Dave’s Argentinian countryside trek has been the most popular to date. Was it the countryside, the best chardy EVER or the cricket butt that made that post popular? I would like to put it down towards the off the beaten path stories more than anything.
The good news is Dave continues that sense of adventure in this edition where he ventures over the Andes, off to Chi-Chi-Chile, Peru and Machu Picchu. There are winding roads, breathtaking views and local culture to soak up— but there are some obscure stories too including seal fights, South American candy and pimp stories.
Let’s hear it from our man Dave.
The Andes bus
I had two choices; one was to head up the coast of Chile and the other was to head up through the middle of Argentina, for better or worse, as you have already read, I chose Argentina.
One of the reasons I chose Argentina was I wanted to complete a bus trip over the Andes. The ride was on the most spectacular rides I’ve ever been on, we ascended up to 4500 metres making it the highest mountain drive in the world. The variation within the desert landscapes was amazing, lots of reds, browns, greys, yellows, greys and white salt plains, it’s what I imagine to be on the moon could be like.
The views from the top of the Andes seemed to go on forever and the road kept constantly switching back making it one of the windiest roads. If you ever get the chance, I would recommend it.
After reaching the first border at Argentina, we then passed a second border in Chile at the town of San Pedro, and then headed towards the coastal town of Arica.
The Chilean border patrol was very thorough, including requesting taking out my laptop battery. There lots of police dogs about the place, I assume they were looking for any potential drug smugglers in total I was on buses for 28 hours, by far the longest of my bus trips.
Unfortunately as mentioned I wasn’t in Chile long enough to get a good impression of it, this would be the same for Peru as I was only going to be there for 3 days.
From what I can tell, the Chileans are really friendly, everyone that I spoke to, local barman, the hostel owner, the “man bracelet” salesman were all enthusiastic about having a conversation with varying degrees of success. My Spanish hasn’t improved (not that I was making a serious attempt to learn) so I had to use a lot of hand movements to explain myself, this would involve several laughs though did have unintended consequences.
An example of this was the last night I was in Arica, after indicating to the barman that I wanted to go to a nightclub, he mistook that for a strip club, needless to say not quite what I was looking for.
Feeling my way around town
The town seemed to be very Americanised, there were lots of fast food franchises, plenty of banks, mobile phone shops and so on. South America generally doesn’t have these facilities in abundance, however one of Chile’s smaller towns had plenty of these facilities in abundance. The town also has a wider selection of food choices available (supermarket as well as restaurant choices) than anywhere else I’ve been in South America. This included Chinese and Seafood which I had not seen for a while it makes me wonder what Santiago would have been like.
Unfortunately I missed the summer here, while it appears to be set up for summer partying, and the weather was still hot, there really wasn’t much in the way of tourists about, and Arica is definitely a tourist town.
After chilling out in Salta, there was more chilling out in Arica, this involved climbing the local hill to overlook the city itself, there are a few beaches and the town sits in the middle of a coastal desert. It was the first time I had ever been to a town that was essentially a desert, even though it was on the coast.
The views are spectacular and it’s the first time I’ve seen a city like it, I also spent a lot of time sitting on the beach, the first day I actually had the beach to myself. The only time I headed out was my last night here, where a pommy backpacker and I headed out in town.
Much like everywhere else in South America, locals don’t go out till late so it was very calm, though I suspect here many people don’t go out. I had a quality cheap meal, drank some very cheap beer (Chilean beer is also much better than anything else I’ve had in South America and also had a large selection unlike Argentina and Brazil which was quite limited) and drank some very cheap Jack Daniels.
After being directed to the dodgy strip bar which seemed to be the only thing happening in town, I promptly gave up on the night and headed back to the hostel.
Outdoor markets, Seals and an American Chevy
The following day, I had some time to kill before heading over the border to Peru, so I checked out the local markets, which were quite substantial in size.
I walked up one of the main streets, it went for about a kilometre and was full of stalls, and it was a bit like the Grand Bazarre in Turkey, just outdoors and a bit smaller. I bought myself another man bracelet as well as a cheap Chilean football shirt (8 bucks bargain).
I then checked out the docks, it was full of various trawlers as well as some rather large rabid looking seals fighting with some ugly looking pelicans for food, it was a pretty funny sight.
I then headed off to the bus station to pass over the border, this involved heading to a car park full of old rusty American cars, jumping in an 1980’s Chevy , hurtling through the desert at around 100 miles an hour for 50 clicks or so and then stopping at the Chilean and Peruvian customs. I was then picked up by a much more modern Spanish car after clearing customs and now found myself in Peru…
Before I get to Cusco, my car dropped me in the local town nearest the border, I was instructed not to leave the bus station where I had to wait for 10 hours before getting my bus apparently the border town Tacna is known for its thievery. I waited and then experienced another lengthy bus ride, instead of the advertised 15 hours, it took another 25 or so hours instead, I was not very impressed and the luxury first class buses in Argentina were long forgotten. I should of taken a flight instead.
The girl next to me on my bus ride was a Peruvian and while my Spanish hasn’t improved at all, she was easier for me to understand than other other non English speakers I’d met; my impression was that Peruvians speak slower and are much more patient with people that can’t speak Spanish.
How to suck candy, South American-style
A strange occurrence on the ride was a male passenger stood up and started giving a speech for an hour, he then pulled out a long stick of candy and started sucking on it; I asked the girl if he was “loco” to wish she nodded yes.
Only later did I realise he was actually advertising candy which included a demonstration on how to unwrap and eat,, very bizarre and my first live infomercial. Apparently this kind of advertising goes on in Peru all the time.
The Local Culture
I eventually arrived at the hostel, it was the most spectacular I’ve stayed in South America, and it was an old converted monastery sitting on top of a mountain overlooking the town. The rooms were excellent and they had their own cinema and quality food, including English fry ups (yum yum).
Pimpin ain’t easy
I spent the evening befriending a few of the people there and then ended up completely bollixed during happy hour, two for one G&T’s for roughly $2AUS. After that, I went out with some people to a few of the local nightclubs.
I almost ended up in a punch up as one of Peruvian guy was attempting to chat up two of the girls I was hanging out with from the hostel, to which they both informed him that I was their boyfriend. He took exception to this yelling at me that “I have too many women”, I then took exception to possibly being hit, so I rounded up my girlfriends and went to another club.
And the rest of the night was a blur….
I lost my credit card and so this is what I did
I woke up with a monstrous hangover (the worst I’d had on my trip) this was not a good thing as I had to organise my tour to Machu Picchu as well as sort out my trip to Bolivia.
I stopped off at Peru rail, withdrew some money and then attempted to purchase a ticket for Machupicchu, I was told they were sold out, so decided to go to the bus terminal to get my ticket for Bolivia. That was easy enough, I then asked the operator if he knew anything about Machu Picchu, he then promptly organised the trip for a friend and I, everything was looking up.
It then dawned on me that the ATM machine had taken my card, (actually, I’d forgotten to take it out of the machine… hangover). I promptly paid with another credit card, headed back to Peru rail, I told a Policeman about my card, he surprised me by offering to assist in retrieving the card, he took my in his car to a bank, the very helpful teller recommended I go to another bank and the policeman again took me to that bank. That helpful teller then told me to come back at 6 which I did; unfortunately they didn’t have my card so I cancelled it.
I must say the Peruvians were quite helpful with my little dilemma, needless to say though, the next time I go withdrawing money, I’ll remember to take the card. It was cool to go in my first police car ever, and better still I had not been arrested.
I crashed early that night, one because of the 330is start to Machu Picchu, and two because my head still hurt.
I later realised that the reason I was so hammered, and why my head pounded like hell, was from mixing booze with altitude sickness.
I was now sitting at. 4000 metres above sea level tends to choke off oxygen to the brain and when mixed with a few drinks— well, the results can be unexpected.
Needless to say, I would advise against heavy drinking whilst acclimatising.
The next day my friend and I headed to Machu Picchu. Firstly this involved jumping into a cab for an hour, driving at breakneck speed, tailgating other cabs through the night at around 150 km’s per hour, this was all a little scary and there was no chance of getting in a quick nap.
We then arrived at the railway station for the Inca train up the mountain. They journey took about 2 hours and goes through some amazing scenery, deep in a valley running along a river with huge mountains on either side. Upon arriving at the last stop, there was another 25 minutes bus ride up the mountain to Machu Picchu itself. It is truly breathtaking.
We had a guide that told us the history of the ancient Incan city, the views from the town are spectacular and the town itself is quite an interesting place, it’s one of the most awesome places I’ve ever been.
‘‘Over the past few weeks I’d been getting “bagged” by friends for not doing the Inca Trail (a four day work, with porters). You can, however, walk up a 10 metre incline and feel worn out— it’s thousands of feet above sea level and you can get short of breath quite quickly.’’
We spent a few hours at the top, took in the town at the bottom of the hill and then had some lunch and checked out the local markets.
After that we took the train and bus back to the hostel, went out again, had a few drinks— but I was a little more careful as this shortness of breath was going to take a few days to get used to— went to another night club and had a far less controversial night
I’d only had a few hours’ sleep, it was one of the best days I’ve had over here. The following day, checked out the city, hopped on a bus and it was off to La Paz, Bolivia……
My time in this part of the world is drawing to a close…for now.
Unfortunately I only had about a week or so in both Chile and Peru. I now know that my approximate 3 month trip there, whilst seems like quite a while, in some respects it’s actually no time at all so I needed to target the most important things to do.
Anyway, the next part and the last of my South American adventure was coming up, Bolivia was on the cards and then back to Brazil before onwards and upwards to the United Kingdom and Europe.
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. We started this series a while back and finished in the countryside of Argentina. We will continue this series in Bolivia!
He just completed another world trip including stops at Vancouver, USA (numerous cities), Copenhagen, Paris and various stops around the UK, Spain and South Africa, and we will share these stories in the future.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.