We're finally on our way!!
It seems strange that today has finally come around. We've been planning this trip for so long and have spent the last two weeks saying our farewells but now its actually here. We set off tonight for Buenos Aires and the start of our world trip.
The last few weeks have been pretty hectic. Stefan stopped working at the start of May, Ness stopped on Friday 13th (hopefully a good omen!). We've been to Brussels to say farewell to Stef's Mum and Ness's last week at work was filled with lunches and dinners out, rounded off by a 30th birthday (the companies not mine unfortunately). A trip up to Brum to say farewell to the Voogd contingent was remarkably tear-free, apart from tears of laughter at an interesting new hair style sported by one family member.
We then had two days where all our prized possessions were packed up (in only 3 hours by expert packers who didn't reminisce with everything that went into a box) and sent off to store for a year. It brought a lump to my throat to see the van drive off, knowing that we'd miss bits and pieces along the way (some sooner than we'd expected as Stef announced this morning that he'd packed trousers he'd intended to take - any excuse for a last trip into London!). Our house now looks very similar to when we first moved in - a new line in packing case tables, 2 garden chairs and an air mattress for a bed.
On Friday Stef had booked for us to go to the champagne bar at the top of Tower 42 in the City. If you get a chance to go its worth it for the views but be prepared - it will burn a sizeable hole in your pocket. We had views up and down the Thames and could see across to Buckingham Palace and Kensington Gardens.
Friday at Tower 42.
Saturday was a farewell night out with friends where Rob displayed a new found talent for belly dancing. He was shimmying away with the professional and was giving her a run for her money.
On Monday, Andy saved the day, arriving at lunchtime to take us to the airport. He kept us sane, stopped us bickering at each other, plied us with champagne (they're not used to that in our local and I was amazed they had a cold bottle) and helped us finish off final bits and pieces.
With Eddie (our car) packed to the roof we headed off for Heathrow, checked in and said our farewells. It wasn't just me who shed a final tear or two although the photo doesn't show that.
Our flight was quiet and we had on board about a 30 strong contingent from the Argentine Army. We left late but landed on time at Buenos Aires. Having been here before, it was returning to familiar territory and we reminisced whilst finding an hotel and arranging transport downtown. The traffic was mad on the main Avenido 9 Julio and despite its 16 lanes it was jammed due to demonstrations in town. The fact that we made it was a bit of a surprise due to the number of times the engine conked out along the way!
We had a much needed beer or two, crashed out for a few hours and then headed out. We ambled around for a while, soaking up the sights, laughing at a group of dancing empanadas, and generally starting the switch into travel mode. Every corner seems to have a bar, cafe, or pasticcherria. We also passed a few chocolate shops that would give Godiva a run for their money. It will be hard to resist drinking a Submarino - hot milk that you melt a bar of chocolate into.
We ended up eating in a Chinese "eat as much as you like" buffet. Not very typical but we were hungry and didn't read the door before we walked in. It was great food and ridiculous value - equivalent of £6 in total, including a bottle of wine.
The next day we spent in Buenos Aires. Being a public holiday (commemoration of the 1810 revolution against Spain) the Teatro Colon is shut giving me another excuse to come back at a later date. We passed through the Plaza de Mayo where celebrations were already in swing and headed back down to the Puerto Madero - BA's updated port area. Like London, its now an area of smart offices, flats and restaurants. It also has a yacht club which set Stef off yearning for life on the ocean waves again.
At Tourist Info, we were given loads of info about Uruguay, our next destination, and how to get across the Rio de la Plata by ferry. The lady there was jealous that we would spend two weeks touring the country but reminded us several times that it was the wrong time of year for the beach resorts.
Our other main sight for BA was the cemetery at Recoleta. A strange sight on the tourist trail but one definitely worth seeing. Its the resting place of the BA aristocracy and based on the mausolea within it, you certainly have to have money to be buried here. Some of them are very understated and simple. Others are testaments to wealth and power , making very bold statements about a family and their place in history and society. Another reason for the cemetery being on the tourist trail is that it is now the resting place of Eva Peron, Evita.
I have never seen anything like this before and can't really describe the sensations I felt walking around. It was almost as if we were in a model village with each mausoleum being a separate house. There were few trees or plants of any sort so it had an artificial and not lived in (excuse the phraseology) atmosphere. We were not there when there was a guided tour in English and I left feeling I wanted to know more.
The next day we finally headed off to Uruguay. We're getting the Buquebus ferry across the river at one of its narrower points where its only 50 miles wide. The ferry leaves at 9:00 so it was a shock to be woken up by an alarm clock. Its autumn here, dark by 6 and not light until after 8am so we can't yet rely on our body clock. At the ferry port we felt we could have been back in India. We went to the Paja (pay desk) by the entrance to buy our tickets to be told we had to go to then Vente (sales desk) at the other end of the terminal hall. Having bought our tickets we then had to go back to the Paja to pay for them!! Our backpacks were checked in airport style and we went through passport control to the departure lounge.
As the ferry moved off we went up on deck to say farewell to Buenos Aires. Its a unique view seeing a cityscape from the sea (or river in this case). You get a real sense of the scale of a place and how far the suburbs have crept into the distance. When the sun breaks through the clouds and catches on the glass of the new waterfront buildings it seems like the city lights up - one big solar panel.
With the Uruguayan coast in sight there's the usual exodus of people up on deck to watch the coast appear more clearly. There's something satisfying about getting this type of sneak preview of a place you are going to visit. You start to second guess what you'll see, what you'll like and can sense check real to actual at a later date.
We're headed to Colonia, a UNESCO world heritage site, founded by the Portuguese (much to the disgust of the Spanish). There's a small historical centre and around the bay good sandy beaches. Most of the visitors are Argentineans, many of whom come just for the day and then go home.
Once landed we shoulder our packs and head off to our hotel. My pack was killing me, its not balanced/set up correctly and needs adjusting. Our chosen hotel, Posada del Rio, only has one room left (which we later realised is because most of the rest of it is being refurbished) which did the trick (especially at £14 for bed and breakfast). We've hired a car to get around the rest of Uruguay - not typical behaviour for backpackers but its within our budget and gives us more flexibility to see things at our pace and off the beaten track.
Artsy view of the old fort gate
We dumped our packs and headed out to explore. The old historic centre has a very Mediterranean feel - tree lined avenues, cobbled streets, quiet and sleepy atmosphere. We soaked up the town, enjoying the sunshine and headed down to the waterfront to a small harbour. There were a few yachts and dinghies and a fabulous wooden launch. I could picture it in an Hercule Poirot era murder mystery - beautiful ladies in racy swimsuits, and dapper gents in blazer, cravat, whit trousers and captains cap, quietly sipping chilled champagne as they watch the world go by.
The ruins of the city walls showed a feat of engineering. At least 2m thick and with foundations a similar depth below ground level. Seeing things like this it always amazes me how they were built - a real testament to the sheer brute strength potential of man and beast.
With the light fading we picked a spot to watch the sunset - hopefully the first of many. The wind picked up and for the first time we started to feel cold - coffee with chocolate and whisky helped to take away the edge! We abandoned our riverside vista and headed back into town on a quest for an internet café to check our site and email. On the way I spied a shop that was a hopeful contender for another quest - cotton to mend my new trousers and the seams are coming apart. We checked the dictionary and headed into the shop and asked some ladies for "algodón por reparar las ropas". We couldn't understand why we got such blank stares from our request for "cotton to mend clothes" as we were in a shop that sold material and must also have had needles and cotton.
Further on we found another shop (Super USA) which also looked hopeful - it seemed to sell everything. Having looked twice and not found cotton we again asked for help. We then understood why the ladies in the earlier shop had been so nonplussed - the lady took us to sanitary towels!! It also explained why we were sent in that direction in the supermarket we tried in BA and why people were a bit embarrassed when Stef was asking the question. A quick imitation of sewing (all those family games of charades coming in very handy by this stage) was met with "ah, hilo" - we'd been asking for the wrong thing but are now proud owners of cotton thread.
For only our third day away from the UK it seems like we've been away for ages. I think mentally we have now switched not necessarily into travel mode, but certainly into away from home mode. On our way back to our hotel we had a reminder from home - a little white van with a McCains logo on its side - we'll try and think of some new R&D ideas so Andy has to come here on a fact finding visit.