This short stay in Argentina would be better thought of as a giant bus crawl, and an expensive one at that. We were unable to withdraw dollars so in Tupiza so we missed out on the blue exchange rates. So in response to the extortionate prices in the bus terminal, we sought alternatives at kiosks in the towns and managed to haggle left over seats down to less than half price. Without that and/ or hitch hiking we would have been penniless in days, but at least Argentinians are feeders, you get three meals on a night bus without a stranger and his entire family sat on your lap so it was an improvement from other nations.
The first destination was Salta, somewhat hotter than Bolivia which made for a nightmare walk around the city in sweaty jogging bottoms and the heavy backpacks. The city itself is truly lovely and seriously developed, which was another shock having crossed the border. We took the opportunity to use our advancing Spanish skills to get Seb a haircut before he became any more feral looking. Luckily he lost his bedraggled Justin Bieber look but only in favour for a bizarre fringed Bill Gates look. You really should only go to hairdressers with languages different to your own if you have an interpreter on hand.
Initial impressions of Argentina was slight bafflement at the lack of visual depravity from the supposed massive crisis. We were surprised at how cheap food seemed to be but couldn’t spot any signs of serious fiscal hard times.
We took another night bus the same day from Salta to Buenos Aires, which unsurprisingly is quite a serious distance. We lucked out yet again with a nice private room in San Telmo and so avoided having to dorm it again. The district was what we hoped it would be, and we turned up on a Sunday, so the ‘cafe culture’ and street markets were rife. It has the highest concentration of decent street art I’ve ever seen in any city before. The only slight disappointment was the touristy brightly coloured La Boca, as beautiful as it may be with its New Orleans style corrugated iron buildings, its actually rather tiny. I wouldn’t even say its a barrio, more a couple of streets within a barrio. Luckily it was quiet so we weren’t fighting our way through crowds so it was actually quite peaceful sat on benches watching the tango dancers from afar. However the main corner cafe was quite a let down, the walls have been repainted, so the former primary colour glory has been covered up with muted colours. Just imagine it as how Smarties looked after they had all their e numbers removed.
Apart from the incredible markets, San Telmo also boasts some of the best ice cream and Mexican street burritos around, so it took us a while to get round to eating a steak. When we finally did, I am sad to report it didn’t exactly blow us away. Granted it was a step up from over cooked Bolivian minute steaks, but it wasn’t living up to its reputation. The city itself is absolutely enormous with a quarter of the country’s population congregating in the capital, so we were bit overwhelmed with the scale. Maybe one of the biggest regrets was not heading to one of the dockside rodizios in Puerto Madero. They were offering amazing deals for $15 that would have allowed us to sample the best meat in town, but we simply weren’t hungry enough to take advantage. Instead we hiked across town to the cemetery to see the hoards of Asian tourists gathered around Evita’s grave and the swarms of graveyard cats. The mausoleums were so grandiose but beautiful in a strange way. I felt a bit unhinged whilst I couldn’t stop giggling in such a poignant place but this lady walking around with a neck pillow just cracked me up: After a stroll around the ancient dead we crossed the road to the next door shopping complex because it harboured a cinema to catch the Wolf of Wall Street. It was surreal being in Latin America for so long and then being transported to a debauched world of 1980’s cocaine, bankers and hookers, a lifestyle that really isn’t up my street at all but they really succeed in selling it to you, which probably isn’t Scorsese’s intention but boy does it work.
From BA it was onward and upwards to Iguazu to take a look at some water falling over roacks. I knew they would be impressive but I had no idea just how loud that level of deafening surging water would be. Nor did I realise just how humid it would be, walking around the town outside of the falls was even a struggle, the humidity made you feel like you were in a perpetual steam bath and you simply sweat out the mere 5 litres of water you drink a day.
Now don’t get me wrong the falls are exceptional, the Argentinian side really is as impressive as reported, but it would be really nice to have the site to yourself. Trailing behind seas of technologically incompetent tourists using a camera for the first time in old age is an absolute ball ache, unless you witness the hilarity of someone video recording with no clue on what makes a good film. I saw a lady filming at arms length as though her arm was completely uncontrollable by her mind, she was waving the camera about all over the place, so I would love to see the final outcome. Following her was a joy compared to everyone else. On narrow walking planks you tend to get a bit ratty until you find space on a more secluded viewing platform.
Really I think my nerves were just raw from the previous night of sleep. We stayed in a 16 bed dorm, of which over 50% were Israelis traveling in a group. Now I am controversially about to rant shamelessly about something that has come up in conversation endlessly on my trip yet I never witnessed anything as extreme as this in a dorm before until now so it is justified. However I must add the caveat that profiling a whole nation based on its travelers is completely unjustified. I have met wonderful Israeli travelers on my journeys and learned quite possibly the best card game on earth (Yaniv) from this nation so I am ever indebted.
However when Israelis travel fresh out of national service specifically in a group, they should think about how they are portraying their fellow travelers. The night before the falls was the worst night in all of my traveling experience of staying in dorms. The group entered the room at 11pm, 1am, 3am and then ignored their loud alarms going off at 5am. At all of these intervals, the lights were turned on and everyone just shouted amongst themselves. At one point I woke up to a girl shining a torch in my face whilst she rummaged through my backpack claiming that she was ‘looking for a plug’. It was infuriating that people could be so rude and disrespectful whilst people were sleeping time after time. Now I’m aware Brits abroad on lads holidays or hen dos are capable of horrific events too and every nation has its bad tourism reputation, but this was almost laughable. It is a crying shame that a few people are doing such a disservice to their country by giving such a bad impression, but you can’t even approach them nicely to ask them to shut up in fear or their massive Krav Maga arms would tear your face off. This is a plea to any Israeli about to set off on travels in a large group to behave like you would in your mothers house and stop tormenting the sleep of others.
People are often too scared to broach this subject but secretly chat about it with other Israeli travelers. Hostel owners even have policies on the number of Israelis that can share a dorm at the same time.
I am sure that my ranting will come under obvious heavy scrutiny but I must assure that I am not tarring an entire nation with the same brush, we have met people from all over the world with the similar habits. It just kills me that this issue doesn’t seem to be going away. An Israeli friend explained it quite nicely when defending the situation by asking how you would act if you had been in prison for nearly 3 years. Strangely my travel partner is from Switzerland, also with a compulsory military conscription. Granted I cannot compare the duties of the two nations by any means, but I don’t see him shrugging dormitory etiquette in favour of waking everyone up in the middle of the night. I can’t imagine how bad it is to be forced into the military against your will, but when you go somewhere to let off steam afterwards, just make sure its in a private room.
Rant aside and with only a couple of hours sleep under our belt, we headed across the easiest border crossing to date into beautiful Brazil.