Friday, 14 June 2013

Colonia - Punta del Este - Punta del Diablo - Montevideo, Uruguay

Having lost half the group we board the ferry slightly jaded after the last nights celebrations and of course the sad farewells. Before leaving the hotel Geoff and I were packing our last few bits. I am normally in charge of the keys as I always complete a 'security check' as Geoff calls it before handing in them in. I am looking for the keys and can't find them. Geoff laughing his head off produces them from his pocket. After politely calling him a few new Aussie names I've learnt, he put them back in his pocket. The last thing I said to him was don't forget to hand them in at reception. " Yes, yes " he replies "you must think I'm stupid" ? I'm saying nothing. Anyway whilst standing in the queue having completed customs young Geoff puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out the hotel room key. Well I fell about almost in tears laughing, the look on his face was priceless. Hotel informed he took the keys on holiday to tour around Uruguay.
We arrive in Colonia, and what a surprise, thinking Uruguay for some reason would be run down, wasn't. Lovely clean streets, flash boutique hotels, restaurants this was looking good. The hotel was a good standard with hot showers, clean white bed linen, wifi, etc......not used to this, where's my tent.
Not wanting to do much apart from unwind most of the group split up and strolled around the beautiful tree lined cobbled streets of this fantastic location overlooking the Rio de la Plata. There's plenty to do but I think Uruguay for us is wind down and chill, catch up with the blogs and enjoy our last week.
However our second night here is special as its old man Thompsons 61st Birthday. Happy Birthday Geoff, I deliver a pressie from Vanessa and Steve and Karen which starts the day off well. I decide to take Geoff out for a meal, restaurant of his choice and the rest of the guys join us. It's an enjoyable evening with Francois leading the Birthday song bringing a candle to the table. Drink flowing, where can we go now, the Casino, yeahhhhhh ! In most of us pile, a few wiser souls went to bed. Scotches all round, a few bets are laid, a few slot machines played and the monies slowly disappearing. That is until Geoff plays the Egyptian slot machine next to me. He has a couple of small wins then hasn't a clue what's gone on, screen lights up and these little doors open when pressed, x3, x4, double this and that, free spins etc. cutting the story short Geoff wins 7000 pesos, nearly three hundred pounds. Of course the music "walk like an Egyptian springs to mind" and Geoff starts doing the sand shuffle around the casino, ha ha. They were pleased to see the back of him after about the tenth time of doing it and not putting anymore money in. So Geoffs birthday was a great day, a totally good laugh and as you would expect by now, memorable.
On along the coast of this very pretty country we arrived at Punta del Este. Another cracking hotel, more relaxing and just enjoying the facilities. Just about to leave this hotel when I had a bit of a stomach ache and needed the loo. Thankfully we were still in our room, but Geoff was rushing. Anyway having finished I walked back into the bedroom to find no Geoff, door wide open, and a voice shouting from down the corridor " I'm holding the lift mate" I collect my belongings and head off to the lift shouting to Geoff "you've left your toothbrush in the bathroom" :) Unbelievably he fell for it hook, line and sinker and went back to the bathroom to find no toothbrush. I waited just long enough to hear the expletives and Geoff doing his nut at the dreadful smell I'd left behind and I took the lift Geoff had very kindly called for me. Haha Schoolboy humour, it works every time !!!
Further up the coast to Punta del Diablo, a beautiful stretch of coastline, where all manner of different styles of beach shack, hostels and apartments littered the shoreline giving it quite a hippy feel. As seems to be the norm Robin, Geoff and I upgrade in Montevideo to a lovely little apartment right on the beach front. The next three days were so relaxing, log fires, beautiful views watching pods of dolphins, penguins, walking for miles along the beach and a bonus of eggs, bacon, sausage and tomatoes every morning for breakfast, you couldn't beat it. What a place to relax.
The journey coming to completion we head back to Montevideo, to another lovely hotel, complete with all the latest gadgetry and best of all a wonderful bed with crisp, clean white linen. Here we had a great afternoon wine tasting at two vineyards, after an amazing lunch at a parilla in the main market square. The racks of every different cut of meat slowly roasting was phenomenal, so yet again chorizo and blood sausage washed down with an ice cold beer hit the mark. The day ended with me taking the relaxing option and chilling in our room watching a movie whilst Geoff on the other hand went out with Robin and Rogan and didn't reappear until 4 am worse for wear having been to the casino. They were all losers and certainly looked it this morning as we wait for a ferry crossing back to Buenos Aires where the inevitable farewell awaits.

Adios mes amigos

Tony x

1-6. Some of the beautiful old cars that litter the streets of Colonia
7-10. Deserted beaches of Punta del Diablo. Sea life was incredible, pods of dolphins, the odd whale, sea lions and penguins, a lot dead on the shore as if something had been hunting them.
11-12. At the market grill (Parilla) in Montevideo with Geoff.
13-14. In the cellars of a local vineyard
15-17. Kirsten in a wine glass, nothing new there then, having a wee taste and with the owner having bought a couple of bottles.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Uyuni (Pans) and Tupiza - Bolivia

Heading slowly towards the Argentinian border we hit Uyuni, a desolate place in the middle of desert like conditions renowned for its icy cold winds. Strange though, this is a truly beautiful area and we've seen some of the most amazing scenery anywhere on the trip. Another friendly town, which like everywhere else we've been, if you chat to the locals their extremely friendly in return. This is a military town and we were right next to the base. Waking to the marching and singing drills it was quite surreal, if you were out and about at 0800, you had to stop, remove your hat and it was an offence to take any pictures. We stayed at Tonito Hotel a great place which held the title of the best pizzas in Bolivia, they were good and along with an all you can eat American style breakfast we were sorted for food.
A thoroughly enjoyable full days outing here was a visit to the Salar de Uyuni, one of the worlds most eerie and stunning sights. Deadly quiet, a whispering breeze, blindingly white and a cobalt blue sky and me, truly it was incredible. These salt flats are the largest in the world at a height of 3653m they cover 12,106 sq km. The thickness of the salt ranges from 3 metres to 27 metres and there are piles racked into 1 ton pyramids all awaiting collection. All this combines to play tricks on your minds eye which is great for photography. This is also the main area for salt extraction and the Colchani operation is nearly 20,000 tons of which 18,000 tons is for human consumption.
First we stop off at the steam locomotive graveyard at Pulacayo that were originally imported to transport ore. Another eerie place with two lines of engines and wagons. Great for photography.
After the salt museum and markets we head a couple of hours into the flats and reach an island where we stay for lunch. Covered in huge cacti, it's another strange sight being surrounded by pure whiteness. We then head off out into the whiteness in our 4 x 4 's to play with the cameras and the numerous optical illusions we can conjure up. A brilliant day out made even more fantastic by the sun going down creating an explosion of colour, with the moon out at the same time, mind blowing.
A great way to finish the and wine.
Moving on from Uyuni we head across country to Tupiza on one of the most spectacular drives of the trip. Given a choice of driving back to Potosi on tar macadam roads at a distance of 400 km the team decide to short cut along the old Pan American Highway, twisting, turning, switchback, single track dirt track road, but only 200 km. Spectacular Grand Canyon type scenery, twisting, turning, canyon bottoms, riverbeds, climbing high over peaks. Reds, blues, purples, yellows, every colour imaginable, but slow going on dusty gravel roads until we pulled up behind a bus with a flat tyre, single track....we just had to wait. Dusk then darkness made the track even more treacherous, headlights and top spots on full we finally pulled into Tupiza twelve or so hours later. What a journey, one that won't be forgotten.
Tupiza a totally chilled out town with a much slower pace of life which is exactly why we did just that. Geoff, Vanessa and I just trawled around town chatting to the locals, mooching around the markets. Vanessa found the renowned lady called Doña Wala selling her famous charque- filled tamales ( cornmeal dough filled with jerky ) had to be tried, were delicious. Her stall was packed and she sold out pretty quickly. After a couple of nights here we again move on, but that's another story ...


Tony x

1-7. Steam engine graveyard
8. Heather and I locked in the toilet after a refusal to pay much to everyone's amusement
9-21. Messing about on the salt flats taking crazy pictures.
22-24. Incredible weather scenes
25-26. Geoff, Stevo and I .....The grand finale courtesy of Stevo.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Final run into Buenos Aires via Pueblo Viejo - Argentina

This is definitely wind down as we head towards Buenos Aires however we visit an estancia for three nights, that of Pueblo Viejo, a ranch in the middle of no where. This is a working farm and takes us over two hours after leaving the road to get to along dirt track. Beautiful countryside we arrive in the dark and are treated to a wonderful meal of steak, the best you've tasted, freshly butchered calf, the choicest cuts and of course a bottle or two of Malbec.
Two full days of total relaxation, walking the riverbed, swimming in the ice cold river, bird watching, reading, it was a fantastic way to unwind with your close companions. Geoff decided he'd let himself go over the last few months so needed to start sprucing himself up ready to meet his family. This started with a full manicure and whipping out all those unwanted hairs. The pain he went through was very enjoyable to the rest of us as Vanessa set to work. Ha ha good on you Geoff. !!
Being at the Estancia was very enjoyable time however lost in your own thoughts you realise the journey is slowly coming to an end.
Saying our goodbyes we head off and after a long drive, again through beautiful countryside, we finally raise the tents for the last time. The tents have been our homes for the majority of the last seven months and I'm going to miss that experience. Anyway final camp fire with us all sat round we reminisce over our amazing achievements.
Back on the road we arrive at the Bohemia Hotel, Buenos Aires, our starting point many moons ago. We enjoy a farewell meal with the entire group before going our separate ways, half back to their homes, wherever in the world that may be and the other half still have nine days in Uruguay.
Unfortunately Geoff's coming as well, along with Robin, Ken and of course myself, what a motly crew......
Until Uruguay,


Tony xx

1-4. Some of the fantastic countryside
5-12. Chilling on the Estancia
13. The biggest billy goat I've ever seen, standing over 10 ft tall when on his hind legs.
14. Geoff having his hairs plucked, who would ever dream of having that done !!!! Ha ha
15-19. Some of the guys saying goodbye.