John and Sheila's bus ride through Peru
Note - where I have quoted prices for hotels these are for a double
room (not per person) and usually include breakfast; prices for meals are
for two, but bus and train prices are per person.
|This was our route, starting in Lima (after a stopover in Caracas on the way) then through Nazca, Arequipa, Cusco and Lake Titicaca in Peru, Arica and San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, and Salta, Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata in Argentina (about 3,500 miles or 5,600 km, all by bus except for one 240-mile train ride). Unfortunately we had to by-pass Bolivia due to civil unrest there.|
Friday 3rd October. We flew to Caracas, Venezuela.
We arrived on time and before dark, which was a relief because I'd heard
bad things about airport taxi drivers robbing arriving passengers after dark
(including dire warnings on the Foreign Office web site). In fact our taxi
driver was charming and navigated us faultlessly through the awful traffic
jams to the Cumberland Hotel.
We walked round the corner to a bar with an armed guard on the door, and
had cheese and chorizo sausages with a couple of beers.
Sat 4th Oct. Breakfast always seems to be the best part
of the day - the sun is shining and there is the anticipation of exploring
a new place. For our day tour of Caracas we walked down to the metro station
and got the metro to the centre of town. The metro seems to be the only
piece of infrastructure that is still efficient, clean and well-run. We walked
round the historic centre of Caracas, clustered around Simon Bolivar Square,
and went to see Simon's house which is a lovely restored old colonial house.
We returned to the Sabana Grande district and walked back to the hotel down
the pedestrian shopping street.
We set off for the airport earlier than we needed to, which turned out
to be a good thing, because the flight we were booked on didn't exist. This
caused a moment of panic as we saw the whole trip crumbling before our eyes,
but after some phone calls and to-ing and fro-ing on walkie talkies we were
transferred to another flight to Lima on a different airline that left 1½
hours earlier, so our leisurely check-in became a mad scramble to get to the
plane before it left. We made it and arrived on the plane hot and sweating
and extremely relieved. The flight stopped in Bogota but all we could see
of Columbia was a few misty lights in the darkness, and we got to Lima
an hour earlier than originally arranged. Our pre-arranged taxi driver turned
up and took us to the delightful Antigua Miraflores hotel, which was in a
lovely old building and we had a super big room with a kitchen and a jacuzzi.
As we drove from the airport through the outskirts of Lima our main impression
was a Las-Vegas-style succession of casinos, discotheques and American fast-food
Sun 5th Oct. We went on a city tour, including the main
square, San Fransisco monastery with its catacombs full of bones, a colourful
festival and procession, Hucca Pucllana a 4th century Inca archaeological
site and Laco Mar a shopping mall at the seaside. For lunch we went round
the corner to Buyas de Calerviche restaurant and had the best (strongest!)
pisco sours of the trip, then had another walk round the city centre. Lima
turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with interesting sights and nice warm
sunshine (all the guide books say the climate is really awful with constant
|A colourful parade outside San Fransisco monastery, Lima.|
|Old balconies overlooking Ica Street in the centre of Lima.|
In the evening we went to the Rosa Nautica restaurant which is in a fabulous
position at the end of a pier built out over the Pacific Ocean. Lights underneath
the building illuminate the waves swirling below and occasionally a big wave
makes the building shake eerily as if an underground train was passing beneath.
The food was excellent, beautifully presented and only a little bit expensive.
Mon 6th Oct. We caught the 9am Ormeño line 'Royal
Class' bus to Nazca. The bus was extremely comfortable with lots of leg room,
and excellent value for $22. They served an airline-style lunch and we had
three videos on the 6-hour trip. We sat upstairs on the double-deck luxury
bus and watched the bleak Peruvian desert roll by, with miles of sand dunes
and grey rocks and dust looking like a huge building site, interspersed with
the occasional fertile valley.
When we arrived at Nazca we fell straight into the hands of a tout.
He took us to an excellent hotel, the 'Oro Viejo' (old gold) which was small
and friendly with nice rooms around a pretty garden, he recommended a restaurant
for later, 'Grumpy's' which turned out to be very good, and he rushed us into
taking the flight over the Nazca Lines this afternoon in case it was misty
tomorrow - this was actually so that we couldn't find out how much he'd overcharged
us for the flight which would only have been $35 in the agencies in town.
Nevertheless the flight over the lines was great fun, just us and the pilot
in a little 3-seater Cessna swooping over the lines etched all over the nearby
desert. Of course the pilot concentrated on the lines that depicted animals
and birds because they were most photogenic if a bit Disneyland, but the
most eerie were the dead straight lines stretching for miles across the plateau
and the great triangular patches which are supposed to represent valleys,
pointing towards the mountains where the precious rain falls.
|Look closely - it's a hummingbird, in the centre of the picture, with its beak to the left and wings above and below. The lines, or rather line, is etched onto the desert and is believed to be a processional walkway, so for scale imagine people walking along it. The figure is drawn with a single continuous line which starts and ends at the tip of the beak.|
Nazca is a pleasant, compact, small town and after a short walk round
we had a nice meal at Grumpy's restaurant. As we sat reading through the
guest books full of enthusiastic descriptions from earlier travellers who
dined there, we noticed that as soon as anyone ordered anything, the owner/waiter
dashed out of the restaurant and came back a few minutes later with the
ingredients in a black plastic bag! Perhaps we should have gone to the nearby
supermarket and bought our meal before we sat down!
Tues 7th Oct. We declined the trip to see the mummies,
having seen more than enough bones in the catacombs in Lima. Our next bus
did not leave until 3:30 so we had a pleasant, restful morning reading in
the hotel's sunny garden and walking around the town, looking at the little
market, the street stalls and the huge, ancient American cars and pickups
that wheezed their way around the streets.
When the bus arrived there was initial confusion over double and treble-booked
seat numbers, but eventually we got going and had another comfortable ride,
managing to sleep for quite a bit of the way. We arrived in Arequipa
about midnight and the person who was supposed to meet us and take us to
her hotel wasn't there, so we found a taxi driver who chose the rather ordinary
Hotel Real for us, but it was too late to start looking for anything else.
Wed 8th Oct. In the morning we found the very pleasant
Hostal Nuñez and moved there. We also arranged tomorrow's bus to
Cusco and a hotel when we get there, and then we went for a walk around Arequipa
which is a pleasant town with a nice relaxed feel to it, with plenty of attractive
old houses and churches. We had lunch at a Hare Krishna vegetarian restaurant
with the most absent-minded waitress - only half the things we ordered actually
arrived - then tea and a piece of deliciously gooey chocolate cake at a café
on the main square; the square is very attractive, full of flowering trees
and surrounded by colonnaded colonial buildings and the cathedral.
|A colourful house in Jerusalen Street, Arequipa.|
In the evening we had a very nice meal at La Quinta, just down the road
from our hotel; pepper steak and beef stroganoff, preceded of course by
a couple of pisco sours.
Thurs 9th Oct. We had the long (12-hour) bus ride from
Arequipa to Cusco via Juliaca and Puno. We chose the daytime bus ride which
was longer, so that we could see the view. It was very comfortable but because
we have used the same bus line all the way so far we got the same set of videos
all over again, and they were pretty awful the first time - mad scientist
creates hyper-intelligent sharks, invisible man goes berserk, etc. We saw
all we want to see of Juliaca from the bus as it bumped its way through the
endless road works, and Puno at least had the benefit of a view of Lake Titicaca.
We arrived at the very friendly Hostal Inca's Peru in Cusco, where
they gave us a welcome cup of tea which was most .... welcome. Then we went
down to the central square and had an Italian meal, serenaded by a Peruvian
pipe band which was the first one we'd seen - we thought they must all be
away performing in Guildford High Street. When we unpacked, all sorts of things
'popped' because of the altitude - underarm rollete, suntan cream, and a
packet of wet wipes had blown up like a balloon.
Fri 10th Oct. We had a very pleasant day walking around
Cusco, which is an attractive, interesting town with old houses with white
walls resting on Inca stone foundations in cobbled streets clustered around
the main square. There are quite a few tourists and hence quite a few touts
for restaurants, tours, shops, etc, but they were not too intrusive or persistent.
It was warm and sunny and we had a nice lunch of soup and salads at the Urpi
Restaurant, sitting on the balcony overlooking one of the small streets.
|Entrance to the Cathedral on the main square, Cusco.|
|Collonades on the main square, Cusco.|
|A small street suddenly turns into a stairway. Cusco is quite hilly.|
We made arrangements to go to Machu Picchu and this was rather a rip off.
Of course you expect to pay a lot to go into the site, but they also charge
a fortune to get there. There is no road to the nearby town of Aguas Callientes.
The standard option is the 'backpackers' train, which is $54 each for the
3-hour train ride. But this gets booked up days in advance, so they try to
get you on the 'observatory' train which has windows in the roof for a whopping
$90 each. (Or your only other option is to go by helicopter.) Then it's another
$9 for the short bus ride up to the site when you get there. Furthermore the
timing of the trains means you are faced with a stark choice - try to do
the whole thing in one day from Cusco, which only leaves you 4 or 5 hours
to rush around Machu Picchu, or stay overnight in Aguas Callientes and have
most of a day hanging around there. If you want to revisit Machu Picchu on
the second day, you still have to pay another full entrance fee. We found
out much later that there is another way to Machu Picchu that they don't tell
you about, but it is very inconvenient and still fairly expensive. This involves
getting a local bus to the last town on the road, then 'backpacker' carriages
on a local train from there, but the local train goes at an incredibly inconvenient
time which means the whole expedition takes three days.
In the evening we had a very good Chinese meal in a wonderful location,
on a balcony overlooking the main square, with churches and nice old buildings
on either side, the illuminated fountain in the middle of the square and
the traffic almost colliding at the junction in front of us.
Sat 11th Oct. We were up early to get the 6:30 train
to Aguas Callientes for Machu Picchu. Despite the exorbitant cost, you have
to do it.
It was an interesting and picturesque train ride through the mountains
and the small farming communities in the valleys. A couple of times the
train had to zig zag itself sideways up or down a steep part of the hill.
For breakfast we bought two chunky, warm corn-on-the-cobs from a lady at
one of the stations on the way.
Aguas Callientes is a pleasant little town around a rushing stream
in a steep valley beneath towering mountains. But the most odd thing about
it is that the main street is the railway line, which is lined with shops
and restaurants. When a local train departs the whole place becomes a mass
of people scrambling to get onto the train and hanging onto the doors as
it moves off.
|Main street, and railway line, Aguas Callientes.|
We found Joe's Hostal and for $12 stayed in a nice corner room with two
windows and the sound of the river thundering by outside. Unfortunately it
then started to pour with rain, so we looked around for a while then gave
in and sat in a restaurant for a very long lunch. In the evening we walked
up the steeply sloping other street in town which is lined with little restaurants,
and stopped in one for the local speciality, Cuy Chactano - yes, roasted guinea
pig, complete with a little leg and claw, gripping onto the side of the plate.
And yes, it did taste like chicken.
Sun 12th Oct. Machu Picchu is magnificent, absolutely
stunning. The setting is breathtaking. This was the real high spot of the
whole trip, definitely one of our 'seven wonders of the world'.
|Machu Picchu. Wonderful, pictures don't do it justice.|
|And of course, we had to climb up to the top of the hill on the right for the magnificent view.|
|Fantastic stonework in Temple Plaza, Machu Picchu, looking through the window down onto the main plaza.|
|The Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu.|
We were incredibly lucky with the weather, it was sunny and pleasantly
warm - the people who went yesterday in the rain said it was miserable.
We were there early and explored the ruins which were peaceful and uncrowded.
Then we set out to climb Huayna Picchu, the hill (mountain!) that overlooks
Machu Picchu from the north - it was very long and very steep and it turned
our legs to jelly, but it was worth it for the fabulous view. By the time
we got down again the site was teeming with people, mostly Peruvians on
a Sunday afternoon outing. We went back on the bus and the train to Cusco,
exhausted but pleased, and in awe of the people who had arrived at Machu
Picchu via the difficult Inca Trail in the rain.
Mon 13th Oct. We had a bit of a lie in and a nice relaxed
day walking around Cusco, which really is a pleasant place to just wander
around. We also went on the tourist 'tram' ride which does a loop into the
hills above the town, visiting the big White Christ statue and the Sacsayhuaman
We rounded it off with a perfect evening at Rosy O'Grady's Irish pub,
sitting in wooden rocking chairs in front of a log fire, drinking dark beer.
Tues 14th Oct. We caught the day bus from Cusco to Puno,
arriving about 3pm. It was an interesting ride through the high valleys
with lots of small villages and Peruvians in colourful costumes tending their
sheep, cows and llamas. The highest pass was over 4,300 metres but we didn't
have to exert ourselves, the bus did the work. We have discovered that there
are four sorts of llamas - two domesticated varieties, alpacas which are used
for high quality wool & meat and llamas which are used as beasts of burden
& for meat, and two wild varieties, vicuñas which are small and
live at high altitudes and have very high quality wool, and guanacos which
are much larger. But we were not expert enough to distinguish which ones
these were as we raced past in the bus.
|A shepherdess high up in the Andes.|
Aboard the bus a tout persuaded us to have a look at his hotel, the Ollanda
Inn, which was new and good value at $10 for a double room, and only a short
walk to the town centre. So we had a short walk to the town centre, which
is two nice little plazas connected by 'Gringo Street', a pedestrian way full
of restaurants, internet cafés and tourist shops. We had a tasty four-course
'tourist menu' for $3.50 each.
Sheila made the mistake of having a Dramamine on the bus because she thought
it was going to be a boring ride (which it wasn't) so she was still dozy and
went for a nap in the late afternoon, while I got a motorbike-taxi to the
'Yavari'. This is an old steam ship made in England in 1862, shipped out to
Peru in bits and assembled on Lake Titicaca. It was eventually abandoned
by the Peruvian navy, but rescued and restored and is now attached to a
very up-market hotel just outside Puno. However, you can just walk through
the hotel and along the jetty at the back, and a very pleasant and enthusiastic
member of the crew will give you a guided tour, which was fascinating.
Weds 15th Oct. We went on the boat trip on Lake Titicaca,
visiting the floating islands where people live on islands made of matted
reeds, and a 'fixed' island called Taquile. It was fascinating, with a mixture
of traditional pre-Spanish culture and dramatic views of the amazingly blue
lake. In the distance we could see the mountains of Bolivia, which have now
become unattainable due to the civil disturbances going on there.
In the evening we strolled down Gringo Street and had yet another good
meal. It is difficult to eat badly in Peru.
|The Uros people live in reed villages built on reed islands, floating on Lake Titicaca.|
|And they ride around in reed boats.|
|Wonderful colours of Lake Titicaca from Taquile Island.|
Thurs 16th Oct. This is where our carefully-laid plan
fell to pieces. Our intention was to travel from Lima to Buenos Aires through
Peru and Bolivia. We had completed the Peru section perfectly, but Bolivia
was in turmoil, in the grip of serious civil disturbances with borders and
roads closed and riots in the streets. So we decided to go round via Chile
and come back to Bolivia another year.
So we had a big bus ride down the mountain, from a pass near the Bolivian
border at 4,500 metres, to Tacna almost at sea level. Our water bottle looked
as if it had been stamped on because of the increase in pressure. Unfortunately
the bus did not finish at the main bus station, so we had to get a taxi to
the international terminal for transport to Arica in Chile. When we got there
we were besieged by touts, but we were with two Dutch guys who knew a reputable
company so we went with them. Some of the less reputable ones try to smuggle
drugs into Chile in the car, then you end up in prison along with the driver.
In fact the border crossing was painless and we arrived in Arica without
incident. The whole journey from Puno took 12 hours. The driver took us to
a couple of hotels but the first one was full (the Dutch guys got the last
room because it was their suggestion) and the other was a bit pricey, so we
went to the Residencial Chungera next door which was a real travellers hostel
and better value at $12 for the room.
We walked around the town a bit and everything seemed to be closing up.
We discovered the next day that this was because there is actually a 2-hour
time difference between Peru and Chile, not one as we thought, so it was well
after 10pm. We had a couple of malt beers and an absolutely huge hot dog
decorated with the word 'Chile' in mayo, in a fast-food restaurant.
Fri 17th Oct. Our next bus leaves at 9pm so we had the
day at leisure in Arica. We strolled round the shopping streets and stopped
at a sidewalk café for a delicious fresh mango juice. We took a taxi
up to el Morro, the hill overlooking the town, for great views of the Pacific
waves crashing against the breakwater, then walked back past a couple of the
beaches which were slightly more sheltered from the waves.
At 9:30pm we left on the overnight bus to Calama, where they dropped us
and all the other passengers in a deserted side street before dawn, rather
than taking us to the bus station, which would have been more useful for the
onward bus to San Pedro.
Sat 18th Oct. A solitary taxi driver turned up while
they were unloading the baggage from the bus, so we and another couple agreed
to go with him for the 100-kilometre ride to San Pedro for just over $30 (as
opposed to messing around getting to the bus station then paying about $4½
each on the bus).
The sun came up as we crossed the bleak Atacama desert and it was pleasantly
warm when we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama at the Residencial Rayko
which we pre-arranged in Arica. It was nice but very expensive (about $38),
but then everything in San Pedro is expensive. Nothing was open as we walked
around the picturesque little adobe town - it all starts to open slowly and
reluctantly between 9 and 11am.
|Little adobe church by the main square in San Pedro de Atacama.|
After finding a restaurant open for breakfast we pottered around in the
sunshine then retired to the shade in the afternoon to read and doze.
Sun 19th Oct. After a relaxed lie-in, a bit more pottering
round and a pleasant breakfast at La Estaka restaurant, we went and got
the 11:30 bus through the endless grey-brown gravel of the Atacama desert
to Argentina. Everything was fine on the Chilean side, but as soon as we
crossed into Argentina it became a dirt road, and for several hours we rattled
around inside the bus under a shower of dust. It was most unpleasant.
We finally arrived in Salta about midnight and let a tout take
us to the Hotel el Pasaje, which was very pleasant for $10 including breakfast.
Mon 20th Oct. We were in Salta last year, so this 'joins
up' our two South American overland expeditions. It was nice to walk around
town feeling at home, changing money in the same bank, buying 'dulce de leche'
ice cream at the same ice cream shop on the main square, booking our next
few days' tours at the same travel agent. We went back to a wonderful delicatessen
on Espania Street, inappropriately named 'Casa Moderna', with lovely old wooden
shelves and counters groaning with meats and cheeses, and walls full of hundreds
of bottles of wines and spirits. Since last year the rear part of the shop
has become a café, and we had a really wonderful lunch of a selection
of delicious continental ham, chorizo, salami and cheeses, with potent red
wine and local dark beer. Argentina already seems more sophisticated, more
European, than Peru and Chile. After that the afternoon was rather a haze.
In the evening, still rather full after lunch, we went out looking for
a salad, but Argentina is red-meat country - not one of the restaurants
we looked at had any salads on the menu. Eventually we had a bowl of soup
in a rather nice restaurant just off the main square, followed by empanadas
and black beer in a little café right on the square. Total cost for
evening meal for two was $7.
Tues 21st Oct. We went on a day trip to Cachi, through
multi-coloured rock canyons and cactus fields in the Parque National des
Cardones (Cardones are a type of cactus). We saw condors soaring in the distance
against the mountains. Cachi was a sweet, sleepy little village where we
had lunch, and then came back.
|Multi-coloured rocks in Obispo Canyon on the way to Cachi.|
In the evening we had another fabulous plate of hams, salamis and cheeses
at the Casa Moderna, again with potent red wine and black beer. We finally
got the hot water working at the hotel and had wonderful hot showers.
Wed 22nd Oct. We went on a day trip to Humahuaca, through
more spectacular multi-coloured canyons and picturesque little villages.
|In Purmamarca, a village in Humahuaca Canyon.|
|A meteor crater, apparently, in Humahuaca Canyon.|
Our evening meal was at the very up-market José Balcarce restaurant,
which was very good but not quite as wonderful as we remembered from last
year. Maybe it's a mistake to go back; or maybe it was the other diners
who were pumping cigar smoke into the room.
Thurs 23rd Oct. We caught the 7am El Indio bus to Cafayate,
through yet another dramatic red-rock canyon with fantastic shapes and colours.
After a brief coffee-stop on the way we arrived in Cafayate and found
the lovely Hotel Los Sauces, where we had a room that opened onto the garden,
with a view of palm trees and the cathedral bell tower.
Cafayate is a wine-producing area, so we set about visiting the wine-associated
sights. We went to the wine museum which was full of interesting old wine-making
equipment and huge oak barrels, although the descriptions were only in Spanish.
Then just down the road to the Domingo Brothers bodega (winery) where we had
a guided tour, although nothing seemed to be happening, probably because it
was lunch-time. So we went to a café on the main plaza for our standard
lunch of salad, empanadas and wine or beer, and bumped into Christian, our
tour guide from yesterday's tour to Humahuaca, who was doing the Cafayate
tour today with a group including several of the people who were on yesterday's
tour. It's a small world, although there are just a few well-trodden tourist
paths so perhaps it's not so surprising.
|Vineyards in Cafayate.|
|More spectacular rocks in Cafayate Canyon.|
In the afternoon we went to the Bodega Etchart, in the middle of huge
vineyards a couple of kilometres outside town. This was more like it - there
were bottling machines and labelling machines clattering away, queues of
bottles jostling each other on conveyor belts and a man with a fork-lift
truck stacking great palettes loaded high with boxes of wine. Again we tried
the wine tasting but again we didn't buy any - either our palates are not
sophisticated enough or they don't give the good stuff to the tourists.
For dinner we ate at 'The Ranch' restaurant on the main square. The menu
was almost the same as all the other restaurants on the square, so we chose
the nicest-looking one.
Fri 24th Oct. After a very good breakfast at Los Sauces
hotel, we caught the bus back through the spectacular canyon to Salta. In
Salta we had hoped as a treat to stay at the up-market Hotel del Virrey,
in a lovely old colonial house, but it was full, so we went to the Colonial
Hotel, a nice old-fashioned place right on the main square, where we stayed
last year. There we got a room with balcony overlooking one of Salta's picturesque
churches for $22.
For lunch we sat at a café on the square and had beer and empanadas
(of course) and chatted to a Welsh-American couple who had driven from Seattle
to Salta in a big camper van. They had had to by-pass Colombia, paying over
$6,000 and enduring long delays to ship from Panama to Lima.
We strolled around a bit in the sunshine, read and dozed a bit in the
heat of the afternoon and went back to Casa Moderna yet again for the same
delicious dinner of hams, salamis and cheeses.
Sat 25th Oct. We had a look round Salta's bustling municipal
market, which had dozens of spice stalls as well as the fruit & veg, fish,
meat, etc, and also dozens of little lunch stalls mostly specialising in
pizza. However, we spurned these and returned to Casa Moderna yet again for
a final wonderful plate of the usual. The price varies between 32 and 35
pesos (about $11 - $12) which is great value.
In the afternoon we caught the overnight bus to Buenos Aires. We thought
we had booked the sleeper bus where the seats actually fold down flat, but
it turned out to be 'semi-cama' with the normal reclining seats. After a brief
disappointment we actually found it very comfortable, and managed to get
quite a bit of sleep. We stopped three times for meals, two of which were
quite good, and there were several videos although mercifully they kept the
sound turned down.
Sun 26th Oct. We arrived at Buenos Aires bus
station 22 hours later in good shape, enquired about buses to Mar del Plata,
the Argentinians' seaside resort, and caught a taxi to the Victory Hotel.
This had been recommended by the tour agent in Salta as being 'not very pretty'
but very central and good value for about $22 for a room. His description
was spot on and it suited us perfectly.
We went for a walk round the shops and had a light lunch at a café
(steak, of course, what else can you eat in Buenos Aires?). After that,
more shopping and Sheila had her nails done (the first phase in a major reconstruction
scheduled for the next few days).
In the evening (and nothing starts in BA before 9pm) we went back to one
of our favourite restaurants from last year, La Estancia. The steaks were
still as huge, tender and tasty as last year and we weren't disappointed.
Mon 27th & Tues 28th Oct. Days at leisure
in Buenos Aires. We took the metro and taxis to shopping malls, Sheila had
a variety of repair work done - leg wax, hair do, nails, massage, pedicure,
One day we had a long lunch of hams and cheeses at Museo de Jamon. In
the evening we had dinner at Grant's restaurant, still a huge buffet of 300
plates and 20 speciality cooked dishes for only $4 each (gone up just 1 peso
since last year) and we splashed out on a bottle of champagne for $9. Everything
is still ridiculously cheap here because of the favourable exchange rate.
Another evening we sat at a pavement café having a few beers and watching
the world go by.
Wed 29th Oct. As a change from all the bus journeys,
we went to Mar del Plata by train. Leaving our bags at the hotel and 'travelling
light' with just a rucksack we caught the metro to Constitution Station
and caught the train, which went off on time at a good pace through the BA
suburbs and crowded commuter stations which presumably keep this railway
running, unlike so many in South America. The tickets cost $9 each in 'pullman'
class (air conditioned) as opposed to $7 in normal class and the train was
comfortable if a little run down (rather a lot of the windows were cracked
as if people were in the habit of throwing stones at them). We went to the
restaurant car for breakfast of ham sandwiches and coffee. After a while
the scenery changed to fertile-looking farmland.
When we arrived in Mar del Plata we got a taxi to the beach and
started looking for a hotel. We soon found the very elegant and stylish
Hermitage Hotel right on the seafront, which we thought would be way out
of our price range but we got a very nice, big room on the third floor with
a sea view for $30.
We walked round the town centre which was rather seaside-resort-ish, and
had a snack in a fastfood restaurant. The guidebook mentioned a sea-lion
colony out near the port so we went there by taxi, expecting to see a few
distant sea-lion heads bobbing about in the water. What we found was a crowd
of at least a hundred big, fat sea-lions sunning themselves on a rock, the
nearest just six feet from where we were standing. They smelled awful but
they were fascinating, always fidgeting, twitching a flipper here, snorting
and sighing there, nudging each other out of the way and occasionally lumbering
down to the sea to cool off. In the sea they were instantly transformed from
lumbering, clumsy giants into sleek, fast, playful children. Eventually tearing
ourselves away we walked through the fishing port where the last of the day's
catch was being unloaded and a few more sea-lions were playing round the
boats to get the last few scraps as they were thrown overboard.
|Sea-lions in Mar del Plata. They look great, but the smell was awful!|
|A graveyard of ships, rusting away in Mar del Plata.|
We caught a bus back to the town centre (via every far-flung suburb of
this surprisingly big town) and enquired at tourist information about good
restaurants. The very helpful man there recommended the Trenque Lauquen,
overlooking the sea. Sitting in a window seat there with a view round the
bay below, we had a kebab - forget the takeaway version, this was the most
tender, tasty Argentinian beef, it was delicious and huge - with champagne
and followed by the ever-present dulce de leche ice cream.
Thurs 30th Oct. We strolled around Mardel in the morning
and walked along the beach in the sunshine, arriving back at the Trenque
Lauquen about 1pm. It was empty when we arrived and we got our favourite
window seat again, but it rapidly filled up - obviously a favourite lunchtime
spot. We had exactly the same meal as last night and it was still delicious.
By now it had clouded over and turned rather windy so we got the bus back
to Buenos Aires. We turned up at the bus station and just got the last two
seats on a bus leaving in five minutes. For some reason this was a 'suite'
(sleeper) bus - big, comfy seats that reclined right back to a horizontal
position. Sheila was in her element and slept much of the 5-hour trip.
It was raining by the time we arrived, so we sat inside, rather than outside,
our favourite café and had black beer and peanuts for dinner. No matter
how hard we tried we couldn't manage more than one big meal a day (although
the black beer, red wine and champagne posed no such problem)!
Fri 31st Oct to Sun 2nd Nov. Sunny days in
We went to various shopping malls and Sheila had more repair work at the
masseuse and the hair stylist. She seems to have completely forgotten how
to wash her own hair - is it me or does having your hair done three times
in six days seem a bit over the top?
We went to the Recoletta district, walked round the pleasant square, found
Evita's grave in the cemetery and ended up, of course, in the nearby shopping
mall. We had a walk around the nicely-restored harbour and a look on one of
the old ships (built in England in the 1890s). We had lunches at the Museo
de Jamon and beers and sandwiches at our favourite street-corner café.
We had evening meals at La Estancia preceded by Pisco Sours and Tia Marias
at the same street café. On the last evening we went to a Tango show.
Mon 3rd Nov. We flew home. Incredibly, although our
suitcases were full when we started, somehow we managed to fit in all Sheila's
best buys - alpaca jumpers and llama gloves from Peru and a host of other
souvenirs, to mention only the ones I was allowed to see, no doubt I will
find out about the rest when the inevitable credit card bill comes in.
|Unfortunately customs confiscated these two llamas when we got back to England!|
To read about our other travels, click here: -