Posted by: Tom Lancaster | March 31, 2010

Sleeping in a Uruguayan shed

Epsiode 7: Puerto Madryn/Buenos Aires x 2/Punta del Este/Montevideo/Quito, Argentina/Uruguay/Ecuador

Beard length (Tom): King George V
Skin colour (both): Porridge
Location: Quito, Ecuador

Date: 15th March 2010.

People say if you don’t like something the first time you try it, you should give it at least one more go. Well they’re wrong – we’ve now been to Buenos Aires thrice, and it still doesn’t feel like the “Paris of the South” to us. First impressions last!

My last update ended with us about to head to the Peninsula Valdes, near Puerto Madryn, to see some wildlife (although the star attraction, the Right whale, isn’t around at this time of year). When we set out in the morning, we could have been in Dickensian London as we could barely see 5 feet in front of us.

Magellan penguin

Thankfully, by the time our minibus had somehow navigated its way through the murk to the peninsula, the skies had cleared. Our first stop was to see some Magellan penguins up close, followed by elephant seals.

Unfortunately there weren’t many elephant seals around and our superb guide Martin (he and his brother looked like Right Said Fred but with goatees) informed us that this was because the adults had headed up to 200km out to sea to gorge themselves on squid and octopus, leaving the adolescents on the beach. Naturally, being adolescents, they were lounging in their own filth and not doing a huge amount. Impressive beasts though.

Distant elephant seals

Next stop was the sea lions, of which there were plenty in large colonies, basking and emitting funky gases. They were joined by a lone juvenile penguin, which had become separated from its group and I suspect is now in penguin heaven.

The previous day, groups had seen orcas/killer whales beaching themselves to try to snatch a sea-lion pup/penguin, but despite crossing all our fingers and toes, they didn’t repeat the trick for us.

Spot the penguin (R.I.P.)

Travelling round the peninsula we also saw armadillos, foxes, many sea birds, mari (large hare type thing but related to kangaroos) and guanaca (llama-esque creatures).

We felt for the guide, as there was a middle-aged Australian woman on the tour who bugged him the whole day, at least when she wasn’t hen-pecking her narcoleptic husband (although maybe he was faking the narcolepsy to give himself some peace).

From Puerto Madryn, we headed to Uruguay, which meant a stop-over after an 18 hour bus journey in our favourite place: B.A. We stayed in the hostel all day and Jane cooked a couple of excellent and large steaks, so it was probably our best day in B.A. to date!

Punta del Este bridge - WACKY

We were up early the next day for a catamaran to Montevideo and a bus to the upmarket beach resort of Punta del Este. We were actually staying a little outside the resort to keep the costs down and when we saw our room, you could see why the place was cheap. For the next three nights, we were going to be sleeping in a shed.

Not quite the Mandarin Oriental - our shed in Punta del Este

This is perhaps a little exaggerated, but the walls of the room were made of chipboard and straw (OK, cane) and the lock was a padlock. It was also about 6′ x 8′, had no storage space and there was a lawnmower and a rake in the corner (OK, that last bit’s a joke). Surprisingly, we were to sleep very well while we were here!

On our first night, we realised that although there weren’t many guests, there were plenty of friends of the owner there. They kindly invited us to join their BBQ that evening, which was lovely, if a little strange. When a slab of meat came off the BBQ, everyone would flock round it like footballers round a page-three girl, but as soon as it was gone (usually about 14 seconds) they would disappear.

Feeding time at the zoo

Our innate Englishness meant that we probably didn’t get our fair share of the meat, but I was invited to join in a game of volleyball in the semi-darkness (I haven’t played volleyball more than about twice in my life and never in my adult life), which my team just edged. It was hardly Olympic standard, I must admit, but Jane awarded me the most valuable player award.

The victorious twilight volleyballers

The semi-friendly spirit of the evening (or the copious wine and beer) must have affected Jane and me, because we even humoured a guitar wielding, crooning Argentine (though not before vilifying the Diegos: Maradona and Simeone).

There’s little to tell of the rest of our time in Uruguay, the weather was a lot hotter than we’d been led to believe and there were no parasols/shade available on the beach, so our days were spent reading, being followed by happy groups of dogs (our personal hygiene has obviously taken a dive) with generally only about an hour of sunbathing a day to protect our (still) pale hides.

We did change hostels after 3 nights, but only to a place round the corner. We both felt really bad about moving ‘cos the owner was possibly the nicest guy in the world, but the lack of space and presence of hoards of his surfer dude mates were getting on our collective wicks.

We were drunk otherwise we'd have made ourselves scarce!

The next place was hardly an improvement – whilst the room and kitchen were much larger, the place was full of hooray Henrys getting pissed and loud on Daddy’s money until the not-so-early hours just outside our window (yes, we’re old and jealous).

Mercifully the clouds and wind came on the last day, so Isabella, Tarquin et al had to put their brand of tragic dancing and random screeching on ice. Better the devil you know I guess.

Punta del Este beach

We spent a day in Montevideo on our way back to (feckin’) B.A. to catch our flight out. It’s a pleasant enough place, although we seem to be cursed with bad luck when it comes to museums, since again the one we wanted to visit was closed and the one we did visit wasn’t worth writing home about, so I won’t.

We only had the day in the city and by about 4pm we had turned to beer, which probably tells you as much as you need to know about the attractions. Several beers and a meaty dinner later, we were delighted and as excited as children on Christmas Eve to be on the overnight bus (just 10 hours) to B.A.

Some of our rooms have had less-than-adequate lighting

This brings me to my current nemesis – bus stewards. It started well, he asked for our passports when we boarded, so we were thinking “that’s good of him, we won’t have to wake up for the Argentina passport control at some unearthly hour”. You can possibly imagine my ire when this utter bastard (there’s no other word) tapped me on the shoulder at 4.50am to give me our passports back, immediately after we’d cleared the border.

Since sleep comes at a premium on these buses, I gave him quite the dirty look when I hadn’t dropped off again by the time we disembarked in B.A at 9am. That showed him.

So we spent yet another night in B.A holed up in a hostel, watching depressing six nations rugby and bad movies with Jane cooking up a storm on a Baby Belling with one pan and a wooden spoon. Nothing further to report. It’s still a dump.

Strange timekeeping in B.A.

Yesterday we were up at 4.15am to get our flight to Quito and we’re now understandably pretty knackered. In fact, you’re lucky I’m writing at all because in theory the altitude should be making us as weak as asthmatic kittens and the coca tea means we should be off our heads.

We sampled our first Ecuadorian fare last night though, which was delicious – beef tripe soup for Jane(!) and pork with lapingachos (mashed potato patties with cheese) and some kind of corn kernels for me.

Today we’ve spent a jaw-dropping sum on an 8 day Galapagos cruise, starting on Thursday on board the good ship Sulidae (I say ship, it’s the budget option so it’s more of a raft with a roof).

Quito - big place

We can’t wait to go and have cleared the camera memory card in preparation. My main ambition while we’re there is to impregnate Lonesome George, who is the last of his species of giant tortoise.

The more observant among you may notice a couple or three flaws in my plan, but I like a challenge, though I’m not sure the authorities will see it that way. Jane is surprisingly supportive.

P.S. You’ll be as relieved as we are to discover that we haven’t seen potentially psychotic Steve again, although we fully expect him to trot up the gangplank soon after we’ve boarded our 12 berth vessel on Thursday.

P.P.S. There seems to be some consternation about the negativity with which I describe our fellow travellers. I concede this may be the case, but can assure you we’ve met lots of lovely people.

Furthermore, I reckon a story about a potentially murderous Penfold lookalike (I didn’t mention that) will be more interesting for you to read than a paragraph saying how we’d met a nice Irish couple who always cooked too much food (although he was vegetarian, the bloody idiot). See what I mean?!

Any comments or questions are very welcome. However, bear in mind that we’re travelling around the world for 11 months, with varying standards of internet access, so won’t always be able to respond quickly!

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