A Travellerspoint blog

Bueno Buenos Aires

Kosher meat and the best ice cream I've ever had (not straight afterwards of course!)

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Buenos Aires is a big city and there are many things that I like to think I'll remember about my trip, but in case I don't, I'll try and cover here, the things that I will now associated with Buenos Aires.

They call Buenos Aires the Paris of Latin America because the aristocracy that built the city we see today modelled their buildings on classical architectural styles. For this reason I think it felt like the most familiar place I had visited so far, which turned out to be a nice way to mark 3 months of travelling.

Kosher meat
Once we had finally navigated the train and metro systems to get to our hostel, the main item on the agenda was to visit the Kosher restaurants to get some Kosher steak. I had not eaten meat in 3 months, and whilst I could have happily continued without it, I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to indulge (which we did!).

The first night we went to Al Galope in the Recoleta district. At first, the style and atmosphere reminded me of Blooms (an old family favourite restaurant in Golders Green) but the service distinctly less hasty than Blooms, and the waiters we extremely helpful. In fact, we got so overexcited that our waiter actually suggested we stopped ordering food and if we still felt hungry, we could order more! It was sound advice as we were both royally stuffed and extremely grateful for the fairly lengthy stroll back to the hostel. It was so tasty that we went back there a few days later.

We also visited the Kosher McDonalds. Now I was in two minds about this one at first. I didn't go to the one in Israel, so why would I in Buenos Aires? But eventually the idea grew on me and we made the special metro trip to the shopping centre that houses the Kosher McDonalds.

Once we had established it was on the top floor we really had no trouble spotting it. Firstly it says KOSHER underneath the logo, but secondly, we recognised the clientele as Kosher meat eating folk. Not being familiar with McDonalds ordering we ordered double burgers, which I can safely say was too much. The cashier reminded us that the burger would come without cheese, and just wanted to check we were OK with that. It seems unlikely that you would stumble across the Kosher one by mistake so I can't imagine too many people get upset that there's no cheese in their burger...

Seeing the city
We decided to go on the free walking tour of Recoleta, including a visit to the Recoleta Cemetery, where Evita is buried. The tour was excellent - very informative, funny guide, lots to see. I generally find the free tours best as the guides really work hard for their money. We also did a lot of walking in general. Buenos Aires is much bigger than it looks, with 6 blocks on a map, taking considerably longer than it looks like it should.

Best ice cream ever
I have had plenty of ice cream in my time, so I don't say this lightly. In Buenos Aires we had the best ice cream I've ever had.

We tried several vendors, as is only right, and we were impressed. Due to high Italian immigration, there are plenty of top quality gelaterias but at Cadore we shared a combination of coffee, dulce de leche, and dark chocolate, which was the best chocolate ice cream I've ever had! Like I said, I don't say that lightly; that's some serious praise.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 11:37 Archived in Argentina Tagged walking city meat icecream Comments (0)

Lake Titicaca - making ourselves at home on the water

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My tour in Peru included a visit to some islands on Lake Titicaca, culminating in a homestay.

We were given a list of things to bring, including a gift of useful food (rice, oats, fruit, veg...) and had a little time to prepare ourselves.

Lake Titicaca is the largest high-altitude body of water in the world at a mere 284m deep and 8500m square kilometres. What does that mean in real terms? It means that once we left the Puno shore, it really did feel as though we were at sea, not on a lake.

Our first stop was to one of the Uros Floating Islands. These are man-made islands, built from reeds. We were greeted by island inhabitants, invited into their homes to try on national dress, offered handicrafts for sale, and went on an a short ride on their 'Mercedes Benz' (a large boat made from reeds.

We then made our way to Isla Taquile, where the big attraction is that men have to impress a lady by knitting her a hat. If she reckons the hat isn't good enough, a woman can send the man away, in one fowl 'must-try-harder', he must go away and practice and try again when he has improved.

Finally we made our way to Island Amantaní where we would stay for the night. First there was the football match against local boys and then we met our hosts for the night and next day. Before heading 'home', local men and women in traditional dress performed a dance, dressed us up in traditional attire (I had 4 skirts on!) and we had to try and copy the dance. I'm sure we looked fairly ridiculous and may have butchered the moves, but it was pretty funny.

Kat and I made our way to our host house, having been warned that everything may be extremely basic. Turns out, Kat and I had our own bedroom and bathroom (albeit with a self flush system) - pretty swish! The house was more a collection of rooms added over time, as and when necessary. The kitchen was a small room, with an old school stove - fire below and a collection of pots to make everything in.

We were entertained by the middle granddaughter, a very confident 11 year who lives on the mainland, her younger brother of 8 and their cousin, also 8. Whilst their Grandmother, Aurora, speaks primarily Aymara, the kids only spoke castellano, which meant I was able to play mediator and we could all communicate!

The first game up was hide and seek, which unfortunately only lasted a single round since there was only one hiding place in the whole room. Pretty sure they loved it anyway.

Conversation turned to ghost stories with all the kids convinced they'd seen ghosts. It wasn't until dinner that the conversation got really weird, with one of the boys describing an alternative version of the Teletubbies where Tinkywinky decapitates Po. It was one of those moments where I was convinced my Spanish wasn't as good as I thought it was, but he repeated the story and I do believe I understood correctly.

The next morning, my vegetarian gluten free breakfast consisted of...5 boiled potatoes and a boiled egg. I'm not complaining, I was very full. In fact, I didn't finish all the potato, it was a bit much really so early in the day.

Our 'work' consisted of us watching Aurora milk the cow and us following whilst she herded the sheep. I managed to help by tying up the sheep in the field so they couldn't escape. We then helped to clear hay, or dried reeds, from another field. It wasn't hard core farm work, but it did give a glimpse into their daily lives.

It was a little sad knowing that Aurora spends most of the year alone. Her children and grandchildren live on the mainland; the kids spend their summers there helping out but none of them speak the native Aymara, so the language will die out with Aurora's generation. Who knows what will happen on the island? As more people leave and those who stay open their homes to tourism, the culture and traditions are bound to change. We'll have to wait and see.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 18:38 Archived in Peru Tagged lakes tour altitude Comments (0)

My week in Bolivia

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I arrived in La Paz with my tour group, pretty tired after 3 weeks on the go. We went for a short walking tour and when we got back to the hotel, Simon was waiting for me there.

Simon and I spent the next morning perusing the extensive Witches Market with Sean. You see near enough the same thing in every shop, for near enough the same price, and whilst haggling is a thing there, it turns out Simon and I are not that good at it. When you convert the savings we made it probably comes to all of about £5. If you want all the typical souvenirs though, this is the place to come!

We decided not to stay an extra night in La Paz and head to Uyuni that night since we didn't have all the time in the world, so off to the bus station we went.

It turns out the buses in Bolivia are not as nice or comfy as the ones in Peru but it was cheap so that made up for it. We arrived at Uyuni at an unsociable 4am and found ourselves in a cafe with other weary travellers, waiting for the travel agencies to open.

We had been advised that it was cheaper to book directly in Uyuni, rather than La Paz, and the best way to find a company was to ask for recommendations. Guide books and online advice all said it was best to pay a little more for the safety and quality of the tour and in the end we followed a recommendation to book the three day tour with Red Planet.

I don't know if it was cheaper in the end as this tour was pretty prices compared to the others, but it came highly recommended and ran in English. It also turned out to be the same tour as Doriano was on (Doriano was part of my previous tour group) so that was added fun!

I think it was totally worth the effort to pay a little extra, as we had a fun comprehensive tour that included the Salt Flats themselves, the Cactus Island, stays in a salt hotel, a hotel with hot springs for a midnight dip. They catered well for vegetarian and gluten free so I wasn't hungry - what more can you ask for?!

The only thing I really knew about this part of Bolivia was the salt desert where you take fun perspective photos (which we took lots of!), so the rest was a bonus. The landscape is spectacular, and by doing a three day tour I saw way more than I was expecting. We saw mountains, volcanoes, lakes (including a red lake), flamingos and more.

I also met people who had already been to places I was planning to visit in Patagonia and so I got a lot of good information and advice, especially about hiking in the Torres del Paine national park in Chile (all the advice was super helpful, as I'll explain in a later post!).

The only negative thing was that Simon wasn't feeling well, so we had him dosed up on medicine so that he could still enjoy the tour.

We decided to get a bus straight to the border with Argentina, rather than stay in Uyuni. We wanted to get to Buenos Aires sooner rather than later, so we endured nearly 48 hours on buses. We put up with the border crossing, which was the most inefficient system I'd seen and was a little soul destroying (don't try and attempt it in a hurry!). Thankfully, the drive through northern Argentina is beautiful and it wasn't as uncomfortable as it could have been.

I have a feeling I missed some other exciting and interesting parts of Bolivia by rushing through, but time did not allow plenty of stops this time. Oh well, it's just somewhere I'll have to come back to!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 08:25 Archived in Bolivia Tagged desert volcanoes mountain tour salt uyuni Comments (0)

The thing about the Inca Trail is...

all seasons in one day
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I have met a few people on my travels who have said they have no desire to do the Inca Trail, or even go to Machu Picchu since both are too touristy and they do not wish to do what everyone else is doing, just because it's everyone.

I respect their opinion, and I even understand the sentiment in some contexts. For example, I have never read or seen any of Twilight. I may well thoroughly enjoy it, but it got a bit too popular, a bit too quickly and I have never been interested enough by what I do know to follow through.

Our society is quick to become obsessed with something, be it books, films, songs, theatre, fashion etc., which is a little different, exotic, maybe even a little bit naughty, but ultimately not particularly good quality. Once we get the impression that everyone loves it, herd mentality kicks in and we tend to want to get involved.

I suppose that for some people, the Inca Trail and/ or a visit to Machu Picchu is to them, what Twilight is to me. The thing about the Inca Trail though, is that it's nothing like the Twilight series, and Machu Picchu is not at all like the ever-present Team Edward vs Jacob debate; no, they're genuinely impressive.

Let's start with the Inca Trail. It's a 42km hike during which you reach 4,200m above sea level. The views change each day as you climb higher, heading into sky jungle territory, and each corner you turn brings a new spectacular photo/ enjoy the moment opportunity.

There are a lot of trekkers, but they're friendly, and the people I found myself bumping into, were willing to keep you motivated when you're flagging and vice versa. It felt like a community, especially on day two on the big climb to Dead Woman's Pass.

Then there's the wonderful porters. They really make it possible for you to trek in relative comfort and enjoy the trail. They carry (officially) 25kg, but often more, they go ahead of the group so that they can set up the kitchen tent and start preparing lunch/ dinner ready for our arrival, and put up our tents, which they carry for us. For them it's an additional source of income, they smile the whole way and even offer support and encouragement to those who need it, even though they're carrying a good 5 times the weight that we are and speak predominantly Quechua.

And then there's the fact that you pass a host of Incan ruins along they way, still in tact after all this time. Then there's the minor fact that at the end of your hike, you climb Machu Picchu and reach the Sun Gate for the first glimpse of the now classic photo with the ruins and Huaina Picchu behind. The ruins are vast, and in impressive (reconstructed) condition. Yes there are a lot of people, but it didn't ruin it for me. BesIdes, you can escape the mob if you find the right spot.

It's not that there aren't other impressive hikes/ mountains/ group experiences. There are. All of that exists elsewhere in Peru but there are reasons why Machu Picchu is one of the modern Wonders of the World.

If you've decided that it's not for you then by all means, I wouldn't want to pressure you into going either on the trail or to the ruins.

But if you're not sure if the crowds ruin it, or if you'll enjoy it, or how into ruins you are, I would urge you to sign up if you can. There are other treks if you are too late for the Inca Trail, or even the train if you're short on time or are physically unable to trek (thinking you're too unfit doesn't count!).

Just please don't write it off simply because 95% of your Facebook friends have already been.

Unlike so much of pop culture that often gains popularity without truly deserving it, I 100% see why the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu have become as popular as they have.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 18:06 Archived in Peru Tagged machupicchu hike trail inca Comments (0)

Where on earth did the last month go?

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I left Huanchaco just before Christmas and we're now on the 21st January, so the questions are: where on earth did the last month go? What have I been doing? And why haven't I written like I said I would?

I'll start with the last question first. I haven't written like I said I would because frankly, I've been having too much fun. Simples.

The past month has been a whirlwind of meeting new people and seeing new places; I've left Peru, travelled through Bolivia and now I'm in Argentina!

I had a day to myself in Lima before I met the group for the G Adventures Andean Discovery tour. Having spent two months exploring the north of Peru independently, I must say I was a little unsure about joining a tour - would the schedule be too rigid? Would I have a good group?

The schedule was fairly intense at first, moving from Lima to Paracas to Ica to Nazca to Arequipa to the Colca canyon, back to Arequipa and into Cusco all within the first week. I got to take the flight over the Nazca lines, see a condor fly extremely close by in the Colca Canyon and be in Cusco for new year. All jolly good stuff.

We were a group of 18 plus our guide, and I can honestly say it was a great group; diverse in character, background (kind of...there were a lot of Aussies!), likes and dislikes and life experience. Mainly I spent of lot of time laughing at something (or someone) or other.

A lot of group bonding went on on the Inca Trail. We had an exceptionally fast walking group and I spent most of my walk near the back of the group, taking my time to take in the scenery, either being encouraged or encouraging others to keep going. Apparently I was still plenty ahead of schedule every day so I'm pretty chuffed.

(I'll write an additional post dedicated to the Inca Trail at some point because it is rather spectacular, and the whole experience deserves more than a paragraph.)

Post Inca Trail we had a couple of nights more in Cusco before heading to Puno; from there we went on a tour of some islands on Lake Titicaca culminating in a home stay on one of the islands (this also deserves a dedicated post so watch this space!).

We had a great schedule overall. We missed some places that I would have preferred to have experienced, which was a shame but also part of the gamble of a tour. Equally, we did some things (like the Inca Trail or home stay) that were simply less stressful because everything was pre-arranged, which allows more fun to be had!

In the end though, the group made the tour. Had the gang been rubbish, I might have gone off and seen the places I think we missed. As it happens, our group of 18 participants, was always interesting to be around and totally worth hanging around for.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 17:59 Archived in Peru Tagged ruins tour inca Comments (0)

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