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Too Old For This

Back to School In Salta

sunny 35 °C
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Thursday 14th February was a big day. We just spent 15 hours on a bus getting to Salta for early afternoon so I could catch the Aberdeen match. Unbelievably Fox Sports was showing Aberdeen vs Bayern Munich on the box so I had to see it. We found a small pub called the Goblin where there was beer on tap and a big screen. What more could I ask for. As you may, or may not, know, the game finished 2-2. Brilliant match and a fine start to our adventure in the north west of Argentina.

Well, all good decisions are made over a few drinks, right? Ali and I had been mulling for a while over whether or not to take more Spanish classes and that night after a couple of beers we agreed that as soon as possible we would look into it.

The next day we took ourselves around Salta on the lookout for such classes as once we hit Bolivia it would be a while before we were somewhere appropriate. After a short time we found a small hostel where a woman named Graciela worked and after a short "interview" she agreed to take us for 4 hours a day for the coming week. What had we got ourselves into. We were due to start on the Sunday, surely a day of rest!

Salta itself is a nice town and since it was such a great day we went up the cable car to check out the views over the city. At the top we found a nice little cafe where we tried out some Bolivian food (humitas and tumales) for the first time. Verdict: disgusting. Not exactly great since we were due to head there in a week or so.

That evening we were walking down the street when we came across a football stadium. It was pretty busy and soon enough we found ourselves buying some tickets to the game. It turned out to be a 5th division game and if truth be told the standard was pretty awful at times. Mind you, as usual the crowd more than made up for it with their usual antics. A few thousand, maybe four, for a game of this level seemed unusual but it was a derby game. It finished 0-0 and there were some scuffles in the crowd but the cops soon had them sorted out.

Saturday came and with it was our trip to Jujuy and the football match there. This would be my last chance to see a game in Argentina and it was Jujuy v Estudiantes whom JS Veron now plays for. Dave had organised to meet up with a supporter of Jujuy who would help us out up there but in the end it never materialised so we made our own arrangements but this was easy enough.

Once at the stadium the atmoshpere began to take off. The game started well enough and the home side were taking a hiding. About 20 minutes into the game a few thousand more supporters arrived and we had to quickly move as we had sat where the hardcore like to be. A few minutes later they unravelled a huge flag. It was the flag of Estudiantes. The supporters had kindly relieved the away fans and began to taunt them with their new trophy. It didn't last too long though as they ran out 2-0 winners despite this not being a fair reflection of the game.

Sunday was now upon us and with it came class number 1. Thankfully we didn't start till 1pm which gave us plenty time to recover from our day trip to Jujuy. The class was hellish. Graciela was intent on speaking Spanish only and getting us straight into the verbs. I didn't even understand verbs in English at school. Homework was dished out on top and in the end that took us a further 3 hours on top of the 4 at school. This was definately not my idea of fun.

8am Monday came and I was in trouble. My homework wasn't up to scratch and I got a grilling. The class was just as tough and more work than ever was dished up. It became apparent that the week was going to be harder than I had ever imagined. We treated ourselves to a brilliant lunch after class but then it was back to the books. No time for fun!!

Thankfully on day 3 Ali was the one who was taking the heat. My Spanish was picking up and I finally broke the ice with the teacher. She asked how I was enjoying it to which I replied "I would rather jump off a cliff". Strangely the reaction was a good one as she almost fell off her chair laughing. Still, the homework didn't get any easier.

That evening was due to be our friend Dave's last before he started his journey home so we headed out to a Pena show at La Estacion Vieja (The Old Station). This is basically a nice meal followed by some folk type dancing and a band. The meal was fantastic and we all got our first taste off the local goat and llama specialities. Soon after the dancing kicked off. As much as I tried not to make eye contact some dancing girl came and hauled me up. There could not have been one person in the place less willing or apt. I wouldn't go as far as to say it was a disaster but it certainly isn't up there in my SA experinces. In fact, I'd rather have been in class!

By Wednesday the classes were definately getting better. The fact they started at 8am was not though. Come our last class on the Thursday our skills had improved dramatically. We conversed with Graciela for well over an hour with relative ease and she seemed quite proud of our advances. The classes had been very tough but most definately worth it and hopefully they will help us in our final 2 months through Bolivia and Peru. There is still oodles of work for us to carry on with in order to become more fluent. We just need to find the motivation and time now.

To celebrate we hit the pub. The 2nd leg of the Aberdeen game would hopefully be on. Fortunately it wasn't as they got gubbed 5-1 but we had a great evening nonetheless.

As this was our last city in Argentina we decided that it would be best to pick up some souveniers here and mail them home. Unfortunately our plan was met with a no can do at the post office as we missed the international deadline for mailing. On the plus side we hadn't yet bought the goods we intended sending. Mind you, I still spent 2 hours looking in about 20 odd sports shops for an Argentinian football top which I never did get!

It was now time to sort out our trip to Bolivia. We picked up some tickets for the 7 hour bus trip and as we did so we bumped into some friends we had met in the southern most parts of Chile. We arranged to meet up with Andreas and Christina later that evening.

Check out day of any hostel is a little depressing. More so here as it was raining and we had 12 hours until our midnight bus. We filled up the day with a visit to the cinema. I can say with absolute certainty that under no circumstances should you waste your time with Cloverfield. We had also seen Rambo 4 and even it was better.

Posted by tricky 10:02 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Adventures in another time and place

Ali finally talks!

sunny 29 °C
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After all the excitement of the football,the three of us decided to make the most of San Juan by visiting some of the local national parks.
Of course when I say local that actually means a round trip of some thousand kilometers!

We were met outside our hostel at a sociable 9am by our cheery guide Raoul and his sparkling clean car.
As we were only away for a couple of days it was great to leave our big backpacks behind and only need a change of clothes and some toilettries.

On the way to the parks we stopped at a village called Vallecito,60km southeast of San Juan.This is where the shrine of Difunta Correa,a popular saint is.Throughout our travels we have seen thousands of roadside shrines to this saint where people leave bottles of water and flowers.
Legend has it that during the civil wars of the 1840's Deolinda Correa followed her sickly husbands battalion through the desert with food,water and carrying her baby son.When her supplies ran out she died of exhaustion but when passing muleteers found her,the baby was still alive and nursing at her breast.

To commemorate this apparant miracle the shrine at Villecito began.
Now a whole town exists to support the thousands of visitors who come every week.These pilgrims leave all kinds of objects as thanks or in exchange for `supernatural favours¨.
There are some 17 chapels full of these gifts ranging from family photos,footlall shirts from maradona,wedding dresses and even cars.It really is a remarkable place and people are clearly moved.Many climb up to the shrine on their knees to show how deolinda suffered.
For anyone who likes a kitch overload its a must!

We then continued to San Augustin de Valle Fertil,an oasis in the desert wich was to be our base for the night.We dropped off our gear and were on our way to our first park.

Park Provincal Ischigualasto is also called the Valle de la Luna and it really did feel like we were stepping onto the moon.The 63,ooo hectare park is a huge desert valley between the Cerros Colorades and the Cerro Los Rastas.The Valle de la Luna was unlike any place we had been and the lunar landscape ,red sandstone rock formations and towering rock faces along with the huge cacti and algarroba trees really made us feel like we were in onother world.
The park is also well known for its fossils from the triasic period and although and although we didn't catch a glimpse of any loitering dinosaurs we did see many fossils and remains in the museum.
We were all fairly exhausted after the long journey and the desert heat and when we got back to the hostel it was an early dinner (I had the local dessert wich turned out to be potatoes in syrup! nice) and bed for us all.

The next day the still smiling Raoul picked us up at 7.30 am to drive us to Park Talampaya.All three of us spent the journey nodding off and no one can remember anything of the 2 hour journey.

Talampaya is quite different to the previous park and much more like the Grand Canyon.Dave said the american cousin didn't have a patch on this one and it was definately spectacular.
We had to drive around the park on a dried river bed wich gives the parl its name in the Quechua language,Dry river of the Tala.
Talampaya is 215ooo hectares of unforgiving desolate landscape and to stand below the canyon face and look up was awesome.There was a very conspicuous fault along the eastern wall but thankfully everything stayed where it was during our visit!
Again there were amazing rock formations and fallen rocks bigger than houses with ancient carvings and paintings on them.
It was a fantastic place and once again we were blessed with perfect weather.We all took many photos and they can show much better the scale of the place and the burning red of the sandstone.
As we left the park I spotted something none of us had seen before,a cloud that seemed to have a horizontal rainbow blazing through it.The colours only existed within the fluffy form and as we drove along they transfered into the next clouds.Raoul said this could sometimes be seen in the high Andes but in 8 years he had never seen it here.We didn't even know such a thing existed and felt very lucky to have seen such a thing ,let alone so vividly.

Definately an ethereal place and worth the long and arduous journey.I think we were all relieved that it was Raoul and his now far from sparkly car that had to concentrate on the road home.
This involved a hundred and nine dry river crossings along the main road,slowing down to let a tatantula cross and a hair raising drive over a few hills where the road just clung onto the hillside.Thankfully I had my hat over my eyes at that point so I couln't see the bumper of the lorry that had fallen off the road laying a thousand feet below!
All part of any journey in Latin america it would seem and all part of our continuing adventure.

Posted by tricky 08:34 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Start of the Season

at last .....

sunny 38 °C
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A large part of the trip for us was the opportunity to catch some of South America's finest sporting action. Today was the start of the Argentine football season and we were not going to miss out again!! Ali and I made the 2 hour journey up to San Juan with Dave and Ger. The game was San Martin vs Argentina Juniors. It was a top division clash but hardly one of titans given their respective recent league positions. Oddly the Argentine league has a 4 year average on which promotion and relegation is based upon which in turn means that the top teams never enter the problm area.

We got ourselves into a hostel and thankfully, as previously organised, the owner picked us up 4 tickets for the match. A quick trip into town for a pre match pint and some food and we were set. The ground wasn't far away now. We got there an hour before kick off and the heat was blasting down on us. The police kindly directed us to some stalls where we kitted ourselves out with some tops for the home team. As it turns out 2007 was San Martin's centenery year so we got some nice jersey's which helped us fit in the patriotic crowd.

The game itself was superb. Quite how they play in the heat is still beyond me although they do break up now and again for water. AJ's started the game brighter and went close a few times much to the amusement of the crowd. The game was fast and furious and after about 35 minutes AJ's had a man sent off for his second bookable offence. He tried a "hand of god". Brilliant, just the sort of thing we had come to see. The theatrics were marvellous, and the challanges sometimes very hard. At one point a man went down and the goalie just yanked him back up by his long hair. Soon after the same keeper had a look over at the ref and noted he wasn't watching so landed a massive stamp on a player down injurred. All part and parcel of the game here it seems. San Martin managed to work themselves into the game well and early in the 2nd half they took a deserved lead. The wingers were causing havoc for AJ's defence and now they were down to 10 men they were struggling a little. It was hardly a surprise then when San Martin went 2 up and only an offside decision stopped them getting the 3-0 route I had predicted. All in a great game aided by the crowd antics. Pre match march in of the hard core supporter's to drums, fireworks, smoke (to match team strips), and of course the firemen at half time blasting the crowd with water cannon's. It was more than welcome in the heat and it was brilliant to see the kids enjoying it.

Come Monday we were still not satisfied with our wine tasting to date so we found an interesting local producer of Argentine "champagne". They used a local mountain to store all their produce. The reason being the perfect temperature inside the hollowed out area. Apparently it took 1,500 men to mine the area required but this was some years ago. Unfortunately my Spanish isn't good enough to pick up all the info!! I did pick up the fact that they produce around 70,000 bottles a year and the machinery was all circa 100 years old but still, surprisingly, working perfectly. Funnily enough I can also confirm it tastes pretty decent for the relative cost. Of course I had to buy some to double check the samples.

Next up was organising a 2 day trip to the area around San Juan .........

Posted by tricky 18:36 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Fine Wine and Good Friends

in Mendoza

sunny 30 °C
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The good thing about leaving Valparaiso early was that our arrival in Mendoza was brought forward. Mendoza in Argentina is home to the very best wine the country has to offer so it was always going to be an enjoyable visit. Additionally we were due to meet a friend, David, whom we had met earlier in our trip whilst in Uruguay.

On the Friday night I mailed Dave to say we'd be arriving on Saturday afternoon. Just maybe we might make the Boca Juniors vs River Plate "friendly" game that evening which kicks the season off. I knew Dave would be going as he is here in Argentina to visit every football ground, attend matches etc for charity. I also knew which hostel he intended staying at so that would surely help.

As we only just decided to go to Mendoza the evening before we made no arrangements for accommodation. This backfired slightly when the bus pulled into town 4 hours late. We headed straight to hostel Lao where we were met by Dave. There was still an outside chance of a ticket to the game. However, there was no space there to stay so we had to set off in search of another hostel for the night. The hostel we eventually found was ideal and after a quick settle in we headed to the ground to get a ticket for the game. Alas they were sold out by then but we had a good walk about soaking up some atmosphere and checking with some touts. I had taken the precaution of examining a real ticket which proved well worth the time as sadly every ticket being touted was a fake. Generally the standard of tickets here is not high but the fake's are still noticable and I wasn't parting with 200 peso's for 2 dodgy ticket's what ever the game.

As it turned out it is just as well we missed the game. It sounded rubbish. River won 3-2, there were 4 sendings off and 2 penalties and this was only a pre season friendly. Definately glad we missed this one!! As luck had it when we headed back to the hostel from the stadium we were invited to an asado for the evening so there was some consolation after all.

On Sunday we moved to hostel Lao, our original choice. Soon after moving in we discovered it was just voted Latin America's second best hostel and it was easy to see why. Great pool and garden, superb communal area's, nice dorm's and first class staff. All too often the staff let some of these place's down but the owner's worked here daily. As usual in South America Sunday proved to be a somewhat lazy day but we met a number of very nice people whom we would spend the next 4 days hanging out with. It also gave us a chance to read up and plan some activities in and around the town.

First up I decided I would try my hand at hydro speed. Two points of note here. I was told you had to be either mental or clinically insane to try this activity. Every activity in the brochure had been tried out by staff bar this one. So Monday morning came and I turned up for the adventure. I was the only person there. Not unusual said Christian the instructor. He would go on to tell me only 10% of people who start the course finish it. Never one to be put off I assured him I would give it my best shot.

The basic premise of hydro speed is that you get a small sledge like float, a 10mm wetsuit, a helmet and a pair of flippers and you go down a gushing river through rapids head first. Kind of like rafting without the raft really. I was pretty nervous as I was told by the hostel staff that I would need saved at least once. We started out with a lot of safety drills. The bottom line sounded like so long as I held on to the sledge little could go wrong. They are a good deal more buoyant than a life jacket after all. As a side note I then discovered that the instructor does not do the hydro speed himself but merely follows you in a kayak shouting instructions. Following instructions, like in anything else, was imperitive and if I reacted as little as 2 seconds late I could be as much as 20 meters downstream in that time.

The time had come and I dived in. Before I knew it I was hurtling down the river and I had survived the first few rapids, but not without going under for what felt like an eternity. Still, I held on. By now the adrenaline was pumping and that was enough to keep me warm. Unusually it had rained for almost 2 weeks in the area so the water was much higher and faster than normal. As we progressed Christian would keep checking that I was ok, and despite hitting quite a few rocks en route I was fine. The rapids reached grade 4 and although I had rafted higher it really was quite different. After an hour or so we came to the end and it was high 5's all round. What a rush ti was and hopefully I will get the chance to go again. Apparently you can try it at the river Tummel in Scotland although I am not sure of the difficulty level there. Here's hoping it's high.

After a good cool down the instructor took myself and 2 French guys I met out kayaking on the lake. It was a far cry from the mornings experience but amazing all the same. As the water level was so high a small forest had been put under quite a bit of water so we kayaked through there. Quite an unusual experience. The sun beat down all afternoon and we swam for a bit in the end to cool off. This was definately the best way to finish the day, my body needed a rest!!

The next few days were spent in town with friends we had met in Mendoza; Dave, Ger, Janey, Andy, Sven, Kirsten, Adrian, Diane to name a few aka I can't remember the rest of the names!! We undertook some serious wine tasting. As usual it would have been unfair to discriminate so we tried as many as possible. Bottles coming in at between 1 and 3 quid. Can't be bad. Still, I was curious as to what an expensive (by Argentine standards) bottle would cost so Ali, Dave and I agreed to go and stay near a few bodega's (winery) for a few days in the name of research.

On Thursday morning we rocked up at Lares de Chacras. It was a small boutique hotel in the midst of about 10 bodega's 30 minutes from Mendoza. Heaven. It cost us a packet by backpacking standards but it was worth every penny. First up we visited a small family run winery called Clos de Chacras. They took the 3 of us on a tour telling us about the history of the place and showing us all the distilling processes. Quite interesting, but not as interesting as the sampling of course. Aided with plates of cheese, crackers and raisens we went on to try a few different types; Melbec, Sauvingnon and Syrah.

On the Friday we prepared ourselves for more of the same but first the hotel sent us to a small restaurant called Cava de Cano for lunch. Wow, the place was amazing. We thought we were going for a small snack, but on the contrary it was literally a meal fit for a king. We had a small room set up for the 3 of us. The room was decorated with pictures and artifacts of the owner and his various animal "kills" such as boar heads, animal skins and antlers. The table looked like it had enough food to feed 6 with ease and apparently there was more to come. In good honoured tradition we decided to start with the best wine they had after all there is no point in trying he cheap crap to start with. More and more food was brought to the table and after almost 2 hours we had to give in missing out on dessert, champagne, whiskey and cuban cigars. I reckon the latter would have wrecked the taste buds for the afternoon winery visits any how.

By now we were running a little late so the owner kindly gave us a lift on to Alta Vista, a mid sized bodega and it was more of the same as the previous day. Again the tour was conducted with just the 3 of us which was fantastic. They had a way of making you feel quite special and there was no hard sell at the end which was nice. A brief taxi ride later and we were at our 3rd and final bodega. It was called Luigi Bosco and was the largest of the 3 we visited. Straight away you could see it was aimed more at the tourist as we were trundled round in a group of 20 or so. It wasn't that it was no good, just not as good. The wine we had sampled to date was definately the best I have ever tried so it was a shame we finished here on a comparative low.

Still, we had a fix. There was one more meal at our hotel so we ordered up some top notch wine once again to end our stay on a high note. If anyone out there ever finds themselves in Mendoza I can't recommend this place enough. Pure luxury at a good price for a holiday maker.

For the record I would place the following three wines (all red) at the top:

Vo Lunix Syrah Oak 2005
O Fournier, Crux B 2003 (Blend - 60% Tempranillo; 20% Malbec, 10% Merlot, 10% Syrah)
Clos de Chacras, Gran Estirpe 2005 Malbec

Posted by tricky 11:36 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Told you so!!

Santiago and Villarica

sunny 30 °C
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As we have travelled through South America we have shared stories with many a traveller. We've also listened to many too. Where to go, where to stay, what to see etc etc. However, we decided that it's probably best to work things out for yourself and make your own decision. It's certainly worked so far albeit we've taken loads of useful advice on board so far.

Santiago was our destination. Mixed reviews ahoy here for sure. The one prevailing feature was that the city is one of the most "smoggy" in the world. I guess if nowt else we can now confirm that. The 2 days we were there were beautiful and despite the city backdrop being the Andes there was absolutely no sign of them whatsoever. In fact, you probably only see 20 odd blocks along from various high up vantage points in the town.

Despite this we had a reasonably enjoyable time here, aided again by a hostel that was more like a hotel. Our verdict I guess would be, nice clean central town area, however not much to do which is a crying shame for a capital city.

Onwards and upwards we thought though. Valparaiso was next on the hit list. Apparently a lot of people head there for the weekend as the beaches are nice and going out is a great option. By South American standards it's an amazingly short bus trip, only 2 hours. Before we knew it we had passed through 150km's of grape vines and arrived.

This place is a shambles, and I do not use the term lightly. We stayed in a hostel called YoYo, supposedly the party hostel. We had stayed in a few dorms of late so a double was booked for 3 nights. My god it was a mess. By the time my backpack hit the floor we decided we were leaving. I've been in better smelling public toilets. That pretty much describes the town too. It smelt like wet dog on a warm day in the nice area's so off it was to the bus station again to get out. Typically there was only one seat left on the bus so we booked one for the next day to Mendoza in Argentina.

The one redeeming feature of Valparaiso was that the guide book listed a curry house. We set out to find it. It had shut. The one glimpse of relief had been shot to pieces. However we found a Mexican restaurant which made slight amends. As it was our last night in Chile we set about spending the last of our cash in style. Thankfully not enough beers were consumed to allow us to partake in the oncoming karoke but it did allow us to drift off to sleep kind of forgetting about how disgusting our hostel was!!

Posted by tricky 11:15 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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