I hadn't intended to visit Lima. In December and early January, we spent about five weeks travelling through Peru, but aside from eight hours in the airport, none of that time was spent in the capital. I anticipated only another airport visit to the city, passing through en route to Los Angeles. But Danielle persuaded me otherwise. She was keen to check it out, and had spotted in the Lonely Planet that there was a hostel designed by Gustave Eiffel (although he'd assumedly designed it as a grand house rather than a cheap hotel for backpackers). Sold. South America has been a mini Eiffel tour - we saw a staircase in Arequipa, a bus station in La Paz, a church in Arica, and a train station in Santiago. There's a lot more too. I liked the sound of staying in a building designed by the man that built the Eiffel Tower, and we opted for three nights in the city. It was probably two nights too much.
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Tuesday, 11 March 2014
Saturday, 1 March 2014
Monday, 24 February 2014
Rio is a mess. It is not efficient, not particularly safe; it could do with a thorough scrub behind the ears and then all over. Homeless people sleep in doorways, shout at themselves or others, dance on corners, or harangue people for money, depending on how desperate or mentally ill they are. On a quiet residential street, a man with spinning eyes pulls himself close to me and breathes over my face before walking on. The streets are criss-crossed and tangled as though drawn up by a samba dancing drunkard. Taxis zip by, the buses roar: all of them are trying to kill us. It's hot, it's sticky, sometimes all the water in the world rains down, sometimes the clouds all disappear. Every single weather forecast we consult during our five days there is wrong.
Sunday, 23 February 2014
Saturday, 22 February 2014
Travelling is like being presented with a series of pies. There's chicken, chicken curry, steak, steak and gravy, mince, macaroni, and the magical mince-and-mealie. You want to nibble some chicken curry, gorge yourself with steak, sample the mince, and really, what the hell is mince-and-mealie? So many choices, so little time. And so it goes with travelling. Just as I would love to spend my days eating pies, without concern for working or socialising or even moving, I would love to travel without time restraints or agenda. But we can't always get what we want. Danielle and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay and arguably enjoyed them too much, for suddenly we find ourselves without time. A somewhat crazy locked-in schedule looms, covering five continents in a month (I will explain the reasons for this in a future entry), and this has meant things are getting rushed. We had - criminally - just nine days for Argentina. For Brazil, we have just seven. And poor Porto Alegre, in the south of Brazil, just one.
Friday, 21 February 2014
Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, was named in the early 1980s, during the VHS-Betamax war, which older readers will be aware of. I don't think I've got younger readers, but just in case - think Blu Ray vs the other fancy DVD, except older and with lots of tape. During this early era of home recording, Uruguay hedged its bets on Betamax and intended to boost its flagging economy by having its capital city manufacturing billions of the tape and its system, for home use but primarily export around the world. And it did so. A colossal amount of Betamax was created. Older readers will know, of course, that Betamax lost the war to VHS and vanished from the world's living rooms (despite arguably being the superior system). Thus Uruguay and its capital were left with a vast amount of useless tapes. Hence the name: Montevideo, literally "a mountain of videos".
None of that, naturally, is true; if you want the real meaning of Montevideo's name, I'm sure Wikipedia has it. Likewise, all the history and stuff is there too. I'll garnish you with these tantalising titbits: it's a city of a bit over a million people, and it's... alright.
Friday, 14 February 2014
Buenos Aires is one of these cities I feel I have a bit of a cheek to write about. We were there for only five days: it's like licking a goose and saying you've tried foie gras. An eternity of a city with 13 million people, it feels like every day and night might offer something entirely different. In five days, even the weather managed to feel completely different and unpredictable on a daily basis.
To give it the proper meteorological terminology, it began as "supersweaty". Not what you want when carrying one big bag and pulling another after a 15-hour bus journey. Danielle's foot is still playing up, meaning I have to carry her rucksack and drag mine along. My bag, mercifully, has wheels, but they are small and of negligible help. Danielle assures me that she will recommence the carrying of her own bag as soon as her foot is better, which at present I am quietly predicting to be October.
Wednesday, 12 February 2014
A good bottle of wine costs £3, a litre of beer just £1. What's not to like about Argentina?
We arrived in Mendoza tired. Tired because of an overnight bus that had been delayed five hours at the Chilean-Argentinian border, and tired because the last few days and nights had been fairly hectic. Therefore, we hoped Mendoza would be relaxing. It delivered.
Mendoza is wine country. I couldn't put a figure on it, but it produces a lot of wine. This is a good thing, because Danielle and I are able to consume a lot of wine. I'm fine with beer too and every country in the world - bar, I guess, Saudi Arabia and its kin - produces beer, but good wine is in lesser supply. In Peru, for example, we struggled: the wine was sweet and terrible and the only bottle we found that wasn't sweet was undrinkable. It was desperate times: Danielle survived almost solely on Pisco Sours. Chile was terrific for wine fortunately, but with Mendoza we realised things were on a whole new level.
Saturday, 8 February 2014
In 2010, Chile was hit by the sixth biggest earthquake ever recorded, at an incredible 8.8 on the Richter Scale. The scale is logarithmic so between each full digit is a difference of ten times, so to put this earthquake into perspective, it was 63 times bigger than the one that flattened Haiti in the same year, over 300 times bigger the one in New Zealand in 2011, and about 800,000 times bigger than Britain's devastating earthquake of 2013, which knocked over some teacups. This was an earthquake on a cataclysmic scale, an earthquake so big it permanently shortened the length of a day by 1.26 microseconds. Yet only around 500 or so people died: consider that the Haitian one killed around 200,000 and you'll realise that this is a remarkably low number. Santiago was about a hundred miles from the epicentre: buildings collapsed, fires started, the entire city was displaced by 24 centimetres. But four years later, visiting the city, I would barely know it had ever happened. Santiago was not devastated by one of the biggest ever earthquakes, it simply had its hair badly ruffled. A quick check in the mirror, a quick readjustment, and it was back to work.
Thursday, 6 February 2014
There's more to Easter Island than just a whole bunch of stone heads. We stayed there for six days and beforehand there was a smidgeon of concern that perhaps six days might be a little too much. Six days on a tiny island with just a bunch of stone heads for company: our reservoir of all five series of Breaking Bad might be exhausted. In the end, we could happily have managed another week: Easter Island was a pleasure; if you find yourself in the area (the closest inhabited island, Pitcairn Island, population 50, is just 2075 kilometres away), I heartily recommend stopping by.
Tuesday, 28 January 2014
Saturday, 18 January 2014
San Pedro did not get off to a good start. Our bus from Iquique arrived prompt and early in the nearby city of Calama at 5am; unfortunately, the bus station wasn't so prompt and early in opening. For three hours, we sat on benches outside the station, taking comfort only in the fact that we were surrounded by Chileans who had made the same error of judgement. When the station did finally open, Danielle went to enquire about tickets. She came back, fuming that somebody had been sick over her: her bag and jacket were covered. But closer examination revealed it was some kind of milky paste, and her bag had been unzipped. It had been an attempted pickpocketing. Throwing the paste on her unawares, two shady men had then approached her, it would seem, offering to help clean it off, while at the same time trying to steal her stuff. Fortunately, Danielle is no shrinking violet. Immediately upon thinking her bag was covered in sick, and with two strange men trying to wipe it off with tissue, she had entered into a series of furious and loud expletives and marched off. Nothing was stolen, and we will be extra vigilante at bus stations from now on.
Friday, 17 January 2014
Even if you're not intimately acquainted with the Spanish language, you might be aware that the town of Humberstone, around 47 kilometres, or 29 miles, from Iquique in northern Chile, isn't exactly a Spanish-sounding name. That's because it's named after James Thomas Humberstone, an English chemical engineer. Why name it after an English chemical engineer? Well, because he was the founder, and also the inventor of something called the Shanks System, an elaborate system of tubes, steam and cauldrons, which was great at extracting nitrate, also called saltpeter, a fertiliser. Originally called the much more Spanish-sounding La Palma, it began life in 1872 as a small Peruvian industrial town dedicated to extracting nitrate. The Pacific War of 1879 to 1883 saw the area fall into Chilean hands. It peaked in the 1930s with a population of 3700. By 1961, the population was zero.
Thursday, 16 January 2014
Chile, it would seem, was in no hurry to greet us. Departing by bus from La Paz shortly after six in the morning, we were at the Bolivian-Chilean border within about four hours. Set in a national park, it is one of the prettier borders I've seen in my lifetime, although the astonishing queue of lorries didn't do much for the area's natural beauty. Days later, I expect some of these lorries are still patiently waiting, but fortunately our bus seemed allowed to overtake them all and in no-time we'd reached the checkpoint. The Bolivian side took less than 20 minutes to stamp our passports.
The Chilean side took around four hours.
Saturday, 11 January 2014
We'd heard only bad things about La Paz. Over the last month, meeting other travellers and discussing with them past journeys and future plans, every time the name of La Paz had come up, it was accompanied with something like "it was a bit of a dump". The best we'd heard was in Arequipa from an English girl, who seemingly despised all of Bolivia. La Paz, she said, wasn't quite as bad as the rest of it. La Paz was not coming with ringing endorsements.
So why did we decide to go there? Probably, it was more Danielle's decision than mine - I'd have happily gone direct into Chile. But it was only a minor detour, and the Lonely Planet said that the bus station was designed by Gustave Eiffel. After seeing Eiffel's staircase in Arequipa, this was enough to convince me.
Friday, 10 January 2014
The overnight bus from Arequipa to Puno was not a good idea. Departing at 11pm, arriving at 5am, getting anything like an adequate sleep was always an ambitious task. Making that task harder, we were sat right at the front of the top deck, and gaps between the lower deck allowed a freezing breeze to torment us all night. I perhaps got an hour's rest. Fortunately, our hotel - the wonderfully named Casona Colon Inn (I only booked it because I thought the name was funny) - allowed us to check in at just after 5am, and we got a decent few hours rest before our single day of Puno exploration.