You’ll remember from part 8 that Jack and I were trying to get out of Unuyi
“Hey taxi driver, take us to the road block” the taxi driver warned us it would be expensive, it was risky taking people to the roadblock. As we approached the road block which was made up of a few stones in the middle of the road, local people jumped in to action and started walking towards the taxi. They let Jack and I go, but the taxi driver was forced to walk back in to town and leave his taxi at the road block. We felt bad for a while but this was our only chance to escape. To add some context, the roadblock was about a mile out of town then if you were lucky to make it past that then there were concentric rings of blocks further out. Apparently they start the road blocks far from town and as part of the negotiations they bring it closer to town.
We’d been walking for half an hour, it was edging closer to the middle of the day and the heat was cranking up. In complete contrast to a few days before when we were walking in to town in freezing cold, we were now leaving town in the blistering heat. Looking back at the city you could really see how isolated of a location Unuyi is, there’s just a small metropolis popping out of the arid desert. It was becoming ever apparent that we hadn’t brought enough water, we were rapidly running out and we had no idea how long we would be walking for.
During the walk a few cars passed us with protesters in, but there was no interaction just curious stares from the locals who must have been thinking “look at those stupid gringos walking through the desert”. Picture a film scene where the heroes are walking through an apparently uninhabited city after a world ending event and on the building above them there are eyes just watching in silence, well that was me and jack as we walked through a gorge in the road. The road itself was strewn with stones and on the hilltops just a hint of people watching, until a bold boy of no more than ten openly stood on the edge of the cliff silently watching me and Jack whilst menacingly handling a rock. The pace quickened. After about two hours of walking, we saw a coach!! We saw a coach and a driver, he couldn’t get any closer but he was staying here until enough people found the coach….that worked for me and Jack. Over time more and more people turned up, buoyed by the energy of finding the coach many people excitidely shared stories of their escape from Unuyi. The drama did now end.
About 15 of us were sitting on the coach when the driver jumped on and drove about a quarter of a mile, it turns out the road block locals were coming for the coach but at the same time there were still people making their way out of town, again like a movie scene we had people running for the coach followed by a cool wave of “the enemy” slowly walking to the coach. The driver was off the coach with the engine running, shouting, “venga, rapido” the problem being, we didn’t know who were escapees and who were the protesters but eventually the breathless passengers got on reigniting the conversations about escape, the driver put his foot to the floor and in a cloud of dust we’d escaped Unuyi and we were on our way to La Paz….La Paz….and I thought Unuyi was bad if I was going to name the movies it would be Bolivia: Escape from Unuyi and La Paz.
We got to La Paz in the middle of the night, the bus station was quiet. The rain was coming down quite heavy and Jack and I didn’t fancy a wander through the streets. We got a cab to the Loki Hostel in La Paz, it was a few nights before Christmas so we were very pleased to find that we were staying in an empty ten person dorm!!! We went straight to bed ready to explore La Paz the next day.
When we woke and all signs of the rain were gone and it looked like a lovely day. We had no plans so we literally just walked, we walked to the station then to the stadium, up hills through markets and my first impression was that La Paz was ok, it was the first city we’d been to that didn’t have a “European” feel to it.
We planned out our next couple of days, we were going to ride death road, watch a football match, celebrate Christmas then move on, it didn’t go to plan.
Jack got ill I got ill, our room was no longer just me and Jack. I got drunk then had to right off a day due to hangover and generally the town after hearing and seeing all the pick pockets didn’t feel safe.
The highlights were though, finding miserable German from Unuyi WORKING at our hostel. He was very odd but much more happy that we’d last seen him, over time we ran in to one or two of the other Germans. They had a karaoke, obviously I smashed it. We met a couple of Australians. I made friends with a Bolivian, but we were too ill to go to football and Jack was too ill to ride death road.
Once we got the other side of Christmas we packed up our things and made our way to Lake Titicaca. That’s when I decided to start making my way back to Europe, so after one night at Lake Titicaca Jack and I had breakfast and got on separate coaches……Jack was heading to the paradise of the floating islands with our German friend Ben…..I was heading for numerous days travel which would eventually leave me in Sweden (including 24 hours on a coach in Peru sitting next to a above average size man :()
I got back to Sweden though and spent a great time there including some skiing, then eventually got back to England…..THE END (I swear)
The bus stopped again, the second unexpected stop, “not another puncture” I thought to myself. We all had to get off the bus again and the rumours were flying around, apparently there was a block in the road but confusion mounted when Jack and I scoured the road ahead we saw a lot of people on the side of the road but no block on the road. We regrouped with our bus companions and found our Columbian friends; they explained in more detail that the people on the side of the road were the roadblock there were some political protests in Uyuni and there aren’t letting buses in or out of the town. It 12 o clock at night we expected to be at our hostel at around 10. The conclusion was a group of people from the bus were going to walk through the desert at 5,000 metres high in the sky and very cold temperatures, at that moment in time Jack and I thought this would be a fantastic idea. How did you know the way? You might ask, and the answer is….we didn’t, we could see some lights in the distance and the plan was to head towards them. When we found the town we headed straight to our hostel. In the morning more about the roadblock situation was revealed to us and little did we know, it turns out we were being held hostage in Unuyi. The next few days turned out to be….eventful.
We were surrounded by rumours of what was going on the news seemed to be all coming from one guy….he was telling anyone who would listen about the unrest from the locals who had been promised land from the government only for it too be taken from them after moving to Unuyi, all very confusing. Despite my smiley demeanour and approachable personality sometimes I really don’t want to talk to people and today was one of them days I avoided hostel news man at all costs eventually hurrying out of the door of the hostel to explore Unuyi in the light of day.
My first impressions were that of complete contrast to all the other countries we’d visited, this was how I expected much of South America, run down old towns with people wearing traditional dress and no organisation, Unuyi was the first town that delivered on the somewhat stereotypical view of mine. Anyway Jack and I walked the streets with the aim of finding a day excursion to the salt flats, Unuyi being one of the salt flats excursion hubs so you must be thinking “Ross, why did it take all day to find a trip that almost every building in the town is there to provide” well read on……the same blockades that caused us to have an hour walk through a cold high altitude desert were also stopped excursions from leaving the town (we later find out that they were also stopping excursions coming back in) anyway we found a company that would do the trip and promised us that should we not get to the salt flats that we would not be charged, this seemed reasonable. We had some food whilst listening to some live music and went back to the hostel.
Internet coverage in this hostel was particularly bad so Jack and I were confined to sitting at the top of the stairs which as you can imagine was a bit of a thoroughfare, it was only a matter of time until the font of all local knowledge showed up, local news guy……it happened….he was with a Dutch guy and news guy shared the Dutch guys life story with us and then went on to tell us about all the horror stories he’d heard about people trying to leave the town, after all this nonsense eventually got to names and locations of where we live. We told him we were from Watford and a flicker of recognition appeared in his eye, Watford you say….how old are you? We knew people in common, not just in passing but this man had met my brother!! He was one of my brothers ex girlfriends Dad. Well it was all very surreal! The end, nah not really.
We’d planned an early night, but at around 10 o clock four Germans and a English girl entered our previously empty room much to our dismay. Germans, not known for their patience or reluctance to express disgust, were continuously moaning about what was admittedly a bad situation, but it was as if they felt personally aggrieved. Now wide awake Jack and I joined in telling them our story of how we made it to Unuyi….they wanted a drink we went out and found a building that was open and had a drink not sure we were even in a bar as right next to us there were two five year olds playing PlayStation. Jack got confused for a model by the Mancunian hippie, thankfully this was our last conversation with her BUT it was not the last time we spent with any of the Germans. I’m gonna profile them
Michael – talkative good at English and ironically aware of our hatred towards Germans
Ben – quiet good looking chap, but seemed like the kind of guy that would steal your bird if you went to the toilet
Michael 2 – most vocal about his disgust, had bed bugs earlier on his trip, was sure our hostel had bed bugs, quite moany in general.
I’ll try to keep their names as they are above for the remainder of the story…..
After two beers jack and I went to bed and were surprisingly not woken up by the Mancunian and Ben having sex the night before, we only knew because Ben was a dog and they were sharing a bed when we woke up.
Today was the day we were going to the Salt Flats….we hoped. Before we left we spoke to girl at our hostel who told us she couldn’t find a company to take her to a different city so she planned to walk, she wasn’t sure how far it was but she was just going to walk, we wished her luck then made our way to the meeting point. The 4×4 picked us up, it was me Jack and a Mild mannered Canadian man. The mild mannered Canadian man would soon change his tune in about 12 hours but we had a lot to experience before then….the first 15 minutes of our journey out of the town was plain sailing until we were set upon by about 5 young children who surrounded the car and then over the crest of a hill a rival 4×4 we tried driving off but the kids would hit the car with sticks and rocks. Our driver got out to speak to the rebels…..he got back in the car and turned around and followed the route back to the town….we were in convey with two other trips being shepparded back by the rival four by four but as soon as the rebel stopped following ……we went off route an experience that in other countries we may have paid for…..we were making good time through the desert but having to risk rougher and rougher terrain to avoid the protesters who patrolled roads and then eventually the inevitable happened one by one and in the space of ten metres each of the cars got stuck…..it was here that I saw the best and worse of human nature….
So, stuck in the desert there were three 4x4s all stuck in sand with apparently bald tyres. Everyone got out of their vehicles and assessed the situation, the verdict – it was bad. In some cases the tyres were half buried in the sand and any attempt to move was only making the situation worse. And it was here that I experienced the best of human nature….
The logic was to get the first car out the sand, so everyone went on a rock hunt, we were going to build a road. With almost 12 people looking for rocks and sticks and twigs etc it wasn’t long before we had a “road” in front of each wheel in the car and after many attempts and many people pushing cars in the middle of 30 degree heat one vehicle was free then after another 20 – 30 minutes the second car was free but the third car was proving more difficult another 30 minutes passed and we were no closer to getting the car out of what was rapidly becoming “sinking sand” and slowly but surely the will of the helpers was fading and quickly an elephant was forming in the room, mutterings of “well our cars free” ….and….”the people in that car weren’t really helping anyway” then it happened the passengers in car 1 slowly snuck off. Now I need to stress how much of a hinderance this was going to be for the efforts to release car number three. The first two cars took EVERYONE pushing to get free this was going to be a big ask, after an hour we did it “praise the lord (no religion necessary) it was done both cars were done and on their way to the famed salt flats, we caught up with the other car on the trip, they didn’t seem to be bothered.
I can confirm that The salt flats were both flat (you could see for miles) and salty (I licked the floor). After seeing what we were promised we got some obligatory pictures and headed back. It wasn’t underwhelming despite what my small description might make it out to be but remember we are talking about salt flats, what more did you expect apart from a very flat very salty landscape, on the day we visited it was kind of white ….also probably expected from the salty description, there were some “islands” where random cactus grow, the cactus were not flat (the were in fact categorically not flat) and neither were they salty (that’s an assumption I never licked them, a bunch of pricks stopped me) not like the bunch of pricks who wouldn’t let me out of the town of Unuyi, this was an actual bunch of pricks, if you’ve ever seen a cactus you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t seen a cactus, it looks a bit like a tree, except it’s smaller (although some of them were bigger) and they are green (but some were brown) and they were covered in spikes (but some of them were smooth) google it. If anyone corrects me about the plural of cactus fair play, can you proof read all the other posts and let me know what needs to be corrected?
Anyway, we left the salt flats and headed back to Unuyi. Anyone who is still reading this will know how difficult it was for us to get out of the town, well it was equally as difficult to get back in, we avoided the sentry points as best we could but inevitably we ran in to a group of protesters, they weren’t going to let us through until a Bolivian conversation erupted I can only imagine it went like this –
Driver: let us through
P: still no
D: I’ll do anything
*a porn film might have gone a bit differently but this wasn’t that
Protester: hmmm I would like to keep our fire going it gets cold at night could we have one of your passengers to burn
D: still no, BUT I do have a spare tyre you can have that
P: oh yeah that works
We gave him a tyre and continued back to the town. Forgive me for judging this protester but the fact he sold his principles for a tyre leads me to believe that his heart wasn’t really in it for the cause and more just for something to do because he was bored and it pisses people off.
Anyway 10 minutes later and very close to the town, we were stopped again….we didn’t have anymore spare tyres. We did have a secret weapon.
For those avid readers amongst you, I know you all be thinking “you told me about a mild mannered Canadian man earlier in the post” he was getting increasingly less mild mannered throughout this journey, he was Canadian as I’ve mentioned and notoriously they don’t get angry just irritated. The source of his irritation was his baggage which he had left in the building that the tour left from, the man working in said building said he would be leaving at six, it was five past six already…..he was irritated.
Anyway back to the timeline, we’d been stopped and this conversation wasn’t going as swimmingly as the previous one, up steps Canadian Dave, and the best Spanish since “donde esta el hombre” Canadian Dave come out with this beauty “hey, hey, es problemo” *points at watch* “grande problems, jack tell them there’s a problem” Jack replied after some hesitant laughter “I think you got the point across” well would you believe it the Bolivian Protester was so concerned about Canadian Dave’s big problem that he waved us through. So we made it back to the building at half six, Jack and I were half hoping we’d find the building locked and see how many Spanish adjectives for “big” Dave could find, alas it wasn’t to be as the boss had stayed behind and Dave got his rucksack…..
Jack and I decided that the next day we were going to try to escape Unuyi even if it meant crossing the desert in blistering heat like the girl who hadn’t returned from earlier that day. So the next day we woke and got in a taxi and asked him to take us to the road block….this was our first mistake but thankfully Jack and I weren’t the one who paid for our mistake.
The plan after Chile was to head back in to Argentina, to Mendoza.
The wine region, Jack and I were back in Argentina and almost back on the “the gringo trail” and you could tell, we were bumping in to more and more Brits
Jack and I booked ourselves on to a wine tasting tour where we’d visit a few locations and try some delicious Argentine Malbec, it was very backpacky but to disrupt that theme we booked in to a luxurious air bnb, for the expensive total of 25 pound a night.
We turned up for our wine trip and there was about 10 on our bus, we were given the history of the area and after about 39 minutes we were at our first farm, we sampled the products, not just wine but olive oil as well….who knew. Walking around our second farm our guide was much more chatty and started asking where we are from and things like that and when a boy and a girl in our group said “London” jack and I laughed out loud, thinking what are the chances of running to people from London. We struck up conversation where abouts in London “north west” ahhh shit no way, same, where abouts “Watford” ahhhh shit no way same, where about “well actually it’s bushey” ahhhhhh shit, same (jack said) where abouts and it turned out she lived near the Avenue. Buoyed by our new found friendship we chatted all the way to the third location essentially just name dropping mutual friends was about as far as the conversation got.
At the next location we met another wine tasting group full of young English guys, we got talking and it turns out they were from London too, like previous boys we’d met on our trip (think back to Ihle Grande) it turns out these were part of the Jewish community. We got talking to them about football, Tottenham fans, shock I know…… and we exchanged numbers and agreed to meet later that night. The rest of the wine tasting was uneventful, we purchased a bottle of expensive (looking) red wine and went back to our Air BnB.
At the air BnB we cooked a lovely pasta meal and cracked open the bottom of red. Our night was interrupted by the buzzing of the phone where our new found friend was trying to get us out.
Had a night out with them after finally finding them (Mendoza is like a maze) then went back to our apartment as once again we had a very early coach to catch which is becoming a trend. In the morning we went to the coach station thankfully preparing for one of our shorter coach trips only 14 hours…..if I’m honest I can barely remember the coach trips but this one stood out, Jack and I upgraded to VIP which meant we got free wine and on top of that we played bingo on the bus with the winner getting a bottle of wine and guess who won…..ME. Jack and I got very drunk before falling asleep on the long journey.
Salta was a lovely city, Jack and I walked around for a bit and interrupted what seemed like a fairly raucous protest, or football march, or band march just something that made a lot of noise neither mine or Jacks Spanish was advanced enough to work out what they were actually saying. We stopped off and got some lunch and were FaceTimed by the guys, they seemed in errr somewhat “fun” state of mind and after our chat with them we went back to our hostel. We were only going to be in Salta for two nights then we had a 7 o clock coach journey. Salta was only supposed to be a stop off, just break up the journey of Mendoza to Bolivia and the first night went to plan, we had one or two beers on the roof top and went to bed. The second day followed the the pattern of the first and we wandered around aimlessly just trying to spend zero money…..as evening approached our plans of a quiet nice were slowly being replaced, the hostel were having a night on the roof and everyone was going and Jack and I refused numerous times but were slowly turning in to the killjoys…..I went out and bought some beers and agreed we would stay out until everyone left to go out in to the town, the beers I bought were obviously too much for me and Jack because it got to the time when people were leaving and we couldn’t resist. We went out and had a mutual agreement to come home at 1……We didn’t……We went out till very late and regretted it deeply when we had to make our 7 o clock bus ride, it was a good night and it was made all worth while when We both conked out on the front seat and slept until the Bolivian border.
The Bolivian border, OH EM GEE, my final country (you’ll be pleased to know) uhhh Bolivia that’s where the fun started and I think if I’m honest the reason I’ve been determined to finish this story, that same “determination” which lead to this taking more than a year to finish this blog. The Bolivian border set the tone for the whole country, or at least my experience of the country, this border crossing was the WORST border crossing….I wish I could draw a diagram to explain.
The border which took about 3 hours to cross, was not so much a border just a queue from one country in to the next. Once we crossed we got in to a little mini bus and told them to take us to the town. The mini bus was small, but not as small as the the town we arrived in. In the town we bought our bus ticket and went and bought some food from someone’s front room.
After we left the very small town we started our journey to Uyuni. We waited an hour and then boarded, the bus smelt of wet dog, then more people boarded. Jack and I were head counting and thinking we’d be leaving soon because of, you know, bus capacity but that is not how things work in Bolivia it transpires. More people were boarding and before we knew it people were sitting on our feet and on the floor in the aisle, it was like the trains in Delhi all over again.
Jack and I securely in our seat, we finally set off feeling ever so slightly bad for those sitting on the floor for the next 8 hours but little did we know that we would all suffer, eventually. We’d been prepared for a bumpy road and Bolivia is notorious for bad roads and drunk drivers, when the sun set it seemed to bring about the all these hazards in one go and after a few hours of driving in the dark and fearing for our lives at every turn the speed slowed and before long we had stopped. Jack tuned his Spanish ear just in time to hear the bus driver telling us to get off. Confused because we were only 4 hours in to our 8 hour journey, jack and I, being British, naturally done what we were told without question. Once the bus was empty we started speaking to the Colombian floor sitters (not a gang, just the guys sitting in the aisle) and they informed us that the bus had a puncture. We waited around in the cold night and waited for the drunk driver-cum-mechanic to change the tyre. Not at all worried that this drunk man just changed our bus’ tyre with still 4 hours left of an already perilous journey, we boarded the bus and continued our journey to Unuyi but unfortunately …..us and the bus never made it to Unuyi but I am still here to finish this story so don’t worry. And I will finish the journey and the story next time.
There was a lot of travel on this post and not many pictures…..which is never fun.
We’d booked our penguin tour the next day, which meant a day trip out with other people. Those people turned out to be Jon and Sophie and to be honest, I tried to rack my brains about the notes I’d written and I don’t remember much, I remember them being nice and I remember being squashed in a car with them. We went to the penguin sanctuary, first in the penguin museum then to see them in the flesh. What I liked most was how many penguins there were, there were literally 1000s of them and we could walk right up them I could reach out and touch one (but we weren’t allowed 😦 )
we watched them for ages they were so entertaining. Then we made our way back to the car after a few hours. Jon and Sophie followed us back shortly after. What made this trip even better was the knowledge that our driver had, he knew all about animals and birds and all sorts. On the way back to Puerto Madryn we stopped and looked at some elephant seals unfortunately the big ones were at sea but we still got up close and personal with some very lazy seals and it was still all very fun.
We got back had a beer with Jon and Sophie then went to bed as we had yet another coach journey in the morning this time for a stop in Bariloche.
Bariloche was our last stop in Argentina, at least for about a weeks time when we went back in Argentina. Anyway we wasn’t there long we had intentions to do a bit of a hike in Bariloche but we didn’t. Bariloche is very German, that’s the best way to describe it it’s almost like an alpine Bavarian village.
Our hostel was like a war zone, first we spoke to a establishment hating Asian man, who in different circumstances would probably not be allowed to walk the streets, to give you a back story Bariloche harboured a number of Nazi’s who fled Germany during the end of the World War 2 and this guy may well have been fleeing some sort of war as well. His views were questionable at best and he was from North London. Nuff said.
As if we hadn’t had enough questionable views the lady who worked at our hostel Mira had Ill feelings towards isrealis. When I say Ill feelings it was prompted by Jack and I, who asked who the worst people to host are, she ranted for 10-15 minutes about how rude a lot of isrealis are when they come to the hostel she would say it was easier to put them in a room by themselves than make them share with other non isrealis, very strong views for someone who lives in Bariloche.
That night we went out for a drink in a local establishment we got very drunk despite having another coach journey the next day . During the night we got speaking to Miguel the Argentinian.
What do two englishmen and an argie talk about when we get drunk….the Falklands. Obviously we weren’t born but we know enough about it to hold a conversation but what we didn’t know is how to have that conversation in Spanish and what Miguel didn’t know was to have that conversation in English. What ensued was a very broken English/Spanish conversation about a war we weren’t alive for. It all ended amicably and it turned out to be a great night. We woke up the next day and then made our way to Chile.
Our first stop in Chile was the Adventure capital Pucon, it was like Cuffley Camp on steroids, think of an extreme sport and they offer it here. Jack’s reason for stopping here was to climb a Volcano (Villarrica Volcano) I was less inclined to do this but after listening in to the salesperson I was sold, Jack and I the next morning were going to climb a Volcano.
We got an early night as we had an early start. Climbing this Volcano was not straight forward, if the weather turns you can’t do it, if you get to base camp and the weather turns you have to turn back of the Volcano goes off…..well I’ll explain that in a bit. Jack and I set off to the meeting point where there were two guides, a lady of 61 (Patricia) and a couple of other younger dudes. I had not signed up for a Hike, I had not come dressed for a hike but we were going on a hike! We even had back packs and ice shoes, I’ve never felt more cool. The drive from the town was about twenty minutes and on the minibus there was a tangible air of excitement. We arrived at our destination and got kitted up, Ross “bare grills” Tunnicliffe was ready for action. Our two guides talked us through the ascent it sounded ok and we had Patricia with us if anyone was going to give up surely it would be Patricia.
The first task was to get on the chair lift, no bar across your lap and no safety harness to stop you dropping 20 metres on to a Rocky mountainside but…this is the adventure capital of Chile so who needed that. After the chair lift they reckoned it was a few hours hike from here…..I should have learned, I was already knocking off the minutes thinking We’d do it in an hour or so. After an hour we stopped the guides told us that we were halfway. This was not so bad, but this is where we had to change to the ice boots. It was going to get a lot steeper and a lot more difficult from here, I scoffed, Patricia hadn’t even broken a sweat. We had our midway break then began, slowly my buoyant mood started to dissolve each step burned my legs, one of the guides had taken the burden of Patricia’s back pack and the only talk was to warn one another of the cascading rocks which would occasionally fall from above.
The guides would occasionally ask Patricia if she wanted a break, she stubbornly refused, my legs were screaming (it was at this point that I realised this must be what Edmund Hillary felt like when he scaled Everest) we had a number of scheduled breaks and then we were at the top, I wanted to cry but we made it. According to the guides we had a fantastic day for it there was barely a cloud in the sky and the Volcano was bubbling away despite being high up a snow capped mountain the heat when looking over the top was nigh on unbearable. For a guy who initially didn’t want to do this excursion I had to eat my hat, one of the best experiences of the whole trip despite all the hard work it took of getting to the top.
Now the fun bit, the sledge to the bottom ….we’d each been given a bumsledge and the instruction to follow the person in front, despite being no end of fun this was arguably more dangerous than the hike, there was no way of controlling the sledge and the only advice you were given was of you lose control whack your ice pick in the snow and try to hold on. This did not work but that kind of made it more fun and no one died on the way to the bottom hooray. We went down and had booked ourselves in for a sauna later that night, we deserved it.
Walking around the town you would occasionally hear a siren so at the hostel we asked what it represented and it was a three way warning alarm to warn of dangers in the town here is what we were told “one siren, this means a small emergency, maybe a small fire, two sirens and this more serious and you need to be aware of where you are, three sirens and you need to evacuate to high ground, but the whole of pucon is evacuating and smoke and lava will move faster than your traffic so if three sirens go off, you sit round the table with your family open your best bottle of red and wait” I stayed awake that whole night listening for the three sirens.
It was a short trip in Pucon but a diversion I’m hugely glad we took, after Pucon we made our to Santiago for a couple of nights. I thought it was a great city, we took in some rap battles, a massive football match which lead to a city wide party, karaoke and in our hostel there was a guy who didn’t stop playing Grand Theft Auto so you could say it was a mixed bag but good none the less. I was going to go in to a bit more detail of the city wide tour we took but I’m further behind than I need to be so I won’t. One of the nights out found us in a bar talking to two Yanks and a Brit, standard conversation the two yanks hated trump and the Brit was a remainer. The Brit had a very bad habit of mentioning his girlfriend more than was neccessary and coupled with his extremely camp approach lead Jack and I to come to the conclusion that he was Gay, not that this was in any way a problem just an observation that he may well have been over compensating.
After Santiago we made a short trip to Valparaiso a hilly coastal town in Chile. Despite being incredibly difficult to walk around the town itself was very quaint. Again I’m going to avoid detail here but aside from some mindfulness on the beach, my highlight was when a lady (let’s say of Patricia’s age) took a shining to Jack in a bar they were most forthcoming and her and her friend sat with us. We had a conversation in Spanish, I literally had no idea was going on I could tell they were being vulgar because occasionally a loud cigarette fuelled laugh would fill the air….that wasn’t the highlight….I know I know you’re thinking how can that not be the highlight, well the highlight cane when a homeless man started talking to Jack and I, one of the women kindly told the man that we didn’t speak good Spanish, the man then took offence and proceeded to SPIT at the woman and with that the waiter came out the bar and kicked the man up the bum and half way up the street, the man got up and started walking towards the waiter and a fight broke out which the waiter clearly won…..then minutes later the homeless man came running back down the street shouting what I can only imagine were obscenities…..so that was the highlight.
We woke up the next morning, early so we could catch the coach and it was decided that there was nothing in El Chalten for us apart from Mount Fitztoy, serious hikers we are not, we would only stay a night then get a coach back the next day to give ourselves an extra day in Calafate to give Jack a chance to find someone to fix his phone. That was the plan
Whilst waiting for our coach, Chinese Rob, I told you he would make another appearance, appeared talking to people who were clearly too polite to tell him to go away he was helpfully giving people money saving tips and generally talking about subjects that people don’t want to discuss with total strangers at 7 o clock in the morning, as fate would have it he was on our coach. Oh and by the way it was Jacks birthday, the way he acted you’d never have known it.
We arrived in El Chalten where “all their water is drinkable” that’s literally the strapline and I took that literally so if I saw water….. I drank it, streams, rivers, taps, whatever, if it was wet it went down my throat. Anyway due to time constraints we had to climb Mount Fitz roy that day. To give you a picture The summit of Mount Fitz Roy can be reached by many different routes of varying lengths and difficulty some of which even include camping over night (do I need to say this is not the route we chose) Jack and I decided to take the mid length day route which meant taking a car for about 30-45 mins to a random path in the middle of nowhere and a driver pointing to path leading in to thick bushes.
Before I take you on the trek with us there was a noteworthy spot whilst driving through the rugged wilderness. Do you all remember Rob of two paragraphs ago, well his penny pinching ways had lead to what I can only imagine he was now seeing as a very bad idea, about 30 minutes out of town BY CAR and still 15-20 minutes away from any form of navigateable path leading to the summit Rob was there marching through the undergrowth alone. I wish I could help picture how arid and rugged deserted this area was, here is a picture to help but I have to stress the complete remoteness of this location
There was a route from the town to the peak of the trek…..this was not it. Surprisingly this was the last we ever saw of Rob, I do hope he made it but I cannot confirm. Maybe in years to come there will be rumours of weary travellers bumping in to a wise old oriental man on the path to Mount Fitz Roy who fills you with knowledge of money saving coupons and energy saving tips I’ll keep my eyes open for stories.
Anyway jumping back to the beginning of the route and the one person wide path leading in to the forest with no map no signal no camping equipment, and the only guidance I had was Jack telling where to point my camara as he had no phone we embarked on our first Hike, appropriately dressed.
So Jack and I had become real travellers we were on a hike, first of what turned out to be a few. The plan was to climb (walk but I’m using hiking terms) 1200 metres to take a peek at the peak of Mount Fitzroy, it was about 2 in the afternoon a good time for trekking. It was a clear day and we had about 6 or seven hours of sunlight remaining.
The start of the trek was flat and ran alongside a fast rushing river, that you’ll now …was drinkable so there was no fear of dehydration. A little while in to the walk, the path became a bit steeper but nothing to put us off, our path took us higher up than the river and it was now about twenty metres below off the side of the cliff. This was our first picture break, remembering that I was camara man due to jacks phone issues. Jack, as it turns out is a diva when it comes to pictures. Waiting for the right lighting, photos with wind breaker on, the wind breaker off, leg up on a log then the leg off the log….literally all sorts until I captured the right one. I hate the think what it would have been like should it have been sunset…..I might still be there snapping away.
We went a little further and our route plateu’d somewhat which by then was a bit of relief and this is when we first started seeing other people each of whom looked far more prepared for a hike than Jack and I that being said Jack and I continued unperturbed by our obvious misjudgement in cloice of clothes. A few water breaks and picture breaks we finally got our first glimpses of the glaciers (on this walk) and they were well worth the walk. The first one we saw wasn’t the one we were on route to see. A quick aside from the narrative, these glaciers were different from the other one I describe these are smaller but feed in to lake and are impressive for a different reason.
We carried on following the path as was our only choice and were running in to more and more people they would say things like “nearly there” “only two hours left” “the clouds are coming over” or the equivalent in Spanish. Jack and I had both noticed the clouds neither of us had decided to admit it though. See with Fitz Roy you climb to a viewing point then LOOK at the peak, I mean there are Edmund hillarys amongst us who will climb to the peak but I was happy to leave that the the professionals, and there was a chance that if the clouds come over then the peak of Fitz Roy would not be able to seen from the viewing platform. With every passing minute the chance of bad weather stopping play became an ever more realistic possibility….we stepped up the pace and hit “base camp” this is basically a semi permanent tented village where the residents only ever stay for a day or two, maybe to make one with nature, I don’t know, but this is a village where Jack and I would be shunned, no wind breakers, clothes that aren’t from north face, don’t own a compass and haven’t drunk our piss from a water purifier so we hurried through tent town avoiding any contact with anyone….come to think of it ….most of my trip to South America was based around avoiding people…..anyway we made it through there was a small break out area. We rested up, then the saga walking tour come bounding down a particularly steep hill, picture it now there were Nordic walking sticks, massive camaras, denchers but they passed by with only one or two looking like tonight could be their last.
Whilst waiting for the over 80s walking brigade to pass I noticed a sign 1km left (approximate time 1 hour) “one hour” I scoffed, confidently I said to Jack “Jack we are for young men, you saw those people that walked past, this sign is obviously meant for people like them….one kilometre will not take us one hour” I am going to spoil the cliffhanger but that sign was wrong, we smashed it, 54 minutes. 400 metre climb. Kudos to the heavens waiting room collective how they even got up there to this day I will not know. I was half expecting to see a queue for a stanna stair lift half way up.
We made it, we were at the top the clouds had come over but we got 5/10 minutes before the peak was completely covered but that didn’t matter too much as there was so much else to see. Blue water, bluer than anything I’ve ever seen, massive waterfalls lovely landscapes I loved it. And I had done it all in chuck bass sweater a pair of sparkly trainers and leg warmers. Jack was off risking his life for the perfect shot whilst I got the pleasure of picturing it. We stayed around for about an hour then started our descent it took around two hours to get back to the town.
As I mentioned it was Jacks birthday so we had a beer ready to sleep and get an early bus back to El Calafete to give us an extra day to sort Jacks phone out. The withdrawal symptoms started showing, I would sometimes see him staring endlessly at his phone, just the black screen, plugging the charger in and taking it out again He was a man lost.
When we got back to El Calafete we checked back in to a different hostel, one more central. Then we set about trying to fix Jacks phone. None of the phone shops were open….so Jack set about on his ritual of charging his phone and then “the apple logo” just appeared, he was visibly shaking his phone come to life, notifications came flooding in and It so much weight come off his shoulders I swear for a second he floated in mid air.
Buoyed by this good news Jack skipped to the bus station to book our trip to Puerto Madryn. We knew this was going to be a long coach journey it would take mental preparation. The trip would consist of a journey to the city of Rio Gallegos then waiting around for an hour or so then 18 hours to Puerto Madryn all in all long.
At the bus station there was a man also trying to book a trip, this man of around 50-60 looked like the guy from Curb your Enthusiasm he had a baseball cap on and was clearly disgruntled at the service he was receiving, not helped by the obvious language barrier. He would speak in slow loud English and the woman would reply in Spanish. Rather than get involved and help, Jack decided he would watch. Eventually after the conversion went back and forth and not making any progress the man revealed he could speak Spanish “DONDE ESTA EL HOMBRE” he wanted to speak to the boss and his basic understanding of the lingo allowed him to ask for “the man” sexist undertones aside this was just ridiculous and there was audible laughter from both Jack and I. We didn’t stick around to listen to the conclusion because angry American was one wrong response away from declaring war on Argentino autobuses.
We were booked on to our journey, we had good seats at least and Jacks phone was working, which was a good thing because he was quoted as saying “I’ll die if I have to do that journey without a phone”. The journey began and all that is to be said from the journey is that there is a whole lot of NOTHING in central Argentina, commonly referred to as the most remote places in the world…..I’m surprised we didn’t see Rob strolling through the plains for Argentina. I felt like I was on a film set passing the same slide over and over but eventually we arrived in Puerto Madryn…..we’d done some landscape viewing and now we were going to see some wildlife.
Jack and I arrived in Puerto Madryn and took a long hot walk through the town to find our hostel, it was perfect weather the warmest we’ve been for a while, we were going to drop our stuff off and then head down to the beach. The first part we successfully did, our stuff was dropped off in a lovely private room which consisted of a weird shaped bunk bed. The hostel itself gave you everything a traveller could want a sun trap garden, hammocks, garden furniture and an abundance of beer stealing French people, but we will get to that. Anyway, we dropped the stuff of and walked to the beach but it was as if the weather gods themselves were looking down on us, Jack and I approached the beach and as we the clouds gathered above just like at the summit of the Mouth Fitz Roy trek and the closer we got to the sands of Puerto Madryn the darker those clouds got. By the time we stepped foot on the golden canvass we felt the first drop of rain, and that was that we marched back to the hostel to take cover and wait for the rain to pass by. Unfortunately the rain didn’t stop until the next day but that didn’t mean our day was wasted. Puerto Madryn is famous for lots of different reasons but it’s a great place to view wildlife so Jack I decided what animals we’d like to see most.
It was a tactical decision but the plan was that after a nights sleep we would rent bikes in the morning, to go visit some sea lions then the following day take an organised trip to walk amongst Penguins and elephant seals. When we woke the following morning we had our normal breakfast of bread and butter, then went to rent some bikes. Neither of us are Lance Armstrong and so we knew it would a struggle I mean we barely even knew the way, but we just had to “follow the coast” which it turns out is harder than it sounds. More challenging than the hills, was the terrain it turns out that mountain bikes might be good for mountains they are not good for gravel, every pedal stroke would get you about 1 metre it wasn’t very efficient but what we found much more efficient was cycling on the road which was about 10 metres on our right which we finally discovered after choosing the wrong track for an undesirable amount of time. We arrived at the Sea Lion viewing point a few hours after leaving the town. We viewed those Sea Lions he’d and which it turns out are much louder than I expected, I imagine they were huge as well but we were fairly far away.
I think what’s good to point out now is, effectively the sea lions were half way (because we had to return) and we had drunk more than half our water…..problem…..our resolution…..drive faster home. We rode hard but it was so hot and the route was baron to say the least so on the journey back I became so dehydrated and there was zero shade, like seriously none. I mean picture the Sahara desert, now picture it drier and being yourself being on a bike, that was the situation we were in. By the time we got back to the town I had a banging headache we had to stop at a bar, a beer and a Coke did the trick I was back to being alive. I’m not sure Jack had ever done that much exercise but he was fairing up better than me. On the way back to the hostel we picked up a few bits to eat and a couple of beers which we stored in the communal fridge until later than evening.
Later than evening we went to get the beers walking through a group of French guys and girls, I opened the fridge and Jacks drinks were there almost freezing to touch and looking almost as appetising as that drink earlier after the bike ride so I looked in the fridge in eager anticipation and then I was brought crashing down when my bottle was gone, I was lower than the sea lions belly to the floor and then I heard over the giggling and frenchness “x cues meh ees diss urs” he was holding my bottle, open, the cool condensation dripping on the his thieving French hand. He apologised and thought that offering his warm unfridged beer would compensate for the crushing disappointment I suffered when I discovered that the beer I had been looking forward to for a couple of hours was being enjoyed by someone else not least this greasy frog. Needless to say I took his beer and then enjoyed a somewhat warmer than I’d hoped for beer.
If you remember, we’d come home from our day trip Uruguay on the last update.
After sleeping off the Uruguayian in us the next day we woke up excited for the day we had planned. Our good friend Cristian was going to take us on a tour of the wonderful metropolis of Buenos Aires. What struck me about BA was the size of the city, I’m so used to London being a relatively small city and being able to walk round it within a day and this was nothing like that. BA is so big, even with a full day Cristian was only able to show us a few things. Our first stop was the Area of Boca home of famous football team Boca Juniors. Boca as an area is quite eccentric multi-coloured houses and many people dressed up in traditional tango outfits. After an empanada, we decided that we would tour the stadium, not before a local forced Cristian in to paying him to “watch” his car. Cristian later told us if he didn’t pay the guy probably would have just bashed up his car anyway, with that knowledge we decided to split the bill with Cristian then made our way to the stadium “the chocolate box” or to us Spanish speakers “La Bombonera”
I was excited it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do, it would have been better had there been a game on but nonetheless i wanted to see the ground and the museum and just take it all in. The football ground didn’t disappoint, as to be expected it was decked out with blue and yellow everywhere, very bold. The ground itself is old with a lot of the structure still wooden but we had a guide take us round, visited the home and away changing rooms the home one having all the modern conveniences fridges jacuzzi comfortable seats in vast contrast to the away changing room which would not be out of place down the brookdene. The visit to the stadium was playing havoc with one of our group. Cristian is a fan of a different (lesser known) BA team…..San Lorenzo. Anyone would have thought Cristian would burst in to flames if he touched anything in the stadium judging by the way he cautiously walked around. -footnote: Cristian asked me to make it clear to anyone reading this that he did NOT enjoy the tour he is still loyal to San Lorenzo.
After the tour we exited the stadium on to a street with a lovely restaurant where Leo Messi was their mascot so the boys all had a picture with the mascot pretending it was me….all very funny modern day comedians!
We returned to the car to find it in good condition not smashed windows or missing tyres, Cristian pointed out an area we shouldn’t go to, you know, just to fill you with confidence about the city he then took us to a busier more like the cities of Europe we know and love, we took in the sights palaces, parliament, nice buildings just checking boxes ensuring we really were tourists. Had some traditional Argentinian lunch then said our goodbyes to Cristian but it wasn’t the end of our budding friendship as him and his girlfriend at the time Sabrina were planning on taking us out that night and we couldn’t wait.
We went to a tango dance class in a bar, most of us were up for getting involved one person chose to sit out and look like a misery, however he had the last laugh by the end of the night. The first task was to learn the first seven steps of the tango, for me, the most coordinated person in the group this was easy for the others it was not between Alex and Jack there were 4 left feet. Due to poor performance no one else wanted to partner them so they ended up partnering each other and come to think of it that was probably all part of the plan. The dancing ceased and we sat down to have a drink with Sabrina, Cristian, Jon, Alex and Jack the tipple of choice was a fantastic Chilean red, so delicious that it would be sacrilege to spill but a drop…..the conversation turned to Marvel films and at this point most non fans would know to shut up but not Alex he voiced his dislike of the films and that was it, I’d had it. I picked up a glass and threw the red wine all over Alex, staining his white cotton shirt “take that back” I screamed, holding back tears. Alex bold as anything said “you ruined my shirt” like that matters in the grand scheme of things. Alex only looked like he’d been stabbed in the heart but his heinous opinions actually stabbed me in the heart. It was the only time on any of the trip I considered my friendships with any of my comrades unlike Jon who likely questions it every day.
The night was not finished after tango though and Jon Alex and I headed off to another bar, a very odd bar, so odd that I can’t remember why it was so odd but let it be known that there is an odd bar in recoleta and I think other people enjoyed it more than me and my friends.
The next morning it was time to bid farewell to Jon and to Alex which we did in a manly way.
We went to the airport got on our three hour flight down to Patagonia where Jack and I finally became backpackers…..for a while then went back to being holiday makers.
Due to my notes not being as thorough as I’d like I’m probably going to mention now that Alex and Jack both got the back pack back just in time wear clean clothes for the final night in Buenos Aires.
To sum up the holiday with the guys it was really good to have them there despite them tempting to spend much more money than I’d hoped for in the same time but it was still well worth it even though no one would come to see Harry Potter with me at the cinema and at the time of writing I still haven’t seen it, so I’ll forever hold a grudge about that.
The numbers of participants on the trip had largely reduced we’d started with five and now we were two, we’d been on three hour flight and arrived in calafate.
We took a taxi to our hostel and were shown to our room. At first it looked like good news, we were alone in a six person dorm, then all of a sudden a French woman walked in, not only was she dirty looking she smelt as bad as she looked. Jack and I were not impressed but as all good travellers do we got on with it. In calafate the main attraction is the “Perito Moreno” glacier the fastest moving glacier in the world. We booked our trip for the following day and decided we wouldn’t socialise with the other hostel dwellers. The main reason for this was we were off the “gringo trail” these people here were proper travellers think Ben from Inbetweeners 2, Jack and I would have been treated as second class citizens because we hadn’t spent a week in a tent with nothing but a bottle of water and a stick, in fact we were the opposite of these people we didn’t even have hiking boots. After a joint effort in the kitchen Jack and I put together a wonderful meal finished it off and went to bed. Frenchie was not in the room at this point deciding instead to party on downstairs at around one o clock in the morning she barged in the room, and in her defence didn’t turn the light on like some people do, she then proceeded to get naked and get in her bed completely oblivious to the fact that she just woke us up. We woke up in the morning and to our relief she was covered by her blanket but the blanket was not smell proof, the lady kept us up most the night with a chorus of snoring, burping and farting. She can do what she pleases in reality but I’m just doing these updates to tell you my experience, and this experience was the faint smell of a French person whilst eating my breakfast. Glad to be leaving for the day we got on the coach to go the glacier, not only do we have to pay for bus but also to get in to the national park. Perhaps my scepticism gets the better of me here but it felt like the people only stopped the coaches and cars were getting through no problem so my advice if anyone goes is get four of you together and rent a car and go up there I have a feeling that you might get in for free.
Taking the bad experience of Patagonia so far in to account, seeing this Glacier was worth it. I would have even shared the room with Frenchie for a week just to see it. I was always under the impression that glaciers would be cold, obviously the glacier itself is cold but We were pleasantly surprised when we were walking round in glorious 20 degree heat. The glacier is massive and we got a lot closer to it that I thought we would. We watching it on the balcony for ages joining in with the plethora of “oooohs” and “Ahhhh” and cheering when chunks of Ice bigger than buses were crashing in the water from 30-40 metres high sending a wave of icy water to the shore it was most impressive and definitely one of my favourite excursions of the trip. You can walk round kilometres of balcony taking in different angles of the lake and glacier and get loads of cool pictures, loved it.
Honestly I can’t do this glacier enough justice, if you find yourself in South America go to this place!
I went back to the hostel that night very content, and not even a unwashed French Lady could dampen my spirits. I’d like to put a bit of a disclaimer here – the French lady was nice and pleasant just had seemingly bad hygiene issues which in close quarters with people you don’t know isn’t a great way to behave in my opinion but someone from France might see it differently who knows.
The next day we went to the bus shelter and booked our ticket to El Chalten this is where would embark on our trek up Mount Fitzroy we had two nights planned there, at the bus station there was a man who was clearly Chinese but had learnt English with an American tutor he was also booking a ticket to El Chalten and was willing to tell anyone about it, it turns out his name was Robert…..this isn’t the last you’ll hear of Robert. Later that day whilst sitting in the hostel after booking our coach Jack decided his phone was broke, it wouldn’t charge it wouldn’t turn on so like a backpacker from the early 2000’s Jack took to hostels desktop and stayed there for the rest of the night, I thought he was pulling an all nighter on Msn, but in all honesty I would have been the same anything to get out of interacting with Frenchie!
Everything on the trip was running smoothly, a little too smoothly if you ask me. I was proven right on arrival in Buenos Aires. We went to collect our luggage, mine came through, Jons came through then after a while it was becoming quite clear that there was an issue. A large proportion of the plane didn’t have their luggage and to top it off there was a complete lack of staff at the airport, after about 10 minutes the baggage-less crowd started to become restless
So there we were, at the airport, Jack and Alex had joined the locals in a collective clapping, this it seems was some sort of protest. The bags hadn’t arrived and from the broken English explanation it seemed that they had stayed on the plane which was now on route to Costa Rica, return date unknown. I mean it was entertaining to see how the stereotypically quick to anger Latinos were in dealing with such a stressful situation and it turns out they were not very calm. I think it’s safe to say, we were all thankful it wasn’t Jon’s bag because if it was it would have been a call to the embassy and a bomb threat to ensure the plane turned around.
Jon and I went ahead and found the air Bnb on Calle Uruguay. Jon and I claimed what Jon described as “the good beds” (remember the hammock) and then Jack and Alex turned up with no clothes other than the clothes they were standing in. Jon and I did the polite thing and offered our clothes but there was some technical difficulties with that.
Buenos Aires out of all the places we visited was the most “European” of all destinations. It’s famed for its food so we decided to check out some fine dining, as we were assured it cheap. Listening to the unfounded claims of the English that South America is full of crime and con artists, we all left the house with nothing but the money we needed for the meal. This, it’s turns out, was a mistake. We sat down for a “steak meal” then the menus come round and we realised one by one that we definitely hadn’t brought enough money with us. It was at that point that Alex revealed his secret…..he was harbouring a debit card….. Our savour, this piece of plastic was the sole reason we are all back in England and not working off a bill in the kitchens of Argentinas top restaurants. So Alex paid the bill 35 pound each, and our most expensive meal of the trip, and we headed home bellys full and wallets empty, or at least Alex wallet was empty.
We were staying in the Recoleta region of Buenos Aires which is famous for a cemetery (see below for a lovely picture of Alex in the Cemetery) a massive cemetery. And like a place with nothing else to offer Recoleta sells this cemetery as a tourist destination. That being said it’s free to enter and frigging massive so worth the visit it’s even the death home to famous Argentinian singer Gloria Estefan. We spent a day paying our respects and exploring the cemetery, very weird.
We hadn’t been on a proper night out according to Jon in a long time. So naturally that night, to appease him, we planned a big night. We got some food, got some drinks and was just about to go out when we discovered we had a smart TV. This meant one thing, night cancelled and a big old Netflix and chill night. We watched a few classic episodes of fawlty towers and then found that the night had run away from us. Jon was most disappointed, but being the considerate one in the group I didn’t even want to watch Netflix but knew the guys had been wearing the same clothes for two days and so the last thing they wanted was a night out. Not only am I the considerate one but I’m also the scapegoat and I let Jon tell me off for putting Netflix on. We fell asleep and to make up for it, in the morning I made breakfast.
I was in the shower when the boys started talking about the best breakfast they’ve had in two weeks, they thought I didn’t hear and I was too humble to tell them at the time. I made em the breakfast because I knew we had a big day in front of us, we were going to leave Argentina, have a day out and then return to Argentina. The uber was ordered and we started our day trip to Uruguay….celebrities, alcohol and school kids all in one day….
It took us about 20 minutes to get to the port and it made me appreciate how big Buenos Aires is. We had only really explored one region, Recoleta. The boarding process was fun, stamped out of one country in to another then on board the ship. I thought it would be at this point that I fell ill with a bad case of seasickness but thanks to the relatively smooth journey I avoided it.
We arrived in Uruguay in to the colonial town of Colonia, it all looked very quant with the European style white buildings and very much like Paraty, for those avid readers who’ve read previous installments (shame on you for those that haven’t). After a short walk through the streets of Uruguay we hit the central hub of Colonia, despite being very picturesque (or selfie-esq for Alex and Jack) there wasn’t a great deal to actually do. When we are put in a situation like that we do what any self respecting traveller does, find the tallest building in the town and climb up it. It was Fero de Colonia Del Sacramento, or a lighthouse. We went to the top and naturally got some fantastic panoramic views of the town then left.
Now I’m going to mention that on our boat and on the walk in to the town we were being suspiciously followed by an Amy Winehouse lookalike and now my description won’t do her justice for how much she resembled the late singer but she even had the “I’ve just been an injected myself” look we all grew to love during the popstars glory years.
After the lighthouse we went for some lunch where I made a terrible choice in food and ended up with about 2 raviolis on my plate, but lunch became notable for two reasons aside from the lack of food on my plate. Jon started Drinking, footnote lunch is an acceptable time to start drinking only if your drinking with one or more others, Jon was drinking alone, and the notable situation we decided that Amy Winehouse plus one was definitely following us and it seemed as though she’d had more to drink that Jon even this early in the afternoon. She really was AW reincarnate.
We ditched AW in an attempt see if she truly was following us so we went to a bar and sure enough some way down pint numero uno (yeah one incorporates Spanish and what) and numero 5 or 6 for Jon, Amy turned up in the bar but by now she was starting to creep us all out with her “dead-behind-the-eyes” stare so we made another futile effort so lose her. We headed to the beach for a sunset, you could sense the excitement in Jack he positively bounced to the beach with Alex at his toes. Jon and I stayed in the bar but by now Jon was all but incomprehensible and he started acting peculiar and out of character. He got up and said “I’m going for a selfie” I was at a loss, I didn’t know what to do so I let him leave his corona at the table and go and make a selfie with the corona in the sky. Helios truly had taken Jon, when it came for time to leave Jon was nowhere to be found. The sun had set and we had 10 minutes to get back to the boat we searched the seafront and eventually found Jon clutching his camara at arms length taking selfies with the black sky as his back drop.
Once we dragged Jon out of the land of the pixels we made our way back to the boat and made it with just enough time before we set sail. Due to our late arrival we were seated separately Jack and Alex sitting next to a lovely German couple with who they discussed, at length, the war. Jon and I sat amongst a school trip of about 20 students, to my delight they were just about young enough and only had a basic understanding of English to appreciate my child like humour and I spent the hour on the journey home providing light entertainment for them all
I’ve succeeded in making this one a bit shorter ….that does mean there will be about 6 or 7 parts to this blog
We made our way from Rio de Janeiro to an island down the coast Ihla Grande. We assumed the scamming and general attempts to bleed us dry would be over once we left the city, we were wrong. We got off the coach and were frog marched to the “coach companies” water taxi. Conned in to believing it was the same company by some poorly made T-Shirts the pleasant worker assured us that there were only two options to get to the island, fast and slow. Being the impatient 5 guys that we are we opted for the fast ship and decided that the five extra reals was worth it. After greedily counting our cash the worker took us to the seafront and showed us where our ship would leave from (in one hour). We paid 75 (reals) for a return voyage on the fast ship (they called it the fast ship so often that I am fairly sure that was the name of the vessel) then on route to the seafront we were bombarded with the offers of return journeys for 40 reals almost half the price!!! Boy did we feel duped. We knew we’d been had but we’d just completed our first lengthy coach journey and no one, including Alex, could be bothered to complain so we just sat and waited in the glorious sunshine.
We docked in Abraão, the capital of Ihla Grande and made our way to our home for the next few nights. Hostal Biergarten. We were told that for the first night that one of us would need to sleep in a room with 5 South American girls, and that after the first night we could all bunk together. I’m not hear to point fingers, but after someone creepily volunteered to share with the girls we decided as a group to put the most sensible and least creepy person in their room, me. It turned out well for me as the others had to quietly, tip-toe around the room as there was a sleeping couple on the bed.
Ordinarily a hostel room by yourself is the ultimate goal of a backpacker but NOT when the Wifi range was about a foot away from the router, so instead, we all gathered in the common area to update social media to enhance our own self worth as we competed for number of likes on an Instagram picture.
Whilst sitting in the common area our hostal worker came around and gave us a few tips on the island and let us know that there was a party later that night and anyone who is anyone is going to be there. We explained that for now we just wanted to relax and so we headed to the beach. It was the first time on the trip that we could lie on the beach and not worry about our belongings or about being harassed by angry drunk men or people selling things no one needs, it was great and the weather was fantastic all in all it finally felt like the vacation had started.
We noticed that there was another group of boys on the beach who we decided were English, and even more specifically we decided they looked Jewish (there is relevance, it just comes later on in the story). We had something to eat and returned to our hostal and started getting ready for our night out . I introduced myself to the Peruvian ladies I was sharing with and I assume the others introduced themselves to the sleeping couple as later that evening we all become good friends. I delicately explained, to my friends, that one of the Peruvians had an obvious ailment and Grant had a horrific reaction and let’s just say the Peruvians didn’t speak a world of English but I’m fairly sure booming laughter is universal, needless to say the Peruvians tarred me with the same brush as Grant and for that reason I could not return to the room until they were all in bed. The night was upon us and we headed to the party.
At the party it was all a bit of a blur, Jon made friends with some Brummies, We all made friends with Cristian and Sabrina, Reginy and Thalu (if your reading this then apologies I was never going to be able to spell the names) then Jack spotted the boys from the beach earlier and shouted “hey you’re northwest London Jews” and they replied “no we are Essex Jews” but it turns out they all knew Jack and Jack knew them from the Jewish football league we all had discussions about who knew who. The night was Great and needless to say Jon was the first in and I was the last……standard. Alex was very drunk and shamelessly tried it on with the lady who worked in our hostal. How he didn’t feel the need to go and book in to somewhere different I will never know.
The next day we had planned to hike to the famous “Lopez Mendez” a gruelling 2 hour trek. I much prefer telling this story face to face because in words I am not going to be able to stress our mistrust in any of the locals. I didn’t realise the night before that our new friends Christian and Sabrina had agreed to come along but for me, the more the merrier. The boat taxi guys were telling us along the seafront “you going to lopes mendes, it’s a three hour trek” but we were adamant that this was just a ploy to get us all in their boat and for them to take us five minutes. Hungover (not Alex) and 20 minutes in to the trek we knew that we were not close. Thankfully we came to a beach selling chips. Doing England no favours in front of the argies (Cristian and Sabrina) Jack and I, in a hungover drunk frame of mind thought it would be best to buy these and save them for the journey ahead. Every 15 minutes for the next hour we insisted on chip breaks, and I’m fairly sure C and S (Cristian and Sabrina, I can’t keep typing their names and they do feature heavily) didn’t have a clue what was going on. 2 hours later we got to a beach and people on the beach told us that our desired beach was still 40 minutes away. Tired, hungover and with the hours of daylight slowly ticking away we believed the man and got in his boat. We arranged and price and time for him to bring us back to abraão later that day so that was all good. We finally made it too the beach and it was worth the trek, the beach although famous was practically empty and we enjoyed our first true “beach day” of the holiday. Later we walked back to the meeting point and after a quick drink on a floating bar our driver arrived and took us back.
The next day was our last full day on Ihla Grande and once of the many draws of the island is it’s clear waters and opportunity to dive. We went on a hunt for snorkels and found a trust worthy looking man to take us out. Alex decided not to join us and instead posed for a picture on a paddle board and spent the day in the room. Jon, Grant, Jack and myself got on the boat and went to the diving spot. The diving was uneventful but what happened next was a godly event. We saw the clouds closing in and the clouds gradually got darker working its way down the dulux colour chart. We knew it was time to head back, on route the heavens opened. It was a downpour on an almighty scale. We had towels wrapped round us and it was painful when the droplets hit our face. We made it back to the capital and it looked like New Orleans (the bad years). The road to our hostel was now a river. I have never experienced rain like it. Too skip ahead a bit, it rained harder than I’ve ever seen for 48 hours. This caused Alex to worry about the climate of the whole of South America and book an early flight from iguazu to Buenos Aires just I case the weather was the the same 1000’s of kilometres away.
Anyway back to the present, we finished the diving trip and waded through the typhoid filled river and got underneath the shelter of our hostel. That night we stayed in and had a few drinks with the girls from São Paulo and The boy from Bexley Heath and girl from Canada. We played spoons and other stereotypical hostel (the accommodation) games. A few of us went to bed and left some of the others awake for them to enjoy all the experiences Brazil has to offer.
Due to the unforeseen amount of time we spent in the hostel we got to know the staff and I was delighted to hear that the worker had been to an MK DONS game. Not many people know the team so I got more excited than I probably should have done. Anyway we spent the morning getting changed into our water resistant clothing and trudged down to the boats and took our boat back to the main land.
After the the delights of the first two days the island really disappointed on the final two days. One particular highlight of Ihla Grande was the argument between Grant and Jon, I wish I hade written more notes on the reason behind the argument but all I remember is that it culminated in Jon, err “uncharacteristically”, jumping to mild aggression and Grant, err “uncharacteristically” being patronising and condescending.
Our next destination was Paraty which was a journey consisting of two buses. We were queueing for the first bus when the others decided they were hungry and all went to get food, they decided to leave the toughest member of the group by themselves (me). What happened next would have driven one of the others to frantically and without care for the expense, make a phone call of help to the rest of the group that is not what I did when a young man approached me with clear menace in his eye, I stood my ground and did not let him near the bags despite his many attempts to grab them. The boys returned and my attacker sunk away, we got on the bus and as fate would have it sitting there with a smile on his face was the boy from the bus stop who has come to be affectionally known as “PARATYYYYY”.
The bus stopped in Paraty and we all got off, including “Paratyyyyy” but before we were leaving we had to collect our bags which were bundled in the corner of the bus. “Paraty” asked what we thought was, can I help you move your bags? To which we politely replied with a chorus of “no” (it’s at this point I probably should point out that he barely spoke one word of English) “paraty” still went for our bags and Jon lost his shit, many nos and fuck off and finger wagging was done and with hunched shoulders looking defeated “paraty” stood aside. We then all picked up our bags, and underneath them all was a small rucksack and “paraty” squeezed his way past us and picked it up. We all looked at Jon with a look of condemnation which was countered with a shrug of the shoulders and a flippant “I don’t fucking care, he shouldn’t have touched our bags”
We made it to our hotel, it was still raining, I am sure had we watched the weather there would have been severe weather warnings but needless to say our spirits were not dampened, not even after the taxi driver charged us a tenner to travel not even a mile.
Our hostel was big and I can’t for the life of me remember the name of it but on the face of things it was decent, but scratch through the surface and you will always find issues. The main concern was cleanliness they didn’t once clean our private bathroom which meant demand for the general public W.C was higher than normal, not ideal in a big hostel. We put our bags in our room which five of us were sharing with one other guy whose name also escapes me, I’m going ask you to utilise your imagination or YouTube which ever you prefer but we went through the standard “where you going, where you been, where you from” stuff and when he replied his voice was the same as pee wee Hermans, the nickname almost stuck, until we went down for dinner. It was pizza night, Alex bitched and moaned, of course. Grant last in the shower joined us down at the table later and talked us through his tormented shower. Pee Wee Herman spent a lot of time in the room and had positioned himself at a very weird angle. Whilst grant was in the shower he noticed a small crack in the door which allowed visual through to the most private of areas, and more conveniently in direct eye sight of pee wee Herman, so grant showered in his swimming trunks and convinced himself we had a peeping Tom in our room and thusly refused to shower in that room any more. So Pee Wee Herman quickly became Peeping Tom.
We went to buy some alcohol to pre-drink as we heard that Paraty has a lively night scene (turns out this scene consists of one, hard to find club) anyway we drunk in the social area and slowly the other guests migrated from the room we was in, to a smaller much more cramp room, it was becoming aparent that our antics were not welcome within their group….I think they were your more traditional traveller. Jon took personal insult to this. Unperturbed by the rudeness of the other guests, we continued our night despite clearly being excluded from the hostels night out. I thought there was only one way to save the night, duck duck goose, the mere suggestion sent Jon to his room, one man down we still played….I circled the group, you could feel the tension as the others waited with baited breath find out if they would be “goose” Alex muscled twitched as I stumbled over the word duck, grant sat still as I patted him on the head I had them in the palm of my hands, I circled them again and once more just to make sure they couldn’t predict when it was going to happen, duck, duck, duck, duck, goose. There it was jack rose, I leapt in to action I could feel the cold hard granite floor beneath my feet, Jack was nipping at my heels I managed the first circuit but jacks lengthy gait was benefiting him I could feel him closing the distance between us but then in desperate attempt to win I jumped in to my seat only moments from being caught, the guys erupted. The crowd pleased with what they saw were heard afterwards likening it to the great duck duck goose game of 93 in Greenfields playground, being so close to the event I wouldn’t like to pass judgement. The event brought the crowd back to us “was you guys just playing duck duck goose” we were in, we got invited out and Jon came down stairs and refused to believe that it was duck duck goose that made us cool.
A little while later were ready for out, about to walk the cold rainy streets of Paraty. We were heading to Paraty 33 where, according to all sources, it’s the place to be. We left mob handed led by a female Scot, she was adamant she knew the way. After walking round what is quite a small town for 15 it became clear that she had less clue than scooby doo at the beginning of an episode. Jack, Grant and I left the group with Alex and Jon choosing to chase tail. We found the club almost immediately when the other did turn up we found out that they had been bad mouthing us telling people that we probably went to sleep. We all had a good night and woke up fit and healthy ready for our trip down to Curitiba the next day.
Paraty was a quaint little town with a very colonial look, not much goes on but despite that I enjoyed our brea
We arrived in Curitiba which to me felt like the first “European” town we came across it had a really commercial feel. We had a very short time in Curitiba and we only had one mission, find some wild Capybaras. Easy. We got in a cab “donde esta la capybara senor” and within minutes we was in a field surrounded by massive tame marsupials. They are very odd looking and for much of the time done nothing but eat and sleep.
The next morning we woke up and went to the car hire joint. Most uneventful but we had a lovely white car that was more spacious than we could of hoped for. Jack took the first stint behind the wheel, we had 10 hours in front of us, one road to the famed Iguazu (the most dangerous town in Brazil)
Much shorter this time round and haven’t read back through so there is every chance of a grammatical area. Next time I’ll let you know how the car journey went, talk about the falls and the journey out of Brazil and in to Argentina.
After Jack drove, Jon took up the mantle not the person I was fearing the most. Until we came to a speed bump, I thought he’s was trying to make us fly home. We all took it in turns with me bringing the boys home on the final leg, they clearly wanted the professional driver to do the stint in the city at night, it made sense to me. By and large the road trip was uneventful, with the main entertainment being Jon reinventing himself as “urban Jon” when he pointed at a cow and said “look at that tonk cow” I haven’t heard him use the word tonk before or since (thank god) but to be honest if that was the worst we had to face in a 10 hour road trip across one of the most hostile countries on the planet then that’s all good with me.
Foz Du Iguazu, notorious for crime instigated by the Paraguayans coming over the bridge. The country is literally a stones throw away, unless, like me, you throw like a 10 year old girl. It feels as though, I concentrate to much on Jon (but Jon if you’re reading you have to admit it’s not that bad) but it was Jon who refused to believe us that “Foz” was a dangerous place to be. He wouldn’t believe us despite some houses adorning electric fences and despite being told by the restaurant not to hang around as it can get tasty, and I don’t think he meant the food. So of course heeding the advice of the locals we ran home, all except Jon who in what I can only imagine was a show of face walked home on the other side of the road.
The lady in our hostel, tried to sell us every trip possible, she was constantly rebuffed we had an agenda and we planned to stick to to it. She did however send us to the restaurant, and it was up until this point the nicest food we’d had, more meat than you could possibly ask for and a buffet to go with it…..all in all delicious.
The next day before we headed to the famed falls, we stopped to put some laundry in. Jon, Jack and I all did it. Jon and me sent Jack in first so that we could just say “same” . Thankfully the woman spoke perfect English so it almost went without a hitch that was until the woman threw a curveball and asked Jon “name” in English I don’t know what he heard because he panicked and cautiously yelled for help “jackkkkkk, what did she say” I haven’t seen someone so worried since grant went shopping Pepsi max and discovered they’d sold out.
Now we were finally on our way, was going to see what all this fuss was about. Now I think my diary entries have been quite funny (apologies if you don’t agree) but I’m going to be serious for a moment. When we got the falls I was amazed, I’ve seen waterfalls before but never had I seen some so big and so many you can look down an “alleyway” of waterfalls and it is some impressive, the amount of water, the noise, the infrastructure built in the falls it was truly amazing and would recommend anyone to go there. You can visit the falls from both the Argentinian side and Brazilian side, foz du iguazu is the Brazilian side.
When you are entering the park a man stops you, you need to buy a Mac and a water proof phone protector, aware that the Brazilians are all at it, we refused to give the man the time of day. Later we would come to regret not making the purchase, you can walk out on a broad walk at the bottom of one of the waterfalls and my god, you get soaked Jon was the only smart enough to buy the waterproof stuff.
Grant and I made friends with an English man who was cycling through Brazil, but around São Paulo he decided that cycling wasn’t for him so he sent his bike home and carried on like normal people on buses and planes (that’s all I have to say about that, but it is relevant)
After seeing the falls we went back to our hotel rooms, the day had come this was on our comrades last night, the next day, grant would leave us and fly home and the rest of us Alex, Jon, Jack and myself would continue on to Argentina to view the falls from the other side. Grant left in a taxi and there was an emotional embrace beforehand involving Grant and someone else who had rediscovered why they were friends in the first place. I think Brazil can do that to a friendship, it will make it stronger and really re-enforce once made bonds.
Grant left and we took the car back to the car hire place, passing grant who was stuck in traffic we stereotypically all swore at him as we drove past and I think in the rear view mirror I saw grant with a smile on his face and a tear in his eye.
After dropping the car off we went back to the hostel where Jon was the envy of the group as he booked himself on for a sky dive in the morning. We woke early the next morning to send Jon on his way and not know whether we would see him again. As it happens we did see him again just a few hours later. In a not so customer friendly move the receptionist said we could stay in our room until our friend arrived but then a few hours later changed her mind and rushed us our quicker than a blink much to our dismay. We then got in a cab and crossed our first border in to Argentina home of Lionel Messi, steak, tango, cheats, wine, steak, Lionel Messi and wine and steak.
It felt like it took an age to cross the border, in and out of taxis and whatnot then on the other side we had an absolute palava trying to find out hostel.
When we did finally find it, we had our second wifi issue of the trip. You need to understand that wifi issues are big problems and thusly play a large part in this informative review of the whole of South America. The wifi issues were resolved by the age old trick of turning the router off and on again. I sat on the balcony and enjoyed listening to the gunfire in neighbouring Paraguay. Whilst I was sitting there blissfully minding my own business I was interrupted by two fellow travellers. It was becoming apparent that it was acceptable to strike conversation with complete randomness based on them staying in the same accommodation as you which in my mind bares no reflection on whether you share any common ground with another person. The two travellers were, an odd couple in every sense. A boy and a girl who didn’t strike me as in a relationship (I’m not suggesting that boys and girls can’t be friends) but the girl was chatty and the boy stood there, mute, occasionally laughing at parts of the conversation he thought were funny but from my recollection was kinda weird. He name was jazz and his name was David, it seems appropriate to name them jazz and Dave and whilst it made me laugh it was only a small bit of entertainment in a conversation that lasted longer than was comfortable and I’m sure their motive was an invite to dinner, needless to say I didn’t oblige blaming lack of knowledge of plans for the overall group.
The wifi issues continued in to the night and the next day, the accomodation only got worse when Jon got in the pool only be told that he shouldn’t be in the pool and to get out. In my mind it seemed odd that they would even have a pool of it was unusable, anyway the attraction of the town isn’t the horrible hostels, it’s the access point to the Argentinian side of iguazu. That was the only thing on the itinerary then we could get the hell outta dodge.
We went to the falls and at risk of repeating myself I was amazed, in fact, the falls from this side are even more impressive. 9 kilometres of awesomeness I loved every minute of it despite seeing a spider of questionable intent. At the falls amongst all the thousands of people we could have bumped in to we bumped in to cycling man from the Brazilian side. I mean it’s a small coincidence but I was still shocked to see him.
We rounded off the short stay in Puerto iguazu with a good nights sleep then made our way to the airport to get on the flight to Buenos Aires. The capital of Argentina and what we later discovered to be the only place in South America that seems to function in a semi sensible manner.
Now for a post with a little more uummph. Some of you will have read this before but now there’s pictures and added extras so feel free to go through it again. Equally feel free to click like and leave
South Oxhey, England (Not technically South America)
So, the trip began and I was a lone “traveller”, actually let me rephrase, I was a lone prolonged holiday-maker. I’d left the comforts of South Oxhey to begin a South American adverture. Aside from the obvious emotions of excitement, anxiety I also was sad knowing that I’d miss everyone for a few months especially over the festive period. Or maybe I was just sad that I knew people’s life would go on completely normally without me being there.
My flight was leaving from Heathrow and arriving in Rome to catch a connecting flight on to Rio, all with Alitalia (the cheapest option of course). In homage to “Murphy’s law” , I arrived and was greeted with an hour delay and I knew this was going to cut things fine with the connecting flight but I’m a positive man and saw this as an opportunity to drink a few extra pints and when the time for boarding arrived I went to my gate as is customary, only for another 30 minute delay to be slapped on. By now I was resigned to the fact I was going to miss my flight in Rome. Towards the end of a largely uneventful flight to Italy a flight attendant lifted my spirits after approaching me and telling me there would be a man meeting me off my flight to rush me through to my connecting flight. This, it turns out, was just a ploy to lift me up to watch me come crumbling down. Me and three of my fellow passengers dashed to the gate, Alitalia employee leading the line of frantic Englishman desperate to catch another flight only to be refused entry, we were five minutes late. The airline were kind enough to seat us on the next flight which was the following evening and in compensation put us up in the Hilton (I felt ever so fancy). I took the shuttle bus to the hotel and enjoyed a warm buffet, compliments of Alitalia. Knowing that I’d be spending the day in Rome I planned my my unexpected European adventure.
Rome, Italy (still not South America)
I woke early the next day and took advantage of the free breakfast. On My two previous visits to Rome I have had some degree of misfortune with the “Trevi fountain” once we didn’t have time to see it and the second time it was enveloped in scaffolding. I got the bus in to Rome, and set off on foot towards Trevi. Marching through the back streets of Rome I felt like a young Christian being led to my death at the collesseum, it turns out my fortunes were worse, the crowds at the Trevi fountain were BIG, second only to those outside Delhi station (stay tuned for a post on that) anyway I got there and took two pictures and marched back to the bus stop. Despite having a number of hours to kill, I’d seen everything else Rome has to offer so I headed back to the airport. As an afterthought, I feel as though this may be the last time that I see Trevor and his fountain though. The first time I saw it I threw a coin in to the dried basin and I did indeed return, in line with many old wives tales, this time however I couldn’t get close enough to throw a coin and couldn’t dare risk it from far back in the crowd it’s been said that I throw like a girl.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
My first impression of Rio were “rundown”. The airport is nice enough but the buses weren’t great and the towns you drive through to get to to Copacabana, and other tourist hotspots, make Tottenham look friendly. I got off the bus, I kind of just guessed I was near where I needed to be, then navigated the mean streets of Rio to my hostel. I didn’t get mugged, threatened, conned or beaten up once so a large success as I fully expected to step off that bus and hand over my money, phone and passport to the local criminals and march back to the airport and fly home. This preconception of Rio was totally Mis-guided and mostly just paranoia of people saying “watch out for pickpockets” for six months leading up to the trip.
The hostel I decided to spend my first lonely nights in was called “el misti house“. I can definitely recommend it, it was a good choice for a decent price. Never having stayed in a hostel before I was a bit nervous about rules and etiquette and what not. Anyway Camillo showed me to my 9 person (triple bunks) room which was currently solely occupied by Alessandro “alé”. Thankfully one of the only person I could understand in the entire hostel. Over the next few days I met some great people my other roomates were Douglas and Alan, both of whom despite some real communication problems, were fun. There’s only so far a conversation can go with “si” and “yes” but we made it work. During the days I only ever ventured within running distance from my hostel. I would roam the beach front and people watch.
As you read my blogs I think you’ll discover than I’m an average writer and a worse photographer, but you can laugh with me.
These first nights were all a bit of a blur, but I know we went in to an area called Lapa twice. The staff were always organising the guests and making sure we all went out together, on the nights out I met loads of other people, nice people and loads of other people who I assume we’re nice but they couldn’t speak a word of English. I try not to let my ignorance get the better of me, but communication in Brazil was tough all round even those in the service/tourist industry have very little knowledge of the language it was all very inconvenient. Being the language sponge that I am meant that after 1 or 2 days I was fine! Obvs! (Drozzy, who sadly and detrimental to this blog, doesn’t feature, told a story of him and his dad once having to “cluck for chicken” at a restaurant.)
Jack, Alex, Grant and Jon arrived in Rio on the Sunday, I had arrived on the Wednesday. The plan was for me to meet them off the bus and show them to our Air BnB but due to some unforeseen circumstances, about 10 caipirinha’s, I woke up very late and they had already found and checked in to our accomodation. Now the trip really had begun.
Our first day out together was to go and see the colourful steps in Santa Teresa. This is the colourful neighbourhood you’ll have seen in anyone’s pictures whose been to Rio. It’s definitely worth seeing to grab a picture but other than that the surrounding area was pretty downtrodden so we scurried back to the safety of our Air BnB for five minutes of wifi, sleep, and from a break from any possibility of social interaction with the locals or each other. Here’s a candid picture of when we went to the steps, as a group we were discussing the unique artwork when a local took a picture of us, it was completely unplanned.
It’s worth mentioning, and it will become apparent why later, Jon was sleeping in a hammock.
Anyway our first night out lead us to Leblon, the upmarket part of Rio. We went out on a Monday night and it….was….dead and so, much like a night London, we spent the majority of the night wandering around aimlessly. Eventually we happened across a small off-licence type place. As the non-socially awkward member of the guys I approached the staff “donde esta la fiesta hoy” I announced, only to be answered not by the Spanish staff member but by his sole customer who I can only assume got the faintest sniff of my English accent, “you guys English” he assumptively questioned, the gig was up we’d been rumbled. We were now in the back streets of Rio and ousted as gringos. Thankfully the man was also English and kindly pointed us in the direction of some lively bars on a Monday night. (We blindly followed his instructions without asking how he knew this information). Thankfully our trust was well placed as we found find a bar and purchased our drinks silently thankful of our run in with our fellow Englishman. That silent thanks quickly disappeared when the next customer in the bar was said Englishman.
Chris, or as he is now affectionately known, English Chris turned out to be interesting. To this day we are unable to decipher the truth from the lies. We found out he’s been in Brazil for 12 years and works on “football philosophy”. Even after some questioning from a quite persistent Grant, we still couldn’t work out what he does. It has to be mentioned at this point that Grant had and probably still has a weird adoration for English Chris. English Chris’ job was to write a report on how to develop football players roles ( not specific players) but I.e. A playmaker. Then sell that report to professional football clubs. This man is an Englishman doing THIS job in Brazil (as a trustworthy man I am going to naively continue as if everything English Chris told us is true) I can only imagine when he presented his report to Corinthians, São Paulo and the like, their responses can only have been along the lines of *vague Brazilian accent* “Mr Chris, your findings in your report are very interesting, please could you tell us more on how you develop a no-nonsense centre half”. Chris took us to a number of bars where we found out a bit more about him, Rio and Leblon. He had a weird habit of talking about football then slapping his chest and saying this is a skill. Very weird, bit annoying but overall helpful and if what he does is real then quite interesting. For more information on English Chris speak to his pen pal Grant.
It’s at this point that days and nights merge into one so things get a bit haze-y but I will do my best to keep things in order.
The next day we went to Christ the redeemer, needs no explanation. Or does it? Christ the redeemer is a statue depicting Jesus’ first miracle, the feeding of the five thousand. The moment captured was just as he was telling the crowd how big the fish is that’s going to feed all of them.
It was a fun day out. When you get to Christ the Redeemer you go and pay for your ticket and are given a time slot when you can actually get the minibus further up the mountain and see the statue in all its glory.
Being the adventurers we are, we saw a small path leading in to the jungle which we thought would be a good place to explore. Especially with Jack dressed inappropriately, stereotypically “gringo”. Bad sunglasses, flip flops white t shirt and a back pack so what the Brazilians call (roughly translated) “ a muggers dream” Despite this we continued in to the jungle, 5 comrades, 5 red blooded males, 5 men, five boys that saw one insect they didn’t recognise and almost ran out of the jungle. This was day 2 of our trip round South America and we had been chased out the jungle within two minutes by a bug. Grant must have read a book, he thought EVERYTHING was a fire ant.
The jungle trip passed the time, and a few minutes later we were on the bus to see Christo. You get a good view of the city but the statue is so big and you are forced to stand so close to it that once your up there I don’t think you can appreciate the statue to the same degree you can when you’re on the beaches looking up. We took obligatory pictures and descended back down to the mini bus and moved on. Without sounding like a hipster, it’s not all that impressive, it’s just so crowded up there and you can’t get a decent picture of it I just feel as though there better pictures to be had from other points of view. The view you of the city though is nice and despite all my negativity it’s a must see/do attraction
After this we took sometime out of our day to go the beach, Jack obviously offended someone and a man started singing to him “You haven’t got a girlfriend” then laughed in his face. Jack seemed to reflect on this fact all night, because he stayed in. To give this some context though Rio during the day is filled with toothless old drunk/high men who walk around like the world pissed in their cornflakes, they are perennially angry and are an annoyance in an otherwise decent place.
Jon, Alex, Grant and I went out and that’s where Rio showed its true colours. Now I’m not writing this to name names or point fingers it’s more of a memoir for me to read back BUT Grant decided it would a good idea to meet someone from the Internet (Grindr or Tinder I can’t remember which) so as back up we tagged along. Despite numerous warnings from multiple sources “don’t go down streets with no bars” and despite our taxi driver refusing to drive down the street we needed to go to we still went there. Grant’s, for want of a better word, date, was a no show and none of us felt entirely comfortable in the bar we was in. Grant in a show of face, to pretend he wasn’t stood up, suffered a fake panic attack which caused him to believe he was in a 1950’s gangster film, and He had been set up. To paint the picture, his date told him to meet in a bar in a dodgy neighbourhood, didn’t show up, then a waiter who was carrying a tea towel over his hand (not an entirely strange thing to do for a man in that profession) walked past not once BUT TWICE, Grant was adamant he was harbouring a weapon under the tea towel so we paid the bill and made a swift exit.
We got in a taxi and went to Lapa and when we left the bar staff wanted us to pay our entry fee, on exit, it felt like a scam but we naively paid regardless. After paying, Grant and I both turned round and accidentally step on a man who cannot have been standing more than 30 centimetres behind us. I think his intentions were questionable at best he then followed us to our next bar shouting at us and being a nuisance. We entered bar number two and the angry man demanded money from us. For those that know me and my friends you’ll know we will do whatever to avoid confrontation (especially Jon, hence why he hid in the toilet) but A justified reaction would have been to argue with the man or even reciprocate his aggression but us no, we behaved in a typically British way and pretended like he wasn’t there until a waiter came over and we told him that the vagrant was making us feel uncomfortable. The waiter and security guard went outside and then the man threw the slowest punch in the world, so slow in fact the security guard didn’t even flinch. As the punch was thrown the security guard smoked a cigarette, checked his Facebook, put his phone in his pocket slowly raised his own hand and grabbed the mans fist and pushed him away. All very anticlimactic. It’s unclear when Jon rejoined the table but what is clear it was definitely after the security guard got involved Jon then preceded to tell us how he was prepared to “end him” referring to the drunk 70 year old man.
Needless to say we were keen for a quick exit once again so we jumped in a taxi back to Copacabana. We went in to a bar and was having a few drinks and Jon’s temper was still bubbling away. I can only imagine he misheard what I said because after a completely innocent comment I reached for my drink and Jon attacked me, grabbed my hand and put my in some vulcan death hold. Grant, sensing my panic, grabbed my drink as it almost spilled. I explained that Jon must have misheard me and he released me. It and been a dramatic night and more worrysome group Might think “that’s enough” not us, we found one final bar three doors down from our AirBnB. Intoxication made us all a bit brave and probably allowed us to take a leave of our senses as we followed a man up a derelict stair case to the bar. In hindsight, I think the derelict staircase is the factor that should have told us it was a bad idea. We entered the bar, which it turns out was a brothel, we decided to drink our drinks and leave. Alex, Jon and Grant went to the toilet and were followed by two men (not that kind of brothel) and I thought to myself we need to leave, this was confirmed when Alex poked his not so small head in the bar and shouted “Ross, we need to leave.” I took a final gulp of my drink and swiftly followed Alex’s head out of the door. It turns out after refusing to buy drugs in the toilet things turned ugly and the workers were getting boisterous we left the bar followed by three men now. Alex and I stood gallantly facing the men whilst Grant and Jon ran to our AirBnB to gather the help of our weedy security guard. The gates to our apartment opened and Alex and I scurried behind them. I don’t think the bar staff expected us to live so close and as soon as they realised this they went back to their bar.
Early the next morning, after an eventful night, Jack gave us the itinerary for the day. Climb a mountain, it’s as if he knew to stay in the night before but didn’t warn anyone. Pedra Bonita was an hour climb, thankfully a smaller climb than it’s mountainous neighbour “Pedro De Gavea”. The ascent was made more bearable by the appearance of Monkey’s. It’s at this point I’m obliged to mention that these Monkeys would not have appeared if the Monkey Whisperer (Jon) hadn’t have called for them. Jon to my knowledge has never shown an overly keen interest in wildlife, apart from in Thailand (see Grants secret blog), but he kept reminding us that the monkeys would not have appeared had he not shook the bamboo, yes that’s all he did shook some bamboo and the Monkeys came.
Once we reached the summit the impressive views immediately called for a selfie. To crave the attention of their peers the others started taking pictures increasingly close to edge…..fools. Anyway after a small disco at the top we left and went home. (This will make sense when you see South America part 2)
After the previous nights goings on, I took charge. Being the social butterfly that I am, I had a few friends from my old hostel. I got in contact and found out where it goes off in copacabana on a Wednesday night. It turns out it goes off in a cave underground. In the cave it’s not unheard of to pay £3 for a can of beer. After the cave party we returned home, hungry. Alex, Grant and I went back out at 2am (yeah I know, were hard) looking for a place to eat. Jack stayed in ….again) we thought our best bet was to walk to the main road and get a taxi, wrong! We walked on the main round and were immediately approached by three ladies of the night. My thoughts went straight to my phone and wallet, and I shoved my hands firmly in my pockets. Grant and Alex had other ideas though and ran off, Grant once again showing his really cowardly nature (I thought Grant had contracted Yellow Belly, he was that cowardly throughout the trip. At the time of writing there is no immunisation for yellow belly and as far as I’m aware of it Grant still suffers with it) I was surprised by their betrayal but then even more surprised when I discovered these ladies were not interested in my pockets. After suffering sexual harassment, I caught up with Alex and Grant only to look back to see the ladies (of the night) doing their final advertisement and raised their tops. Needless to say advertisement was unsuccessful we dived in a taxi, “drive” we demanded. He kindly drove us to a restaurant, our hearts dropped. He dropped us in the same road as last night and refused to drive any further but helpfully pointed us in the direction of an open restaurant. Hunger won over trepidation and we walked to the restaurant. The food was decent but the restaurant had an odd obsession with pineapple. I’m not exaggerating when I say this but every single dish of there’s on the menu was “con pineapple”. Thought this was very odd but again hunger won out and I had a pineapple sandwich.
We woke on our final day with two things left on our Rio bucket list, Sugarloaf mountain and visiting the favelas. The first thing to do was to find a guide to take us to the Favela. Alex, being manager, had accumulated a number of business cards and we used one of these to locate a driver. After about an hour of waiting our driver appeared. The politest way to put it, is, you would feel safe with this man taking you anywhere. He was BIG.
First stop he drove us to the favela. On route he explained that most the favelas are no longer dangerous as they are run by a special police force, which I believe is called the UPP. Lawson, our driver, lead us to believe that part of the job description of the UPP is to have no sense of humour because according to Lawson, who told us on at least five separate occasions “the UPP do NOT joke”. The UPP are a police force who live amongst the locals in the Favela and any sign of violence and they shoot apparently. In the early days of the UPP shoot outs between the gangs and UPP were not uncommon but despite myths they would not target non locals. In fact it’s said that the favela was more safe than the towns because drug dealers did not want Police to be called to the Favelas and so would send all the muggers and theifs to Copacabana and Ipanema.
Before we get to the Favela itself I need to describe Lawson. He was Big, from Togo and sweaty, you can’t see the sweat in the picture above. He confirmed what many people already believe that some football players from Africa lie about their age, he told us that even his brother had done it and more shockingly he is of the opinion that even the great Didier Drogba has lied about his age.
He told us that the scariest thing in the Favela for him, is the dogs, they were not the scariest thing in the Favela for us……
The scariest thing in the favela for us was when we first walked in a lady in police uniform run up the stairs gun in hand followed by a man in normal clothes with a non-standard weapon and running straight towards us with his finger on the trigger. Normally we are a group that will make light of all situations I think it’s safe to say, we didn’t make light of this situation, what we done in this situation was shut up and stay still and silent until Lawson convinced us this was normal and so we hesitantly continued our tour. I would liken the Favela to the slums in India, it really isn’t as bad as people make out. It’s a bit of a shit hole but everyone has a job and some of the houses inside look nice. They aren’t all criminals it’s just to expensive for them to live in the actual towns.
Lawson, employee turned friend, took us to the bus station to help us book tickets to Ihla Grande our next stop. We did that then he took us home and received a very generous tip. Jon then shook his hand and said “dobrigado, thanks for taking us to the Fravela” needless to say we all laughed Jon looking bemused asked us why were laughing.
After some food we headed for sugarloaf mountain one of Rio’s most famous landmarks/view points. You need to take a cable car to the top. I suffered a bout of anxiety on the cable car and resorted to taking a knee and covering my eyes whilst being laughed at by the locals. It was worth it once up there though the views once again were incredible and there is even a nature reserve bit and food/bars and shops at the summit. We planned to watch the sunset but our plans were scuppered by the clouds. Five minutes before the sunset was due the cloud come over, much to dismay of the dedicated Sunset photographer Jack. The clouds looked thunderous which sent astraphobic Alex in to a meltdown so we had to return to the room which we did with haste.
We had a big journey the next day and so it was this that ended our Rio arm of the journey.
If I’m entirely honest I wasn’t overly impressed with Rio. It gets labelled as a party capital and great beaches but from the time I spent there I would say there is better nightlife and nicer beaches closer to home. That being said I never felt anywhere near as intimidated as I was warned I would be and some of the excursions there provide you with some of the best views I have ever seen.
For an idea of what other trips I might cover check out my other post “30 before 30”