Category Archives: My Central and South American travels

Football matches, English classes and partying hard in Brazil

I thought the border crossing from Colombia to Peru was a joke (it happened in a bar), but the one from Argentina to Brazil was ridiculous – it didn’t even require standing up. We simply got in a cab, gave our passports to the cab driver, who showed them to passport control through the car window and drove on into Brazil.

I chatted to the Argentinean cab driver in [attempted] Spanish just to hold on to the joy of being able to converse with people for one last moment, before he chucked us out at the airport and I had to go through the arduous task of buying a plane ticket in Portuguese, a language that may as well have been whatever the hell it is they speak in Star Trek.

We were on our way to Ilha de Mel, where all the streets are made of sand and there are no motor vehicles. We met a group of American, French and German travellers on the bus to the port, so we got the three-hour boat to the island with them – but not before buying three bottles of cachaça, six limes and a bag of sugar. One of the girls had a wooden cup and pestle to smash the limes and sugar together, and after a few goes we got pretty good at making caipiriñas, then after a few caipiriñas we became bad at it again… The stuff isn’t known as crazy juice in traveller circles for nothing.

The caipiriñas did fuel an awesome night though. Starting off with a barbeque at the hostel (after my failed attempt at fishing standing in the sea fully dressed in the dark using a hook and line tied to a Coke can), we ate steaks (undercooked by myself) and chicken hearts on crackers. It was delightful. Then the hostel manager chucked us out for being too loud, so we tucked the iPod speakers under our arm and made our way to the beach. As luck would have it in an only-when-you’re-drunk situation, we came across an empty bar (there were no other tourists on the entire island) with an extension cord trailing all the way out to the water’s edge. We plugged in our tunes and danced into the night…

Everyone woke up the next morning feeling a little worse for wear (except me, I was up and at ’em at 8am – I seem to have out-drunk hangovers). Some of us spent the day lying in hammocks talking about the state of the Brazilian currency while the rest of us went out and had fun. We went on a little hike around the perimeter of the island and ended up in reggae town. We stopped for dinner and some beers then bribed a boat owner to take us back. By that point it had started raining, and we were flipping freezing in the open-air boat. We took it in turns to sing a line of any song we could think of with the word ‘sunshine’ in it to keep warm, and somehow it worked.

We left the island the next day, knowing we’d had as much fun as we could possibly have, and made the 14-hour journey to Rio, by boat, bus, plane and taxi. We arrived in the district of Lapa at midnight on a Saturday night. It was heaving. They close the streets off to traffic and it just turns into one big street party. You buy caipiriñas on the street, food on the street (including hotdogs with peas, sweetcorn, sauce, crispy bits and of course a hard boiled egg) and everyone just dances the night away. Well, we did anyway. We became the life of the party and everyone wanted to know us. We were being beckoned by the locals in every direction, Phil because he was wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt and me because they discovered I knew the words to Nirvana and Pink Floyd. And cos we rocked.

We eventually hit the wall and went to bed in the hostel above the Irish bar, where the mattresses and pillows are all plastic-covered. The next day we moved on to Paraty, a small sea-side town. We stayed at Che Lagarto hostel, again the only place with actual people. Spent the next few days eating street truffles (men stand around selling sugar-based treats from trailers) and going on a boat trip to some small islands. It was bastard freezing out on the boat but at least we got to feed small orange monkeys bits of banana from our hands. Had to jump in the water to get to the monkeys first though – took me a long time of standing on the edge of the boat and just dipping my toe in to actually brave the water. We also met two American guys in Paraty. We found them wandering the streets holding their Lonely Planet upside down trying to find their hostel. They were the funniest people I’ve met – two gay guys, friends not partners, who said everything with a flourish and made our time in Paraty one big belly-laugh.

We also did a spot of teaching in Paraty. We were accosted by a local in the street who said he’d seen us earlier speaking English and asked us if we wanted to take over an English class at the school where he was a teacher. Offering to take us to the natural waterslide/giant slopey rock the next day to say thanks, we couldn’t say no, especially as the American guys had paid about £25 each to do it as a tour.

And so began our first morning of getting up and getting ready for school. I tried to fake tonsillitis, but there was no getting out of it now. It was when we discovered the kids were not six but 16 that we started pooping our pants a little.

We walked into the classroom, legs wobbling, and I immediately regretted wearing my llama-shaped bag. Quickly tucking it away on the teacher’s desk, I scanned my classroom: lots of kids, all wearing their own clothes and all looking straight at us, sniggering and murmuring in Portuguese, which I don’t understand a word of.

They quickly warmed to us though, and I happily embarrassed the girls by pointing to a boy one of them was talking to through the window and asking ‘is he your boyfriend?’ Then the unthinkable happened: Phil got the shits. A girl escorted him to the toilets and he didn’t come back until after I’d finished my second class of the day…

We spent the rest of the day buying a ridiculous amount of Havaianas before the teacher picked us up for our trip to the waterfall (Phil’s bum squirts had finished by now). The idea of this waterfall is that it crashes down onto a huge, smooth rock and flows into a freezing cold pool. Kids spend their weekends sliding down it, running round to the top and doing it all over again. I have a video of one local doing it standing up…

I chickened out after seeing Phil’s face when he landed in the water. It was a flipping freezing day as it was (in London it would be sunbathing weather, in Brazil it’s stay indoors weather). The teacher then saw a banana tree on the trail by the waterfall, looked up at the bananas and said “I’m going to get those bananas down.” He stood there looking at them for a while as we wondered how he was going to do it – shimmy up the tree, use a stick to knock them down. Then he pulled a machete out of his bag and in one hit, chopped the entire tree down. That’s one way to get something you can’t reach out of a tree I suppose. He didn’t give us any of the bananas though.

After all the excitement of wielding a machete, embarrassing kids and sliding down rocks, it was back to Rio. We decided to stay in Ipanema, where the hostel had a black and white cat and lots of awesome people, plus a British guy who happened to be on my three-leg flight home a week later. The weather was a bit crap, so we just kind of wandered around for a couple of days, being initiated into the city’s rival football team’s gang, eating our bodyweight at an all-you-can-eat restaurant and going to see Christ the Redeemer on the one clear, sunny day.

Getting bored of Ipanema and Copacobana we all moved to Lapa, as it was the weekend and we wanted to get our party on one last time before we went home. But first we had a football match to go to…

It rained like hell at the football and only about 12 people turned up to watch, including an old man who thought he was the team’s manager and was shouting and gesturing in a way that, well, in a way that you’d have to be there to appreciate… Anyway, we ate some hotdogs and drank some alcohol-free beer that we were scammed into buying but that was kindly paid for by the head of Sony Music Brazil, who we met on the train half an hour earlier. It transpired later that he has a private box to watch the game from, but wanted to sit in the stands with us lot, just cos we’re so very awesome.

We went out later that night in Lapa for some actual beers (and caipiriñas of course), and the whole place was times 50 on the crazyness scale from last time we were there. The streets were heaving and we had to promise the guys that the good-time, laid-back reggae vibe would be back the next night. The next night it rained. Hard. The good-time reggae vibe up and left in a puff of smoke – literally.

It was an appropriate way to spend our last night in Rio – and my last night of travelling, preparing me for what to expect when I got home. And true to itself, Britain was grim when my plane finally touched down at Heathrow.

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.

Six long days in Buenos Aires

I have had twelve hours’ sleep in the past six days. In BA, people don’t eat till 10pm, and if you get to a nightclub before 4am you’re like, so uncool. I’m far from cool. Apparently I’m supposed to nap between 4pm and 7pm and spend the rest of my time partying, but my body just won’t let me go to sleep at that time, despite the distinct lack of it I’ve had over the past few days. It’s not entirely my fault though – I tried my hardest to have a lie-in on my first three nights but the hostel (Tango Backpackers in Palermo) considerately put me in a dorm room on the ground floor next to the busiest street in Palermo where honking traffic starts at 6am, and the windows have no glass – just flimsy wooden shutters. To add to this distressful situation, the dorm was the entrance to the staff room, plus they put a snoring early riser who likes to have the lights on at 7am in the room with me. I did however manage a very attractive open-mouthed power nap on the hostel sofa one evening, but woke up to everyone staring at me, and that was the end of those.

I was also dealing with the news given to me when I checked in to the hostel that the cleaners steal, so we have to lock the door and have all our belongings in the metal lockers whenever we leave the room. My dorm mate and I came home one afternoon to find that, true to their word, his locker had been prised open from the bottom. I had paid the hefty room rate upfront for five nights (you get the sixth night free), but after night three of snoring, car horns and thieving maids I forfeited the money I’d paid and legged it out of there (and realised later that in my desperation to leave the premises I had forgotten my deposit). I then discovered from a friend’s recommendation an amazing hostel in arty district San Telmo called Circus that is big, clean and has brilliant people working there who absolutely made my week. Also, the burritos and tacos from the hostel restaurant gave me the Mexican fix I’d been dying for my entire trip.

Despite the false start, I had a great time checking out the food, parties and cats of Buenos Aires. There’s a botanical garden in Palermo that I kept going back to because it’s full of friendly stray gatos. There are little piles of cat food everywhere and the cats just spend all day eating and sunbathing together. Also full of felines is the famous cemetary for the rich people of Argentina, where they don’t have gravestones but entire houses-slash-churches for their whole family.

To do a recce of the city without having to endure the city tour bus, I hired a bike with a British guy called Dave, my dorm mate. We got lost twice, ended up pedalling for our lives in the middle of a six-lane highway four times and stopped for food 147 times, including ridiculously delicious dulce de leche ice cream and the best street burger in the world, which we ate while watching the geese chase people for food on the banks of a lake. While I wasn’t looking one came and took the last bit of my burger right out of my hand, taking half my finger with it. Then Dave made me laugh for about 15 minutes by asking at what point the small black ducks with yellow beaks become big and grey like the rest of them…

My second night in Buenos Aires began with a tango lesson at La Catedral, an awesome venue without a sign – you just have to be in the know, darling (it’s in the Lonely Planet…). Tango-wise, Dave and I were terrible. I managed to stamp on several other dancers (got quite a few dirty looks) and generally look incredibly stupid. We gave up early and had pizza and red wine instead.

Day three in Buenos Aires was spent shopping. I forked out £97 for some incredibly awesome skinny jeans for my new skinny figure (soon to change) and then I went and ate custard pastries, ice cream, brownies and fresh lemonade (goodbye new skinny figure).

As for the steak, well, all I can say is that food is now ruined forever. Nothing will ever be better than an Argentinean bife de lomo cooked jugoso (‘very rare’). In Argentina they feed their cows well, give them lots of room to play and give them a relaxing massage every night before sending them to bed on plump mattresses with silk sheets. Even vegetarians eat steak here. My first Argentinean steak in Salta was actually really disappointing as they cooked the thing to death (apparently when you say ‘rare’ it means ‘well done’), but it was all uphill from there.

My first BA steak was at an all-you-can-eat place called Siga La Vaca – Follow The Cow. Dave my roommate and I forced down beef of every description until the meat sweats kicked in, then chased it with a chocolate mousse. We closed the place at 1am and went straight to bed. Later in the week I was taken to a more local steak restaurant where I also discovered for the first time how incredible Argentina’s mashed potato is. Following it with a tub of dulce de leche ice cream I decide the country is officially perfect.

I absolutely love Buenos Aires. The graffiti is more street art than vandalism and all the walls are adorned with colourful works of genius; the food, well, I think you know what I think of the food; the people are attractive; the parks are full of happy cats and the architecture is different every corner you turn – although this is hard to appreciate when you have to keep your eyes fixed to the pavement so you don’t step in any of the ubiquitous piles of dog crap smeared all over the ground.

But trying to describe why I love this city is difficult to put into words – it’s just got a buzz, a vibe, an energy that is so alive and exciting. It reminds me a lot of New York City – except everything is in Spanish… Buen provecho!

hitchhiking argentina

Hitchhiking through NW Argentina and eating everything in my way

I love Argentina – and I haven’t even eaten the steak yet. There’s too much else to eat. Churros, ice cream, empanadas, fried hotdogs – and the hostel I’m in offers breakfast AND dinner, which is a first in my whole four and a bit months’ travelling. Empanadas tonight.

Argentina is the food section of my travels, and I’m getting fatter by the day – a man in the street even called out ‘engordar‘ to my friend and I as we walked past eating figs. That’s right Argentina, I’m here to get FAT.

My time in this beautiful country began in Purmamarca, a small town in the northwest that is famous for its rock of seven colours. It turns out there’s a rock of 32 colours down the road, just to compete.

I got off the bus bound for Salta early with a Chilean girl called Tamara. She’s a gorgeous hippy chick with super-long hair and a back-breaking 95-litre backpack full of awesome clothes. We arrived in Purmamarca at 9.30pm after a six-hour bus journey became a 12-hour bus journey and it was pitch black and completely deserted. I hadn’t even planned on getting off in this small town, as the bus was ultimately bound for Salta, but I decided I’d been on the Gringo Trail too long and made the executive decision to get off it and explore.

Tamara decided the same thing, so we headed out into the very dark but delicious-smelling streets of Purmamarca, full backpacks on, to find somewhere to stay for the night. After countless unfriendly hostel owners and not a single other tourist in sight, we heard some music, followed it into a folklore bar and discovered they had nice rooms above the bar for only just a bit over our budget. We spent the evening drinking Stella and listening to the local band play, much to Tamara’s absolute delight and my ever so slight disinterest.

The next morning, eager to see the sight the town is famous for – its mountain of seven colours – we had breakfast with two Argentinean guys who had a car and promised to drive us to the big rock. It turned out they were officially the laziest people in the world and the mountain was 20 metres from the hostel, which they knew. We then went for a little drive around the area to see the canyon and mountain landscape while the designated driver got high on weed.

We soon got rid of the 30-year old teenagers and made the much more mature decision to hitchhike to Iruya, a small canyon town several hours north; not because there were no buses – one went past us in fact – but because it would just be more fun.

It was more fun. After 20 minutes of standing on a sunny, tree-lined road and teaching Tamara the word ‘thumb’, a big shiny black truck came past carrying two Argentinean tourists on their way north to Bolivia. We hitched a ride with Leo and Sebastian all the way to Iruya stopping at all the small towns on the way. The drive was spectacular – coloured rocks on either side of the windy road. We drank mate tea and I daydreamed about my first Argentinean steak while they chatted in rapid Spanish. Iruya was a pretty town that would have been lovely to spend more time in, but we had to get moving, so we rode back to the main highway and hitched a ride back south to General Guemes, near Jujuy, with a young truck driver carrying beer and Coke. We stopped to drop off the cargo and a few hours later said goodbye to Sebastian Number 2 – but not before he bought us dinner and a bus ticket to Salta…

We then managed to find the worst hostel in Salta. For $40 pesos (US$10) you get hot water for tea that you have to provide yourself and a bed with unwashed blankets. When we left for a hostel recommended by two English girls we’d met on the bus before we suddenly found ourselves in a brand new hostel with comfy beds, huge spaces, clean everything, a bath (yes, a bath!), plus breakfast and dinner, for the same price. They also played Britney and Backstreet Boys on the speakers all day, which was the real clincher for me.

We spent the first day eating – well, I did. I had ice-cream, figs, steak, mashed potato, sweet pastries, lots of veggies, chocolate yoghurt and bread and jam (what day goes by in South America when you don’t eat bread and jam?).

Later, Tamara and I went out to a folklore bar with a Kiwi glacier guide who’s cycling South America. My first steak also happened here and was a devastating disappointment. Next time I’m ordering a cow still mooing.

The next evening I found out why my credit card had been declined constantly over the past week. It had been cloned and some moron in Austin, Texas, has been buying sports shoes and tat from Walmart with it. Classy use of my money, idiot. I called the bank and they told me to call them back on reverse charges because it would take a long time. So I called them through the operator and just as we were getting to the bottom of it (after being asked by the girl at Halifax “So is Argentina not in the USA then?”) the phone booth operator realised I was making a collect call and cut me off. I yelled in my best Spanish, stormed out in a huff and stuffed my face with pizza and empanadas after having a little cry.

We also decided to hire a car. We wanted to go to Cachi and Cafayate, a wine region, but didn’t want to take the tour where you get out the bus when they tell you to, take pictures of what they tell you to, then herd back onto the bus like sheep. But we couldn’t afford to go it alone. As soon as word got out in the hostel that we were looking for people to join us, we suddenly found ourselves enquiring about 12-seaters. In the end we settled on two French boys, Ben and Philipp, and a fellow Brit Rosie, who’s currently writing her second chick-lit novel.

It was a fantastic and hilarious two-day road trip. Rosie and I taught the others the term “take a slash”, and realised how much we miss British humour. My favourite part was her tale of dysentery (sorry for this Rosie) where the doctor asked her for a urine sample, but her Spanish didn’t stretch to medical terms, so she assumed she understood him and pooed in a cup. For the second day in a row I cried, but this time thankfully with laughter. We had such a blast on the road trip, stopping every 20 seconds to take goofy photos of us jumping, dancing, lying in the road, making llama shapes and climbing big rocks. It was sunny, we had Backstreet Boys CDs and we had Oreos. We spent one night in a campsite hostel, putting extra mattresses on the floor to save money and whiled away the evening in a café eating beef and drinking beer. And as always when you’re new friends, conversation never dwindled and no one wanted to punch anyone.

There was only one tiny little incident that almost forced us to turn back on our three-hour journey and go back to Salta: we managed to time our drive around Argentina’s famous Ruta 40, a single road around the mountains, with a very recent landslide. We were the second car to turn up at the point on the narrow mountain road where the cliff had crumbled into a pile of precarious (and still falling) rubble, with nothing but a sheer drop on the other side. A daring 4×4 braved it and survived, while we stood there eating sandwiches on the boot of the car and wondering what happened to the car full of Dutch tourists we’d passed with a cheery hello earlier on in the journey. There was only one way to go after all. As soon as this was vocalised we all peered over the drop off the side of the mountain to see if there was a car of Dutch over the edge. Thankfully there was not, so we resumed our cheese and ham sandwich eating, cursing not having made more, and watching while more and more cars sped up to the landslide and skidded to a halt. Eventually a couple of enterprising old men with shovels came along and started tipping the rocks over the edge. We tried to help but just got told to keep eating our sandwiches and stay out the way. Eventually one brave car crawled across the rubble, and everyone else followed, including our own Philipp – alone I’ll add. A high-five for Philipp and we were back to the important task of finding the exact spot the photo on Rosie’s postcard was taken from.

When we finally arrived in Cafayate at lunchtime on the second day we celebrated our journey with a hamburger and a wine-tasting tour at one of the many bodegas. This one was extra awesome because it had a ginger cat wearing a cork collar. And some nice wines too.

We then said goodbye to Rosie, who wanted to spend an extra day in Cafayate to sunbathe (I’m painting a really good picture of you here, aren’t I? So sorry…), and sped off in the direction of Quedebra de las Conchas, a road flanked on either side by bright red rock formations. We took the obligatory 3,465 photos, while singing (and dancing) to Eye of the Tiger, Full Monty and Backstreet Boys, and several hours later were sadly back in the city, with Tamara ready to hit the town for some folklore music, and me and the boys ready for a quiet beer at the hostel, lame-traveller-style.

This morning I boarded my first proper long-distance bus from Salta to Buenos Aires, party capital of South America. I now have 21 hours to kill and am the least prepared I’ve ever been for a bus trip. I have no Oreos, sandwiches or anything fun. I have two apples. Two apples! What was I thinking?

Getting hot in Chile

Coming straight into desert of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, from the Uyuni salt flats tour, we were treated to more of the same stunning landscape as south east Bolivia. Said to be the driest place on Earth (although it rained just before we got there, sparking arguments among a group of Chinese tourists), I spent my two days there biking through the red-rock desert and getting my tan back, as well as going stargazing at night at the planetarium. They have about 10 massive telescopes outdoors, two of which the enthusiastic Canadian astrologer built himself, and through them you can see Saturn, the Milky Way, clusters of billions of stars invisible to the naked eye and all the visible constellations. It was incredible, although slightly ruined by the fact that I had a tummy upset (thank you Bolivia) and had to keep running to the bathroom – a bathroom that had a massive Jacuzzi I might add, although one which I barely noticed in my panic to reach the loo…

San Pedro de Atacama town was really beautiful although extremely touristy, and I loved it a lot even though I could only spend two nights there due to time constraints and a need to be in Buenos Aires by the 22nd May latest. For a start, the town is teeming with massive dogs – absolutely huge, all with collars, neutered, well fed and looked after. There were tubs of dog food left outside shops and they all happily wandered through the dusty desert town looking for cuddles. There were also tons of big fluffy cats – three were staying in my hostel, one in my room – every time I opened the door she came in, pulled over my glass of water, spilling it all over the carpet, then gave me the innocent ‘it wasn’t me’ look. Then when I needed to leave the room she would position herself firmly under the bed so I couldn’t get her out and just meowed at me when I made to leave without her. Cats…

Everything in Chile is so much more expensive than Bolivia. I know this is obvious but it’s a real culture shock. After spending no more than £2 a night on accommodation in Bolivia, to fork out £10 on (admittedly much nicer) hostels in Chile was hard to do. Then there’s eating out – in Bolivia I was shocked to have to pay £2 for a big meal; in Chile you’re lucky to find something for under £6. And drinks here are expensive too: you get two cocktails for £10, and that’s during Happy Hour. It’s worth it though, as the quality of food in Bolivia makes you have to run like Usain Bolt for the nearest bathroom (read: hole in the floor) whereas in Chile the food is so good I could marry the steak sandwich I just ate.

As I write this I’m on the bus from San Pedro, Chile, to Argentina. It’s the most scenic bus ride I’ve ever taken and I was lucky enough to get the top front seat with panoramic views of the volcanoes, mountains, lagoons, desert – as well as some worrying lorry accidents. Some are from a while ago, with the only indication being a road-side cross, and some happened only moments before we passed, with cargo spilled all over the edge of the road. I promptly put on my seatbelt and tensed up.

The border crossing from Chile to Argentina has been the most time-consuming yet, mainly because (much to the pleasure of some of the girls on the bus) there were about five buses full of Latin American volleyball teams on their way to play in a tournament in Argentina. It’s fascinating travelling from Bolivia to Chile to Argentina in a matter of days as the contrasts are incredible. Everything keeps getting better looking – the landscape, the people, the animals. Streets are increasingly cleaner, food is better, service is more efficient (except maybe at the borders…), people are so much friendlier and things feel a lot more familiar. I’m currently sitting on the bus looking down out of the top front window at the border control men and the golden retriever jumping and rolling around at their feet. The Peruvian girl next to me is commenting on how good-looking the Argentinean men are (and blowing kisses at her favourite one) while I’m getting soppy over the gorgeous, shiny dog. Meanwhile, we’re all discussing how we’re going to have our steak cooked tonight. Gonna love Argentina.