Latest Update (as at 30/1/11):

Location: London. Back.

Total Distance Cycled: 10,325km
Days Biking: 140
Longest Day: 174km (2/12/10)
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Monday, 17 May 2010

24

24 hours to go.

24 hours until we re-mount our bikes and head north from Cruz del Eje. 24 hours in which to cram in food shopping, pannier re-packing, bike chain oiling and other vaguely familiar tasks. All rather distant memories after our 5 recovery weeks off.

5 weeks during which we have travelled over 10,000kms of Argentina by car, by bus, by foot. But absolutely nowhere by bike.

We have done an amazing amount since we blogged 24 days ago. We decided to make a virtue of the enforced rest time. We have visited three of the largest cities in Argentina, two extraordinary national parks, one more country (Brazil), gone to four parties, two weddings and a christening, worn 'normal' clothes both of our own and others, had countless baths, glasses of wine and food on porcelain plates and a great time with both sets of our parents and oodles of family friends.

In the last 24 days our feet have barely touched the ground, our fingers have rarely touched a keyboard, our faces have fairly scrubbed up in public.... All very high octane and Jack Bauer really, (minus the car chases, the counter terrorism operatives and the corporate corruption), if one avoids the fact he'd have achieved all of that in 24 hours and found time to save the world.

So suspend your realities, set your digital clocks and split your mental screens because here is a 24 stylee round up of our last 24 days.

12am: Sitting at a petrol station, wiling away the hours with wifi, Wordmole and local woofers as we await the commencement of another overnight bus journey. 5 of the last 24 nights have been enjoyed in the flat bed 'luxury' of various of Argentina's bus companies and there have been other lengthy bus rides in between. In the absence of regular railways this is how large numbers travel the mammoth distances of this country. Go to sleep (ish) in BA, wake up near Brazil, 1287km later. We have become connoisseurs of the fleece blanket, the random films and the late night servings of whisky that constitute this travel experience. There are varying degrees of brilliance. I was hugely entertained on one journey when Phil's seat kept pinging up from flat to pilot, hurling him forward everytime he got comfy! Hilarious. [Not hilarious - Ed.]. We enjoyed one of these adventures with Phil's Mum and Dad, the four of us giggling our way through our worse than airline dinner, the snufflings of the other passengers and the urgent instructions of the attendent to use the onboard WC for 'solamente liquidos'. Lovely. But when it tipped the four of us out 19 hours later in Salta it was worth every fabulous faux leather moment.

2am:A brilliant time to be awake in Argentina because it is 6am in the UK. This means that you can watch the early morning dribblings of a discombobulated David Dimbleby, baffled and frustrated by the first hung parliament in decades and becoming increasingly narky because he can't announce a result and he's worried he'll still be on air at lunchtime in three weeks. I adored watching the poor presenters, in varying states of all night bus journey weariness, as they kept showing images of Big Ben with it's inconclusive results lines and ran out of ways to say 'we don't know what is going to happen'. Well we do now. And whatever one thinks about it, late night chat with anyone here makes one appreciate our political arena. If even one tenth of what everyone we've met, the length and breadth of the country, says about the jaw dropping blatancy of the current administration's tall tales and the scale of general political corruption is true, then we should thank our lucky stars for our bunch and the scale of the accusations that Paxman can level.

4.30 am: A disgracefully un-Argentine time to decide to leave a wedding reception. Most others stayed on until at least 6am. The church wedding of Joji and Luis began at the traditionally late 8.30pm in the glorious church of Pilar in BA. We went, with Penella and Peter, at the kind invitation of the very gorgeous couple. We had made their civil ceremony two weeks before and now we were here for the main event. We were dressed in various states of borrowed or cunningly brought from the UK clothes and made a fair fist of looking respectable considering that at one point our options were largely made of lycra. And we were so glad we did. An Argentine wedding is quite a different affair. Following the service in the most fairytale of churches was a reception for 500 which included the bride and groom entering the room through billows of dry ice. Then partying like it was 1999 for as many hours as you could manage. The next day we were all in a VERY post all night bus state!

6.30am: Pull in at yet another bus station in yet another small town in Argentina. Cue, a quick peak through the velcroed curtains, a wan smile at the person lying next to you in the bus, a rearrangement of the fleece blanket and another attempt at sleep. Pray that the snoring man two seats away gets off!

8am: Ring the buzzer of one of BA's most highly regarded knee specialists. A hastily squeezed in appointment courtesy of a fabulous network of Phil's family friends here. An astoundingly inexpensive 30 mins later the diagnosis was delivered, 'Your knees are great Liz, you can bike as much as you like'! The caveat that followed was that when the good Lord was handing out knees he blessed me in fact with a slightly less than brilliant pair that will probably require the administration of ice, elevation and wine (!) for the entire trip. However, one day after our return they will forgive me and I will be able to bend down like a normal person again. Hurrah! .

9am: Whizz through the empty streets of BA on a Sunday morning. The traffic here is astounding, endless grinding queues at rush hour and audacious driving that makes a journey through London seem a cynch for any learner. However, at this hour on a Sunday it is blissfully empty and you can fly through the grid of mammoth boulevards (BA boasts, with 22 lanes, the widest street in the world), race past the glorious parks and the classic late 19th and early 20th century buildings, speed round the monuments and hurtle along the waterfront. Coming back to BA during this break has meant discovering it so much more deeply and really falling in love with it. From the fabulous antiques market in San Telmo to shopping like a local in Zara on Santa Fe, from staying in a fantasically cheap hotel in the tourist heartland to a rented flat in a prime residential area, from a coffee at a fancy cafe to dinner with friends at their home, from taxis to the subway, from a open air concert with thousands of locals to celebrate May 1st to passing popcorn at the cinema watching Russell Crowe skip about as Robin Hood, we have enjoyed so much. Not without it's complexities, it is a fabulous place.

10.30am: Commence sightseeing somewhere wonderful. Speeding about as we have we have been blown away by the scale of Argentina and by the variety of landscapes.

First we took a three day mini break to the Iguazu waterfalls that span the border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Adjectives are defied. Eleanor Roosevelt famously just said 'Poor Niagara' when she saw them. Hurtling over 275 separate falls the flow of water can reach over 12,000 cubic feet per second. I'm not really sure what that means but I can tell you it is an awful lot and it makes one hell of a noise! The dam created up river from the falls powers 40% of Brazil and Argentina to give you some idea of scale. It was hypnotic to stand close to. I found myself personifying the water, watching one bubble as it hurtled towards the edge and then trying to follow it over. I kept thinking 'this water has no idea what is coming' and being oddly fascinated by what might happen if one jumped in. I think the answer was pretty obvious. The wildlife surrounding the park was astounding, particularly the butterflies who flapped about in glorious technicolour but who rather too often got too close to the falls and got sucked in. We saw toucans, monkeys, SPIDERS, vultures, parrots, a tapir and some brilliantly cheeky furry long snouted foraging things that climbed about all over the place. We were thoroughly touristy and went to the Brazilian park as well as the Argentinian one. We went on a speed boat on the river and got soaked in the mist, we walked and explored and clambered and watched and really took our time. It was amazing.

When Phil's Mum and Dad were with us we went north to Salta and from there stayed by a glorious lake. We were spoilt with a fantastic hotel where we idyllically looked from our room right across it and could soak up it's light and shade, and the virgin forest mountains around. Virgin forest that produced SPIDERS at a quite senseless rate. They were absolutely everywhere, sitting casually and far too largely in the middle of enormous webs. There is just so much wildlife in nature! From there we explored a national park filled with ludicrously large cacti. The National Park of the Cardones. After a drive up a riotously curvy road, with the requisite comedy drops and crosses of sad ends met, we reached 3500 metres and a flat plane with rocks of red, green and yellow where it looked as though a Cactus army had been assembled. As far as the eye could see they were lined up, their arms stretched slightly Nuryeve like in the air, waiting patiently to attack, some serving as look outs from the precarious edges of the cliff side. Bonkers.

1.30pm: A perfect hour to surprise one's parents. When we left mine in Cruz del Eje we little thought that within 48 hours we would seek them out in BA. My Dad very helpfully texted their lunch location and we were able to sneak up on them. A week later we did the same to Phil's unsuspecting Mum and Dad, by ringing the doorbell where they were staying a few hours after they'd arrived. All very satisfying and entertaining! The rest time has meant we've been able to spend lots of time with them which has been so much fun.

3.30pm: Every Thursday. Watch the march of the mothers and grandmothers of the 'disappeared' of the 'Dirty War' of Argentina's military government of 1976-1983. A complicated story of oppostion, sometimes militant, being dealt with through abduction and torture by agents of the government. The numbers of victims vary from 11,000 to 30, 000 depending on the source. We went with my parents, having seen photos of many of the victims hanging from lamposts near the museum in Cordoba, to the Plaza de Mayo in BA and watched the march. The groups of 'Mothers' represent different things, the story is doubtless complex, but it was stirring to listen to the list of names being read out and to watch the aging ladies still making their stand many years on.

5pm: Go to a Christening. When we left BA in Feb Jaime and Lucy's baby was due. Then he arrived and so surprisingly we were there for the christening. We have seen so many of Phil's family friends whilst in BA again and socialised once more very delightfully. We've been made so welcome. It is amazing for me to get such an intimate insight to life here and to go to so many parties!! Thank you all.

8.30pm: Glam up and go to a wedding. You get off those bikes and it's an endless social whirl as I've said. All this gives you the chance to enjoy exceptionally high levels of incredulity as you explain to people what you're up to and reminds you that it's time to get on with it!!

10.30pm: Walk down the street and stumble upon Tango. We were heading home from a concert in Cordoba with my Mum and Dad and there were a hundred or so people dancing away. An 'anyone can come' milonga session. People of all ages dancing together, teens and children having a go, professionals floating amongst them giving masterly displays. Amazing. We were riveted and all slightly terrified of what would happen should someone approach us for a turn!! We followed this by seeing a Tango show in BA. What amazing skill and dexterity, more leg flicks and lunges than most knees could manage and all to riveting music. Something to practice in the dark evenings in Bolivia.

11.45pm: Be lulled to sleep by Mr Statistics. Phil and I both have a number of roles on this trip, many of which we share. But the mantle of Mr Statistic, spreadsheet King, very definitely falls on his shoulders. If I want to know how many different places we've stayed in, how many kilometres we've averaged, how many different petrol stations we've hung out in, then he's my man. Often I'm unaware that I wanted to know any of these things, but out they come anyway!! It is the highlight of my day [it is, no it IS - Ed.]. It is how we remember what we've done. It is an unbelievable level of brilliant geekiness! He'd certainly make it into Jack Bauer's team.


12am: Wake up and realise that tomorrow we bike again. I can't wait to lay the knee ghost to rest, gird my loins and start the push to Bolivia.


We're back. We're biking. Bauer can eat our dust.

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