Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Finishing off Mendoza (in style) and exploring Bariloche, the Argentine Lake District

As Tom warned me last night not to wake him up pre 9am (apparently he's still worn out after his mountaineering...) I might as well keep the blog up to date for a change.

Some of Mendoza's famous vines

Before ploughing on with our travels south through Argentina I ought to explain that it wasn't all hard-work and frostbitten feet for Tom... we treated ourselves to a delicious lunch at one of the more exclusive vineyards on our last day in Mendoza. The food, wine and setting couldn't be beaten and despite Tom's attempt at the Aconcagua summit unfortunately being cut short we still celebrated with a glass of champers.

Next stop Bariloche, the capital of the Lake District, which was gorgeous. Its a city on the shores of a huge, glistening lake surrounded by snowy peaks, and felt just like the Alps in the summer.

We arrived at our hostel which didn't look like much from the outside but we were pleasantly surprised, it was very chilled, we met some other interesting travellers and the views from both the lounge and our dorm room were incredible (see below).

Our first day was spent wandering around town where it became obvious that we had headed south into the chilly mountains as all the stray dogs were Alsatian-St Bernard crosses and for some reason took a bit of a liking to us - we ended up being accompanied all the way to the supermarket (a good 20 minute walk) by one "local". Having a quiet night back at the hostel, we were saving our energy for the following day when we hired mountain bikes and spent a good eight hours exploring the National Park which surrounds the city. The scenery was spectacular and we even found a little Swiss village for a pit stop (to refuel on homemade cake of course!)

The next day, again keen to explore, we made our way up the mountain to the Catedral ski area (biggest in South America). Instead of paying for the gondola (trying for a change to stick to our budget) we decided to walk up the slopes but after 90 minutes of being continually pestered by a swarm of some kind of horsefly we admitted defeat and headed back down to relax in the sunshine.

All in all Bariloche was a great place to stop for a few days before heading further south to the remote area of Patagonia, literally the end of the Earth!

Sunset from our hostel's balcony

It's a tough life!

Trindade beach

Meanwhile, I headed back to Brazil for a week of yoga, sunbathing and not much else really!

A tiring day relaxing at the rock pools

The view of "Sugar Loaf" to the left of my hostel

And, the view of Christ the Redeemer to the right

Thunder and lightening storm over Rio the night Anna was flying back to London

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The mighty Aconcagua

[Warning! - This is a very long blog post as I wanted to catalogue every day we had on the mountain. If you get bored then at least admire the pictures!]

Having had such an amazing experience climbing Cotopaxi (the mountain Elizabeth and I heaved ourselves up in Ecuador) my sights have been firmly set on things higher for the last couple of months and Aconcagua seemed a suitable challenge. At just under 7,000m it’s the highest mountain in the Andes (the highest in the world outside the Himalayas in fact).

With Edd over from the UK and keen to climb as well and Elizabeth happy to do yoga in Brazil for a couple of weeks, the stage was set for one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done...

Map of Aconcagua upper camps (click to enlarge). Before Nido de Condores (on the right hand side) there is Canada camp, before that Plaza de Mulas (which is base camp at 4,300m) and before that is the first camp Confluencia (3,400m). (I think some of the altitudes on the map are incorrect)

Day 0 – preparations and getting sorted

The guide books recommend taking 21 days to do the climb and hiring a guide but given Edd had to return back to work in under a fortnight and a guide was going to cost $8,000 we would have to do it unguided and in speedy time.

We therefore spent a very hectic day getting everything we needed sorted as we had to leave the following day. We raced around from one governmental office to another chasing permits, to the expedition shop to enquire about logistical support (our mule!) and the rental shop to get gear.

Mules in action

All went smoothly enough. The most time-consuming part was acquiring rental kit including down jackets, Gore-Tex trousers, crampons, ices axes, emergency radio, tent, double plastic ice boots etc. We went through everything we would need with the shop assistant (in Spanish only which made it a bit trickier). He appeared to be an experienced climber, speaking with seeming authority on various things and I felt he must know what he knew what he was talking about.

Me: Do we need rope?
Shop assistant: No, not necessary.
Me: Harnesses?
Shop assistant: No esta bien [no its ok]
Me: Down trousers?
Shop assistant: No, not that cold on Aconcagua
etc etc

After all of this (several hours of looking at things, trying on, testing etc) with our kit bagged and paid for I asked him about his experiences on Aconcagua. There was a pause, a laugh and then the response:

Shop assistant: Aconcagua? Me? I’ve never been to Aconcagua – are you crazy?!
Me: Oh really, err what mountains have you climbed then?
Shop assistant: Mountains?? [laughing] I don’t climb mountains; I work here part time and at the Sheraton restaurant as a waiter!

This guy had been making numerous decisions as an ‘expert’ about our potentially life-saving and essential kit and he’s a local waiter! Then ‘El Capitan’ entered (the shop owner), a serious, aggressive guy with one eye and came over to chat.

Me: Have you climbed Aconcagua?
El Capitan: [not translated – he spoke in broken English] Si, many times. Very good, very hard.
Me: Ah good, we’re hoping for a challenge...
El Capitan: Haha. [muttered something like ‘touristico’ under his breath]. You be very careful no? I lose my eye to Aconcagua and me very good...

With that he disappeared into his office out the back and I headed back to our hotel room to meet Edd feeling a bit uncomfortable!

Day 1 – arriving at the park

The park entrance

The next day we headed to the bus station and travelled the three hours into the barren desert land that surrounds most of the mountain (at lower altitudes). We left our heavy, higher altitude things for the Mule to take up to Plaza de Mulas (base camp) and entered the park, passing by the helicopter parked at the ranger station - something we would see in use many times each day to ferry injured climbers (usually with frostbite or severe altitude sickness) off to hospital.

The trek was an easy three hours to our first camp (Confluencia – 3,400m) and we got an early night.

The first campsite - Confluencia (3,400m)

The first day's hiking

Day 2 – exploring the area

We decided on our second day an ‘acclimatisation climb’ might be a good idea – ie head to a higher altitude for a few hours to get used to it and then return to camp at lower elevation to sleep. We walked through one of the valleys to Plaza Francia which again was an easy hike and arrived at the highest point (not sure how high but think about 4,300m) where we got our first proper view of the mountain. It looked enormous and we sat studying it for a couple of hours, breathing in the thinner air and acclimatising. At one point we heard a deep rumble and looked up to see a huge avalanche roaring down a part of the mountain. We both agreed that although it was the lesser climbed (and generally snowier) South face, had anyone been in its path they wouldn’t have stood a chance. It was a stark reminder of what we were embarking on.

Our first proper sight of Aconcagua


Day 3 – trekking to base camp and our hotel

I awoke on day three to find cold water dripping on my face, looking up I noticed it was coming from a melting icicle directly above me that had obviously formed during the night. This was surprising given how low (and hence warm) it was in comparison to where we were heading. We packed up and headed on a long trek up to Plaza de Mulas – base camp for Aconcagua at 4,300m. The route went through a series of never-ending valleys and took 8 hours which was quite tiring at altitude, with heavy bags and in full sun. Anyway, we eventually arrived and headed to the ‘hotel’ that we had booked ourselves into (and had paid a fortune for).

Enroute to base camp

Base camp entrance (Plaza de Mulas)

Tents at Plaza de Mulas - we stayed at the 'hotel'

After four months of backpacker travelling, at times staying at the budget end of the accommodation spectrum I thought I had seen it all. However, if there’s a less hospitable ‘hotel’ in the world than the one we stayed at for four long nights then I wouldn’t want to see it.

We had been looking forward to a hot shower since starting and this was apparently one of the services of the hotel. I told the receptionist I wanted one so she led me down some steps (there is only one in the whole building) to an ice cold basement where there was a makeshift plastic cubicle, filled with a pool of icy water and a hose pipe above it where I was instructed if I slightly turned a valve (although there were taps throughout the hotel none of them worked) a boiler could partially heat the trickle of water that resulted. Not pleasant.

The toilets didn’t flush and you had to fill a bucket of icy water from the corridor and tip it down the toilet to ‘flush’ it. There was no heating and most of the time you could see your own breath it was so cold. Each night I used to wear most of the clothing I had- fleece, hat, gloves and get into the three layers of bed sheets and try not to shiver. One thing was going through my mind: If it’s this cold here in a building, what is it going to be like at altitude much higher in a tent?! To make matters worse to get to the hotel you had to walk for twenty minutes over an exhausting route from the camp to the hotel. The route went through three sets of Penitentes which made it even more tiring. (Penitentes are fields of giant spikes of ice that are scattered randomly around the mountain at higher altitudes).

Crossing the Penitentes to get to the hotel

Day 4 – first taste of an upper camp

Keen to keep making progress on our expedition we set off after breakfast with light bags to have a gentle hike up to the first of the upper camps: Camp Canada. This was the first time we were starting to get up to serious altitude (5,000m) and it was noticeably harder than the last few days of walking with the pace much slower and each step more pronounced and considered. When we got to the top we were rewarded with amazing views over the valley and of the mountains behind. It was like being on a giant balcony in the mountains. This was our first taste of things to come...

The route up to Canada

The view from Canada

Day 5 – return to Canada

The next day we headed back up to Canada, this time even more slowly as we had bags with our tent, cooking equipment and food that we were taking up to leave there. We assembled the tent and noticed that it looked less stable than all the others around and also noticed that the wind had started to pick up.

On the way down to the hotel we called in at the Ranger’s station to ask if they knew the weather for the next few days as we would be leaving the safety of the hotel and heading into the more treacherous upper camps where we would have to fend for ourselves. We were surprised to learn that there was a storm heading towards the mountain. This seemed strange as for the days since we arrived at the park the weather had been very good, clear blue skies and calm winds, which had lulled us into a false sense of security weather-wise.

Our tent at canada

Day 6 – marooned at base camp

Following the ranger’s advice we spent the day marooned in our hotel, trying to keep warm in the dining room (which has a small gas stove) and listening to the wind rip through the valley outside. It was quite a demoralising day as we had to spend more unwanted time in the hotel, the summit still seemed a long way away and we both remarked how much of an insurmountable task getting to the top now seemed – especially with the unpredictable weather now a factor (and something we wouldn’t be able to protect ourselves from at higher altitudes).

Aconcagua at a windy dawn

Another thing that had become apparent by this stage was just how young we were relative to everyone else. Most people were at least well into their thirties but typically forties and fifties. People seemed to be very experienced with a lot of climbers having managed Everest and other gigantic peaks. Despite this there were also a lot of guided groups around as well. For the first time in a long time I felt like we were two young boys without a clue what we were doing, inferior in experience and knowledge to everyone else.

More Penitentes...

Day 7 – the ascent begins

The storm had subsided late in the night so we set off up the steep slopes back to Canada - this time with all our remaining gear and one question in mind: Would our flimsy rental tent, cooking equipment and food have survived the gusting storm’s winds?!

As we arrived over the brow of the hill, we stared around looking desperately for our tent. There where we had left it was a crumpled heap of canvas and poles sticking out in all directions. Thinking this could be the end of our trip we ran over to investigate and saw that some kind person had dismantled the tent (obviously realising its inability to withstand the storm) and placed large rocks on top of it to stop it blowing away. What a guy! Had it been left it would surely have been destroyed and we’d be packing up and going home.

Our dismantled (and saved!) tent

We spent the rest of the day setting up camp and resting. Then it was time for our first gas stove cooking – on the menu: pasta (quick cook) with a spicy powder (a bit like the type you get in a pot noodle). Not exactly the grass-fed steaks and Malbec wine we’d been having but food nonetheless. Edd had generously volunteered to act as group chef and went about cooking for the next forty five minutes (things aren’t quick cook at altitude, in the cold and on a small gas stove).

The food wasn’t bad (given the conditions) and we went to sleep not hungry at least.

Day 8 – up to Nido

Today the plan was to trek up with all our kit to Nido the next camp up the mountain. There was one small problem however: getting drinking water. Above Plaza de Mulas in the upper camps there are no sources of water other than the snow and ice nearby. Despite it being incredibly cold there usually isn’t that much precipitation and hence limited snow and ice around. We ended up walking ten minutes outside of the camp to some small Penitentes (the spiky ice formations) and started hacking away with an ice axe, breaking pieces off and then trying to heat them with our stove in the bitter winds. This didn’t work very well. After two hours we had just about enough water between us but the water was brown and dirty like dirty dishwater and filled with bits of grit that went in your mouth every time you took a swig.

The stormy view on arrival to Nido

Exhausted by the water obtaining process we packed everything up, loaded our rucksacks (which were now very heavy) and started on the long path up to Nido de Condores (the next camp at 5,500m). After several hours we arrived tired and breathless (at 5,500m it starts to get harder to breathe) and began the exhausting process of putting the tent up, getting the cooking equipment sorted and looking for more ice for water for cooking and drinking. Then it started to snow....

As the blizzard began I went to speak to one of the local guides about the snow melting procedure (as I had doubt we were doing it properly). He was quite unhelpful but one thing he stressed was the importance of boiling the snow as opposed to just melting it. I broke the news to Edd. Problem was, we had figured out that there was barely enough gas to melt the snow and cook twice a day let alone boil the snowmelt which would take hours more. We decided that we would have to risk stomach bugs and drink the brown gritty stuff otherwise we’d need to turnaround out of a lack of gas. I should point out that the amount of gas we had was as a result of speaking to the ‘expert’ shop assistant at the rental shop!

Our first night at serious altitude was very cold, I was wearing just about every item of clothing I had inside my -30 degrees C sleeping bag and still woke up in the early hours very cold.

Day 9 – the ‘rest’ day

The next morning we woke to find the entire inside of the tent covered in frost and the whole area covered in snow. I could hear the helicopter buzzing around outside our tent, landing at the ‘heliport’ which was just a small square of earth 10m or so from our tent. I looked out to see what was going on and noticed it was ferrying badly injured climbers down the mountain (this camp is the highest the helicopter can reach on the mountain). Everybody was on oxygen usually with bandaged hands or feet (frostbite).

More frostbite victims being ferried back

Today was supposed to be our rest day with a short hike, possibly up to Berlin, the next and final camp with a return to Nido to sleep. We spent the morning melting some snow and cooking watery porridge (the same breakfast we had every morning) and then set off up the mountain.
Feeling strong we arrived at Berlin – a very high camp, extremely exposed and cold where the snow was falling fast. We rested for a while and decided to continue. The plan at this stage was to move up to Berlin the next day camp and set off early morning towards the summit, therefore we wanted to know where we were going and figure the route out so we’d be able to do it in the dark.

We headed up higher into the blizzard and mist, scrambling up rocks in places (not easy at altitude) and then heading up a series of steep paths further and further towards the summit. Our aim was to arrive at an old abandoned hut called Independencia at 6,300m with the assumption that on our summit day it would be light by the time we got here and we could find our way in the light from there onwards. The weather continued to deteriorate and after an hour or two we had the hut in sight. We decided to turn around and head back to our camp at Nido feeling confident that our summit attempt could be successful having gotten so high this time with little effort.

Edd at Nido - before the blizzards began

On the way down the snow got even worse. That night we took shelter in our shaky tent, the blizzard whistling around us. At one point I heard the crack and rumble of thunder nearby – lightning being the last thing you want when completely exposed 5,500m up a mountain!

Day 10 – blizzards, blizzards and more blizzards

Our tent in the snow

The view from Nido

We woke up to find the tent buried in snow and hence spent the day marooned at Nido, stuck in blizzards and needing to hide in the tent for large parts of the day due to the bitter cold. On the plus side we had optimised the snow melting process (still unable to boil but at least now we were drinking something close to the recommended daily amount and the water wasn’t too gritty). I won’t bore you with the details but it involved ‘pre-melting’ it for the day in the tent, lighting the stove inside the tent for maximum heat, crunching the snow up manually etc etc.

Mastering the ice melting process - we felt clever...

By this stage we were both getting sick of the same food that we’d had every day since leaving Plaza de Mulas: breakfast – porridge (gritty, watery), ‘lunch’ – cheap Argentinean snack bars throughout the day, dinner – gritty pasta with some sort of very cheap sauce. The portions were small, the food full of debris and I think we were both dreaming of the steaks back in Mendoza. With this in mind and the fact Edd had to get back to London to work we decided that tonight would be the night we set off for the summit. Getting to the Berlin camp and leaving from there (standard practice) was not possible as we couldn’t ascend during the day due to the weather so we had no choice but to head from Nido that night.

Edd (the 'group chef') bravely cooking in the biting winds

This was an ambitious task. It meant we would have to leave at midnight in the bitter cold and pitch black and ascend 1,500m up the mountain for what would probably be a 14-16 hour day. I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness, not sure how it would all pan out and how we would do against the deadly cold during the night (-30 degrees not uncommon).

Day 11 – the final assault

Our alarm started going off sometime after midnight and we both woke and spent the next thirty minutes struggling to get all the cold weather gear on in the confines of a small tent. I was wearing (from head to toe):

Llama hat, balaclava, neck warmer, bandana, goggles (for when the sun came up), down jacket, fleece, jumper, two thermals, t-shirt, gloves, handwarmers (devices inside the gloves), big outer gauntlet gloves, gore tex trousers, normal trousers, thermal trousers, three layers of thick socks, feetwarmers (also devices), double plastic boots, crampons, walking pole and an ice axe. I was absolutely freezing...

When we finally got out of the tent and started going I soon realised it was probably the coldest environment I’ve ever been in. The blizzard had finally stopped and the sky had completely cleared. There was no moon which made things even darker but on the upside the stars were absolutely amazing – millions of them with the purple milky way clearly visible. It looked awesome.

With all our equipment and in the light of the stars and our headtorches we set off up the mountain. To begin with I noticed Edd was very quiet and seemed to be staggering around a bit. The first hour was a disaster. Without any light and fresh snow covering all the basic tracks up the mountain we didn’t have a clue where we were going and ended up scrambling up steep slopes with crampons taking care not to slip! Edd had started to come round a bit and we trekked up and somehow made it up to Berlin after a few hours.

One big problem that had started to cause me some concern by this stage was my right boot. Double plastic boots are supposed to be waterproof but we had cheap, rental kit and after walking through ankle deep snow for a while I realised that the toe of my boot was wet inside. As we had continued walking this water had gotten colder and colder in the extreme temperature and I thought it might be starting to freeze inside the boot around my foot. I was in a lot of pain and was beginning to worry about frostbite. Although obviously never having experienced frostbite before it was extremely painful and I kept losing feeling in my foot and then it would start to tingle. Very cold, very scary but we continued and I hoped it would get better although I knew the coldest part of the night (just before dawn) was still to come.

Edd was saying how he’d felt dreadful for a while earlier on before having some sugar and water and he now felt much better. I hadn’t had anything up to that point and it was my time to go a bit weird:

Throughout the climb I had seen lots of shooting stars fly across the sky above us which looked amazing, towards Berlin I could feel myself suddenly getting a lot more tired and light headed and the pain in my foot was getting much worse. By the time we were at the top I was looking up at the sky and seeing some of the main constellations (Orion, the Plough etc) ‘shoot’ their stars at me. I remember saying to Edd – “look those stars are shooting at me” and laughing about it thinking how funny it was and wondering how I could somehow shoot back at the stars. Laughing to myself and asking Edd how he thought we should deal with these ‘funny constellations’ I was promptly handed some chocolate bars and water. We rested up there in the bitter cold and my head started to stop spinning and things started to descend back into reality as I rehydrated and raised my blood sugar levels.

The cold moved us on and we started the push beyond Berlin up the scramble we had done two days earlier. In the dark and with much more snow and ice this was very hard. We hauled ourselves up slowly and started to ascend the steep paths. By now the sky had become slightly lighter and we could see a bit better although it was still before sunrise. My foot was giving me a lot of problems but I’d decided that once the sun came up things would heat a little bit and it would be ok.

As the sky became an orange colour and we could see with headtorches for the first time we stopped for a rest to gather our senses and have some water. Our water bottles had been freezing on the way up (despite being in our bags) and I had to smash mine on rocks to get some water to come out. As I took a swig I spilt some water down my jacket and looked to see it freeze right before my eyes as it trickled down, resembling melted wax on the side of a candle. It was still very cold!

We set off again building our energies and slowly trudging up. Then disaster struck. Something didn’t feel right and I looked down and saw my crampon hanging off my boot. As I looked closer I saw that it had snapped on the toe. Edd took a look, it wasn’t good. It wouldn’t reattach and in the conditions it would be suicide to continue without crampons. Edd even tried to gaffer tape it back on (who carries gaffer tape at 6,300m?? – what a legend!). After all attempts to fix it failed we realised we had to go back. I told Edd he could continue without me if he wanted to but in reality it was far too dangerous to go on alone. (We were the only people making a summit attempt on the mountain that day due to the hostile weather which is saying something given its usually quite well populated in peak season. The conditions were perfect for avalanches – new powdery snow, laid on ice on steep slopes and with the temperature rising during the day).
We were both exhausted and devastated with the need to descend. By this stage the sun had risen and the Andes, bathed in morning light, lay out far below us. We shook hands and decided resolutely that we would return at some point (with our own equipment!) to Aconcagua and would conquer it once and for all.

The crampon!

We then walked down back to our camp (I hobbled with difficulty being one crampon down). We decided we both really just wanted to get off the mountain so we packed the tent and everything else and returned to base camp. Exhausted but looking forward to getting back to civilisation we packed a mule and continued the walk all the way back to the park entrance where we took a bus back to Mendoza arriving at midnight – 24 very tiring hours!

The return to a hot, civilised town where you can control room temperatures and eat meat – eat anything other than porridge or pasta for that matter – and to see Elizabeth again after nearly two weeks was amazing. We went out for a celebratory late dinner and then to a nightclub where we popped open a bottle of cheap champagne - meaning it was about 6am before we finally got to bed.

Sunrise over the Andes - this was the highest we got

It was devastating not to reach the summit of Aconcagua but the experience was amazing and both Edd and I said just how much we’d learnt and everything we’d take from the trip. In the end we felt unlucky but with everything that happened on our summit attempt, the dangerous weather, the fact we were on the mountain alone I did wonder if the broken crampon was fate’s way of keeping us out of harm, of forcing us to descend and in any case that it will make next time (and there will be a next time!) all the sweeter when we summit!

Mendoza and then...

Mendoza, the Argentine wine region, is stunning. The weather is lovely and sunny, the scenery is very picturesque with rows upon rows of vines with a backdrop of craggy mountains. We signed up for a Bikes and Wines tour or as I later kept calling it a "Bines and Wikes tour", a very civilised way of exploring the area, sampling wines from several vineyards, stopping for a delicious country-kitchen style lunch and putting Tom and Edd to the test with a blind taste testing - needless to say neither of them could tell the difference between white or red wine!

Align Centre

Then the time came for Tom and Edd to start their Aconcagua research.......

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Christmas in Buenos Aires, New Year in Uruguay

Christmas morning

Strolling around La Boca, BA's tango district

Santa's little helper

We spent Christmas Day strolling around a rather peaceful Buenos Aires – we’d previously been warned that the city literally shuts down over Christmas and New Year and basically resembles a ghost town – fortunately this wasn’t entirely true. We walked the length and breadth of the city taking in the sights and paying a visit to the cemetery (not as bleak as it sounds) where Argentina’s rich and famous are buried including Evita Peron.

Intricate tombs in the Recoleta cemetery

We headed back to the hostel for Christmas dinner (an all you can eat BBQ rather than the usual turkey with trimmings) and spent the evening chatting to a Dutch psychiatrist we’d met a few days earlier at Iguazu Falls (no doubt being psychoanalysed) before heading to bed in true Christmas style – stuffed!

Extremely well fed and watered!
Tom’s friend Edd arrived on the morning of Boxing Day so again we set out to explore, stopping off at a fantastic steak restaurant for a leisurely lunch. Needless to say the run up to New Year with Tom’s other friend Bez arriving on 28th was spent sampling some of Argentina’s best steak joints, all washed down with top class “vino tinto”.

A typical Argentinian restaurant

Tango at the San Telmo Sunday market -

Then came the plan for NYE – finally convincing the boys that travelling to a beach in Uruguay on New Year’s Eve only to travel back to BA the following day with nowhere to stay when we arrived there was a terrible idea, they finally succumbed and we booked ourselves into an incredibly overpriced hostel for 31st Dec and 1st Jan. Then came the tricky execution of the plan... we finally set off from BA around 3pm on a ferry to Colonia, a small port in Uruguay. Unfortunately as this was easily the busiest day of the year for the ferry company our departure was massively delayed which meant we had a pretty tight timeframe to work to. Arriving in Colonia we jumped on a bus down the coast to the capital Montevideo where upon arrival we were told all the buses to Punta del Este (our destination) were full and were left with only one option – a 2 hour, expensive taxi ride. So speeding our way to Punta frantically texting my friend Anna who was already there planning a firework party for our arrival, we reached Punta at about 10pm. Rather unfortunately our Montevideo taxi driver didn’t have a clue where our hostel was which added about 45 minutes to the journey. By this point we were all starving so made a beeline for a pizzeria, we ordered and ate in record time but were then faced with a total lack of taxis (by now the time was approaching 11.30pm so clearly all the taxi drivers had called it a night in time for midnight). So we were stuck desperately searching for a taxi as the minutes continued to tick by. I had a horrible realisation that after all our effort I was in the same beach town as one of my best friends but with absolutely no way of meeting her (needless to say pretty annoyed with fate’s cruel hand...)

However it wasn’t all bad, by midnight we had found our way to the beach front and watched an incredible firework display all around the bay. The town then turned to party mode and after a last attempt at flagging down a taxi (still none in sight) we partied on the beachfront with the crème de la crème of Uruguay and Argentina (who all flock to Punta to celebrate NYE).

New Year’s Day was spent sunning ourselves on the beach before we headed back to BA earlier today (2nd).

We’re now on an overnight bus to Mendoza (the country’s wine region) where we’re planning to spend the next few days tasting some of the best red wine on offer in South America – not bad for two backpackers on a tight budget!