We have just crossed the border from Bolivia to Argentina and all three of us noticed the almost imperceptible difference.
On the face of it, Villazon and La Quaica are the same: hot dusty streets and similar looking buildings but you notice that the streets of La Quaica are just a little bit cleaner and have a little less rubbish; there are no stalls selling knock-off goods; cars are newer, better and there's more of them.
We'd had a bit of forewarning about the random stops by customs and border patrols and sure enough, just fifteen minutes after setting off we were all ordered off the bus by armed guards. Men in one line, women in another. In the black of night and in the middle of the road. Everyone & their bags was individually searched. The guards clearly knew their stuff: tourists were dispensed with fairly quickly and local men received just a perfunctory (?) search. Local women on the other hand received a more thorough inspection... and rightly so. Their many layered garments and big bags invariably concealed tightly-wrapped bundles of coca leaves which were removed/extracted and tossed into the guard’s room. The offenders didn't even seem too pissed-off; none were arrested and just seemed to accept it (much to the surprise of all on looking gringos). Everyone back on board and off we go again... we were stopped on three more occasions within the next hour (but none so thorough).
On the plus side, Argentinean buses are nicer and the roads better, so if you have an overnight bus, you can actually get some sleep. And so it was that we awoke to a new bus station in our first Argentinean city: Salta. We'd heard good things and I’m glad to report that the place did not disappoint. We got pointed in the right direction of town and headed off to a hostel. We managed to get a room to ourselves, and then headed into the town centre to explore our new home and have breakfast. What a lovely city it is, some beautiful architecture, great hot chocolate, coffee and again soft bread and croissants...happy days.
We had a wander around. Oh the excitement of modern shops, obviously with our budget we were just looking, not buying. A very excited evening awaited us as we had been advised to go to a certain restaurant for great steak and Malbec. Delicious and the biggest steak we had even seen, just pure MEAT! And as a bonus on the way back to the hostel we passed an ice cream shop that had queues of people outside a good sign, so joining the queue Tim and Letty feasted on amazing ice creams, Tim's favourite was the red wine one, I know it sounds weird but apparently was delicious, Happy Timmy and Letty :)
More exploring the following day for me. The other two had decided that they would just have a relaxing chilled day. I decided that I would hike up to the top of the view point. So with my sun glasses on and a bottle of water I flip-flopped my way up to the top of the view point. It was beautiful, a picturesque garden and waterfalls at the top. I passed lots of joggers heading up and down the steep steps, so nice to be somewhere where running isn't freakish. On my way down I got chatted to by a young man (as it turned out, a very young man of 19), with my pigeon Spanish and his pigeon English we managed to have a nice chat back to the bottom of the steps, where he thought he should make sure I got back to my hostel OK and as I turned he asked me out for a drink later in the bar where he worked... mucho gracias, pero no!
The following morning we packed up and headed to the bus station for our next stop, Iguaçu. We'd only found out about the place not long before and almost didn't go as it was quite a detour. We're glad we did...it is a truly amazing collection of 175? Waterfalls... bigger and better than Niagara Falls apparently (but they would say that wouldn't they?!).
With Iguaçu done, a relatively short bus ride of 20 hours to the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aries. And what a beautiful city it is. With the most expensive taxi so far we we're dropped off in the hub of hostelville. With a room booked we headed into explore. At first sight we thought it was shut, trying to find somewhere to eat on a Saturday morning was hard work.
Coming across a well dressed lady we asked where to go and were pointed in the direction of ........, so turning a few corners we we're in the heart of Bohemian Buenos Aries with bustling cobble streets and many people, all very cosmopolitan. Finding a restaurant for breakfast and sitting down with tea and coffee to people watch was fun. Then came the marching band. With full bellies we walked through the streets looking at the stalls of leather goods and black market fakery (invested in designer sun glasses for the equivalent of 2GBP... Fake-Bans).
Letty got herself a made to measure belt which she ending up helping make, as they guy was more than happy to show her how to use the tools. We then headed to the heart of the city for a peek at the shops, restaurants and people.
The following morning after a lovely run around Martin Square, Tim and I booked onto the tour bus to see the city, knowing we didn't have long there and with so much to see it seemed like the best plan (Letty was planning to stay longer so she had plenty of time to explore by herself). And it was great, such a diverse city, the harbour side with the colourful old metal buildings and narrow cobbled streets where Tango first began, to the designer streets which seemed very London. The beautiful parks with the sculptures and lakes. The decorative architecture and the sun shine.
Like I said a beautiful city, such a shame we couldn't spend longer there. One of the nicest things about it was that we got to meet up with our lovely friends Jen and Toby*, who just happened to be passing through. We had a lovely afternoon with them, catching up and wandering around the city and enjoying delicious ice creams. So nice to see a familiar face after so long. Sadly we had to say our goodbyes to them and pack up ready to leave on a bus that evening. Also a double sad day as we were leaving behind our lovely Frenchie Letty.
So all packed up, we jumped on the train to the bus station. In a final bid to keep us there, Letty had wandered off with one of our tickets as the bus was rapidly loading... she came running back at the last minute (she'd got lost in what was a big and very busy bus terminal).
We'd covered so much of South America with Frenchie and were so lucky to have such a lovely person to spend time with (and - let’s face it - translate for us!), we felt quite empty inside as we boarded the bus.
Waving au revoir to Lovely Letty we were off to our next stop, Cordoba.