100th bed is a bus

So many places, so many beds! Every now and again to keep the old grey cells from fading, I memorise all the places we have stayed and count. There is often one or two that I forget but eventually starting from the beginning I get there.

There have been beds on planes, beds on trains, a bed on a boat, beds in a campervan, beds on buses, a bed made of salt and beds in accommodation of varying standards.

Probably my favourite was the night boat sailing from mainland Thailand to the beautiful Koh Sumai. Sleeping on a simple mattress only on the upper deck of a cargo ship we bobbed along the waves gently rocking us to sleep. Sleeping in what can only be described as storage container / garage in George Town, Penang was my least. The tiny room with sliding door was certainly unique but combined with the minute dirty shared bathroom / toilet it was definitely not my cup of tea! 
We have travelled extensively overland both in Asia and now South America so long distance travel has now become a necessary element of this trip. The cost of these buses and sometimes trains have been so cheap there is no point in flying. It is not only our travel, it is our bed and often includes meals too. Mostly we have slept well and waking up somewhere new while still on the move all adds to the experience. We have seen incredible scenery on these long journeys, crossed borders, changed time zones and met some lovely people. I will certainly consider a journey back home in a totally different light after all this.  

So bed number 100 is another moving one. We leave at midnight for our 18 hour journey (allegedly) from Trujillo in Northern Peru to Guayaquil in Ecuador. Travel pillow packed, toothbrushes and wet wipes to hand it’s not exactly a 5 or even 4 star hotel but then who said backpacking would be.  

After sleeping in so many places and on so many beds it will be strange to sleep in our “own” bed again. Our mattress was dumped in the storage process so I guess bed shopping may be pretty high on the priority list on return. Well there is always the tent I suppose! 

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2 hours speedboating, 40 minutes looping the lines, 2 nights in a canyon and 1 night on an island – our Peruvian adventures

Lake Titicaca was where we both finished Bolivia and started Peru. The Peru town of Puno definitely lost in the beauty stakes, a sprawling mass of ugliness, the lake was its saving grace. We had been recommended a homestay experience on the islands on the lake and so set off early the first day for the boats. A local musician kept us entertained until the crew were ready to depart. The rest of the boat were mainly French, as is becoming the norm on our travels. There cannot seriously be anyone left in France this year!  

First stop was the intriguing Uros floating reed islands. Small communities live on these tiny moving grasslands building everything out of their natural available resources. The ladies greeted us enthusiastically in their stunning costumes and we were shown how they constantly keep their homes afloat and refreshed. As boats passed by we were suddenly aware of the constant movement and how delicate their lives are. Simple but effective but no good for those without sea legs! In one of their tiny huts I was dressed in the local outfit only to emerge and discover I was the only “gringo”. Oh well it makes a good photo! Back to normal attire and we were taken to the “biggest” island for coffee on the locals boat. We were soon overtaken by neighbours boats who were cheating by using engine power rather than oars although our captain soon switched so maybe he wasn’t that fit either. 

Our home for the night was the idyllic Amantani Island, less than 10k square it is occupied by about 800 families across 10 communities who provide a unique homestay experience on a rotating system. Once we were divided into our family groups our lovely host Nicholasa took us to her home. We were shown our basic but pretty spacious room. The shared bathroom had a toilet but no flush and no sink so wet wipes would be our shower again! Surprisingly we had electricity and a mirror in our room. No excuses for bad hair day then. After a delicious lunch we played volleyball in the courtyard with the two children of the family until it became quickly obvious that they were so much better then me, I helped clear up the dishes. Old habits die hard!

We were taken to the main square and joined everyone else for a challenging hike to the two temples of Pachatata and Patchamama. The whole island has been beautifully maintained and paved paths with occasional drawings marked out the routes. We reached the first where a ritual of three circular loops of the temple is a good luck omen so naturally everyone did that even though still pretty exhausted from the climb. It was pretty chilly but we decided to visit the second one to view the sunset. We only just made it in time but the view and the obligatory selfie were worth it. As we headed back to the main square the light was fading fast and our host guided us back home by torchlight. 
Dinner soon warmed us up and I was then dressed again in the islands local costume. It felt like a corset as she pulled it tighter and tighter and I was disappointed to see the other Belgian ladies in normal attire. Gary donned a poncho and hat and we all headed to the community hall for party night. As we entered the hall all the other travellers had dressed up too much to our relief. The musicians started up and our host grabbed me and for what seemed like an eternity we were spun around the room. Feeling dizzy and suffocating in the costume I am amazed I kept going but it was actually so much fun and we all had big smiles on our faces. 

We certainly slept like babies that night and with no dogs on the island it was extremely peaceful and it was a shame that after breakfast we had to leave. A final island to visit on the return was Taquile Island a much smaller but equally pretty island. With a few shops and restaurants it is more geared up to tourists and after another tough hike up to the main square from the harbour we were ready for lunch which of course had to be trout. 

Next after dragging ourselves away from the delights and sights of Lake Titicaca, we found ourselves in the beautiful white city of Arequipa. The buildings were exquisite and our hostel was gorgeous with the biggest room ever and a stunning rooftop terrace for breakfast. We enjoyed exploring before and after our next Peruvian experience, the Colca Canyon. 

We opted for the 3 day hike and surprise surprise we were the only English in the group and yes the rest were French, all in their 20s, maybe I should be learning French rather than Spanish! We set off on a relatively flat section admiring the views. This canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and so it was going to be a long way down. It was not long before I rediscovered my fear of downhill, we descended 1100m in 7km. It was extremely tough and with the canyon switchbacks it felt like the bottom was never getting nearer. I just about managed to stay on two feet and when we reached our stop for the remainder of the day my legs were shaking and my heart beating. Food and an afternoon sleep revived us from a very early start of 3am – it’s a long way from Arequipa! With no electricity in our rooms after dinner we all made the most of an early night. 

The middle day was far less strenuous but very enjoyable. Our guide gave us a nature tour showing us the variety of plants and their many properties. Herbal remedies are still used by many Peruvians especially here where the only transport is by mule and conditions can be pretty harsh. As we walked on through two larger villages we were given a taste of the local tipple, chica, corn beer although we had the non alcoholic version. Our guide obviously didn’t want us falling yet deeper into the canyon. An uphill section was far more to my liking although seeing our destination for the second night, I soon realised there would be another dreaded downhill. It was known as the oasis, a cluster of hostels at the base all with pools enticing you down. With nerves shot again I landed on flat ground but the sun, a cheeky cocktail and some good food all helped me feel normal again. We had made it to the bottom and that night were rewarded with an amazing starry night.  

There was of course only one way out of this canyon and that was back up 1100m. It was like climbing a mountain in reverse. We set off at 5am with the promise of breakfast when we finished. Our guide estimated 3 to 3.5 hours with rests. The challenge was on! Now this was so much better, powering up we soon caught up other groups that had left at 4am and some even at 3am. Stopping occasionally for water and the odd snack the summit was reached in 2 hours 5 minutes. If only Gary had not wanted that last stop to catch his breath! It was a great feeling and we sat and enjoyed the views waiting for all those “youngsters” to arrive. Some other groups took the “easy” route of a mule but hearing how they make their own path and seeing the little control the guides seem to have over them, I was glad my 50 year old legs did so well. 

Once recovered from the Canyon it was time for another scary thought. Getting into a tiny aeroplane was one thing but a roller coaster ride was another. As this was the only way to see the famous Nazca Lines I was going to have to be brave again. No alcohol the previous night, no breakfast,sickness pill popped, travel bands on, I was risking nothing.  

Suffice to say all the above worked and it was amazing. The tiny plane was indeed very tiny, 4 passengers and two pilots. The co-pilot explained all the lines brilliantly and as the plane swooped down the early morning clear skies and some very skilful flying meant we all had amazing views of these very unusual markings although I am not sure we would have got any photos if I had the camera.

A final stop was the beach town of Paracas. It was not quite the idyllic setting I had imagined but the Ballestas Island trip was the main reason us travellers stop here. Referred to as poor man’s Galapagos they would certainly satisfy our needs and even two hours on a speedboat did not deter me. Well now I have the tablets might as well use them! I was promised penguins and yes my little friends were there waiting and even formed an orderly queue before jumping into the ocean right in front of our boat! It was magical and combined with the numerous sea lions it was a great trip. Thousands of birds swooping overhead was not quite so appealing and I don’t think the young girl on our boat who got pooped on would have considered it lucky. 

So Peru is proving to live up equally to its neighbours and our adventures continue. We have reached the capital of Lima on our 9 month anniversary and will therefore reward ourselves with the national drink of Pisco Sour. Onwards and upwards to travel!

2 capitals, an airport at 4100m, a lake at 3800m – Part 2 of our Bolivian high adventures

 Bolivia continued to be well worth visiting as we left the salt flats and headed to a lower altitude to one of the two capitals, Sucre.

We took some time here to enjoy the actual city and live at a slightly more sensible height, although still some 2,800 metres. We seem to be coping reasonably well at altitude, drinking coco tea like the locals may have helped us and going up, down and up again definitely acclimatised us.  

Sucre was very hilly and our base was pretty high up. Walking up and down the very steep cobbled streets certainly gave us a good work out on a daily basis. The pretty white buildings and very narrow streets were like a maze but it was great to just stroll around and eventually all routes led to the central plaza. 

We were highly amused to see on the four corners of the plaza zebras helping visitors across the zebra crossings. Presumably a bunch of students practising their language skills but they were an enthusiastic bunch leaping around. They must have boiled in their full furry suits! 

The buildings were all very photogenic and the local ladies continued to delight us in their highly colourful outfits selling all their wares literally everywhere you walked. Their massive colourful bags on their backs did not seem to hamper them on the hills and often a baby’s face would peer out from the bundles too. 

We hiked to the highest point one early morning. Hundreds of very steep steps that seemed never ending led to a religious shrine on the summit. It was however littered with lots of empty bottles and burnt out fires and looked more like the remains of a teenage binge party then somewhere serene. All good exercise though and the views of the surrounding areas were worth it. 

The house we had rented on Airbnb had a fantastic roof terrace which was a real sun trap so most mornings we made full use of it. The house itself was stunning and I just wish I could take it home. It was cheap as chips being Bolivia and meant we could enjoy some home cooking and it felt so much more homely than a hostel. 

We then had our first internal flight for six months to the other capital of La Paz. The overnight bus journey had such bad reviews and the thought of no toilet or toilet stops for 12 hours versus a quick hour flight sealed the deal for us. It was also an opportunity to fly to the highest worldwide airport at 4060 metres, El Alto. We had been expecting a rough landing at this altitude but were surprised by how smooth it felt. The taxi drive down to the hostel was incredible, viewing the city beneath you from the dizzy heights of the airport. It was truly enormous and the traffic was crazy. Buildings hugged the sides of the mountains in every direction and you could not believe how people lived that high up. All the streets were so so steep and you could instantly see why people say you must visit this incredible city. 

We only stayed for a few days but it did actually grow on me after my initial impressions of “get me out of here”. Walking up and down the massive hills constantly remembering to breathe we again survived the altitude. There are six cable cars covering the massive expanse of this city with a few more still in planning stage. These were a great way to view the vast expanse and we travelled on most of them marvelling at the sights below. They are so cheap and spotlessly clean, unlike the city itself and obviously a lifeline for people living on the outskirts.  

Our final trip in Bolivia was to another high, Lake Titicaca at 3800 metres, the highest navigable lake in the world. This enormous beautiful lake is 118 miles long and 50 miles wide. You can access it from Peru too, watch this space! 

As we arrived into the small lakeside town of Copacabana the sheer size of the lake was apparent. It really does not look like a lake at all and with the gorgeous sunshine we enjoyed here, it felt like we were at the coast. All the restaurants advertise pretty much the same menu so we felt we had to sample the local trout and it did not disappoint. However on subsequent days the same menu boards remained and although a very cheap deal you really don’t fancy quinoa soup followed by trout and then banana with chocolate every day! I guess most travellers only spend a day here. 

With several islands on the lake we took a full day boat trip to the two closest ones of Isla del Luna and Isla del Sol. We had a fantastic day, a very gentle journey across the lake firstly to Isla del Luna where we hiked to the summit for some of the best views of the lake in its splendour and the islands. A sharp descent down and we were back on the boat for a somewhat shorter journey to the bigger island Isla del Sol. We joined a guided tour with a local who luckily translated everything into English for us two lone non Spanish speakers. It was another hike up to some 4,000 metres before an enjoyable flat plateau where we learnt all the Inca history associated with the island and were surprised to hear 1200 people live here, astonishing considering it is only 14k by 9k. It had some very pretty buildings and was obviously well looked after. The 100 plus very steep Inca staircase descending down to the waters edge was far harder than the ascent but a nice coffee and sandwich in the sun replenished us before the journey back. 

So we have now finished enjoying Bolivia and remaining with this beautiful lake we cross to neighbouring Peru next. I knew nothing about Bolivia before this trip but we have enjoyed all the colours, the people and the stunning scenery. Our second South American country has continued to impress us and I am certainly loving this part of our trip. Long may it continue! 

5000m above sea level, 1200k travelled, 4 days in a jeep, hundreds of flamingoes and so much fun equals the Bolivian Salt Flat Tour

Our main reason for visiting Bolivia was the Salt Flat Tours. We had, just for a change, researched loads and read guide books and blogs aplenty. I was apprehensive about spending so much time, up to 10 hours some days, in a jeep on dirt roads and with horror stories of drunk drivers and awful food it was a bit of a gamble. It was however a gamble that paid off massive dividends and we had the most amazing four days. 

We had crossed the border from Argentina, the easiest yet, stamped out at one control, we walked the few hundred yards and suddenly we were in Bolivia, an hour behind and a new flag flying high. The border control just waved us through, no Bolivian stamp in our passports required, much to our disappointment. We were immediately aware of all the beautiful colours of Bolivia. The women in particular often wear the traditional outfit with full pleated skirts with masses of petticoats, two very long plaits and bowler hats. It is a very unusual yet quirky look with the colour of the ribbons in their hair indicating their marital status and the angle of the hat also. They come across as quite a sombre nation but once approached they are as friendly as can be. 

We walked to the station and caught a train to Tupiza, our starting point for our salt flats tour. The track winds through the mountains and the scenery was gorgeous pretty much all of the way of the 3 hour journey. As we alighted the train we were delighted to see the town had sent out a welcoming committee. A full procession was taking place with majorettes, drums, trumpets and a variety of other instruments. We stood and watched before another short walk to our hostel and finally relieved ourselves of those awful backpacks. I swear they get heavier each time we move! 

The hostel was run by a lovely family, the son Frankie holding fort at front desk, his mother helping with the cooking and his father running the attached shop. We went out on one of their “triathlon” tours with his father, a day of jeep, trek and horse riding. It was incredibly good fun and we were so well looked after, we booked the salt flat tours with them too.  

The night before the tour the town was shut down due to a protest by all the locals over their waters supplies. They literally blockaded all entrances to the town and lined up like picket lines at key junctions. A mixture of rocks, trees, barbed wire and anything else available was used to stop any vehicles including the train! It was incredible to witness this but also caused a problem with our tour. The jeep was not in town so we had to send all our bags the night before by motorbike to be loaded up and then trek to the jeep in the morning. We were joined by a lovely French couple who would be our partners in crime for the four days and young Frankie introduced us to our great driver Hector and amazing cook Julia who would look after the four of us. Alice, our new French friend did speak a lot more Spanish than the rest of us so became the translator a lot of the time. I definitely think my Spanish is improving gradually and each day we are learning new words by all this exposure. 

Travel bands on and all loaded up, we set off on our great adventure along with three other jeeps. We soon realised we had made the right choice with this bunch as he drove so well for all of the time I never felt ill once even cramped in the rear tiny seats. The views on the first day were just the start of even better scenery as the trip continued. It was all about llamas to begin with. These pretty creatures with their ribbon tags on their ears were everywhere along the route. We stopped many times for photos and even found local women selling llama wool accessories. I just had to buy a pair of llama gloves, they would come in handy as we climbed in elevation and temperatures fell! 

We stopped at a tiny mining village for lunch with local children greeting us enthusiastically. We were introduced to the first of lovely Julia’s cooking. It was different every day and so tasty and plentiful. Another difference to many accounts we had read, we had definitely chosen well. 

We visited an abandoned ancient mining town, an impressive selection of inca ruins, the whole town had fled when a mysterious lady had apparently arrived infected with disease. It was almost like it stood still in time. Even better it had proper toilets, these were very few and far between in the four days, probably the main negative but somewhat inevitable given the remoteness. 

Our first night was very basic as expected and we all huddled up eating our dinner in a very cold room. With no showers, once fed, it was a very early night. We shared our room with the other couple, our first experience of a dorm. Undressing was fun, wriggling in my sleeping bag but I soon got cozy with all the blankets provided. It was a somewhat restless night, a combination of cold and altitude but not the worst sleep by a long shot. 

Day 2 was all about lagoons and pink flamingos. It was brilliant blue skies but very cold and to see these beautiful birds on enormous lagoons seemed wrong at this altitude. We had fantastic walks round the lagoons and to see the flamingoes in their natural environment and especially in mid flight was amazing. They are so much bigger than I had imagined and so pink. It was a great spectacle and I even found two pink feathers as a special souvenir. The lagoons were mainly brilliant blue but we were also taken to a green and a black lagoon, the colours all stunning. Bolivia is certainly a country of many colours. We were also lucky enough to have a gorgeous dip in a thermal pool. Overlooking the lagoon and flamingos and with snow caped mountains it was pretty much perfect and the only downside was the hasty dressing afterwards in the cold. The final bonus of the day were sightings of the bubbling geysers, the smell reminding us of our days at Rotorua in New Zealand all those months ago. Alongside these were a strange spectacle of towering ice shards which made yet another great photo opportunity. 

Another dorm room for night 2 but a lot better sleep meant we were fully refreshed for day 3. This was all about the stunning rock formations. Like Argentina they were incredible to see and we spent much of the day clamouring upon them for the best pictures and views. Hector came into his own that day jumping around and getting great shots of us all having great fun. It was definitely not for the faint hearted as we clamoured up to view an impressive canyon. We kept meeting up with the other tour groups and I can safely say we were by far the oldest but hopefully still agile and fit enough to enjoy it all.

Our final night was at a salt hostel. This was pretty special and so surreal. We crunched along the salt floors admiring the engravings on the salt walls. We slept on salt beds, ate on salt tables and sat on salt stools. It was so pretty and actually surprisingly warm. After a quick cup of tea we had our first drive onto the salt flats to see the sunset. It was as spectacular as sunsets usually are but the vast expanse of salt feels like you have somehow arrived at Antartica and I kept writing ice rather than salt in my daily journal. Our final dinner back at the salt hostel was as great as ever and we even got to share a bottle of wine. One glass at altitude certainly sent me to sleep with no trouble at all. 

It was a rude awakening at 4.30am on our final morning. Thirty minutes later we were all loaded up and back onto the salt flats. As we drove in darkness armed with lots of warm clothes ready the enormity of these really became apparent. There is no less than 10,000 square kilometres, that is half the size of Wales! Suddenly we appeared at an cacti covered island and as we hiked to the summit it really felt like an expanse of sea on all sides instead of salt. We had timed it to perfection thanks to Hector and it was not long before we watched the beautiful sunrise in this amazing setting. An outdoor breakfast at another salt table was somewhat chilly but the sun soon started to gain strength and we went for an early morning wander practicing a few photo shots and I even did some morning exercises and a slightly breathless jog, all to keep warm of course. It seemed a bit crazy but the craziness was definitely going to increase hundred fold as the morning continued. 
We drove further out onto the flats and Hector and Julia finally got to have lots of fun too. The poses and photos were all slightly mad but have all turned out so great thanks to their experience of props and angles. We all had so much fun on that morning even hauling ourselves up onto the jeep roof for group photos as a grand finale.  

A final very early lunch and a rather strange stop at a train cemetery, yes lots of old trains laid to rest, and we had arrived at Uyuni our dropping off point where we were looking forward to a well earned hot shower. 

It had been a truly amazing few days with fantastic company and incredible scenery and wildlife along every inch of the journey. It was certainly not just a salt flats tour, it had been so much more. It was time to say goodbye to the rest of the party as they were headed back to our starting point for their onward travels to Argentina and we have a lot more of Bolivia to discover yet.  

Another 21 hour bus journey and a 650k road trip – Part 3 of our Argentinian travels

After finally dragging ourselves away from our Buenos Aires delights, we settled down for another long journey. Headed North West this time to the beautiful city of Salta it was a mere 21 hours drive but opting for front row seats again we had impressive views to keep us going. 

Opting for living in a private home this time we were greeted with open arms by the gorgeous young couple and their two very sweet children and cute labrador Rocky and soon felt completely at home. Their English was pretty perfect compared to our still basic but gradually improving Spanish. It was a perfect arrangement and meant we could prepare all our own meals for once. The climate here is amazing with hardly any rain all year and warm temperatures it could be my perfect home. Better sign up for those Spanish lessons though! 

Salta is a smallish but very pretty city with plenty of beautiful buildings to admire especially the main square and the cathedral and the surrounding mountains make for a very picturesque place. We walked, as usual miles including a trip to San Lorenzo and a hike up the hills, or were they mountains, and a pretty treacherous, at times, descent. I may not be running as much as fellow Bittonians but I am certainly wearing my trainers out nevertheless. 

After a few days enjoying the local delights, we hired a car and our mini road trip began. We had booked into two hostels along the way and were warned that the roads are pretty different where we were headed. After a few hours of normal roads, as we snaked round the mountains, we hit the dirt tracks and this was to be the last we saw of tarmac for a few days! I was so glad that I was not driving as I got to enjoy the amazing views without clinging onto the steering wheel for dear life. As we crawled round each corner climbing higher and higher I was so relieved that nothing much came the other way. We finally pulled over as did the car in front and all looked back at what we had just gone through. It was only about 20k but had felt so much further. The rest of the drive was somewhat bumpy and road conditions deteriorated dramatically at times and I was glad to get out when we finally reached our lunch stop.  

We unfortunately arrived in Cachi during siesta time so after our lunch in one of the few places still open, we wandered round the sleepy town (probably a village by British standards). It was a very pretty place and although very closed up, it was good to stretch our legs and admire the buildings. 

Our next leg of the journey continued along the same dusty dirt roads with equally picturesque scenery and it really felt like the real Wild West with giant cacti everywhere. By the time we finally arrived in the even smaller town of Molinos (probably a hamlet by our standards) the winds had picked up and the dust was blowing around constantly. It was such a tiny place we could not even find a restaurant the first night so made do with our meagre supplies we had. It was however not all bad news as our host in Buenos Aires had kindly given me a bottle of bubbles as a belated 50th birthday present. Now seemed the perfect time so we perched on our bed eating ham, cheese, olives and crackers drinking bubbles in recycled glasses made out of wine bottles. It was a perfect end to our first day on the road. 

We spent the next day in Molinos and in daylight discovered the one open restaurant so booked for that night ensuring we would not starve just yet. With the relentless wind and accompanying dust clouds it was difficult to walk about much but we explored the town as best we could. I think we were the only foreigners in town and the local dogs seemed to be fascinated by us but unlike Asia seemed friendly enough. We discovered a couple of shops, none of which resembled anything like a supermarket and stocked up on a few supplies. It is so refreshing that all these people make a living with these small independent shops. Let’s hope Tesco never come to Argentina and ruin it all! 

We drove up to a nearby vineyard to visit a museum that we had been recommended by our Salta family. Unfortunately it was closed so we had to make do with a short video and free glass of wine, not that bad a consolation price. It was worth it for the scenic drive up there in any event. 

Part 2 of our road trip took us to Cafayate, I had to see this place just for the name. I hear there are now more coffee shops than anything else in Yate so this place seemed very apt. It was certainly a lot bigger than the previous two places but equally as pretty. It is a big wine region and although we did not actually do a wine tour the views of the vineyards was very scenic on our drive into town. 

We did however sample the wine quite a few times and anyway when a bottle of water is the same price it seems rude not to! The best wine though was the most surprising – wine ice cream! Yes some brilliant entrepreneur has discovered this magical creation and I just had to try it. We had read about this place and were slightly sceptical but how wrong we were. We opted for a tub of half red and half white to share and it was truly amazing. You really felt like you were eating or was it drinking wine, the taste was sensational and I wish I knew the secret of this recipe as I feel sure it would go down a storm at home.  

Our day in Cafayate apart from the wine of course was spent driving along the valley admiring the astounding sandstone rock formations. Every corner you turned another magnificent view came into sight and we just had to keep stopping for more and more photos. The dazzling sun across the mountains created an array of colours which constantly changed. With no more wind and tarmac roads it was such a brilliant few hours spent in this very picturesque part of Argentina.  

We finally returned to Salta along yet more scenic roads enjoying yet more blue skies and very warm sunshine. It was a part of Argentina that we had known nothing about but are so very pleased we discovered. 

Our first introduction to South America has been so great, expensive at times but so so picturesque. From the beautiful city of Buenos Aires to the incredible Iguazu Falls (my favourite of course) to finally the stunning landscapes of the North West, we have only touched upon a small section of this vast country but have enjoyed it all immensely. 

So in a couple of days our time in Argentina, just over a month in all, will be over as we head up to the border and see what Bolivia has on offer. 

18 hour bus journey, 3 borders, 2 mind blowing days – our 5 day adventures at the Igazu Falls

I struggle to find the most appropriate words to describe what we have been so fortunate to experience over the last few days. A few things in life are so incredibly special you know you will treasure them for ever. The birth of your children and your wedding day (for some of us twice!) are given but just sometimes you see or do something that takes your breath away, brings tears to your eyes and no picture will ever capture what your senses feel at that precise moment in time. That is how I have felt not once or twice but continuously as we visited the magnificent Igazu Falls. 

We enjoyed more than endured our first South American long bus journey. It was more like a flight with meals, alcohol, movies and pretty comfy seats and so arrived feeling, for once, pretty refreshed. Our basic but perfectly adequate accommodation was run by a charming elderly lady who spoke no English at all but somehow we got by and managed to learn a few more Spanish words along the way. I think we were quite a novelty for her and when we checked out she insisted on taking a photo. 

We spent two days visiting the park with the great name of Caratacas, a quick and pretty inexpensive bus trip from the town. We instantly noticed that the north of the country is a lot more affordable so did not completely blow our budget. 

The park is extremely well managed by the Argentinians with well marked trails, plentiful clean toilets and several water refill points all over. We started with the upper circuit and it was not long before the first big wow factor as the falls came into view. There are almost 280 waterfalls and I know I keep saying this but pictures really cannot do this justice but we have tried to capture the essence for you to enjoy too. 

They are simply the most magnificent natural water feature that I have ever seen and no waterfall will ever compare again. Every corner you turn, a different view is seen and the spectacle continues to amaze and delight you. We kept stopping and just staring, it was as if time had stopped still. You cannot believe what you are witnessing in front of your eyes. The noise is incredible yet as you walk away it instantly becomes silent. There was a wonderful calmness to the whole place even in the more crowded spots. Just watching everyone enjoying themselves and sharing this very special place was fantastic.  

The “Devils Throat” was the incredible sight of the waterfalls all meeting in a magnificent cascading slide into a massive cavernous hole. Must be thirsty work being that bad! 

The lower circuit brought yet more thrills and entirely different views and perspectives of the falls every which way you walked. We spent six hours the first day and we were still hungry for more so took advantage of the discounted half price second day entry fee. Many people go for the Brazil side as well but we saw no advantage in this and stayed in Argentina. 

The second day, seemingly an impossible task, actually exceeded the first. The first day had been warm enough but with thick clouds. We were rewarded with clear blue skies and full sun for our second visit and this meant the addition of the rainbows. An array of a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours turned an amazing spectacle into something pretty mind blowingly beautiful. They were everywhere you looked, peeking between the trees, single and double ones, stretching across the river towards Brazil. As one of nature’s incredible features they were the not the icing but the cherry on top of the cake. 

We also took advantage of the free ferry to the island in the middle of the park that hardly anyone seemed to be aware of as it was pretty deserted. Here you got even closer for even more spectacular views, standing in the spray was absolutely heavenly. We ate our picnic lunch on the little beach watching lizards scamper over the rocks gazing over at the falls. It was a pretty much picture perfect spot. 

We managed to spend even longer the second day enjoying the warm sun and soaking up every inch of the park. The wildlife is an additional bonus. So many butterflies of so so many colours together with beautiful birds, a few monkeys, enormous cat fish in the rivers, sunbathing turtles and lizards to name but a few. There were also a lot of native coatis which forage around the undergrowth or more commonly around the picnic tables knowing how they will no doubt be able to share in the leftovers. They were such funny little creatures with their long snouts everywhere you went. 

We finished where we started on the upper circuit and finally had to drag ourselves away. I know we are so very fortunate to be able to visit so many countries in this year away but anyone coming to South America must come to the Igazu Falls. Why it is not one of the worlds natural wonders is beyond me. We all want big houses, expensive cars, clothes and phones which are all so materialistic but this is nature performing at its best and it up there for me with crossing every marathon finishing line and the summit of Kilimanjaro. 

One final thing left to do before our long bus back to Buenos Aires was a short walk from our hostel to another unusual occurrence, the three frontiers of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. We stood on Argentinian soil, with Paraguay metres away to our left and Brazil metres away to our right. It was a fitting end to a very surreal and wonderful experience. As Gary said after reading this blog, I guess you really liked it! 

A 30 hour day, 26 hours on a plane and 10 days in Buenos Aires – the Latin American chapter begins

So I do not think we will forget the 4th September in a hurry. We arrived at Bangkok at midnight for our 2am flight. 6 hours later we touched down to the sun rising in Dubai. A very frantic dash through the terminal and just over an hour later we were air bound again. 20 hours this time so got to sample the in house movies, quite a few airplane meals and a couple of well earned vinos. Plenty of shut eye too but as we touched down in Rio to blinding sunshine my body was screaming nighttime to me, an impossible task it proved. A quick change of crew and a few passengers and our time on the Brazilian tarmac was over. The next portion was the shortest yet and we were rewarded by the most amazing sunset as we approached our final destination. We touched down and Gary pressed his stopwatch (he is a bit of a stats man) and we hit 30 hours of travelling and it was still the 4th. Not to be recommended but we had crossed all the time zones and for the first time in six months we were behind you guys at home, so let us know how the day is going please. 

We stayed in a gorgeous area of Buenos Aires in an old house with just 3 guest rooms and the incredible Elena holding fort. She welcomed us with open arms, bouncing around like an excitable child with so much information and helpfulness we instantly felt at home. It was the perfect place to chill (we had gone from hot and humid to late winter/early Spring and boy did we notice). The shorts and sun dresses and bikinis were stowed away and the coats and hoodies dragged out of the bottom of our bags.  

Our first few days of wandering and exploring revealed so many contrasts to the previous four months. Aside from the climate, the language, the food and of course the people were so so different. Predominantly Italian restaurants were in the immediate area so there was a mixture of Spanish and Italian dialects. Friends and colleagues alike greet with hugs and kisses (no stiff handshakes or even limp ones here) and wow do they talk fast. My very very limited and Gary’s non existent Spanish will need a major boost to help us survive but fortunately we have not starved yet. 

The grid system of roads and one way streets make this an incredibly easy walking city which was such a pleasure after Asia. There are also buses and trains everywhere too as the city is extremely vast. The buses look so charmingly dated but were cheap and efficient as they zipped around the different neighbourhoods. Roads are named after cities and countries which is how you navigate and find anywhere.  

The architecture is again stunning here, we have certainly been so fortunate to visit such beautiful places. There is also such a contrast within the city boundaries and we sampled a mere few in our initial stay. We were next to the cobbled streets of St Telmo, a very bohemian area with tango bars and bookshops nestled asides cafes and restaurants. 

Every corner has an eatery of some description and we soon learnt the very different eating habits of Argentinians. Breakfast is very European, coffee and pastries and nothing else. Daytime snacks are more pastries or empanadas which are delicious pasty like snacks stuffed with various meats, cheeses and vegetables or a combination of all three. There are also street vendors selling what can only be described as a massive sausage sandwich smothered in sauce. These snacks are very cheap unlike most other food and drinks which is what probably most backpackers survive on.  

A lot of places close after the lunchtime rush for several hours and most locals do not consider entering one again for dinner until 10pm!! They then keep eating and drinking until the small hours. I am afraid we failed miserably on this front. I just can’t sleep on a full stomach and so we just ate when we could.  

Jet lag got the better of me this time around. Mid afternoons were the worst I kept needing to sleep but day by day we stayed out a bit longer to avoid this. I also kept waking at ridiculous times but I am sure I will eventually get into this new time zone or just continue to look like a frazzled zombie babbling away in very bad Spanish. 

We did manage to see a lot of the well known places including the colourful sights in Caminito where street art adorned the walls alongside vividly painted corrugated-metal buildings. We sat in the little plaza sipping coffee enjoying the spring sunshine whilst enjoying a free display of tango. The imposing stadium of La Boca football team dominated this neighbourhood and I can only imagine the deafening noise when they are playing at home. It was very calm as we wandered around soaking up the atmosphere. 

We also, maybe a little macabre for some, visited the Recoleta cemetery on a very chilly day. This impressive place is surrounded by imposing high walls and some of the wealthiest families have been laid to rest here, including ex presidents and the nation’s favourite Evita. The sculptures and decoration are stunning on these enormous family crypts. I was somewhat shocked to see the coffins are entirely in view and not buried. The chilly weather added to the sombre atmosphere and my over active imagination was picturing a scene out of Thriller and the stone angels from Doctor Who and I certainly would not wish to be here at night. We were also very surprised to see an actual funeral taking place as we left and big tour groups still entering. It did seem very inappropriate especially when witnessing different nationalities with their selfie sticks aloft. 

One of my favourite places we visited was a bookshop called El Ateneo which is set in a gorgeous old theatre and for a book lover like me it was pure paradise. We had to visit all the different levels and purchased an all important phrase book.  

We even managed a couple of runs in a beautiful setting of an enormous ecological reserve overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This would definitely be an impressive park run location if they come here. Hopefully this will the start of my return to some form of regular running. 

We walked miles most days and pretty much saw all the different neighbourhoods. The lovely Elena came out with several evenings so we got to witness some beautiful places. Some of the “notable” coffee houses were stunning buildings to enjoy a relaxing drink before pounding the streets again. 

We have discovered also one scarily massive difference from the previous 4 months, the hugely inflated prices which are changing so frequently. Travel costs both within a country and to others are vast and this coupled with ridiculous tour and entrance prices has meant a lot of hours of re-thinking our whole remaining time. It is disappointing as we are unable to see many areas that we had been hoping to visit but with the ever falling pound we have no option but to select very carefully. I am sure this will keep changing as we move around but it unfortunately has been a bitter pill to swallow. 

However that aside Buenos Aires is an incredible city and I definitely have loved our first experience of it. Now onwards and upwards for our first long bus journey, a mere 18 hours awaits us tonight. Hasta luego!!