December 2005


Cordoba is a university town 10 hours north of Buenos Aires.  Renowned for an abundance of young and attractive women the night life is supposed to be amazing during the year.  Unfortunately on this page of the calandar university has finished for the year and people are heading in troves back to thier homes for the holiday season.

   An amazing city Cordoba is rich in shopping and in architecture.  With beautiful plazas and a shining sun I spent most of my time walking the city and observing as much as I possibly could.

  We were only in Cordoba for a couple of nights, the weather was stinking hot, and the city was slowly quietening down.  You could tell the holiday season was approaching and hence our time there was relatively uneventful.  Beautiful to walk around thats really all I did.

  We did have an interesting storey however when we left cordoba.  Booked on the midnight bus we left the hostal at 11.30 to torrential downpour.  No one would venture outside but Ralph and myself who both ran laps of the block.  As I lost a thong and it started floating down the street/river I realised just how much rain was pouring down.  The streets were literally rivers with water halfway up my shins.  The gutters acting at shallow dams the entire streets were flooded.  As I took my thongs off and ran through the middle of the street barefoot, locals sheltering themselves from the rain laughed at the spectacle of a gringo desperate for a taxi running through the middle of a river. Soaking wet I returned unsuccessful but found that Ralph had managed to secure us a taxi.

  The funniest sight ever followed.  All five of us (Tanner had left for an earlier bus) with all five of our backpacks crammed into the taxi with a very disheveled driver muttering under his breath and shaking his head.  I had Nathans backpack between my legs, my daypack on my lap and my feet on the dashboard whilst god only knows how the other four with three backpacks squeezed thier way into the back seat.  In any regard we did fit and we tipped the taxi driver handsomely tho I dont think he was as satisfied as I would like to have thought.

   We arrived at the bus platform with 90 seconds to spare (I am not good with these Argentinian busses) and all said goodbye to Ralph (who was headed to Mendoza, whilst the rest of us were headed to Buenos Aires) (p.s- we had already said goodby to Tanner and taken a lot of photos of the ´Guns of Navarone´).  With a lot of hugs, goodbyes, Hi-5´s and ¨we´ll see you in Brazils¨ (little did we know it would be a lot sooner) we parted ways and the four of us boarded our bus to BA whilst he waited the extra 10 minutes for his bus.  

  Soaking wet I took my seat, shivering and tired.  I awoke at 4am freezing cold but somehow managed to fall asleep again before waking up in Buenos Aires in the humidity still sporting my wet boxer shorts.

   Buenos Aires.  Finally.

High on life after my amazing time in Salta and ready for adventure we all (the guys, or should I say the ¨Guns of Navarone¨) decided we should try and hitchhike our way south from Salta to Cordoba.  We decided to split into 2 groups, one of three and one of two.  After saying goodbye to Marianna I returned to my hostal where Ralph (p.s – Brian and Ralph are the same person) and I departed to hitch carriage on a truck and save ourselves some serious coin.

  Walking out of Salta with our hands out for anybody with room to stop for us Brian and I ended up walking over 10 kilometres in the blistering heat whilst nobody even contemplated stopping.  When it had already been 2 hours of constant walking and waiting I yelled into the wind ¨Why wont anybody stop for us?¨ At that exact second two men in a ute pullled over and were heading the Germes (the truck stop) and within one minute of my expression of distress we were in an airconditioned cabin on our way for FREE!  The guy drove like a demon and 25 minutes later we´d stopped where we needed to be.  Stage one was complete, now we just needed a truck headed for Cordoba or through Cordoba and then to convince him to take two extra gringos and we were set.

    We spent another 2 hours walking around Germes, speaking to truck drivers and generally having no luck…  When we learnt of a gas station specifically for truck drivers we (again!) walked down bearing full packs and began talking to the various drivers.  I spoke to about 20 truck drivers and not one of them was headed either near or through Cordoba.  Though I managed to adequately communicate in spanish and even get offers for many rides, no one was heading in our direction.  With another 2 hours and more daylight I am certain we could have secured a free ride to Cordoba, however it was now 9.30 and the last resort bus was leaving at 10. 

   We decided to walk back to the bus station in the rain and thunderstorm, hitched a ride back into town and then caught the last bus out of the run down town/truckstop and into Cordoba.

   All in all, it had been a 6 hour adventure and we´d actually travelled further from our intended destination, but like I said, we were up for an adventure.

 

The northern-most major city in Argentina is Salta and let me tell you, after 6 weeks in Peru and Bolivia, this colonial little city is paradise.  European buildings and architecture, chorizo lined streets, a hostal that organises daily football games and SUPERMARKETS…. yes supermarkets!

   We arrived in Salta late in the day after our overnight train ride and then day long bus ride.  We were tired and hungry and the first thing we did was organise some food.  The second thing we did was get a game of ´circle of death´ going before we rallied most of the hostal and went to a club a bit further down our street.  What a night.  I remembered exactly what it was about Argentina i loved so much the first time… the women are amazing.  Five minutes in the club saw us all dumbfounded tho not to drunk to carve up the dancefloor.  As always, it was the gringos that got the dancefloor pumping and 30 minutes later the room was full and I was macking with some brittish girl.  We danced and then went back to the hostal and that was pretty much the end of my night.

  The next 5 nights we spent in Salta were characterised in the same way.  We got up at about 4pm, ate some food, had a late dinner, played some soccer, got the word-up on the best club to go to and proceeded to do so.  I think in our week there we visited the best of all clubs in Salta, tho none really had that good music.  Its funny tho, you spend long enough surrounded by lame music, you have enough alcohol and ´whammo´ all of a sudden the music is not so crappy.

    More soccer, more steak, more wine, more sleep…….

   About the third night of us being in Salta we decided it was time for a big club.  Metropolis was a 9 peso taxi ride away and promised good things.  After a round of ´circle of death´ we headed out and arrived at about 2.30am.  The scene was hilarious.  The music was blaring, there were hundreds of people inside but the dancefloor was empty…. dead!  Within 15 minutes we´d had enough and Tanner, Katie and myself bit the bullet and took center stage with about 250 Argentinians looking on.  A little later and a few more gringos joined, then a few Argentinians and before you knew it whammo; we´d done it again.  By 3.30 the entire place was on thier feet shaking it to the tunes and I was in the middle of a podium overlooking everyone.  I stayed on that podium until about 7.00 the next morning, I really must have been quite a spectacle.

    At about 7.00 I had had enough and thought everyone else had already left the club.  I found Ralph sitting to the side looking very tired and told him we should leave.  The three ladies he was sitting next to smiled at us and he suggested we sit and talk with them for a while.  As I sat down next to Marianna I thought how pretty she looked and when we started speaking I began to realise my Spanish wasnt that bad.  She doesnt speak any English and I dont speak much Spanish but somehow we related to each other enough and I kissed her.  At 8am we were kicked out on the street where Ralph, with his lady, me with Marianna, and thier other friend saw Carmin and Nathan with 3 other local ladies, and together we tried to hail a taxi.  When we weren´t allowed into our hostal with local girls we sat in the park before saying goodbye, promising to meet back up, and ending the night with our traditional ´Super Pancho´(enormous hotdog) or Milanesa (schnitzel roll) and a quick chat-up of the hotdog stand lady (who saw us everyday at this time of morning and we´d become sort of friends with).

   I spent the next 3 days with Marianna and the more time I spent with her the more I liked her company.  I dont know why, but I liked the fact that she couldnt speak English and I found that after a couple of days my Spanish was rapidly improving.  We talked about all sorts of stuff and promised to keep in contact via MSN.  Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and I am travelling, it was time to leave.  I kissed her goodbye and she said she was sad, but she understood.

    That day we had planned to try and save 70 pesos and hitch hike our way South from Salta to Cordoba.

¨Without the bitter the sweet never tastes as good¨ Vanilla Sky.

    After more than a month of chicken rice and salad I cannot express the smile and satisfaction I felt the first time I bit into a 400gram, $2 steak.  Cooked ourselves we literally gorged ourselves our first night in Argentina, but, i´m getting to that…..

    The morning after our premier first class train ride, on which I slept like a baby with a pillow, blanket and 2 tabs of diazapam, we walked the length of Villazon (the Bolivian, Argentinian border town) and bought our bus tickets from the border to Salta.  A comfortable two-story bus with reclinable seats was heaven and I even slept until my bottle of water, which I had stored up above came crashing down upon my head.  I couldnt tell if the person opposite me had a look of sympathy or amusement as I came too with a lump quickly developing on my forehead.

   When we finally stopped, and were not told how long we would be, I assumed I atleast had enough time to change some bolivian money into Argentinian pesos and get something to eat.  When I returned to the bus station (six minutes later) I received my first stark reminder things were different in Argentina than Bolivia….. the bus was gone… with my backpack…. and all my friends.  Immediately I returned to the ticket office of my company and in very distressed spanished expressed my bus had ¨VAMOS¨  When the guy behind the counter laughed I lost the plot and started yelling in English (which surprisingly always works, but is not a good method of getting your own way over here) at which point he took me out the back and shuffled me into a taxi.  The chase was on….   We hurtled through the streets and along the highways as we chased my bus, all the time my wondering how the others let the bus leave without me.  I had actually begun to get quite worried (about my bag) and was convinced this taxi ride was taking longer than it should for me to catch up with my bus.  We turned a corner and there it was… relief smacked me in the face like a cold fish and, as I threw money at the taxi driver singing his praises, the doors of my bus closed and it started to roll away.  I chased that bus like a greyhound after a hare and with much banging on the drivers window convinced him to stop and let me reboard.  I re-entered the bus to a round of applause from all the other passangers and as I retook my seat learnt they had all tried everything to get him to stop for me but he wouldnt.  The moral of the story, being a gringo is not important to anyone in Argentina.

   

Only the biggest Salt flats in the entire world!

  12500 square kilometres of salty goodness the Uyuni salt flats is an ocean of salt in the middle of a desert.  It really has to be seen to be beilieved, and when I can finally upload pictures again everyone will be able to see for themselves.

  From Uyuni we took a four day 4×4 trip through the deserts surrounding the town of Uyuni and arrived on the Salt Flats on day 4 (we did the tour in reverse) for some absolutely amazing sights.  Infact, the scenery on the entire trip was awesome. 

  Four days in a jeep is a long time, but you stop a lot and we saw lakes that were green, red, blue, grey and dotted, or more pasted in some instances, with bright pink flamingos.  Mountains and volcanos and these wierd things called ´Geysers´ which are like volcanic pocket openings with boiling mud frothing and bubbling at the openings and steam and atrocious noises hissing from henceforth.  Rocks that were shaped like trees or just bizaar natural desert scenery.  And of course there were a lot of llamas along the way, but then again we were in Boliva so… duh!

    This is all kind of random thoughts running through my head right now, and it was over a week ago now and I am underexaggerating (mum, i know my spelling is bad and I make up words) to say ALOT has happened in that week. BUT…

  The desert is a really funny place.  You get sunburned in about 5 minutes it is so hot during the day, but at night it drops to about -5 degrees.  Boiling hot in the day freezing cold at night.  Our second night we drank this local drink which is supposed to give you body rushes and even hallucinations and all 6 of us set off to hang by a lake and enjoy ourselves.  We ended up walking 13 kilometres through the freezing desert and no one felt anything.  Still a 13 kilometer walk is gooood exercise.

  but seriously… the salt flats.

  Doing the trip in reverse was excellent as it meant we got to do the Salt flats on the last day, and the best was definately saved for last.  As soon as we entered Hernando, our driver, put the pedal to the metal (finally, we spent the 4 days being overtakken by other tour companies) and we flew through the dried up salt lake.  At times I had wished for some french fries just to rub on the ground and then eat the salt was that good. 

      In the middle of the salt flats is Isla del Piscina (Island of the Fish; named so because it is supposed to look like a fish but it doesnt) which is an island completely covered in Cacti.  Bizaar and fascinating we posed for photos in many inapropriate positions and with many cacti and walked to the top where one is rewarded with a panoramic view of the entirety of the salt flats.  Once again, it seriously looks like an ocean of salt; and the weather…. we were blessed.   Relishing the amazing landscape we looked in all four directions and as far as the eye could see was white, white salt.  We hit up a hotel made completely of salt (tho the entrance fee meant we didnt enter) and visited some salt mounds before departing the salt flats (the best bits are always so short), seeing a train graveyard and then heading back into town.

  Our cook for the four days was a right bitch.  Her cooking was atrocious and her taste in music left one with more than just distaste.  Rightly so, our last night in Uyuni we ate like kings at ´One Minute Man Pizza´ (i dont know how he got that name…) and were aboard premier first class (the only tickets they had left) on the train out of Bolivia and into Argentina.

  Amazing because of it natural wonder, Bolivia is a country that has to be seen to be believed.  Rolling landscapes and amazing natural wonders exist in a society that is forced to care more about how to put food on thier table than in preserving what nature has blessed them with.  The people lie and steal and at times one can become easily frustrated with thier primitive understanding of the environment, let alone customer relations.  There are signs of political corruption throughout the countries entirety and at times the amount of beggars becomes depressing.  Still they are a people rich in opinion and in political activity and the coincidental election campaigns occuring during our time there, added an extra flavour to the already spicy dish.  I loved Bolivia as much for its faults and its differences to Australia as I did for the amazing scenery and vibrant soccer games; and not least for the fact you can sleep for $1 and eat dinner for 50c.

Though inhabited by less people and distinctly smaller in financial and political national influence than the mighty La Paz, Sucre is Bolivias modest capital with colonial buildings, fantastic plazas and of course cheap market food.

  Arriving after an all night bus ride, nothing much was done the first day in Sucre besides sleep and naturally play our favourite drinking game.  Waking up the next morning we deicided one more day was more than enough and we were to leave the next morning.  Our final day however was quite eventful.  We walked the city, paroused the local chocolate shops and played a game of soccer with a bunch of local kids.  The funny thing about playing anything with locals (particularly things they are sure they will beat you at) is that they always want to place a bet; makes things more interesting.  Our wager: the losers buy the winners a coke each. 

I can assure you that running around at an altitude of 3500 metres is a lot harder than a few laps of the Carlton Baths indoor soccer court on friday evenings.  Your throat burns your lungs are tight and you generally feel like you have a plastic bag wrapped around your face.  Handicapped already by our lack of acclimatisation, the locals ran rings around us in the first half constantly moving and keeping us from breathing.  Regardless, we ended the half 5-4, though our exhaustion ratio faired way worse than the scoreboard.  I honestly thought we were doomed at half time and when they came out and scored another goal very quickly in the second half I was convinced we would be buying these kids each a drink.

But it wasnt so….

  I dont know where it came from but we banded together, we held strong and although the scores were constantly being altered by our oposition to reflect the same margin, but a greater distance from the winning score, we won the game  10-7 (which was really 11-8 because they kept changing the score to suite themselves).  I kicked 5 goals but the whole team was instrumental in the overall victory.  As we walked back to our accomodation slowly reinvigorating our depleted lungs we were high on life and full of adrenaline and feeling invincible.  We needed a nickname and at that moment, Nathan, Carmin, Brian, Tanner and myself became the unstaoppable ¨Guns of Navarone,¨ and we have blasted ever since.

    A quiet dinner of (surprise surprise) chicken and rice followed by an even quieter evening and we awoke the next morning at 5am to begin the longest day of my entire trip….

POTOSI is actually the highest town in the world!  At an altitude of over 4000 meters one would be forgiven for asking why anyone would build a town at this height.  The answer is that in potosi there is an old Spanish silver mine, now used only to mine minerals, which generates over 90% of the income, for the entire town.  This mine is truly 3rd world, full of toxic gasses, asbestos, low hanging ceilings, miners exploding dynamite, a constant shuffle to escape the hurtling mine cars (which rush the minerals and the waste out of the mines) and of course gringos who pay good money to be given a tour.  We also dressed up as miners and looked really cool (not! Infact first time I´ve worn gumboots since I was a kid).

    Watching the miners work in thier conditions with 19th century equipment in an area with very little oxygen certainly puts into perspective a casual job at a telemarket research company.  Infact I think I will be satisfied with almost any job I get from now on.  The tour lasted 2 hours and we met miners, bought dynamite, crawlled on hands and knees to navigate the cramped spaces, learnt of the daily lives of miners in Potosi and of course blew the dynamite up in a reckless exhersion of pyromaniacism (not sure if thats a word).  Thats right!!  I held a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse, i am so cool!

    After the mine tour we visited the mineral processing plant before rushing from one side of town to the other to catch the last bus out of potosi to continue to Uyuni (for the salt flats).  That night was the worst bus ride of my life.

   Supposed to take six hours, we were two hours out of town (Brian and I had caught one bus whilst the others were on another) before the driver realised the bus did not have enough power to make it up the many hills inbetween Potosi and Uyuni.  At that point we reversed a kilometre before uloading the bus (to lighten it of course) at which point the driver attempted a ´run up´ to make it over the hill.  When I asked another local if there were many hills the answer was simply ´of course´.  When the empty bus did not make it to the top we began the two hour return BACK to Potosi where we hung around for another hour whilst the driver popped the bonnet and, equipped with nothing more than a screw driver, managed to give the bus ´more power´.  The supposed 6 hour drive then  took 9 hours and eventually, 14 hours after we initally set off, our six hour bus ride was complete.  We were bad tempered, but we were in Uyuni, home to the famous Salar de Uyuni, a much travelled to destination for gringos far and wide.

There is a road between La Paz and the jungle town of Coroico where over 50 buses a week fall off the side. This road, snaking through mountainous terrain has an accident every week and is naturally a road Gringos travel for miles and pay way too much money to ride along. With three guides, the seven of us set off at 8am for a 90 minute drive to an altitude of 4700 metres. Cold and gasping for air we kitted into our rain/riding attire as the weather proved less than complimentary.

The first half of the ride is along bitumen road and we set a blistering pace as we descended a kilometre. Naturally the pace was not so blistering on the two uphill sections. Staying in formation however we all descended the first half of the road with no problems at all before we reached a turn off where, shall we say, the road became considerably less than bitumen.

The following two hours were amazing as we descended another 2000 meters along a road where it was not uncommon to be a few centimetres from a 700 metre sheer drop. Riding along it was easier to focus on the road ahead than the drop. Figuring it was not that dangerous I took the time to appreciate the steep drop and quickly realised why the road was so dangerous. At times there was no more than 3 meters of road, a sheer drop on the other side and enormous trucks continually snaking thier way up the hill at which point the cyclists had to stay on the outer side of the road to allow the vehicles to pass.

I guess the most confronting thing about the road was the crosses marking where people had gone over the edge scattered along the roads side. That coupled with the stories of various gringos who had gone over the side due to break failure, I most certainly voiced my opinions when my breaks failed and was given another bike quicksmart. Though we were tough, we set a good pace and we made it to the bottom with not even one casualty. It was easier not to think about the dangers, and quite frankly I had an amazing time due to the beautiful scenery and excitement of what we were doing. We stopped 4 1/2 hours after starting at Coroico for a buffet lunch where Bryan and I dominated the fuseball table before being embarressed by a couple of local guys and buying them beers for the shameful victory. Several games later tho our mojo was working and we beat them.

It is hard to say what was scarier……The bike ride down the road or our bus ride back up. With no rocks, breaks, or turns to focus on thier was nothing left for our attention other than the sheer drops we had just ridden past. The scariest part of the ride was when a bigger bus came around the same corner we were driving around and our driver had to stop and reverse back along the barely big enough dirt track; at the time there was a 500 metre drop we all were looking straight down.

Needless to say however, despite the expected terror the road was tame enough and a good time was had by all. We arrived back in La Paz later that night and all played a violent drinking game which ended in a lot of sleep. All in all a good day!

   Unfortunately I cannot upload photos to this blog entrance, dont know why, will try again later.  shame cos there are some cool pics.

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