After nearly four months, the day had arrived: reaching Buenos Aires (hereafter BA) signalled the final stretch on my trip. It’s also the end of the road for many of my fellow passengers who joined us in Santiago, with an intrepid few continuing on to celebrate carnival in Rio. I can’t think of a better place to call it a day than BA, it’s a truly magical city. At times, I’ve struggled with unfamiliarity while I’ve been away, but that disappears in BA which, with its outdoor cafe culture, wide pavements and European aura, it felt like coming home. The architecture definitely has an air of Paris or Madrid about it, and if I spoke Spanish, I’d certainly feel like I could live here.
We were staying in the microcenter, a great base from which to explore. As my first full day was a Sunday, I spent the time wandering the markets in San Telmo, taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling barrio. That night we had a final group dinner and gave out awards, compered by me and another guy from our truck, Grant. Although some were a bit risqué, everyone accepted them in good grace. I was unsurprised to win the ‘Humanitarian Dogging’ award, earned on account of always giving away my truck food entitlement to the local pooches.
The following day I explored the centre of the city, saving myself for what was to come that evening: La Bomba di Tiempo or Timebomb, a drumming troupe who performed in an enclosed, open air space that resembled a junk yard, minus the junk. I knew it would be a good night when the beers arrived in glasses as big as one’s head. It was everything I thought a night out in BA would be: fun, sweaty and full of dancing. I ended up chatting to a Japanese guy who was hammered and easily impressed with my basic Japanese language skills, and a US marine who had led a very interesting life. No porteños unfortunately. The best part of the night however was after the gig had finished and the drummers played on the streets while leading everyone to the after party. There are beer vendors walking with the crowds, which probably explains the horrific hangovers a lot of people suffered from the next day. My flip flops busted four times during the course of the evening, but thankfully a guy from our truck, Luke, was a hero, fixing them for me each time. I got back at 0300 and spent the next hour trying to book a hotel room for my final night in BA. Let’s just say it didn’t go well. The poor night receptionist had to help me with the Spanish keyboard more than should’ve been necessary.
The following day I went on a day trip to Uruguay (blog post here) and returned to BA in the evening for dinner with some of the ladies from the trip who I’m very happy to say have become good friends. It wasn’t a late on account of my 0500 wake up call for my wee trip to Iguazu Falls (blog post here), but it was a lovely sign off.
On my return from Iguazu, I splurged (well, spent €120 on a room rather than €25) and treated myself to a night in a nice hotel. It didn’t disappoint; the room was as big as my apartment in Amsterdam, which made sense when the porter reminded me I was in the Junior Suite. Damn you brain for booking something when a bit tipsy.
I was in for another surprise too; an ex-boyfriend who now lives in New Zealand was in the city for work and had seen my photos on social media, and we managed to meet up for a nightcap on our last night. Small world huh? It was so nice to catch up after so long.
So, my almost four months in South America have come to an end. I’ve learned so much. It’s hard to articulate how much I’ve gained from this trip, and I’d like to think that I have given something back to this wonderful continent. Well, its dogs at least. Four months isn’t anywhere near long enough to do this place justice, and I’d love to return at some point in the future to explore further. The Andes have been my constant companion throughout my journey and I’ve been amazed at how different they are in each country I’ve visited. They, and the jungle, feel like the beating heart of the continent and must be looked after. I’ve been consistently treated to scenery like none I’ve ever experienced before. Yes, some is reminiscent of New Zealand, but the continuity of amazing landscape after amazing landscape is something else.
Alpacas > guanacos > llamas. That is all.
I’ve loved having so much interaction with dogs during my trip. They are so docile and just want tickles. I’ve not seen any aggression, and it seems the further south you go, the fewer strays you see. I can count on one hand the number of cats I’ve seen.
I wish I had dedicated more time to leaning Spanish, although I’m surprised by how far I’ve gotten with my limited vocabulary. Being able to speak French has come in very handy though as three are lots of similarities.
Argentina – best coffee
Peru – best food
Bolivia – best people
Ecuador – best value for money
Chile – best scenery
Brazil – best waterfalls (contentious I know)
Uruguay – best wine
It’s honestly impossible to choose a favourite place. Baños in Ecuador definitely gave me food for thought. As I approach being forty, I wonder what next for me? I love my job, but would like to do something that feels a bit more worthy. I’ve also toyed with the idea of being my own boss and either setting up a cafe, or an animal shelter. In Baños, there is a business that combines both and it was a joy to spend time there. When I return to Amsterdam, as a first step, I’m going to dedicate time to improving my Dutch so that I am able to volunteer at my local animal shelter, And then perhaps see what happens after that.
What else have I learned? Well, my tolerance for bad manners is now minimal, although unlike before when I would quietly tut in true British fashion, I now call out that behaviour. Perhaps I’m becoming more Dutch in that regard. I also learned that I can poo literally anywhere anytime, although I’m not sure that’s a skill I’ll be calling on much back home in Europe. This trip showed me that travelling really is good for the soul and mental health, and I feel refreshed, revitalised and looking forward to coming home. It also makes one appreciate what one has at home.
I’m lucky enough to have an amazing partner in Ken, and although I know he’s struggled a bit in my absence, moving to Amsterdam without knowing anyone or the language, he’s never once not supported me, and actively encouraged me to pursue this experience. A month ago he tweeted that he’d like to go to Stockholm in Sweden to see the subway stations – yes, I did re-evaluate our relationship when I saw the tweet – so Ken, to say thanks, pack your bags because we’re going on Monday! Love you long time.
This is my final blog post. It’s been fun to write, although at times I lagged behind due to a combination of lack of good WiFi and actually doing things, so apologies for that! I hope it’ll serve as a reminder of all the great experiences I’ve had on this trip, and if anyone is considering doing something similar, feel free to get in touch for more detailed information. Adios.