Get off the beaten path » Seeing the world from a different point of view

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  • Get off the beaten path

    It's so easy to stick to the tourist trail, stay in hotels the Lonely Planet recommends, eat where everyone else eats and visit all the famous sights you've seen on telly and in magazines. While these experiences can be nice, you'll have the best adventures if you wander off the trail. Who's to say that just because a sight is famous, that it's actually any good? In fact, as soon as you discover what else the world has to offer that is not in the guide book, you'll realise that most famous sights are astonishingly underwhelming - if you can get through the crowds to see them.

    As well as the fact that the greatest sights you'll see, people you'll meet and experiences you'll have are off the beaten path, it's also much cheaper to get off the tourist trail than to stay on it.

    I realise that as soon as you find a place that’s genuinely off the tourist trail you want to keep it to yourself, but if you share, then others will share, and the world will open up around you. I’m not talking about taking three flights, two boat rides and a lift on the back of a donkey cart just to find an empty beach, I’m interested in the gems that are simply hidden away from the regular tourist areas, be it a lesser-known Thai island, a unique area of a big city, an unusual hotel or just a sight that no one seems to have noticed.

    If you've ever come across anything like this, let me know and I'll share it on this site!

    That's me, by the way, jumping in the air at a sand dune in Punta Gallinas, the most northerly point in Colombia.

Where have all the tourists gone?

Saying goodbye to Buenos Aires, even after spending only six days there, was a sad day. Not least because as a parting gift it had given me a solid day of rain. But it didn’t matter, because I was about to experience my first ever flat-bed bus ride. The journey was 22 hours from BA to Iguaçu Falls (and cost a hefty $110…), and after boarding the bus (after boarding the wrong bus), eating a steak dinner with a bottle of red wine followed by a glass of champagne and Black Swan on my personal TV screen, I swooped the big sofa-like bus seat back to full flat, pulled the curtain across and sank into a blissful 12-hour sleep. I only woke up when the bus was pulling into some small town to let everyone else off and the conductor came up to me and said ‘te duermes mucho’ – you sleep a lot. You’re damn right I do, I’ve been partying my ass off for a week, now leave me alone so I can have a nap. And nap I did, all the way to the falls.

Travelling in the low season can be awesome – you get money off your accommodation, there’s always a spare bed and streets aren’t crammed with travellers people with rat-tailed hair wearing stripy trousers and speaking bad Spanish (yes that’s totally me, and I’m ashamed, but the rat tail was not my fault – I lost my hairbrush). But when you get to a small town, such as Puerto Iguaçu, it can be the worst. You turn up alone and have to drag all your worldly possessions from hostel to hostel with the main criteria no longer being clean beds or hot water, but ‘are there any other people staying at this hostel?’

After doing the old trick of pretending to want to stay in a random hostel just so I can leave my bags there while I look at other places, it transpired that the entire town was completely dead. I then bumped into an American couple who told me that they were staying in the liveliest hostel in town, where there were two annoying Israeli guys and dirty rooms – the best option, they said. It turned out to be the craphole I’d left my luggage in. It was time to turn to the Lonely Planet. It listed one hostel that was 5km out of town and said to have a vibe that was ‘too cool’ for some travellers. Whatever that meant. I got my bags, jumped in a taxi and crossed my fingers that there were other people there. When the taxi pulled up it turned out that the reason there was no one in town was because they were all here, playing pool and drinking beer, like a party that has a secret invitation if only you’re cool enough to work out the code to it [apparently here that means simply reading the LP]. I quickly got into the swing of things by ordering a beer (in a big plastic cup like a proper student) and streaming It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia on my laptop while I waited for my boyfriend to turn up from the airport (I’d sent him on a flyer-finding mission in town to get us a discount at the hostel – a bit mean considering he’d just landed…).

He didn’t find the flyer, but that night we ate the most beautiful steak my tastebuds have ever encountered. It put all other food to shame. If I could live off this hunk of juicy red meat I would, no question. Add to that the waiter telling me in front of my boyfriend who I haven’t seen for four months and who last saw me attempting to pronounce baño ‘barnyo’ that my Spanish was very good, it was a pretty good evening.

And the falls were quite nice too. The town centre is a 30-minute bus ride from the entrance to the falls, and when you get there it’s like entering a theme park – there are ticket turnstiles, big maps, small trains, paths going in all different directions. I guess I expected it all to be a bit more natural, like you’re walking along the street and – bam! – there are the falls right in front of you.

Nevertheless it was fun to watch the hordes of Japanese people getting soaked when the wind changed direction and blew the spray all over them. They couldn’t pull their yellow plastic covers out of their handbags fast enough, and the amount of Sony digital cameras being completely ruined for the sake of needing to photograph every single moment of it was hilarious.

After being told you need three days to really appreciate the falls I was expecting a lot more. We covered every waterfall from every angle in six hours and even included a spot of playing in the river. Plus, the hostel we were staying in was extortionately priced, so we decided to move on the next day. That night we met up with Tamara (my Chilean friend I met in Argentina), plus Sebastian No. 3, who she had managed to blag free accommodation from at his hostel by using her womanly ways (Sebastian then followed her all the way to Rio, Brazil – she should write a book). We went for our second steak in as many nights (fourth for me…). After trying both bife de chorizo and bife de lomo I have officially decided lomo is for me (filet mignon). Very rare, of course. It just melts in your mouth and has no fat on it. I know everyone says it about Argentina, and god knows I’ve gone on about it enough, but seriously, the steak here is better than finding an all-chocolate Kit Kat in your lunch box.

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