Chloe Hayes: Seeing South America Chapter 6
When I left you last time I was right in the grips of telling you about my awesome salt flat adventure. So I´ll resume straight away...
It was the last day on the trip that felt like it had not only spanned lands but planets. We had to wake up at 3am and in the darkness of ´the shining´ style hotel we all huddled around brushing our teeth and washing our faces in the freezing cold. After a breakfast of pancakes and yet more dulche de leche slathered on everything in sight we packed the bags on the jeeps getting distracted by the amazing, star-studded sky and headed off on our last adventures together. Our first stop was the Sol de Mañana Geisers. They were absolutley incredible and literally looked like something out of Jurassic Park. We were in the valley, surrounded by mountains dodging between shoots of 180 degree steam all around us. There were bubbling pools of grey clay like earth and steamy puddles of water. Watching the thick mud snap crackle and pop waso addictive and satisfying I honestly could have stared at them all day. But alas, after 20 minutes or so hopping and skipping over them we had to move on to our next stop.
Polques Hot Springs were just what we needed at 6am on that freezing morning but we were all very scared about what we had to do to get in them. Theanna and I ran into the girls changing room and I don´t think I have ever stripped, got into a bikini and lowered myself inelegantly into the hot springs so quickly in my life. Going from about 5 layers to a skimpy 1 in less than 0 degrees was horrific but when we got into the springs it was all so worth it. It was like running your hands under the hot tap after a snowball fight. The view was also stunning, through the steam we saw the beautiful mountains and landscapes beyond. We only had half an hour in there and now we were more scared of getting out seen as we had warmed right up but we managed it and got into the jeeps to our next stop, Pampa Jara Desert. Within the desert we stopped at an area named ´Dali´s Rocks´, so called because they look like the backgrounds of some of Dali´s paintings, which actually, they really did. Some rumour that Dali actually visited the area and was inspired because of them.
And so it came to our final stop, the White and Green Lagoons and what a fabulous place to have our last group photo and soak up what incredible an incredible place it was and what an incredible time we had all had. After we said our goodbyes we swapped vehicles, the people going back to Uyuni in one and Theanna, Sam, John and I crossing the border and going to Chile. Now don´t forget it was still only 8.30am at this time and although we had already had a full days fun we still had a long way to go. We got to the border, a tiny hut in the middle of nowhere with an enormous line full of people wearing alpaca hats and holding their passports and got in the queue. Victor stayed with us to see we were off safely, bless him and then we hopped onto the crammed bus, reluctantly so, because our bags were travelling premium in their own jeep seperately. I realised I hadn´t been separated from my bag since I went to the jungle the first time and had to pack a duffel and this worried me a lot, even in planes I was at least in the same contraption.
It only took about half an hour to cross no mans land to the Chilean border and then the real shenannigans began. I have honestly never seen anything like it in my life. So this is how it went. We all had to line up in the buses waiting for each batch of tourists to pass, slowly the buses shunted up the line until we were allowed off. Once we did this we were to queue up and show our passports individually then get back on the bus to be shunnted slowly to the next ´level´. Once it was our turn again we were to get off the bus and bring everything with us, retrieve our bags from the jeep that was in the same line and queue up individually to have all of our stuff scans, oh and whilst we filled in a ridiculous form about declaring everything but the guards not actually caring about them at all. Then we all had to get back on the bus to be driven about 3 minutes up the road to the bus terminal for Sa çn Pedro de Atacama, the whole process took about 2 hours and by this stage I was panicking about not having any Chilean Pesos, it is not fun coming into the country with absolutely nothing in your purse, I gave everything as tips at the end of the salt flats tour, I also needed a wee and we were all tired, hot and dehydrated.
Theanna, Sam and I headed off to find a hostel and had a big shock, not only is the money in the thousands which makes it sound scary enough, but it was also really really expensive, I´ve been used to spending 4 pounds a night on a bed and here the absolute cheapest we could find was 12 pounds a night. I was so desperate for the loo that after looking around 3 we chose one and finally I could relax. The shock of the expense kicked me into action and I realised that I could definately not stay here for long at all. I marched straight back to the bus station, bought a ticket to Salta for the next day, did some laundry and headed back to the hostel. We had heard that going into the desert to see the stars was a great thing to do here so we booked onto a tour for that evening and then bought some tomatoes, avocadoes and eggs to have a light lunch. Whilst we were eating we met two sisters from New Zealand who were super friendy and super enthusiastic about travelling, they were going the opposite route that we had done and so we were swapping tips on where to go and what to do. They were heading out on bikes to see the Moon Valley and I decided to join as I had spent the last 3 days in a car and I knew I was going to be on a 13 hour coach all day the next day. Sadly the park close at 6pm and it was 5.50pm so we decided to go for a refreshing long walk and had a great chat about travels. It was getting cloudier and cloudier which meant less and less chance of seeing stars and by the time I had got back to Theana and Sam we decided it had probably been called off. Us three went our for dinner and then we said goodbye as I was leaving early in the morning.
I was up bright and early and prepared to get on the bus to Argentina, fresh laundry in one hand and some actual Argentinian Pesos int he other. I was dreading the 13 hours, not because it was 13 hours but because it was 13 hours in the daytime, I would be on the bus from 8.30am until 9.30pm. That´s not only an entire day but more than an entire day really, the longest I´d managed in daylight hours was 7. I walked to the bus station because I couldn´t bare the expense and armed with my snacks took my seat. I was at next to a lady from Salta, the place in Argentina I was heading and she was absolutely lovely, we chatted for a bit, then of course I fell asleep knowing it was the only effective way of killing many hours. I woke up at the border and again it was a silly palava of queuing up in 1 line to leave Chile, then queue up in another line to Get into Argentina, then get all our bags off the bus, and it was a big bus and go through the X- Ray machine. It wasn´t all bad though, I met a lovely English couple and we had great chats in each individual line, how very British. 12 turned into 4 turned into 7pm and on the last hour I was getting a bit antsy pants but felt I had survived rather well considering it was a delightful day outside and I am not one for missing a bit of fresh air. Once off the bus I got a taxi straight to my hostel where I found a lady teaching a German dude spanish. She was absolutely lovely and instantly started teaching me too, telling me where the shops were and giving 'us kids' popcorn to snack on. There was also a Brazillian girl in my dorm and as I was going to go to the shops to buy something for dinner I suggested us getting beer too.
Woah Woah Woah was the supermarket wierd. As soon as I stepped in there I realised I hadn´t actually been in one since I left England and I hadn´t actually seen one since Lima at the start of my trip. There is absolutely no supermarkets in Bolivia but not only that, everything is literally sold on the streets so even the act of me receiving a receipt at the end of my purchase was completely bizarre. It was so bright in there it seemed like the colours were saturated and just the sheer rows of products was baffling, how on earth do you make a choice? And the food was in packages too and there were prices on things, you didn´t have to ask a single thing of anybody. It was a complete shock which seems silly considering I have only been away for 2 months but I instantly felt I was in a new, more european country an absolute world away from the previous 2 I had been in. I came back with stuff to make a salad and a big beer and as we all cooked together we drank and chatted.
The next day I didn't really do a lot at all. I really needed to write so after breakfast I sat down at a computer and did exactly that. I needed to stretch my legs after the bus journey the day before so I went out for a stroll around town and to get my bearings and then I came back to the hostel to make lunch. I sat back down in the afternoon and finished writing and then went out to dinner, an incredibly dull day to tell you all about, apologies for that.
I had booked a tour for today on my boring day to visit Cachi. The Dutch girl from Sucre had mentioned that I should definately go and I felt like I needed a trek or at least a mini adventure out after that incredible, once in a lifetime Salt Flat tour. I hopped on the bus kitted out ready for a hike, a mini one if that and slowly started to notice that everyone else getting on the bus wasn´t really in the same attire, and not only that, they were a little bit older than trekking age should I say. Now I have nothing against older people or older people hiking but these mountains are killer and the altitude is worse and they really didn't look prepared for it. The only other 'youngster' was a girl from Buenos Aires called Fleur, she spent most of the time smoking and sucking on her Mate cup. Mate is an incredibly bitter tea, a cross between the coca leaf and the green tea leaf, they pack in into a Mate cup, it looks a bit like a goblet with a metal straw and they fill it up with hot water and suck on the straw, it looks very similar to someone lighting the end of the bong and breathing in at the top. I tried some and it was totally horrible but literally everybody around here carries around a cup and a flask of hot water with them, its like us and IPhones.
It became very clear that we weren't hiking and instead driving in a minibus to various viewpoints, getting off for a few minutes then hopping back on. I actually totally didn't have a problem with this although I was slightly disappointed and really enjoyed the anecdotes the driver was telling us and all the stops we got off at. Yungas, cactus fields, amazing landscapes and little markets with homemade dulche de leche, ooh careful were all just tasters to our main stop of Cachi. We had about 2 hours here so Fleur and I had a proper Argentinian lunch of some sort of barbecued meat (I honestly don't know what animal it was and it did still have a bit of hair on, not even Fleur knew but it was still lovely and had a stroll around town. We decided we would meet up later for a drink seeing as this had not been the most strenuous of days and she had come on holiday on her own. I whipped up some soup for dinner back at the hostel then we both headed out looking for a fabulous drink spot. We found a bar that also did local music and dancing which we thought would be incredibly touristy but hilarious which it very much turned out to be and drank a bottle of local red. It was actually my first glass of red wine in Argentina and I was not disappointed. We chatted for ages over the music and got a little bit tipsy, it was actually really nice as I had been so aware that I had to be aware of myself at all times over here, it was sort of nice to let my hair down for a bit. We agreed to meet up in Buenos Aires when I got there and went our separate ways in the rain.
I had been in Salta for 3 and a bit days and I had still not actually really seen the city so today was the day. After breakfast I headed out to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo which was actually very interesting showing a retrospective of the artist Amalia Carrique. There was an absolutely fascinating video showing strange food clips from the 70s which was disturbing yet I couldn´t draw my eyes away and many other pieces. It was only small though so I had time to visit the Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montaña in which the famous child mummies were held. The three of them were found in mountainous burial sites in the Andes as sacrafices, the oldest being a 15 year old girl. Only one was shown, the 6 year old girl, in order to better preserve them. She was almost perfect, you could see everything right down to her teeth and eyelids, it was as if she was just curled up there on the stand. As I was looking at her I was thinking whether it was right to strip this child from her resting place and to be put on display in a museum for all to see. Although it was done with the greatest respect and it was of course, of high historical importance I still felt that it was totally wrong and that she was still a person that is now right in the public eye to be gawped at. I have wondered this several times over the last few months seeing many skeletons and skulls that have been dug up, but this one really felt too much, as she hadn´t just died there, she had been laid there purposefully to rest. The experience was still utterly fascinating and I am glad I saw her but still, hmmm.
I had lunch and decided to head over to the cable car to go up to Cerro San Bernado. It was the complete opposite to La Paz as I was literally the only person there. Once I had got to the top though, it was utterly gorgeous. Full of greenery and plants and flowers, I hadn´t really seen any of this stuff as mostly where I had been was dry and rocky and brown, it smelt fabulous and when I emerged from the shrubbery the view was even better. You could see right over the city to the green fields, oh how I miss them and to the mountains beyond. I must say, after you've just seen browness with a touch of palm tree for the last 2 months, greenery looks so bright and lovely and lush. After a good stroll I headed back down the cable car and walked to the bus station to get my ticket to Mendoza. Once back at the hostel I booked a trip to a ranch for the next day, ooh!
I had never been horse riding before and I was a little bit worried about it to say the least. The ranch owner picked me up and after picking a french guy up that was joining me, we headed off. It was about 45 minutes at the top of the mountains and to the ranch, an old nuns convent. it was really beautiful and there was a paddock of horses waiting to be saddled up for us. We were also greeted by 4 puppies and 2 kittens, cute! Who were so excited to see us and I was super excited to see them, they were so sweet and I just had to cuddle them all at once, that rabies leaflet the nurse gave me totally went out of the window then. The guy who was going to take us out picked three horses and I got on one, Alejandro, whom I was told was a very good horse, thank god. I inelegantly climbed on and we were off. It didn't feel as high up or as scary as I had thought but I was still pretty nervous as we started to walk and almost fell off instantly because we went down a steep dip and I didn´t realise you had to lean back, oops. Total Novice.
I was gradually getting used to it and started to enjoy the view, it looked exactly how I imagined a horse ride around the Argentinian landscape would be like and I was really enjoying it, definately a moment to tick off on the list. After about an hor we stopped to look over the view of Salta and when we started off again, my horse was not having any of it. It kept trying to go back the way we had came, pulling me in other directions and was constantly eating, a horse after my own heart. It got to the point where it decided to just walk straight across the hedgerow to the other side and start walking fast (don't know the proper horsy term), so the guy had to run after me and grad the reigns. I had to be embarrassingly pulled along for a little bit to try and tame my horse. We veered off and went cross country back to the ranch, all the way my horse trying to eat the trees, the grass, the bushes, anything really to the point where here pulled me under a very low hanging tree and I got scraped to death by it's branches. Thanks horse. Saying all this though I did really enjoy the ride and the views and the fact that I had conquered my fear of horses, mostly. After I had staggered off the horse and hobbled across the paddock thinking, 'oh my god I now have to sit on a bus for 20 hours and my arse feels like this after 2 on a horse' we sat down to lunch. A classic Argentinian BBQ, the guy was putting cut after cut on our plates and still having absolutely no idea what they were tucking into them happily. I had to actually tell him to stop and usually I am always the one finishing whatever's left on the table, I don't think I have ever eaten that much meat in all my life. After a quick tour around the building itself we were back to Salta where I got on my lovely 20 hour bus to Mendoza. I was sat next to 4 Isreali girls who were all super lovely so we chatted for a bit, and after wierdly having to change buses about an hour into the journey, we slept all the way to Mendoza.
It was a strange a sleepy journey, it was difficult to write in my diary because it was bumpy and I had little else to occupy my time except for looking out the window. I kept dosing off even though I had had waay to much sleep already and for the last 2 hours I forced myself to stay awake, knowing that I would feel really cloudy and hazy if I slept anymore. I hopped off the bus and took one of the hostels that were advertising at the station and I was right, I did feel really lethargic and woozy. I needed fresh air and fresh food as I hadn't really eaten anything proper since the ranch. I got to my hostel, settled in and changed and then went out for a walk. The hostel was bloody ages away from the central plaza but that was absoutely fine by me considering I hadn´t actually moved an inch since the evening previously and it was about 5pm by now. I had a stroll around town and then had a lovely fresh salad for dinner, boy did I need that and then headedback, although it was only about 8pm I thought it best to go back as it was getting dark and my hostel was so far out it got to the stage where there wasn´t very many people around.
The next day I was going to do what I came to Mendoza for. Drinking lots and lots of wine. I walked to the bus station first to buy my ticket away and then walked into the center of town to catch the collectivo to Maipu, where all the ranches are. After faffing around trying to sort out a bus card and and working our what bus it actually was I was on my way. I happened to sit behind a couple who were heading in the same direction, the girl, Ally was Brazillian and the guy Dan was Irish, they had just got married and were on their honeymoon and I must say, they were a super good looking couple. They were also lovely and when we got off the bus we scouted out the bike rental opportunities, eventually going for Mr. Hugo´s as he is not only renowned, but also has an epic name.
Before we knew it we were on our way to our first vineyard. Cycling on the hot sunny day through the town was really delightful and exactly what I had been looking for. After being buzzed in to the vineyard we joined a group that had just got there made up of a couple from New Zealand and a French couple. We tasted four wines, 3 red and 1 white and I must say you get rather more than I thought in a ´tasting session'. By the end of the three I must have already drank a full glass and then, because we were late, us three got to take our white wine out for a stroll into the vineyard for a tour. We were taken through the different types of grapes and how to grow them and then moved on to the winery itself, the vats of wine were absolutely huge and the lady said that if theye ever fired her,she would instantly dive into one and swim around, what a gal. The barrel room was also amazing and smelled beautifully of oak and we were also told that corks and screw tops made no difference whatsoever. I was under the impression that corks made the wine taste better or let it airate or something but apparently no, the only difference is that corks cost about 6 pesos I think she said and are super bad for the environment, whilst screwtops cost about 25cents. Well you learn something knew everyday, I will no longer be ashamed to buy a screw top bargain.
We decided we perhaps needed something to nibble on seeing as it was lunchtime-ish and we were already slightly tipsy so we stopped off an olive oil deli. We tasted several oils and olive pastes which were phenominal and this one thing which I wish I could have bought a jar of but sadly, travels stopped me. It was like an olive spread but with seedy mustard and let me tell you we were raving about it. Then we moved onto the sweets, several jams and mamalades which were very nice but a little too sweet for me and also, I'm a savoury gal. Finally we moved onto a new line that the guy had been working on, liquors. We started off with a mulled wine liquor then moved on to chocolate, dulche de leche, coffee, Irish cream andmore and more, Dan and I thought we were going to be sick because neither of us really did creamy alcohol and after all that wine, jam and the heat it was a bit of a step too far. We whisked off straight away to the next place hoping the cycle would help shake the creaminess off. The map was most definately not to scale and it was a long old trip to the next vineyard. However, I needed the cycle and it was good to get some fresh air and exercise. We parked up our bikes and found that it was a winery owned by a french couple that moved here about 15 years ago. The wine was phenominal and I definately found my favourite here. Although Ally and I were started to get pretty sloshed so it could have just been that.
After this tasting we decided to have some actual lunch so we cycled back into town, it was a beautiful route through the vineyards and avenues of trees to another vineyard that also served food. We (obviously) decided to get a bottle of wine with lunch as well, we were at a winery after all. It was getting close to time up with out bikes and so we went back to Mr Hugo´s where he greeted us with a cold lemonade (amazing dude) and a big hug goodbye. We all hopped onto the bus back together and then said our goodbyes back in Mendoza. Ally and Dan had recommended me a restaurant to go to for steak and seen as I hadn´t actually had what I had been dreaming of for the last 2 months, a steak and a red wine in Argentina,I thought why not. I walked to the restaurant which was on the other side of town and ordered a Rib Eye, but there was no wine list. The guy then took me into his wine cellar and showed me the wines that would go with my steak, WHAT?! So cool, he narrowed it down to 2 that he had in smaller bottles seen as I was on my own and I was literally in heaven. When he brought my steak out as well, woah I was literally the happiest girl ever in that moment and I sat and ate my steak and drank my wine in the evening sun, fabulous evening.
Today I knew I had to catch my bus in the evening to San Juan so I packed up and had to take my bag to the bus station because the hostel was shutting for a holiday, great news. Then I strolled into town and because it was a Sunday and there was this holiday the next day, none of the museums or much else was open. I decided to go to the park which was a bit out of town but I had the time and needed the exercise. The park was beautiful and I spent a long time there walking around the lake, the gardens and generally people watching. I then walked back into town where I finally had one of Argentina`s famous gelato, Dulche de Leche flavour, not usually my thing but I thought when in Rome and it was actually really good. I walked around the large plaza and craft market, then ad a salad in a restaurant and made some calls. I walked to the bus station and headed to San Juan, once I got there I literally just went straight to bed as it was late, a very boring day for you to read about!
The next day in San Juan I caught the local bus about an hour out of town where there was a lake. It was beautiful and the colour of the water was incredible, it looked almost turquoise. Because it was a national holiday a lot of people where there fishing, getting boats out etc which was really lovely. I walked around the lake as far as I could get before I was cut off by a hug rock and then wen back to start the trek up to the top to catch the view. The paths were steep and very slippery and the closer I got to the top the rockier and dodgier it got. There were other people on the trail though which made me feel a bit better and I eventually got to the top. The view of the lake was crazy and on the other side there just rocks as far as the eye could see in a sort of diagonal formation, almost as if they had been blown over. There were so many, acres and acres of them and they were so uniform that you could literally almost seethe curviture of the earth. I trekked back down and missed my first bus but caught the second although I had to run. Back in town I had lunch, which was actually pretty amazing and just generally explored around town. It was so wierd there was literally not a sole around and absolutely nothing was open, it was like a ghost town which sort of made it more fun for me to explore. I stayed out until late afternoon taking photographs and strolling and then went back to make some calls and do some writing.
The thing with social networking is that you can see what everybody is doing and what everybody is talking about anywhere in the world. Of course the current theme trending at the moment is Christmas and I absolutely love Christmas. I truly believe that at Christmas time you should only be at home, which is why I am coming home just before. A lot of people I have met will be here over Christmas, including a few people on their own, which I totally admire and absolutely could never do. It´s strange seeing people´s posts about decorating christmas trees and hearing my friends talk about how many mince pies they have eaten when I am here in sandals and making sure I am not burning under the boiling sun. I am always the first to crack on the christmas tunes and put on the festive jumper and I have definately been getting the christmassy vibes even all the way over here. It is also very peculiar to see plazas with palm trees decorated with christmas ribbons and the hot sunshine beaming down onto a manger. I guess I never thought that it would be so christmassy here, you always think the season is full of snow and jumpers and hot chocolate but this being very catholic country, of course they do! But no, I am a very traditional girl and as much as I love it here and as much as I am having a great time, nothing could stop me from having christmas at home.
Words and images by Chloe Hayes