Crossing the Andes

A few pics – because it was just too beautiful not to share

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A glimpse of Argentina

My final day in Argentina is coming to an end and as I travel on the last leg of the journey through wine country (Mendoza) I thought I would share a few insights to the wonderful experience it has been.

Argentina and South America as a whole, was the first place I would be truly alone on my trip. Arriving on a continent where I knew not a soul, nor the language, was somewhat terrifying, but so far it has been amazing.

I started my time with some much needed intensive Spanish classes. While my speaking skills are slow going, I can now generally communicate enough to get me by. In my limited vocabulary I can usually find a word that broadly conveys what I am trying to say, but this has not been without laughter from my audience from time to time. But I persevere.

In more recent weeks, in an attempt to accelerate my grasp of the language, I have participated in both a ‘speed dating format’ language exchange, which (in theory) pairs you up with a Spanish speaker for 5minutes of dialogue in English and 5minutes of dialogue in Spanish, before the bell rings and you move onto the next person. In reality, the lack of native English speakers meant I was paired with 3 Spanish speakers on each rotation  – no easy feat for a beginner trying to hold down 3 conversations coming at you at once. I felt a tad like a performing monkey – everyone so excited to interact with the ‘native’. But it was a good experience and I met a variety of interesting people.

I also stumbled upon a website which promotes ‘conversation exchange’ around the world and thought I would give it a try. Once again I was bombarded by literally dozens of messages from Spanish speakers inviting me to meet up. Some seemed to see the site as a quasi dating forum – not exactly what I had in mind. I politely declined the invite to meet one guy for the first time at midnight in a salsa club. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for meeting new people, but this seemed a little odd to me – trying to exchange language skills in a dance club…..

Nevertheless I DID meet with a variety of people who gave me some great insights to the city of Buenos Aires, as well as so kindly helping me with developing my Spanish. Interestingly, one person tried to explain to me how so many English speakers use the wrong intonations when speaking English. Yes, thankyou native Spanish speaker for picking up on the faults of English. It’s great that you have corrected our language for us 🙂

Anyway, end result is mi Espanol es mejorar ahora, pero necessito mucho mas practicar.

Buenos Aires is a beautiful and eclectic city with tonnes to do and see. It has a variety of parks, gardens, museums and neighbourhoods to explore during the day, and restaurants, tango clubs and bars to explore by night. It is a huge city, with travel leaving a lot to be desired. It can take exhorbitant amounts of time to go relatively short distances. After trying train and taxi, I decided it was almost as fast to walk anywhere I needed to go. Quite often the trains would be so packed, you would have to let 2 go by before you were able to squeeze yourself into the overflowing carriage – then to have the train randomly stop at stations for 5-10mins at a time. A journey of just 7km took some 45mins on more days than I care to remember. Alas being on the roads did not move any faster, with a combination of traffic and hundreds of traffic lights (which Murphys Law always saw in the shade of red) ensuring a slow crawl. Very frustrating when you need to be somewhere by a certain time, but after a while you learn this is just part of living in Buenos Aires. BA is also home to the widest street in the world, where you have to cross it in two stints because it is virtually impossible to make it across in one go. I did manage to make it once, but was literally running to cross all 14 lanes (plus another 3 on each side for good measure – technically these don’t count as the same road though….) before the lights changed again….

With the frustration of roads and trains, biking is popular, with the local government providing free bikes for an hour at a time to get around the city. I took a bike tour one weekend to see the graffiti (of the legal kind) that is scattered around the city. Very interesting tour and a remarkable day out in general. After being quizzed by a visiting friend, the guide has accumulated a wealth of knowledge on the emergence of graffiti in Buenos Aires, from the political slogans, to attempts to ‘brighten’ the city after the financial crash, when several out of work graphic designers branched out into graffiti art to try and put some joy back into the city.  Of course there are the usual ‘taggers’ that also mark various walls around the place, but the works created by the graffiti artists are impressive, unique and sometimes just downright odd!

Outside of Buenos Aires, it is obviously a huge country, but I managed to visit Iguazu Falls (most amazing set of almost 300 waterfalls at the border of Argentina and Brazil), Bariloche (stunning town in what is known as the lake district, with several ski resorts also nearby. Tried my hand at skiing – all was going well until a twisted knee ruined my hopes of ever going pro….on the mend, but still twinges occasionally as a cruel reminder of what will never be **sigh**), Salta/Purmamarca/Humahuaca/Jujuy (incredible scenery in the far north of Argentina, with fields of cacti, multicoloured mountains and endless salt flats) and lastly Mendoza (wine country. Malbec specifically. VERY generous tastings).

So now I am en route to Santiago, Chile in a bus crossing the Andes. Unbelievable scenery and it has the added bonus of saving me $95 in visa charges (which apparently Chile only enforce if you fly into Santiago). I will have a few days to explore the city before joining a tour for the next month (and must say am VERY excited to not to have to organize accommodation or transportation for a whole month!) My tour will cover all the traditional tourist sights through northern Chile, Bolivia and Peru – Atacama Desert for some stargazing, Uyuni Salt Flats for some optical illusion pics, Lake Titicaca – the highest lake in the world, cruise in the Amazon, trek to Machu Pichu, Nazca to check out the strange parallel lines before finishing in Lima. Can’t wait!