2minionsontour backpacking escapades: Money, Money, Money….

How does the ABBA song go? ‘Must be funny. In a rich man’s world.’ Well it’s definitely funny in South America.

When coming on the trip, we obviously knew we’d have to get used to handling lots of different currencies as we traveled around 17 different countries. What we didn’t really account for is how complicated it could be – from obtaining money to spending it. Whenever we get to a new country our life for the first few days seems to revolve around working out what weird and wonderful rules and obstacles we have to work with next.

Here’s our top 5 things we have learned to look out for when it comes to money in South America (so far).

1. Understanding the value of the currency
Obviously, it’s important to understand what the value of the currency is against your home country. Being used to mainly going to places in Europe, or places with stable currencies, this hasn’t been as easy as it sounds. Especially when we are dealing with a new currency every 3-4 weeks, and switching from currency denominations in single figures up to thousands (hyperinflation is a bitch).

Take for example Chile, where around 1 Euro = 745 Chilean Pesos. Whilst it’s nice to think that we are technically ‘millionaires’ There (that is until you realize the 10,000 bill in your pocket will just about buy you a couple of drinks), it’s a pain in the backside trying to do on the spot mental arithmetic on a daily basis trying to work out how much things are costing. Our friend, Susan, can attest to this, having arrived in Chile, taken out 5,000 pesos only to be told she couldn’t even take 5 stops on the metro with it.

Top tipbe sure to have a converter app on your phone. We’d like to say that we are becoming better with our mental arithmetic, but it’s really all about the app.

 

 

2. Handling ATMs
Wanting to try and save on unnecessary bank charges, trying to find out which ATMs are free to withdraw cash from is always a top priority for us. Easy you might think. Wrong. In almost every country so far we have not been able to fathom any rhyme or reason as to where and when we will be charged for withdrawing cash. Factors including which bank it is, which bank you have back home, what card you use and how often you use it all seem to come into play. We’ve spent some days looking as though we are casing the banks going from ATM to ATM trying to find a free one; not escaping the notice of some of the security guards we’re sure.

Top tiponce you find an ATM that worksstock up and be sure to remember the location for next time (oh, and share it with fellow travelers as much as possible too).

The only country that made it easy was Argentina. There, they all charge you – 10%! There we also faced another challenge with the ATMs. Because they’re so focused on cash transactions (with their economy not being in the best state), many of the ATMs run out of money quite early – especially on weekends and the early hours of the morning.  Not the most convenient thing when you run out of cash at 2am on a night out.

Top tipget to the ATMs early and always be prepared with enough cash for the weekend, or those big nights out.

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3. Exchanging money locally
We didn’t bring that many Euros or Dollars with us on the trip as we weren’t expecting to have to change money here (thinking withdrawing from ATMs would be fine). Looking back, we wish we had. The exchange markets in South America are huge and normally offer pretty good rates! With exchange shops in almost every country we’ve been to being super keen to get their hands on foreign currency – especially Dollars (even many accommodations and tour operators accepting them too).

You have to have your whits about you though. Fake notes and short changing are supposedly rife. Plus, there are twice as many black market places around as there are legit ones. Argentina was probably the biggest example of this. Called the ‘Blue Dollar’, there are literally hundreds of people trying to sell you Pesos on the street of most cities (especially when you go down to the likes of Avenida Florida in Buenos Aires); often at much better rates than legit exchange shops. Another symptom of their economic issues.

Because of the ATM charges there, we decided (in a somewhat convoluted, yet still cost effective way) to get some Dollars from Brazil and use the Blue Dollar market. Never again. Being ushered off the main avenue, into a small shop down an alleyway, handing over our dollars and getting a wad of ARS 16,000 (no questions asked) to walk back the apartment with was all a bit too shady for our liking. It might be the fastest Carl has ever walked.

Top tipalways carry Dollars with you, stick to going to a formal exchange shop (perhaps in your home country) or suck it up and pay the ATM fees.

 

 

4. Paying with card
To be fair, we didn’t expect that much acceptance of card payments as we traveled around, and so any opportunity to pay with card (cheaper, quicker, safer) is always welcomed.

However, it’s been funny to see how differently (and often inefficiently) card payments are handled in each place we’ve been. Brazil accepted cards, but predominantly Visa (which left us screwed as we only have Mastercard). Argentina accepted cards in many places but only with your ID, recording you passport number every time (which was always incorrect as carl just gave his driving license which everywhere assumed was his passport) and then having to sign (even after having entered your PIN). Added to that, with Mastercard pretty much every place had to try 2-3 times before it would go through. Very convoluted, slow and not as secure as they would think (Jeroen used Carl’s card and ID on a daily basis without anyone batting an eyelid). Bolivia & Peru accepted card but only after slapping on a 5-10% surcharge in many places. The only place where it was actually a good experience to pay with card was Uruguay, where paying with MasterCard meant you got the tax paid back a few days later.

Needless to say, Carl wants to have words with his former Mastercard colleagues when we get back to Europe.

Top tipnever rely on card payments (always carry cash). Bring different card types and your ID.

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5. Paying with cash
Now, given everything we’ve said so far you might be fooled into thinking that cash is much easier to pay with. Not necessarily. In pretty much every country there have also been challenges in certain scenarios paying cash. Whether it’s places not accepting high denomination or well-used notes (Argentina and Chile were particularly problematic), or not being able to pay for things because places don’t have change (particularly a problem in Bolivia and Peru, where searching for change could be classed as a national sport), to getting back fake notes in change (we got scammed with this in Bolivia when a taxi driver quickly swapped out a fake note and convinced Carl that we’d paid him with it and refused to take it).

Top tip: try and save your change and small notes as much as possible and be wary of fake note scams.

As we said at the start – money, money, money – definitely funny (in South America).  For anyone travelling to the region, hopefully some of our tips help.

In the meantime, we’re in a pretty good rhythm with it all now and will be masters of money management by the time we get back! Although, with 10+ more countries to go we’re intrigued as to what other challenges might pop up.  There could be worse things to have to worry about, we suppose.

Until next time.

 

Bolivia

Up to the highest height

That’s an understatement.

Being between 3,000m and 5,200m above sea level for most of our stay in Bolivia we experienced some of the most magnificent landscapes so far on our trip. From the rock formations of Tupiza, to the views from the hills of Sucre, to seeing La Paz from above the valley; traveling the cable cars from mountain to mountain. Last but by no means least, getting to to see the Salt Flats of Uyuni and area of Sud Lipez in the wet season. Breath taking!

Uyuni & Sud Lipez

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It did come at a cost though, with our time in Bolivia being plagued by issues with the altitude. From feeling like two 80 year old men smoking 50 a day climbing the slightest incline to harsher symptoms, to infuriating sleep apnea and insomnia for 3 weeks straight (mainly affecting Jeroen). We never realized just how much altitude could affect you. We tried all kinds of advice to get over it (including copious amounts of the infamous coca tea). But to no avail.

Quite a challenge to say the least.  And to be honest, not the only one we encountered.

With travel, anything seemed to go (that is eventually, as it was always late).  From poorly developed, dangerous roads (on one occasion we even asked to get off one of our tour buses and walk back down a snowy mountain as the back of the rickety city van was sliding out), to riding old, battered buses that you could barely sit on (let alone sleep), to locals riding the bus sleeping in the middle of the aisles and even underneath the bus in the luggage compartments.

Many houses and accommodations were still essentially building sites.  Still in the middle of construction. Something we found out to be quite common in Bolivia, with many people not being able to complete building until they had more money.  The only exception to this that we saw was in the old centre of Sucre, which to be fair did have some beautiful colonial architecture.

The cities were generally very poor, hectic and over-crowded (especially La Paz), with people begging, selling or hustling on every corner, insane traffic, horns honking through all hours and so much pollution and rubbish. Although we did have some great experiences in La Paz (being chased by the armed guard at San Pedro prison for taking a photo, Friday night at the only gay bar in the city, dinner and happy hour wine at the Higher Ground Café and a special hidden bar in the centre of the city), the craziness of the cities was generally too much for us.

La Paz

Add into this mix the unpredictable weather (with torrential rain and storms at the blink of an eye) and the craziness multiplied.

Looking back at other countries we’d visited before (how spoiled we’d been so far), it’s fair to say overall Bolivia was quite a shock to the system.

With all this said, we wouldn’t change a thing about our experience in this country. Precisely because it was such a shock. So different from any of the places we have visited so far. So different from anything we have experienced at home or anywhere else.  Intense.

With hindsight, albeit we didn’t realize the at the time – it all kind of made us feel alive (breathing issues from the altitude aside). And gave us cause to really think about our own lives, as well as why we came on this trip. Sure, to explore some amazing places. But not just in our comfort zone. Seeing how people live differently; with their own routines, traditions and approach to life (good, bad or otherwise) – having their own challenges yet just trying to get along and make the most of it (whilst still being so incredibly hospitable, we might add).

Sucre

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With all this in mind, on giving us a different experience, Bolivia definitely delivered.  If you just embrace it all it’s actually a cool place to visit. Unfortunately it won’t be somewhere we’ll come back to – simply because of the altitude. But for sure it’s a place we’ll never forget.

Till next time

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited:  5
  • Cities visited:  27
  • Distance travelled:  26.433 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (8),
    • Night-bus (7),
    • Day bus (17),
    • Boat (2),
    • 4×4 (1).

Mendoza to Humahuaca, Argentina

Farewell Argentina (for now)

After Chile, we were looking forward to our return to Argentina. Partly because it meant returning to cheaper living (which will continue for some time now as we work our way north), and partly because we loved Argentina so much the first time round and were excited to explore some more.

We took three more stops before reaching the border with Bolivia; Mendoza, Salta and Humahuaca.

A combination of hot weather, afternoon siestas everywhere and gradually increasing altitude mandated that we take it easy during our stays. Not that we minded – given how hectic Chile was, we were quite happy to. Besides they were perfect places for just that.

Mendoza, with its tree lined streets, abundance of relaxing cafes & bars (like a mini Buenos Aires) and of course home to Argentina’s most famous vineyards (and Malbec – Carl’s favorite red). Our favorite activity here has to have been the bike tour of said vineyards (Bodegas Trapiche – the largest winery with industrial grounds – being our favorite).  There was probably more to Mendoza than just this, but to be honest we didn’t really feel like doing too much.  Maybe that’s the best part – we didn’t have to.

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Colonial Salta (the birthplace of Argentinian independence, so we were told) with its beautifully preserved centre in the middle of a lush green valley. We loved walking the city here, as well as the relaxed ‘hike’ (more a gentle ascent) up Cerro San Bernardo finished off with an unexpected bottle of wine at the top from the cute Bike & Wine cart.  Topped off with some great evenings at local bars and restaurants (our favorite being at a local Peña with traditional folk music and dancing).

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The cute desert village of Humahuaca in a valley surrounded by beautiful mineral mountains (including El Hornocal (the 14 Color Mountains)) and with its small pedestrianized centre with evening concerts at the main square; one by a young busking band and another by a local Indigenous pipe band.  We are sure we’ll soon tire of the pipe music mind you… sounds often like Carl’s primary school recorder band (you can only take so much of it).

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Impressions of Argentina

So, following this final Argentinian experience, giving us yet again a different insight to this beautiful country, that’s it for us (for now).

It’s difficult to give a single impression of Argentina, given that we’ve seen parts across the entire length of the country. The difference in landscapes and weather has been immense. The variety in cultures also. Each giving us a different perspective and enjoyment. You could expect this for such a huge country.  Some things have remained constant however:

  1. How friendly and welcoming people have been.
  2. How well taken care of the towns and cities are.
  3. How you can be as relaxed or active as you like across this country.
  4. Essentially how you can just be however you want! No pressure or expectations.

It’s for these reasons (and we’ve not hidden this from our previous blogs) that we cannot wait to come back and spend some more (longer, quality) time in this beautiful country.

Next we head to higher ground in Bolivia.  We’ll let you know how that goes in the next edition. x

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 4
  • Cities visited: 23
  • Distance travelled: 24.114 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (8),
    • Night-bus (5),
    • Day bus (16),
    • Boat (2)

2minionsontour backpacking escapades: Sleeping beauties

Well, some of the time so it seems.

Before this trip we probably didn’t realize how precious a good night’s sleep was.  We generally got the 8 hours recommended per night (more or less). Since we started the trip, we’ve often been lucky to get 3-4 hours. Thankfully there’s been times when we’ve not been doing much, so we’ve probably not needed as much as normal (although being awake at 4am in the hostel when nobody else still sucks). But when we’ve really needed sleep and not been able to get it, man has it been a killer. Jeroen can attest to this the most; at it’s worst points going 5-6 days in a row with barely any sleep (probably the first time we’ve understood what it might be like to be new parents – it’s still not for us!)

So, what have been our top sleep-killers? In no particular order:

The crazy nightbuses: our bus to Rio was probably the worst example of this, although there are plenty more to chose from. Take one part terrible seats (as there were none of the decent ones to choose from). Add one part winding, mountainous roads. Finish with a sprinkle of macho driver with somewhere to get to and a ‘I can’t sleep so why should you be able to’ attitude. And there you have it; arriving like a zombie at your next destination.

The dorm roommate nightmares: this one’s probably worth splitting out.

  • The snorer: we’re not talking gentle humming here. The snorers we’ve encountered have been more like foghorns. To be fair Carl can also snore. The main difference being that in this case Jeroen just pinches his nose or rolls him over. We’re not sure our roommates would be so understanding.
  • The rummager: switching on the lights and going through their stuff in the middle of the night (on one occasion a woman in Ushuaia was even putting on her makeup to make sure she looked amazing before she went to bed). Total lack of basic dorm room etiquette.
  • The tosser: as in tossing and turning of course. When sleeping in bunk beds, this one speaks for itself.

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The partytildawners: this might sound rich coming from us. But there’s been nothing worse than wanting to get to sleep and being kept up until the early hours by noisy partygoers in the hostel. Far be it from us to deny people’s right to party (we couldn’t stand much ground on this), but the hostel should be sacred ground past certain hours. Sometimes it’s even been the hostel staff (Mendoza being the worst). Adding insult to injury, it’s not even been decent music; reggaeton for god’s sake!

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The three bearsmattresses: not to be too Goldilocks about it, but finding a mattress that is ‘just right’ has been something of a mission. They’ve either been rock hard or paper thin. At one point Carl even tried to take multiple mattresses from our room to stack up and try and create something bearable; it didn’t work.

The ‘why the hell can’t I sleep?’ nights: when none of the above apply and we’re still not able to sleep. For this we have no explanation. Constantly changing surroundings? The altitude in some places?  Thinking too much about trying to get to sleep in the first place? Waiting for one of the other disturbances to wake us up? Either way, these nights are almost more annoying than any of the others.

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Albeit part of the course of travelling, nearly four months in we’ve decided action is needed.

Cutting back on night buses (taking them sparingly and only when we can get the decent seats/ beds). No more dorm rooms under any circumstances (screw the budget!) Increasing our review score criteria to 9+ (screw the budget again!) Binning any places with reviews containing the words ‘party’ or ‘uncomfortable’. Stocking up on sleeping pills.  And finally, we’re starting to try to coca tea recommended so much by the locals in Northern Argentina and Bolivia (not in conjunction with sleeping pills of course).

Keeping everything crossed that something works.  At this point, something has to, else our friends and family will be getting two grouchy, insomnia-ridden boys back at the end of the trip.  Good luck with that!

On that note, we hope everyone else sleeps well. Feel free to let us know your worst sleep stories whilst traveling (except Kim, as that could likely include Carl fitting into one or all categories of the ‘dorm roommate nightmares’).

Until next time, a very tired Carl & Jeroen x

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Chile

Country stats
Population: 17.57m
Area: 756.096 km2
Elevation: Between 0m (Pacific Ocean) to 6.893 (Atacama Region)
Average temperature: 30-35C

A 3rd minion makes the trip

If we had to describe our experience of Chile in one word, for us it would be – expensive. Not by European standards, but compared to the cost of Brazil and Argentina (even Uruguay to an extent). We always knew it would be one of the more expensive countries, but it still caught us a bit off-guard (something which seems to be a common occurrence with other backpackers we spoke with who’ve traveled there). To be fair, we also made some mistakes ourselves with our budgeting (who forgets to include a big chunk of budget for partying at New Year!?!).

Budget woes aside, we did love Santiago’s urban vibe, the history (thanks to the explanations from our private tour guide Alejandro), the amazing New Years Eve party on top of a parking garage (best view of the fireworks at midnight, decent House music and an open bar, what’s not to love?), the vibrant gay scene (by vibrant we mean the gay iPhone apps exploding upon arrival) and the spectacularly dramatic views of the Andes against the city.

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We loved our time in Elqui Valley; beautiful views, super relaxed and great for plenty of hiking, walking (or in our case cycling along with our four legged friend, Bruno), sunset watching and star gazing (being one of the best places in the world for this).

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We also really enjoyed our few days in and around Valparaiso; with a vibrant bar and restaurant scene, street art to keep you occupied for days and an amazing wine region (Casablanca) on your doorstep (one of Carl’s favorite days in Chile was spent cycling around the vineyards here).

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Yet, we have to say, we came away from Chile feeling somewhat indifferent. For all of the things we did enjoy, overall it just didn’t wow us. In part probably because we found the cities to be very polluted and dirty (think having to take a shower every time you step back inside from the street); almost suffocating. We probably also had higher expectations for the beaches; they were more ‘18-30s holiday’ than ‘relaxing paradise’. Most likely, in the end it probably comes back to the budget issue; meaning we didn’t let loose as much as we could have. Ultimately we feel we can experience all of the great things Chile has to offer in other places we’re going to visit (or have visited already) for much less.  If we were here on a vacation it might have been different.

Summarized – we could take it or leave it. For that reason, in the end we decided not to make our way further north in Chile and instead head back to Argentina and make our way up from there.

One thing we haven’t mentioned about Chile yet (although our title hints at it) is that we had a 3rd minion (for those who know our Instagram page) join us.  Our first visitor from home – Susan. We have to say, we were a bit apprehensive about inviting people into our trip. (How will they like it? How will we manage strict budgeting? How will they handle staying in hostels? How will they handle long (bus) travel? How will we be together given that our lives traveling are radically different from those we have at home?) But it worked. Susan did some of her own things when we couldn’t afford to, got involved in our money saving efforts the rest of the time, stayed in her first hostel, got to encounter some of the interesting characters you sometimes find at hostels and seemed to even enjoyed the bus travel. Overall, we think she loved the experience (regardless of our opinions on Chile)!

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For us after three months away from home, spending those two weeks with Susan (and getting to share our experience with someone from home) was the best part of our time in Chile.  So, in the end whatever else we thought of it doesn’t really matter.

Till our next blog. In case you can’t wait that long, you can always check our instagram page : 2minionsontour

Big Kiss

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 4
  • Cities visited: 20
  • Distance travelled: 22.238 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (8),
    • Night-bus (4),
    • Day bus (14),
    • Boat (2)

Patagonia & The Lake District, Argentina

The most beautiful gift of nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see.” (Albert Einstein)

If Buenos Aires was the city that stole our hearts, Patagonia and the Lake District were the landscapes that stole out heart. We didn’t even scratch the surface (so much more we want to go back to see), but the beauty of the places we did see just blew us away.

The beauty at the end of the world
So first off, Ushuaia wasn’t quite the end of the world. Close to it. They call themselves the city at the end of the world; something of a technicality as there are other places further south (in Chile) but they’re not classed as cities. Either way, we’ll take it – we went to the end of the world. And what a place it was.

From seeing all seasons in the space of a few days (the winter feeling was a big shock to the system, with us scrambling around winter sports stores for warmer clothes!), to the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains against the Beagle Channel, the days spent trekking the Tierra del Fuego National Park and Laguna Esmerelda and the boat trip to the lighthouse at the end of the world; we loved every minute (at one point even bringing a tear to Carl’s eyes, being so grateful that we were getting to experience this).

Panoramic view

If you’re willing to travel a bit further down, it’s a place we would recommend to anyone.

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Memoirs of a glacier
The main draw of El Calafate for us was the Perito Moreno glacier. It’s one of the bigger bucketlist items on our itinerary.

How this place made us feel is difficult to comprehend from pictures alone.

  • Only after seeing it from the viewing platforms for an hour, hiking up to it for another hour, trekking on it for 3.5 hours and then hiking back down it could we truly appreciate how majestic it is (although after all that we think we were appreciating the coffee and sit down a bit more).
  • Only after hearing the guide’s explanation of how the glacier forms, lives and ultimately dies (receding at an alarming rate) could we appreciated how fragile it is. As well as how critical its gradual demise is to our lives (being the 3rd largest fresh water supply on earth).
  • Only after getting home and noticing Carl’s face red with the glow of severe sunburn could we appreciate how harsh the environment around the glacier is (also a good reminder not to be a numpty and forget to apply sun lotion!).

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All in all, a mesmerizing and eye opening day. One of the best activities we’ve done, and again truly grateful to have been able to experience it (thanks to those who paid for it as part of our wedding fund!)

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The most beautiful place in Argentina?
We’re not sure we can claim that given that we’re not yet done exploring the country (and likely never will be). But for us, after our experiences in Ushuaia and El Calafate, Bariloche was the cherry on top of an already pretty incredible cake.

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From landing in the plane with birdseye views of the lakes, to reaching downtown Bariloche surrounded by views of mountains set against a crystal blue lake, to climbing the various viewpoints and cycling the 25k loop around the lakes; we spent five days agog from breathtaking view after breathtaking view. To top it off, we got to see this every day from the top floor balcony of our hostel (Penthouse 1004), thanks to a recommendation from Kim!

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Bariloche had something extra special though. The people we spent the five days with there. An Argentinian from Spain (Sebastian) who we met up with for a couple of days and did some walks with. The hostel owners and workers, who made us feel so at home from start to finish. Above all, our fellow travelers, who were our surrogate family over Christmas; spending our time eating, drinking, sharing stories and laughing more than we have in any other place on the trip. For the first time, we felt like backpackers; part of a pretty special community of people living the same dream on slightly different paths.

Made us realize, all the beauty of nature is great. But it’s the beauty of sharing it with amazing people that makes it greater.

Like we say, Bariloche was the cherry on the cake.  The remaining thirteen countries have some big boots to fill.

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Speaking of sharing – more daily pictures van be found on our instagram page: 2minionsontour

Till the next blog.

Big kiss.

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 3
  • Cities visited: 15
  • Distance travelled: 20.181 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (7),
    • Night-bus (3),
    • Day bus (9),
    • Boat (2)

Buenos Aires, Argentina

City stats

Population: 2.89m
Area: 4758 km2
Elevation: 25m
Average temperature: 24C

The city that stole (a part of) our heart

We arrived in Buenos Aires (Bs. As./ BA/ Baires), having decided to skip Paraguay this time round; partly because we wanted to get into Spanish lessons ASAP, partly because we weren’t sure Paraguay would be worth the travel for only 5 days as we’d planned and partly (read: mostly) because it was just in time for Buenos Aires Gay Pride.

Pretty much from day 1 we both fell in love with the city (Jeroen for the second time, seeing as he’d visited it 8 years ago already). So much so, we decided to stay much longer than originally planned.

When people along the way have asked why we loved it so much, we can’t name just one thing in isolation.  There were lots of things that added up for us.

1.How friendly and relaxed the people were. We met amazing local people there, with a couple of people in particular (Diego and Barbara (our Spanish teacher)) making our stay in the city a great one!

2. How vibrant the city was. From the street art around every corner, to the hipster feel of a lot of places, as well as the many terraces and squares filled with people enjoying themselves throughout the day (especially around the San Telmo, Recoleta and Palermo areas).

3. How green the city was. The tree-lined neighborhoods and city parks made Beunos Aires a beautiful city to walk around, which as many of you will know, we love to do. (Speaking of which, we think we might’ve found a type of walking we love even more – dog walking!  We know in the last blog we said we might become professional beach bums.  Well, we’re now thinking professional dog walkers.  It’s a thing there!)

4. The number of great food spots. Whatever we wanted to eat, we found it easily all over the city.  Some favorites included Bar El Federal for Argentenian steak, Mezcal in Palermo Soho for Mexican, Pizza at Guerrin, and Nino Gordo in Palermo Soho, which had Asian fusion food to die for.  Not forgetting anything with dulche de leche for Jeroen!

5. The diversity of nightlife (and gay scene). Whether we just wanted somewhere low key for a couple of beers, a bit more classy for cocktails and wine, mainstream for a bit of music, or more underground techno and queer parties; the city has it all. We were lucky enough to have Diego show us most of these (taking us to a cool Speakeasy bar which we can’t publish the name of, a techno party in Micro Centre, which we can’t remember the name of and a drag bingo night all in the space of a couple of days).

6. Last but by no means least – how open we felt we could be in there. Nothing demonstrated this more to us than when we first arrived for Pride. It was a totally different Pride event to what we see in Europe (much more political, and clearly illustrating that there is still work to be done for LGBT here).  And we know there will be places we didn’t see which challenge our perception.  But overall, even with this, we still had a sense that people could be themselves there.  It reminded us of home in Amsterdam in this respect.

 

Now, there were still a few things that we couldn’t quite get used to in the city.  To name a few; late morning starts and late night finishes (although we’re sure we could quite quickly get used to that); crazy rules as to how and when you can cross at zebra crossings; how the entire city closes down when big football matches are on (no taxis or anything); banks running out of money and having to check the ‘blue’ market for best exchange rates on the Dollar as the banks charge so much for taking money out.

But overall, it was the first place in the 1.5 months we’d been traveling that we felt we lived in for that couple of weeks (not just being tourists). As a result, there’s a pretty good chance we’ll come back to Buenos Aires to stay for a while longer towards the end of the trip to experience it a bit more.

See you again soon Baires!

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More pictures can be found on our instagrampage: 2minionsontour

Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 3
  • Cities visited: 12
  • Distance travelled: 16.214 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (4)
    • Night-bus (3)
    • Day bus (9)
    • Boat (2)

2minionsontour backpacking escapades: Home sweet home

We can hardly believe it’s 12 weeks now since we started our trip – it’s gone so quickly! By far the longest either of us have travelled. Given this milestone, we wanted to talk in this post about how we’re finding being away from home.

Albeit we love our home and the lives we have in Amsterdam, there are definitely things that we aren’t really missing. To name a few:

Work. Before this trip Jeroen was feeling finished with his current job; ready for a new challenge. Carl on the other hand was ready to stop taking on new challenges. Those of you who’ve been around Carl the past year or two will understand! Both of us needed time to breathe, take things in and evaluate what we were doing. This trip is giving us exactly that. So much so we are still considering becoming professional travel bums.

Financial burdens. Before we left we took the decision to sell everything up and put our things into storage; after initially giving us regular panic attacks at the thought, we’re now super happy to have total freedom from juggling mortgages, home ownership costs and the other plethora of bills. These didn’t particularly feel like a burden at the time. But the past few months has helped us see that most of our lives revolved around keeping these financial elements juggling. It has been truly liberating. Surprisingly, so has not being able to go out and spend on things (seeing as we are on a strict budget). Who knew you don’t have to buy things willy nilly to feel happy?!

Dutch winter. Perhaps a bit of an obvious one (and apologies to everyone currently experiencing this). But we are not missing the dark nights, dreary weather and associated general travel mess, moaning, etc. that comes it it. Albeit we have experience some of our own weather woes, they haven’t compared (yet) to the Dutch winters. So for as long as we can we are happy to continue enjoying the long days, light nights and beautiful weather in South America (although it does feel a bit weird at Christmas).

Now, this might all seem wonderful and life changing (and it probably is in one way or another). However, we wouldn’t be being honest if we didn’t recognize some of the things that we do miss.

Our own bed(room). We’ve generally been quite fortunate with pretty comfortable accommodation so far. Although, those times when we have terrible accommodation with crap mattresses, pillows, paper thin walls or inconsiderate roommates waking us up in the middle of the night really make us question if it’s worth it. Thankfully these experiences have been in the minority, so at the moment we manage to get over it. But still, nothing beats your own bed; the memory foam mattress, topper and plump feather pillows. We’re practically drooling at the thought.

A well equipped kitchen and access to the foods we’re used to cooking with. Trying to cook around 10 other people is challenge enough. Add into the mix cooking with unfamiliar ingredients and what few things you can find in poorly equipped kitchens is like being on a super low budget version of Master Chef (for the insane). As a Christmas treat, once we are rid of a few more things from our bags, we’re considering looking for a travel cooking kit to take around with us. Speaking of food, we also have some Dutch cravings; Andijvie Stampot for Jeroen and broodje kroket from Van Dobben for Carl. If anyone from the Netherlands will be in the area we’d be grateful if you could bring us some.

Last, but by no means least – family and friends. You might all see the posts of us having a wonderful time, however we do truly miss you! Especially given the time of year. Although the regular phone or social media contact helps, there’s not many days go by when we don’t talk about how some of our family or friends would love a certain activity we’re doing, or party we’re at (on that note: we miss Amsterdam techno parties too!). Thankfully we are meeting some great new people to enjoy our time with along the way. Still, we can’t wait for few people to join us over the coming six months (Susan in Chile, Jo in Peru, our parents in Costa Rica and Mexico, and perhaps a few others too).

So, how are we finding being away from home? Well, as you’ll see there’s two sides to every story. We’re sure over the coming year we’ll get used to having a substitute come for a while. Would we change a thing about what we are doing? No. Does this help us appreciate even more what we have back in Europe? Absolutely!

On that note, we want to wish all of our family and friends a wonderful Christmas. And much love for 2019! We’ll be thinking of you all.

Love from South America!

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Uruguay

Country stats
Population: 3.5m
Area: 176.215 km2
Elevation: 0m
Average temperature: 20C (ish, although Punta del Este was coooold)

Best laid plans often go awry

Our plans for Uruguay changed a bit compared to what we were originally had. For a start, we missed Salto in the North as we skipped Paraguay (choosing instead to fly from Foz do Iguazú to Buenos Aires). We also decided we weren’t going to do much in terms of city sight-seeing in Uruguay; instead opting to take advantage of their infamous (in Argentina and Brazil anyway) beaches for a couple of weeks. Call it a mini-vacation within the trip if you like; spending the days at the pool or beach, and the nights enjoying the bars and restaurants. Perfect plan. Particularly as it was over Jeroen’s birthday.

Or so we thought…

Montevideo (strike 1)
After booking ourselves into a water-front hotel (Esplendor by Wyndham) we were looking to spending a few days hanging out in the good weather at their rooftop pool.  Until we discovered upon checkin that the pool was seasonal. We missed it by two weeks. Weird we thought, considering it was 25 degrees outside. For us Northern Europeans that’s almost tropical!  Frustrating also, seeing as they did not mention this on their website.

So, no pool-hanging for us this time, unfortunately.  The only saving grace was that after kicking up a bit of a fuss we managed to get decent discount and an upgrade. So we instead spent our time recharging in our super king-size bed mostly.

We did take the odd walk along the city beaches and in the city centre. Although, neither were much to write home about; the beaches were nicely kept but relatively dull and the city centre (albeit beautifully quaint) we found to be equally as dull. There was little in terms of tourist attractions; aside the old town, where we were heavily ripped off for lunch one day, and so decided to stay away from there.  As for the rest of the city, there wasn’t much of an edge about it; all quite comfortable and very orderly.  Perhaps a nice place to retire later in life.

In the end we decided to cut our stay short in Montevideo.

Punta del Este (strike 2)
To try and salvage some of our plans we decided to expedite our trip to Punta. We had high hopes given that we’d heard that it’s one of the top holiday destinations in Uruguay; lively, lots to do and good weather. Surely, the perfect place to ensure we could at least spend Jeroen’s birthday lazing in the sun by day and partying a bit by night.

We arrived to 14 degrees (supposedly, although it felt much lower) and gale force winds. On top of that, because the season didn’t start for two more weeks there was hardly a soul to be seen in the city; with almost all of the bars and restaurants closed. 

Again, weird.  Not so much the weather – we are learning on this trip how unpredictable that can be.  But the fact that the seasonal timing was so precise (with things only starting to open when the season starts) is just something we didn’t expect.  Even during shoulder periods in places we have visited in the past, they still have some life in them. So, we spent 2 days hanging out at the hostel (which was a really cute place; Casa Alevines – try it if you are ever there!) and catching up on our planning. Happy birthday Jeroen! (We at least did it with a couple of bottles of whatever bubbles we could find in the only open supermarket.)

Day 3 in Punta at least gave us some respite from the weather. We finally got a day full of the sunshine we had hoped for. This was not a drill – pool time immediately!!

Chihuahua (3rd time’s a charm)
We’d already booked to stay in Chihuahua months ago as a treat; at one of the few gay hotel & spas in South America (Undarius). Despite the fact that the weather was looking more promising, we were worried this wouldn’t last and that we were going to strike out for the whole Uruguay trip (wasting a load of money in the process). Thankfully this didn’t happen and we had the most amazing final 5 days in Uruguay. Thank whatever gay gods are out there!

Undarius was a small paradise. It’s difficult to decide what we loved about it most; the garden bathed in sunlight with the pool and jacuzzi just a few steps from our room, the home-cooked food, the great bar with self service beers, great wines and cocktails, the fellow guests who were super friendly, or the owners (Mario & Fran) – the most amazing hosts we’ve ever stayed with. A combination of all these things really rescued our stay in Uruguay. It’s a place we can’t recommend enough!  Only if you have the pre-requisite features of course, being a men-only place.

So, overall Uruguay was not quite what we’d planned or expected. In fairness, partly through our planning assumptions which were off.  Had we gone during peak summer season (when there may be more guarantee of decent weather, places being open and a busier atmosphere), we think our experience would have been different. We would definitely like to give it another chance.

So, that’s exactly what we plan to do if we decide to spend more time around Buenos Aires at the end of the trip (if nothing else then to visit Undarius again)!

Till next time!

Carl & Jeroen

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For more (daily) pictures, visit our instagram page: 2minionsontour

Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 3
  • Cities visited: 12
  • Distance travelled: 16.000 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (4),
    • Night-bus (3),
    • Day bus (8),
    • Boat (1)

Impressions of: Brazil

It’s been a few weeks now since we left Brazil (the first country on our trip), and we wanted to take a moment to summarize our impressions based upon our time there.

These are just some of our experiences based on a small amount of time, seeing a small portion of this huge country.

Our feeling coming away from Brazil is somewhat mixed. It’s not that we disliked our time there. Far from it. But, despite everything we liked about Brazil, there were some elements that made it quite a difficult country to fully enjoy.

  • Most challanging was that on the one hand, as we traveled around we met some super friendly, open  and sociable people; interested in interacting and finding out about us, as well as letting us into their lives a bit. On the other hand a lot of people we came into contact with (particularly in the hostels which were predominantly filled with Brazilian guests) were seemingly quite cold and closed off to outsiders. It may’ve been down to the language barrier. Although even when trying to muster up whatever Portuguese(-ish) we could, (after having frozen on the spot for a couple of minutes trying to do so), this often still didn’t help in connecting with people. This took us a bit by surprise in a country which is known for its openness and hospitality.
  • Another significant factor was that on the one hand there were places where you felt perfectly safe to walk around at any time of day. Also with your camera, phone, etc. On the other hand there were so many places where you didn’t feel free to do this. Moreover, you were constantly warned by people about the dangers; making it harder to be able to let your guard down and relax (which to be fair, Carl already has some issues with in normal circumstances).
  • Finally, something not affecting our trip directly as such, but that was hard to see.  On the one hand there were beautiful neighborhoods which had loads of nice cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, etc.; really nice to spend the days walking round. On the other hand these places felt like fortresses to keep the outside out.  Meanwhile, in most places there was a vast amount of desperately poor people having to beg (or worse) on the streets to survive. We know poverty exists everywhere, but the inequality between rich and poor in Brazil was so stark in comparison to a lot of places we have been to.  We couldn’t help feel a sense of injustice in Brazilian society.

As we said at the start (and as you will see from some of our previous blogs), overall we did have great experiences in Brazil.  It has served as a wake up call; as we travel around, we’ll need to learn to take the rough with the smooth.  As a friend said to us before we started the trip ‘you might not always like what you see, but at least you’re walking the path’.

Would we come back again? Most likely, yes.  Because for all of the above, it still has a beauty that draws you in.  There are some places we’d love to go back to, as well as plenty of places we didn’t manage to see; in particular Northern Brazil, which we’ve heard is amazing and quite different from other regions.  But, not before that crash course in Portuguese.

Next up in our blog: Uruguay.

Until then…

Carl & Jeroen xFE25E6AB-F939-4398-AB4C-1626A40CF399