Monday, 11 April 2011

Argie Bargie!

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 had a while to wait for our next bus so we headed first to a cyber-cafe which had internet faster than dial-up (remember those days?). With all high-priority FaceBook checking done our next stop was our first real cafe... with real (soft) bread and tasty cheese... real coffee... real croissant! And really bloody expensive compared to Bolivia. After several hours we left for the bus where we found another difference: we'd realized in Bolivia we could haggle for EVERYTHING including busses but no-go here.

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 is a truly amazing collection of 175? Waterfalls... bigger and better than Niagara Falls apparently (but they would say that wouldn't they?!).

So in true travelling-Marsh’s style we had to go. To get there required one of the longest journeys we had done so far: 23 hours by bus. But thankfully a comfortable bus and for most of the way pretty good roads. We arrived bleary eyed into the humidity and the obligatory rain... it seems to follow us where ever we go. We waded to our hostel. This was our favourite so far, clean, modern, friendly and in the centre of town, which isn't too hard as town is pretty small. But that night as we got into bed, Letty let out a cry as there was something crawling in her bed, under more investigation it would seem the something was also crawling in our beds. In fact many things. But a swift room change and a good look under the bed and we settled in for the night ready for the following days water extravaganza.

After spending a day on a bus my legs were fresh and I love running in the rain. What I don't enjoy so much is running in the torrential rain, thunder and lightning. Also what I managed to do was flood Tim's iPod shuffle that I had been using [that'll be the third iPod she's drowned - TM] :( Back in time for the best breakfast in months, fresh fruit, brown bread, cereal, I was so happy and all included in the (5.00GBP) room rate.

Well fed, we headed to the bus station for our short journey to the National Park and their falls. Pay money and take short train ride to the first falls. Here we saw what looked like a cross between an anteater and a rat. Lots of different ones to see with some lovely tracks to take you into the base, to the centre and top of the falls.

Our first stop was to the heart on one of the bigger ones, we could hear it before you could see it, I think it was something like 75 falls in one area, all gushing into a massive bowl. With our waterproofs zipped up and hoods on we walked along the metal walkway bridge towards the torrent of water, it was amazing. We'd never seen anything like it. And as the day went on the sun came out. We saw so many more falls, some you could almost walk into others you could see from up high. With the falls all done and the day getting on we walked back along the train track, where we saw our first Armadillo, a very cute if a little shy animal.

That evening we had booked into a swanky restaurant, we'd had to book the evening before as it gets full. And this place is big (possibly the biggest I’ve ever been in) and packed. It was a lovely evening; we had a bottle of Linda Malbec, which was so very nice and yet another lovely steak. The place was a real family restaurant, lots of people in parties. We also had a live band that amused the diners, especially the very drunk elderly man who got up to dance to Zorba the Greek, getting quite a sweat on, I feared for his health; thankfully he sat down before he fell down. All in all a very good day was had by all.

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.

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