Buenos Aires, Argentina
We Brits are sticklers for punctuality. So it seemed a trifle rude to turn up to our friends’ house in Buenos Aires, more than a year late.
“Sorry about that,” we said. “Hope the dinner’s not ruined.”
We’d last seen Karen and Gustavo at a trade union conference in Costa Rica in July 2012. Ah, those blissfully naive early days when we thought our trip would take about two years.
“See you at your place in Buenos Aires next year!” we said, as they waved us off from San Jose. Oops.
But we’re here now, enjoying one of South America’s most exciting cities and doing our best to adapt from the sedate night-life of the camping world to the pace of a city that appears to object to going to bed before sunrise.
But before we get onto the delights of BA there’s the small matter of the 1,600 miles we’ve put in on the road since our last post.
We were determined not to miss seeing Iguazu Falls, despite it being a massive detour from our general direction of travel. Besides, it gave us a great excuse to take a brief look at Paraguay on the way there and Uruguay on the way down to Buenos Aires.
We crossed into Paraguay and drove straight to a fabulous campground in San Ignacio, owned by the irrepressible Peruvian Gustavo Jhave and his family. Gustavo was so ridiculously generous we felt like we’d actually profited from our stay there. He lavished us with gifts several times a day – fresh milk from his cow, honey, spinach from the garden, home made cheese and bread. Even his delightful three dogs were the most attentive welcome committee – following us everywhere and sleeping under the van.
His bouncy little dachshund Oyuco seemed pretty keen on joining us on a permanent basis. One morning we woke up with a start when he jumped on the bed, looking fantastically pleased with himself, and settled into the blankets for a cuddle.
Not usually one for stating the bleeding obvious, Jeremy said: “There’s a dog in here….”.
“You’re right, there is. How the hell did he get in?” I replied.
Jeremy wasn’t entirely awake, so started putting forward irrational theories about how it must have jumped up and ripped its way through the fabric in the pop top roof. I’m not sure how he thought a sausage dog with two-inch legs could have scaled the van, without the help of an elaborate rope system.
The door had been locked all night and neither of us had gone out. There was only one explanation – he’d snuck in the evening before and managed to hide all night without us realising. Wtf?!
It’s slightly worrying to think we can be so sound asleep that we don’t notice someone new inside our very small van…
As we were leaving the campsite, Oyuco made about five attempts to get inside before I could slide the door shut. I don’t think Gustavo would have appreciated us stealing his cute-as-a-button dog, but it was tempting.
While there we pottered around, visiting some nearby Jesuit missions and hiding from the crappy weather. For the first time in months we were being reminded what it’s like when there’s relentless rain and you live in a car. The words ‘cabin’ and ‘fever’ don’t really begin to describe it.
I’m not sure if it was just the rain, or that Paraguay was just generally a bit of a damp squib, but to be honest we were feeling a bit flat and lonely. By our standards, we’d been putting in a lot of miles and maybe we were a bit knackered. I was also distracted by things that were going on at home and found it hard to drag my brain into the here and now.
I like to think we are grateful, enthusiastic and positive about all the stuff we see and do here – the big moments and the smallest things. During three years on the road we’ve had down days, of course, but have very rarely felt jaded. This had been dragging on though – we just couldn’t work up the motivation. We knew it was bad when we just drove past one of the main Jesuit missions in the area because we ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to go in.
Had we lost our mojo?
No, it was unthinkable. We decided to accept that sometimes one just can’t conjure up the mood for sight-seeing, and pushed on north towards the Brazil/Argentina border.
Poor old Paraguay, we didn’t give it a fair shot. We didn’t find out enough about it, but we did leave with a couple of new discoveries.
Their lemons are orange, and this makes for a very confusing conversation at the market. And they have one of the best cheesy, buttery bread snacks in Latin America – chipas, who knew?
After another soggy night of camping we headed towards the border and Iguazu Falls. A late-in-the-day decision to keep driving over the border that afternoon, instead of waiting til the next morning, meant we were pretty disorganised about where we were going.
Crossing the border there means you have to traverse a tiny little corner of Brazil before you can get back into Argentina. We bluffed our way through rush hour without a map, and found our way to Puerto Iguazu before driving round in the dark visiting various closed-down campsites and wondering if it was going to be One of Those Days.
We were eventually directed to a gorgeous campground by the river and pulled in to a boisterous welcome from the owner Ramon and his wife. They were great, the place was great, it wasn’t raining, there were chattering parrots and other travellers were cooking and drinking wine in the sociable kitchen. It was just the tonic we needed.
We were there for the same reason as everyone else – to visit one of the most striking sites in the natural world; the vast, thundering 275 cascades that make up Iguazu Falls.
As as tonics go, that wasn’t too bad either.
It’s one of the most touristy sites you’ll ever see, but you’d have to be dead inside to let the crowds spoil what is a truly astonishing wonder. As it has so many times before, when it mattered most the sun shone for us and rainbows glowed in the spray.
The 3km-wide falls, which straddle the Brazil/Argentina border, can be visited from both countries. We decided to go for broke and spend a day on each side, which give quite different perspectives that are equally stunning in their own ways.
While we were there we were becoming increasingly obsessed with the impending referendum for independence in Scotland. It was maddening to be so far away during what was proving to be an electrifying campaign. I pitched an article to the BBC about being a Scottish expat abroad and they commissioned it for the next day.
I sometimes wonder what people envisage life is like for us, travelling and occasionally freelancing. I crept out of the van before sunrise to get the article written, and as I sat in the campsite kitchen in my pajamas, shivering in the damp air, being bitten to hell by mosquitos and praying that the wi-fi didn’t flake out on me, I thought ‘this probably doesn’t look as glamorous as it might sound…. but, hey it’s not a bad life’.
We wanted to cover a fair distance to get to Salto, in Uruguay, in time to settle in somewhere and find some good wi-fi to watch the referendum results as they came in. As soon as the article was sent off, we jumped in the van – our mojos packed and intact – and turned south once again.
Things we now know to be true: Watching water fall down just never seems to get boring (unless it’s from the sky).
GUESS WHAT?! MORE PICS BELOW