Monday
Jul042011

Otavalo and our alternative Glastonbury

The prospect of no glastonbury this year hadn't filled us with dread at the beginning of the year. The fact was, we were going to be on a trip around the World and well that doesn't happen every year now does it.

But we missed it. Boy did we miss it. Glastonbury has become, as it does for so many, a highlight of our year.

Ok so the feeling didn't last long, the heat, landscapes and cold cerveza was a good remedy but it had been difficult; receiving that text from the boys, avoiding the BBC website ('just a little look') and denying Beyonce's existence was the order of the day.

We were in South America. We had ourselves an alternative Glasto.

We were staying in Otavalo. What a town. Surrounded by volcanoes, layed back, friendly. It was a joy to spend a couple of days there. Especially when we found out that there was an indigenious festival taking place in the next town. We leapt into the first cab we could find and headed for some Glastonbury replacement therapy, Ecuadorian style.

View from our Hostel in Otavalo

We had arrived at Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun.

This "party of the sun and harvest" is a tradition that celebrates the end of a stage of the Andean agricultural cycle. It 'allows for the spiritual purification of the human being, the recuperation of energy and revitalization of the relationship with Mother Nature'.

See, the Glastonbury of the Andes.

Things kicking off at the Pyramid stage

The whole town seemed to be dancing in circles. This was my kind of dancing. The two step shuffle, I mastered that badboy back at St Mary's school disco

Those who weren't playing instruments were carrying food, some lugged huge steel cauldrons with them as they stomped the ground. Several men bore a wooden pole on their shoulders, live chickens suspended from it.

The dancers go around in circles, representing the two solstices and two equinoxes that take place during the year. The dancers stamp their feet while they circle around, as a way to invite Mother Earth to participate in the party, so that it recuperates its vital energies and is ready to begin the new agricultural cycle where the maize and other crops will be cultivated again. [exploringecuador.com]

It was all very uplifting. Smiles everywhere and the music infectious. Before long we too were shuffling our feet more and more, getting laughed at for good measure.

Now I'm not sure what the sun god thought of his food offerings but I was pretty darn pleased with what was placed in front of me that day.

Pukka pie at the John peel tent

I tell you what, the threads at this festival beat Glasto hands down. The indigenous Ecuadorian clothing, the hats in particular are just so damn cool, the ladies beautiful in their dresses.

Lady Gaga's headline set

Lots of incredible music, stomping around worshiping something on high.

Maybe we're not quite as far from Glastonbury as we first thought.

 

 

Monday
Jul042011

It had been a while since we had been to a beach...

On a recent made up survey, the above sentence came out top of 'statements that annoy people reading a blog at home whilst friends swan about around South America'
Yep, we're on our way to another beach.
If it helps, the reality of this trip coming to an end is creeping in now; the cold hard truth that this cannot last forever, that (despite my drunken hatching of obscure plans to Min ('Who wouldn't buy my fresh lemonade') we do actually have to work a real job to get money. (still not convinced on this one but for now I will concede)

This is probably the reason that a beach appeals so much right now. Thoughts of what to do when at home are manifesting themselves whilst sitting on buses, 'What will happen if…' 'Should we…'

We need to slow this right down again, it's all fading a bit too fast.
Yep that's it, we need to head to a beach, to do nothing. Nothing means slow and slow means delatying having to deal with what comes next.

Thats what we'll do, nothing on a beach; the glorious sunshine, the calm crystal clear waters of the pacific, the white sand, one last surf…

****************

Nope.

We are in a grump.
It's grey and windy. The 'calm, crystal clear pacific waters' are slamming me from my 9 year olds' bodyboard (no adult surf boards anywhere to be seen) headfirst onto the dirty stoney excuse for a beach.
This, is not what it was supposed to be like. Damn you Ecuador. Damn you BenTen bodyboard.

You know what, every black, heavy, evil looking cloud has a silver lining. For us that came in the form of Iguana Cabins, Ayampe. Ayampe was a lot quieter than we expected. We'd hoped for sleepy, this village was positively comatose but it turned out to be a perfect pit stop and a place where we'd once again realise that some of the best experiences on a trip like this is simply wandering in a quiet town.

The iguana Cabins

If there's nothing to do I can think of worse places to be

Iguana was set around an fruit and herb garden with an abundance of hammocks and places to hang out.  Apart from us there was no one else to be seen.
With the weather terrible and the surf likely to tear even the gnarliest of dudes to shreds, there was nothing really to do other than to hang out.
Our budget decided that it agreed, it wanted to hang out there too, cheaply, this doing nothing malarky might actually just be what we needed.

As opposed to moving on, we decided to sit and write. Write and eat sand.

The cabins were run by a young but eccentric Colombian and his wife whose enthusiasm and wide-eyed nature got us thinking that maybe there was something up in those woods behind the hostel that he might have been smoking or munching on. Our host then told us that there was something up in those woods behind the hostel that he might be worth been smoking or munching on. We think.

In truth we're not sure, it all was said so quickly as happens with enthusiastic Colombians that due to our limited understanding of Spanish left us nodding and 'si'ing all the way back to our rooms. 'Did he say mushrooms?' 'Is he insane?' 'Or was he just telling us where to pick bananas?' '
Either way the guy was a very warm and happy chap. He and his family made us feel very much at home. So much so in fact that at one point on a Sunday we were asked to man the phone whilst they went out. 'If my mum calls tell her I'll be back later and I'll call her, if it's Roger tell him the car is on it's way' Now, I suppose to have understood these instructions I must now be grasping a fair but of Spanish but the prospect of answering the phones was somewhat daunting. Although a chat with 'mama' would have been alright.

Hammock living

Ayampe was a tiny town, a collection of houses behind the beach and another set back beneath the hills.
The best thing about staying in this town, with no other tourists in sight was that it meant more walking around and investigating. No guidebooks, no must-visit restaurants, just a whole load of empty local shacks where there was a chance of a gem of a cheap meal.

It turns out we found two places and they were both gems. One was a burrito restaurant with straight from the bush-chilli sauce that turned our to be hotter than the sun. The other, nothing more than a stall. Family-run doesn't do it justice. The family, from the 3 year olds playing to the grandad sat manning the salsa picante. It was here we were to discover the Ecuadorian delight of Corviche. Corviche is a ball of plantain/banana stuffed with fish, peppers and other unknown goodies and then deepfried. It was served accompanied by a tongue-numbingly hot salsa.

It was a highlight of the trip, making our through the village past families in hammocks and watching TV's outside to our favourite stall each evening. 'Beunos noches' allround and smiles a plenty, we'd sit outside as the light faded and place our order for 2 corviches and a cerveza each. We'd sit, pride of place on the plastic chairs, their thrones reserved for customers. We surounded by the whole family hanging out on the benches as they did every night we assumed, chatting, kids playing, waiting for a customer to come along.

Our limited conversation was filled with laughter. As we paid our miniscule bill and said our goodbyes we realised how brilliant it it sometimes to be in the middle of nowhere with nearly no money. What an experience, no expensive 'you just must eat there' meal could rival our stall in the little village of Ayampe.

Thursday
Jun302011

Into Ecuador

Ecuador is a friendly place. Such a friendly place that even the clouds came down from the mountains and greet us.

These are the cloud forests of Ecuador where, if you're not carfeful the view from your bus may fool you into thinking you're on an plane.

I think we're going to like it here.

The Air bus 350 we took down the road

Thursday
Jun302011

There's a difference between travelling and er…stopping

Whilst in Bolivia, we realised that we had been adventurous in our plans.

Luckily Min and I both agree that this trip is always been about experiences, not ticking boxes.

Our plan had always been to go to Peru.

Peru has so much to offer. So much to offer in fact that when we realised we had only one month and a bit to go before our flight out of Columbia, we felt quite panicked.

Helped along by trouble at the border between Peru and Bolivia, we made a decision to miss out Peru.

Instead of jumping on a 20 hour bus every other one day, we could now actually stop.

You can't see the whole world in 7 months it turns out.

Peru - We will be back.

Thursday
Jun302011

Felchy and the Amazonian traps

Our guide Felchy also taught us traditional hunting methods of the village. This was darn interesting, the simplicity but genius of these middle-of-the-jungle contraptions had me wanting to take a tool box to Wandsworth Common and have me some dinner.

Another highlight of a remarkable day with a remarkable man.

The pampas tour had been great and we'd seen a great deal of wildlife but it had felt like a tourist bus through the jungle. Here, of course we were still tourists but we were on our own. It felt personal. We had been invited into the village to share food and were free to guide the tour as we wanted. Felchy had taken his time to answer any questions we'd asked (Most of the time sitting us down on the jungle floor as if it was storytime at the library) I liked this. It's no suprise that being aimed at a traveller with a bigger budget, San Miguel was more professional than that of the pampas tour.

Well worth the money I say. When else do you get to learn how to hunt, pick fruit from the trees, make jungle lemonade and step over a tarantula all in one day.

Bolivia. What a place

Wednesday
Jun292011

The Canyon

'And now to the canyon' Felchy said.

Now, I must admit, I had expected a huge void with mountains towering above us on either side. I hadn't expected to be squeezing through a gap a meter wide, through spider webs and wading through a river.

We were in an Indiana jones movie. My hat, the birthday present from La Paz was working like a dream. It had actually transformed my into Indiana Jones. I was an excitable small child. It was incredible.

Felchy sees the danger as I do. 'Fear not, I have a hat' I say.
That was of course, until we encountered the tarantula. But more on that embarassment in a minute.

We were still trying to work out whether Felchy's 'beware of scorpions' comment had been a joke or not when we realised he was nowhere to be seen. 'Shoes and socks off' we heard echo around the chasm.

We were to wade through water, shuffling between the stone walls and trying desperately to work out the spanish for 'are there really scorpians?' and 'Are we going to die?'.

This was a proper adventure.

Felchy stopped dead in his tracks and picked up a stone. On launching it up in the air, hundreds of bats appeared. Unreal.
What a sight. My shouts to min of 'don't worry they won't hit you cos of sonar' were drowned out by screams of awe and excitement,

None of us seemed scared. Yet. Which was impressive as the small slit of sky above us had turned black.

 

Bats fly overhead

Some way through the canyon, Felchy stopped to casually mention the presence of a tarantula, in our path. 'Just step over please' I think would be the English translation.

The path was now a meter wide. There was a tarantula on the path.

I'm not going to pretend like I was a heroic alpha male here. The way I see it, even Indiana jones had his fears of snakes and look how cool he was.

We all made it past/over the tarantula, hugging the canyon wall as we edged our feet through the cold stream. Relived and over the moon the ordeal was over, we took a breather. Thank god, it's over. We're safe.

Wait a minute... Felchy, you said this walk was a dead end..

The b*stard

Wednesday
Jun292011

Pig rodeo

Whilst in the village we were lucky enough to stumble upon a group of young kids just hanging out. You know, mucking around, doing there thing, riding a pig...

Struggling to hold the camera steady whilst cracking up, I managed to capture this magical five minutes of joy. I want to be a kid. I want to ride the pig. Ok so RSPCA may have a few issues but the kids pat the pig better after! Sheer joy on the faces of the kids involved.

Here's a few pics in the meantime.

Pig ridingPorcine cowboy

Monday
Jun202011

Fruit Salad and lemonade, Amazon style

The jungle. We made it.

Unfortunately, time and more importantly, money running low, we could only stay a day. But what a day.

San Miguel del Bala is a community-run initiative (of the town of the same name) which offers tours of the village, the traditional hunting techniques and tours to the surrounding area.

Our guide was San Miguel villager Felchy, an instantly likeable man who had been briefed by the agency that we were English and he might need a few words to get by. This manifested itself in the form of a rolled up 'Ingles for beginners' phasebook from 1978 in his back pocket. At random points in our trek through the Jungle Felchy would stop dead in his tracks. We would stop too, eager to see what he had spotted in this incredible wild place, only for Felchy to whip out the phrasebook and spend 10 minutes running his finger along the pages in search for 'This is a cinnamon tree' (something it seemed unlikely to find).

On entering the village, Felchy told us that we could help ourselves to any fruit we liked.And there was a lot of fruit. Grapefruits, mandarins, bananas. ('sorry, the Mangoes aren't ripe') We were told to go ahead, pick what you like.
Min was of course over the moon at this. She is a big fan of the fruit. In fact she may secretly be a fanatical member of the militant fruit alliance she likes fruit so much.

None of this fruit had stickers on it.

It was like walking into a surreal fruit dreamland.
The question you have to ask, (aside from one questioning my late night fantasising about fruit) is why? Why does it feel weird and exciting to see fruit on a tree? After all it's kinda where fruit comes from.


'Where does fruit come from daddy?'

'Tesco son'.

The world we live in is one where chicken is covered in shrink wrap not feathers and fruit just appears. Here we got to see that it actually grows! This was, at 29, an education for me.

In a weird way this small incident today sums up how mad the world is, how much we take for granted and how interlinked our lives are with those of a village such as this, on the other side of the world.
It got me thinking of mornings at work when, in mid-winter, I'd tuck into a box of blueberries 'from chile' and launch it into the bin. It's mad. Every day in the UK we eat 'fresh' fruit, delicious fruit from the other side of the world. To think of all that goes in to planting, growing, maintaining, picking, shipping of fruit from a village such as this to us at home is, well a bit mental.

I prefer this pick your own in an amazonian village business. Not quite as practical but still.

Come on admit it, if you were asked to draw a banana plant...

Two varieties of banana from the trees, the smaller in much sweeter. Delicious

Bacon

After touring the village and meeting Felchy's family we were invited to assist in the making of lemonade.

This wasn't quite what we expected. This was making lemonade amazon-style.

After collecting sugar cane, Min and Matt were asked to man the almighty contraption that was an amazonian lemonade maker.

(A nice little film we made coming soon...)



Cane was fed into the machine by Min and Felchy's wife whilst Matt and Felchy went for a stroll.


The cane juice was then filtered, limes (there's a fine line between the two, 'limon' in South America)  

 

Monday
Jun202011

The Pampas

To the Amazon. That's cool. How do we get there?…In that?
There's only one thing better than heading to the jungle and that's flying in a plane like this.


Er, hello Mr Pilot. Should you guys really be chatting so much?
We arrived in Rurrenabaque, town for gringo departures into the Pampas and the Jungle. We choose the pampas first and signed up to a three day tour, as does every single gringo in South America it seems. We jumped on a boat, our transport for the next 3 days after a bit of a hairy jeep ride. We cruised the river backwaters amongst caymans crocs and Spider monkeys swinging from the trees.



The tour was as good as it could be, set up to get in a big group of tourists as regularly as possible. As an 'eco' tour I'm not sure it lived up to it's name.

The feeding of monkeys to get them to approach our boat and the 'pet' cayman 'Pepe' who was fed each morning had us feeling a little odd about it all. We couldn't argue that we hadn't experienced some amazing things however; We had been able to get so close to spider monkeys, caymans and the weirdest creature on the planet - The tapir (See min's blog)
We had waded through swamp and had found an Anaconda (a baby one). We had headed out in the boat at night to spot Caymans glowing eyes in the water with us. We'd been Piranha fishing, Piranha fishing! and Matt (A braver man than I when caymans were also in the water) had swam with the river dolphins.

All in all it had been pretty special. All this and we hadn't even got to the jungle yet.

Er...Min...Er...Bird...

We'd also met some new friends, another bunch of quitters who'd packed everything in to travel before heading back to Austrailia - Janine and Paul. Nights of drinking and Uno followed.

Not many people can say that it the dead of night they jumped into a canoe for a trip to the offy (a bar downriver) past crocs and caymans red eyes peering up at us. A trip to oddbins will never be the same again.

Piranha fishing

 

Monday
Jun202011

A birthday in La Paz

This is the bus everyone talks about. The bolivian massage it should be called. A night bus for 10 hours on what's more a 200 mile collection of rocks than a road. We've had our experience of bumpy bus trips but this takes it. Still, this is what it's all about and the fact is that at the end of this, we'll be in the incredible city of La Paz. It's not like we've got work in the morning, sleep or no sleep, bad back or not, I wouldn't choose to be anywhere else.

I'm in La Paz for my birthday.

What an amazing city, clutching on to the mountain for dear life, La Paz is breath-taking quite literally. At 4000 meters this is the highest city in the world. And don't we know it. Even when walking up the two flights of stairs to our hostel room you need to stop half way for a breather. We've made our way slowly up to this altitude so the effects aren't as extreme but boy oh boy…sorry, give me a second…

 


Min tries on after buying me the best birthday present ever. My very own Bolivian hat

What a special birthday. Not many people can say that they spent their birthday in La Paz. Birthday lunch was a real splurge. At £1 our set lunch of delicious potato soup, chicken milanese and would you believe it, jelly for dessert, I genuinely can say is one of the best presents I've ever had.
Present number two, a trip to the amazon booked we headed out for a birthday drink or two.

A very generous barmaid and a lot of Coca licquour later and we were all a little bit happy. A check of Facebook left me speechless at how many people had thought to send me a message. Maybe I should stop slagging it off so much. My 30'th year should be one where I'm less cynical.

What a great birthday. What a great year.


Right formalities over, on to the next day.

It's not even my birthday yet I get to go to the jungle. How good is that.

Monday
Jun202011

The Salt Flats

Wow there are a lot of people here and judging by their traditional attire of yellow sunglasses and trucker caps I don't think this is the indigenous population.

We're in Uyuni, Bolivia, home to the spectacular Salt Flats.

Being a grumpy old bastard, here my patience was tried with young English knobhead after young English knobhead cruising past us laughing over-loudly and mocking something or someone.

I suppose we're all here for the same reason. Who am I to judge. We're all jumping on a jeep tomorrow to see the salt flats and that's the only reason we're here.

Despite the focus on tourism, there are a heck of a lot of Bolivians just living their everyday lives here and it's a great intro to the huge differences from Argentina.

The Salt falts were mind-blowing as to be expected.

No matter how many other people around, driving through this amazing places was incredible. In fact it bordered on spiritual. The World just keeps on giving.

I'll let the photos talk now.

Let's play beach or crazy salt flat in Bolivia...

How come the rest of the 10,000 people who visit the salt flats find this perspective malarky easy. And we're supposed to be creative

Spillage

Monday
Jun202011

Into Bolivia

After a short trip to the border, we entered Bolivia in record time.

So quickly in fact we were all left hovering around, 'is that it?'

This is the land of women wearing bowler hats, balanced on their heads as if they will fall off any minute.

What a beautiful sight. People are smiling a lot. We like this place.
It was very exciting to be somewhere new after so long in Argentina and even more exciting was the prospect of a train after so many buses.

On entering the train station, a TV showing fuzzy Champions league final reminded me of how easy it is to slip out of life at home, how different my evening would have been if I'd been in London. I hoped to catch some of the game to retain some man pride and loyalty to the game of football but we had a train to catch to the salt flats in Bolivia in 10 minutes and I needed to pee.

Train deep into Bolivia

Bowler hat-wearing Bolivian women

Monday
Jun202011

Humuacha and Iruya

To border country and the mountains.

We can feel Bolivia now, these towns are a million miles from Buenos Aries.
We decided to visit the 'end of the road' town on Iruya on the way up to Bolivia. A bit of a mission as this was quite literally at the end of the road and we'd have to back track but boy was it worth it.

View from our host's rooftopHelpful hostel staff that included Gael Garcia Bernal-lookalike Phillipe and the resident 'grandma' who served us our dinner all made the middle of nowhere feel like home.

The think about the middle of nowhere is, it's unbelievably stunning.

Andean Potato lunch

The Travels of Min and TomOne for my little sister

 

Monday
Jun202011

Salta

Through huge gorges, cacti fields and with the theme tune from big country going through my head, our bus headed for Salta where we were to meet up with (a now fluent) Matt once more. Salta was another big town in a sea of beautiful villages and I couldn't wait to get in and out, up into the mountains again. A night out to experience Pena, Argentinian folk music played by clusters of musicians whilst you sit and eat dinner. What an amazing night. Great food and a total mix of people all out late enjoying the music. A group of twenty somethings on a table behind us balanced gnawing on bread and meat with recitals of old folk songs sung at the top of their voice with the power and passion of the men who had written the songs all those years ago. This was a group of friends all gathered for food and a sing song. But this was no Kareoke, everyone in there had pitch perfect voices. Darn Argentina and their good food, love of tradition and ability to sing.

 

Monday
Jun202011

Cafayete

On route up north lay Cafayate and more wine. Strangely Min and I didn't see this as a problem.

Min beckoning me into a vineyard. Life is good.
Cafayatte was a quiet town. The difference between this wine dominated town and that of Mendoza was that there were vineyards dotted around in the town, here you could walk from your hostel and visit four vineyards within a few blocks. The town's people were so friendly. When an old woman doths her hat to you as you step off the bus for the first time you know it's going to be a nice place.

Wild West scenery up to Cafayete

The wine in truth wasn't anywhere near as great as in Mendoza but they of course have their specialities, Torrontes, a sweet white wine was particularly good.
It was in Cafayate that we were to have a steak to rival that of the posh restaurants in Buenos Aries or Mendoza, yet this was not a sit down flash restaurant but a small open air BBQ with plastic chairs set back from the street. A large-belied, moustached gent manned 'his' BBQ with stern look, huge knife in hand. We were informed that it was to this man we should place our order. This consisted of said man lifting up huge cut of steaks one by one and us nodding or shaking head. It turned out that in fact this man was a very nice man and a smile stretched across his face after we'd made our selection, even if he was still waving that knife a fair amount. This is the way steak should be eaten, on a wooden block, slammed down in front of you. Raahhhhh.

STEAKMy idea of a happy sceneWe hired bikes once more and headed out of town to the visit more vineyards. The wine was good and the sun shining. The highlight of the day surprisingly turned out to be a visit to a goat's cheese farm. A brilliant personal tour around the farm followed by near trampling by a heard of goats being herded in from the field, we got up close an personal with the goats and were offered a tasting. No sooner had the cheese touched our lips we had ordered one of each of the varieties.

The Goat cheese farm

It was here we met Bradyn and Corey. Instantly likeable New Yorkers who were on a trip like ours. In fact very like ours, almost the exact opposite to us, heading to Africa having come from Ecuador and Bolivia. We decided to grab a bottle or two of wine and grab tips from each other.

With sore heads we boarded a bus to Salta the next morning, thoroughly loaded up on what to do and avoid in Bolivia and Ecuador. More nice people. This trip just keeps on giving.

Sunday
Jun192011

Taffe del Valle

It suddenly hit us. We'd been in Argentina a long time, we had to get to Columbia by July, we had better start heading North.

It says a lot about Argentina that we couldn't bring ourselves to just get a bus to the border, there was so much to see. Northern Argentina, we had heard was very different. The wealth of Buenos Aries and Mendoza was no where to be seen, life was simpler up here. The landscape changed dramatically as we headed up high into the mountains. It was beautiful.
We decided to head to the small town of Taffe de Valle and straight into a Western Movie.


Taffe, sounding like it should be a Welsh Village did it's best to remind us of one with rolling hills and green as far as the eye could see.
Indigenous people were the majority as opposed to being few and far between in the big cities of Mendoza and Buenos Aries. Low clouds rolled over hills towards you like blanket coming to tuck the village in. It was stunning.

Min and I were on our own again. Matt had decided to stay on in Mendoza. He'd enrolled on a Spanish course for a week, a genius move. We had parted ways in view to meeting up again in Northern Argentina.

We lucked upon as old estancia to stay in, for a couple of days pretending the year was 1890 and we owned the place.
Dinner was served in the dining room at 8 sharp, by our butler of course (well not really, just some dude called Frank) after which we would then retire to our quarters, filled with original furniture and linen that felt like it could have been the same that the marquis had died in.
Still it was cosy and we were the king and queen of our Mansion.  

Our dining room

When in Rome... (Steal the owners hat and make it look like you're a cowboy)The Estancia owner's family memorabiliaMe and mirror

The town was quiet. We liked it, it was nice to be on own for some time and to meander about the town doing nothing but drinking Mate (Argentinian tea) and browsing for gloves and thick socks. Min seems to have developed an obsession for thick socks. Thick socks and leg warmers. She should write a blog on leg warmers.

It was bloomin cold up here. I now regretted the decision to give away my gloves to Rabson, the Malawian teacher who was now pretty toasty back in Malawi. Maybe Min had a point about the leg warmers. I hate it when she's right.

After much leg-warming we decided to hire bikes. From Tafi we had heard of a 40km downhill cycle past the lake, beautiful countryside and watering holes for swimming.



Now you'd think that non existent brakes and the road being closed would have put a downer on the day but not at all.
We had cycled for an hour or so before encountering a fierce looking policewoman and a queue of traffic behind a rope cordon. The road was closed. Our limited Spanish meant that we didn't quite catch the reasons behind it's closure but when a woman with a gun says no, you tend to be happy with that as a reason in itself.

We turned back and found another road to head down, somewhat disappointed our plans had been after some time the beauty of the countryside faded and we realised that actually the way we'd taken wasn't very nice at all. Thoroughly grumpy and confused, we were amazed to discover that after only 10 minutes, the road was now open, there was no sign of policewoman or traffic. Was she a ghost?
 
We'd packed a lunch, bought from the oldest man alive on the high street. Local goats cheese, Chorizo and fresh bread and sat by the road at what we thought to be a beautiful spot overlooking a stream. The mysterious road block, it turned out, had followed us and soon our romantic picnic had become viewing pleasure for several workmen on a truck, a bus load of Argie tourists and a family squeezed into a car designed for half their number.

After the jam passed, we managed to get our fix of quiet countryside. Wild horses drank water from a stream in front of us, huge birds flew overhead.

Wild horses drinking from Stream (Sounds like a Susan Boyle remix)

Don't drink and drive

The real beauty of this trip however, was knowing that after heading downhill for 40km we could get a bus to take us up to the top again. We'd simply hail any bus on it's way up, stow the bikes underneath and cruise back up to Tafi. After a hairy half an hour or so with no bus in sight and the prospect of an interesting evening of cycling back up the hill, we were mighty relieved to see a bus come over the hill.

So it hadn't gone quite to plan but with scenery like this who can complain. 

Friday
Jun172011

Wine and bikes in Maipu

There are not many better ways to spend a day than hiring some bikes and meandering around the streets of nearby Maipu, from Vineyard to Vineyard for tours and tasting. Booootiful.

Thursday
Jun162011

The lunch of a lifetime

So good it deserves an entry of it's own, here it is, our lunch.

The steak is the finest steak I've ever tasted. The wines, well the first four were fantastic (A bit hazy about  the rest)

Ok. You know how you should never go to the supermarket hungry? Well what you're about to see might make you book a flight,  so please, if you can have a bite to eat now before going any further...

...ok? How was it? Ahh sounds lovely. Ok here we go...

 

FIRST STEP:

Corn Soup, chilli, cheese and croutons served with Ruca Malen Chardonnay 2010.

Second Step:
Sweet potato and ground meat pie: Roasted tomatoes served with chimichurri sauce.
Yauquen Cabertnet Sauvignon 2010

ENTREE

Third step:
Creamy roasted aubergines croquette, black olives with chimichurri sauce and green sprouts.
Ruca Malen Syrah 2008

MAIN DISH

Fourth Step:
Grilled beef tenderloin medallion with potato cracker and green onions and baked pumpkins.
Ruca Malen Malbec 2008 & Kinien Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

PRE DESSERT
Orange granitee

DESSERT

White chocolate and spiced panacote with orange sauce
Ruca Malen Brut

Coffee and infusions. Petit fours.

Lunch over, we were more than a little content

Toasty

Ok..and crash....

Where's that taxi?

Thursday
Jun162011

Mendoza

I've never been more excited about a 16hour bus ride.
We were heading to Mendoza. The home of Malbec. I like Malbec. I like homes.

We were to spend five days in Mendoza visiting Vineyards and eating steak. This was the final place that we were to visit that I'd already been to previously but as with Buenos Aries and San Antonio, it was just so good to be back.
It's not often we've advised people in this blog or given travel tips, we've been far too ramble for that but we have got to when it comes to Ruca Malen.

If you're in Mendoza, you've got to have lunch at Ruca Malen. It's the law. For that matter, if you aren't in Mendoza, why aren't you. Book the time off now, go on, you're boss is right there. You've got a couple of weeks holiday left, you've got to use them before the end of the year. Do it.
Book a trip to Buenos Aries and Mendoza and you could be a few weeks away from ranting and raving like me about how darn good this place is.

Ruca Malen is a winemaker that hosts people at their vineyard for a tour and then for lunch. I don't think 'lunch' does it justice.


Six courses of incredible food accompanied by six glasses of wine .Or is it six glasses of wine accompanied by six courses I'm not sure. Either way, this was to be the finest meal of the trip so far.


The setting for lunch is the best part yet. On the road to Chile, the vineyard sits beneath the Andes. Lunch is served on a patio overlooking the vineyard. The mountains fight for your attention, you're eyes widening at the delivery of yet another exquisitely presented plate and another glass of wine to taste.
It's all a bit too much to take. This vineyard is like Willy Wonka's for adults.


I told you, Willy Wonka's for adults. I'm so darn excited

 Matt, drunk of the fumes




Wednesday
Jun082011

Wait a minute is that... my brother?!

What an amazing thing. I always knew my Brother and Marie his wife were holidaying in Argentina some time on our travels but we hadn't anticipated we'd be anywhere near them at the time. It was both exciting and head-scratching to find out that our plans were only a week ahead of theirs in Buenos Aries. After much debate and the discovery of the abundance of nice places we could go whilst waiting to meet them, I was chuffed to bits to be able to arrange to meet Gareth and Marie for dinner at the famous Cabrera Steak restaurant.

Now Cabrera is famous with tourists, and I believe snobbily regarded as a more of a tourist steak Themepark these days than authentic steak parilla but touristy or not, in our opinion you can't argue with the experience. Sure there may be better steak to come in Argentina but this is a fine place to meet up with the family.

Ah family. After so long away from home seeing my bro and Marie was incredible. No matter how much you keep in contact with home, Skype or no Skype , in person is the only way to really catch up. It was great to hear all the things that hadn't made the phonically due to lack of credit or signal. It was refreshingly grounding experience to think about the loveliness of home after so long merely thinking about what bus we had to get on next.


After so many months away, the sight of your big bro sitting on the opposite side of several large cuts of fine steak, glass of Malbec in hand is a special one. Like the excitable kids that we used to be, we overdid it.

A couple of cows, a sizeable amount of wine and in need of rennies and sleep, we parted ways. What a brilliant night. If only Wendover had steak like this.

It was a darn shame we had to start moving on our way up to Bolivia, we could have got used to this...