Leaving Bolivia was easy, we handed our passports to a lady behind a window, she didn't even check that the face handing her the thing matched the photo on the passport, she stamped it & we were off.
Entering Argentina on the other hand, was one of the most difficult things I have done thus far on the trip as it was full of bureaucratic crap. The line for the stamp point was huge & after about an hour standing in the queue, a bus load of people bribed the guys at the desk to process them all first. This usually doesn't take long, because you fill out forms with all the vitals on it, but here you had to hand your passport to a guy behind a window & he would get as much info from your passport as possible into his computer. It took ages! By the time we even reached the window, we had been in the queue for 2 1/2 hours, & then some crazy older lady from behind us started trying to take me down by belting my pack & pulling & pushing me, sending me totally off balance. Finally we got our passports into the hot little hands of the guy behind the counter, at which point we were told to head back to the back of the queue, & when we reached the front again, they would be ready. We didn't like the sounds of this plan - not the going to the back of the queue, or the leaving of all our vital documents with this strange man, so we set up camp for the next hour next to the stamping point. When we finally got them back, we were in Argentina - yey! We had been building this moment up for a long time & after the hassle of getting over that tiny border, it felt even better, even if we were just walking straight to the bus stop to get the next bus to Salta.
Salta was pretty much a stop we only made to break up the transport. We only stayed one night & as far as we could see there wasn't much to do there. Since then, nearly everyone we met was on their way there, but no one knows why they're going there, or what they'll do when they get there - weird.
From Salta we jumped on a bus to Buenos Aires, it was a 24 hour journey, but some how in the new fancy Argentinean buses, it didn't seem too bad. We all had our own seats, there were no live stock onboard & the movies were half decent.
Arriving in BA was a little strange after being in Bolivia for 3 weeks. It was kind of like reverse culture shock. The city is huge & there were high rises & Sheraton hotels all over the shop, & to add to it, all the people were the same hight as us (or taller than me in my case) & very well dressed in the latest designer gear. No puffy skirts & bowler hats here.
We headed straight to the hostel in Palermo, a nice suburb with leafy streets & great young designer markets only a five minute walk from our front door, where Rose was staying and surprised her by arriving a couple of days early. It was very cool to all be together again & have some time for story swapping. The hostel we were staying in, El Firulete, was very cute, it has only 20 beds & the most amazingly clean & nice kitchen I have ever seen in a hostel. Not a mouse or cockroach in sight. Little did we know that this would be our new home for the next 2 1/2 weeks. BA is a little bit of a vortex, it is so much like home, in that there are beautiful parks everywhere, there's a massive cafe culture & the young designer fashion is great, it would be easy to get lost there for a couple of years.
Every Thursday at the hostel, there's a BBQ. There is nothing Argentineans like more than steak & blood sausage, so I think it's a bit of cultural sharing on the hostel owner's behalf. Luckily for me, all the staff there are awesome & didn't think twice about having to make something for me & Amber to eat at such a carnivore's picnic. The BBQ soon got rowdy with a group of Aussies (us) a Canadian (Shane) & the hostel staff & all their friends, a party was underway. The party was topped off when a dance floor started in the kitchen & the disco ball & smoke machine (yes, smoke machine) were set off. Really, who designs a hostel with a smoke machine & disco lights in the kitchen - too funny.
Christmas was only a few days away & the girls & I had planned a KK system so that we all didn't blow our budget, buying presents for each other. After about 10 goes at pulling names out of a hat, we got it right, no one had themselves, then it was off to do some serious shopping, which is a little too easy to do in BA. That would explain why, even though we didn't buy each other presents, we still all managed to blow our budgets. After the present shopping was complete we set about shopping for what was to be a massive Christmas feast. We had enough food to feed a small army, but that's what Christmas is all about.
Christmas Eve was a little different to those that I am used to at home. Number one, there was no schnitzel or horseshoe biscuits, there was no family (besides my fabulous friends who obviously qualify these days) & I was sat on a roof top in BA, instead of in a lounge room in Mount Evelyn. There was a BBQ again & a bit of a bar hop. It was all good fun until Christmas morning when we had to get up before noon to make our feast. We all managed though & the food was great, as was the company. Jarrod, Nik's friend from Australia joined us, & the rest of the gang from the hostel. It was lots of fun.
It was also a bit of a sad day though, as Rose was flying out in the evening to meet her mum in the UK. After lunch was done, we all sat solemnly in our room watching her pack up her bag, then we all hung out the balconies & sang to her as her taxi pulled away. The poor taxi driver really didn't know what was going on, but sometimes these things need to be done.
Between Christmas & New Year, we tried to be real tourists & leave the hostel occasionally. This never seemed to quite work out though. We tried to visit three museums, all of which were closed for renovation in the Christmas holidays. We managed to go to the zoo, which was kind of cool & kind of sad. It is really hot in summer in this part of the world & all the animals were panting a little more than they should have, none more than the Polar Bears & White Tiger, who obviously should have been somewhere a little bit cooler. There was, however, a kangaroo which was kind of funny.
We headed out with Shane the Canadian to a local night club called Mint to see Miss Kitten, a DJ that Amber knew which was fun & bizarre at the same time. The club was crazy; it was packed full inside, then outside looking over the waterfront there was a row of 4-poster beds that everyone was reclining on - crazy.
We also managed to head out to La Boca, which was pretty much just a market full of very touristy tango paraphernalia, and we also visited the Recoleta Market more than once, which had great jewellery, paintings & leather crafts.
The most disturbing thing that we went to see was the Recoleta Cemetery which has Evita's tomb in it. The cemetery itself is beautiful, in a morbid kind of way. There are no graves there, but it looks like a city of tombs. Many of the tombs have life sized statues on the out side of the person that lies inside & many of the coffins are in plain sight. One of the most disturbing was a coffin that had a statue lying on it of the woman inside, with a baby resting on her chest. So as it is like a city in there. We were struggling to find Evita's grave, so we eventually decided to tack onto a free tour. Once we were shown her grave, which was somewhat less impressive than many of the others, the guide informed us that she was the only person actually ¨buried¨ there, & that she was buried 7 meters under ground. We asked why this was, as 7 meters is a lot further than usual & the guide informed us that while she had been buried the first time in France, someone had dug up her body & raped her, so once they bought her back to Argentina, they made sure that this wouldn't happen again. I still haven't quite recovered from that little piece of information & I apologise now for sharing it with you, as I'm sure it will haunt you for a little while also.
For the rest of the time in BA, I pretty much just hung out with the new friends that we had made at our hostel, wandering the very beautiful streets & enjoyed the BA nightlife.
For New Year, surprise, surprise, there was another BBQ. By this stage our hostel had pretty much filled up with Aussies. Apart from us there were also 2 boys from Melbourne, James & Raff & two girls from Melbourne, Sheri & Jacinta. In the previous 2 1/2 months of travel I think I had maybe bumped into one other Australian, so it was weird to see, or mostly hear, so many at once (The Aussies accent sticks out like nothing else). Vic was also there, a Chilean that we had been hanging out with for the whole time in BA, & also a bunch of assorted folk, from Germany, the US & England. Once New Year hit, the whole sky erupted into a fiery bang, with everyone in the town letting off fire works all over the place. There were little kids with weird fire work guns trying to shoot each other & adults nearly blowing up each other's apartments when they let off the works on their balconies.
Then we headed out with Mauritsio, one of the hostel owner's friends, to a house where his friends live but that on the weekends worked as a bar / club. We arrived at the club at about 2 in the morning & there was no one there. Everything in Argentina starts late, even on New Year, when the celebration is supposed to be at 12. By 3 however it was packed, they had some nice tacky 80s tracks playing & a great rooftop for cooling off. It was a great night, until me & Amber were looking for Nik & some dodgy types bailed us into a dark corner & gave us both a New Year smooch. Needless to say we didn't find Nik, but we did find the closest exit & were out of there in a flash.
So that was BA, a lot of fun, which could have continued if we had've let it, but we decided that it was time to see some of the rest of Argentina. Amber, Alison & I all decided that we would head down to Patagonia to see some glaciers & Nik was off to Chile to meet up with a couple of friends from home.
We decided that there was no way that we could make the mega journey down to El Calafate all in one go & that we would stop along the way. The first stop was Viedma, a 22 hour bus ride from BA. It was a cute little town that was deserted when we arrived. All the shops were closed & we couldn't figure out what was going on. Once we had decided that it was probably a public holiday, we wandered down to the river on the edge of the town & discovered that the entire town was down there swimming & sunbaking. It wasn't a public holiday, just a nice day for a swim. We only spent one night in Viedma, just to break up the bus trip, but I think I could have spent a little longer, lazing by the river & eating bucket loads of delicious ice cream, another Argentinean custom.
The next stop was Comodoro Rividaria, a town that didn't seem to have much to offer, which was unfortunate after another long bus trip. What was even more unfortunate was that once we were off the bus, we discovered that every single hostel, hotel & motel in town was completely full. Not one spare bed in town. It was 12.30 at night when we got off the bus, so by the time we had hiked around the town trying to find somewhere to sleep & failing miserably it was about 1.30am, so we headed for the first restaurant that we could find that was still open. We set up camp in the restaurant until they kicked us out at 3 in the morning, when we were forced to spend the rest of the night in a 24 hour internet cafe. We had decided that we would catch the earliest bus possible out of town the next morning, but the bus station didn't open until 7, so we had a good 4 hours to kill, before we could even figure out if there was a bus that day.
After leaving the internet cafe & stumbling, eyes bulging out of our heads, in the direction of the bus station we meet 3 Argentineans who were on their way home from a big night. They were hilarious & they escorted us to the station & organised our tickets for us to leave on an 8 o'clock bus. It was awesome. Our Spanish isn't good on a regular day, so it was going to be a real struggle to try & get tickets after a sleepless night.
The next fabulous destination was Rio Gallegos - another fairly average town where we spent 2 nights (pretty much only because we couldn't get accommodation in Calafate any earlier). This town saved its self by having one really awesome restaurant that served spinach & ricotta crepes, which was divine after being in BA, a carnivore's paradise. We also found a few very good bottles of wine, which made the experience all the better.
The bus ride from Rio Gallegos to Calafate was only 4 hours, which was nice after all the travel in the days prior. When we arrived we pretty much collapsed for an hour or so & then headed into town to do a little snooping around. It was a strange town that was very reminiscent of many of the towns at the bottom of the snow fields in Victoria. A whole heap of dodgy & way overpriced souvenir shops & over priced everything else. The town was very cute however, & had some of the best ice cream thus far (we were pretty much doing the ice cream tour of Argentina, which is very easy & tasty to do).
We had three nights in Calafate, so on our second day in town Amber & I rented bikes for a couple of hours & peddled around town. There is an amazing lake just on the out skirts of town, so we headed there & had a little looksee. It was beautiful & there were a heap of weird & wonderful birds to look at.
The next day we set out on a tour to see the glacier, which was the reason we had made the journey. It was truly amazing. It pretty much looked like a massive lemon meringue pie, but with a crazy blue glow. It was amazing to see the size of it also. I had seen it in photos & post cards, but they don't quite do it justice. It is the size of BA & it manages to stay that size, by rejuvenating itself every winter. As we were there in the middle of summer, we got to see it at its most active. It was crazy, big hunks of ice kept falling off into the lake with a massive thunderous bang. We also got a small boat ride to get a little closer, which was good, but the water was a little too choppy for my liking, so I was glad once it was over. I really can't quite explain how cool it was, so you will just have to look at the photos.
Then it was off to meet back up with Nik in Bariloche. This would entail another 2 days & nights on a bus - fun stuff. We arrived in Bariloche mid afternoon, which was good as we had time to wander around town & sample the main produce, chocolate. I don't know how we do it, but we manage to keep stumbling across whole towns dedicated to chocolate - it's great. I'm sure it was bound to happen, travelling with so many girls. Then we had a nice dinner of roast veggies, after finding a hostel with a functional oven. It was fantastic.
On our second day in Bariloche, Nik & I headed of with Jo, a kiwi girl who worked at our hostel, to do a hike up a mountain that promised fantastic views of the lake. It definitely delivered on the promised views, after it nearly killed us getting to the view point. It was only supposed to take 1 1/2 hours, but after we were going way to slow for Jo & telling her we would meet her there, Nik & I managed to stop every 15 mins for air & take two wrong turns. Once we got to the top, we had a picnic & said good bye to Jo, as being way more hard core than us, she was going to continue the trek, through the rocks & snow, right to the top of the mountain. Instead we joined with a bunch of Kiwis & Brits from our hostel & slowly made our way back down to catch the bus back to town. A day well spent & a night full of body aches for us.
Whilst we had been mountain climbing, Amber & Al had been horse riding, so the next day was pretty much dedicated to pampering & resting our sore bodies. It was a difficult operation to co-ordinate our activities, as Amber & Al couldn't sit down for long periods of time & Nikki & I couldn't stand the thought of walking further than a few meters. Again the local chocolate stores saved the day & kept us pretty well entertained.
On our last day in Bariloche, before heading back to BA, Amber & I went on a kayak tour of one of the near by lakes. It was really beautiful, sitting in the middle of an amazing lake, surrounded by forest & snow capped mountains. This was a lot easier than any of the other activities that we had undertaken, but was made slightly harder & more comical when my sunscreen bottle dropped out of the kayak & we had to do donuts in the middle of the lake trying to retrieve it.
We arrived back in BA (Nik, Amber & I, Al had headed to Chile for a few days) & back at El Firulete on a Thursday night, again ready for the BBQ. It was cool to be back, it kind of felt like we had never left. The BBQ was fun, somewhat tame compared to others as all the other guests deciding not to come. Mauritsio came along & brought his guitar with him, which was great. Felix, the lucky hostel employee that was rostered on that night, played us some truly Argentinean music. It was loads of fun, a good welcome back.
Earlier in the day, we had headed to the Plaza De Mayo to see the Grandmothers' march. They do this every Thursday to remind everyone of the atrocities that went on in the past & to remember there family members who were lost. It was very sad; another government who doesn't admit its terrible mistakes, but what was the most upsetting was the amount of idiot tourists that were right up in these poor people's faces, video taping & photographing them. They were seriously about two inches from the marchers' faces. It was quite upsetting.
The next night, Mauritsio took us out to his favourite Chinese restaurant. It was great to have a variety of veggie dishes to choose from & we even managed to get a tofu dish that was spicy! I had definitely been missing the spice; Argentineans just can't handle any form of taste (besides meat of course). Then Patto, Mauritsio's cousin met up with us & we went out to a bar. It was good to hang out with some locals in restaurants & bars that we would never have found on our own.
The next day Amber's friends from the USA arrived to meet us. Amber met Josh & Brock in Japan when she was teaching English & had travelled through China, Nepal & India with them. It was really great to finally meet these mystery boys who we had heard so much about.
While they were about we made a day trip to Tigre, a small river side town. It was very cute & nice to simply sit in the shade & chat to the new arrivals.
That night was supposed to be mine and Alison's last night in BA. We were headed to the Falls on an 8 o'clock bus the next evening, so we organized a dinner with some of our new Argentinean friends & a whole bunch of Aussies, who miraculously turned up back at the hostel that day. We headed out for Mexican & then visited a local bar & ended back at the hostel for a few more drinks. It was a great last night in town, but Al & I weren't quite satisfied that our time in BA was up & ended up changing our bus tickets the next day, to leave a day latter. After all it was Australia Day & we saw it as our duty to stay for the celebrations.
The plan was to borrow one of the other hostel guest's computer & have a Hottest 100 party on the roof. Sadly the said guest (Beli your so in trouble) didn't show up & we had to get the iPods going instead. We again hung out on the roof & then headed to a bar. The night continued & ended with a champagne breakfast on the roof. It was lots of fun & a much more fitting end to our time in the city.
The next day was spent saying goodbye to all our new friends & most importantly to Amber, who would be leaving to go home in a couple of days. So then there were 3! There were also a couple of naps to be had & a shopping trip for the many bus snacks that we are oh to used to having to purchase.
The bus ride to Iguazu wasn't too painful as we were tired enough from the night before that we pretty much slept the whole way. When we arrived we headed to our hostel that we had booked, which ended up feeling more like a Club Med than the usual backpackers joints that we had been staying in. There was a huge pool & palm trees, which was great because it was boiling hot. We only had 2 nights in Iguazu & didn't see anything of the town because we were stuck in the pool for any free minute, but the falls were really amazing.
We headed out to the falls in the morning, in the hope that it wouldn't be too crowded, or hot, but we were sadly mistaken. I think an attraction of this magnitude is always packed & it seems that it's always stinking hot. The park where the falls are is really big & has signs everywhere warning you that you may encounter some dangerous animals, i.e. jaguars. The advice if such an event occurs is to be very loud & appear bigger than you really are. Not too sure how this works, but Alison & I entertained ourselves for quite a while trying to figure out every possible way to look bigger than we actually are. Lucky we didn't encounter any of the beasts, because I don't think we came up with anything too convincing.
Once you walk around a bit you are greeted by your first sight of the falls. They are amazing, there is so much water & the sound is deafening. I never new waterfalls could be so breath-taking.
One of the highlights of the day was a boat ride that takes you underneath the falls. It was cool to be so close, but even better to be soaking wet - a little bit of a relief from the heat!
Once back at our hostel it was back into the pool & getting packed up yet again to change countries. A bus to Rio was booked for the next morning. Good bye Argentina, I'm sure I'll be back!