Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Last Week!

I am back in Bogota for my last week of this long trip. Nearly five months has passed so you would think that my tan would be better than it is but it is what it is. This time next week I will be back in London and it is weird how much I am looking forward to it. I have never really felt this way on a trip before but a lot of the last two months has been spent looking forward to going home. I have become such an ungrateful traveller that I think it will be a long time before I put my backpack on for any extended amount of time. In fact, as part of my new 'try to be a grown up' plan, I have bought a suitcase on wheels to help me carry all my stuff home. There are other changes too... but most of these will come into force once I get back.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Lo siento, amigos...

I went to Peru, as some of you might have seen with the one solitary photo posted on facebook. It was cool. I was only in Cusco, Machu Pichu and then had one night in Lima before flying to Bogota. Cusco was beautiful though the hostel wasnt as nice as it could have been, the staff were a little cold and a couple shagged in the bunk below me for over an hour, despite many protests!

Machu Pichu looks exactly as it does in the photos. Which was a relief. It had been raining all night the night before I was due to go, I thought that I had left the shower on at one point. But fortunately it had stopped by the time I was due to go. And I had my first tour in English which was nice after two days of Spanish.

The journey to Lima was pretty long and nasty... 19 hours all in.. grrr! But when I arrived in Lima I met the nicest taxi driver, he didnt even try to rip me off which was nice. The hostel was in Miraflores, the posh part of town and I am not (too) ashamed to say that I celebrated my return to civilisation with a Burger King. It was fantastic!

However the air in Lima was really really really bad.. I was still coughing up a lung when I reached Bogota a few hours later. I have spent the last few days staying with my old language exchange partner in Bogota and we went to Villa de Leyva for the weekend with some friends which was really nice.

Now I am alone in Colombia for the first time in two years... and some things have changed... the perpetual cry of 'llamada llamada' seems to be a thing of the past and there are way more foreigners here than I remember. Some things remain the same though....the irresistable nature of me for starters... yes, the bus driver asked me out. I kinda knew that he would. He had been through the bus a few hours before asking for tickets, then I realised that it was only mine he wanted to see. Later he came back and ruffled my hair and asked me if I was bored and if I wanted to dance. Not on the bus I replied. So it wasnt a big surprise when he asked me out when we arrived in Manizales, he offered a massage and a hotel for the night... I almost went for it.. hjahahahah!

Also, I bought a bus ticket today and my name was recorded as 'Helen British' once again the Colombian confusion of my lack of surnames with my nationality.. cute!

Right, am going to finish my pizza now, expect more later:)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Well, so, I was leaving Sucre to go to La Paz when that damn bus broke down. The nine hours by the side of the road were pretty painful but fortunately the grandmother sitting beside me saved me a seat on each of the subsequent buses we had to catch. Bolivia was looking fairly grim but I must admit that this probably had more to do with my mood than anything else. Plus we seemed to be safely out of llama country which was a shame.

We passed through one town which had a queue about 30 vehicles long waiting at the petrol station. The queue included everything from motorbikes, cars, buses, mini buses and a large proportion of tractors. It was then that I realised that a few seats ahead of me were some English people. Later, as we pulled into La Paz I ran over to them and asked if I could follow them to whichever hostel they were staying in.

Thank goodness they said yes.

Tom and Katie (no, for real) were lovely and seemed to know so many people. I had a great weekend with them, again fortunately since we were stuck in La Paz because of the referendum, whch meant that for at least two days the buses were going nowhere. It was also a dry weekend- no alkholl!

Well the first day we headed out in the morning and there was something a little special going on, minatures of EVERYTHING were being sold. We bought some fake money and later worked out that we had to get it blessed before midday and we would have good luck for the year. People were buying all kinds of things, mini houses, cars, suitcases stuffed with cash, mini lap tops, shops, offices... it was only after 12 that we realised we should have invested in a bus!

And things got only more surreal as a group of nine of us went to San Pedro prison in the afternoon. Yes, we paid good money to enter a South American prison. Now, I have never been in a prison before but i have watched enough 'Porridge' and 'Prisoner Cell Block H' to feel that I know how it works. And I have certainly never seen one where the prisoners have to rent or buy their cells or where they have the keys and the guards dont.

We went approached by some guy on the street who told us that he was a prisoner and he would take us in, for a fee of course. Turns out that he was on the verge of being released so was allowed out during the day, with his wife and kids, who live with him in the prison. And things didnt get any less odd after that.

We were taken to meet a Colombian guy who claimed to have worked with Pablo Escobar (though I cant find any reference to him on the interweb) and spent most of the afternoon sat in his cell with another guy who had been caught trying to smuggle coke to Amsterdam.

It was a very strange day to say the least, coke was readily available but no beer- it is a prison after all! There are loads of wives and kids also living in the prison and half the people there seemed to be ex cons coming to visit their mates. The guy showing us around was unlikeable at first but we grew fond of him throughout the day and it was hard to go to the gates and walk out knowing that he wouldnt be doing the same for another 2 years or more.

The next day was the referendum and La Paz was like a ghost town, no cars anywhere. A group of us walked up to a look out point and, well, looked out. Later we descended on one of the fe restaurants open that day- a British Indian curry house! Hooray! Complete with Turkish waiter and fifteen of us gringo backpacker types. Those in the hostel that didnt go to the restaurant seemed to get take out- made for some pretty nasty bathroom visits the next day in a hostel where nearly 180 people had eaten curry the night before.....phew.

Of course all the bars were closed but the one in the hostel stayed open, on the condition that we were all quiet. All 180 of us. We managed it and didnt get closed down and in fact had one of my best nights in a long time.

The next day a group of us wandered around the Witches' Market and then yesterday I got on a bus to Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, one of the highest, biggest lakes in the world. The bus was pretty small and made to Bolivian size, which meant that the headrest was firmly cloaking my shoulders. I didnt feel so good, I am sure that this was in no way related to the Ausie Day celebrations in the hostel the night before!

After a couple of hours the bus stopped, I didnt know why, and everyone got off. I followed them and bought a ticket for something. Hum, then followed them onto a small boat. At the same time our bus was being driven onto a slightly bigger boat and we took a shortcut across one of the narrower parts of Lake Titicaca. Now I understood why the buses were so small.

An hour later I arrived in Copacabana and coped out by just going into the nearest hotel without looking around. Today I paid an extra couple of quid ot move to a room with a bathroom and a view over the lake. Bargain.

I was going to take a boat ride out to Isla del Sol but it has been raining and hailing all day so I feel OK about not doing much.

Catching the bus to Peru tomorrow- wish me luck!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

La Paz

This is just a quick note to say that buses in Bolivia suck. When ours broke down after just three hours and 53km away from the replacement bus, we had to wait for NINE hours for the replacement. Turning a 14 hour journey into a hideous 23 hour one. Uf! But we arrived in La Paz in the end but it is a dry weekend because of the referendum tomorrow. We might have found a sneaky way around it.

So I am here until Monday as there is limited transport today, nothing tomorrow so I can't leave until then anyway.

Did see a big statue of El Che on the way into La Paz though which made me happy:)

Back to Blighty on 2nd March

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I fell in love with San Pedro!

Bloody Madonna and her 'La Isla Bonita' and me on my way to San Pedro- grrrrrr, 26 hours of her rattling around my head. Well I darted up Chile pretty quick smart and the bus was only delayed by an hour when we got a puncture. I arrived in San Pedro around 1am and found a place to lay my head and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The next day I finally got out of bed and went out for a little explore. Little because San Pedro is not exactly Buenos Aires. It is a weird little place, made of mud and teeming with tourists either coming from or heading to Bolivia. Of course I was of the latter variety and didnt take much time before booking my three day jeep ride to Uyuni in Bolivia.

Three days, two nights and all the meals included set me back $100- ah how I wish that the pound wasnt so piss poor at the moment, it takes all the fun out of seeing prices in dollars when you cant just half them and look smug while the Americans cry. Huff. But at least it makes it easier to talk to Europeans about prices now that I finally know how much a euro is worth.

Anyway, the next day saw me waiting for the jeep at 7.45am. Another guy turned up for the tour and my heart sank. Herman the German (no, really that was his name) didnt speak English and didnt look like a barrel of fun either. Hum, a little fact I had forgotten when questioning the tour office the day before, did the guide speak English? Apparentely not. We all spoke Spanish that first day.

And oh my goodness was it the best hundred bucks I have ever spent?? Oh yes it was! Half an hour after leaving San Pedro we were breakfasting at the Bolivian border, being carefully watched by a couple of Andean wolves. After that it was lagunas and flamingos agogo for the next two days.

The first night I didnt sleep at all and was pleased to discover that no one else had either- damn that altitude sickness. After a day of sun we had arrived at our basic accommodation just before the hail and snow started. Yes, it was cold. I gathered together all the spare blankets in the room and nearly suffocated under the weight of them to try and block out the coldness.

Day two was more flamingos and llamas and vicuñas (kinda like a llama but not actually a llama, the tour guide did explain the difference but it was all in Spanish so I might have lost the finer points). And day three was an incredibly early start- not helped by Marie forgetting to change her clock to Bolivian time before setting the alarm, therefore waking us up at 3.30 rather than the 4.30 we had to be up by.

I was first out of bed and out of the salt hotel and waiting outside admiring the night sky by the time the others crawled out of bed. Guess that they had gone back to sleep after Marie's alarm went off.

We drove onto the Salar de Uyuni- google it, it is amazing- an ancient salt lake which at this time of year looks and sounds like snow. We watched the sun rise and I cant really tell you how amazing it was!

WE spent a lot of time on the salt plains before finally making it to Uyuni, a town which looked really grim on the outskirts (the kind of town where pigs shag in the middle of the street, I am not making this up) but the centre was really quite nice. I stayed the night along with someone else from the tour and then yesterday I got the bus to Sucre.

Let me just say that Bolivian buses suck almost as much as the internet connection here!

Not looking forward to the trip to La Paz tomorrow but it has to be done. Especially if I am planning to be back in the UK at the end of Feb!

Which I am:)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Not Chilly in Chile

OK lets get the excuses out of the way first. Reasons for not writing before include mind meltingly slow internet connection, keyboards so bad that I have to practically pummel my hands through the desk in order to get them to register anything, laziness and just plain having too much fun to write. But i am here now, little ones, worry ye not, I have not been eatedn by a rabid llama or necked so much malbec that I cant remember my name let alone my username.

OK, so where were we? Cant remember so let me go from Buenos Aires once more. Ah, I had to leave. Once my teeth were completely fixed there seemed little reason to stay beyond sheer love of the city, and that can get pricey. So on 31st December I planned ahead and prepared my bags ready to depart the next day. I neednt really have worried as I had a quiet New Year's Eve, exactly what I needed after the excesses of Christmas in Uruguay. And so on 1st January, I heaved my bag onto my back for the first time in a month (having just taken a small bag to Uruguay) and headed to the bus terminal and Cordoba. A German girl from my beloved Estoril hostel was heading the same way and off we went.

However she had booked into a different hostel to me so we parted ways on arrival in the morning and met later for some food. The next day I just wandered around and took photos. Then travelled overnight once more and hit Mendoza.

Mendoza produces around 70% of the wine in Argentina and it would have been rude not to have sampled some, though the drink of choice amongst the youngsters in the hostel was the rather punch packing fernet- which we nicknamed ferret for the face that you pull when you drink it. I did a wine tour with some people from the hostel and later that night we purchased some ferret in order to get the young hostel lad drunk. At some point in the night an asado (barbecue) was demanded for the next night. And the hostel laid it on a treat and promptly put Hostel Lagares Beltran at the top of my loved hostels list (Estoril at this point having been promoted to the home away from home list).

If it had been a wrench leaving Buenos Aires, I wasnt expecting to feel so sad leaving Mendoza. We had a blast over the three nights I was there- Lois, my American friend, and I set ourselves the thrifty challenges of finding the cheapest fernet we could (just under two quid) and the cheapest red wine (uf, about fifty pence a litre) all of which were actually wonderfully drinkable (once we got the coke-ferret ratio correct).

Arriving into Mendozza few days before I had glimpsed my first sight of the Andes since leaving Colombia nearly two years ago and a smile spread across my face. So I decided that my trip through them on the way to Santiago de Chile should be during the day to most enjoy the scenery.

Good idea.

Apparentely the same idea that nearly the entire population of Argentina felt the same way. Three hours after leaving Mendoza we were high in the desolate mountains at the border. Where we proceeded to stay for another three hours. Making us late into Santiago whioch had the knockon effect of buggering up my travel plans into the city.

I had been advised not to get a taxi, both by an English boy in Mendoza and the bus driver. The metro here is good and clean and unfortunately doesnt sell tickets after 11... I discovered at 11.02. My imploring finally melted the heart of the security guard who let us passengers through for free. A good result but stressful.

My second night in Santiago saw me meeting up with Fernando, a guy that I met in Medellin in 2007- often referred to, by me, as my only friend who doesnt speak English. We sank a few beers, had an alarmingly green looking pizza (avocado being overly used here to a degree) then hit a clandestine club for some serious grooving. All in Spanish, fortunately Fernando is pretty good at speaking Spanish slowly and clearly, without all the embellishments usually employed by Chileans.

Sightseeing yesterday was great. I was standing in a queue for the funicular and a Brazilian guy in front of me turned out to be the tour leader of the massive group waiting behind me in the line. When the ticket guy asked me how many tickets I needed I said one, just one, and pouted. He told me that there was nothing wrong with being alone and I said that there is when you are behind a large group of Brazilians. He then told me to push my way into the line and brought out my tickets and change for me! A few minutes later he took me to the front of the queue and pushed me ahead of everyone. Bless him! And all in Spanish again:)

Then I bought a couple of tops, the most important thing for me being that they werent black, I always seem to wear black. The woman told me that the purple suited my hair.

And it must have done since the local nutter today told me that I was very beautiful. Though I pretended not to speak Spanish.

Today is my last day in Santiago and I might even enter a museum later....

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The problem with free internet in the hostel is that there is always a long line for it and even when there isnt it feels like there is. So I have run out into the sun to update good and proper. I am in Punta del Este in Uruguay and the sun has really come out today. I was in Montevideo for three nights and really liked the city, like a smaller Buenos Aires, but I have to admit to being 'homesick' for the place where I had been for the previous three weeks.

Since leaving Brazil I really havent travelled at all, just finally left BA to come to Uruguay on Saturday morning but even that was hard. Hard mostly because I went out the night before with a few people from the hostel, including a Colombian guy who couldnt really speak English. But me and him were the only ones that wanted to go to a nightclub. Which we did. But not for long. Got home about three hours before I had to get up and even managed to brush my teeth and take my contact lenses out:)

But when I woke up the next day I couldnt speak English anymore! Hahaha! The taxi driver that took me to the port in BA told me that my Spanish was very good but I explained that at that point I just couldnt rustle up any English- though I will admit that I didnt use the Spanish for 'rustle up'. I got onto the ferry and .... well walked around and then sleeeeeeeeeeeppppppppppttt. I hope that I didnt snore as much as the guy just across the aisle from me who slept for the entire trip. I just slept for half of it. As the duty free opened a couple of guys started entertaining the crowds with guitar and song which was fun.

Standing on the deck of the ferry, I could look behond me and see Buenos Aires and ahead of me I could see Uruguay! It was just like the cross channel ferry:) We arrived into Colonia and I got on a bus going to Montevideo and a nun sat down next to me and offered me a sweet. And suddenly I was in Uruguay, along with the 3.5 million residents, about half of whom live in Montevideo.

Now Uruguay was never on my agenda but it is so close to BA that it seemed almost rude not to go and the guys in the hostel in BA recommended Punta del Este for Xmas. So after three days in Montevideo I set off here. And took one of my shortest bus journeys so far, just two hours, but yesterday the normally beachy loveliness was marred by the clouds.

In Montevideo I saw lots of souvenirs for Uruguay, apparently lots of Brazilians and Argentinians like to come here to spend their cold hard cash and someone told me that they tried to get a bus from Porto Alegre in Brazil to Montevideo a few days before but the buses were all sold out. Weirdly I have seen lots of souvenirs with a map of South America turned on its head. Now I understand this humour with Australia and New Zealand as this rotation puts them at the top of the map but with Uruguay it is still about half way down South America, never mind which way up the map is.

So today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is Christmas Day. And I have made the slight error of booking into a hostel that doesnt have a bar! Eeek! But at least it is quiet. So today I have to make sure that I have enough food to get me through tomorrow- at least there is Cabdurys chocolate here though I have yet to see a chocolate orange:( And I have a feeling that Papa Noel doesnt know where I am! So for the first time ever I wont be opening presents tomorrow. In fact, so sure am I of not receiving anything that I havent even brough any socks with me to wear let alone hang on my bedpost.

But there is a beach and there is some sun and I can have turkey some other time.

So to you all, feliz navidad!!!!!!!!

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