When The Tax Went Sour

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

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!

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…

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

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

 

 

 

 

We’re leaving on a jet plane, dont know when we’ll be back again…

January 2nd, 2009

We’re as packed as we’re gonna be and anything we’ve missed we’ll pick up along the way.

Dave left for NZ this morning and we’ll catch up with him in a month. Just checked our bags in ussing the fast system and yes, T5 is working now just like BA say…of course that doesnt mean we’ll see our bags again, but lets hope!

Next update from the first continent on our list (Europe doesnt count yet).

Us at T5

Happy New Year – one day to go!

January 1st, 2009

Well it’s a new year and we really should be packed by now…but we’re really not. Evie still has a shopping list of ‘essentials’ to buy, Star wants cuddles and Daryl cant see what all the stress is about.

Luckily though, our flight isnt till tomorrow night so we’ve still got plenty of time…

We’ll have to try and update the website as we go as thats not a priority right now – apparently.