Old Haunts – San Rafael, Mendoza, Santiago

20 Aug – managed to get up, and leave our odd host.  Leave a note, hide the key, and go to the bus station.  Finally find a bus heading in the direction we want.  End up in a big airport-like bus station in a place called Neuquen.  Get some food, and then try to find another bus to take us further.  Find a bus to San Rafael – sweet.  Then, a couple of hours sitting at a bar.  Me teaching Pen some spanish – including how to say “not american” – rather more loudly than necessary, for benefit of other patrons.  Finally get on the bus, and we’re served a hot meal.  Sweet.  Not sitting together though.  I sit directly behind Pen, and made use of her big mess of hair blocking the lights to get some sleep.

Arrived in San Rafael the morning of 21 Aug.  Grab some breakfast and then return to the hotel I stayed at last time.  Get ourselves a room – and I hurry to make use of the decent shower I remembered existing.  Then, a bit of a walk around town.  Lunch at the cafe/bar where I’d met the french woman last time.  Then, a walk to find the plaza I wanted to visit last time, when I instead sat at a cafe/bar drinking beer with a frenchie for several hours.  Plaza is currently closed for renovations.  Fair enough, as the small portion not behind hoardings contained several broken statues and benches.  Next – to a huge park on the map.  Walk along the old railway tracks, and a crappy old dead thorn goes right through my boot into my foot.  Not sweet.  Big park turns out to contain nothing interesting.  So, walk back.  All the way to the other end of town for some wineries.  Drink a bottle at a restaurant while waiting for siesta to finish – then to the bodega I couldn’t find last time.  This time, we are given a clue to the location by a huge sign, which probably existed last time – right where I’d walked past many many times.  Nice enough tour of the bodega – with just us, by the guide who spoke english.  Rather small place – with very old machinery.  Then, a tasting, and we buy a red and a champagne.  Back to hostel, and drop that off.  Dinner time – but the best parrillada in town is closed.  Instead we find a tiny cafe, and eat while watching the little girls at next table play with an automatic hair-plaiting machine.  Looked dangerous.  Back to hostel, and drink the day’s purchases.

Up on the 22 Aug, and check out.  Straight to the bus station, and get the next bus to Mendoza.  Two guys also waiting – one chats to Pen while I’m away.  Argy who’d lived in NZ for a while.  The other chap is a kiwi – but doesn’t seem interested in even saying hello.  Argy only gives above information, and withdraws also.  They get on same bus, nearly opposite us – but still no attempt of chit-chat.  We reciprocate.  Get to Mendoza, and look for a bus to Santiago.  Turns out we’re barely too late for the last one.  So, walk to the hostel I’d wanted to stay at last time.  With free wine.  This time – they have space available.  So, we check in – then go get some food.  Sitting on pavement, listening to rush hour traffic.  They love to use their horns.  Back to hostel, and make friends with the two dogs living there.  One is a puppy which turned up on doorstep only a couple of days ago.  Owner isn’t happy about it, but took it in as it was nearly dead.  Trying to give it to any backpacker stupid enough to take it.  Free wine comes out, along with some ‘cocktail’ the owner was given by somebody.  Not too much wine – just one or two bottles – and it’s gone pretty quickly.  So, then a few beers – and pretty much just wasting time until a decent hour for bed.  Bed is in a dorm – first time for quite a while.

23 Aug – get up, and check out.  Then more wasting of time until it’s time to go to the bus station.  Catch a bus to Santiago with a very small company.  Migration/customs goes without a hitch, despite my having a tin of yerba mate which I suspect shouldn’t be taken into Chile.  We get to Santiago, and cross the road from the bus terminal to a hostel.  Book ourselves a three-bed room in preparation for Ben’s arrival tomorrow.  Then, book ourselves into the hostel’s BBQ that night.  But – very hungry, so go to get some meantime food.  Drink some wine also, and watch/hear 1980’s music videos.  Back to hostel, and our expensive BBQ.  Wine provided.  Sit at a table with two English guys.  Chit-chat.  Pen is already rather intoxicated, and swears like a trooper from the outset, while I try to figure out how to subtly tell her that this is a bad idea until one knows the other person a little more.  Then one of the guys mentions his father the priest.  My unlikely fear seems to have come true.  But then he immediately reassures that he himself is not a Jeebers-type.  So, no harm done – I think.  A large loud group of french teenagers are at other table.  Annoying, but we cope with the aid of wine.  One french woman grabs the bottle off our table – so we have to resort to some wine cooler I’d bought earlier.  Then, with chit-chat still going strong, onto some beers.  Run out of beers, and go find a supermarket.  But – closed.  Find a restaurant, and buy cerveza over the counter.  Not long later, back in a dry predicament.  Again to a restaurant, and again buy fresh supplies.  Eventually we’re all sated – and off to bed.  With far more alcohol in the body than I’d planned.  Wanted to be nice and fresh-faced for meeting Ben at the airport, of course.

But, sure enough, wake up on the 24 Aug feeling less than chirpy.  Battle through, and head to airport.  Have told Ben that if I’m not at arrivals, which bar to head to.  Pen & I opt for ignoring the arrivals, and just waiting at bar.  Have my first Bloody Mary in a long long time.  Not the best, and no celery stick.  Then, onto pisco sours.  Several pisco sours later – Ben arrives.  With man in suit and ID card carrying his bag.  I’m not sure if I’m worried or amused – probably a fair bit of both.  They get closer – and the man is a taxi driver.  The concern disappears, leaving only amusement.  I’d specifically told Ben to ignore all the taxi drivers that would yell at him, but it appeared he’d failed.  Not really sure what had happened, but the taxi driver left without insisting on money.  Hovered for a while, obviously expecting something – but left before I got around to asking Ben if the guy deserved money or not.  One more round of pisco sours, then catch the bus to town.  Get to hostel, and then off for some food.  Food and wines.  Then – a supermarket to buy some wine for Rapa Nui, as everything is reputedly rather expensive there.  Hostel – and drink some wine until Ben can’t stay awake any longer.  I go and get some beer – but halfway through one bottle, I can’t stay awake any longer either.

Next update – Rapa Nui.  Easter Island.  Isla de Pascua.  With moai.  Or, as they are usually called, Big F&%$ing Stone Heads.  Sweet.


Best waterfalls IN THE WORLD!  Biggest (they reckon) hydro dam IN THE WORLD!

But first – Puerto Iguazu.  Got there, as I said previously.  First day – walked around town, and checked out the Tres Fronteiras.  Pretty much the border of three countries – Argentina, Brasil & Paraguay – river borders though, so no jumping over lines singing the name of each country.  Each has got an obelisk in appropriate colours.  Fair enough.  HOWEVER – the perfect oppurtunity/excuse for a giant flag – gone begging.  I can’t describe how much I love giant flags.  And this place would be perfect for a “Flags Race” (ie: along lines of an arms race.  But with flags.  Need it spelt out any more?)

But – just boring normal size flags.  I actually fumed about it for the rest of the day.  After this though – did go to visit something they’ve done in giant.  A trap.  They took a traditional animal trap, and made a giant one.  Not sure why.  But it’s big.  Nowhere near as cool as a giant flag though.

Next day, I think (sense of time well and truly gone by now), went to visit Iguazu Falls.  Caught a bus there, with my pack (intending to head on to Brasil that evening).  Stowed my pack at their luggage storage.  Went into the national park.  First couple of lookout points – “ho hum, nice waterfall, but….”.   Then – I don’t really know how to describe it without calling upon profanity or referring to religious characters.  Best waterfalls IN THE WORLD!  Spectacular, beautiful, utterly amazing.  And this was the first trail, chosen by myself to do first as it builds tension – before the other two trails which get better and better.  Cool.  Pretty much a canyon full of waterfalls.  I believe there are 275 waterfalls in total comprising Iguazu Falls, and it is just beautiful seeing this one part of it which must have 200 of them lined up next to each other.

Then – the lower trail, pretty much seeing the same thing, but from below.  Including getting up rather close to one of the more powerful ones.  And, a boat trip – which takes you very very close to two of the more powerful ones – which involves getting drenched (waterproof bags provided to put your cameras in – literally drenched).  Anyway, plenty more awesome views.  Probably lots which are rather similar, but each time I came to a lookout, completely awestruck all over again.  So – apologies for the number of photos, especially as I doubt they really convey the actual impression (definitely not, seeing as it was impossible to ever get an entire view into a single shot – hence several movie clips).

Anyway, before I start gushing (like I do whenever the Great Wall is brought up – yeah Ben – it is about that good), moved onto what is supposed to be the highlight.  A catwalk which takes you right to the brink of the Gargantun de Diablo / Devil’s Throat.  The biggest/most-powerful of the lot, I believe.  Yeah – pretty cool.  But solely from the raw power of the thing.  I think I actually prefer the beauty of seeing a couple hundred waterfalls lined up side by side, with a couple of them powerful enough to throw up spray and what-not.  This one – just a huge beast, with so much spray being thrown up you couldn’t see more than ten metres down from the top.  Still – would have loved to stay there and just sit and watch for a while, but couldn’t remember what time the luggage storage place at the front desk closed.  So – stayed for a decent amount of time, then hurried back.  Got my pack, discovered there weren’t any buses onwards to Brasil – so had to return to Puerto Iguazu.

Got a bus from there to Foz do Iguacu, Brasil.  Bus stops at Argy migration.  Everybody gets off, goes through.  Sweet.  Driver asks me if I want to go through Brasilian immigration.  I figure I probably should.  Bus stops, I get off.  Driver hands me a ticket, and tells me to take my luggage.  Then – drives off.  Hmmmm.  Find the migration office, get stamped in, etc.  Then figure out the ticket the driver gave me is a “re-embarque” ticket.  Ah – sweet, must be able to use it to get on next bus.  Two hours later, very hungry, cold, & tired – I finally ask a customs guy if he knows when next bus will be.  Apparently, no more buses.  I was on the last one.  Sweet.  Ask him how far away the city is.  He reckons 5 km.  He’s Brasilian – so 5 could mean anywhere from 2 through 25.  I start walking anyway.  Find an expensive looking hotel – with taxi stand outside.  Sweet – catch taxi to hostel.  Rather happy to drop off stuff, and go to a churrascaria for R$10.  (All you can eat brasilian meats for about NZ$7)

Then – Sunday, town dead.  I’d planned on doing laundry and relaxing.  Can’t do laundry – because no laundry place open.  Nothing open.  Nada.  So – watch bad movies, download the NZ/Aus rugby game, and upload photos.  Then – watch rugby, and go to bed angry.

Monday – do laundry.  Sweet.  Walk around town, and that’s about it.  Buy some dodgy DVDs off a guy on the street, and watch more bad movies while having a few cervejas.

Tuesday – get up and do stuff.  Caught bus to the brasilian version of Iguassu Falls.  Walked along a trail, which had some pretty sweet views of all the waterfalls side by side.  From a distance, you could kind of see the whole effect a little more, but not so much as I’d been led to expect.  Then, what they seem to think is the main attraction – another catwalk to Gargantun do Diablo.  This time – kind of in front of the side of the waterfall.  argy catwalk went right to edge of the very top of the fall, this one was kind of set on a ledge a short distance from the top.  And around the corner from the main “Throat”.  Got soaked walking on it from all the spray.  Kinda cool, but I’m not sure why they don’t promote the trail I walked on first a lot more.  It was portrayed as an optional walk for those who like that sort of thing – but to my mind was the highlight of the brasilian side.

Oh well.  By this stage was hungry.  Choice of two joints that looked incredibly like mcdonalds, just without the piss-yellow arches.  Instead, paid for an overpriced buffet.  Pretty good buffet though.  Avacado salad.  With strawberries, and when they replaced it – kiwifruit.  Also – I got myself a caipirinha made with kiwifruit instead of limes.  And figured out the place of wasps in the ecosystem.  They are here to punish those who drink cocacola.  I took great pleasure in sitting at my table, with one or two wasps to keep me company (one I made friends with by fishing him out of my caipirinha.  I actually thought he was dead, but after he sobered up, the little fella spent the next half an hour cleaning himself up, and eventually flew away) – while at every single table with a can of cocacola on it, the people spent their entire time shooing away hordes of wasps.  Sweet.

Got back to hostel, and chatted with english couple I’d met at breakfast.  I think they skipped the trail, but I didn’t rub their noses in what they’d missed.  They were going to the argy side the following day – so that will more than make up for it.  Their expectations may have been lowered as well – so they’re in for a treat.  Also – they’d been given a voucher for 20% off at a churrascaria.  Advertising itself as a gathering point for foreigners.  Which raised my suspicions immediately.  But – they were all set for it, and I was lonely, so I joined them.  Got there – rather nice looking place.  But, we still didn’t ask how much it was.  20% off – can’t go wrong, right?  Salad bar was rather good.  Broccoli!  Hadn’t seen broccoli since NZ.  Not a big fan of the stuff usually, but actually had spent the last week thinking about it.  Mostly because my intake of vegetables has solely consisted of as much lettuce as I can stomach alongside my all-you-can-eat delivered-constantly-to-the-table delicious meat.  Anyway – as you have probably guessed, bill came, and it was rather large.  R$42 each for the food.  None of us too happy, and again I held my tongue about my usual haunt being rather similar for only R$10, and the beer also being about a quarter of the price.  ‘Cause I’m a nice guy.  We coughed up, and went back to the hostel to stew.  I bought some cervejas, and we watched a brasilian game show (trying to answer the questions, despite not understanding the host – surprisingly successfully at times), and played some cards.  Then – off to bed.  I broke mine getting into it.  Lifted up mattress to see what I’d done, and laughed.  Really rather surprising it hadn’t broken beforehand – and after I fixed it, I wasn’t too happy about getting onto it again.  But – after a few cervejas, and rather tired – I dared it.  I should get a photo of the ‘mechanism’ which is holding the mattress up – it is beautiful.

Anyway – got up this morning, and fixed my bed again.  Had breakfast, and a new guest arrived – to stay in same dorm as me.  Breaking the bed again, which is inevitable, is going to be rather embarrassing this time.  Oh well.  After breakfast, got some more cash out (was cleaned out by restaurant last night) – and caught a bus to Itaipu Dam.  The biggest IN THE WORLD, they reckon.  I was going in order to tell them they were wrong.  “I’ve seen, and trespassed on, the biggest dam IN THE WORLD.” I was planning to say.  But – then my bus stopped, and I was told it was the end of the line.  No dam in sight.  If it’s that big, I should be able to see it pretty easily, was my thought.  But, thought I’d have a little hunt-around for it.  Got off the bus, and found myself in a dirt street.  Luckily the houses looked to be relatively well-to-do (for some reason my paranoia of thieves, which mostly disappeared as soon as entering Uruguay, returned immediately on returning to Brasil).  Anyway – started walking.  Found the main road, and followed it.  Found the dam’s visitor centre.  Still no dam in sight, which increased the amount of scorn I was preparing for it.  Discovered that the only way to see the dam was at certain times.  So – sat around for 50 minutes before the next one.  Finally – bought my ticket.  Entered – ushered into an auditorium.  Watched a movie clip.  A twenty minute long advertisement.  It actually nearly convinced me that a giant construction, with enough concrete to build 210 Maracana stadiums, enough iron&steel to build 350 or so Eiffel towers, moved more earth than the Suger Loaf, and displaced 1 (or 4?) million people – was going to save the world.  Interactive display earlier had reassured me that even when the Three Gorges was finished, Itaipu will still be the biggest dam in the world in the one stat that really matters – power production.  However, it also showed me side by side statistics regarding this, and other stuff.  Three Gorges could squash Itaipu.  So – after the videos of kids playing in fountains and people jet-skiing and what-not (they even tried to make giant power-pylons look beautiful) – I got on a bus to go see this SECOND biggest hydro-dam IN THE WORLD!  Another spiel via voice recording on the bus, mostly same old numbers.  210 Maracanas, blah Eiffel blah, etc etc.  We get to a spot with a pretty sweet view of the spillway.  Pretty big.  Bus keeps driving.  Gets to one lookout spot, and we can get out for photos.  (Voice recording had reassured us we’re allowed to take photos of anything we like.)  Yeah – pretty big dam.  I guess.  But pretty crap view of it.  Would have been better view from the bus earlier – but aisle seat in a crowded bus is not so good for photo oppurtunities.  After not long – summoned back to buses.  Keep driving.  Along bottom of dam.  Would have been some decent photos for the engineering nerds.  Then – along the top of it.  Would have been some decent photos from one end – to show the full extent of it.  But – bus keeps going.  And going – back to the visitor centre.  But, I guess, when you’re the SECOND biggest dam IN THE WORLD, you don’t want people to hang around for too long to notice how little you really are.  Most of it’s made with rocks and dirt anyway.  Not Three Gorges – pure concrete baby.  Interactive display told me.

So – that’s been Puerto Iguazu, Iguazu Falls, Foz Do Iguacu, Iguassu Falls, and little old Itaipu.  Tomorrow, hopefully, Paraguay.  Maybe there’ll be a decent spot there to take a photo of Itaipu.  Shouldn’t be hard to fit it all into one shot – so won’t have to waste too much memory-card on it.


Am actually in Puerto Iguazu, but don’t want to write about it until after I’ve seen Iguacu Falls.  The best waterfalls IN THE WORLD!  They reckon.

So – in Fray Bentos – I went back to the first bar I went to on arrival.  Group of guys, including barman, playing cards.  I help myself to a beer, and watch.  A couple of the guys are smoking inside – tut tut.  Uruguay’s had the no smoking in bars/public places since March, I believe.  Stop at a sports club on way to bus station for another beer.  A poster on the wall with scantily-clad girl on sports car.  I think it’s an ad for a car battery.  At the bus station, I get my thermos filled with hot water from a candy kiosk – and drink my yerba mate, just like a local.

Get to Salto, and it’s raining.  So, go to nearest bar, of course.  Which happens to be more of a shed, really.  Parilla (barbecue) outside though, so a beer and some food.  Get to hotel – pretty cheap.  $150, less than my ‘dorm’ bed in Colonia.  The guy opens the door – it’s a huge room, with cool huge antique furniture.  (I think, I didn’t check to see if it was fake.  Possibly, but still would be worth heaps in NZ).  Too big to stick in the pack though.

26 June

Woke up late, so spent day wandering around town.  The fountains here actually work.  So – sorry for photos of fountains, but it was really rather surprising to see fountains with water in them.  Go to information office, and figure out how to get to the thermal pools.  Stuipidly easy, and feel guilty for not bothering to do it today.  But, go to the shed/tent/bar I discovered last night, and watch Uruguay vs Peru in the Copa America, have a few cervezas, chat to the locals, same old, same old.

27 June

Went to the thermal pools.  Pretty sweet, just hanging out in a thermal pool for a few hours.  Got bored of it, and decided to leave.  Got changed, and then discovered the spa & sauna.  But, too lazy to backtrack – so carried on.  Bus back to Salto, and then – of course – back to my local for a few drinks while waiting for my bus to Argentina.  Eventually got on the bus, crossed some dam which forms the bridge between Uruguay/Argentina – and arrived in Concordia, with no idea of what to do, or where to go.  Find a bus to Posadas at 1am.  Not really thinking clearly, but book it.  Go to restaurant, and order dinner.  With a bottle of wine – forgetting how much I’ve already had to drink (well – it was a while ago).

28 June

Arrive in Posadas.  But, I’m on a roll.  Immediately start looking for buses onward.  Find one, buy a ticket.  Then – discover a bus company called “KRUSE”.  Have already committed myself though – so follow through with bus to San Ignacio on a bus called “M. Hermandies” or something equally stupid.  Get there, leave pack at a store near the bus stop, and check out some old Jesuit ruins.  Wasn’t really expecting much.  But pretty cool.  Big complex they’d set up.  Self sufficient, they reckon.  I reckon “Prove it”.  One thing the jeebers-believers had done right, apparently.  Actually set up communities which were self sufficient, and were pretty sweet to live in.  I’ve heard them described as “utopian”.  I reckon “Prove it”.  Had at least one grapefruit tree though – so I reckon they must have got pretty close to utopia at least.  Prices for entry were cool too.  Different prices for locals, Uruguayans, Latin Americans, and ‘General’.

Then, let me think… (overnight and constant travel screws my perception of what happened on which day.  No – it’s NOT the booze) … right, walked a little bit around San Ignacio – not much else going on really.  Then, got on a bus to Puerto Iguazu.  Watched a DVD on the bus – rather obviously from some guy in a cinema with a video camera.  Constantly the video would disappear, or nearly disappear, as a jacket is placed over the camera.  I’m guessing cinema workers were walking past.  But eventually, made it to Puerto Iguazu.  Enjoy some more good beef and good red wine in Argentina, before Paraguay – which is far from being renowned for fine dining or wining.  Am staying at a place called Residencial Noelia, in case I go missing.


Well – I am in Caracas. And, excuse my language family, but it is the only way to put it… I am fucked. Well and truly.

But – I will get to that later. The remainder of Buenos Aires – went to a museum. Which confirmed my suspicion that the Argentines do not consider anybody important unless they were a general in a war. But, nice museum. Actual jacket worn by some guy who was murdered. Murdered quite well, by the size of the cut in his back. Very big ornate shield type thing. Spectacular, really.

Then – in the evening, went to a soccer game. Futbal. The Argies are mad. Really quite impressively crazy. Home team won.

Yesterday – went to bus station. Spent an hour waiting for the correct no 86 bus to come. Got on. Two hours later, got to airport. Then, another hour in the check-in queue. Luckily I had given myself heaps of time, to allow for food and internet at airport. As it turns out, I just had time to get to the plane.

Arrive in Caracas. Every ATM refuses me. Some of them asking me about the last two digits of my passport or ID card. I tried several things, both debit card and credit card. Nothing worked. Lots of taxi drivers, baggage handlers, everybody really – asking if I want a taxi, or my money changed. Very good rates. Black market – better than the official rate. I end up talking to a guy in a suit, outside what looks like a tourist office. Realise later that I think it is a tourist company. But, I think the guy was actually fairly genuine – and works for a company which sorts out accommodation/transport for business travellers to NZ. So my price range for a hotel was something he had not dealt with before, I suspect. We ended up driving around Caracas for a very long time, over an hour, going to hotel after hotel. Most full, some just too expensive. But considering the places he was taking me to – I wanted to tell him there was no way they would accept what I had to offer.

Ended up at a little place, very basic room. But – hotel, so own bathroom. Time for another clean (was very very stinky on the plane). Then, I started to notice something about the hotel room. There was a large poster of girl in bikini on the wall. Two porn channels on the TV. Could hear loud noises from a nearby hotel room. Large mirror at foot of bed. Switches on the headboard – for lights, music, TV, & aircon. And finally, I noticed the mirrors on the ceiling.

This morning – I left the key in the room, and scarpered. I was still paranoid that my “friends” last night had somehow ripped me off, and if I handed the key to reception – I would be handed a bill. Then, I started to think about the fact that I had the equivalent of $50 cash. And that was all. Old man at roadside kiosk helped me pick a bus to get on, and I think he said that I would see a big sign saying banco. I did not, and got off instead when it seemed to be the end of the line, and there were a few shops around. Soon I discovered that I was in Sabana Grande. Reputedly, the dangerous neighbourhood. Finally found some ATMs. Same problem as last night. Found another one. This one, at least, had a slightly more useful error message. My card has been locked for too many incorrect PIN entries. Both cards.

And then, I realise, it is Saturday. So the banks are closed. No walk-in and use visa to withdraw cash.

So – like I said, I am fucked. Well and truly. In Caracas, reputedly the most dangerous city in the continent, with no money, and no way of getting money.

So – I have been in this internet cafe, which I finally found – after starting to suspect that all internet places were closed on Saturday as well – gathering information and options. Am going to call the National Bank – and see if they can unlock my cards pronto, and give me the 2 digits I am supposed to enter after the main PIN. Otherwise, I guess it is finding an hotel which will take Visa. And is not full. Probably going to be expensive.

Update: checked out the bus station to Puerto La Cruz, and confirmed they´d take Visa.  So – it became a decision of “Do I stay in Caracas screwed without money, or go to Puerto La Cruz, where I´ll be screwed without money.”  Then, a helpful lady at bus station pointed me to a big shopping mall, where the banks are open on Saturdays.  2nd bank I tried – the ATM gave me money on my Visa.  Never been so happy to see cash come out of a machine.  Not even in Palmy on a Wednesday night when you hoped the machine didn´t realise you were overdrawn.

But – have collected a Venezuelan man.  Very chatty, speaks reasonable English.  But is rather hard work.  He wants me to stay in Caracas.  Party tonight he reckons.  But sounds like I´d be paying for a room in an apartment?  And he really is very hard work.  I might have to scarper.

But – am very glad that this is the main problem I have to worry about at the moment. The no money in Caracas thing was a major worry.  Solved, through the age old technique of “try the same thing again and again until it does work”.

Buenos Aires

I am in Buenos Aires.  I woke up this morning, looked out the window of my bus, and thought “I am in Buenos Aires.” I was right, you know.  Sort of.  I was also pretty stoked.

But – firstly the remainder of my time in San Rafael.  I decided to splash out.  Go crazy.  Treat myself.  You know?  Got an hotel room, for AR$30.  (Despite what that stupid woman in the NZ Herald says, it´s not particularly difficult to tell what currency a price is advertised as.  You are in Argentina.  It is pesos.  If you are foolish enough to give them that many US$ – you deserve it.)

Anyway – hotel room.  I decided to pay the extra 10 pesos, just for the private bathroom.  When I got into the room, I remembered such things as double beds, complimentary soap, and TV with soft-porn.  I immediately cleaned myself up properly, shower with soap, and even shaved.  Then put on the clothes I´d worn for 12 hours in blistering sun at Payunia yesterday.

Next morning – went to bodega Suter.  Had a private tour of the winery with a seppo who turned up.  I wasn´t happy.  Initially, I had joined a group of elderly latino´s, guided by nice young senorita.  Instead, had to listen to guide I could understand (he was fairly cool, and pretty informative), and a seppo asking stupid questions (the “I know a little, so will ask what I think are educated questions” type.  I fought fire with fire.)

Bought an unlabelled 1985 malbec, their champenoise (traditional method Ben.  Really bad method, from what I saw), and their classier cab-sav.  They only wanted to let me taste their awful sparkling.  I managed to get a taste of their production line pinot noir, but had to quaff it before the next tour group saw.

Plan was to visit the cathedral, plaza, maybe museum.  But – stopped for a cerveza before dropping off the wine in my pack at the bus station.  Got talking to french woman.  Muchos hours, cervezas, and advice later – went to bus station together.  Me to get on my bus, her to book her bus for the next day, and one final cerveza together.  She´s been in South America for six months already.  Wealth of knowledge, advice, and cynical hardened traveller´s anecdotes.  Also offered free place to stay in Paris.  And I think nearly cried when we parted.  Would have been the cervezas, I´m not that nice a person.

Bus to Buenos Aires – 14 hours.  Two course meal with wine turned out to be pretty bad, but with refills of the bad wine, and a whisky offered in place of coffee.  I don´t know much spanish, but I can guess what whiskito means.  And the bus stewardess may not know me, but she figured me out pretty quickly.  Dirty flirt.

Buenos Aires is pretty cool.  Argentina´s trend of beautiful women continues.  First police I saw was a brace of stunning ladies, with a rather more butch lady with them.  For backup, in case a crim doesn´t arrest themselves when the other two sweet-talk him, I guess.

Plaza de Mayo was a little over-rated, I thought.  Building where Eva, Maradona, and whoever else gave speeches from the balcony though.  Turns out I didn´t get a photo of that.  Sorry Nathan, you´d have loved it.  Another photo of a colonial building.  This one, as it is done in pink.  Other plaza was pretty good.  Ridiculous statue/thing – and the Federal Congress building – quite impressive.

Walked down Avenue 9 de Julio.  The widest one in the WORLD!  As part of this, saw the big obelisk they built.  Surpising that they didn´t stick a statue of a general on horse on it or near it.  Maybe they´ve grown out of that.

Lots of other little stuff.  All the names in Ben´s little piece of plagarism are familiar.  Am staying in San Telmo – cobbled streets.  Maybe go to watch La Boca´s futbal team play tomorrow.  Boca Juniors.  Walked down Florida Ave this afternoon.  Great sales technique here.  At first I thought it was stolen goods, and maybe me being set-up.  Sitting at restaurant, guy walks in – drops a boxed set of expensive looking pens, Mont-Blanc I think, on my table.  Walks away.  I start panicking.  Waitress happens to be coming to take my order – I gesture at the pens with bewilderment.  She looks at them with disgust, moves them to the nearest empty table.  Guy comes back, takes them away.  A little while later – another guy.  Cheaper looking boxed set – does the same thing.  This time, I watch the reaction of other people.  They ignore him, he comes back after a circuit of the restaurant sidewalk area – collects his goods.  I´m thinking some kind of way of selling stolen goods without it being technically buying it.  But next guy – crappy little plastic hand-powered torch.  Wish I´d bought the Mont-Blanc pens now.  No idea how much he wanted, or anything else.  Very strange marketing technique.

Finally living up to my promise to family, in case people get worried – my hostel is Hostel el San Termo.  I think.  Something like that, and it´s listed in the Rough Guide South America.  I think it´s the first hostel from the guide book that I´ve used.  18 pesos. And the nice lady did my laundry.  Dried it.  Folded it, before I got back this evening. Didn´t fold the socks together though.  No tip.

Flying to Venezuela on the 23rd.  Unfortunately, everybody to whom I say this, including hardened french woman, raises their eyebrows.  I try to explain that I´m hoping on leaving Caracas immediately – but this doesn´t seem to allay their fears/thoughts-that-I´m-crazy.

But – have had one guy recommend Isla de Margarita.  So, I´ll ignore the experienced nay-sayers, and believe the loud over-confident South African.  And try to remember to find out how to avoid Caracas despite flying in there.

Heaps more photos uploaded.  You´ll love them Nathan.  This time, instead of cool old buildings – I´ve got cool old buildings, and landscapes.  Pretty sure the photos won´t do the Payunias justice.  In some of them, if you look closely, there´ll be a little man, or a little 4×4 – as a point of reference for scale.  When I find an internet place on Isla de Margarita, in the sun, serving booze – I´ll move the best photos into my photo album system – and put captions to explain some of them.

Tonight – I think I saw a big plaza filled with tables.  Maybe I´ll have dinner there.

Oh, and Bem – the champenoise wasn´t that great.  Pretty good, maybe on a par with the first bottle we had the afternoon of my leaving?  29 pesos.  Need to drink the 1985 red I have.  Don´t really want to travel with them – but the nice man recommended one hour standing time.  One or both of these reds is going to break in my pack, with spectacular results.

Oh, hang on Nathan – I think there might be one photo you´ll like.  Don´t know which number – but is bound to make a dirty pervert like you happy.  Little sisters, shame on you.  Shame.

San Rafael

Caught a bus to San Rafael this morning.  Got up in time, forwent the compimentary coffee and croissant and hard little bun.  Instead asked for “something cold”.  Got a glass of water, and think I may have been charged for it.  I hope it didn´t have giardia in it.

Relatively short bus trip – just under 3 hours.  San Rafael, the old lady at the tourist office teased me for not speaking french.  Odd.  Went to what is supposed to be the best parilla (grill) in town.  Had a steak.  Was very good.  Especially as the waiter spoke a bit of english, so I could order it medium-rare.

Walked outside of town, to the area where there are some bodegas.  Carrying pack, on sunburnt shoulders, in scorching sun.  Pleasant.  Got to the first, couldn´t find it.  But, checking opening hours, it was still their siesta, so figured I´d have another look on the way back.  Probably easier to find when open.  Next – got ushered downstairs.  Joined a group of people being educated in wine in espanol.  I mentioned I didn´t speak espanol very well.  I think he asked me if I drink wine very well, and I said si.  Laughter.  Listened to stuff I couldn´t understand for ages, before tasting four wines.  Bought one bottle.  Went to next winery.  I think the guard said I was too late.  Closed anyway, 15 minutes before I´d been told.

Returned to look for first winery, again couldn´t find it.  Internet cafe now – and might be having some luck uploading photos.  Yep – have uploaded some.  Maybe a fifth of them?  Only took two hours.  They´re available at <gone> – but there´s a few of them.  When I´ve got more time, will put links to appropriate stuff in the actual updates.