June 29, 2006

Roommates from Hell

Finally got my ass in gear and left Cordoba. I stayed a little longer than I had planned, so it was time to go anyway, but additionally I may have ended up murdering some Germans if I hadnt. For the second half of my stay in Cordoba I had the pleasure of sharing with two of the most crazy, inconsiderate girls on the planet!! Now, everyone expects a certain amount of disruption in a dorm-room situation. You cant be too anal about it if you are woken up in the middle of the night. People do have to make some noise coming in and getting ready for bed. and let´s face it, you dont really have anything pressing to do the next day! BUT THESE GIRLS WERE UNREAL!!!!
Every night, they would crash into the room at some ungodly hour, turn on the light, always hammered drunk, fall over everything (including stuff that wasnt even in their way!) and spend at least an hour talking and laughing before finally collapsing into their beds. One of our roommates, an American guy, totally lost it with them one night and stormed out of the room, banging the door behind him.
The last night there was the straw that broke the camel´s back, so to speak. This time, it was my turn to come back at 7 in the morning, having been out clubbing with some friends. When I got back to the hostel, the dorm-room door was locked, which was really strange as we hadnt even been given keys for it....so I knocked..and knocked..and knocked....NADA. I went downstairs to see if the guy at the reception had another key...of course, he didnt. So, he came up and THUMPED...and THUMPED....and then he just got mad and starting shouting at them. Eventually, we heard a various array of sounds from within, including a loud thud followed by a stream of curses in German. Obviously, one of them had fallen out of the top bunk trying to get down! An intense battle began from inside with the stiff lock and it took a couple of minutes before the door finally opened. I was greeted with an expression I wouldnt have thought possible for a human being. The key was thrust at the night receptionist and the beast returned to its bed all the while muttering and clicking. I made my way to my bed as best Ias I could in the gloom, eyes slowl adjusting to the dark. I slowly realised that they had not oe but two guys in the room with us, and one of these fine specimens had decided to crash out on my bed, and was snoring splendidly! GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!
Oh, the joys of being a backpacker!

June 21, 2006

Cordoba Province

Hola! Writing this in Cordoba, Argentina´s second largest city, in the heart of the country. When I arrived on Friday morning after a long uncomfortable overnight bus journey, it was grey and wet which did nothing to help my low spirits. YET AGAIN, I was the victim of a robbery, this time on the bus. Unfortunately, I fell asleep my with MP3 player on. I remember thinking before I dropped off that I should put it away but I was enjoying listening to it. Anyway, I must have been sleeping pretty soundly because whoever took it managed to get the earphones out of my ears without me waking up! Grrrrr. I was pretty gutted as I had over 2000 songs on there and it is my constant companion on my travels. The people of this continent rob you blind!! Anyway, what can you do except accept it and continue to be as vigilant as possible. Everyone seems to fall victim to it as some stage. I got an email from Ringo the other day - his bag was robbed in Buenos Aires with his passport, MP3 player, money, plane tickets...all in it. It´s crap when it happens, but in the overall scheme of things, when you weigh up the good and bad experiences here, it doesnt really matter.

Cordoba is a lovely city, full of students and beautiful Jesuit architecture. The centre is compact and easy to navigate on foot and Ive really enjoyed wandering the little streets over the last few days. The people are extremely friendly and it feels much safer than any of the cities I have been in so far.

I met up with a few people I already knew from Santiago, including Karen, the Irish girl from Donegal and have been hanging out with her for the last few days. It was a long weekend here in Argentina. Not only was it Father´s Day on Sunday, but they were also celebrating the day of their national flag on Monday. Apparently, the Argentinian flag was the first of the South American countries and they are very proud of this fact. As the city was like a ghost town on monday, we hopped on a bus into the mountains to a little town called Alta Gracia...the childhood home of the revolutionary leader, Che Guevara. The house is turned into a museum now and we spent a veryenjoyable few hours there. Afterwards, we visited the home of the Argentinian composer, Marcus La Falla. I had never actually heard of him before. Finally, we spent some time on a Jesuit estancia (ranch) in the town. The Jesuit order owned many such ranches throughout Argentina in years gone by, and they kept many black slaves who worked the land. Pretty informative afternoon all around!

The food here in Argentina is absolutely AMAZING! and every backpacker you meet is dining like a king every night. For $6-10 here, you can get a steak which would set you back €30 at home! Wine is dirt cheap and excellent. Also, the people in this country are really stylish and dress really well. Even though the economy is in the doldrums (with 50% of the population below the poverty line), they seem to maintain a pretty good standard of living.

So, tomorrow I am heading to a little town in the Sierras called La Cumbra.

June 16, 2006

World Cup Fever

One thing is pretty evident as you travel around South America right now. The people of this continent LIVE for football!! The atmosphere here is absolutely electric, and I really wish Ireland were taking part. Every guy you meet is coordinating travel plans around the world cup games and the cities are jam-packed full of people on the hunt for big screen TVs.
The Argentina - Serbia Montenegro match is on right now. I am sitting in an internet cafe bursting with locals all glued to the tv! Argentina seem to be kicking ass, as expected. Most of the businesses have shut until the match is over, and there´s a real holiday atmosphere around the centre. Every time Argentina score, you can hear roars for miles around! The girls seem to be screaming the loudest, while the men run out of shop doors and perform strange ritualistic dances with each other in the middle of the street before hurrying back inside to catch the replays.
I´m waiting around like a fugitive for a bus at nine o´clock tonight. I´m off to Cordoba for a few days and am planning to escape into the Sierra mountains for a bit if I can. I really want to get away from the big cities for a while and just chill out somewhere quiet. Today, also, I have to organise my flight to New Zealand. I´m hoping to fly on July 31st and have found a pretty good fare, I think.
Went horse-riding for the second time yesterday. It was fantastic to be out in the fresh air all day surrounded by spectacular mountains, condors soaring above us. My horse´s name was Penqueño and he was a particualarly willful creature. We rode all afternoon and returned to a blazing log fire and a spread fit for a king in a little log cabin. We lazed for a few hours drinking Malbec wine and mate before climbing reluctantly back into our bus back to Mendoza.
(The Argentinians are really addicted to drinking mate. It´s a herb grown mainly in Argentina and Bolivia, and is full of good things apparently. They drink it from special gourds with a long spout, and it is prepared by filling the vessel almost to the brim with the herb, adding some sugar to the top and then topping it off with boiling water. You suck the liquid through the straw until it is gone, then top it up again and pass to someone else. It´s a very social pratice, and you rarely see an Argentinian without a gourd and thermos flask under his arm.)
When we arrived back Rachel, Ringo and Sarah left to travel to Buenos Aires, so myself and Karen had a "quiet night" in the hostel playing Jenga with some Argentinians and a couple from Longford. Good clean fun all around. Had a much needed early night but had some seriously crazy dreams....

June 14, 2006

My Knight in Shining Beetlecrushers & An Illegal Border Crossing

Well, ít´s been an EVENTFUL few days! Right now, I´m back in Mendoza, Argentina feeling like I need a holiday from my holiday. I travelled here with Ringo, an English guy, two English girls called Sarah and Rachel, and Karen from DOnegal. On SUnday night, we made our way to the bus terminal in Santiago to reserve our tickets to Mendoza for the following day. On the way back, we were walking along the main street, the Alameda, deep in chat about world religions or something when suddenly my bag (which is more of a satchel really) was yanked violently. I had it around my body underneath my jacket and so the mugger nearly put my shoulder out with the force at which he pulled. The pretty sturdy strap gave way and he disappeared into a huge crowd of people while I looked after him completely helpless. Out of nowhere, this guy with a punk hairstyle, covered in studs, and wearing an enormous pair of boots, came running up to me and asked me in which direction the mugger ran. He took off running. I stood there not really knowing what was happening...thinking maybe they were together...realising slowly that my passport, my recently replaced credit card, bus ticket, money, MP3 player were all in the bag. I felt ill.
Two minutes later, the guy emerged from the crowd holding my bag. He had managed to get it back with EVERYTHING still in it. He didnt seem to want any thanks, but I hugged him so hard. Ihave never been so grateful to anyone in my life! Looking at this guy, you would expect him to be the one on the street to rob you. He was amazing, and now looking back I feel that I shoudl have made some gesture of thanks to him, but it all happened so suddenly. It was very surreal for all of us. Anyway, he left and, as we stood there recovering from the shock of what had just happened, the thief reappeared and grabbed the bag from my hands!!!!! This time, everyone around was ready for him, and he didnt manage to get enough of a grip on it to get away.
We took off up the Alameda at speed, back to the safety of the hostel. That night, I lay in bed thinking about what had happened, how fast it happened, the feelings of those moments. I remember the punk guy´s face so clearly, how glad he seemed to be able to help. I hope that something really wonderful happens for him. I wish I had done something more by way of thanks. It´s a great feeling when someone, especially a complete stranger, goes out of their way to help someone else.
So, the next day we got the midday bus to Mendoza. Not long into the journey, Ringo realised that he didnt have his tourist visa slip. Without this, you cant leave Chile. Panic ensued. Being the only one of us with any bit of Spanish, (yes, I am proud to say, I can now make myself understood without looking like some sort of tree-top creature, pointing and hooting) I explained the situation to the bus steward who said that, unfortunately, Ringo would have to turn back to Santiago. We looked out at the heavy snow and the white peaks of the Andes - the prospect of abandonding poor Ringo at the frontier in the snow and ice wasnt a nice one. As we sat, comfort-munching cookies and discussing RIngos plight, the steward calledthe two of us to the back of the bus. In hushed tones, he said that if we were prepared to pay he could bribe the Argentinian border officials. None of us had any CHilean, Argentinian or American dollars. All Ringo had was about $100 Australian dollars. HE told us to wait for him at the border check and he would tell us how much it was going to cost. He was very anxious to stress that none of this money was for himself...only for the border police. But later that night, when the bus finally arrived in Mendoza, he looked well pleased with himself..so Im sure he took a nice chunk of it for himsef...understandable really!
We got to the border and we negotiated a price with him. He wanted $100US, but in the end agreed to accept the Australian money (which worked out to about $80US...). He took Ringo under his wing while I went through the "proper channels". Ten minutes later, Ringo had his exit stamp and was grinning like a Cheshire cat! Success! The snow was heavy at the border and it was COLD! As we huddled over polystyrene cups of coffee and waited for our bags to be searched, we spotted a big Mercedes partially buried in the snow.
Anyway, so I´m back in Mendoza. It´s marginally warmer than Santiago and much sunnier. There are leaves falling everywhere, which I love. Myself and Karen are going horse-riding tomorrow, and then we are heading off to Cordoba for a few days, while Ringo, Rachel and Sarah go to Buenos Aires. I´m looking forward to Cordoba...apparently, there is a lot of Jesuit architecture there and a lot to see and do.

June 8, 2006

In Travelling Limbo

It´s pouring rain here today in Santiago. It feels somewhat strange, as it hasnt rained once in all the time I have been here, though not unpleasant. It´s quite nice to be sitting inside watching the little rivulets of water racing each other down the window. Unfortunately though, this rain is a bad sign for me. If it´s raining here in Santiago, that means the weather in the mountains is terrible which means that the road over the Andes to Mendoza is still closed. I had hoped to leave yesterday, but the bus company told us it´s not possible for a couple of days. So, we wait. I´m travelling with an English guy I met here in Santiago, called Ringo. To be honest, I really just want some time to myself for a few days, but itmakes sense to travel together seeing as we are both going the same direction. It´s very surprising just how little time you have to yourself when you travel. One would think that travelling alone could be quite lonely, but it´s not at all. When you are hostelling, sharing dorms, you rarely have time where you can shut the door and just be on your own. Of course, that´s not a bad thing - it can just get a bit claustrophobic sometimes when you need to be on your own.
So, the time has finally rolled around to say goodbye to Santiago. It´s been 4 months since I arrived here!! I never expected to settle here for this length of time. I´m sure if I stayed and tried hard to build up my work hours, I could, but it could take a while. I´m anxious to get back on the road again, meet some new people, see some new countries. I´m leaving Chile with some very fond memories, and hopefully I will be given the chance to return one day and do it all again.
So, what´s next? If the road to Mendoza EVER opens up again, it´s Argentina (AGAIN!) for the next few weeks, followed by Brazil. From Rio de J. I hope to fly to Auckland in late July, early August. I have a contact there who may be able to help me in finding a job. My biggest regret in leaving South America is that the little SPanish I have grasped will undoubetdly decline, although I imagine a certain relief will come with arriving once again in an English-speaking country. I´m hugely looking forward to NZ, and Ive a whole heap of things planned for there. I´ve no idea how long I will stay there - 3 months, 6 months, maybe even a year...but I´m looking forward to seeing a new continent and starting another chapter in this trip!