After very long 2 years of tough saving money and her passing a masters degree we finally got to do our dream trip around the Americas. Previously we have only travelled a bit around Europe but never any further. Now from Estonian late autumn (0 and dark) we went into the beginning of South American summer (25+ and sunny) and two weeks were not enough to adapt…
Our first stop could not have been any more dreamed than that. London. Yayyyyy! Things that you expect in Latin America would hit you right away there. Our flight from the EU to London was already shifted into the overseas section, English border officer with my ID card in his hand asked my passport too so I had to pack out my whole backpack and let the line behind me feel that it ain’t so easy to get on this dream island, currency exchange offices had 10 times more employees than customers with rates varying by 40/60% between buy and sell! And sim cards with stickers 99p as a whole country flat rate were sold for 20£. Walking out of the airport to the nearest store with sim cards lead me into a jungle full of mud and weird looking taxi drivers within just 200m. Just about what you can expect from a developing country. On the other hand, the pleasant difference was, everyone spoke English.
In Buenos Aires international airport English was rather scarce though. There was just one exchange office, it had 2 armed guards and a hell of a line. Obtaining a sim card was not a problem of the price, rather than of other means. Passport was required and you would not get a contract nor just a prepaid card, you only could choose a one off package and you could only choose from one option. Eventually passport was required also whenever we tried to pay with a card in a shop. Is this Cuba or what?
Argentina is quite cheap now. Recent economic problems and high inflation pulls Argentinians back from travelling abroad and favours incoming foreigners. By far cheapest thing we found in our humble two days were trains. 700km ride to Cordoba for 10e (although taking for example 13h) or a city train for 0.10e.
Buenos Aires town is big but the urban area is just huge. We certainly have not gone through the full size. My personal feeling from the city was “like from around the Black Sea”. Without much of history that we are used to in European cities, most streets and blocks are straight and same looking. Endless panel blocks almost never two same next to each other gave me at least a feeling of colourfulness, which it isn’t there actually. Panel blocks look like their planning and construction was not heavily centralized like in our countries. We came to the city with the expectation for Paris of South America – and were disappointed. I would not say sightseeing can offer much and definitely not to travel overseas just for that. Well, for our good, that’s not why we’re here.
For our accommodation we chose Couchsurfing straight away. Getting to know the local life, system, people was pretty important for us. Although looking for it late, we were lucky enough to find a shelter at a young couple’s house. The estate contained a two story house (them downstairs, her dad upstairs), another house (her mom, divorced with the dad) and another house – a store – run by both mom and dad – and it works! JWhat was adorable, her mom is also on Couchsurfing and the second night she had a German couple starting their South American trip just like us, over as well. So we had a common dinner even with the dad. With typical local food – empanadas. Which looks like a thing n.1 beyond the borders. You see them everywhere. Theoretically you can fill them with anything but finding them ready without both meat and cheese is virtually impossible.
After a ride in a city train where we met people trying to sell really random stuff or earn some coins by playing guitar and singing, just in front of our ears, we had to take a bus to the airport that did not stop at the airport and dropped us one stop further so we had to walk 3km back to catch a flight to Chile. Our hosts told us it’s a new airport. Well, perhaps newly opened as a public airport. Otherwise it’s an old military airport where old panel blocks are wearing off, grass grows in between them right on the runway, mechanics are fixing old plane parts right next to the runway and just behind them local boys play football because there is no fence. The terminal looks like a changing room of a big gym, people are waiting for their flight outside on the grass, and security checks as lax as without the scan you’d think you’re boarding a small ferry.
In Santiago de Chile international airport you can see a pretty modern and developed airport, where again, you can’t get a wifi, you struggle to talk English or find information. Regular public transport doesn’t run there although it is not out of the city. A special bus needs to be taken for a triple price and worse comfort than a standard city bus would give.
Our time in Santiago started quite hectic. We arrived on Friday dinner time and had to get across the full width of the city to the other edge of it. We hardly understood how does the public transport work but the guy from the airport bus told us subway certainly works so we took it as the safer option. When we hit the town, everything was closed, because on Friday evening of course everyone went protesting (as for the situation then). And subway – of course it was closed. With her heartbeat over 150 I guess some old man sitting by a small table on the pavement started talking to us. In good English, wow. Well he did help us, he did tell us the buses run quite ok and this and that way it is safe but it took him near to an hour meanwhile the dark was setting. He kept complaining about the protests and was trying to stop young protesters (they were all young it seemed) and inform them about the real problems – environmental ones. Not that us nor many of the protesters disagreed but it was really not the time for anyone to bother. At a point we cut him off and walked to take a bus. We needed a card that could only be purchased in the – closed – metro. So we were preparing a heart breaking speech for the driver but just about everyone else jumped in without checking in, so we did as well. Our final neighbourhood did not look very trustworthy but it was calm and our host lived in one of few communities with a guard that were actually extremely nice and safe. And he proved to be an amazing host, his English was perfect with none Spanish accent and he was a hydroengineer as well. Doesn’t happen that often! He also did mention that many scorpions like to seek shelter in his house (should have seen her look) but they don’t attack, jump, climb nor poison. Only to check our shoes, clothes and bags on the ground before using them. (her look still on). We did not meet a single one but we did meet a huge walking stick and a chicken spider just the next day. Also not attacking nor venomous. Eventually there should be almost no venomous animal in the whole Chile. Chile seems a good starting point for westerners. We also experienced our first earthquake just the second day. What a weird feeling! But can’t wait for more.
In Santiago we were as disappointed from sightseeing as we were in BA. Apart of a 300m skyscraper with the high Ands in its background we found literally 0 building to be worth sightseeing. Maybe a little hill Santa Lucia just downtown. Where we managed to get only after a few days earlier during the day as otherwise it was full of protests, roadblocks and annoying teargas. There are numerous hills around where you can have a great view on a city of no beauty. It isn’t really ugly either, to be fair. What it is, unlike most Europe or BA, it is very dry. If you want to have grass in the garden, you have to water it massively. Most gardens in or out of the city are just bone dry dirt with some resistant trees, bushes or flowerbeds that you water or irrigate a lot. It is the fact that this year is very dry and the summer basically started but the landscape give you the feeling it is not much greener otherwise. Our week in Santiago was very hot and blue skied and it was difficult to walk around the town or drive a car during 11-6 daytime.
Our second hosts were very young teachers that were very much into the protests and so every day after work they went for an hour at least around the corner to stand on the corner, hit whatever instrument they had (bongo, drum, whistle, flute, rock, pot and spoon or brush), maybe a flag or a sign and keep playing a plain “ta ta tatata” all the way. And people around would be joining, either walking by or coming out of the houses or shops and especially cars passing by with honking. All around the city, or perhaps even the country. They would also meet new people up and spend the rest of the night with them by a dinner, drink, joint or else.
Our purpose to see Santiago at this moment was else though. We wanted a car and it seemed not very feasible anywhere else but Chile. On Monday we hit a travel agency specializing on for overlanders and cars for them. After so much online struggle few months before and of trying to get a converted minivan from a previous traveller, we luckily got one anyways just then. The previous guys are French and we learned that there were a bunch of equips before in that car. The clock says 370k km in this 20 year old Toyota and we have to believe in another 200k in this popular and rather reliable car. It doesn’t have powered steering wheel so I want to see Hanna parking with it. Myself I am so out of breath after this workout. Sadly this was the easy part. The hard part was the bureaucracy. You need tons of papers, tons of fees and no one speaks English. So doing it without a help of a friend, previous owner, or the agency we hired, could be a lot of fun. Especially during the striking and protesting time, when a thing that takes 2 hours can take 2 weeks. Finally we got our papers within a week, some others got it faster, some slower. We have more than 8 documents now allowing us to travel with it within some countries but the final one, the document of my ownership, will only come in 3-8 weeks. That paper is a piece of standard soft white paper without any chip or extra protective feature, just a barcode. Laminated in the cheapest plastic cover I have seen. 6 year old kid would fake it for me in half an hour, but the officials take a month or two. If there is no strikes, yeah.
Second weekend in Chile we had nothing to do in the city so we went in the Maipo valley just outside of the town. We pulled over just next to the main road to sleep. Some cops woke us up asking our documents and sending us away. It was pretty close that they would learn we have no papers of the car yet. Lucky enough, our too bad Spanish saved us. They told us it is dangerous there and anywhere further up the valley even worse. Actually it is most likely the other way around, which we did. Once we were even invited to park in someone’s farm to hide in a shadow. After the weekend we received our papers and took off right away towards Argentina. To fix some bits on the car and to add up some tools and supplies. Because Chile, at least Santiago and around… is nowhere near to cheap. Central Europe prices what we found. We were told that Chile is expensive indeed. But we were also told that their roads and motorways are of an excellent quality. Well, not sure what the American standards really are but regarding European standards I’m pretty sure even in Ukraine they wouldn’t be happy about these roads. I couldn’t imagine what everyone meant by “these South American bumpy roads” could mean because when you open a streetview, you will often see a very decent surfaces. Oh Lord, the roads really are bumpy. They don’t even need potholes to knock you off the road. The roads just simply hop up and down like when you sail a sea, sometimes expectedly more often unexpectedly. Just like with the rest of infrastructure, German or Japanese perfectionism is a giant utopia around here. A decent shower or toilet is something we have not experienced yet either.
So that was our first two weeks, quite stressful, sure not so enjoyable though pretty interesting. Some of you including us would say spending 24/7 the whole year together will test our relationship properly, sooner or later. Although we have gone through a lot together, yes, of course. Well, I can tell you now, way sooner than we would have imagined. Basically we started argue on the very first day. Hoping it’s the initial stress and mess.
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