Category Archives: Observations & Rants

Why Do We Travel? – Part 2

After Iain wrote his blog entitled “Why do we travel?” it got me thinking. When we first announced to friends family and co-workers that we were quitting our jobs to backpack around South America, we were met with varying reactions. One of the most common was “Why, what are you going to do out there?” Initially my response was “Well derr, nothing, sweet nothing.” Though honestly I can say in the past 2 months I have never spent a day doing nothing…

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It feels like a lifetime ago we left the UK, but truthfully every day flies by too quickly for my liking. So my days are not quite as busy as when I worked 9-7pm, squeezed in the gym after and tried to cook a decent meal, but travelling full time is a busy lifestyle. A different pace perhaps but still busy nonetheless.

Even in our days of “downtime” we will usually be exploring the local shops, blogging, keeping in touch with friends and family or researching what to do next. Most nights I fall asleep reading a Rough Guide or Lonely Planet on my kindle deliberating where to go tomorrow.

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When we left the UK our plans were very loose, so loose in fact they consisted of Rio Carnival and Lollapalooza in Buenos Aires a month later. Other than that, we figured we’d have enough money to live comfortably (just!) for about a year out here, so really the possibilities are endless! Doing nothing is not an option when there is so much to see and do out there!

We are big fans of keeping the plans loose and rarely plan much further than a few days ahead but due to circumstances we have been forced to book our Inca Trail in Peru. They only allow a limited number on the trail each day so you are forced to book at least 6 months in advance. However given that this trek is not until the end of September we have a fair amount of flexibility still to play with.

So what are our motivations for travelling? In 2011, on our first round the world trip, we had a limited time in each country we visited, as we had onward flights booked. Our aim really was to tick off the “must see” sights in the guide books and move on to the next place. This time we are, as we like to call it, “slow travelling”. Although we are still drawn to see the “top sights” we also want to see the places and the people.

I’ve not fooled myself into thinking you can truly know a place with a few extra days…but it sure is fun trying to get to know it. It’s fair to say we didn’t need 10 days in Rio or 11 days in Buenos Aires to see the tourist attractions. Yet one of my fondest memories will be finding my favourite veg stall in San Telmo market and being welcomed back each day with a cheery smile…so much so they put up with me asking for the Spanish name for each vegetable! Or even being talked at by the locals on Rio’s buses yet having no clue what they were saying but smiling and nodding all the same.

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Hopefully in the next year we may even find a job volunteering and stay put for a while, so we can really experience a place. Who knows where but this would certainly be a new chapter to our travels. Like other backpackers part of the fun for us has also been meeting people, both locals and other likeminded travellers. As after all isn’t half the fun of travelling exchanging stories and advice with others?

So why do we travel? Because everyday is different. There is so much out there to see and do. We can’t possibly hope to see everything but we are going to have a pretty good stab at it over the next year, so keep reading…

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Why do you travel? We would love to hear your thoughts.

10 Silly Observations About Argentina

1.  You often get your change in sweets

There seems be a real shortage of change in Argentina, and smaller notes and coins are especially hard to come by. Some shops seem to have done away with the coins completely and instead give you your peso change (about 10p) in the form of a few sweets. We approve immensely and think Britain should do away with our 1p and 2p’s in favour of this method.

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2. Their doctors all seem to be under the age of 10 

The common school uniform is what we can only describe as a tiny white old fashioned doctors jacket. Give them a stethoscope and they’re ready to diagnose.

3. There are lots of dogs

Well looked after but free to roam and they love a backpacker as a companion for the day. You do not have a say in the matter. If you’re lucky it will just be the one walking you, if your not, you may find yourself part of a pack.

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4. There are more pharmacies than can possibly be warranted

Even in towns without cash points or phone signal, there will be several of them!

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5. Drinking Mate is a way of life

So much so, many Argentinians carry flasks of hot water everywhere with them, in purpose built satchels. The satchels are gorgeous – we think two bottles of wine would fit in rather nicely…plus we’d look like locals…

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6. Argentinians like queuing more than the Brits do

Orderly queues are formed in most situations including when waiting for buses. Be careful not to skip in front…you will be taken up on it…unless you’re an old lady then you seem to be exempt…

7. Chivalry is taken very seriously

Seats are always given up to your elders or to women. The British commuters could do with taking a leaf out of their book!

8. There is no such thing as a standard opening time

Shops seem to open when they feel like it, usually about an hour after the sign on the door says so. Loosely speaking, it seems common for some shops to stay open until about 1pm then close until about 4 or 5 or sometimes 6pm, when they open again for the evening. This isn’t always the case though. Don’t be surprised if you fancy a late lunch and find everywhere closed.

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9. Don’t expect to dash into a supermarket

The queues are crazy! It seems you can pay various bills, gas and electricity etc, whilst picking up a few groceries so expect to wait in line for a while. If you can keep you items to less than 10 and join the fast track till…though its not always faster…

10. Wine is very cheap

May not be a surprise to most but we have become accustomed to paying no more than £3 for a very decent bottle…at £4 we’d be really splashing out. We may have some adjusting to do when we return to the UK.

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City Travel: Bus or Metro?

In London its fair to say I was one of those Londoners who knew where they were going and used the tube (or metro) as a way to get there quicker. Failing that I’d always walk, preferring a stroll to a bus journey that would inevitably crawl along on London’s roads. However when I’m travelling it’s a different story.

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In a new city I will nearly always advocate mastering the bus system. Of course this depends on whether the city has a competent bus system worth mastering but bus travel in a foreign city is part of the experience. Yes explore the metro too, but like the London tube I find most metro systems lack the charm of a bus and here’s why…

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You get to see the city – with time to spare it is always worth making a few journeys on the bus even if the traffic is bad. You get to see more of the city than you would buried deep underground and I find it allows you to build a mental map of the city to use later when strolling around.

You meet people – even in Rio where we could barely communicate with anyone bar nods, smiles and shoulder shrugs, we still found people on the bus were eager to help and talk to us, even if the conversation was one way! Any experience of an underground system will tell you that you’ll be lucky to make eye contact with another human being let alone get a word out of one.

They usually get you to the doorstep – you can ask the driver to shout when you reach your destination and unlike the metro they usually drop you within metres of where you are trying to get to. If you’re lucky they sometimes even become taxis, as we found at 3am in the morning when we were the only passengers on the bus and the driver insisted on dropping us to our door.

They are cheap – enough said really…

They run all night – most metro systems stop at night but you will nearly always be able to find a bus home in the early hours of the morning.

The expanse of the network – certainly on this continent the bus networks far outstrip the reach of metro systems.

Do our readers agree? Or have any other tips and stories about transport?

How safe is Rio?

It may just be an impression us Brits have obtained of Rio de Janeiro but we were led to believe that our visit would undoubtedly be tainted by crime. It seemed impossible to us that, during our 9 days there, we would escape unhindered by pickpockets or some sort of corruption.

Truth be told we experienced nothing to substantiate Rio’s terrible reputation for crime. Any new city is intimidating when you first arrive…you have no idea what is social acceptable, where’s safe at night or even how to cross the road – in Rio most people just seemed to make a dash for it in a gap in traffic! I would never advise any backpacker to loose their initial sense of caution when arriving in a new city…its saved us from a few scams before now…but certainly Rio its not as intimidating as people might fear. I honestly think if you use the same caution and common sense you would in any major city across the world you’d be very unlucky to experience crime in Rio.

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Keep your belongings in sight, do as others do, wear your backpack on your front on busy transport, don’t flash your cash, or walk around with your Digital SLR swinging from your neck. When you get to a place of interest get your camera out and put it away after. At all the major tourist spots in Rio there will be plenty of others with the latest technologies on show to make it unlikely that you’ll be the victim of a crime.

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So how safe is Rio at night? About as safe as any other major city…everywhere has crime and areas that are best avoided. If you are off on a night out, leave your valuables at home and carry as little as possible. Ladies avoid handbags and invest in a “Cash Stash” which allows you to keep a few rolled up notes secure somewhere – I find attaching it to my bra strap works quite well.

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We travelled after dark quite a few times and escaped unscathed using the above advice. Ok…so there was one time when we felt a bit intimidated late at night. Having been to the Sambadrome, backpacks and DSLRs in tow, we travelled back at 4am on public transport. As the roads close around the Sambadrome when the Carnival is in full swing, the Metro was the quickest way to make an exit. Once off the Metro we decided a bus/taxi would be safer than the 15min walk to our apartment. No taxis in sight…surprise surprise…we stood at the bus stop and waited patiently.

After a few minutes a group of young guys turned up, obviously on their way home from a night out. Anyone who has stood waiting for a night bus in London in the early hours of the morning will have experienced similar and I think our feeling intimidated was purely down to the language barrier. True to form the boys were larking about, chattering away and standing just a little bit too close…one guy was so close, I was sure he was either trying to pickpocket Iain or fall asleep on his shoulder. Turns out said guy had just had a few too many like his friends and was absentmindedly waiting for the bus like any other. When the next bus arrived (not ours inevitably) he asked us (twice so we understood) very politely in his best Portuguese if this was our bus or if he could go ahead and get on in front of us…

Moral of the story…don’t believe the worst, don’t judge a book by its cover, use common sense and always form an orderly queue for the bus…

Christ The Redeemer or Sugar Loaf?

It occurred to us that despite being on a strict budget we were fortunate enough to be able to afford to visit both Christ The Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain during our stay in Rio.

Being budget conscious we almost skipped visiting one in favour of having an extra bit of cash. If you find yourself thinking similar during your visit we would highly recommend choosing to visit the Sugar Loaf if forced to only visit one.

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The Sugar Loaf is best visited a few hours before sunset when you can see the city in all its glory. Like us, grab yourself a few (yes slightly overpriced) beers, relax and settle in to watch the sun set over the city. The city slowly begins to twinkle as the lights are switched on…yes we realise it’s the pollution that creates this effect but it is nevertheless rather pretty!

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Best of all, we think standing on Sugar Loaf Mountain gives you the best view of Christ poised high above the city, and at night lit up he is even more striking. We enjoyed a few more beers once the sun had set, and then when ready; we enjoyed another trip on the cable car. The cable car itself is worth the ticket up and gives you equally impressive views!

Elbows at the ready we had tackled Corcovado earlier that day. Christ the Redeemer itself can be appreciated from all over the city. Whilst it was impressive standing at his feet and appreciating him close up…we have to admit the thought did cross our minds that he was a lot smaller than we thought he’d be. Once at the top of Corcovado most feel obliged to elbow their way through the throngs of tourists, to try and get into a prime spot to take that all important classic tourist photo. We found a quick selfie sufficed.

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Like us you might instead amuse yourself by watching the families and couples straining on tiptoes to pull the classic pose, whilst perhaps the dad or perfect stranger photographer lies on the ground to try and get everyone in the shot. Photo obtained back on the train they go.

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It’s impressive and worth a visit if you have cash to burn but honestly for us Sugar Loaf stole the show and the view was breath taking…

Why Do We Travel

Lets face it, the worst part of travelling is travelling. The expectation of going on a big trip, adrenaline, nerves, excitement, tears, it’s a complete emotional rollercoaster, it’s like being 13 again. Then comes the airport. Check in happens hours ahead of when you actually want to be there and then you have to tackle security. This wouldn’t be nearly so bad if it wasn’t for that person in front of you, you know the one I mean. “Have you emptied your pockets Sir?” The following affirmative answer is immediately shown to be an outright lie by that oh so revealing “BLEEP” from the metal detector. Lo and behold the empty pockets in fact contain: keys, phone, wallet and various pieces of change, some of which aren’t even in circulation any more. Finally, after the ignominy of walking around with no shoes for a bit, holding your trousers up with one hand because your belt has somehow become lost inside the scanning machine, you make it through to duty free.

Duty free is where you don’t really want to be. When you’re after some discounted booze it’s great, but when you’re about to head off on a multi-month holiday, a two litre bottle of Vodka isn’t exactly high on your list of priorities. And so you grab an overpriced coffee, a sandwich and go and find some seats. Next, the boarding process…now this is really quite fascinating. We all get to our gate way ahead of schedule and sit there staring as the minutes creep past. When boarding finally opens, everyone leaps to their feet and stands in a queue less than a meter from where they were just sitting. I do this as well, I even fail in stopping myself from doing it. I think that we’re all just eager to get on the plane because that will officially be the start of the holiday. Start of the holiday or not what we’ve actually done is leapt to our feet to board the plane and get started with the worlds most boring game of sardines. Theres only one person having a good time and it’s the guy sitting sloshed in one of the bars completely unaware of the announcements asking him to please board the plane.

For Lauren and I, we had a short flight to Rome followed by a not so short flight to Rio. Every time we long haul I convince myself it would all be so much better if next time we just pay for that extended leg room or maybe even upgrade. It never happens though, we book economy and sit down with our knees jammed into someone elses back. This is the worst bit of travelling. The first couple of hours are fine, movies, free food, free booze and all you have to do is sit there, it’s great. Then you have to try and sleep. I can nod off standing up, Lauren however, isn’t so lucky. Even if you can sleep, you don’t wake up refreshed at the other end with a broad smile shouting “Hello world!” You’ve just slept in your clothes in a cramped, not quite sitting position, knowing that when you get off the plane at your long awaited destination, you’ve got to face a whole new set of challenges.

Everything above is true except the first 10 words: lets face it, the worst part of travelling is travelling. I hate the travelling whilst i’m travelling, but once I reach a destination I suddenly see that 13 hour flight or that 2 day bus as the arc that carried me to paradise and then, I forgive it everything. I think the trouble stems from the fact that you’ve just left somewhere that you’ve come to love. You sit there on transport, usually cheap and dirty, wondering what the next place is going to be like. The bus gets us there and it’s amazing, somehow that bus journey is now “an experience.” Rather than 2 days of spine jarring pot holes and a weird smell coming from under one of the seats, it has become a fond memory. Then again maybe we just do this to ourselves so that we can bring ourselves to get on that next bus and just ramble on.