Crossing lines

Trip Start Jun 06, 2011
Trip End May 22, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hostel el Alcazar
What I did
Realised what I was not prepared to put up with

Flag of Argentina  ,
Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sunday 28 August

LK: Sunday brought us the next bus journey, this time only 11 hours but including a border crossing. We walked along to the ticket office with Sarah, who we had met at the hostel in San Pedro the previous day. I had asked to borrow an adaptor (Chile's European style round pin plugs had been overlooked in our packing) so we could charge up our travelling electrical shop; she kindly obliged and chatted about how she lived on Chillingham Road in Newcastle. We decided the world only has a couple of hundred people in it.

KK: Funny how already a 10 hour bus trip seems like short hop. The first part of that hop taking us all of 100 yards out of San Pedro to leave Chile and get our passports stamped. This meant filing off the bus which we thought amusing but seemed of great annoyance to Her Royal Majesty The Most Divine Princess In All The Known World who was sat in front of us. In fact everything was a strain on the patience of Her Royal Majesty The Most Divine Princess In All The Known World as she flounced and swept her hand through her hair, reclined her seat into my lap and constantly raised a weary hand to her much troubled brow. I feared LK might kick her up the Royal arse at one point.

LK: Instead I amused myself with Camelid Watch, and beat KK hands down by spotting about 20 long-lashed vicuna to his 6 woolly alpacas. The scenery was stunning: puna, altiplano, salt lagoons, volcanoes, jagged red rocks, then we reached the very windy border checkpoint at Paso de Jama to pass into Argentina. An official boarded the bus to check our passports, sadly not bringing the very happy looking drug-seeking dog with him. We then got off the bus into the check-y building to show the same official our paperwork again. Ooh, I know, why don’t you go back to the bus to get your hand and hold luggage and then come back to the check-y building and get them all nice and scanned? For our patience, and quite frankly our ability to keep up, we were rewarded with snacks and juice. There’s an Argentinian vicuna!

KK: It was an astonishing trip: the bus drivers were the most splendid of fellows, they pointed us where to stand, when to get off and at our luggage when it needed to be taken off and checked. They also pointed where to put the luggage after it had been checked.  They were fearless and sped past all other vehicles on the road regardless of any signs ordering them not to do so. This got increasingly interesting as the road twisted through the Andes (see picture).  Then they would pull over on the side of the road, cheerily hand us another drink and a packet of biscuits and speed off again. They put on a Jason Statham film with some gruesome violence and equally gruesome nudity and then another film that we had no chance of seeing the end of. Finally they vanished altogether when we got to Salta. As I unloaded our own luggage a strange filthy trousered fellow appeared and demanded a tip for allowing me to do so. Instead I treated him to some nice fresh Anglo-Saxon.

LK: Note to self: try not to turn up in a new town after dark without pre-booking your first night’s accommodation. Sure, there are people offering their hostels as soon as you jump off the bus, but I’m not that stupid. Had a quick look in our guidebook to locate some possibilities and off we strode into the night, followed by an obligatory dog. First one full, second one way off budget, third one aha, we can stay for a decent price. Eager to stop wandering around with our backpacks, I agreed to one night. We put our backpacks down on the floor thick with building dust (with co-ordinating dust-encrusted coathangers in the wardrobe for that thoughtful touch) and rushed out to see if we could find something better to move to the next day. Did I mention our room was next to a communal bathroom and the walls offered no better sound insulation than if a pair of curtains was there instead?

Monday 29 August – Thursday 1 September

KK: Chuffed with the cheapness of the place we had asked about staying for three days. In what turned out to be an act of considerable kindness, the lad on the front desk had suggested we speak to the manager in the morning. A morning where we clutched at each other like Hansel & Gretel beneath the covers as the most terrific trumpeting, coughing and splashing accompanied the daily ablutions of our fellow guests. Suffice to say we fled the premises as soon as possible. "What if that turns out to be the best on offer," we both thought. Unlikely, because by night and by day Salta is a particularly striking place, so our next lodgings were bound to be better.

LK: And how. Our first price offer at Hostal el Alcazar was 170 pesos in Spanish, which apparently made it 180 pesos when spoken in English (I didn’t know there was an exchange rate on language. I blame David Cameron, the useless tosser.) We shook our heads and turned to go and all of a sudden the room was ours for 150 pesos. A clean room, one with daylight pouring in through magnificent wooden shuttered doors opening to a balcony, with an ensuite, and not one fetid old man dropping his bait in sight. If you can swan about in accommodation, that’s what we did in our subsequent four days in Salta. I filled in some of my other time shouting down the phone at my credit card company for blocking my PIN. They assured me if I used said PIN at an ATM for a balance enquiry it would clear it. Imagine my delight the following day when it was still blocked; here are some classics from the conversation: (Hopeless front line boy) – “It’s not ideal that you’re on the other side of the world”; “try to use swipe and sign instead of Chip and Pin”; “can you leave this on hold and go across the road now to the ATM and try again?”(Supervisor who I was escalated to) – “I’m afraid we can’t guarantee that using your PIN in an ATM outside the UK will unblock it”. If the credit card company have a big red button to block my PIN the nanosecond I put it in incorrectly, for the first time in my life, surely they must have a big green button to unblock it when they have been such incompetent arses? Seemingly not. I await the next attempted transaction with baited breath.

KK:  On the plus side if the credit card had worked we would have been booked onto an expensive bus that wouldn’t have got us to our next port of call. Now we are booked on a marginally less expensive bus that promises to drop us on the very doorstep.  Our trip to the local (and highly recommended) art gallery foiled by refurbishment, we were much relieved to discover a supermarket virtually on the doorstep as compensation. We spent an hour wandering around it, convinced we had got the exchange rate wrong; “this Malbec is about 3 a bottle – that can’t be right” and it wasn’t – it was just over 2. We have consequently stuffed our faces and sloshed any manner of drinks down our necks for three days and are now quite fat.

LK: KK forgot to mention that we went into another local store to select some inexpensive glasses to hold the variety of sloshed drinks. He claims he was trying to unstack them from each other when the bottom one fell out. All I saw was some English bloke I was pretending not to know kicking a glass noisily across the floor (cushion its fall, I think he claimed). But it didn’t crack or smash, so KK put the dropped glass back on the shelf while showing two different glasses to the security guard as he made his way towards the checkout.

KK:  How the accusations fly; “you do nothing but check Twitter for the closing of the transfer window!”-  when in fact I had been researching the actual General Belgrano. Not the battleship Thatcher sunk with her handbag but the fellow it was named after. There is a statue of him off Belgrano Avenue in Belgrano Park. How dashing he looks. We dined there last night afeared to mention our Englishness  lest we be rebuked for War crimes not of our responsibility. Fat steaks, with Spanish potatoes/chips and cold beer.  Manuel Belgrano caught syphilis in Europe where he studied as a young man. This coincided with the Napoleonic  Wars when the troublesome French midget made his own brother King of Spain. This had a knock on effect in South America with battles over who people should be loyal to. Manuel, as well as designing the blue and white national flag and enforcing educational improvements for the entire country, fought for independence. He died aged 50 of dropsy. Which I’m sure is nowhere near as amusing as it sounds.

LK: In fairness, KK had spent an hour or two with his nose pressed up against the transfer window, watching the rich folks doing their shopping. I was only trying to spare him the hurt.
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