian cuisine uses a lot of red meat and cheese. They’re renowned for their steaks and asado, a South American style of barbecue, which is every meat eater’s dream. Not a vegetarian’s, though. Here are a few hard learned tips to getting by.

Tango in Argentina

Chicken is vegetarian – Knowing how much the Hispanics like their food bloody, I made sure to book a veggie meal for our outbound flight online. It was to be my last supper, one final safe, but probably a bit cardboardy, dinner to see me off on my three week South American adventure. That’s what I thought anyway. But when they bought our meals, mine was a silvery tub of steaming chicken. ‘That is vegetarian,’ barked the Iberia hostess, penciled-on eyebrows warning me that resistance was futile. It was very much a mark of things to come.

Ham is vegetarian – I love travel and when I plan a trip I’ve already accepted that enjoying food is off the cards. It’s my own fault I’m so fussy. That being said, there are times I want to bang my face on the floor. The average Argentinian menu offers three potential veggie options: chips, salad or omelette, all, at times, contain ham. Green salad for example, was really more of a green and pink salad. It’s not usually mentioned on the menu.

empanadas

Other options include: pizza is fairly easy to get from street vendors but watch out for ground beef hidden under the cheese,. There are also empanadas, a sort of latino Cornish pasty that are sometimes offered with a cheese filling. It’s not so easy to order them though. On our first day we ordered “dos con queso'”and ended up with four with some sort of red meat. Now, I don’t know if said red meat was considered vegetarian also, but it certainly put me off for a while.

Vegetarian restaurants: there are a few in Buenos Aires. They have a good reputation, but I didn’t visit any – I was traveling with a group of devout carnivores and somehow it seemed to keep slipping off the agenda. Outside BA though, there are very few. I would suggest that you save a few pennies and eat in if you have cooking facilities. There are mini-markets everywhere.

My favourite BA dining experience: the secret or closed-door restaurants, the puertas cerradas. We knew which street we had to go to, then followed instructions to ‘find a mirrored window and knock’. It was very much a meat restaurant, but so welcoming and so very Argentinian (there were no tourists there) that I couldn’t help but enjoy the meal. The steaks, I was assured, were out of this world, and I can confirm that their bread and chips where very nice too.

Buenos Aires steak

Andy was happy