Friday, 28 February 2014

Days 335 to 343: Lima to Los Angeles

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.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Five Continents, 25 Days

Tonight we leave South America, and begin an itinerary that altogether takes in five continents by the time we arrive in Paris on March 18th. Why the hell are we doing this? It's all because of Matt.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Days 330 to 335: Rio de Janeiro

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, 16 February 2014

Days 329 to 330: The Porto Alegre Pie

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, 14 February 2014

Days 325 to 328: Montevideo

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.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Days 320 to 324: Buenos Aires

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.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Days 316 to 319: Mendoza

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, 1 February 2014

Days 309 to 315: Santiago and Valparaiso

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.