Thursday, 16 April 2009

Buenos Aires Revisited

I'm just a few days from returning back to Britain now, so I figured I'd try and write the last blog of this series... I've been thinking about the time I've spent over here, of things I did that I liked, of how my attitude to the city has changed over the past 23 weeks... 23 weeks is almost 6 months: the original plan was to come here for just over 3. What do I have to show for this extended stay?!

Today I decided to go back to where I started: Congreso. My first impressions of the city weren't good: I found myself right in the heart of the city, it was busy and noisy and dirty and I seemed to be surrounded by poverty. It was unsettling. After leaving that part of the town, first to stay for a week in a hostel in San Telmo, and then to spend three months living in posh Palermo, I never returned: there was nothing to return for, really. But I returned today, to see how that part of town seemed to me these days. The answer? Completely normal, of course! A bit busy, yes, but not overly dirty, and I didn't feel worried about anything (mind you, when I arrived in town, I was walking around with a couple of thousand pesos, a passport, a camera and two iPods, so maybe I had cause to be more paranoid back then...). This was half-expected: I'm now very much used to the city. True, there's not much reason to visit the Congreso area (apart from to see the very pretty Congreso building itself), but it's really no worse than many other parts of town.

This wasn't the first time I'd changed my mind about a part of the town, and this is why I prefer to live in a place for a prolonged spell rather than passing through like a regular tourist. A few weeks ago, I also revisited Puerto Madero. The first time I went there, I was magnificently unimpressed, dismissing it as a soulless business district. In many ways, it does lack soul, and it is for business folk to have expensive lunches during the week. But when I went there one Friday night to visit the beautiful art gallery they've got there (the Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat), and stopped off for a posh salad afterwards, I changed my opinion. Sure, the food's pricey as hell over there - by Buenos Aires standards. If you convert the pesos to pounds and compare it with London, then it's really not too bad (as in: it's probably cheap compared to a lot of places in London). I chose to go there for my birthday lunch too: I figured I could treat myself, and I fancied giving the business folk a shock when they saw some young scallywag turning up at their restaurant and splashing just as many pesos as they could. By all means, if you're a tourist in Buenos Aires, then it's worth going for dinner in Puerto Madero.

Palermo is the part of town I return to most often, as it's within walking distance (it's a good walk). As I noted when I moved there, Palermo is a posh part of town. But when I lived there, it never struck me as being anything special. However, after living in Almagro for a few weeks, the difference between Palermo and other parts of town became very clear. The women are the biggest giveaway as to the income differentials: they dress very posh in Palermo, and they like to do themselves up as well. There are tall, thin girls with nice dresses and immaculate make-up who clearly have the time, money and incentive to worry a lot about their appearance. Where I live these days, they dress a bit more normally.

I raved about San Telmo when I first went there, but these days I have little love for the area. It can be a little intimidating, as it's both a tourist hotspot and a squatter's paradise. So it's a busy area, where you have to be on the lookout for cheeky chaps trying to pick your pockets. I don't like it at all any more, because I find it unnerving to be surrounded by bums who drink for a living. At night, you just get weirdos wandering around trying to talk to you at times. And it's not like you're going to understand them. I don't like it when people start talking to me and I can't understand what they're saying, especially if they're drunk and dirty. They may have innocent intentions, but they'll always come across as being slightly threatening. At best, they'll always be just plain annoying.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Villa General Belgrano and La Cumbrecita

We checked out of Le Grand Hostel in Córdoba, and got on the bus to Villa General Belgrano. I'd been looking forward to visiting this place since reading about it in my guidebook: I was promised chocolate and fresh German beer from the microbreweries in the town... It sounded like paradise. Indeed, as the bus rolled into the village, I began to think that it was actually paradise. The town's very clean and very posh, and it really did seem like being in Germany or something. We hadn't got round to looking for a hostel or anything before arriving, so we just followed some signs to a suitable inn. March isn't the peak season for the town (or for anywhere, for that matter), so we were lucky with the accommodation prices. We got ourselves a very nice room in a very nice little place, for not too much money ($145 a night, and this wasn't a hostel). I was a bit gutted that I hadn't packed my swimming shorts, as the place had a pool and everything. As it was, we didn't really have much time for swimming in the end (and I don't think I had the energy, either).

After dumping our stuff, we went straight out in search of some food (to be honest, I was in search of beer more than food). I had a nice honey beer. And some nice potatoes, too. It was siesta time, for me at least. The general story of our holiday was that I was continually falling asleep, while Cecilia did whatever Cecilia does while I'm asleep (to some degree, this seems to involve watching me and laughing at how much I twitch and jump while I'm asleep... Before the holiday, I had little idea that I did such a thing... Also, if I sleep on a bus, I look like a sack of potatoes being jostled about, allegedly).

Anyway, with my batteries recharged, we set off to go on one of the walking circuits available to us. We headed beyond the city limits and made our way up El Cerro de la Virgen. It was quite a nice trek, as it goes, although we both managed to sweat an incredible amount. The walk starts in earnest with a fairly steep set of steps - I counted over 110 of them. We climbed them without stopping, then stopped at the top for water and tic tacs. A bit of a rush. The view was worth it, though. I couldn't quite believe how much fun we were having, or that I'd chosen to spend most of my time in a busy and dirty city instead of just living in the country...

Cerro de la Virgen #6

It's a shame that I didn't actually take any pictures of the town itself... I must've been too busy looking for beer and chocolate. Still there are plenty of photos available, so here's what the town looked like:

We stayed in Villa General Belgrano for three nights and four days, which was slightly longer than planned. I would have liked to stay even longer, I enjoyed it so much. For the second and third days we were in the area, we took the bus to La Cumbrecita, which was even quieter still...

La Cumbrecita was further away than we'd imagined, but the trip was worth it. We only planned to spend a day exploring the area, but it had lots to offer. Our first day was slightly wasted, anyway, thanks to a later-than-expected arrival, and then a hilarious episode of trying to get lunch (i.e. we went somewhere with virtually non-existent service, before eventually just getting up and walking out). We saw a couple of nice places.


However, upon learning that there was a hill in the town called 'Cerro Wank', my juvenile impulses took hold and I demanded that we return the next day to climb this magnificently-named hill. And so we did, leaving on the earlier bus the next day and wasting no time trying to get served in posh restaurants. A mandarin and an alfajor were enough to give us the energy to climb the hill.

As it goes, I think we took an exceptionally long route to the top. My fault: I was leading. But the paths weren't at all clear, and generally bifurcated with no indication of which way to go. The only sure guide for us was a trail of manure left by the horses that lazier people use to climb the hill. Not us. We're hardcore, and in no need of horses. We climbed higher and higher. I didn't find it as difficult as the Cerro de la Virgen that we'd climbed a couple of days earlier, as it wasn't as steep, but I think it was a longer trip. We found the summit eventually.

At the top of Cerro Wank #1

The descent was far quicker than the ascent, even though we took a few wrong turns. We got to the bottom, ate a banana, and cooled our feet in the beautiful yet freezing stream. There was only one place left for us to see: the "big" waterfall (hey, I saw Iguazù falls earlier in the year: this wasn't going to be impressive...). We ate some lunch then got going to see that too.

The big waterfall was a lot further than imagined, and I don't think we were the only ones who were surprised by the location, as we passed some older and less fit people on our way there, and they must've found the whole trek incredibly difficult. It was by no means simple, even for an action man like me. But the fall was fairly nice, I suppose. By the time we got there, I was in desperate need of sleep. Thankfully, the bus home wasn't far away...

Sleepy Pete

Indeed, time seemed to fly in La Cumbrecita: we almost found ourselves rushing to get the bus in the end, after stopping off for some refreshment at a little place where the old lady served us tea and raspberry juice instead of tea and raspberry cake. In hindsight, it was better that she served us juice instead of cake, as we were more in need of liquid at this point than food. Whatever, we were soon on the bus home, which was what I'd been wanting for a while. I sat down, put on my iPod, and shut my eyes. Time to mimic a sack of potatoes again!

- - - - -

On our final day in Villa General Belgrano, we had a lie-in before going on another one of the walking circuits: to Pozo Verde.

Pozo Verde

The walk to the area where the Pozo Verde was located was a lot longer than expected, and far longer than the walk from the park to the Pozo Verde, which was a slight disappointment. It didn't bother us greatly, though, as the place was nice and quiet and we got to sit down and have a relaxing chat. The other attraction of the circuit was another hill. We started the ascent, but decided against continuing, as the midday sun was in full effect and the walk didn't seem to have much shade. So we made our way back to town for some food, beer and sleep before catching the bus back to Buenos Aires. It had been a very enjoyable week...

Alta Gracia

Alta Gracia is a shortish bus ride away from Córdoba: I can't remember exactly how long it took to get there, but the trip didn't seem long (maybe about an hour?). Perhaps Alta Gracia's biggest claim to fame is that it was the home of Che Guevara at various points of his youth: Che was an asthmatic, and back in those days they sent people with breathing difficulties off to the Sierra. And it's true that the air there is clean even today: as soon as we got off the bus, we were struck by how beautiful it was. It was very refreshing and I felt happy and relaxed instantly. We went to stand by the nearby pond to enjoy the freshness for a while.

Pretty pond

My Lonely Planet guide only mentions two things to visit in Alta Gracia: the Jesuit Estancia and the Museo Casa de Ernesto Che Guevara. The girl at the tourist office highlighted a few other places on the map for us, but in the end we only saw the aforementioned places. I found the Jesuit Estancia to be very interesting: full of old engineering tricks (nice toilets) and creative designs, such as different uses of leather. My interest in learning more about the Jesuits was growing, but maybe not to the point where I'll ever know quite as much about them as my guide, Cecilia... Whatever, the Estancia was certainly very pretty and well worth a visit.

Estancia Jesuita - inside

We mooched around looking for a place to eat, found very little on offer, and ended up back at one of only two eateries we'd come across. After eating, I needed to lie down in the park under the shade of a palm tree and have a snooze. It was quite blissful: a quiet town, at a quiet time of the day, with fresh air galore. The experience would have been perfect had the ants not annoyed me: at one stage, one of them decided to actually crawl into my ear, which I found a bit annoying...

After my little snooze in the shade, we headed for the Che Guevara museum. Neither of us had any real interest in seeing the place (if anything, we had more of an interest in not seeing the place), but there was little else on offer. We had a nice walk from the town to the museum, passing plenty of big houses. We asked ourselves what the people of Alta Gracia do to earn such a tidy living. The neighbourhood of the museum is clearly for rather wealthy people (a quick glance at a couple of posh girls who passed us by in the street confirmed this belief). Anyway, we got to the museum and reluctantly entered. It was small, it cost $5 to get in, there wasn't really much of interest there for either of us. Although I did learn that Che wasn't massively fond of killing animals or eating meat. He made an exception in the case of cows, though. The man couldn't resist a bit of beef! I must admit, resisting the red stuff over here is far from easy... Anyway, the museum was one of several houses Che lived in while growing up. I got to see the toilet he used to sit on and everything. Special.


That was Alta Gracia: we headed back to the bus stop, pausing for a good while at the pond where we started our visit. There were some nice creatures hanging out. It was a very relaxing place. The holiday was getting better, and I wondered what the next port of call would be like... After tasting the air, I was certainly looking forward to staying a few nights in the Sierra. I decided that I'd stop taking my asthma medication to test how I coped in the cleaner environment...

Orange-beaked duckie


I was lucky enough to spend last week away from Buenos Aires again, and my latest adventure proved to be my favourite trip so far. Cecilia and I went off to explore Córdoba, which isn't too far from us by Argentina standards (only 8 hours). We left at about 11pm on Saturday night, slept on the bus, and woke up at our destination. That's what I call an easy trip :-)

Córdoba was perhaps my favourite part of Spain, so I was curious to see what I'd make of the Córdoba in Argentina. I'd been told three things about the place: the accent was difficult to understand, the girls were the most beautiful in the whole of Argentina, and the Sierra was about as beautiful as the girls. It didn't take long for me to confirm the first of these points, as we checked in to the hostel we were staying at and the guy at reception started trying to explain something to me in a roundabout way, regarding a potential confusion of the booking. Sure enough, we were given a room with three beds in it. Things were looking hilarious. Thankfully, Cecilia took over and we got our point across. There had indeed been confusion with the booking, on a couple of levels: firstly, we weren't after a room with three beds, funnily enough, or even a room with two beds. And, secondly, the site I'd used to book had charged double the price. I had thought it was a bit steep... Anyway, everything got sorted by the time we'd had breakfast: we were promised a double room at a bargain price. Joy! The hostel was beautiful, as it goes. It was more like a hotel than a hostel. If you ever go to Córdoba, be sure to check out Le Grand Hostel. Anyway, enough talk about the hostel... Here's a picture of the church next to the hostel instead:

Pretty on the outside, dull on the inside

We kicked things off with by visiting a couple of art museums. The first, Museo Caraffa, had a massive photography exhibition going on. It was the usual mix of photos that were actually interesting and photos that were completely mundane, the latter being accompanied by the standard bullshitty blurb about their artistic merit. As proof of the fact that I wasn't alone during my visit, I took very few notes about what I saw (if I go to an exhibition by myself, I generally spend hours staring at stuff, but if I'm with someone else then I often feel a bit rushed). I did jot down one name, though: Tomy Ceballos. His photo 'Piel de mujer' had me wondering what technique he'd used to get the effect. Unfortunately, the accompanying blurb didn't go into much detail. Whatever, the museum building itself was rather nice. And, as promised, the girls who worked there were rather attractive (and remarkably charming and friendly, too). I don't have any pictures of the girls that worked there, but I too have a picture of the polar bear that was outside the museum:

Museo Caraffa, from the side

After a bit of lunch, we went to the Museo Superior de Bellas Artes to see a collection of art from across the ages. From the pre-modern era, there were a couple of nice paintings of animals, but other than that the work was standardly dull. However, the modern and contemporary pieces were a joy. It was a strange building; part posh palace, and part modern nightmare, complete with cowskin material covering the walls and banisters leading to the upper galleries. There was a very nice tearoom, which wasn't in operation, unfortunately. I sat there and stared at the big piece on the wall, regardless.


And after that, we checked in to our new room, got washed, and went for a Fernet and Coke. Córdoba is famous for Fernet, so I just had to drink it while I was there. I'd only tried it once before, on Christmas day. I won't explain what it is: you can read all about it on Wikipedia if you want to know more. All I'll say is: the best description I've heard of it is that it's a bit like drinking Coke after brushing your teeth. Regardless, it's quite tasty. I drank it every night we were in Córdoba. The generosity of the servings varies from bar to bar. One night I was given very little, and another night I was given so much that I was a bit tipsy...

On the first night we were in town, I had a strange dream involving an ex-captain of my school. Funnily enough, the next day we visited a school. It was very nice indeed: one of the many gifts left by the Jesuits. I know very little about the Jesuits, but Cecilia tried her best to educate me, and after seeing some of the good things they did for the development of the country I feel obliged to learn a bit more about them. Anyway, we saw the Jesuit school, then the non-Jesuit and not-so-pretty Faculty of Law that was opposite. A couple of students had just graduated, so they were getting covered in eggs, flower and vinegar, and being stripped. It's a tradition over here...

Law Graduate gets messy

Afterwards, we visited a pretty little Jesuit house quickly, then stopped off at the museum of the National Bank where I was fascinated by the early machines they had for counting money, and the handwritten ledger that they relied upon in the pre-spreadsheet era. It was far prettier than any spreadsheet I've ever seen, but it must have taken a lot more time and effort to maintain.


One of the things that stood out for me in Córdoba was how vegetarian-friendly it seemed to be compared to Buenos Aires. We had lunch at one of three vegetarian restaurants that I know about in the town. It was a self-service, pay by the weight affair. We got some beans in us. In fact, we went to another self-service (they're called tenedor libre over here) place for dinner, too, after spending the afternoon wandering around the big but not hugely attractive park. I got to play on the swings in the park, anyway, so I was happy.

And that was Córdoba: like I say, it's very pretty, but nowhere near as big as Buenos Aires (perhaps that's why it's so pretty). Allegedly, outside of the part that we saw, the city is a bit ugly, so we didn't venture there. Instead, on our third day in town, we got on a bus to nearby Alta Gracia...

Thursday, 19 February 2009


My three months of living in the posh part of town with a mad old woman came to an end yesterday, and I took all my stuff over to my new home in Almagro. It's not Palermo, but it's a decent enough neighbourhood. Palermo's full of rich folk and tourists. My new area's a bit more "regular". I live on a small road called Lezica, right next to the railway track, which is fun, because at the moment my bedroom has a window that opens onto the tracks. I had fun sleeping last night... Mainly due to the heat: my new room doesn't have air conditioning. But it's got a fan and a window, and that's probably better for the environment and my health. The trains didn't bother me: as I'd imagined, the odd train passing by is far more preferable to having an old woman banging around consistently between the hours of 5 and 7, and then the constant ringing of a telephone when she's gone...

So, here's one of the selling points of my new pad - the roof:

Roof terrace in Lezica

It's damn hot up there. The only down side is that there are no bloody chairs! My task for the moment is to perhaps buy myself a chair for up there, so I can sit and enjoy the sunshine. We've got a grill, so there are regular barbecues in this place. It's a cool environment. I mean, it's not really much of a surprise that it's a cool environment, when you see what the landlord uses his roof garden for:

Funky plants in Lezica

Boom! This is temptation at its finest. No sooner do I lose interest in smoking, then I move in with a guy who's doing exactly what I always said I wanted to do... He's a vegetarian too, as it goes. An artist and a raving queer. Quite a character. I far prefer him to my previous landlady. He's a lot more trusting, fun, welcoming, and on my level (i.e. off his rocker and among the clouds). We have two cats here too, Annan and Kung Fu. They're alright, but a bit annoying, because I have to keep my bedroom door shut. There's no way I want them snooping around my room, lounging in my bed, licking my toothbrush, scratching my MacBook, "playing" with my dolls...

AnnanKung Fu

And that's all I can say about my new home for the time being: it's much nicer than the last place. I sat on the sofa last night with my MacBook while my housemate watched The Office. This was after spending the evening on the roof eating pizza and drinking beer. Suddenly, it feels like I'm on holiday... But, anyway, I've got a lot more space to sit around doing work here too. And lots of nice things to look at :-)

Big Maria

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Iguazú Falls

Here's a blog about my latest trip, which was only actually the third trip I've made in the three months I've spent in Argentina. But who cares? Still, fair play to the youngsters I've come across who are on a mission to tick off as many towns and cities as they can: at least if you keep moving around, you're less likely to get bored.

I'd originally planned to go to Iguazú in December, but changed my mind at the last minute (after going to the bus station without sufficient pesos in my pocket, as it goes) and went to Pinamar instead. But, since virtually everyone I met told me that I just had to go to Iguazu, because it was amazing, I decided that maybe sitting on a bus for 14 hours would be worth it. As it goes, the bus ride was longer than 14 hours: the journey there took 16 hours, and the journey back took 18 hours. It's a bizarre life when you spend longer travelling somewhere than you actually spend enjoying that place. 

Whatever, I was told that I could spend a good three days enjoying the waterfalls, so I booked myself in to a wonderful hostel for two nights (the Hostel Inn, in case you're wondering: it seems to get good reviews from everyone, and I think it deserves them). It had a swimming pool and everything, which was very handy on the first day, as it was incredibly hot, and I had little else to do when I arrived. The hostel provided a transfer service to the park that contained the waterfalls, but it left in the morning, and I only arrived in the afternoon. It's quite possible to get a different bus there, but entry to the park costs $60, and I wasn't prepared to spend $60 for an afternoon (as it goes, if you go on two consecutive days, the total cost will only be $90, but I discovered that I could see everything in just one day anyway). So instead, I just jumped in the pool, then lay in the sun, then got out of the sun because it was too hot, then eventually went to investigate the tiny town that is Puerto Iguazú.

High Street

There wasn't much of note in the town: it's just a place that lives off the thousands of tourists that continually pass through. I bought some cheese, olives, bread and water, which would be my afternoon and evening meals for the next two days (tell me how gross that is). And I took some pictures to try and entertain myself for as long as possible. Eventually, I got the bus back to the hostel, read a bit, swam a bit, had a shower and went to bed early, because I was tired and I had a long day ahead of me the next day. I set my alarm for 7, which was when breakfast started at the hostel. After dining on bread, cheese and olives, I planned to eat a hearty breakfast.

My alarm didn't go off the next morning, because the clock on my phone was set incorrectly (I thought it was 17 minutes too slow, but it was in fact 12 hours and 17 minutes too slow). Fortunately, there was enough noise coming from another source (it sounded like a water pump) to wake me up. I got up and ate my breakfast, then waited for the bus to arrive to take me to the falls. I'd bought tickets for a couple of boat rides to help make the day more entertaining. I made friends with a group that was staying in another hostel, and we set about exploring the park. One of the guys complained to me that 8am until 4 pm seemed like a bit of a long time to be wandering around looking at waterfalls. He was proved wrong: the park was certainly big enough to keep us entertained for the duration of our visit.

We started off by walking around the lower circuit of the park. When we found our first viewing point, we were all quite impressed by the sight. The cameras came out and we started snapping like maniacs. As we continued to walk along, it seemed that the view got more impressive with every few metres we walked. What made things better, and something we didn't appreciate until about an hour later, is that it was early and we were the only ones there. Later, we'd have to fight against the swarms of other tourists that were all trying to get almost identical photos, but on their cameras (I'd be intrigued to see how many photos of the falls are on flickr). Here's one of the 200 pictures I took:

Iguazú Untitled #16

With the exception of one of the girls in the group, we all had a ticket to go on the boat ride that would take us right into a couple of the waterfalls. Getting the soaking out of the way at the beginning of the day made sense, as we'd have longer to dry off. The ride was quite a laugh: getting soaked was refreshing, and disorientating. I've been under a waterfall before: the tiny thing that was in the grounds of the University of Nottingham (the "Water of Soberness", as we called it, after discovering the ability of the water to make the most drunk person feel sober again. Happy days...). But here we had proper falls, and there was so much water that it was impossible to see anything for the most part of the time under the water. Thankfully, the guy in control of the boat could see, or else we'd have been destroyed by the falling water. Whatever, as you can imagine, we got totally drenched. There was not a part of my body that was dry, and I had to stand up slightly to get the water out of my shorts.


After wringing out our t-shirts, we got going again, to see more falls. There's not much to say: the pictures are all on flickr for anyone who really seriously wants to see what we saw. The last place we visited was the Garganta del Diablo (the Devil's Throat), which is perhaps the most impressive part of the park. This is where some of the falls form a big throat-like bay where the water just gushes down in a rather frightening manner. It's a nice place to hang out, if you're not of a nervous disposition. As I looked, I couldn't rid myself of the idea of being thrown down the throat and swallowed up by the water before being smashed into pieces against the rocks at the bottom of the fall. One of the Australian girls in the group wasn't plagued by such visions, and said she felt incredibly at peace up there. Whatever, it was an impressive place.

Iguazú Untitled #68

I left the group for a bit, to meet them back at the bus, as I was the only one who'd bought a ticket to go on the calm boat ride down the river (there were three boat rides in total: one that hurtled down the rapids, the one that went into the waterfall, and this one, that was rowed gently down the river). It was a nice way to end the day, as I got to sit on the side of a dinghy for half an hour and just relax after having walked around for the previous 6 hours or so. Although, at first, there was a slight sense of fear among some of the people on the boat, as we floated along and could see the edge of one of the falls not too far from where we were, and could still hear the sound of the Garganta del Diablo (I clearly wasn't the only one who'd been slightly disturbed by the sometimes terrifying nature of nature). Of course, the boatman knew what he was doing, so we weren't at risk, and he wasn't about to take us to the edge to give us all a thrill either. We just enjoyed a very pleasant ride, and not even the mosquitoes came to bother us.


After the boat ride, it was nearly time to go. It had been a pleasant 7 hours or so of seeing the park. I'd seen the falls up close from the Argentinean side: the next day I'd be seeing things a bit further away, from the Brazilian side. The selling point of the Brazilian side is that you get a more panoramic view. There's not so much to see, though: for this trip, the bus left at 10am, took 45 minutes in arriving, and picked us up again at 2pm. Which was just as well, because I was very tired that day. Whatever, I got my passport stamped a couple of times, spoke a little Portuguese, had difficulty understanding a little Portuguese, got some Reais, and ate a cheese baguette.

Iguaçu Untitled #4

With that, it was time to wait for the bus to leave Iguazu again. I could write about my time on the bus, but I really can't be bothered. I returned to Buenos Aires, and it was raining. I just got a cab home to save myself the hassle of the underground and the wet streets, arrived home and started uploading the photos I'd taken.

And that's that.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Rosario, and the joy of looking for a hostel

It was about time I wrote another blog, so I decided to go on another trip. I told my friend Cecilia I was heading off to Rosario, an idea I'd put in her head a few weeks previously, and she said that her and another friend were up for coming along too. Happy days! Company for the trip. We headed off on Tuesday morning, a bit later than planned, because the third traveller, Luis, is always late and, true to form, he turned up late...

The bus ride was only 4 hours, which is about as short as bus rides get in this massive country. The coach had the air con on full blast and was about as cold as a fridge, which made things a bit difficult when we got off at the other end, where scorching heat awaited us. I don't know why they do that. But anyway, we stepped out into the heat, in need of food and accommodation. We picked up a sheet of hostel names from the unmanned tourist information booth and went to check a few of them out.

In Pinamar, Doug and I paid $60 a night for a room that was pretty much 3-star hotel standard. So, I was a bit annoyed when we went to the first hostel and some surly German girl showed us a tiny room shared between ten people and said: "That one's $40 each," and then another tiny room for two, but with room for 3 if they throw down a futon and the guy on the floor doesn't mind getting stepped on, and said: "This one's $160 for the room". We went elsewhere. A long walk to the next hostel, which was much of the same. There were two choices: with air conditioning, or without. The room "with air conditioning" (we couldn't see any air conditioning) was tiny, and shared between 8, and the one without, shared between 10, was slightly larger, but equally crap. The price was the same: around $40. Jokes. We deliberated for a while, then looked elsewhere.

We passed another hostel, and I said: "What's the point? It's probably going to be the same as the other two...," but we went in anyway. This one was called "Cool Raúl". They had a room for just the three of us, for only $32 each, and we were relieved and out of energy, so we took it. We went into the room and shut the door while we arranged ourselves and, upon trying to exit the room, we discovered that the door handle didn't work from the inside... We were trapped in the room! Upon knocking, an American girl who worked there came and opened the door for us. She spoke to us in a bizarre mix of appalling Spanish and native English (the opposite of what normally happens), and the lack of any solution to the problem confused Cecilia into thinking that there was something she'd missed. "Oh, no," I said, "no solution was given to this problem. She just said that sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn't." Fortunately, Luis didn't waste time in getting a nail and a hammer from the hostel "management", and he fixed the door for us. Of course, the door didn't lock. And the wooden lockers in the room were a bit bizarre: either you couldn't actually lock them, or there was a hole in them, so locking them didn't make much difference. We found one that was actually half-decent, put some stuff in it, and got the hell out of the place (leaving the key in the bedroom: there was no point in taking it with us...) to find some lunch and explore the town.

Advertising Rosario's dirtiest hostel

After spending a nice day out, it was time to return to the hostel. This was the part we hadn't really been looking forward to. Cecilia had a shower, and said that the girl's bathroom wasn't too bad. That made sense, as there were only about three girls at the hostel. I said there was no way I was going to have a shower unless I absolutely needed one, as the boy's bathroom was shared between at least 20 guys, and was a touch neglected on the cleaning front... Anyway, we got away from the place again as soon as possible to find some dinner.

We finished our dinner, so tired that we could barely even speak to each other, but I pointed out that there was clearly no way we'd be getting much sleep back at Cool Raúl. A party had been brewing when we left, and the bar was right next to our room: we had a window looking out into the bar, in fact. I figured they'd be partying all night. We returned at about midnight and discovered that, yes, my prediction had been correct. The front door of the hostel was wide open, and the place was a lot busier. There was a party! Not really in the mood for partying , we went to bed (to be honest, I might well have enjoyed staying up to drink and smoke weed and talk nonsense to strangers once I'd got into the swing of it, but my friends were definitely against doing such things).

Fortunately, I'd brought my earplugs, so I could block out a lot of the noise from the party. For me, it didn't sound like the party was happening right next to our room, but down the stairs. I was able to grab portions of sleep throughout the night, and my dreams were all the same: that I was staying in a hostel with friends (different friends each time, I think, form different chapters of my life), and there was a party going on. Whenever I woke from these dreams, I realised that I was actually in a hostel, with friends, and that, yes, there was a party going on too.

It seemed as if my waking moments coincided with different stages of the party: there was a moment when the party seemed to reach its climax and there was much shouting, and then the moment when the party started to die down and people were leaving, the moment when there only seemed to be a couple of people left, talking nonsense under the influence, and then the very end, when I heard noises in the kitchen. I realised it was time for breakfast, which was a bit of a strange moment, as the rest of the hostel had only just gone to bed. We got up and laughed at the selection on offer: a jar of coffee with a few spoonfuls caked onto the bottom of the jar, some bread, butter and dulce de batata. We ate the plums that Luis had brought with him instead. 

One of the hostel chiefs came and tried talking to us for a bit while we were sitting there. He was blatantly off his nuts and in dire need of sleep. This guy was so wasted that, earlier, he'd been talking to Cecilia in English, even though she'd been talking to him in Spanish. This time, he finally twigged that she wasn't lying when she said she was from Buenos Aires... It was one of those embarrassing situations where someone wants to talk to you, but you have no desire to talk to them, and they just won't go away. Whatever, we all found reasons to leave the table and left him just standing there looking like a lost soul who needed to find his sanity again. 

Fortunately, we wouldn't be staying there another night: the previous day (after checking in to Cool Raúl, as Sod's Law would have it), we'd stopped by at another hostel, where there was a beautiful spacious room with a balcony, in a clean building, for only a few pesos more than we were paying at Cool Raúl (and a lot cheaper than the cramped ten to a room hostels we'd first visited). We didn't hesitate in booking ourselves in there after seeing what was on offer.

We found a nice hostel in the end - love that balcony

We got packed, paid the guy and got going. I thanked him anyway, and shook his hand. He then said to me in English: "There's laughter in my head... I took coke all the night..." And I just laughed, thinking: "No shit, it's kind of obvious what you've been up to!" We got a cab to the hostel we'd stopped by at the previous day , which was far nicer. We got some coffee there and felt happy that we would be able to get a bit more rest and stay in a far cleaner place that night. We said to one of the management team: "Yeah, we stayed at Cool Raúl last night, it wasn't the best place...," and he was all: "Oh yeah... yeah, I've heard about that place...".

Anyway, we headed out to make the most of the day. First stop was Dixon Beach! As we waited for the boat to arrive, I lay in the shade, enjoying the cool breeze and the clear blue sky. Lying there, enjoying the tranquility of my physical and mental environments, I thought back to our friend at Cool Raúl, and the mild coke-induced psychosis he would be having to endure. We were in different worlds...