A Travellerspoint blog

Northwest Argentina

The land of thousand colours...

sunny 22 °C
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Argentina was not included in my original travel plans, but somehow, I have spent more days here than any other country so far. There must be areason for it.

Norwest Argentina comprises the provinces of Salta and Jujuy, this one being the poorest province in the country. People here are mostly andean looking, and seem more from Bolivia or Peru than from Argentina. In other words, when I join a queue here, im normally the tallest and the whitest :D

Salta is a very popular spot with backpackers and travellers, which means im not such a "gringa" here as I was in the places last week (im still a gringa, but compared with the rest, I look a little bit less). And although is the low season in the area, i can feel the presence of a lot more foreigners around.

I have decided to make the most of the detour and explore this area, so I will end up visiting the whole of North Argentina from east to west. Salta is a really nice city and the colonial architecture is awesome. It is located to the east part of the Andes and to the west of the Cerro San Bernardo, a hill which is accesible by cable car or by foot, if you make the 1070 steps. For those of you who are wondering how i got up there, I will surprise you by telling you that I actually climbed the steps!! There is a reason for it, I had a massive lunch of argentinian steak (which by the way costed me 3.5 pounds) and I felt so guilty i thought I will try to burn it. By the time i made it to the top, i think the steak was already in my ankles :)

This is a view of the city from the top, with the andes behind.

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Next day i move to San Salvador de Jujuy, which is the base to explore the Quebrada de Humahuaca area. And dont think that the names are difficult for you because you dont speak spanish, I find them extremely hard to pronounce too!!

Here, most of the population is of andean roots, and all the little villages I visit around here have a really andean feel. So this is Purmamarca, with its Cerro de los 7 Colores (hill of the seven colours) and although the pictures are not very good, and you cannot appreciate the colour of the soil or the sky, I thought I´ll still post them here

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Next, was the village of Tilcara, which has a fortress (called pukara in quechua) on the top of the hill, that used to be where the whole of the area was governed.There are still some ruins, but the view and sight of those huge cactus are the highlight!

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And of course, my daily touristy photo, camera hanging from the neck included!

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Footnote- I burnt badly my shoulders, as I had my "beginners" moment and didnt realized that the sun at 2500meters above sea level BURNS A LOT...

Today, im heading north, crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, and into Bolivia. I have met some argentinians in the hostels which are heading the same way, so we are leaving together tonight. Well, that is the plan anyway, reality might not be that at the end.. but we´ll see!!!

X x X

Posted by miromar 12:48 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Plan B

...Or why you should always have one...

sunny 20 °C
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I have always thought that you should have a "Plan B" for everything you do in life, from big decisions such as planning your career, to the small ones like planning a night out. You should always be prepared for the event of your first choice not being available, that is, your "plan A".

Said that, when travelling, having a "plan B" is a MUST. Cause timetables, prices, political situations and of course, weather, change. A lot sometimes, so the right thing is to be prepared for any events coming.

I got to the bus station in Asuncion and began the research for a ticket to Bolivia. I must mention at this point that buying a bus ticket in South America, specially in Paraguay, can be an adventure in itself. There are several companies operating the routes, and of course, they are all competing with each other, so there isnt a general timetable. You have to go one by one asking for price and times. The funny thing is that in order to gain your custom, they will lie, badly, when you ask if there is an earlier bus than the one they are offering or stuff like that. Not easy.

The route i was after this time (Asuncion in Paraguay to Santa Cruz in Bolivia) runs through the Thans-Chaco Highway, a not very reliable road that crosses the Chaco, and that gets washed away in the rainy season. Because this is the winter (a.k.a dry season) my plan was to make this 20-30hs bus journey through the Chaco.

But i didnt take into account this year is "el niño" year (that funny meteorological phenomenon that affects countries in the pacific coast every 7 years or so), which i didnt preddict. There have been many floods in february, and in general the weather is crazy. Which means that it has been raining quite a lot in the past week, which is not the usual thing... Great..

I ask the ticket offices, and they all assure me that the road "is now ok". Well, bearing in mind that these ticket guys would sell their mother if that means that you buy them the ticket, somehow i dont think i can trust them. And i am the kind of person that follows feelings. So I sat in the station and thought: Ok, time to bring up Plan B. But this is the funny thing, I DIDNT HAVE A PLAN B.

Options were:

1. go north through Brazil and then enter bolivia
2. go south, back to argentina and enter bolivia through the northwest.

I decided for option 2 which became my Plan B (at least for now :D )

Asking around, i found out there was a bus leaving in a 2hs for Resistencia my connecting point were i could take the next bus to Salta in the northwest of Argentina. I run like hell and managed to get there on time. The journey to Resistencia was uneventful, if a little bit annoying the border crossing that took longer than expected. And finally arrived in Resistencia and asked when the bus was leaving for Salta. "at 19.00 everyday" she says. Looked at the watch: 18.55, perfect! "Please, can you just give me one minute and i´ll get some cash, but dont let the bus leave without me!" She looks at me like if im talking in Chinese and says: "Well, no rush really, as you have 23hs to get the cash..." Looked at the station clock and it is 19.58. I DIDNT COUNT ON THE TIME CHANGE from Paraguay and Argentina, which is one hour: ***t!

Ok, so Plan B changes again. Asked around again and a guy in one of the ticket offices recommends a house nearby that rents rooms. Ok, that is not too bad. There is no place to exchange money, so i have to go to the cash point , which has the BIGGEST queue i´ve seen in my life: "it is the end of the month, everybody comes to draw money and check if they have been paid" says the guy in front. Great. 1.5hs later (with my 15 backpack still attached to me) I get the money and run back to my "contact". Apparently the number he has it has been changed so he redirect me to another ticket guy . This new one invites me to the office and make the phone call. Line is busy. Ok, well, im happy to wait. He asks if im hungry. Actually, yes. So he orders a couple of burgers that he insists in paying. So we chat and the time is passing. I dont think he is really bothered about having me occupying his office space, i would say he is actually more than happy to have me there. So i ask if he can try again, and still not getting through. It is late and his offer "you are very welcome to stay here in the office with us for the night" it is not appeling at all. I say im gonna try to ring the hotels reccommended in my guided. He offers to ring and in both of them nothing happens. Now, im getting pissed off. Im not too sure what, but there is something going on. I know there is no danger as the station is safe, and the office is open with a huge window, so everybody is around, but still dodgy.

I told him to go and check for a number of a hotel í`ve seen advertised in the station, and when I return, AMAZINGLY, the line is not busy anymore at the house. They have room yes, but only the double which is a little bit more expensive. Of course. But im tired and i only wanna crash, so i accept.

The guy come to pick me up, and funny enough, even though the guy at the ticket office assured me they are good friends, this one didnt know which office he had to come and pick me up. Mmmmmm. Interesting.

I got to the house and it wasnt a palace, trust me, but the lady was nice, the window was secured and the door had a lock from the inside. Enough for me at this point. The bathroom was so minging i decided that a shower could wait.

I survived the noght somehow and left really early (as he wanted to charge me a bit more if I wanted to stay for the day, surprise) and bought my ticket for the evening, and after viviting the town center for the day, eventually catched the bus and 12hs later got to Salta, after nearly 50hs since I decided to go there.

Salta seems a rather nice place, so maybe Plan B should have been Plan A in the first place (only a little bit more organized maybe).. but those are the joys of travelling...

PS. No need to say that from now on I will have a Plan B for every leg of the trip
PS-2. And for those in doubt, I have had a shower at last :D

HAsta Pronto!!

Posted by miromar 08:01 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Famous for: Corruption, Contraband and the Chaco

also known as Paraguay...

rain 10 °C
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That is the quick description of Paraguay in my south american travel guide. Interesting. Why would I want to go there?? And my answer is: Why not??

Every traveller I met has questioned my choice of travelling through Paraguay... What is to see there? is the question... and "I will find out" is my only possible answer...

I entered Paraguay through the bridge that links Posadas in Argentina and Encarnacion in Paraguay in a very rainy and dark day. I have just visited the jesuist mission in San Ignacio in Argentina and the idea was to visit Trinidad in Paraguay, another mission, and then make my way up to Asuncion and through the Chaco, one of the wildest areas left in South America, to get to santa cruz in Bolivia. Encarnacion is famous for its "zona franca", a duty free area south of the city, which in the coming years will be flooded by the creation of the Yacireta Dam. This project has been going on for years, and due to the corruption and the political issues, it is not clear to the paraguayans, not even the ones living by the river whose houses will be flooded, when this will happen. However, the goverment is doing its part in building houses for these people further inland for when that happens. Who will get the houses and how, it is another matter...

Got to my hotel, in front of the station, not even having a booking and hoping I had luck in my side. Gloria, the owner of the hotel welcomes me with her big smile. She also informs me that the two american guys seating in the lounge are volunteers who live in the "campo" and that due to the weather were unable to access to their sites. I guess they might not feel the same, but I feel lucky the weather was bad and they could not get back that same morning, cause for me, meeting Sam and Nico, the Peace Corps volunteers that gloria was telling me about, was one of the best things of Paraguay.

They have been living in Paraguay for a while, and not only speak a very decent Spanish but are also learning Guarani, the language of the guarani indians, to be able to communicate with everybody in their sites. Their job is not easy. They are working in a program of environmental education, trying to teach the locals the consequences of some of their day to day actions: cutting trees for farming, burning rubbish.. nobody likes to be told by someone from another country how to do things, even if it is for their own good. And Paraguayans are no diferent. The determination and patience of these volunteers have been of enourmous inspiration to me. Thanks to this guys I have learnt a lot about the country ans its people, and why not, they have also taught me where to get the best ice-cream in town :)

I wanted to visit the site where Sam is living, but unfortunately the weather kept me from doing so... I decided to leave for Asuncion, and I took something very important with me: Nico said at some point "the beauty of Paraguay is not about its monuments or sights, it is about its people" and how true that is. Everybody I have met there, from Gloria and her family, to Maria the woman from the laundry, has showed me how people can live in a world that is so different from mine and still make you feel like you were at home.

Thanks to these guys, I stayed in Asuncion in the attic of a hotel which is normally reserved for Peace corps volunteers, at very good price. I had to lie a little bit for it, i must confess, so apparently now im a "spanish volunteer on my way to bolivia" in the eyes of the staff at that hotel. They still tried to sell me another room which was more expensive, but that is part of the paraguayan way of life...

Asuncion is a rather strange city. The differences that can be felt around the rest of the country are even bigger here. I have seen the biggest and more opulent houses in my life here, they are next to the slums and built in streets where dogs search for rubbish and that they are barely paved. It is difficult to understand such diferences, but i guess it would be even more difficult to live with them. Somehow, the visit to Paraguay has showed me that the goverment of my country, although far from perfect is way way closer to perfection than the one in Paraguay.

In the local bus (which I have to say are sights themselves due to the most random decoration) I met Francisca, from PJ caballero, a town northeast of paraguay. She does the usual third grade: what is my name, am i argentinian, what am i doing here, am i married.. together with the story of some relative or friend living in Spain and of course the positive thought that im gonna find a paraguayan man and im gonna marry him. This has been the typical beginning of the conversation with every person i have talked to in this country. She also tells me she is going to a demonstration downtown, she is a teacher and they have some petition for the goverment. I dont pay much attention to that, and maybe I should have.

After I visit the presidential palace, and realised that is located next to the slums, in a pretty good example of the country´s situation, I begin to see police everywhere. And i mean everywhere. I also begin to hear really loud voices and people shouting. Mmmmmm I guess it is the demonstration.. And then loud bangs, and I panick a bit, not a lot, because nobody is running, but still. Soon realised they are fireworks from the demonstration and there is nothing to worry about, but the presence of dozens of riot polices doesnt help to relax.. so i decided to get the **** out of there, but how? To the left, the riverside slums, to the front the demonstrators, everywhere else the riots... So i manage to get through the demonstration in the side, and skipping all the guys having a pee in the walls... I manage to make it to the Uruguaya square, where I found all this people camping there and making fires to keep warm.. they come to the city to look for something, but from what i stand, they dont seem to be looking fo anything is particular, and it is cold.. Dogs, dirty kids, dodgy looking characters... not a pretty sight, and the one that makes me wanna leave Asuncion. Im sure it is a great city, but im not enjoying it so far, so why stay?? I make my way to the station to ask about the buses that leave for Bolivia... and end up going somewhere else... but that is part of the next chapter...

Hasta Pronto!

Posted by miromar 09:39 Archived in Paraguay Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Iguazu Falls

Or how Nature can surprise you again and again...

sunny 25 °C
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There are no words to describe the feeling of seeing Iguazu Falls for the first time. Or the second or the third… Pictures don’t do justice to them. The sound, the smell, the water in your face… It has to be lived to understand it! So i will apologize now for the photos you´ll see below, because you dont really see the falls, instead you see me in my best touristy pose...

I arrived in Foz de Iguazu very early after a 16.5hs bus journey from Sao Paulo, and after a couple of hours (get the bus to town, then the bus to the border, then get an exit stamp in brazil, then wait for the next bus, then cross the bridge and get a entry stamp in Argentina, then back to the bus to the station, then a taxi to the hostel) I arrived to the accommodation feeling like… well, you can imagine! But the argentinians are SO nice, that they even make you forget the fact you haven’t been in the shower for few hours and you are in serious need of one…Got to the room and I was hoping to catch up in some sleep when I got allocated my new roommates, bunch of Spanish students from Kentucky, that became my best friends for the next couple of days. Spent the rest of the day visiting downtown, in Puerto Iguazu, and meeting pretty much everybody around there, as they are all very curious about the Spanish girl walking around town. So they ask me. And I tell them. And then conversation begins until someone else joins in… Had a fab day, and met very nice people.

Friday was the time to visit the Brazilian side of the falls. From my point of view you have to see both sides, and if possible the Brazilian first.

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It gives you a better overview of all the falls, and gives you the opportunity to see the “devil´s throat” (the most impressive of all the falls) from the bottom. Loved it. It is so unbelievable that words would not be good enough to explain it!

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Finished the morning visit and head to Itaipu dam, which is the largest power plant in the entire world. It is a shared project between Paraguay and Brazil, and it actually provides for 80% of the total power of Paraguay and 25% of Brazil. It is considered one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, and it is definitely worth visiting.

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In between the falls and the dam I probably saw more water on Friday that a sailor in his entire life!

Saturday was the turn for the Argentinian side. I visit most of them in the company of Anna, a German girl which is also a Spanish student in Buenos Aires, and we hiked our way through the falls.

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The Argentinian side provides a closer look to the falls and the opportunity of seeing the Devil’s Throat fall from the top, which is so amazing… If you have ever read about how the people in the Middle Ages believed that the world was flat and it ended with the seas falling to the space, this is as close as it gets to that image…

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It is surreal, and so powerful, it makes you feel how little humans are in compare to nature.

After the last couple of busy days I decided to take the offer from the hostel of an extra free night and have Sunday off, to leave on Monday morning heading south thço visit the Jesuit Missions and then to enter Paraguay. Well, there is little I should say about the rest of my stay, only that Saturday is BBQ night in the hostel, with free caipirinha… and well, somehow I end up in the swimming pool at 4.30am. Dressed. And it was raining the next day, so my clothes had to be packed wet… But that was the whole point of coming to Iguazu, right?? To see the water and maybe get wet…

Posted by miromar 08:34 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sao Paulo - The unknown city

Skyscrapers, street vendors and much more...

sunny 23 °C
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Lets see... Imagine for a minute a summer version of New York, with light coulored buildings and people dressed in a mixture of winter-summer clothes. Now mix that with a hills San Francisco style, add few people sleeping on the floor, a bunch of police standing in each corner, and the biggest concentration of street vendors in the world, and maybe, you can picture Sao Paulo.

Surreal is the word that comes to mind when describing this mega-city. The more people told me not to go, the more I was decided to. And Im glad, cause it doesnt matter how many of the big cities in the world you have been lucky to visit, each one of them has something particular and special about it. Sao Paulo is probably best known for its safety, or lack thereof. But I felt safer there that I have felt many times in London or Madrid. The presence of the police everywhere helps, yes, but the fact that the `paulistanos` walk around so careless and not afraid is what make you relax. Everybody wears watches and jewellery. Everybody speaks on the phone and listen to their ipod as they walk. So maybe this place is not as people think.

Of course, there are areas you are not supposed to go, but that is the same everywhere in the world, you just dont go! You stick to the center, and you find everybody else does the same. Even the locals. Which means that in a city with 11million of people living there you find them around in a relatively small area. And boy, I bet you will never see that much people in the street for no particular reason, in your life. Some are selling stuff, some are buying, some are sleeping, and some like me, just wondering around with no particular task. And suddenly, out of nowhere, these people begin to run, in all directions, they shout something i dont get to understand, they pack their little stalls, and they run like in a stampede. Three times I witness this curious show, without being able to figure out what is the reason for the run. It was later that evening when a local guy living in my hostel explain it to me. `Oh, they are running from the fiscales, the tax collection police` Apparently they dont have licenses to be there, so the regular police dont care about that, but the fiscales do. Really random, it was like scaping from a tsunami, and as i wasnt sure if a tsunami would reach Sao Paulo I must confess I ran like hell the three times ( and probably the vendors where thinking why!!!!)

After a rather interesting day out, I finally got back to the hotel where I met few other people and went out for a drink in a bar they were playing live music. BPM to be more precise, which I got told means brasilian popular music and it is so good that I even forgot to savour the capirinha I had in my hands.

Because that is Sao Paulo, full of action and entertainment by day and by night...

Posted by miromar 12:24 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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