Friday, July 14, 2017

South America Part Two - 2nd Stop: Jujuy & Salta

Last year was always going to be a tough one to top, with big heavyweight destinations like Machu Picchu, the Uyuni Salt Flats and Death Road. But now, after a nice start in Buenos Aires, we're going to kick this year's adventure up a notch with the Argentinian provinces of Jujuy and Salta. We were in the area for six days in total and it would be rare that we would spend so much time in one place, but it was time well spent. And I know I say we were just in this "one area", but the provinces of Jujuy and Salta combined are nearly three times the size of Ireland! So, plenty to see.

It was all about the natural scenery here, and you could just drive for hours, staring out the window and still have the best time. Which is why we hired a car for ourselves to make the most of our stay. I've driven motorbikes around Asia and we've hired cars across Europe, but this was my first time driving in South America, and it was a very different experience...

First of all, when you rent a car in Europe, it's always brand new, straight out of the factory, with all of the latest mod cons; which then makes us feel like crap when we have to go home to our 13 year old Avensis. But here... we had roll down windows, had to manually lock each door, and at one stage, the engine wouldn't stop making noise, even after we turned it off. We just had to walk away and hope it wouldn't burst into flames in our absence. 

And secondly, as you'd expect, the roads and drivers are a lot less predictable than Europe, but I can't complain really. We made it through the six days with no problems, mostly knowing where we were going, and seeing things that would've been impossible without wheels of your own.

After landing in Jujuy from Buenos Aires, we grabbed our car and drove up to the tiny town of Purmamarca, where we would be spending the first two nights. You could walk around it all in ten minutes, but it was really lovely. There was a small little viewpoint in the centre of town to walk up, and an old woman had set up a booth to charge people going up and down. I don't think it was legit, but it was only 25c each, so good luck to her! She had a little ticket book and everything! From there you could see the surrounding hills and we watched the local kids play soccer.

Our accommodation was great too - Colores de Purmamarca. We had a small room in a shared house, but as we were the only ones there, we had the whole house to ourselves!

Now that's the kinda view you want to be waking up to every morning!

The next day, we drove to Humahuaca, a slightly bigger town about 70km away. The town itself is quite nice and we parked up and walked around the place.

The main attraction though is about 20km out of town, and over 1,300m upwards through rocky, winding mountain roads to El Mirador del Hornocal. It's a good thing we had Google maps because there's no way you'd just stumble across this place. The bumpy drive in our even bumpier car was well worth it though. We've travelled quite a bit now, and seen quite a bit too, but the world is still finding ways to blow our minds, and this is right up there with the best of them.

It was a long way back down too...

The next day, we left Purmamarca for good and paid a visit to Las Salinas Grandes. We saw the world's best salt flats last year in Bolivia, but the trip out to Argentina's version was worth the journey.

It was only an hour from Purmamarca, but as I said before, the journey itself is as good as the destination here. The looping roads, coloured hills and general Wile E. Coyote scenery are their own attraction. It would remind you a lot of San Pedro de Atacama which we visited last year in Chile, and it's no wonder seeing as they're less than 300km apart as the crow flies.

Also, check out the random Power Rangers graffiti in the middle of nowhere!

And that was that for the Jujuy section of the trip. Now it was time to go from salt to Salta, as we took the 3 hour drive down south to the eponymous capital of the Salta province. The city was a lot bigger than what we were expecting, and especially compared to the small towns we had been passing through over the past few days. And being honest, Salta city didn't have a lot going on. We were there for three days, one of which was spent on another road trip, but yeah, Salta city wasn't a lot to write home about.

That was as good as it got, although our accommodation was fierce swanky, and the rooftop pool made it easier to enjoy the otherwise fairly dull city.

Going back a step, we did go on a road trip down to Cafayate on one of the days. It's another small town, and similarly, the place itself isn't up to much but the journey was great. Just more valleys, rocks, cacti - the usual kinda stuff...

And that was about it. Of the two, Jujuy had more going for it, even though Salta is probably far more well known. If you have five or six days, get a car and drive around both, but if you're tight for time, Jujuy province is the one I'd be recommending.

We made a video diary on our Salta rooftop too, if you feel like hearing us speak.

Our next stop will be Iguazu falls on the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, so three countries for the price of one. See you then!

Friday, July 7, 2017

South America Part Two - 1st Stop: Buenos Aires

And we're back in South America! One year ago, we were setting off for a new continent, like the Spanish. This time we're back to see what else this land has to offer us, also like the Spanish! Having previously crossed Peru, Bolivia and Chile off our list, we're back to add Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay to the mix. We'll hopefully see a fair bit over the next three weeks, but it's a big, big continent and so far we've barely scratched the surface.

First stop was Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital and what will be our base of operations. We'll be back here again another couple of times in the coming weeks, but for now we had three days to get a feel for the place.

Before all that, our Atlantic crossing wasn't as stress-free as we would've liked, with our one hour connection time in Frankfurt immediately cut to 30 minutes as our flight from Dublin was delayed. This meant that as soon as we touched down in Germany, it was a mad dash through the airport, corridor after corridor, made all the more dramatic by Ais' bag flying open along the way, spilling its contents across the floor. But, we made it to the gate just in time, all sweaty and dishevelled, and then... it ended up not leaving for another half hour. Oh well, some impromptu exercise at least!

Although we managed to make it from one plane to the other, we found out when we landed in Buenos Aires that our bags did not. Not the start to the holiday we were hoping for. We had most of the important things in our hand luggage, so no immediate emergencies. The only thing I could've done with was my camera. You'd think I would've learned from last year not to leave valuable items in my check-on luggage.

Frankie nooooo! It still hurts... 

So, our first day in BA was a luggage free one. But on the plus side, at least we didn't have to lug heavy backpacks around with us! Admittedly, a very minor plus point...

As we were still in limbo with the luggage situation and we were just fresh from a 13 hour flight (probably the longest we've ever been on), our first day wasn't the most action packed. Though having said that, we casually strolled a good 20km in total. Buenos Aires is just a very walkable city with lots of parks and waterside greenways.

We first wandered around La Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur, which I think means "The Ecological Reserve... of Costanera Sur". You would never believe you were in one of the world's biggest cities, and just a short walk from the main square. We walked from there to Plaza San Martin and onto Recoleta which, as it was a Saturday, was filled with market stalls and buskers, so there was a great atmosphere around the place.

Those pics are all from Ais' phone as I, of course, was cameraless.

The next morning, still no word about our bags, so off we set for yet more exercise, as we joined a walking tour of the city. We've done quite a few of these around the world, and it's always a good way to see the place and learn a bit of regional history. The weather has been ideal since we landed too, especially considering it's winter here; nothing but blue skies and warm by Irish standards.

And good news! When we arrived back at our hotel, our bags were there to greet us and I finally had my camera again. Who knows where they had been and what they had seen in the last 36 hours.

Our spirits were up and so what better way to celebrate than go to Tierra Santa - the world's first religious theme park! It's a little slice of the Middle East in South America with singing, dancing and resurrections every hour! Now that's Christianity streamlined.

What the above photos don't show you is that when the 40 foot plastic Jesus rises from the ground, he does so to an over-the-top chorus of "Hallelujah", before slowly moving from side to side, lifting his head up and down, and then descending back from wherever he came. Truly a bucket list moment. The designers of Christ the Redeemer must be kicking themselves!

I would seriously recommend Tierra Santa to anyone who is religious, and even more so to anyone who isn't at all! It was so bad that it was good! The place was pretty busy and it's hard to tell if people come here for the kitsch value and don't take it too seriously, or if everyone else was in reverent awe, and we were the only two giggling heathens!

A great day out for the whole family.

Our third and final day in Buenos Aires (for now) led us to some of the different neighbourhoods, or barrios, of the city. The first was La Boca, one of the most colourful, and notoriously, one of the most dangerous, though we had no problems here. There isn't a whole lot to see really, with just a few streets of coloured buildings, some nice graffiti, and La Bombonera, home of Boca Juniors.

It's worth the trip out, but honestly, you don't need more than an hour.

The district of Palermo was similarly arty, and in fact, the whole of Buenos Aires is truly vibrant, with colour and music everywhere you go.

And that was that for part one in Buenos Aires. The follow morning we caught a flight to Jujuy (fun trying to pronounce that at the airport!) in the northwest of Argentina, where we would be spending the next six days. We made our BA video diary there, and it was a good move as the scenery was some of the best we've encountered anywhere in the world.

I'll chat about this, and the other places in the area, in my next blog, so brace yourselves for a whole lot of pictures of colourful hills!