Week 16: Potosi & Sucre, Bolivia

After Uyuni I decided to make my way to Potosi. This is a really special place with an amazing history. It is mainly famous for it’s mines containing silver. Located at 4,090 m high it is one of the highest cities in the word and you can definitely feel it. In its height it was one of America’s wealthiest cities. The city went into decline once all the silver in the mines was gone. There are still miners working in the mines today in the most abysmal conditions you can imagine.

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View of the Cerro Rico mine, Potosi
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Beautiful Potosi

The only way to visit the mines is to go with a tour. I went with one where the guide was an ex miner and knew the miners well. Sadly the average life expectancy is around 40-45 years because of the intoxicating fumes.The first thing you do is go visit the miners market where you buy gifts for the miners for example cocoa leaves, alcohol, dynamite and ammunition (they expect these and really rely on tourists). I opted to buy dynamite and juice for them. Without coca leaves the miners wouldn’t survive, they chew the leaves for hours and leave them in their mouth so when you see the miners they all have a big protruding balls in their mouths. Coca leaves give energy and help with the altitude sickness.

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Buying dynamite at the miners market, Potosi

The fumes are so bad in the mine you are warned to wear a mask. Some of the miners start working in the mines as young 12 years old and work up to 18 hours straight in the mine. They can’t eat in the mine as it’s so intoxicated they would get sick so there only source of fuel is coco leaves, alcohol and juice. The miners all work for themselves and have to buy all of their own dynamite and equipment. Most of the them don’t like the work but with very poor prospects in Potosi most don’t have any other choice. Today there are around 15,000 miners working in Cerro Rico.

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Me just before going into the mine. 4,300 m Potosi

When you first get into the mine it is extremely claustrophobic and difficult to breath because of the extremely high altitude, fumes and dust. It can also get really really hot. It was so interesting to talk to the miners and see them going about their day. They all work for themselves and its all based on luck whether or not they find minerals. Some can go weeks without finding anything. I got chatting to one of the miners who was in the middle of drilling holes for dynamite so he could blow up part of the mine to try and discover some new minerals (they do this daily). He started working in the mine when we was 12 and is now 33!

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Miners just about to start their day
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This is Alberto and has been working in the Cerro Rico mine for 22 years
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Placing dynamite in the walls of the mine
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Making ammunition for the dynamite

8 million people have died in the mines in Potosi in last 400 years it was a very sad history and they don’t know for how much longer there will be work in the Cerro Rico mines. During our tour a few people had to drop out as they couldn’t stand the small spaces and heat. It’s 4 floors and we crawled to the bottom floor where your on your hands and knees. Every now and again we would hear a scream saying watch the hole ( as in massive drop). At one point we were descending down into the mine on this dodgy ladder which had a load of steps missing (definitely on its last legs). This kind of a set up definitely wouldn’t be a runner in Éire. Helmets are a must, I lost count the amount of times of whacked my head against the rocks.

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One of the many holes in the mine

On our way out of the mine our guide was screaming at us to start sprinting to get out of the way as a group of miners running behind us carrying tons of minerals in these steel barrels. The whole experience was intense, sad and unforgettable.

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Some of the miners have to carry this heavy  carts in and out of the mine up to 15 times  a day
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View from the top of the mine

Another interesting thing in Potosi is the Casa de la Moneda. Potosi was the first city in the world to start producing coins given its location to the Cerro Rico mine. I’m not usually one for museums but this was fascinating. En route back to the hostel a man was chasing after with my debit card saying I’d left in the bank (this is the third time this week! and also ironic I had just left the money museum). Blessed to have met such decent people in the banks here. The bank card has been having a rough time lately as have my clothes. Another one of my clothes bags has bitten the dust and has vanished so I’m really down to the dregs.

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Casa de Moneda
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Side streets of Potosi

My first impression of the people in Bolivia were they were a bit cross.  Every corner of the street there are native women selling absolutely everything you can imagine. I have found these women to be particular cross and they are definitely not fans of my spanish small talk. Lots of travelers complain about the food in Bolivia but I have been pleasantly surprised and so far have had some delicious street food for absolutely nothing. Lunch set menus are generally 2$ for really good 3 course meals. You can find a lot cheaper food on the streets or at the central markets. It’s actually cheaper for me to eat out then to cook for myself a welcomed change from Argentina. Dinner was 50c for the most delicious spicy chicken soup. I’ve become addicted to Bolivia’s cinnamon ice cream. It’s made on the streets by hand its more like a sorbet and made using only fruit, cinnamon, ice and sugar.

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My ice cream gal!
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Doing two of my favourite things; sleeping & eating ice cream
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Main plaza, Potosi
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Potosi
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Colonial buildings Potosi
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People watching from the cathedral, Potosi

Not surprisingly, the bus from Potosi to Sucre was rough. The bus man was adamant that I paid 2 bus fares because my backpack was so huge. I refused and instead was forced to sit on the backpack for the 4 hour journey. The gal next to me was less than impressed when she got whacked with one of my runners as I was leaving. It was worth once I arrived in the beautiful town of Sucre.

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Incredible views of Sucre from one of my lunch stops
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Recoleta, Sucre

Sucre is a gorgeous. Lots of tourists come here to chill, explore and take spanish classes in the colonial town. I stayed in the most amazing hostel (Claval Blanco). Really nice family atmosphere with the comfiest beds. Everybody was v cool in the hostel and most of them played guitar, sang and made crafts in the plaza to earn some money.

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I randomly stumbled across this amazing view point, Sucre

I spend 4 nights here and spent my time exploring lots of the local food markets (my absolute favourite thing to do), trying all the delicious street food and pottering about the colonial town. One day I went to mercado campasino 30 minutes outside the city. It was incredible and each street was dedicated to something for example there was a banana street, apricots, meat, cheese, shoes, electrics, nuts, beans etc etc. It was absolutely massive.

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Mercado Campasino, Sucre
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This gal was pissed I only wanted to buy 1 tomato
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This woman said she’d love to come to Ireland some day to meet Bono
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Peach Street, Mercado Campasino
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Perfect spot for a siesta, Mercaod Campasino
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Mercado Central, Sucre

One of the nights a gang of Chilains and Argentinians hosted a cooking class on making homemade empanadas absolutely delish albeit a bit time consuming (we ate them 5 hours later). The hostel organised private spanish classes for me. It was €4/hour for the class bargain. My prof Slyvia had her hands full with me. It was v ideal I was able to do the classes in the courtyard of the hostel in my pj’s! Word war 2 broke out one of the days with Slyvia and one of the Chilains as Slyvia claimed that Chile stole Bolivia’s dance and music culture. Needless to say I hasn’t a breeze what was going on but a full blown argument broke out for a sold half hour. I was delira for the break! 2 hours of  spanish can be a bit intense and there’s no opportunity for shut eye when your flying solo!

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Rooftop views in Sucre
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Sucre

So the bus from Sucre to Cochabamba is renowned for being the most horrific in all of Bolivia. It is advised that ‘if you value your sanity do not take the bus’. It is also described as ‘hellish’. Most people I met in the hostel were taking cheap flights (40 minutes) to Cochabamba. Obviously I was intrigued and am a glutton for punishment so opted for the bus. I figured how bad could it be. The main reason it’s bad is the road is pretty horrific and Bolivian buses wouldn’t be the may west on the best of days. Also, the buses don’t have toilets so that combined with the bumpy ride is fairly rough on the bladder. The ride is around 8-10 hours long.

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The locals, Sucre
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Street vendors, Sucre

V unorganized I had no snacks so a gal was selling sponge cakes on the bus. They’re everywhere and look v light, fluffy and actually tasty. I bought one because I was starving and after one bite I could barely swallow the stuff (absolute muck) so it was donated to the chap on front of me. As per usual I was v unlucky with my bus partner. On this occasion it was an old Bolivian man with gold teeth (gold teeth are the norm in Bolivia). He was extremely smelly and the close proximity to him was chronic. The minute we set off I started to feel extremely sick and my small backpack was emptied as a precautionary sick bag. On a previous trip to Cambodia I ended up pucking into my backpack and breaking my camera and phone so I wasn’t taking any chances this time ! The ride was windy and bumpy. Not after long the chap on front of me got diorrhoea so we had to make an emergency stop for him ( It was probably the dodgy cake I gave him). After a while the chap with the gold teeth started to puck out the window as the bus was driving. At this stage I was tempted to join the gold toothed man pucking out the window. Luckily, the bus eventually stopped.

We had 20 minutes at this stop so I bought some soup. Bus ended up leaving after 5 minutes so I inhaled the soup and sprinted after the bus. I was feeling progressively worse on the bus out of no where a man ended up lying on the floor next to me. It looked like he was having a heart attack but no one seemed too concerned. It turned out he too had car sickness but felt he fared better on the floor. So I was literally enclosed by vomiting and diorrhoea men and was seconds from joining them. I distracted myself by blaring Eminem for hours and at 4.30am we eventually pulled into the terminal somehow 4 hours ahead of schedule god only knows how. I camped out in the terminal for a few hours in my sleeping bag waiting for a reasonable to text my friends.

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This was the view from one of the restaurants around the corner from my hostel
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All to myself!
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Week 15: Jujuy, San Pedro de Atacama, Uyuni. Chile, Argentina, Bolivia

Day 3  of Carnival and feeling  worse for wear myself and Mati shared a kg of grapes and a beer for breakie and went for mosie around the gorgeous markets selling fresh fruit/veg and local crafts.

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Cute little town of Huamwaca

Lunch back in the hostel was sopa de mani (peanut soup). It’s amazing and really traditional in Northern Argentina and more so in Bolivia. It’s blended peanuts that are boiled in water for 3 hours (apparently this is important otherwise you explode) , fried potatoes, boiled chicken and parsley. It’s absolutely delish and a perfect hangover cure. After lunch we packed up and headed to Purmamarca.  It is a tiny village based in a valley. It has a backdrop of the most amazing mountains and is home to the famous rainbow mountain. When we arrived the weather was pretty mouldy. We were freezing from the motor bike ride so cracked open a bottle of red and camped under a tree listening to the amazing local live music. We hit up some of the local bars afterwards for more live music.

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Fairly sleek setting for amazing live music, Purmamarca

I was telling Mati a story about Lourenso a guy I was travelling with and how his valuables bag got robbed on a bus in Guatemala with camera, money, laptop, passport the complete works as he was sleeping. As I finished telling the story I realized my bag containing all of the above was missing in action. I quickly retraced my steps and ran back to a bar we had been in before and amazingly the bag was just sitting there in the middle of a group of Argentinian men singing their hearts out.  A momentary manic.

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Brewing storms in Purmamarca

We decided to call it a night grab some dinner and one last bottle of Argentinian wine as I had to catch my bus to San Pedro in Chile at 3.40am! My last meal was Churri Pan (chorizo bread) and alfajores (chocolate and dulce the leche cake). This are yummy and absolutely everywhere in Argentina. We ended up pitching our tent at the ‘bus stop’. The bus woman told me just to stand on the side of the road outside a hotel (seemed a bit odd but Mati assured me it was completely normal). We even managed to get some shut-eye before the bus. Obviously I forget to set an alarm but luckily naturally woke up at about 3.15 am. There was no need to worry as there was no sign of the bus or people (expect a few drunks) for hours. So with it almost hitting 6 am I was loosing all hope of seeing a bus. It was a little bit like waiting for Godo (that horrific play I did for the LC which Una somehow loves). It’s basically two men just waiting for nothing.  We took it in turns to keep an eye out for the bus while the other slept. I left my humungous backpack on the road to give the bus man a heads up I was here.

After 3 long hours of waiting we saw the bus!!! I thought I was seeing things but I immediately ran onto the road waving my mattress in the air! And  just like that the bus flew past me. I actually started laughing because I couldn’t believe it had actually come, let alone left. I was so in shock and had to confirm that a bus actually passed. I thought I was loosing my mind. Obviously we copped on eventually and Mati quickly loaded me onto his bike and we sped after the bus it was actually v exciting (albeit baltic) speeding up the mountains in the middle of the night.  When we eventually caught up with the bus we drove beside it screaming, honking the horn and me waving my arms until it stopped. The bus man was actually cross with me!! I didn’t even get into it and just scrambled onto the bus and took the last seat beside a thundering snoring man! Just what the doctor ordered about 4 sleepless nights. For €120  a fairly shocking  service and without the luxury of a motorbike I would have missed it.

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Leaving the madness behind

So in total I spend 6 weeks in Argentina and absolutely loved it. It’s absolutely huge and I definitely underestimated the distances. Everywhere is basically at least a 1000 km away, a 20 hour bus ride or a lot longer if hitch hiking. I had the most amazing last week with Mati and the north of Argentina was definitely one of my highlights. Coach surfing has really opened my eyes and seeing these places through the eyes of the locals is the best (also helped along  by ridely around on a BMW motorbike). Argentina’s food was a step up from Chile that’s for sure. My highlight still remains the Cordero I tasted on new year’s day in Ushuaia, a taste I will never forget. The people have been absolutely amazing and have gotten me out of more than one sticky situations. I have also never met a nation more obsessed with crocs. Even the most glam are wearing them (O you’d be in your ellers!).

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Saying goodbye to beautiful North Argentina

I arrived in San Pedro de Atacama (Northern Chile) after a turbulent exit from Argentina.  San Pedro is the worlds driest desert and the town itself is v cute and is based around a dirt road. It mainly evolves around tourism with an abundance of tourist offices all selling the same thing which is a bit over the top. I successfully found a really nice camp site near the town. My tent has been successfully repaired (for now) thanks Mati. I had my first night’s proper sleep in the last 5 days absolute bliss.

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San Pedro de Atacama, Northern Chile

The next morning, I decided to rent a bike  to visit some of the nearby deserts. I set off early to avoid the insanely hot temperatures. My first stop was Valley de la Meurte.  I managed to lose my water bottle en route to the desert so really was in bits… the heat here is really next level. The view points were sensational (including my  pee stop).  I always prefer a nice view when peeing as opposed to a smelly urinal. It was incredible my pee dried up insanely from the heat! Not a trace of evidence left behind ideal.

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Obviously the illuminator was absolutely essential
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Views of Valley de La Meurte
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Pee view point

Afterwards I cycled to Valley de la Luna which is the most famous place in San Pedro  to watch the sun set. When I arrived the park warden said that the park was closed to all cyclists because the weather conditions were too severe (even know the sun was belting ?). The only people allowed in were tour buses or cars. I had already booked my trip to Bolivia the following day was v v disappointed.  I saw one lad standing on his own with a car and asked him if he minded if I tagged along. V reluctant he consulted with his girlfriend and amazingly they let me come. Sun set was one of the nicest I have every seen.  When returning to the bike shop I realised I had lost the bike lock somewhere between the valley and the shop. There was a hefty fine involved if I didn’t find it. I figured it might be in the Brazilians boot I vaguely remembered them saying what hotel they were staying in. I eventually found the jeep and miraculously was able to climb into the boot and lock and key were there. I had a few funny looks from passer bys who thought I was trying to rob the jeep.

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Golden hour in Valley de la Luna
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The start of a rainbow at sunset in Valley de la Luna
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View of Volcano at sunset, Valley de la Luna

I was up at 6am the next morning for the 3 day trip through the Bolivian wilderness. 6 of us were packed into a 4 x 4 jeep  and I was bundled into the back with the grumpiest Chinese guy, Will. There was 3 other Chilanos and a hilarious Japanese guy so I was happy out. I was essentially was sitting on Will for the entire 3 days as the jeep was packed to the brim. Shame he wasn’t a looker!

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Our ride for the next 3 days
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Amazing Bolvian wilderness

Scenery was spectacular and the jeep stopped regularly for photo opportunities. I was on the cusp of pucking for the entire bumpy journey but thankfully managed to hold it in. One of our stops was to a geyser  which is a hot spring with boiling water which sends columns of steam upwards. Pretty cool as I’d never seen one before but they smell of farts because of all the sulfur. This was a short and smelly visit.

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Day 1 on the trip from San Pedro to Uyuni
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Myself and Now suffocating at the smelly Geyser
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We survived!

Bolivian wine hasn’t a patch on Chile or Argentina but I’m not one to refuse wine so myself and Now (the Japanese chap) were the only takers on our first night. Happy days.  Our jeep all shared a dorm. Will, the grumpy Chinese guy snored the roof down all night (up there with the top 3 snorers I have ever encountered). One of the Chilano guys wasn’t far behind him and they eloquently synchronized their snoring for the entire night. In fairness to the Chilano is had some  useless contraption on his noise to try and help the situation. One of the Chilain women started screaming at Will in the middle of the night to shut him up but hilariously this made him snore even louder. I had my music playing so loud to try to drown him out which caused the most horrific migraine (could have been the vino +/- the altitude either or a combo).  Desperate for some sleep I sleep on the kitchen floor for the rest of the night in my sleeping bag as far away from Will as possible.

About an hour later I woke up violently ill.  I recognized it from Everest as altitude sickness. We were at 4,300 m  high without acclimatizing and it was really difficult to catch your breath. Now gave me some diamox (for altitude sickness), a few painkillers and a dioralyate and I was right as rain! At this stage my eyes were in a bad way from the infection from Carnival. The skin around them got really hard which made it painful to blink with the left eye severely infected. Once back in civilization they will need an NCT. Trying to make small talk with Will at breakie I asked him if he slept well and hilariously he said he didn’t sleep a wink! Would you be able for it…….

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Going for a stroll just before breakie and spotting a Lama catching a few rays

Day 2 and world war 2 erupted in the car. I was hating on Will at this stage and the close proximity to him was rough. The heat really was unbearable ( Lucie you were right). The angry Chilain woman was going ninty because she was ‘cold’ and wouldn’t let me or Will open our windows. As a very reasonable alternative I offered her my ‘questionably clean jacket’. She looked at me in disgust and refused. Anyway the minor issues in the car were all forgotten about with the amazing views of the day. On our second night I asked to pitch my tent in the back in an attempt to get away from Will but they found a room for me and angry Chilain woman to share so we both slept like babas.

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Day 2 on a rock
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Amazing Flamingoes
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Practicing my jump
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Day 2, Bolivia
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Day 2, Bolivia

Our final day of the trip was incredible and finished in Uyuni, famous for the Salt Flats (the largest in the world). It started off with a 4.30 am wake up call. We all crawled into the jeep in the freezing cold. At this time of the year its wet season so the entire salt flats are covered in water which creates amazing reflections. For most of the year it’s completely dry. The jeep ended up driving through the really deep water for sunrise. It was incredible albeit freezing at some points we were almost knee-deep in water. After taking some photos we drove to the salt hotel for a much-needed  breakie stop.

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Waiting for sunrise Salar de Uyuni
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Sunrise from Salar de Uyuni
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Myself and Now trying to master the jump
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About 1 hour later
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The gang, Salar de Uyuni
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Éire looking good front of house
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Beautiful  reflections in Salar de Uyuni
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Me and Will making ( he gave me a few seeds and chinease sweets as an apology so all was forgiven!)
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I randomly found a salt shaker in my pocket!

The day finished off nicely with me catching some much-needed shut eye on an abandoned train. A perfect finish to a fab few days. The trip was spectacular and scenery was stunning. I’ve even been offered accommodation in China so who knows maybe me and Will could hook up down the line despite our rough start. Excited for what Bolivia has in store.

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Getting a much-needed siesta!

 

Week 14: San Yuan, Salta, Cafayate, Jujuy. Argentina

The week started off with me still in San Yuan having spent the night for free in the Tennis player’s hotel. I woke up ready to tackle the rough job of hitch hiking in 40 degree heat. While eating breakie I got a call off David (the man who picked me up the day before) saying they were going to pick me up from the hotel and bring me to their holiday home for a traditional family bbq (Assado) and I had no choice in the matter.

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The saint of a family that adopted me for the weekend

When I arrived to their huge country side home we all took to the large swimming pool while the BBQ was in full swing.  We spend the day eating, drinking (the family are pioneers but they supplied me with the best of vino) and swimming.  The Dad refused to let me hitchhike and drove me straight to the bus station were he insisted on paying half the bus fare for me to go on the 20 hour journey to Salta at 11pm that night. The clann had me well prepped for my bus journey with lamb shank, 8 cheese sandwiches, grapes, beer, wine and spanish bible! Never been better equipped in my life. The whole family brought me to the station to bid me fare well while screaming hasta luego Roxy (loving my new name!)

I cannot describe the effect this family had on me.  After a few rough weeks they picked me up at just the right time.  Travelling is amazing and you see such amazing places but for me it’s more about the people you meet. I left San Yuan with such fond memories of this special special family.

The journey to Salta was a dream and I think the beer, wine and sun stoke helped me sleep for most of it. I decided to give coach surfing another go after the success of the last time. I really hit the jackpot on his one. I ended up contacting a guy called Mati who lived in the woods 20 km outside of Salta (already a Yuan warning sign). Luckily he picked me from town on his motorbike and almost had heart failure when we saw all my baggage!

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Beautiful Salta
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Salta, Argetnina

Mati is a motorbike fanatic and has over 12 different types in his garage. He has the coolest job where he takes groups of rich people around Patagonia and other parts of SA on BMW motorbikes. I was lucky enough to stay with him while he was on holiday so he was kindly my tour guide. We got on so well I ended up staying with him for a week. I  managed to get the nod to a camping trip with his motorbike club the following day to a place further north called Cafayate. I obviously had to eventually tell him I had no idea how to ride a motor bike luckily he was still more than happy to let me tag along. My spanish is still fairly shocking but having spent an entire week with motorbikers I now speak motorbike spanish. Literally every single conversation evolves around the motor bike. All I’m missing are a few tatoos and leather jacket and I’d fit right in (don’t worry Dom couldn’t be arsed with tatoos you’ll be glad to know). Motorbikers are also obsessed with lanyards (the string around you neck) as am I!! So happy days I get to suss them out with some Nutricia merch!

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Mati my chauffeur en route to Cafayate

En route we got a puncture but the experts were quick to the mark and had it fixed in a jiffy. My valuable contribution to the rescue team was supplying the water!

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Mati and Javi on bike repair duty
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Some poor other fucker in a bit of hairy situation himself
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Salta is famous for growing Maize and Tabaco

We stopped off at a few view points en route and had the most delicious lunch of meat empanadas, Salta is famous for them and I can see why! (my best since arriving in South America).  It was amazing travelling on the motor bikes and the scenery was absolutely breath-taking. Beats the bus any day of the week and an added bonus I don’t puck!

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Road to Cafyate
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Road to Cafyate
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Jevi and his Zebra bike

When we arrived in Cafyate the guys knew a guy who owned a bar so we camped our there for a few beers. Dinner was a lomo (which is Argentina’s famous steak sandwich of steak, ham, egg, cheese, lettuce, toms +/- chips and of course mustard, mayonaise and salsa). It’s no 147 but hit the spot. With a final few beers we camped out another bar with local folkore music! Absolutely gas I even got my own tribute song.

We pitched our tents in the mountains beside a river. Poor old Javi had no tent and was flying solo. It brought me back to my sleepless night beside Chile’s glacier. It transpired Javi actually had a tent but wanted to challenge himself to a sleep in the wilderness! Strange,  but we’ve all been there I suppose…..

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Our accommodation for the night

The next day Mati took me to one of the local vine yards for a free wine tasting. Cafayate is famous for wine especially its torrontes  white wine. Delish.

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En route home from Cafyate
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Javi en route back from Cafyate

Back in Salta, Mati’s neighbor with dolla dolla bills invited us chill at his holiday home with a massive pool for the day. A welcomed break from the heat. Later that night we got the nod to a BBQ he was hosting. It was one of the motor biking gigs so needless to say I was the only gal there which was actually ideal. It was a serious spread of half a cow and dozens of chickens.  After the meat sweats a professional singer was brought in for some traditional Argentinian music absolutely ludicrous stuff. Being the only girl was the dream you are guaranteed a constant supply of meat and drink and get offered everything first.Folklore is the traditional music of north Argentina it kind of screaming opera (a bit like my own style of singing) it’s amazing live but not the kind of music you’d want on your i-pod (unless you want a migraine). Professional singers just for an average bbq!! The clientele at this BBQ were a different calibre with most of them being owners of BMW motor bikes which cost a whopping 40k in Argentina!!

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Taking the BMW for a test run

When I arrived in the north of Argentina I had no idea what carnival was but randomly  happened to be on the week I arrived. Mati asked me if I wanted to go that it was the countries biggest party. He said he was motor biking to 3 different carnival festivals that weekend and that I could tag along. Not needing any persuasion I said si.

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Me packing lightly for Carnival

Everyone in Argentina gets Monday and Tuesday off work for  carnival so the party goes on all week with everyone flocking to the north (the most famous place for carnival). The 200 km drive to Tilcara was stunning. The landscape changed so quickly, at the beginning it was windy jungle roads and then dry red cliff rocks. Carnival is definitely the most insane thing I’ve ever seen. There are loads of devils dancing on the streets. The myth is once the devils are on the street you can act insane and do whatever you like (suited me down to the ground). The minute you arrive be prepared to be covered in paint, powder and foam. It’s definitely not the place for the glam squad (which obviously I am not so definitely my kind of gig). O it kind of reminded me of our ice cream costumes which started off tame enough and then as per usual escalated into us resembling wild beasts. I’d have it no other way!

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Carnival!!!
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Javi, Yesi, Me and Mati before the madness …

 

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1 minute later…

The party is all on the street with parades of babies, children, adults and old people acting absolutely crazy. There’s is street music 24 hours a day 7 days a week with the most amazing performances ( Latin Americans can actually dance!).I’ve never seen such happiness wedged into one small village. I got destroyed with foam my the cutest old man! It really doesn’t get better than this.

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Me aul pal at Carnival
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A Devil just grabbing a spot of lunch
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Hats are compulsory at Carnival

The next day looking extremely rough we ate some choccie cake for breakfast and packed up and headed off to Carnival day 2 in Humawaca (50 km away). Before leaving I got chatting to a few rich old man staying in the hotel where we pitched our tents (a different calibre). I forgot that my entire face was covered in black paint as I was sweet talking to an esteemed neurosurgeon. I was putting in some ground work to get a taste of their grub. They were in the height of preparing lunch (which looked sensational). I secured some expensive wine and a chunk of good cheese not great but better than nothing! 

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Me and the neuro surgeons (the chap on the far right was the hotel owner)

Lucky again with destination number two Mati and Javi’s friend owned a hostel so we pitched our tents there and left the bikes somewhere safe. Humawaca village had a smaller and cosier vibe and the party seemed a little more chilled out (that soon changed). No one is safe (especially girls with pale skin, freckles and clean people). There are people all over the streets with pots of paint, powder, foams waiting to attack. I ended up getting destroyed by the foam. My eyes ended up swelling up really badly that the following morning I could barely open them(this subsequently necessitated another hospital visit due to an eye infection!). Needless to say I encouraged every single second of it.

Next week features day 3 Carnival!

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Asking for it…..
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Day 2 Carnival Humawaca
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Delira with our new found seats

Week 13: San Martin De Los Andes, Mendoza & San Yuan. Argentina

So my new job started with Yuan a 70 year old man picking me up from town. He asked me had I enough food for the next week because there was nothing  up in the mountains with it 40km away. The only thing I had was a few pumpkin seeds and stock cubes so off to the supermarket we went. I immediately questioned my sanity when I arrived at the ‘refugio’ there were no tourists here (surprise surprise) just my good self and Yuan.

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Meet Yuan my new employee

There was no electricity, fridge, heating or worst of all people. I kind of figured I might be working at reception or making the breakfasts. Yuan had something else in mind he wanted me to chop wood for 5 hours a day. It soon transpired I couldn’t use the axe so I got the painful job of moving tree trunks from one area to the next. I’d swear Yuan was just looking for company and was making up jobs as an excuse to make me stay. The first day, I ended up pretending to have diorrhoea so I could take regular breaks from the wood carrying (it was full on and definitely not the recuperation I needed). I ended up cutting myself really badly in some thorns which was actually a blessing and bought me some time ‘mending my wounds’. The days were long and nights even longer it really was hell. At night it was absolutely freezing Yuan had a few bunk beds (for all of his guests!) made out of tree trunks of course . Thank god I had my sleeping bag otherwise I would have been snookered. We slept in the same room and I was serenaded by his irritating snoring. I really was hating on Yuan at this stage and it had only been one night. I pretended to sleep until 12pm the next day blaming the antibiotics trying to avoid the laborious tree carrying tasks. I didn’t bring enough food and survived the few days mainly on crackers, rice and dry cereal.  Yuan wasn’t the most generous kind! I would occasionally rob some prune jam with nothing else on offer. I half considered asking could I pitch my tent outside wanting  be as far away as possible from the old man but figured it wasn’t worth the upset.

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In fairness a fairly slick oven
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Yuans’  Kitchen set up
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The only source of light

 

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My kitchen set up

One of the days I was given a machete and told I had to make a new pathway (for what?).We literally spend days moving branches from one area to the next. When I asked what were the branches being used for he replied saying ‘nada’ and apparently the empty space is being used to build another refugio for all the ‘tourists’. At this stage I was loosing the will to live. The ‘free accommodation’ i.e trunk of tree definitely did not warrant the hell I was putting myself through. There was no signal either not that it mattered as my phone was dead and no electricity to charge it. Thank god the kindle has good battery life and that was my only saving grace. Reading Shantaram at the moment (excellent book, thanks Orla for the recommendation). As the days progressed the work got tougher due to the heat. Yuan spend the day talking to himself and I eventually followed suit and felt like I was drifting into a similar craziness.

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The woods….
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Me working as a wood carrier in San Martin De Los Andes (the smile is fake)

Yuan had offered me the choice to go wash with him in the lake which I politely refused. I’d rather smell and look homeless than bathe with Yuan. He brought me to one of the nearby private lagunas and in fairness it was stunning. This was my break from tree transportation. I purposely got lost for a few hours to try and kill some working time. I spend the afternoon swimming, reading and sun bathing it was perfect (expect for the horrific sunburn that soon followed). It was so horrific I could barely walk let alone lug tree trunks around the place. My whole back and legs were covered in blisters and I had a constant splitting headache. Obviously I had nothing for the burn so covered my whole body in egg whites. I’ve been doing this for years and who knows if it actually does anything but the eggs seems to cook from the heat of your skin and create a layer of cooked egg which gives a little relief. Anyway I figured it was better than nothing and Yuan seemed to think it was an excellent idea. That nights sleep was impossible I was barely able to move my body and sticking to the sleeping bag because of the eggs and of course Yuan’s disturbing snoring/spitting enhancing my painful headache.

Yuan once spent 47 days in the hut an without leaving and survived on butter and pasta he just smoked his pipe and wrote down his thoughts…. this is when I  knew I needed to leave pronto and reminded myself I am 25 not 75!

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Yuan’s Bathing Grounds
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Yuan having a chill as I do all the heavy lifting
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Kitchen

After 4 days I surrendered and told Yuan I was unwell and needed to be brought to the hospital asap. He also needed to go for his arthritis so off we went together for my   4th trip to an Argentinian hospital! The doctor took one look at me and the first thing asked me did I want a banana? Obviously I said yes she then came back with a bag full of bread, bananas, tea, chocolate and water. She said my burns were bad so gave me anti inflammatories and pain killers. A successful trip all round. The friction from the backpack is ripping my skin it’s torture!

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Hasta Luego Yuan!

I decided to leave San Martin and head towards Mendoza, an area famous for wine. As I was waiting for a hitchhike a random guy cam over to me with some fizzy orange and marshmallow biscuits he said he felt sorry for me. It was like feeding time at the zoo today. I really must have looked really shook post Yuans (anyone would)! I got dropped 30km north where I met two young Germans who were also trying to hitch hike north they wanted to get as far as Bolivia. They didn’t speak any spanish so it was up to me to try to sort us all out. Delira with myself the first guy I chatted to in the garage said he’d bring all 3 of us 3 hours further north. After 3 hours it transpired that we actually went South and ended up back in Bariloche (god only knows how!) The Germans had hitch hiked from there earlier that day. Needless to say they were furious with me and as light was closing in it looked like we’d have to sleep in Bariloche. Miraculously just as it was getting dark a young Argentinian police man stopped and said he was heading 6 hours north and would take us all. The ungrateful Germans were still in a huff! Santiago the police man was a gent and we lapped for the 6 hours while the Germans caught up on their beauty sleep. He dropped us at the bus terminal where we all booked a bus to Mendoza for 6.30am the following morning (a 15 hour bus journey).

My first day in Mendoza was v chilled exploring the leafy town, It kind of reminds me of Barcelona. I decided to go explore the Maipu wine region just outside Mendoza the following day. There are really expensive wine tours you can do and some with matching food pairings which I was obviously tempted by. Instead I settled for the backpacker option of renting a bike and cycling through all the different wineries. It was excellent and cheap.  I was expecting the wine tours to be really touristy and busy but it was so chilled out and not crowded at all.  I did a tour in the first place with a lovely couple from London and then for the rest of the day I just did wine tastings. Mendoza’s most famous wine is Malbec and then Shiraz. They also produce white wine and rose thank god as it got as hot as 43 degrees. Mid way through the day I did an olive oil tasting with different tapenades (they are also famous for their olives) and chutneys, jams and choccie. A welcomed break from all the vino.

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First Winery, Domiciano, Mendoza
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2nd Winery, Tempus Albus, Mendoza
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Third Winery, Mevi, Mendoza
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4th wine stop (can’t remember the name) but the wine was top notch

There were about 10 different wineries you could choose from, spending on average about 1 hour at each. I made it to 5 different ones and choose to go to the small family run ones as opposed to the big ones. The setting was absolutely stunning with stretching views of vine yards  and olive trees. A fantastic day and nicely finished off with happy hour in our bike rental shop with 2 free glasses of vino on offer.

The following day I left  Mendoza to make my way north towards Salta (over 1,300km away of course!). Most people say hitchhiking is so much easier in the south and the further north you go the less common it is.  I decided to give it a go and after waiting in the blistering heat (40 degrees). An old couple took pity on me and brought me to the nearest town 130km north to a place called San Yuan. I was absolutely drenched in sweat and ruined their expensive air-conditioned car.San Yuan is famous for its melon production and when I arrived there was a melon festival happening. Delish melons and wine (they also produce excellent wine) the most exquisite combo.

So after my usual Spanish spiel the couple couldn’t believe I was travelling alone and hitchhiking. They told me their son owned a hotel and I could stay for a night if I wanted and the son would show me around the town. Obviously an amazing offer so I said yes! So it turned out the son was a professional tennis player in Argentina, owned a hotel and was ONLY 23 years. What a way to make you feel inadequate. I checked in and couldn’t believe it was I was given a family suite. Nacho the hotel owner picked me up an hour later and must have wondered why the hell he was given the job of babysitting me for the day. It reminded me of the kind of situations Dom has oftened landed me in so I felt sorry for the poor chap who obviously didn’t have a say in the matter.

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San Yuan’s amazing scenery
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San Yuan

He told me we were going for beer which I obviously didn’t object to but what I didn’t realise he was bringing to a pool party of one of his other tennis mates. It was  basically a mansion with about 40 beautiful looking people going around in expensive bikinis.  It was the most amazing setting of outdoor pools and bars with a backdrop of the Andes mountains and vine yards. Stunning. Needless to say I stood out like a sore thumb and not your typical pool party clientele. I camped myself out near the free bar and tried to explain in Spanish to people who I was and why the hell I was here.

A rough start to the week finished off we me being treating like a queen! Absolutely blessed!