An ordinary bus journey… Well as far as ordinary goes in South America

This morning we woke up at an excruciatingly early time of 5am, ready to pack, shower and get prepared for our 7am bus. As you can imagine having got up two hours earlier, we definitely weren’t late for the bus and it also gave me time to FaceTime Charlie before we headed off to the station, which was so nice. As far as bus journeys go, from what we’ve experienced so far anyways, our bus journey was pretty normal. We were served breakfast when we boarded and then Juliet and I practically slept through till lunch when we were actually served a hot meal of chicken schnitzel (well kindof) and mash. We then had over 400miles of twisting and turning roads to drive through, up and over the mountains which did make me feel a bit car sick but the view was spectacular – definitely worth it.







The boarder crossing was easy enough and definitely worry free, it took a while but it always does and we were soon back on the bus. The only crazy thing about our journey was the extreme gail force winds blowing across the mountain. It practically blew us over when we got off the bus at the boarder and the bus was definitely swaying a lot and being pushed around the road while we were driving. We were top deck as well and it was so wobbly… But we tried not to think about that. After passing some small salt flats and a massive lake, we finally arrived in San Pedro, ten hours later.


20140606-233802-85082052.jpg It was the strangest feeling when we arrived as we were basically in the middle of no where, no houses around, no people, just very run down huts in the middle of the desert – where the hell are we.



We got a taxi to our hostel and soon enough were in the town, again a very bizarre place. The only way I can think to describe it is almost like Jesus town, as in somewhere where Jesus would live. A place where the roads, the walls, the buildings, everything all blends into one and is made out of the same material. The taxi driver dropped us outside a door in the wall that I didn’t even see at first as it is all the same weird road concrete material but on entering through the door we knew we’d arrived at Hostal Rural. This hostel is one we actually booked in England before we even came travelling, it’s crazy to think how long ago that was but we are so glad we booked it as it is seriously cool! It had a underground chill out pit, amazing murals on the walls, very friendly English speaking staff AND our roommate actually lives in Harpenden – so crazy to find someone from your hometown right in the middle of the desert of South America.




After exploring the town and finding out some interesting and quite scary information on Bolivia at the moment, Juliet and I have decided we might need to re think our route up to Peru. Apparently there are riots, civil problems and huge road blockages in Bolvia, and when we went to confirm our Bolivian Salt Flats tour, the lady asked us where we were planning on going after we arrived in Bolivia. We told her: Potosi and Sucre, she shook her head and said we definitely wouldn’t get into Potosi as the miners are on strike and rioting and we probably wouldn’t get into Sucre and there are 5 hour or more delays on busses to La Paz. We’ve decided to extend our Salt Flats tour so that it comes back to Chile and then we’re going to make a new plan, probably involving flying from Chile to Peru.
This evening we went out to dinner with or roommate and her friend (who also happens to be a girl we met on the bus today, such a small world). We discovered a small restaurant on the corner with the prettiest interior and a menu that we liked the look of. The meals were no more that £8 and they were absolutely delicious! I could easily pay a lot of money for food like this back home. I had a Thai chicken noodle soup which could give the food we had in Thailand serious competition and Juliet had a roast beef salad that was basically a cold roast on lettuce – huge and so yummy. We also had a delicious bottle of local Sauvignon Blanc, all in all it was an absolutely great meal – and we finished it off with desert in another local restaurant with live Chilean music and a huge fire pit.






Tomorrow is going to be our errand day, getting everything ready for our Salt Flats tour and booking our the Atacama Desert Tours that we have planned for the next few days including star gazing, natural hot springs and geysers and the moon valley. Hopefully we’ll also have a well deserved lie-in in the morning too…

Salta Por Siempre

After being exhausted from our 21 hour bus journey, we had the most amazing sleep in our hostel: “Salta Por Siempre” which literally translates as Salta for always. We woke up this morning, an hour after our alarms were set (we clearly needed the sleep) with half an hour before our tour. Obviously this wasn’t ideal so we shot out of bed, quickly got ready, basically inhaled instead of ate our breakfast and waited for our 10am pick up… Which ofcourse came at 10.30 (it is South America after all). On our way up to the mountain ranch our driver got a phone call saying that the other car had broken down, so we picked up the other four guests and had 7 of us squeezed into a 5 seat car for half of the journey until eventually we could break into a more safer, two cars. On arriving at the ranch, after travelling through the winding hilly roads that weren’t really roads, we were met by happy smiling Argentinians, dressed exactly how you’d imagine South American ranch people to look, big boots, cowboy hats, the lot. We filled in some safety forms with instructions on how to ride a horse, and then a questionnaire on how good the institutions had been, and then got fitted with our riding hats.



After explaining to them that I actually am quite afraid of horses (the horse riding was Juliet’s choice – a deal we made before we came was that if she came scuba diving with me… I’d go horse riding with her – a deal I was beginning to regret after seeing the huge horses we were going to ride) I made them promise that they’d chose me a nice friendly horse. They didn’t really seem to think about their choice but picked one of the horses from the back, a brown and white one and got me to climb up (using it’s mane to pull myself up.. How horrible!) and wait for the others. I did soon discover why I was chosen that horse though…

As we started our journey, Juliet was an absolute natural clicking her teeth, giving the horse a little kick and they were off. I tried to copy this but my horse wasn’t interested at all and actually wandered over to a tree and stood behind it – great start. Once every single person in our tour had gone, my horse finally got a move on but obviously didn’t want to follow the same path as everyone else and I nearly ended up in a ditch. It wasn’t the best beginning ever but my horse and I soon got to know each other and he realised I was probably the worst horse rider ever so he could shuffle along at snail pace and I wouldn’t mind, and I realised that this was probably the slowest horse in the history of horse… I could crawl faster – so we were both happy. At one point everyone had the option of cantering off, so my horse did actually go along for it, for all of about ten seconds before realising (I was beginning to really like the way my horse thinks) that actually it’s a waste of energy and not worth it cause they’d all have to wait for us, so we stopped cantering and went back to shuffling, allowing me to take in our absolutely beautiful surrounding (and also to take hundreds of photos.)





There was only one point on the whole tour where I wasn’t at the back and that is when Juliet waited for me so that we could have a horsey photo shoot and a chat. We even got a photo of the momentous moment…

However I then took it upon myself to tell our guide that Juliet has actually had a lot of experience riding horses and owning them (this was after he told me that he could tell the horse riding wasn’t my choice.. And that it was fine my horse could tell when he had an inexperience bad rider… Thanks) and that actually Juliet is a very good horse rider. He immediately got off his horse and told Juliet to get off hers. Then simply said, you have my horse, I want to see what you can do. So Juliet climbed onto his horse, a much wilder and faster horse and immediately she was at home and with a teeth click and a kick she was galloping away so fast across the Argentinian hills. And once again I was holding up the rear… Last once more.

Our tour guide, whose name I actually can’t actually remember but something along the lines of Guillian (Juliet thinks William), was so friendly and took care to make sure everyone and their horses were okay.

20140605-220638-79598341.jpg He was also an extremely interesting man, and as he spent a lot of the tour riding next to me at the back, trying to make my horse move even a fraction faster (I was secretly pleased it wouldn’t) we had a lot of time to chat. He started working on the ranch to look after the cows but had an immediate connection with the horses and so became their trainer. Soon the owner realised that he would be the best tour guide as basically the horses only responded to him, so asked him to guide. Guillian (if that’s his name) said he couldn’t possibly guide as he couldn’t speak English and so the owner paid for English lessons for him and now he is the too ranch tour guide in Salta. Another funny thing is that his English teacher was in love with the backstreet boys, and so he learnt the majority of his English from translating their songs as homework! He told me that next year he’s going to Germany to train Polo horses and when I asked him if he played, he responded saying of course not – polo is for girls. In Argentina (and maybe all of South America) they play a sport called “Pato” which is Spanish for duck. This game is effectively rugby on horse back and he described it as very manly! Basically, from what I learnt today, there is a rugby ball with handles on the floor in the middle of the pitch. On the whistler all the players gallop on horse back to it and have to basically get so low off their horse (but obviously still on) and reach down and grab it by a handle, they then gallop holding it out. Another player will come along and grab the other handle and then they wrestle for it, still both moving forward. The stronger player will obviously win the ball but it will result in the weaker player falling off his horse. There are twenty or so horses galloping around the pitch so you can imagine that falling off a horse isn’t nice, and when I asked if you get trampled on, I was in horror that he thought it a stupid question – obviously yes – that’s why it’s a manly sport!
Thankfully we didn’t try Pato once we were back at the ranch, however we were met by a delicious BBQ of meat and chorizo sausage (more meat than you can ever imagine – the dogs were fed well that evening) and a huge salad, corn on the cob, potatoes and swede. Juliet and I are actually still full from it now and it’s 10pm! Although I don’t want to admit it to Juliet, I actually did enjoy plodding along on my slow horse (even though I am a truly dreadful horse rider) and just like the guide book says, the hills of Salta really are beautiful.

Another bus experience

Our longest bus journey so far took place last night at 8.30pm, our arrival time was meant to be 3.30pm the next day… 19 hours later. However typically South American, you have to add another couple of hours on as they are always delayed. Our bus didn’t actually even make it out of the terminal as there was something wrong with it, our driver started it up and stalled a ridiculous amount of times before (two hours later) lining us up door to door with another bus and we moved onto that one. It was hilarious as we didn’t even go outside just stepped from the door step of one bus to the door step of anther! Finally we were on our way and as soon as the bus started up, we were given blue trays and cups and then some bizarre looking food in a packet. We couldn’t quite work out what it all was, something grey with an egg in it and a kindof ham and cheese cake, green Spanish omlette, a biscuit and some sprite. The strangest meal ever, lucky for us we’d already had dinner.
There were four men at the back of the bus who had been rowdy since the start of the journey, shouting and singing and drinking a lot. Juliet and I were praying they were going to be quiet eventually or pass out or something so that we had at least a chance of sleeping through the night… Eventually however, we did manage to fall asleep and I think they did too. In the very early hours of the morning, I woke up to find we had stopped and there were two police on our bus. (I think it was just a random customary search) They came over and asked to see our passports, asking where we were from and what our professions were. They were friendly enough and didn’t stay long. When they went to the back of the bus to the men, they asked all of them to step off the bus with all their belongings. The last one off was very dodgy looking and as he walked past my seat he dropped a small white tissue (that looked like it contained something), right by my feet. It was an intentional drop and the man clearly didn’t want this found on his search, but I didn’t want it near me. I kicked it into the isle and the man next to me nodded so I knew id done the right thing. When the men returned to the bus, the creepy man of course picked it up and went back to his seat. I’m quite a paranoid person anyway and I really wasn’t happy for the most part of the journey but I moved seats so that there was at least 8 rows between us and managed to eventually fall asleep. Luckily they got off at the first stop that morning, meaning that the longest part of our journey wasn’t actually with them.
In the morning when the sun had risen and a really yummy breakfast snack of white chocolate covered dulce de leche (a Spanish delicacy similar to caramel) had been served, we started to drive through country fields with a backdrop of beautiful mountains. I was so much happier as the men had gone and were replaced by nice Argentinian ladies who chatted to us and smiled a lot. Juliet and I also slept on and off all the way until lunch time. Then we were given more food, sandwiches this time, (we were not expecting so many meals… really getting our money’s worth on the food!) and obviously fell asleep again.
The scenery out of the window was of course amazing, so different to any countries we’ve ever been and at one point one of the nice ladies told us to look out of her side of the bus as we were on a very high up road looking down over the whole of the city, with the famous mountains in the background!
The bus conductor also got us all to pull numbers out of a bag, making a competition and whoever got the highest, won a bottle of wine – it was so random but a fun bit of entertainment for a few minutes.
At 6pm, 21.5 hours later we finally arrived in Salta, a very old fashioned town, more third world than where we’ve been previously but buzzing with people and our hostel is, as usual, quaint and surprisingly nice. We decided to grab a cheap meal in town this evening and were met by the kindest restaurant owner ever, Maximillion who was our own private waiter and served to us so attentively, trying his hardest to explain all the Spanish foods that we didn’t recognise. It’s 9.30pm now and we are already in bed – it’s been a seriously exhausting day and we are shattered! Both excited to see Salta’s beautiful landscapes tomorrow though…






Argentinian customs and newly laundered clothes

In South America, something which I find interesting, is that the locals absolutely love tourists and foreigners – especially the English – and those who can speak even a word of English, pride themselves on this fact and try and speak it at every opportunity. It also means that as we’re walking down the street, especially now that there’s 4 of us (and three of us are blonde), and we’re dressed very differently to the locals, we stick out and immediately everyone knows we’re English. I still don’t know exactly how we scream English when we could be Swedish or German or anything but, without exception, they all shout (in English) something like “hello English girlies” or “hello how are you” or even sometimes “I love you English girlies”. At the beginning when we first arrived in South America I actually found it quite creepy and tried my best to ignore them but now we’ve learnt that they are actually just trying to be friendly and attempting to speak the best English they can, so we smile and reply in our best English so they can learn!

After having lunch with the slowest service I’ve every experienced, it actually took two hours for our food to come then another half an hour for the bill, we went for a wonder around the city centre. We saw lots of locals and school children all with ice cream and so we followed the ice cream crowd trail to a gelato cafe and had some for ourselves.
Juliet and I dropped all of our washing, that we’ve accumulated while being in South America, at a laundrette this morning and after picking it up this evening, we now have freshly washed and very clean smelling clothes to travel onwards with (all for the grand price of £2).
Our bus tonight is at 8.30pm and is NINETEEN hours, yes nineteen, and so (hopefully) we’ll arrive tomorrow in Salta, very northern Argentina, at around 3pm tomorrow afternoon. It’ll be worth it though, as Salta is famous for its beautiful landscapes and hills, which of course Juliet and I will be exploring.

Welcome to Mendoza… Vineyards and Olive Trees

This morning after another amazing lie in (these are turning into regular occurrences for Juliet and I) we went with our new English friends, two girls also on their GapYear, to the supermarket to get some lunch (or breakfast..) and food for a big joint meal that evening. After some delicious baguettes, made by us in the hustle kitchen, we were all picked up to go on our Vineyard and Olive Factory.
The first stop was a local vineyard, quite close to the hostel. After touring around and exploring the different machinery that they use to separate the grapes from their skins and how they flavour the grapes by letting them sit in oak wood barrels, we were the allowed to try the wine (hurray). We tried two different wines, a red and white and I actually was one of the only ones that liked the white more than the red (I guess I take after my mummy).
Our next stop on the tour was an Olive Oil Factory. When we arrived we didn’t know what to expect but we were immediately struck by the strong olivey smell, almost like freshly baked pizza with extra extra oil. We were first show the olive trees before going down into the factory to see how the olives are pressed. It actually looked quite gross as the brown mush was squeezed out onto round plates which were placed on top of each other then pressed down and the juice falls through a tube and along the floor, almost like a sewage system although it’s the sewage that they want… 20140602-225947.jpg
We then had the opportunity to try the different olive oils that the factory makes on different breads with tomato and olive paste (so yummy) then we tried the different soaps and lotions that the olive factory makes as they contain olive oil and they smelt amazing and made our skin SO smooth.
Our last port of call was the most beautiful vineyard and wine house, they really did save the best till last. We arrived and drove through a small but quaint vineyard buzzing with orange, yellow and reds, all vibrant leaves of the grape plants. 20140602-230705.jpg20140602-230725.jpg20140602-230658.jpg20140602-230716.jpg

After our photo shoot in the trees, we were then given a tour of their wine making facilities, including exploring the huge metal vats that they keep the wine in, so big that our friend fit inside.. We probably all could have – together if it didn’t look so claustrophobic inside!



Then after going to their wine cellar and awards room, and then trying one of their reserve reds and one of their young whites, it was time to head home after a long afternoon of Argentinian wine and olive oil tasting.

Tonight the four of us put our cooking skills to good use.. Or not so good use… As cooked sausage and mash with onion gravy. Unfortunately we didn’t have any flour to thicken the gravy, but after our wine filled day we substituted the flour for red wine. Very liquidy but very yummy. We’d bought the budget packet mash and that didn’t seem to want to thicken either and so even though on our plates our sausage and mash looked more like a stew, it tasted delicious and we were proud of ourselves! A good day overall I’d say.

Journeying onwards

After a massive lay in yesterday, Juliet and I decided to get up and try and prebuy our bus tickets for that evening to travel to Argentina. (We also needed to buy the guys, whose apartment we’ve been living in, a present as we left their last one on the bus back from Valparaiso. It actually turned out to be a very good thing, but there were no busses to Mendoza, Argentina, that day and so we booked one for early the next morning (today). When we were back at the apartment everyone was finally awake (it was about 4pm) and so we watched the Prestige. Later the guys made us a really lovely dinner, as it was our last night, of prawn cocktail for starter and then steak and chips with lots of red wine! And it was delicious – so much better than anything Juliet and I have cooked while travelling!

This morning at 8.40am we boarded the bus to Argentina and I immediately fell asleep. When I woke up a couple of hours later I looked out the window to see we were surrounded by beautiful snow tipped hills and mountains, bright blue sky and sun streaming through the windows.




Another couple of hours after that we arrived at boarder control and immigration and so we all got off the bus, walked into a massive corrugated metal roofed building in order to go through customs.



After we’d had our passports stamped and our customs forms checked for both leaving Chile and entering Argentina, we then had to get all of our bags off the bus and take them to a huge table, open. I actually tripped and fell off the bus which was so embarrassing, especially since all the men ran over to try and help, but we’re going to skim over that incident…
A couple on our bus had a huge amount of luggage, all tightly wrapped in bin liners and the man spread the bags around all the different tables, placing some behind, some underneath tables, none where him and his partner we’re standing – he was hiding them. (They also left some of their luggage on the bus) All of our suitcases then got put through a security belt while the customs men quickly looked into our hand luggage to check for fruit, he actually asked me if I had fruita but I didn’t hear properly and bizarrely I thought he said books and I replied “no but I have a kindle”… mortified for the second time! Anyways going back to the luggage couple, when the bus got searched, their other bags left on there were found and so obviously searched. The customs men then searched their bag that they had with them and one they’d hid under that table. When they were opening the bags I couldn’t tell what the problem was but someone explained it to me. Their five suitcases that had been searched all contained every single type of alpaca clothing you can think of, jumpers, scarves, hats, socks, blankets, all in bulk, some still packaged. The customs man then spotted anther suitcase hidden under our table, one under the table next to us, one behind the door, one by the bus, more, more, more, all FULL of the alpaca clothing. Basically these items are made in Peru and sold in markets in South America, the customs men said that it was impossible that all of this stuff was for personal use (obviously as they had mass packages of socks in packets as sets and more items than anyone could ever need). The customs men said it was clear that they were trying to smuggle the items through, to then sell them once they got to Argentina – apparently this is illegal – and so are making them pay tax on every single item.



It’s now 2pm, five and a half hours after we left and we’re still at the customs terminal, waiting for the luggage couple who apparently are refusing to pay. The sun is still shining through the windows, blue sky and where we’re sitting we have an amazing view down the valley of the mountains and hills – and they’re playing English films on the bus, at the moment it’s The Counsellor, so all in all it’s quite exciting and we’re very happy!





After driving round the whole city in a taxi trying to find an ATM that works so that we can pay our taxi driver, we’re finally at our hostel. It’s 6.30pm. Whoever said the bus journey is between four and seven hours probably needed to add the two numbers together, but we’re here and we’re organised! What an eventful day.



Today Juliet and I were meant to get the bus to Valparaiso, the neighbouring town but after waiting about ten minutes for the bus we remembered why we prefer the metro and chose that to take us into the city. Our first stop was ascensor conception, the oldest funicular in Chile and went up the conception barros (hills) to see the view.



It was actually amazing that there is a whole little town up there, we had to pay and wait for the slow cable tram but even so there’s people who do that everyday. There’s houses, little restaurants and even a hotel looking over the whole pier.


Once we were back at normal level, we got the train to the docks that we’d just been looking over and found a restaurant resting on the cliffs over the sea. The sun came out and we had a beautiful view. Here we decided to try empanadas, which is basically Spanish pie and then afterwards some local freshly caught fish (although I had salmon… So maybe not so local), as eating seafood is always better by the sea.



Once we had bussed back to Santiago, we had our first night out in South America! We first went to a terrace on the top of someone’s apartment for drinks with the most incredible view over Santiago and then went out to a club. Normally I would have been quite worried about going out here since no one is blonde and so even just walked down the street I get a lot of stares, but as we were out with a big group of none Chileans we were perfectly safe and it was a fun night. So much so that it’s 12.30pm and we’ve all only just woken up…

Ps. Apparently there’s a shop in Santiago that sells Waitrose food! And the guys that we’re living with have Waitrose peanut butter so I am so happy this morning munching away!