Uruguay: 30 Before 30!

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I caught the travel bug later than most people. I didn’t do a gap year, never spent my summer holidays working abroad and didn’t get on a plane until I was 14 (apart from when my parents took me away as a baby which is a very faded memory). But the last few years of my life have been a jet setting whirlwind. From long haul backpacking trips and cramming in a lot of city breaks my passport has slowly been filling up with stamps. Over Christmas I sat down and made a list of all the countries I had been to only to find I was on number 29! Being a big fan of round numbers and with my 30th birthday approaching I was desperate to get to 30 before 30 so when we learned we could hop on a ferry to nearby Uruguay it was a no brainer that we ticked this country off!

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Booking it was a bit of a faff especially trying to translate the Spanish Buquebus website but we got there in the end and joined the long queue of travellers in the swanky ferry terminal. A quick hour later we pulled up at the port in the muddy coloured waters as the sun beamed down on us.

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We headed to UNESCO site Colonia Del Sacramento a very pretty beach town. We stumbled across a beautiful secluded beach and drank cold beer watching locals play beach football. We ate fancy ice-cream (pineapple and dark chocolate nomnomnom) sat in an ivy covered garden as butterflies fluttered past. We got silly in the sand posing like idiots without a care in the world. We soaked up the beer with cheap sloppy burgers watching the world go by. It was all magical.

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You can even hire golf buggies to zip around this charming town, something we realised too late after the afternoon beers (boo) but it looked so much fun. If we ever go back that is something I HAVE to do! It was such a great day out especially having space to breathe and take things at a slower pace compared to the bustling busyness of Buenos Aires we had gotten used to. Obviously getting a tiny peak into this place was very short and sweet and I would have loved to have been able to explore more. However, it did make me realise how possible it is to do a ‘Country in a Day’ (a taste at least) especially living in Europe where cheap flights are a plenty. This is something I would love to do more of. Uruguay: it wasn’t nearly long enough but what a special unexpected country to tick off my list.

How many countries have you been to? Where’s next on your list?

The Bright Lights of Buenos Aires

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The constant roar of traffic, people everywhere and so many things to do it kind of hurts your brain… welcome to Buenos Aires. We chose to spend Christmas and New Year in this crazy Capital city caught up in the buzz of the place, it truly was a festive season like no other.

In the run up to Christmas we took strolls around the pretty Palermo neighbourhood, got drunk on cheap beer and played ping pong (badly) to the amusement of many Argentinians whose non-tourist bar we gate-crashed with the lovely Kerry (she’s a fab author, runs the mentoring scheme I’m on and I’ve now decided my new BFF), ate so much steak I may start mooing and enjoyed relaxing days after being on the road practically non-stop since October.

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On Christmas Eve we exchanged gifts and sat on the balcony in t-shirts and shorts drinking cold beer, playing cards and watching cracking fireworks until 3am. Christmas day was spent catching up with loved ones, dips in the rooftop pool, recovering from a hangover and yet more steak and wine. It was heaven.

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We then moved to the centre of the city in another AirB&B apartment (I’ll do a future blog post on this as it is such a fab lil scheme) where we had a tiny apartment on the 12th floor overlooking this urban jungle. It even came with a gym so after overindulging we promised ourselves we would sweat out the steak but exercising in this heat ain’t clever or pretty (see how easy I made excuses not to go).

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Then with the year quickly coming to a close we prepared for 2015. I’m not the biggest NYE fan. I hate the forced fun pressure that you have to be doing something AMAZING, as if that one night will be an indication of how the following year will play out. Meh. We had already decided to have a quiet night in but as we had low expectations of the evening it turned out to be one of my best NYE ever! Why is that always the way?! (The pics are pants but trust me it was a good ‘un!)

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We played stupid games, danced around the apartment to cheesy tunes, ate (yep you guessed it) more steak and got very merry indeed. Then a few hours after my family and friends welcomed 2015 back home it was our turn and what a welcome. We camped out on the balcony with a magnum of red wine soaking up the firework fight that lit up the skyline. I have never ever witnessed fireworks like this in my life. Fire crackers popped on the streets, neighbours let off bangers from their balconies, Chinese lanterns floated heavenwards and everywhere you looked were gorgeous bright colours sparkling in the dark sky. My head was turning so fast trying to soak it all up I nearly cricked my neck! It went on for about 25 minutes and even then it felt like it was over too soon.

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There may have been a few tears shed for the end of 2014, a year mixed with both happy highs such as embracing my French life, being bitten by the travel bug and finishing my manuscript but also very sad lows especially in losing my wonderful grandma. But a new year a new start and so much fun adventures to be had. Let’s all remember to keep looking forward, never back, as that’s the direction we’re heading!

31st December 2014 was so magical, emotional and bloody fantastic much like I hope 2015 will be for both you and I! *Pulls you in for a big squidgy group hug*

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Spending Christmas in a Foreign Country

 

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It’s Christmas Eveeeeeeeee!! Are you feeling festive? Is the tree decked, are the presents wrapped, are you ready for the big fat man to visit? Well I’m writing this in the sweltering heat sat wearing a bikini deciding when to take the next dip in the pool, and yep folks this will be how I will be spending Christmas day too as we are in Buenos Aires for the big day.

Our Christmas dinner will consist of empanadas, a juicy Argentinan steak washed down with stupidly cheap but bloody great red wine and ice cream for dessert to cool us down as temperatures rise. It’s not the same as a belly buster Christmas day meal complete with stuffing, pigs in blankets and flaming xmas puds but it’s fun to mix up those festive traditions.

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The thing about spending Christmas in a different country is to embrace it like a local. Don’t try and reproduce your nans signature gravy or scour the shops looking for a tin of quality streets. You can’t celebrate an English Christmas anywhere but in England as it just won’t be the same! That’s not to say different means better or worse … just different.

I haven’t spent Christmas day in the UK for the past two years. In 2012 I was in Thailand celebrating with pizza, sunbathing and beers on the beach with awesome new friends from all over the world.20130104-212306

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In 2013 I experienced my first French Christmas in the town I lived for the past year. The festivities began on Christmas eve including a 7 course dinner and nearly drowning in wine and cheese. It was great! And for 2014 we are in Argentina who knows where we’ll be next year.

Of course that’s not to say I’m not slightly jealous seeing people on twitter getting excited about wearing naff jumpers, watching trashy xmas films or having that excitement of the build-up before the big day. There are things I don’t miss like the panic buying of presents, the mad rush to get everything ready before you finish work and the pressure of trying to fit in visits with as many friends and relatives as you and your petrol gauge will allow for. Spending Christmas abroad takes away a lot of this stress and pressure that things have to be perfect as you can just wake up and do whatever tickles your pickle.

Yes there won’t be many presents to open (budget backpacking doesn’t lend itself to luxuries like this), we won’t be watching the queens speech (not that I have ever seen this!) and our families and friends won’t be celebrating with us but they are just a facetime or skype call away. Rather than feeling frazzled and taking things for granted having space and time away means I am mega excited to spend the day how I want – feeling very lucky and happy.

I wish you all a very merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad whatever you do or wherever you are just please have a glass of mulled wine for me!

Have you ever spent Christmas abroad?

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Glacier Hunting In Ushuaia

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Have you ever visited anywhere that made you feel a bit meh? Ushuaia definitely made us feel a bit flat. But we were never going to be here again and not everyone is lucky to have reached the end of the world so we slapped on smiles, gave ourselves a pep talk and promised to make the best of a disappointing place.

As I said here the main attractions are expensive but we found a fun way to spend an afternoon by doing a small hike to a glacier covered mountain. I don’t know why after this happened when we climbed a volcano but hey gluttons for punishments or whatevs.

We made our way to the top of the town where the mountain lies, wrapped up ready to stretch out legs and breathe in that healthy mountain air. There is a ski lift but it was broke so we hit the route that the sweet little guy in the information hut at the base of the trek had given us on a small map.

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Now any hard-core hiker knows what you need is a solid walking pole or in our case a whacking great stick. We scrambled in the undergrowth for a suitable staff and hacked off the end so it was the right height now we were practically pros!

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Then what do all seasoned hikers do with said stick? Use it as a light sabre of course ahem.

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We stopped kidding around and hit the road, a dusty steep path crossing babbling brooks and wonky wobbling bridges. The wind bent trees bowed down to us as we pushed through to get to the mountain a stark white contrast against the blue sky.

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On the way down we spotted an unused quad that we were hoping to jump start to get us down the route faster. But not wanting a brush with the law we continued on our little feet.

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We warmed up with a tasty steak, our first Argentinian hunk of beef and it did not disappoint, in a tiny Irish bar in the town as well as get in the festive mood. It may not feel that Christmassy over here but the ice cold winds certainly give us a little taste of home!

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I’d Go To The End Of The World For You

IMG_9828No it’s not some cheesy pick up line that you will go to the end of the world for someone it can actually come true. When we planned our South American trip we had wanted to visit the end of the world, the last point of human inhabitation on earth also known as Ushuaia. We had built it up to be this magical place and truthfully we were bitterly disappointed. Sometimes when you travel you can have high expectations and the places you visit can sadly under deliver. This was one of these places for us.

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We left our cosy log cabin in Punta Arenas and had a 12 hour bus journey including passing through Chile and Argentina’s land borders to get further south as well as a dirty old boat to cross the Magellan Straits.

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The closer we got the more the scenery changed from raw rugged landscapes to snow topped mountains and lush green forests. Arriving tired, smelly but excited we piled off the bus stretching our legs and taking it all in.

Ushuaia is a busy port town with clomping great cruise ships, cargo boats and steel shipping containers hogging the waters. Horns blaring, gulls squawking and seamen shouting orders at one another is the backing track to this chilly town. Although not as windy as Punta Arenas you still had to be well wrapped up and protected from the bitter elements.

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It’s the meeting point for those rich lucky travellers who pay ridiculous amounts of cash to spend a week or so cruising to the Antarctic, with tours costing from £8000 each it was waaaay out of our budget to join them.

So why were we so disappointed? Well I think we had expected it to feel more remote like we actually were at the end of the world but it is an expensive tourist town lacking in a certain charm. The main high street was being redeveloped so you had to watch your step over crumbling concrete, shout to be heard over the road works and avoid open man holes. The restaurants, hostels and shops are stupidly expensive and unless you paid to go on a pricey tour (like to see penguins/boat trips) there wasn’t that much to do.

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It won’t feel like this for everyone but for us it was a good lesson in lowering expectations that way you are never disappointed. Being budget travellers this town isn’t catered towards us but at least we can say we’ve been to the end of the world …. it is just a shame I was just as happy to leave too!

Have you ever visited anywhere that made you feel a bit meh, that it wasn’t worth the hype?

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