Friday, January 19, 2007


Thank you all for reading and if you have got this far I really am impressed not even all my family members have made it to this point!
Other thanks go to my big pink sunglasses (you love them or you hate them but you never ever forget them); my flight socks (definately not my most sexy item of clothing but certainly required on those long journeys); my iPod (for not packing up and keeping me sane on those long journeys); and last but not least Koala, who has been everywhere, been laughed at (many, many times), survived almost decapitation and always been prepared to give me a hug.
Finally a few facts: of the 290 days i've been away i've spent it in 66 different towns, spent 20 nights on buses and 2 nights on aeroplanes, travelled through seven countries (including Spain), been up to almost 6000m above sea level and down to 150m underground, learnt to dive and to speak spanish, crossed the equator 6 times, swam in two oceans, eaten a guinea pig, travelled the entire length of the continent (over land, by bus) and learnt to never ever throw toilet roll down the toilet (hopefully i'll try to unlearn that one now i'm home).

is this the end?

and so, i write the final entry from the same place i wrote the first (that will be LS 23 then). and i'm asking myself what has changed here?... not much my sister has bought a house (strangely so has my dad) and my mum has put her wedding photos in an album. its colder and slightly darker than when i left but otherwise i look out of the window and see the same people, the same houses and the same trees.
That is not to say that i'm not delighted to be home and possibly the familiarity of it all is what is so exciting. The flight home is the only journey (without exception) that i have taken, in which i have been literally unable to sit still due to anticipation (or knowing) of what i'm going towards. Every other journey has had an element of the unknown- will i like it/the people?; will the people like me?; will i find a bed to sleep in?; etc. but this time i knew exactly what i was getting- laura waiting at the airport followed by much (caffeine fuelled) talking all the way back to Bramham, at which point i was greeted by a lovely glass of red wine beside the fire and some belated christmas presents.
and am i different? well judging by the easy way we all fell into conversation, my unforgettable way of picking at the food before its served, licking the wine bottle rim after pouring or interrupting - it would seem not. have i learnt things? yes, i'd hope so but i'd also hope i would learn things after a year at home in Leeds too. I've probably learnt different things and i'm sure i'm different in subtle ways (or perhaps i've learnt the art of that?!) or can now manage to express a few sentences in spanish (how i say Buenos Aires or Uruaguay seems to be a constant source of amusement). but i'm sure i'll fit right back in where i left off.
what was my favourite place/thing? This i've been asked many time in the last month and i can honestly say i that i don't really have a favourite place/thing that i've been/done. If pushed, i'd probably say that would be something really difficult like climbing Huayna Potosi or trekking to the Lost City, or something really fun like Buenos Aires for christmas and new year or maybe simply just the month that i spent with Roo in Peru (despite that definately not being my favourite country). What i've decided is that what has made my trip has been the people i've met and for the most part the people i've met have been wonderful. They have had the capacity to make even the dullest places seem fun and raise a smile whatever calamity has befallen me. and so thank you, all of you- you all know who you are and rest assured you haven't heard the last of me! (and by the same token some of the most spectacular places could have been quite ordinary without that person making me smile). I guess i'm just not a scenery girl, give me people any day.
And now for the shortest paragraph, what is it that i've been doing for my last week in Buenos Aires? Not much is the answer.
I did manage to go to one charity event- a soup kitchen where i helped cook dinner for over a hundred people from a really poor neighbourhood. I did enjoy alot and do feel a little bad that i only managed this once (but not so bad i guess to have made me go again). The contrast between those who live in the lovely flats where i've been shopping or taking photos to the neighbourhood where people are queuing up with plastic boxes to get the weak beef stew that i have cooked for them and will serve to them in a mud floored hall was quite astounding and certainly humbling.
The 3 Musketeers had their final days at the millhouse and i was very sad to see Kate and Hannah leave but happily soon found that the swedish girls in my dorm were good fun and equally up for having a laugh, so we enjoyed many more drunken but tasty meals around town.
and of course shopping, shopping and more shopping!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Losing my heart as well as a good deal of my memory in Buenos Aires

I arrived in BsAs slightly frazzled after my immense journey north and certainly overwhelmed by the heat in the city. I checked into the Milhouse Hostel- as described in the guide book as a 'party hostel', my first impressions were of a very disorganised students' union (staffed by some of the hottest looking people i had seen for a long time) and went to find Kate & Hannah, two English girls I had met in Bolivia and arranged to meet here for christmas.
I wish i could say that i spent the 10 days leading up to new year doing cultural activities spending my time in art galleries, dancing tango or seeing the sights and admiring the architecture but that would be a lie... Instead I caught up on gossip with the girls and the time seemed to pass very quickly in a (slightly blurry) haze of laughter, wine and shopping.
Christmas day was certainly very different for me. I have to admit having christmas in the middle of summer (it reached 43 degrees on christmas day!!) is a bit strange and the total lack of all the tacky commericalism that you find at home didn't make any of us feel very christmassy. Our multinational Christmas dinner consisted of steak, red wine (lots of both and definately no brussel sprouts!) and a few tears after each one of us rang home. Most argentines celebrate 'christmas' on christmas eve and so by early evening on the 25th the city seemed pretty much back to normal.
The sun set on 2006 whilst I watched a big free tango show and classical concert in the main avenue of BsAs and then I spent night disco dancing in a huge stylish open air club, that oddly, had a pond right in the middle of it (needless to say some of us left a lot wetter than we had arrived). We stayed til dawn and watched the first beautiful sunrise of 2007.
Once our hangovers had worn off we decided to have a few days relaxing on the beaches in Uruaguay. It turned out to be rather more difficult to get there than it should have been-a 4 hour journey became a 10hour epic! But we got there only to find it is right in the middle of high season and the hostels think it reasonable to double their prices!!! We stayed just long enough for me to turn most parts of my body pink and somehow get sand into every item of clothing I own.
Now back in BsAs we have managed to visit those art galleries, see the sights, take lots of pictures and generally enjoy the culture. and i love it. Anyone who spoke to me after coming back from Barcelona last year will know how cool i think it is there- well double that and you get close to how cool BsAs is! I'm intending to spend the rest of my time here in the city, perhaps do some more volunteer work or perhaps just more shopping and try to maintain my tan.

...and so

...the story continues.
We arrived in El Calefate after many many hours on the bus.
It seems the only reason that people come to El Calefate for is to look at the enormous glacier, say ahh, watch bits fall off, take some photos and then get the hell out of the town as it is superficial and hugely expensive. We did exactly that but I have to say that the glacier was absolutely amazing and worth the huge price you have to pay to get even a cheap look at it. I also made time for some more ice cream eating and some jewelery shopping (of course!).
Then to El Chalten for some serious hiking... I arrived in El Chalten alone (Rich was to arrive later that day, leaving me to organise (!!) a hostel for the night) and to step off the bus into a face full of freezing rain, surrounded by serious hikers all wearing more 'technical' clothing than is nessecery for a space trip to the moon; where as almost everything I was now wearing had been knitted and bought in Bolivia- i was wearing just about every possible colour/design/pattern of alpaca wool its possible to buy, wasn't a great start- even better that I had no map and no hostel reservation. So, being the resourceful person I am I followed the friendliest group of people to a hostel and checked in there.
El Chalten town is nothing to write about, in fact I could so far as to say it is possibly the uglyist most souless place i've ever been. I found out later that it had in fact only been built after a border dispute with Chile and was not even 20 years old, all the buildings resemble prefabricated garden sheds with corrugated metal roofs. There is no town centre and didn't even appear to be any locals, simply tourists and those people that sell things to tourists... Nevertheless, the views of the mountains once the fog and rain clear are supposed to be amazing- the only question now, when will the cloud lift. I spent the entire first day hanging out in the hostel which was reminiscent of a big comfy ski lodge, drinking hot chocolate and chatting. Rich arrived later and organised a walking map and the destination of tomorrows walk.
We spent the next five days walking through the national park of glaciers and it was very beautiful and peaceful but unfortunately we never had a day clear enough to see the top of the most famous mountain (Fitz Roy). Almost on many occasions we would reach the specified view point just as cloud and snow were closing in around us and have to retreat back down the mountain and most frustratingly on the one occasion we got closest to seeing the summit my digital camera took the opportunity to die! I was more than a little cross about this and it also means i've gone all old school and am now using 35mm film for the rest of my trip so you will have to use your imagination and look at my photos once i'm home.
I stayed in El Chalten until just before christmas before taking the bus all the way up to Buenos Aires- this meant 40 hours straight on the bus (for reasons I'm still unable to fathom Rich elected not to sit beside me!! obviously nothing to do with my irritating hyperactivity).

Thursday, January 04, 2007

merry christmas and happy new year!

hello there everyone.
i really hope you had as much fun as i did this year, did you? the truth is i'm still having fun, at present i'm on the beach in Uruguay so unfortunately i won't be giving a proper update just yet. but i thought i'd let you all know i'm still alive.
love ya, katie xx

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The bits usually edited...

After leaving Puerto Madryn we headed just down the road to Trelew, well known as where the welsh settlers landed. I was expecting cute picturesque villages, welsh voices and a proper cup of tea- our guide book being rather scant on information, we had made up our own impressions- what we arrived in was a smallish city, typically south american, no map of the city centre and (only after an hour of walking in the midday sun did we find this out) no hostels. We checked into the cheapest hotel we could find, thats when i realised i actually had a map in my guide book, cue guilty apologies from me to Rich for my minor strop and whinging in the preceeding hour as he couldn't find anywhere suitable to stay and my bag was too heavy (!! oops)- He took it well and we headed off to find some lunch as we were both starving.
We ate at one of the restaurants recommended by the lonely planet- oh when, oh when, will we learn that that usually means that they will be totally crap; we ate soggy, tasteless pizza and didn't leave a tip. After lunch we went to find how we could visit the nearby penguin colony (our reason for visiting Trelew in the first place), only to find that all the travel agents were closed on saturday afternoons (thats a bit of welsh logic for you- the only welsh influence we had yet to see in the town).
So in desparation we headed to the tourist information, where the helpful assistant told us that we had just missed this afternoons trip but we could go tomorrow and arrive back between 7 and 7.30pm. The only problem was that our bus left at 7.30 and there was absolutely no way either of us were going to stay another night in this depressing town, what to do? We went to a cafe to discuss it, except we couldn't find a cafe so we sat in the plaza instead.
After some diliberation and many embarassingly poor attempts to ring the tour agencies on their out of hours numbers we decided to risk it and take the afternoon tour tomorrow. Then we spent the afternoon in the dinosaur museum (patagonia has a wealth of rare mid jurassic fossils, interestingly enough)- i touched a real petrified dino bone (is that just a big bit of stone then?- i wasn't sure) and Rich spent the afternoon taking photos of the amusing cartoons that illustrated the displays; then we watched a documentary about digging up fossils! fun all round then.
The following morning (sunday), it was even more difficult to find anywhere open- we ate suprisingly good pastries in the plaza again and just hung out in the one cafe we found open before heading off to the penguin colony in the afternoon.
And this was definately worth it, our driver tld us that there were about 100,000 breeding couples in the colony and it is chick time at present. We were able to wander, almost where ever we wanted around the colony and under virtually every bush was a parent penguin and chick, and all around they were wobbling along looking like toddlers taking their first steps, we could watch from the small cliffs as masses of them waddled into the swim and frolicked in the waves in search of fish. I spent the majority of the time trying to take the perfect photo only to have each bird move at the crucial time, very annoying!
We headed back and with luck were in plenty of time for the bus- we then spent the next 18 hours on a bus. We passed the most boring monotonous scenery, miles and miles of flat plains with no interesting vegetation and certainly no animals to look at- kind of nuclear winter-esque, pretty huh? The junk food i ate contained enough e numbers to keep a class of small children awake for at least 3 days, consequently after 12 hours or so i was bouncing off the walls and acting very childishly indeed; great fun for Rich, who unfortunately for him, was sat beside me for the entire journey. He showed great restraint and managed not to kill me so we both arrived in Rio Gallegos fresh and ready (!) for our next journey of 5 hours to finally reach our destination. El Calefate.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The best so far

i've finally managed to leave the amazing ice cream counters of Barriloche and i'm now on the Atlantic coast in Puerto Madryn. Here there are no mountains (obviously) but its lovely to be by the sea again (which i haven't seen since august in Columbia). The coast is rugged, windswept, beautiful and not at all like the carribean coast- it is also home to much wildlife; sealions, right whales, seals, killer whales, penguins, dolphins, andina foxes and armadillos, to spot this wildlife it is necessary to take a tour. Whilst looking into which tour to take we stumbled across another option- to dive with the sealions. Guess what we decided to do?
It was absolutely amazing!
We arrived at the dive shop first thing in the morning and met the other 5 people diving with us and head off towards the sealion colony. After about 25minutes boat ride we arrived just off shore from a fairly large sealion colony and the sea lions immediately began to jump off the rocks into the ocean and come to investigate us in the boat whilist we were suiting up as quickly as possible and one by one splashing over the edge into the icy waters.
As soon as i entered the water there were sealions everywhere, and they unlike me under the waeter, they are incredibly graceful and very inquisitive. We all descended together and the sealions with us- above, below and all around. I felt something on my hood and looked up to come face to face with a cheeky sealion taking a nibble, which straightaway somersaulted and with a flick of his tail was gone. I must admit is was slightly disconcerting that often i would look around unable to move a body part and find that i had a sealion attached! but i think that to them it was just a game- so were almost pet-like and would allow me to stroke their stomachs or grab my arm between their two front paws. Everyone else seemed to be finding it as amazing as I and our time underwater flew by, and when we resurfaced noone could stop talking about just how friendly they had been, but also just how cold the water had been- my face was numb where it was exposed to the water!
But we didn't have much time for warming up, some soup and chocolate biscuits (not dipped in one another i add) as the boat took us to our next dive sight. The second dive was not at a sealion colony but at a wreck site. This is a new experience for me (well actually most of the diving is), and being by far the least experienced diver on the boat i was a little nervous- about the depth, the water temperature, the wreck, well most things about the dive really. We soon reached the wreck, suited up and jumped in again.
We followed a rope down and the deeper we got i could definately feel the temperature drop off very quickly, once at the wreck it should have been possible to see huge salmon swimming beneath it but alas they were not around so we explored the wreck somewhat- i wasn't allowed inside (not enough experience) and the visibility wasn't too good, looking off inot the distance i couldn't seefar into the green gloom that enveloped us. At this depth (25m- by far the deepest i have dived) i was using up my oxygen quickly and everyone was getting cold so we didn't stay down long- found the rope again and slowly made our way to the surface and then back to shore for a well deserved hot drink.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

where am i?

At this bit you should be looking of snowcapped mountains, crystal clear lakes, pine forests, chocolate shops and me eating an enormous ice cream but as the computer here is so rubbish i'm unable to upload any photos....... just imagine...... are you imagining?
well it looks like switzerland but obviously its not- as i'm in Argentina. well thats the joke spoiled now i can tell you what i've been doing here.
After leaving Malargue I headed down to San Martin de los Andes, then on to Villa la Angostura and finally i'm in Barriloche now. The whole region here is beautiful, and perfect for walking. This is what i have been doing lots of.
In San Martin.. i was again the only english speaker but met lots of friendly spanish and germans. I spent the days walking around the lake (well i got as far as the beach and then sun-bathed), then the afternoons eating the most wonderful ice cream and the long light evenings eating steak and drinking red wine. perfect.
i left San Martin after a few days for the tiny village of Villa la Angostura, again very prettily set at the egde of a huge but perfectly clear (and very cold lake). Again more walking, this time with a french student studying in Buenos Aires- we spent the day speaking a mixture of english, spanish and the tiniest bit of french and ended up walking alot further than anticipated. We set off to the nearby port to walk along to the end of a penisular with some pretty odd trees at the end and then to catch the ferry back; but on arriving at the end of the penisular we found that neither of us had enough money for the exsorbitantly expensive boat ride back so we had to walk. This made our short morning stroll into a rather longer 30km walk. The peninsular was beautiful and we had the forest of flaky barked trees and the small dock all to our selves. From the small port we could look out over the enormous lake at the tree pined banks which were framed by massive but distant snow capped mountains. We arrived back at the hostel that evening absolutely starving but feeling like we had earned a good tea and spent that saturday night watching films and drinking beer.
The following day i headed on to Barriloche, the town at the other end of the same lake- the 2 hour bus ride in itself was beautiful and passes through what is called the lake district (slightly more spectacular than windemere i have to add). The bus wound its way through the pine forests along side many glacial lakes and beautiful, colourful spring flowers. And guess what i got up to in Barriloche?..... yes thats right a bit more walking but as well as walking Barriloche is also famous for its ice cream and so in between walks i've probably eaten my own body weight in the best ice cream i've ever tasted! i'd better not stay here too long otherwise i'll not be able to walk out at all, they'll have to roll me down to the bus terminal!

Friday, December 01, 2006

I've done my homework...

ok, here it is the full and complete version of "God save the Queen"- our national anthem; but first some interesting facts for all you fact fans:
1. it was first publicly performed in London in 1745 for King George II after his defeat of Jacobite, claimate to both Scottish and English throne
2. It was the first song ever to be used as a national anthem, in the history of the world...
3. and hence the tune (and in some cases words) were copied by numerous other countries. The following countries have all used the complete song (translated) or just the melody as their anthem; France, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechenstein.
4. In football, when England played Liechenstein in a Euro 2004 qualifier the same tune was played twice!
5. The tune was played at the inauragration of President Bush in 2001- it is known in the US by its first line (which is an altered), "My country, Tis of thee"
6. Only verses 1 (and very occasionally 3) are sung on official occasions; verse 6 is never sung and causes great offence in some parts of Scotland!

1. God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us;
God save the Queen!

2. O Lord our God arise,
Scatter her enemiesAnd make them fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all!

3. Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign;May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen!

4. Not in this land alone,
But be God's mercies known,
From shore to shore!
Lord make the nations see,
That men should brothers be,
And form one family,
The wide world over.

5. From every latent foe,
From the assassins blow,
God save the Queen!
O'er her thine arm extend,
For Britain's sake defend,
Our mother, prince, and friend,
God save the Queen!

6. Lord grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the King!

On occasssions either "Jerusalem" or "Land of Hope and Glory" are substituted. (eg when England plays Scotland/Wales in a sporting event)

...and that rather just proves i have a little too much time on my hands!