Tag Archives: backpacking

I Can’t Help Iguazu Falls-ing in Love With You

I’ve never met a waterfall I didn’t like – and trust me, I’ve seen a few over the years – so there was no chance I’d miss out on Iguazu Falls during my adventures through South America. Along with Africa’s Victoria Falls and North America’s Niagara Falls, Iguazu is part of the holy trinity of big, wet, splashy things, and it’s absolutely magnificent. If you don’t believe me, just have a squiz at the photos.

Iguazu is 82 metres tall, 2700 metres wide, has 275 drops and woos millions of tourists every year. And ladies, he’s single! The locals reckon the falls were created when some tart named Naipí was meant to marry a god named El Kevin, but she fucked off with some other bloke (probably a Maori) and so Kev cracked the dirts and sliced the river up. I don’t know how historically accurate that is, but it sounds good enough to me.

Half the places to view the falls are in Argentina and the other half are in Brazil, but it’s a short trip between the two sites so it’s possible to check out both. There are three main tracks through the Argie side of the falls, so it takes at least half a day to check everything out, and that’s if you don’t spend too much time stuffing around, oohing and ahhing at all there is to see. I headed out after a 26 hour bus trip from Montevideo and managed to see it all before beer o’clock, so it’s not that much effort.

Circuito Superior and Circuito Inferior both give a good idea of what the falls are all about, with some really pretty spots, but these walks never reach the spectacular highs found at Victoria Falls. The falls are, for the most part, a little too far away, with only the final fall of the Inferior stroll rising up above the boardwalk. Luckily, that’s not the best of it.

Garganta del Diablo, or The Devil’s Throat, is what it’s all about. After catching a fun little train through the jungle, a wooden boardwalk took me out over the gurgling Rio Iguazu, to a bottleneck where thousands of litres of water crashes down every minute. The brute power of nature is astonishing, and I just stood back in wide-eyed wonder as the spray smashed into me and the whole world sounded like it was being torn apart. If this is what the devil’s throat is like, perhaps someone should hand the poor bloke a Butter Menthol.

As has become tradition when I visit waterfalls, I befriended a couple of coloured gentlemen. Reuben and Bert, a gay couple for Suriname, are very much in love and enjoying their honeymoon together. Whilst marvelling at the spectacular views, Reuben declared that the only thing more powerful than the raging waters of Iguazu Falls is one of Bert’s kisses. I dunno about that, because my urge to chunder was pretty bloody powerful right about then.

The comparisons with Victoria Falls are obvious, but I have to say that, so far, Africa’s Smoke that Thunders reigns supreme over South America’s Big Water. Not only is it larger and more imposing (but enough about my penis!), but the tracks offer more variety and allow you to really get up close to the massive wall of water. Don’t get me wrong, Iguazu is superb and truly one of the most awesome things on the planet, but I did feel a tad let down after visiting Victoria Falls.

Going from Victoria Falls to Iguazu is like rooting a chick with big tits, but being slightly disappointed because you rooted a chick with bigger tits the night before. It doesn’t make rooting the chick with big tits a bad experience, but in a perfect world you’d have the big tits first, and the bigger tits second – or in this case, Iguazu for an entree and Victoria for the main course. Sorry, I got distracted by all those tits for a second.

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Punta del Este is the best(e)

Celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Marky Mark and Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin flock to Punta del Este each summer like flies to shit. The beaches are packed with bronzed bodies and the nightclubs are pulsing with techno music. Uruguay’s second city is one of the world’s great party spots, so I was surprised when I rocked up with a box of glowsticks, a pocket full of disco biscuits, and my Best of Eiffel 65 CD, only to find the place almost deserted.

A vagrant informed me that Punta del Este is incredibly busy for a few weeks in summer, but basically empty for the rest of the year, which seemed to make sense. Then again, the dude was hunting through banana peels and used condoms for a feed, so there’s as much chance that Punta del Este had actually been taken over by a plague of zombies. Whatever the truth is, there’s not much action for most of the year, but it’s still a really nice place.

Punta del Este is referred to as The Monaco of the South, The Pearl of the Atlantic, The St. Tropez of South America and The Woy Woy of Uruguay, and it’s easy to see why. The views are spectacular and the golden beaches are decorated with expensive restaurants and trendy cafes. Huge towers loom over the water, and everything feels pretty safe and clean compared to other parts of South America. I reckon Ms Hilton could even pass out under a palm tree after a night on the goon without worrying about getting her phone pinched.

As well as natural beauty, Punta del Este boasts some awesome touristy things to see. I found some evil battle robots down a side street, a scale replica of the Statue of Liberty outside a pizza shop, and the world’s hugest hand emerging from the sand. You’d be cranky if you found out your girlfriend’s ex had fingers like that. My verdict is that Punta del Este is tops any time of the year, but if you want a chance of rooting one of the Olson Twins, go there in summer. When the weather’s cold and windy, you might have to settle for a homeless fella with two teeth in his head.

Montevideo: Worth visiting for more than a day-o

My first impressions of Uruguay weren’t great. After climbing off the bus late at night in the middle of Montevideo, the first person I saw was a crackhead shitting in a park. When I made it to my hostel, in the historic Old Town, it was an absolute slum. Animals wandered the delapidated hallways, the whole place smelled strongly of farts, and an emaciated homeless man was passed out on the floor in front of my room. I thought I’d walked into a nightmare, but luckily I gave Montevideo another shot, because I ended up discovering it’s a really cool city – especially if you spend most of your time in the Pocito district.

Before getting into the delights of Montevideo’s beachside suburbs, I need to stress that the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) is absolutely horrible, and should be avoided at all costs. In most places around the world, the historic centres of cities are full of bars, coffee shops, hotels and culture, but that’s not the case in Montevideo. This Old City is home to abandoned shops, junkies and pools of vomit on every corner. It’s depressing, scary and dangerous. It’s a shame, because this area of Montevideo has some really nice old buildings and parks, but they’re all painted with a coat of misery and suffering. Do yourself a favour, drastically reduce your chances of being butt-raped by a toothless meth addict and stay the hell away.

You don’t need to walk far out of the Old City before things really start to improve. You’ll even be able to put down that big stick you’ve been using to fend off attackers. Grimy buildings and congested streets give way to quaint houses and tree-lined avenues, with a more European ambiance. Closer to the coast, Montevideo can be quite lovely, with small beaches and swaying palm trees. The weather’s pretty shocking in May, but I imagine it would be a particularly nice place to visit in summer, when the skies are blue and the nights are warm. Outside of that, pack a raincoat.

The real star of the show is Pocito, with its sweeping beach and seemingly-endless rows of towers that look out at the ocean. It’s the liveliest part of Montevideo, and has heaps of bars, restaurants and clubs, and very few people shooting heroin into their eyeballs. There are all sorts of shiny towers and pleasant gardens, and there’s no dubting that all of the money that used to be in the Old City is now in Pocito. It’s certainly a top spot to get hammered whilst looking at all the pretty Uruguayan senoritas. So of course I said goodbye to the awful MVD Hostel, bid a fond farewell to my homeless housemate, and relocated to trendy Pocito at the first opportunity.

From then on, my life was flipped turned upside down, and I started loving Montevideo. I befriended the locals (several times, actually) and settled into life in this buzzing South American metropolis. Before long, I was basically a Montevideoperson… except for the fact I can’t speak Spanish and everyone looks at me like I’m a fucking idiot when I can’t understand what they’re saying. It was all good, though, because as I flounced through the dappled sunshine, I found a really big gun in a park, and hung off it like a teenage nymph hanging from Ron Jeremy’s oversized wang.

I discovered the Centro Nacional de Disfunción Eréctil, which I soon learnt is the National Erectile Dysfuntion Centre. Appropriately, it’s housed in a penis-shaped building, and when I walked through the doors I was met by a handful of depressed-looking blokes who were milling around with their hands in their pockets, kicking stones. I swaggered up to the front desk, winked at the sadsacks around me, and loudly proclaimed, “I have an erectile dysfunction,” before pausing for dramatic effect. “That’s right, I can’t stop getting boners and I can’t keep women off my boners.” I think it would’ve been more effective if anyone inthe room could understand what I was saying, but I reckon it was fuckin’ funny.

I didn’t want to spend all day in a clinic for fellas with dodgy doodles, so I decided to head off for a spot of shopping. The Punta Carretas centre is built in the remains of an old prison (the front gate is still there, but not much else remains of the bad boys home), and is a good spot to visit if you need a new tunic or a boob tube or something. I actually found my favourite shop in there:

While walking through a park, I saw a few dozen locals swarmed around some sort of metal structure. They were taking turns trying to climb up the weird contraption, so I tiptoed over and asked them whether I could have a crack at it. One bloke with a monobrow and a limp told me it was called el juego de escalar pene, which translates to the penis climbing game, and it’s the Uruguayan national pastime. The goal is to climb to the top as quickly as possible and sit on the pole. I’m not a fan of shoving poles up my blurter, so I just climbed as far as I could and called it a day.

As for food and drink, those little Uruguayan champions sure know what they’re doing. Patricia beer sounds like it’s been named after an English poet and academic from Exmouth, Devon, but is cheap and delicious. Uruguayan wine is great, and available all over the place. The food is awesome, with massive steaks, bulging sausages, and perhaps the greatest meal of all time, the legendary chivito, which is a sort of steak burger with cheese, tomatoes, bacon, eggs, ham, and anything else you can think of. It’s worth getting fat for.

Montevideo has certainly surprised me. When I arrived, I thought it was only slightly nicer than Huddersfield, which is to say I thought it was rubbish. But over the past week this city has revealed a wonderful, exciting, fun side that I’ve come to love. I’ve spent longer here than expected, thanks to a number of factors, but I’m really getting into the swing of things. Video might’ve killed the radio star, but Montevideo killed all my expectations (alright, that was rubbish).

Buenos Aires: City of Beauty

Buenos Aires is home to 13 million people and 13 million ways to spend a warm May Sunday, such as dancing in the streets, eating empanadas and… well, I wasn’t really sure what there was to do, so I just strapped a smile to my face and headed out into Argentina’s bustling capital. This is the story of my one big day in the city of fair winds.

I happily flounced out into the street wearing a singlet and shorts, and the warm weather was a welcome change from the frigid conditions I’d become accustomed to in Patagonia. I was surprised to find a massive street fair right outside my hotel (which is apparently a regular thing on Sundays) and got caught up in the swarming crowds. I encountered some small children in funny costumes who were carrying a flag around. It looked like fun, so I borrowed a beret and got involved, only for some killjoy to snatch my headpiece and tell me to grow up. In Spanish, which was even more humiliating.

Whilst walking along the glamorous waterfront, with expensive yachts bobbing in the polluted water, I found a boat that seemed a bit older than the rest of them. Turns out it was the Presidente Sarmiento, which first sailed in 1897 and is now a floating museum. The 81m-long marvel was built as a training ship and never saw active service, but did circumcise circumnavigate the globe six times. As a mark of respect, I pretended to have sex with one of its cannons. The captain thought it was hilarious, but suggested I leave before he caved my head in.

There are plenty of good sorts in Buenos Aires, but a huge proportion of the heads here are that rough they’d make a sheet of sandpaper wince. This battler was recently judged to have Buenos Aires’ Most Beautiful Smile, but when I saw him he’d shat his pants and was arguing with a pigeon. How the mighty have fallen.

The highlight of the day came when I encountered a homeless man wearing a McDonald’s bag on his head like a crown. I would’ve liked to ask him what the story was, but he seemed to have a chip on his shoulder so I left him alone.

I ended up in the Le Boca district, which is run down and a bit poor, but has its own charm. There are lots of colourful buildings and fun shops, which is nice. I noticed lots of excited little Argentinean blokes swaggering around in blue and yellow tops, and at first I thought they were all massive Parra Eels fans. Who knows, maybe Daniel Wagon and Luke Burt are big names in Buenos Aires. I stopped one of the little blokes and asked him what was going on, and he just thrust his hips and said, “Football, football!”

“Did you see the Raiders game?” I asked him, happy to have someone to talk footy with. “How good was Tapine! I bet you fellas are looking forward to getting a team in the NRL. What are they gonna call them, the Buenos Aires Bum Bandits?” For some reason the dude showed little interest and started shrugging his shoulders as if he was trying to get rid of dandruff. When a round ball landed at his feet and he started juggling it, I realised he was actually a fan of soccer, which was surprising because I hadn’t picked him as a homosexual.

The Argies love their soccer and take it pretty seriously, so the streets around La Bombonera were crawling with cops and heavily-armed anti riot squad members. There were even armoured vehicles. The fans heading to the match seemed to be enjoying themselves, though, with plenty of dancing and singing. Hey, if I knew I had to spend the next two hours watching a game of bloody soccer, I’d make the most of my last few moments of freedom, too.

I was getting a bit cold, so I chucked on a bright orange shirt, and immediately noticed that more Argies than usual were yelling at me. It’s not possible that I could’ve fucked all their wives, so I didn’t know what was going on, until I noticed a group of hardcore Boca Juniors fans burning an effigy of an opposition player wearing an orange shirt similar to mine. Turns out I’d unintentionally dressed up as a member of Boca Juniors’ biggest rivals, the Palermo Pindicks! I had a giggle and then raced off into the streets before someone beheaded me.

Feeling tired and emotional, I grabbed a few cans of Quilmes and ended up at the San Telmo Street Fair, which seemingly runs forever through the cobblestone streets. It’s the place to go if you want to buy roasted peanuts, magnets, knitted caps, pictures of soccer players, carved wooden sculptures, or any other knick-knack you can think of. I ended up getting quite drunk and accidentally knocked over one of those human statue street performers, who completely dropped his act to tell me to fuck off. I found it completely unprofessional, so I won’t be contacting him next time I require the services of someone who can stand really still for a long time. Buenos Aires, huh? What a grouse place!

El Chaltén to Bariloche bus: Are we there yet?

The worst thing about being at the arse end of the world is that it’s a really, really bloody long way from anywhere. So when I wanted to leave El Chalten, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia, I really only had one option – a 24-hour-long bus trip along Ruta 40 to Bariloche. And yes, it was every bit as grueling as you’d expect, with sickening food, stops in creepy towns and police busts.

At least the cops have cool uniforms

If you’re heading north from El Chaltén, the bus is the only way to go outside backtracking to El Calafate and taking an expensive flight to Buenos Aires, so they sell out early. During autumn there are only three buses a week, leaving plenty of people (like me) stranded in El Chaltén for a week or more. By the time I staggered to the bus stop at 10pm, I felt like I was breaking out of prison.

Look how much fun I’m having

Whilst the trip sounded like a nightmare, I boarded the bus with hopes and dreams of being seated next to a pretty European lass. As the Patagonian wilderness rolled past, I’d win her heart with stories of my drunken adventures and by saying that her hair looked pretty, and maybe get a handjob around the 17 hour mark. Instead I climbed on to find a fat German bloke sitting in my seat with half an empenada hanging out his mouth, and when I asked him to move he farted into my seat and said he’d kill me in my sleep. I suppose dreams arent meant to come true.

Expect to look at this for 11 hours straight

The first 10 hours of the trip crawl through the pitch-black Argentinean night. The road out of El Chalten is bumpier than a crack addict’s complexion and there are no towns, villages, windmills, trees or amusement parks to break up the monotony. There’s not even much cow shit to gawk at. With nothing in the way of heating, it was so cold on the bus that ice was forming on the inside of the windows. I was just grateful the bus actually had windows.

The best bit of the trip was when they played a Morgan Freeman film… in Spanish

There are two types of seating; the more expensive cama, with fully reclinable seats and plenty of space, and the cheaper semi-cama, which lean back a little and are a bit shit. I’d recommend the cama every day, but the little bloke at the bus station must’ve picked me for a poor cunt, because he didn’t even give me the option. So, squashed legs and an aching back it was.

Oh yay, it’s a dog! And a crack caravan!

Fortunately, the good folks from Marga serve food on the bus. Unfortunately, it’s of indescribably bad quality and the serving sizes wouldn’t satisfy a Somalian toddler who’d already stuffed his face with rice. Dinner and lunch were identical packages that consisted of some sort of dodgy biscuit, a slice of soggy garlic bread, and a sandwich that caused heated debate between diners regarding the identity of the contents. Some said chicken, some said tuna, I said arse. Homeless arse. Trust me, that’s the worst kind.

You wouldn’t feed this shit to a sex offender

It’s a boring trip with stuff-all to see, so if you think it’s a good way to check out Argentina’s stunning scenery you’re out of luck. Ruta 40 is nowhere near the Andes, and the only thing you’re likely to see hour after hour is dead grass and brown hills. The occasional llama or deadbeat town are the only things to break up the boredom. Well, that and the chance of being caught up in a major police bust like I was.

Wait! There’s a bush!

Alright, ‘major police bust’ might be the biggest exaggeration since I told a girl that I’m often confused with Peter North, but there was still some excitement when the bus was pulled over by the cops. A local woman on board was caught smuggling a small dog in her handbag, which meant our trip was delayed for two hours in the middle of nowhere. Honestly, there are so many street dogs in Argie that she might as well have left her old dog at home and picked up a new one when she arrived. The rude bitch didn’t even apologise!

Take your dog and fuck off, lady

There’s no denying that the El Chalten to Bariloche bus is a tough ride, and as far from the glamorous side of travelling as possible. It’s a never-ending journey for backpackers seeking adventures in far-flung destinations, with the ever-present danger of major delays or breakdowns. By the end I was so tired I could barely pick up a six pack to drink back at my hostel. But there was also something wonderful about being surrounded by people willing to go through such an ordeal for the sole reason of exploring the world. Would I recommend travelling through Patagonia this way? In a heartbeat. Would I do it again? Fuck no, are you crazy?