Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

The Rolling Stone Heads (Easter Island)

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Easter Island is one of those places that’s on many travellers wish lists but is a hard one to get to being that its one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth. We’d heard about the ‘big stone heads’ and the island of mystery since we were kids but hadn’t given it much thought until we were married…for our wedding, we’d asked guests to give us destination challenges rather than toasters or dinner sets and one friend asked us to visit Easter Island! Even then, we hadn’t seriously considered it as part of this trip until we found out that it was free stop over on the way to NZ on our ticket. It was now or never later!

 

Even though Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth, it’s technically part of Chile and therefore the domestic flight was a breeze. We were allowed to take food, liquids over 100ml, dairy products and probably even sharp objects like nail clippers; security it seemed wasn’t a concern!

 

It was a five hour flight on a brand new plane so it was comfortable and we landed in the evening in darkness. We looked out of the window and could see a small building with people bustling around it. This was arrivals, departures, cargo, baggage collection and immigration all under one very, very small roof. In fact, the the departure lounge was in the garden with a small moai looking on. Not quite T5 Heathrow that’s for sure!

 

The doors hissed as they were opened and the warm balmy air filled the cabin. We descended the steps onto the tarmac and here we were, on Easter Island! Walking into the terminal the baggage belt was directly in front of us next to the exit and again there was no passport control or security – just a sniffer dog jumping around the belt sniffing around. There was lots of commotion with hotel owners greeting their new guests with traditional flower garlands and helping them with their bags. Once again, we’d been organised and booked ahead into a little guest house that had good reviews and was reasonable, yet the meeting desk was empty. Hmm. We waited a bit longer and the room gradually emptied until there was just us and another Polish girl who was staying at the same place left so we got a cab together. Not quite the warm traditional greeting we expected and Daryl was upset he didn’t get his flower garland.

 

The cab drove through town for a couple of minutes before turning into a bumpy muddy track with no street lights and we pulled up in front of two dark buildings. The driver got out and took our bags out of the boot and was about to drive away when we asked him to tell us which building was the guest house – he said they both were. Helpful. It was pitch black and all we could hear was waves crashing nearby as we stumbled down a steep, uneven path towards what appeared to be the ‘reception’.

 

There was the faint glow of a computer screen and the Polish girl called out ‘Hola’ and a load of other Spanish that we presume/hoped translated as ‘Hello, we’re the guests that you forgot, can you come and check us in please’. A woman with hair longer than Evie came out looking quite ill and seemed quite surprised to see the three of us. ‘Have you got reservations?’. Yes, we’d all emailed in the last few days and had received confirmation. She then proceeded to scroll through a few hundred spam emails to find our email, only to then open a spreadsheet that looked like a multicoloured patchwork quilt to try and find the booking in the ‘system’.

 

‘Ah, yes, sorry, er… we got mixed up with flights and didn’t realise one landed tonight’. There are only two flights a week and this one flew directly over her house less than an hour before – bad excuse. Anyway, she showed us to our room and we crashed out as it was hot, humid and relatively late. Tomorrow would be another day.

 

The next day we woke up to bright sunshine and the daylight revealed that we were actually on a hill overlooking the town and bay with the hills rising up behind. It was quite pretty. At breakfast the lady we’d met the previous night explained that she was actually the daughter of the owner and was helping out because her mum had just come back from hospital. On top of that, she was also pregnant, hence her not being well the previous night and the general chaos in the booking. She apologised but Daryl still didn’t get his flowers.

 

We were advised to take a short walk along the coast to the northern end of the town as there were many old stone carvings to see before visiting our first moai at Ahu Tahai and the coastal scenery was beautiful. As we walked along, we could see what people meant when they said the island was like a giant open air museum – they were dotted all along the coast and in the distance we could see the towering moai of our final destination.

 

The site Ahu Tahai consisted of three sets of ahu – the technical description of the platform and accompanying ‘big stone heads’ (moai). This was a great site as it had foundations of old buildings, a fallen moai and the ahu seemed to escalate in grandeur. The first one was quite a rough head which had seen better days but was still impressive and was exciting as it was what we had come to see – here was a moai right in front of us! A few hundred metres along was the next ahu and this one had FOUR moai, although one was simply a stump. Nearby was the last ahu which had the largest moai we had seen so far, a topknot on its head AND eyes! This was the most impressive as it had been restored as best it could to how it would have looked when it was first erected (in theory). The moody chiselled-jawed face stared inland as the waves crashed behind and the piercing eyes seemed to hold the secrets of the past. In the harsh sun, the contrast of the dark grey rock face and deep red topknot (hat) was striking; it was a sight we’d waited a long time to see and one worth waiting for.

 

The whole time we’d been walking along the coast, we’d been accompanied by a guide. He didn’t speak very good English, was terrible at pointing things out, insisted in being in most photos but he didn’t want a tip and we couldn’t get rid of him…’he’ was a friendly stray dog that just kept following us and one of many that we encountered over the next few days on the island.

 

The museum was a fascinating visit because on one hand the building was dedicated to facts, yet apart from the artefacts, most of the content was based on theories and guesswork. This was mainly due to the fact that the original civilisation had no written records, only verbal stories passed down the generations and when the trade routes and slavery were introduced, the holders of this knowledge died before they could pass it on and hence, so much is now a mystery.

 

Here’s a quick summary of the history of Easter Island according to us:

Guys from Polynesia get in a canoe and paddle east and find a small lush island in the middle of nowhere.

They decide to build giant statues to honour their families and clans by erecting them on the coast facing inland to watch over the communities.

They go into mass production and use a lot of trees.

A few moai get toppled by natural disasters etc.

Captain Cook et al pop in for a visit.

They realise that their lush island is now barren with the only tree in the village.

Someone gets the blame and they decide they need to re-brand.

‘Big stone heads’ become ‘Bird Man cult’ and now involves swimming to an island past sharks, stealing an egg from a cliff, swimming back, running up a mountain, being made Chief BirdMan and then being exiled for a year. Nice. Oh, and knock the rest of the heads down to be sure.

Many then get colds or are taken away for slavery and die, decimating the population.

Chile decides to take ownership.

Tourism booms with people wanting to see the mysterious ‘big stone heads’ and have no choice but to pay what’s asked.

 

This is (very) roughly how we interpreted it and obviously it took a few hundred years, but hopefully gives you an idea what it’s all about.

 

After the museum we went into the town and were pleased to see that it hadn’t been over developed and was still very ‘local’, not a garish tourist town with big name stores (i.e. McDonalds). Having said that, we went to a local café for a soft drink and nearly choked when we found the cost was over double what it was on the mainland. Even buying goods for self catering was only marginally cheaper than in a café so we decided to just go with it for four days – we figured this was karma for Antarctica!

 

We heard that there was a nice café in the harbour with great milkshakes and home-made ice cream so we went down to have a look. As we were sat there cooling off in the shade, trying to eat our cones quicker than they were melting, we noticed two looming moai overlooking us. We’d walked straight passed these ones that morning and hadn’t even noticed! It was taking some getting used to that these statues we were seeing were the real things and not some cheap concrete imitation like you’d find at your local garden centre.

 

That night we did something very touristy but necessary and went to a traditional cultural show. The show lasted for a couple of hours and was an amazing demonstration of traditional drumming, singing and dance. It was loud, hypnotic and involved a hell of a lot hip shaking from the women and the men. They even got Daryl up to have a go but his efforts were quite…well, Evie seemed to be grinning more at the topless, toned hip-shaking male dancers than she did at her husband. Apparently she videoed it but she hasn’t said if that was of Daryl or the dancers…

 

The island is tiny. It’s something like 24km long by 10km wide, has one main road in a loop around it and only one town. It must be the smallest town to have an international airport! However, to see all of the sites in the unforgiving heat with very little shade due to the barren landscape, you really need to either hire a car or go on a tour – where you’d be sharing each site with another 20 people. We decided to hire a car as for two people, the cost wasn’t that much more than a tour and at least we had the flexibility to do what we wanted. The only catch was that no one had insurance on the island so the parting words of advice once they’d swiped our credit card was ‘drive carefully’. We really didn’t want to buy a new Jeep.

 

We wont bore you naming every site we went to, nor describe each in detail as many of the un-restored sites were quite similar with several toppled moai and topknots scattered around. However, the restored sites were each quite unique.

 

Ranu Raraku is the biggest of all sites and is referred to as the birthplace of moai as this was the quarry from where they were carved. From a distance, it’s a towering volcano with black dots scattered all over the hillside. As you drive closer along the track though, you see broken moai near the roadside and those dots on the hill gradually take shape to become dark heads staring back at you.

 

From the car park at the base it is surreal to look up and see the ant-like people walking amongst the big heads and walking up the hillside, you get a real sense of the huge undertaking and effort used to create and transport these statues around the island.

 

Unlike at other sites, these moai are not on platforms, but are around you and you get a real perspective for just how large they are and the level of detail they contain. Some have detailed earlobes, some have carvings on their backs, some have breasts to represent females and one is shown to be kneeling – the rest are standing.

 

Everywhere you look on that hillside there are moai, many right next to each other; some almost completely uncovered, some fallen over, some falling over, some buried up to their noses but all looking out away from the mountain. The largest one that was started was still in the quarry and was over 21m in size. We heard a tour guide say that no one knows why so many completed ones are still here – maybe they were made at the same time for different people, maybe they were meant to stay there or maybe it was like a shop where people chose the one they liked?! Whatever the reason then, now it is a truly remarkable site which thoroughly deserves our attention.

 

There was another track that led to the top of the mountain and we followed this to get a view of the island from up there. When we got to the top, we were surprised to find that it was actually the crater of the volcano and there was a bright blue reed lake glistening up there. We were even more surprised to find even more moai staring at us from this side of the rim! Interestingly, these were all staring inwards. From the rim, we had a great view of the island and we could see just how rugged the terrain was that they would have had to move these statues over. We couldn’t help but wonder who would win in a Stonehenge vs Easter Island stone moving competition.

 

From Ranu Raraku we could see the next site that we would visit. This was the unmistakable Ahu Tongariki with its 15 moai standing in place. This site was restored a few years ago by the Japanese and is very striking for the sheer number of moai in place and really shows how unique each one is side by side. It’s also a site that’s highly recommended as a sunrise shot to get the silhouettes of the moai as the sun rises behind them, but rain was approaching on the day we were there so we have moody moai with the clouds swirling behind them.

 

Soon after, the torrential rain lashed down as we made our way back across the island. We parked up at the guest house and went to our room. Standing in the rain, Evie asked Daryl for the key. He checked one pocket, checked his second pocket and his face turned white as he frantically checked all his pockets. They were empty. He ran back and checked the Jeep, Evie checked the bag. No key. Oh dear.

 

We went to ‘reception’ and said we’d lost our key. We’d pay for a duplicate but could we have a spare. Her face turned white and she said she didn’t think she had one…she gave us a big bowl of assorted keys and came with us to the room. She told Daryl to start trying all of those keys…and then casually slid the window open and told Evie to climb in if she wanted anything. Nothing like island security.

 

None of the keys fitted and we were dreading being told that we’d need to buy a whole new lock at island prices but she came back and said she’d found a spare so we’d only had to pay for a duplicate. Phew! Daryl’s not allowed to look after keys any more.

 

The last moai site we saw was Anakena and this was one of our favourites because we saw it early in the morning before we gave our car back and the sun was shining brightly on the five moai. Unlike most of the other sites that were quite desolate, these moai were on a beach and looked quite proud. We got some nice pictures in the sunshine with dramatic shadows.

 

The very last historical site we saw was the village of Orongo which quite appropriately was based around the Bird Man cult that superseded the moai’s. This was a series of buildings at the top of a volcano where the annual competition was held to find the next chief. The stone carvings at the top were very impressive, but the natural deep crater with its reed lake far below was breathtaking.

 

On our last day Daryl went for a brief dip and made another friend – a stray Labrador that liked playing fetch in the surf. We’d seen this dog a few times, but because it was so friendly and so many people played with it, we thought it was a pet. This was true of many of the dogs on the island. In most countries, stray dogs are viewed as pests and shooed away, but here they were more like island pets and very sweet. Most shops and restaurants simply ignored them as they wandered in and lay down in the shade and people just stepped over them.

 

We ended our last night with some local seafood and a glorious sunset with a moai in the foreground, topped off with a clear sky and the Milky Way twinkling above.

 

For such a small, remote island, Rapa Nui as it should be known will always remain an island of mystery that will never be forgotten. There’s not many other reasons for anyone to visit other than ‘the big stone heads’ but they are reason enough. We probably won’t visit again but are glad that we have and most importantly…

 

…wedding challenge completed!

 

Ships That Pass in the Night

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

For those of you that dont know, the original trip we had planned was just Antarctica but over dinner one night after a bad day, it kinda grew…into in-continent!

After much research we chose a voyage that matched what we wanted (and could afford) on a small research vessel. It was raw and basic, just what we wanted.

Then we saw this on the BBC news:…

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7766085.stm

Yes, of all the boats to get into trouble, it had to be ours! At least it didnt sink like the one last year!

We were assured that it was going to be fixed by the time we got out here…until we got a call on New Years Eve that it wasnt.

To cut a long story short, we have been placed on another ship that really isnt what we were expecting. We were told that it was slightly bigger and in the harbour…

Boats in Ushuaia

…thankfully its the one on the right!

There’s a hell of a lot more to say about this new boat but that can wait till we get back – counting chickens and all that.

We board in a couple of hours and set sail tonight. Currently the weather is a warm 13 degrees and still, so hopefully the Drake passage will be forgiving…

It costs $5 per minute to send an email on the boat (it takes on average 3mins to send one) so I’m afraid you won’t hear from us for 10 days.

Oh, and if we end up on the BBC news, we’ll be sure to wave.

Next stop ANTARCTICA!

Rodrigo’s a man of many talents…

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

He sings, dances, plays the guitar and likes cooking great food above the usual hostel fare…

As he says, why pay all that money for good local food in a restraurant when you can buy the good local food in the supermarket cheaper?

Last night we had king crab…

Rodrigo cooking crab

…today he’s left to go off hiking in the Torres del Paine before he starts cycling north back towards Brazil.

Yes, he’s bought Baptiste the Frenchman’s bike and been taught the dance…

Baptiste the Frenchman…and part time Disney character

And for  those of you that have left the hostel, here’s the proof that he at least made it out the door for the bus this morning…

Hasta Luego Rodrigo!

When The Tax Went Sour

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Today we went for a walk up to Lake Esmeralda with a couple of other English girls staying at the hostel, Adele and Jenny.

We were dropped off at a small winter cabin where dog sledding is usually run in the winter and so were greated by the eager howls of a few dozen huskies. We went into the cabin and had to pay a few pesos for the entrance fee into the valley and were given a detailed mountain map showing our route up to the lake.

Walking Map

The lady that ran the cabin also gave us a series of verbal instructions to accompany the map, but as she spoke it all in Spanish, we only understood that ‘turba’ meant we’d get wet and muddy to some extent (i.e. it was boggy) and that we should start from outside where it said ‘Start here’. We presumed there was nothing more important than ‘follow the black dotted line’…how hard could it be?

We started by walking through a flat wooded area which then opened into the wide valley floor with stunning views of the mountains and a carpet of pretty flowers. Ah, it was good to be back in Patagonia!

Vale de Lobos

We carried on walking andd crossed the bridge, gradually ascending the valley through more woods until we found out what ‘Turba’ meant.

The path split and meandered across the river flood plain with no obvious dry path across. So began the hop, skip, jump, splash routine as we tried to navigate our way without getting wet.

Daryl cursed Evie for telling him he didnt need to bring his gaiters for the hike and Evie cursed Daryl for having longer legs. Suffice to say we got a little muddy.

Walking along, it was warm, sunny and pleasant… until the winds blew at which point we were reminded of where we were…although it was still warmer than the UK by the sounds of it!

After a couple of hours, we reached a rock outcrop and once we’d passed over it, we were greeted with a gorgeous view of the lake, guarded by the mountains in a horseshoe shape. Funnily enough, the lake had an emerald green colour to it! Well worth a bit of boggy mud and winds!

Because it was still quite early, we almost had the lake to ourselves, save for a group of Argentinians that had camped there the night before – that must have been special, if not a bit cold!

We stayed for about an hour, taking in the scenery, appreciating the mountain silence and watching some tiny birds (thats as descriptive as we get unfortunately!) flying though the bushes and wandering around us. Very simple but enjoyable.

Lake Esmeralda

The two girls we had walked with actually walked around the lake…turns out it looks green from the other side too!

We headed back and bumped into some friends of ours from the hostel (Agnes, Virginia and Rodrigo) who had also decided to do the walk too. They were in trainers and spotless when we saw them and were a bit worried when they saw the muddy state of our boots. We gave them some helpful advice – dont step in the turba and stay to the left of the black line on the map. It must have worked because they looked a hell of a lot cleaner than us when we saw them later.

That night, the now traditional routine of someone buying a bottle of vino with several glasses kicked off proceedings once again…

This time though, we had some Chilean guys staying at the hostel who Rodrigo had ‘taxed’ the night before and so in return, they wanted to introduce a new Chilean tax: Pisco [Sour] Tax! Although, it was still Rodrigo that collected the payments.

This was another night of music with random bad renditions of various songs, remixed to suit the bits we could all remember, interspersed with samba dancing and a Trinidadian dance that involved the girls shaking their thang, so Daryl didnt really pay attention to what it was called…

We’ve already mentioned the Frenchman that cycled from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia; this night there were a Brazillian couple that had just motorcyled down from Brazil and even better, he played the harmonica. Rodrigo loved him and they jammed together easily.

As the night wore on, and with the entire hostel congregated in the lounge, the atmosphere was alive and the taxes flowing.

At some point, Evie needed to go to the loo and was ‘taxed’ very heavily upon her return…everyone else had had a sip of Pisco, yet Evie was given a double shot to finish off the bottle! If we didnt know better, we’d have thought Rodrigo and Allan (the ‘taxing’ founders) were trying to get her drunk!

A short while later, the tax served its purpose and before you could say ‘No Woman, No Cry’, Evie and Allan were singing to Bob Marley in their own unique style, clutching an MP3 player to their ears, desperately trying to remember the words. It was pointed out that they might hear better if they had it the right way round and werent listening to the back cover rather than the speaker. Oh dear.

Somehow, we dont think the nomination for the Mercury Music Prize will be in the post any time soon.

Towards the end of the night, the obligatory backpacker group photo was organised with military precision and the synchronising of multiple camera 10 second timers after everyone had lined up their shot from the other side of the room… except poor little Evie who was far too ‘taxed’, kept pressing the button, running back to her seat and posing, wondering why everyone else was still stood up. No mater how hard we tried, she just couldnt grasp that just because she gave herself 10 seconds, that was useless unless she told other people to sit down too! She did this three times, bless.

She was still sober though…apparently. Daryl got the decent picture from Agnes the next day.

Pay the Tax! Group photo

Good times, great new friends.

A Man Walks in to a Bar…The Man from Montenegro

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Understandably, the next day concentration was an issue so we amused ourselves by pottering around the town breathing the fresh mountain/sea air and er, just pottered really.

In the afternoon we hung out in the hostel and re-introduced ourselves to the guys we’d met the previous night as there’s always that awkward time with new people and drink where you know everything about them but cant remember their name! Or is that just us…?!

So, when you’re sat with new friends chatting, the civilised thing to do is have a glass of wine…and so it began again…we can highly recommend the Chilian Malbec by the way.

The evening rolled on and most people looked to cook dinner at about 10pm – we all cook our own food over here and eat so late because thats what the locals do – and its still light outside!

After dinner we all retired to the drawing room (i.e. sofa) and quaffed more wine (J+A you’d be proud!). There was more singing, joke telling, discussing national anthems, customs and food (who says you dont learn anything in hostels!) along with the usual banter and mick taking and paying more ‘taxes’. Then the guitar came out again…

…and a man walked into the bar. Or technically speaking, two men – but that’s not as funny.

Rodrigo pounced on them with his by now, well practised welcome routine of “Hola! You pay the tax? You drink a little cachaca and play or sing a song eh? Where are you from? Please sit down…welcome, hey!…what is your name…?” Nothing like one question at a time.

The two men sat down and one of them, without hesitating downed the cachaca, picked up the guitar and started singing. That was one hell of an entrance!

Our new friend looked like an old sailor. It turned out he was.

He didnt look South American. He wasnt.

As he said: “I’m from Montenegro and I’ve just sailed in from Antarctica”.

No sorry, that was an entrance.

The room was silent and in awe, captivated by the enigmatic guests.

It turned out the guitar player was the ship’s Chief Engineer and his quiet, reserved companion was the Captain! That would be why he was drinking coke yet the captain was drinking beer then – it just goes shows who needs to keep a clear head!

For the next hour or so we were entertained with several songs in Russian, German, English, Spanish and even one in pseudo-Chinese, all played by this sailor and all relating tales of a broken heart. Clieched it may be, but magical all the same and probably one of the most special/surreal hostel experiences many of us have had.

When they left, they had photos with all of us and bought some wine for the group and apologised that they had to leave so soon but they were sailing to the Falkland Islands at 5am. Of course they were!

They said they only came in and joined us because they wanted a drink and heard the music. The skeptics amongst us thought it was more likely because the strip club down the road was closed! Whatever the reason was, we were glad to have been in the right place at the right time to listen to The Man from Montenegro.

Pay the Tax!

Monday, January 5th, 2009

…it was a very long drink!

We checked into the hostel and were pleased to see it was as welcoming, homely and friendly as it was three years ago when we were last there.

However, this time they also had a Rodrigo. A loud gregarious Brazillian who instantly welcomed us into the group and poured us a drink. A good start.

After being intoduced to the group – another Brit, Germans, an Israeli, some Danes, Argentinians, Americans , a mad Frenchman that had just cycled down from Buenos Aires after losing a bet, a group from Trinidad & Tobago and a nice French speaking Spanish girl form Texas, living in Brazil. Quite a melting pot of people at the end of the world; this would be interesting we thought…

Before we’d sat down, Rodrigo mentioned that everyone had to ‘pay a tax’ as you arrived at the hostel. We thought he worked there but it turned out he was a guest too and had never even been in a hostel until the night before! He’d actually planned to stay in a hotel until he’d chatted to some people on the bus and came there with them. He was a brilliant character, full of life and ultra friendly; a true Brazillian.

Anyway, his ‘tax’ was a shot of Brazillian cachaca – a warm smooth blend drank on its own rather than the rough version usually mixed with lime in Caiprinia cocktails. The best tax we’ve ever paid!

Obviously it would have been rude not to buy a drink in return and we guess it was from here that it must have gone downhill…

Suffice to say we staggered to bed at some time past 3am, having had conversations about the political state of Myanmar, tips for travelling in India, travelling in South America, the hippie trail of the US and the archaeological theories of Easter Island or, as the archaeologist technically put it, ‘the big stone heads’ – we hope he was dumming it down for our benefit!

All this rounded off with a couple of hours of singing random Brazillian and Western pop tunes with a guitar that Rodrigo produced from somewhere…it was an interesting and surreal evening to say the least.

A good starter for 10.

It was one of those days…

Monday, January 5th, 2009

It should have been a breeze; a four hour flight from Buenos Aires down to Ushuaia at the bottom of the continent. We’d done it before, knew the airport, had our tickets and even booked into the Antarctica Hostel months ago. We’d gone as far to plan what we’d do with our afternoon in Ushuaia and where we’d have tea while relaxing.

We got to the airport at 8:30am and checked in. So far so good. At 10am we went to the gate as requested, ready to fly thirty minutes later.

Ninety minutes later we were still sat at the gate with no clue or information about the delay (it’s good to be back in South America!). Looking around at the other passengers, we amused ourselves by playing the ‘whose a backpacker, local, or Antarctic tourist’ game. It was quite easy to distinguish the three: the backpackers were sat either reading some version of the Lonely Planet or a trashy novel while guarding their over-sized hand luggage containing all their ‘valuable’ possessions; the locals thought the flight was still early and the Antarctic tourists were clad head to toe in Gortex, clutching a shiny ‘Your Voyage’ brochure, pacing up and down double checking their tickets and gate number muttering things like “Well, this doesen’t happen in the UK”

Er, have they forgotten T5 opening?!

Anyway, we eventually boarded and took off about an hour later than planned. Having taken the same flight before, we knew the next stop was Ushuaia and the dramatic landing over snow capped mountains…except when we started to descend, the view was flat, desolate scrubland and we’d only flown for forty minutes.

Hmm. We definitely weren’t in Ushuaia, in fact we didnt think we were anywhere. We were on a dusty runway next to some tiny outpost being buffeted by the prairie winds. It turns out they had to refuel (obviously forgot that bit in the pre-flight checks!). Reassuringly however, they opened all the doors and asked us to unfasten our seat belts in case of emergency. You dont get that scenario on the safety card!

With a full tank we set off again, next stop Ushuaia! An hour later we landed again and looking outside; still no mountains.

Double hmm. Now, it turned out that we were in Rio Grande, a town ten minutes flight or three hours drive from Ushuaia. We managed to establish that either there was severe weather or a severe technical problem stopping planes from landing and we were stuck while the officials worked out what to do.

Three hours later, it was decided that we would have to get bussed to Ushuaia. When we say ‘decided’, we actually mean that everyone simply got up and started queuing by the exit with no announcements or anything. Once again we compared this to how it would work in the UK. For starters, after three hours there’d be riots with people demanding compensation, explanation and apologies left right and centre. All we got was the facts – your plane’s not going anywhere so you will now get there on a bus. At some point. Take it or leave it.

We boarded the mini bus with our hand luggage whilst watching the main luggage – with our backpacks on top – be dragged on a trolly in the opposite direction. Reassuring.

Driving south towards Ushuaia, the terrain became decidedly rugged and the clouds got darker. Then it started to rain. We were in a small mini bus with some other passengers and the rain was lashing against the windows as we struggled up the steep hills. Looking out, Evie saw a magnificent double rainbow and said she should make a wish. Then the bus spluttered to a halt and the driver squirmed in his seat. We all groaned but he managed to start it and we were off. A few metres later it stopped again and the driver muttered something, fidgeting as if deciding to get out of the bus or not. He decided not to and we carried on rather gingerly, all of us hoping that the whatever the problem was, it wouldn’t strand us on the roadside. A few minutes later we pulled into a petrol station.

Ah! Maybe this is another refuelling problem we thought as the driver dashed out…until he headed to the toilets. Nope, the driver had his own exhaust problems and obviously couldn’t see a suitable bush by the road!

Toilet break over, we carried on and rolled into Ushuaia airport at about 9pm – only seven hours later than planned! The really strange thing was that the sun was high in the sky as if it was only 4pm. This really was a long day – so much for the simple journey and afternoon tea.

If only that was the end of this post…

As you have probably guessed, just because we arrived at our destination, that didn’t mean our bags had. Our bus was the last to arrive and we were greeted with the site of a crowd of tired bagless passengers. Yes, our bags were still going…in the opposite direction.

We met a nice British couple, Olly and Georgina who were about our age and strangely enough got married exactly one month before us (our first wedding)! Luckily he spoke good Spanish so was able to ascertain that our bags were on a truck that should arrive in the next hour, or we could go into town and come back for our bags the next day. We think not.

This is a big continental trip for them that they’d just started so it was nice to pass on some hints and tips about South America. (Olly and Georgina – if you read this, we hope your cruise was good and check out our previous emails on our site for some more stories!).

So, an hour later our bags turned up and we caught a cab to the Antarctica Hostel, where we planned to have a quick drink before bed…

Taxis, Tango and Vino Tinto

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

So, for the first time in our lives, we thought we’d be organised and at about 1am the night before we left, we got on the internet and booked a night in a reasonable hostel in the centre of BA.

 

On the flight when changing our watches for the new time zone in Argentina however, we realised that we’d actually booked ourselves in for the night we were flying – doh! That’s where organisation (and a lack of sleep) gets us!

 

We arrived in BA and Daryl thought the airport was a lot nicer and different than the last time we arrived…until Evie pointed out that last time we arrived by coach from Iguazu Falls, so yes there was a major difference as a) we’d never been here before and b) there were no wings involved!

 

So having screwed up our hostel booking, and left our BA guide book at home because we thought we didn’t need it for two days, we caught a taxi into the centre to be taken to an area that we remembered for having a few hostels.

 

The taxi ride was a quick re-introduction into South American driving and the amazing hazard perception, spatial awareness and the need for speed that all drivers have. Evie, always a carefree back seat passenger, eventually agreed to return circulation to Daryl’s hand. Just to carry the bags.

 

Daryl observed that the British government are proposing to spend millions on technology to limit car speed for safety/traffic efficiency yet once again, chaos appears to work quite well and is free.

 

We got dropped off in town and realised that subconsciously we’d chosen the location of the hostel we’d stayed in previously with Dave, the Lime House! Even better, they had room, were cheaper than our screwed up booking and most importantly, they had Quilmes beer; an essential in BA along with the vino and empanadas.

 

Having spent a week in BA last time, it was nice to know we didn’t have the pressure of having to race around trying to visit all the main sites. We could just chill out and look at bits we’d strategically missed last time…the two main areas that we wanted to see were San Telmo and La Boca, the two historical quarters.

 

La Boca was the original port of the city where the various ships and immigrants entered and did port type stuff. Now it’s most famous for the vividly coloured buildings in the Cantino area along with the ubiquitous tourist restaurants, live tango shows and tacky souvenirs. It was nice to stroll around in the warm sunshine (sorry UK readers!) and soak up the atmosphere of the various musicians and street performers.

 

One surreal thing we did see for the benefit of tourists was a miniature shire horse with a baseball cap to keep the sun out of its face…then even more surreal were dogs fully clothed in jeans and T-shirts walking around. In that heat you would have thought shorts or a dress would be more sensible. Our dog, Star wouldn’t have been impressed in the slightest.

 

San Telmo was the other quarter that we visited and this is one of the oldest areas of city and the birthplace of Tango. You could really sense the difference in this neighbourhood with the slightly narrower cobbled streets, distinctly European architecture and relaxed tree lined avenues with locals just sat watching the world go by.

 

At least that was until we got to the street called Defensa where there was a bustling market stretching into the distance in both directions. It was the perfect way to a spend a lazy Sunday afternoon, browsing through the various handicrafts and antiques, occasionally asking the price of something and desperately trying to remember our numbers to haggle and just watching the world go by from one of the many cafes, sipping a cafe con leche while the locals drank mate (t he bitter herbal drink – looks like pesto and is an acquired taste i.e. foul).

 

That night we ate at a parrilla in San Telmo – a traditional Argentine steakhouse. We ate like the locals so this meant that we only went out to dinner at 10pm (locals rarely come out before) and ordered a couple of 350g steaks, potato and vino tinto (red wine).

 

In the words of the credit card advert: Steak – £6, Potato – £2, Wine – £7, a piece of plastic in your bread roll – priceless.

 

Despite the small piece of plastic, the meal was fantastic and as we always say, hell of a lot better than anything you could try to get for that price in the UK.

 

We leave tomorrow for the End of the World and Antarctica beyond.

 

Hasta luego!

 

D+E