Quick travel tip: avoid the Argentina entrance fee by busing into the country from Potosi, Bolivia. If you fly in, you’ll pay $160 reciprocity fee. I Arrived in Salta the weekend before Christmas. Met a crazy Englishman nicknamed Frenchie who travels with two bicycles. He got the nickname from his Mom, who, during a family trip, accidently left him on the shore of France while the family took the ferry back to England, a lá Home Alone. He taught us a catch-a-lighter on the back of your hand game called Acceptance. The rules of which are pretty straightforward – toss a lighter off the back of your hand so that your friend can catch it on the back of his hand. Improvise as necessary.
Met three Canadians – two girls and a guy, and we traveled to Cafayete together. Saw some beautiful Argentinian countryside, terrain similar to the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. Spent two days tasting wine, steak, cheese and sausage in Cafayete. Felt like home because of the weather and the grapevines, it’s a beautiful place.
Arrived back in Salta at the ranch style hostel Loki, just in time to meet up with some jungle trek friends from Colombia, and Irish woman and American woman, occupants of the messiest hostel room I have ever seen. If you’re afraid of flies, do not go to Loki Salta and drink wine in your room with the windows open. Christmas eve and Christmas day came and went in spectacular fashion. Missed my family but managed to create a new one with friends from Salta. Christmas day was filled with sunny pool time, ping pong, daiquiris, volleyball, wine, a Mexican from Colombia named Carlos, broken toes, split chins, smashed fingers, slippery floor, rain, hail, dancing in the hail, dancing on the bars and tables, napping in bean bags, dirty feet in clean beds, playing catch with a Nerf football, no internet, no skyping, mangy dog, storytelling and Acceptance.
I almost missed my 11:30 AM bus to Buenos Aires the next day. It’s a 30 minute bus ride from the hostel to the bus station and the only reliable way to get there is by local bus – which I watched zoom past me, 100 yards away, as I walked to the bus stop just in front of the hostel. I waited another ten minutes for the next bus but I knew I would miss my connection if I waited any longer so I stuck my thumb out to hitchhike. The second car that pulled by picked me up. I hopped in and it was two locals – a man and his wife. The wife is an English teacher and told her husband to pull over because she wanted to speak to the foreigner to practice her English. We had a nice conversation and as we spoke the husband caught up to the bus I missed, pulled in front of it and flagged it down. I hopped out of the car with the wife who ran to the bus with me and paid my way using her bus card. I could not have paid for the bus because I did not have coins, and the buses don’t accept paper money. But no one has coins in Argentina; it’s a well-known problem and creates an interesting situation for foreigners without bus passes.
After that great show of generosity I took a 19-hour overnight “cama-cama” bus ride to Buenos Aires. Argentina has the best buses I have ever seen – on this trip I had a fully reclining chair with an “on-demand” LCD screen in the headrest in front of me. There were about 40 movie options, most of which are in Spanish. Watching these movies is a great way to stay entertained and feel like you are practicing Spanish.
I woke up to a spectacular sunrise over the obviously European-influenced Buenos Aires. Lonely planet recommends that if you would like to ease yourself into South America, you should start in Buenos Aires as it is the most Westernized city in SA. I spent the first day familiarizing myself with the center of the city where Mill House hostel is located. Besides having the widest Avenue in the world – I think it’s sixteen lanes with park-like strips between some of the streets, the area is home to an iconic Evita inspired building and an Obelisk which act as points of orientation.
The next day I did a bike tour of the Northern part of the city including Palermo and Recoleta, where Evita is buried. Friends from Salta started to trickle in and we quickly picked up the Buenos Aires city lifestyle – wake up after noon, spend a bit of time exploring the city, take a nap in the evening, wake up for dinner at 10PM, back to the hostel party until 2 AM, out to the clubs until 5-8AM, Repeat all the way through New Years. One night we went to an all you can drink Dinner/Tango Show/ Tango Lesson. Our rowdy group was taught one dance move (other groups we talked to learned four moves) and spent most of the Tango show shushing Rachel. She has a room filling, uncontrollable, distinctive laugh that pierced right through the Tango music to the surrounding tables.
The family from Salta spent New Years together in BA at one of the coolest clubs I have ever seen, called Terrazas Del Este. Located on the beach, it has multiple dance floors with separate types of music, including an outdoor patio area where we all watched the sunrise over the Atlantic on New Years day. The vibe of the night was truly amazing, a feeling of giddy excitement spending time with awesome friends doing something totally new in a foreign land, listening to good music, dancing through to sunrise.
A few days later part of the Salta family left for a cross-continent trip to Mendoza then on to Santiago to catch flights home. The curse of the traveller is to have to meet so many great people who you form instant bonds with, only to see them go a few hours, days or weeks later. It makes you appreciate your time together that much more, but it’s a dark cloud hanging over every new relationship. Sometimes it’s possible to prolong your time together by modifying your travel plans a bit or getting married, but most relationships on the road (as an individual traveller) are ephemeral.
However, part of the group was still intact and we stayed a few extra days in order to catch La Bomba De Tiempo, a sixteen-piece percussion band that puts on a show every Monday night. Many fellow travelers recommended this experience, and the band did not disappoint. The show goes from 8 to 10:30 PM at a venue called Konex. We got there an hour early to eat some street food and have a few beers. The show starts off a bit slow but the two and half hours absolutely fly by as the tempo increases and the crowd starts to dance. Every few songs the musicians swap instruments and a different individual leads from the “conductors” seat. It’s an impressive show of musical dexterity, and the whole crowd leaves in a more energized state.
A few days later I split off from the remaining Salta family, the rest of the group headed to trek in Patagonia while I visit Iguazu falls and the beaches of Brazil. I’m now relaxing in Florianopolis, in search of surf and sun and finding both. On the 23rd of January I will meet a friend from the US in Sao Paolo, ending my solo traveling career for a month. It’ll be a welcome change to have a constant travel partner; I really look forward to it. We’ll head to Rio and then on up the coast of Brazil to Salvador for Carnival. I’ve got a great month ahead so stay tuned!