The Future of Argentinian Football

Quick intro: so a while ago Doireann wrote a post about her week in Buenos Aires before the rest of us arrived in South America, and this is the Part II of that post. The link to Part I is here if you want to recap on her solo shenanigans! Over to Doireann…

 

So to pick up where I left off, I woke up early the morning that Holly was due to arrive as I wanted to make sure I could message her back if she had any problems in the airport. I gave her the address of the hostel I was staying in so we could meet there and walk over to our new hostel and check in. She arrived tired and slightly delirious but nonetheless I checked out and dragged her over to the new hostel where we left off our big rucksacks and made to walk down to the area called La Boca.

I had seen pictures of these amazingly coloured houses in La Boca but I think I thought that was what the whole area would look like.

We walking through San Telmo where we came across a small art festival happening in a small park at the end of the San Telmo. It was geared towards children because their winter holidays had just begin, but as Holly always says, we are children. We got to do a little art with ink and learnt a little about optical illusions.

When we got to La Boca, to my surprise it was not the coloured houses I was expecting. We made it as far as Boca Juniors stadium (a pretty big deal for any of you football fans) and we were getting slightly desperate. We kept pointing at any house that had even a bit of coloured to it, wondering if we had been tricked a little by photos filled with filters and photoshops. Thankfully we had a tourist map with us that had a star in an area in La Boca called El Caminito so we figured it couldn’t hurt to walk a little further and see if that was what we are looking for. The cool thing about the walk from the stadium to El Caminito is that you can follow the train tracks down these walled streets that are covered in some of the most beautiful graffiti/murals I’ve ever seen. Agazzi is celebrating, an old woman has wings and it don’t even really know how to put into words some of the others.

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Eventually Holly and I spotted a brightly coloured square and we were very relieved to see that we had in fact reached our destination. If you have ever seen picture of El Caminito, I can tell you know, its exactly how you imagine it. I don’t know how or why it happened but I really do enjoy it. The shops are just little toursits shops, nothing of real note but if you are walking along the streets and look up, you can see the puppets staring down at you from their balconies, both entertaining and creepy. We ate our lunch there, sitting outside a bright yellow restaurant, eating the biggest bruschetta I’ve ever seen and enjoying the winter sunshine.

We picked up an ice cream on our way back to our hostel, where we were shown our room and Holly KOd in about three seconds for a pre tango snooze. That night (when Holly finally rose from the DED) we went to a free tango class our hostel offered. We figured liquid courage was a good idea so we went down to the hostel bar to order two glasses of wine. We saw the price and figured €3 for a glass of nice red wine was not to bad at all. When we ordered two glasses of Colon red wine, the barman was a little confused. Ladies and gents, it was not €3 per glass but rather €3 per bottle. We figured one bottle between two was a far better idea than a bottle each (tango would require a lot of coordination.)

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Tango was very fun and Holly and I are pretty much pros. I won’t say too much except that one of us could have been a lot better with a more coordinated partner and the other fell in love. We were starving by the time it was over so we went to find an authentic Argentinian restaurant. Neither of us wanted steak which I think may have been our biggest mistake. A spanish omelette in that place was genuinely chipper chips (french fries) cooked into a cake with egg. We were not too impressed.

The following day, we were almost at full strength, with the arrival of Aisling and Aoife. We took them down to Recoleta cemetary which was the last place I had heard of that I wanted to see. It’s both creepy and beautiful. The whole place is a maze of ornate and massive tombs and graves. We did manage to find our way to one of the most important graves; that of Evita Peron. The graveyard was not for everyone (Holly) but I really enjoyed it.

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Afterwards we went to the Mueseum of Fine Art again and to the tapas place in San Telmo but not before a photoshoot in front Plaza Naciones Unidas, in front of that big tulip looking thing.

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We had a quick bop that night in the hostel party where Holly and I danced so vigourously that we found ourselves sourrounded by Brazilians telling us that we were the best dancers they had ever seen. One boy even told me that I could be the Queen of Sao Paolo if I went there. Since that night, Holly and I have agreed that one day, we WILL got to Sao Paolo to visit our people.

The following day we walked dow to the nature reserve which was nice but as we are in the middle of winter, I don’t think it was the best time to see it again. I showed them the beautiful Plaza de Mayo and was able to tell them what I remembered from my walking tour.

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The most important part of the day though was when we went back to La Boca and in the square we saw what we all agree is the future star of Argentinian soccer. A small boy who couldn’t have been older than three playing soccer with his dad had the jersey, the skills, the haircut and most importantly the celebration of a player who no doubt will go far. Safe to say we all wanted to bring him home with us because he may have been one of the cutest children I’ve ever seen.

In case anyone was worried, we did manage to eat steak in Buenos Aires too. Aisling and I are vegetarians so we stuck with gnocchi but Holly and Aoife both got a steak the size of my face, well deserved after the gruelling tango lesson we had just taken. We all went to bed that night will happy tummies and ready for the long day of flying to Lima!

 

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Cray Cray in Cusco

Hey guys! Aisling here, reporting from Cusco.

Cusco’s been INSANE.

Recent activities have given me the impression of Cusco being the party capital of the Andes, but let’s give you some non-alcoholically-influenced factual information about it first. Basically it was home to Incas before the Spanish conquistadores came pillaging their land, though reminders of what it must once have been can be seen mostly in the forms of grand Inca-esque statues erected to please the tourists during the taxi from the airport through the downtown to wherever your hostel is. Alpaca jumpers are rife here, as are the old traditionally-clad women carrying around baby alpacas who will take a photo with you for a sole or two. The streets are cobbled, the roads twist and climb as you reach the peripheries of the valley and the people are nut-brown and wary of tourists, though being Irish seems to go down well with the mostly affable taxi drivers.

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First impressions? For me it reminded me a little of Leh back in the Himalayas – a bigger, better structured version where electricity and running water are slightly more dependable, though with the same sort of atmosphere of being high and untouchable in the mountains; warm in the sun and icy-cold at night, a place of colour and contrast. It’s also at a similar altitude, at 3600m above sea level: not enough to make you uncomfortable, but enough to make lugging your backpack from the taxi to the hostel an especially arduous task. To combat the altitude, they offer you coca leaves and hot water at the airport to make coca tea: three leaves only, because the number three traditionally represents the spiritual body. Coca leaves are a traditional cure for everything. Why sit through six years of a medical degree only to discover that everything can be cured by one magical plant (the organic component of cocaine I might add)? Also available are coca toffees and hard-boiled sweets, if you’re not a fan of the bitter tea. Mrs Doyle wouldn’t be having any of that, now.

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We arrived in the morning, got stupendously ripped off for a cramped taxi ride to the Wild Rover (advertised as the world’s most dangerous party hostel, Irish-run and decorated with GAA jerseys. It’s the only time I’ve seen them and sort of wanted to weep), dumped our stuff and set off on a quick tour around the town. There are a couple of beautiful squares nearby, fountains centred gardens overlooked by magnificent cathedrals. These are the nicer parts of the city: particular towards the edges the houses become rough and the construction is barer and much of it is unfinished, more like Leh.

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The Wild Rover is a taste of home. It’s part of a chain of hostels that can be found in many of the towns we’ll be visiting, and its reputation as a wild party hostel is not over-emphasised: happy hour is from 8-10, free shots are poured straight from the decanter down your gullet if the barman likes you and you will inevitably be pulled up onto the bar to show off your best moves.

We didn’t save ourselves for the upcoming trek: for one night and one night only, five of the lads from the year ahead at college were joining us in Cusco and, determined to make the most of a happy coincidence, a steady self-imposed two-drink limit spun rapidly out of control. Not happy to let the singing, dancing and fooling around end at two in the morning when the Wild Rover bar staff, as reluctant as we were to let festivities end, turned the lights up and the music off, we ventured outside where somehow wristbands were clamped around our wrists and we were put in taxis to some unknown destination, which turned out to be a pretty cool club called The Temple. I danced on the bar for an hour and a half and had some serious joint pain the next day.

Bizarrely one of the club’s features was a shot-pouring priest who interrupted the busting of moves on the bartop whilst people ordered drinks through our legs.
“Are you a sinner?”

“What?”

“ARE YOU A SINNER?”

“YES, YES I AM A SINNER!”

“Then REPENT!”

(Pours mango shot down throat)

“Ahora, eres LIBRE!”

Yeeeeeaaaah, buddy.

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We all got up to our own shenanigans over the course of the night. There was scandal which only those of you privileged enough to know the parties involved will know, and much drunken solo wanderings around the city of Cusco at 3 a.m., chatting to random French people. Whether it was boys or booze or both, we had the craic!

Thankfully a day of much-needed rest ensued, ending with a briefing from the guys at Loki Travel about the upcoming jungle trek. Completing our packing late into the night, we settled down before our call at six the next morning.

The jungle trek most certainly deserves a post of its own, so sit tight and we’ll soon fill you in on the details: cycling, hiking, rafting and zip-lining, ending with the holy grail that is Machu Picchu. Inca-redible!

Update: said post has now been delivered; you can find the link to The Jungle Trek here and Machu Picchu here. Enjoy! 

Machu Picchu

Probably the most significant post of the blog to-date. One of the most incredible days of the entire trip.

We parted ways in the last post when one of our number was extremely unwell with altitude sickness and we didn’t know what was going to happen to her, or us, or the rest of our adventure.

Well, although by varying means and methods, we eventually all made it to the citadel, and here’s the proof!

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That’s Machu Picchu, and it’s amazing.

To finish telling you what happened to our friend, we decided that if she felt up to it, she’d get on one of the buses up to Machu Picchu in the morning and join us for the tour. If not, she could leave it until later. If not then… well, nobody liked the idea of her coming all the way here, right to the foot of Machu Picchu itself and not being able to see it, but we just had to hope that she’d be feeling better by then.

When we got up at four in the morning to queue up for the climb (that’s how popular it is), and our friend wasn’t feeling up to it. She was devastated; we all were. However there was always the possibility she’d be able to make it up later on a bus. So we abandoned her in our hostel room, no phones to keep in touch with her, no way of knowing if she was coming or not, or even if she was alright. But the possibility of the rest of us not going up to the citadel in order to look after her was killing her even more, so we left her there with water, her medication, her little travel pouch and her bus ticket, and headed out to the gate.

The climb would’ve been utterly impossible for her, we quickly realised as we started up. When the gates finally opened at 5 a.m., we handed in our tickets and our ID and crossed the bridge to the base. Within five minutes of starting, my quads were already screaming. The path up is entirely made of steps which is kind of nice and solid, but God, when you’re not really doing much else except sitting on buses and you’re at altitude, it’s not exactly a walk in the park. The main blessing was that it was short – doable in an hour, in some cases even 45 minutes, for us maybe an hour and fifteen.

This was our view on the way up as the sun started to rise with us…

The road we walked the previous day was visible far below us. You can actually see a tiny part of the citadel from down there but it’s easy to imagine that with the foliage grown around it how the Incas stayed hidden from the Spanish  conquistadors.

 

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Sweaty-backed, thirsty and light headed, we duck through the already-heaving crowds to the Sun Gate where you enter the Citadel. We walked, we walked… and then suddenly there was Machu Picchu.

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It’s exactly as incredible as you hear.

In the light of the pre-dawn it looks and feels eerie, ancient and mysterious – heavenly, but not in the fluffy, white-clouded Christian sense: the people who lived here believed in older, savage gods and human sacrifice. It feels like Mount Olympus – like the gods ruled the world from here.

With all that namby-pamby spiritual stuff aside, the architecture is amazing – the stones cut to fit exactly, the terraces evenly spaced and perfectly preserved, roofless houses open to the heavens still standing after all this time. It’s beautiful.

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We took the tour around with our guide. The sun hadn’t caught up to us yet and the morning felt cool and breezy. We learned the layout of the citadel – residences, communal areas, grazing areas, temples for worship… Did you know they also had laboratories and astronomy towers as well? They used labs – different sections of terrace – for determining what the best conditions were for growing crops as some were warmer and some had different soils. In the astronomy tower, there was an elevation in the floor for containing water, so that the Incas could look in the reflections of the celestial bodies and not be blinded by them. Are you as smart as an Inca?

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This has to be one of my favourite pictures from the holiday – Holly’s face floating in the astronomy water bowl. Talk about being among the stars!

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These were the grazing areas, in the centre of the citadel, just like the llamas seemed to be at the centre of Incan culture. They do in fact keep live llamas up there, who do an excellent job of maintaining the lawns. Check out this bunch! IMG_0405.JPG

When we’d done the tour, we climbed back up to the top, and the dawn began to break over the citadel.

The word spectacular doesn’t even do it justice.

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I’m giving up on words. There’s no point.

 

I’m dead serious when I say go through each of those photos and have a good look. It doesn’t take a great photographer. You could honestly point the camera any which way you wanted and get the best picture of your life.

Once the tour was over we had some food, explored a bit more, then decided to wait at the bus stop, in case our fallen friend had managed to brave it up on the bus. We had no idea of knowing if she was coming or not, or even if she was OK, but we decided it’d be best to wait for her where we knew we could find her if she managed it.

lot of buses come up to Machu Picchu, we learned. One would arrive every ten minutes or so, and every single time we’d raise our heads in hope that this one would be carrying her – or this one… or the next one… We scanned the windows as they came into the station and watched the crowds climb down, but we didn’t see her.

Time wore on and it wasn’t looking likely. Holly literally leapt to her feet when she saw a pair of our friend’s signature Timberlands stepping down from the bus, but they belonged to a stranger. The sun was getting hot in the afternoon heat and we wondered if it was time to go. We set ourselves a 2 o’clock limit and waited some more.

Then she came! Startling the crowds around us, we jumped off our bench and ran, roaring at the sight of her. I honestly think seeing her come off that bus got us more worked up than seeing Machu Picchu itself. Our friend was tired and wasn’t going to manage any strenuous climbing around the citadel, but she was alive and she was at the top with us. A great day got even better!

Now I guess I can include all the cheesy group photos of us at the citadel, alpaca jumpers included to look the part…

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So that’s us, finally having a jolly old time altogether at Machu Picchu. Finally!

Now, let’s get onto the llamas – what everyone wants to hear about! They’re funny fellows, although they’re shite craic altogether as far as taking their picture is concerned. That’s a whooooole lotta s-ass.  I’ve been looking at this picture for ages and I still can’t figure out what’s going on with his legs.

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Shawty having none of it from Holly:

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Look at that face.

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It ruins the fairytale a bit to tell you that they pull out their front two teeth to stop them biting the tourists, which is pretty sad. You can imagine what this little guy wants for Christmas. (You’re saying his two front teeth; I’m thinking the death of all humankind. They’re devilish creatures. You never know what they might be plotting.)

I find llamas hilarious. They don’t even need to do anything to be funny – it’s that face. So much personality. And so much attitude. They’re so pretentious and haughty that it’s funny seeing them walk around on their skinny little ankles, like Victorian women with arses like bustles. I did get one of them to like me though. Food is the key to any relationship, I’ve learned.

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And this fellow chewing on his banana skin. Bless.

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So I guess that’s it. The rest of the day was taken up by the climb down and one last stop at Aguas Calientes to catch a train to Ollantaytambo, where a bus picked us up to bring us back to Cusco. All of us were in an exhausted daze as the journey wore on, still almost in a stupor as we thought back on what we’d seen that day.

The thing about Machu Picchu is that you hear all about it before you go: you hear the other travellers raving about it, you read the stories, learn the history, listen to the legends – you know exactly what you’re going to see before you see it, and it will still blow your mind. It’s the only reason I knew writing this post wouldn’t be a spoiler for anyone hoping to go someday – you just can’t spoil it. It’ll be forever spectacular.

 

 

 

 

Next up: dancing on bartops in Cusco! Coming soon 😉

 

The Jungle Trek

Still Aisling, still writing from Cusco, but we’ve just come back from a three-day adventure through the jungles of Peru ending at Machu Picchu. Mind = blown.

Many people opt to do the hard-going traditional Incan and Salkantay treks leading to the base of the mountain, four- and five-day hikes that show you old Incan sites of residence and worship. We decided to do something called the Jungle Trek which involved much less walking and a few more very fun activities along the way, such as rafting, downhill biking and zip-lining before climbing Machu Picchu on the last morning. Lemme tell y’all about it!

Day 1: Biking and rafting

We got up early on the morning of the first day and were picked up by one of the guys from Loki travel who run this whole show. The van took us on a journey across and up the mountains where we rose to 4,200m to the top of Abra Malaga, among glacier-topped peaks, and were given our bikes.

Said glacier-topped peaks…

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Then began the great descent! 2000m straight down over three hours. The Loki guys were pretty good, giving us safety equipment and frequently stopping to make sure we were OK. The roads were smooth and mostly unoccupied but winding and it took me a while to learn to love the scoot around the sharper turns, but it’s great fun, as long as you don’t mind the constant reminders of how high up you are when you’re on the right side of the road to see the sheer drop below you.The curves and direction of descent were important: because Peruvians drive on the right hand side, curving on a switchback heading to the right can mean encountering a (usually bombing it) vehicle on the turn, so if you’re going too fast you get mashed into the vehicle. Going too fast on a switchback to the left however can result in you flying out into space with only thin air below you. Shlow down, Tommy! 

This is the crew in all our safety-equipped glory:

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Rafting took place in the afternoon in Santa Maria.

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We practised the usual commands of “forward”, “back” and “get down!” on the less-white-water parts of the river where we started, initially screaming in pleasure/terror at the bounces in the water that two hours later we met with yawning faces as the speed and turbulence increased, all the while knocking our paddles together with a team mantra of “Sexy llamas!” to celebrate particularly hard-won survivals. A lack of contact lenses and inability to hear the commands from our leader in the back of the boat over the roar of the river had Holly paddling happily face-first into a cliff wall halfway through, which I was still in tears laughing about as we neared the end. Here’s a screenshot of us celebrating our teamwork!

 

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Sexy llamas indeed!

Day 2: Zip-lining and hiking: 

 

We stayed at a pretty nice hostel by the river geared for all these activities overnight and met the biggest, blackest bug I’ve ever seen, slept in the comfiest beds of our travels so far and had a rather substantial breakfast the next morning which we all threatened to throw up as we we saw the heights we were going to be zip-lining over. In fact, a whole multitude of bodily fluids threatened to make an appearance. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have pissed yourself.

 

 

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Also check me out in my super-attractive zip-lining gear!

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Once you get over the initial fear and actually succeed in throwing yourself over the side of a 1000m cliff, the experience is in fact rather enjoyable. I’d never been zip-lining before. After this I’m not sure I should; nothing’s going to top the experience! It’s the speed, the rush, the sound of your pulley accelerating on the wire, shooting over a deadly but beautiful drop to the adjacent mountain – it’s as close as I’ll ever get to flying. Pretty damn good.

We tried it backwards and upside down too!

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The little white blob apparently hanging in mid-air is me. They call this one the Spider-Man, one of many different positions they encourage you to try on the wire, not to mention all the various llama ones (“sexy llama” was in there too). I was screaming at the top of my lungs in this, even though I like to think in the photo I convey a cool, collected exterior.

I’d love to put in a video of Holly flying over the valleys – WordPress unfortunately doesn’t let me do this, but she got some incredible GoPro footage of what it looks like to soar between two mountains. On the ground, I managed to document some of the others as they shout through the air. I won’t tell you which of us this is, but for friends who are reading, you might be able to guess. 😉

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After the zip-lining, three hours of walking ensued. This was where things got tricky. One of our number hadn’t been coping so well with the altitude and this is where her altitude sickness started to get very, very bad. Incredibly she managed to finish the hike – easy for the rest of us as it was flat along a train track used to get from Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo – but not the easiest if you also happen to be suffering from pounding headaches, nausea, stomach pain and dizziness. She says she doesn’t remember most of the walk. I can’t believe she did it at all.

When we got to Aguas Calientes, said member of our group went straight to bed, couldn’t be roused for food and though it brought her to tears denying it, was in no shape for the tough climb the next morning. It was a distressing time. A doctor was called in that night to make the diagnosis and prescribe medication – a double-dose of our own altitude-combating drugs plus anti-emetics for her stomach – and we discussed what to do. Our friend in need was not going to make it up the mountain.

…and there I will leave you on a cliff-hanger. What happened next deserves a post of its own, so I’ll leave you in suspense and you can catch up when the next post comes along.

Hasta próxima!

 

Waiting on my M8s in BA

Hello, I’m Doireann, the oldest and wisest of this trip. I have a great knack for losing all of my belongings, especially coats and purses although I maintain at least half have been stolen.

As I was the first to arrive in Buenos Aires, I get to write the first blog post on our South American adventure. For some slightly deluded reason I thought I would arrive in Buenos Aires three days ahead of the everybody else, an especially good idea as I don’t speak a word of Spanish. Due to my slight panic leaving my house at 4am to get to the airport I had every detail of how I was going to get to my hostel from the airport written down on at least three pieces of paper, in case my phone died and left me stranded. I was sure this would be the only major I would encounter in my journey from my house to my hostel in Argentina. Little did I know…

I got to the airport three hours early because as most people who know me know, my biggest fear is being late and I am always extremely early. Just as well seeing as it turns out the USA do not remember me buying an ESTA last year and for the second time in my life, I was taken away to a back office while trying to cross the US border. After a very scary guard told me I would definitely miss my flight, as it turns out, all I had to do was buy another ESTA on a borrowed iPad so I was still an hour early for my flight. I got to sit beside an interesting Wisconsin man, who told me all about his popcorn company and the importance of trusting God’s path for us, especially when adopting. That lecture lasted about five hours, despite me asking if I could get back to watching my films now, thanks. two more interesting flights later, including one where I was completely comatose and an extremely sweaty layover in Miami, I touched down in Buenos Aires at 7am.

As luck would have it, I happened to be in the city and the same time as my friend, a girl wise enough to actually learn Spanish before she went on her trip. I had been told by my hostel about a service called Tiende Leon and if anyone here goes alone to Buenos Aires, this service will SAVE your life. I got off the plane and hopped on their bus. If I’m honest I wasn’t entirely sure what the connecting car they told me would collect me was all about but I did soon find out. The bus brings you to their main office, where a man takes the address you want to go to and orders you a car that will bring you to your exact destination. It took a while but definitely better than a €50 taxi.

When I arrived to my hostel it was absolutely freezing. I rang the bell and got no answer. I rang the bell again to no answer. At that stage I was sure I had been scammed and here I was, alone in Buenos Aires, no Spanish and not entirely sure where I was. Thankfully an old man sweeping the halls let me in and a young woman came running down the stairs, apologizing for taking so long, it was just that everyone was so hungover. I got settled and changed and sent a quick message to my friend Sharifah to let her know I was here. Her hostel was just a quick 6 minute stroll from mine, so in no time, I felt like my time in Buenos Aires was actually starting.

The first place I went to was to the market in Recoleta with Sharifah. Buenos Aires has more markets than you would believe, but the two main ones are the one in Recoleta and the one in San Telmo. Recoleta markets it just outside the high walls of the Recoleta cemetery and in front of the Museum of Fine Art. We strolled around the markets, not really buying much but admiring the food (most of which was French cuisine surprisingly) and the handicraft that included jewelry, knitted items, mate tea cups and clothes. Afterwards we admired the artwork in the Museum of Fine Art, which is free if anyone is looking for a cheap place to see some art. They have quite an extensive collection of art, which pieces from most eras, and many well European artists but they also had many Argentine artists on show. I particularly enjoyed the Argentine artists collection when they all apparently took a big trip to Europe, although I’m not entirely sure if they were travelling together?

For dinner, I had my first experience with an argentine pizza. Italian cuisine is very popular in Buenos Aires but they have made it their own. They seem to be massive fans of gnocchi and extra cheese on everything. The challenge for me in Argentina is that I don’t eat steak but I haven’t actually felt hard done by. The pizza in Buenos Aires in not the thin stone baked pizza you would expect but rather its in more of a Dominos pizza style with a thick crust and extra cheese. I wouldn’t say its my favourite but pizza is pizza so I won’t complain.

My second day in Buenos Aires was spent in the San Telmo market. San Telmo is the more artsy hipset district of Buenos Aires, filled with graffiti lined walls and cobbled streets. The market spans for streets and streets and there is a huge selection of goods to buy. The part I enjoyed the most was the antique section in the square. You could buy antique cups, pins and my personal favourite, binoculars. It was all I could do just to leave them behind. I really enjoyed the old photos and post cards you could purchase. The postcards had messages sent home to Buenos Aires from around the world and the photographs like a snapshot into a different life and time. It was Sharifah’s last day in Buenos Aires so we went for celebratory tapas in a place called Yauss in San Telmo, which was great value and absolutely delicious.

The day I spent by myself in Buenos Aires was very relaxed as I tried to catch up on lost sleep. I did a free walking tour where I had a very enthusiastic sociologist from Buenos Aires fill me in on all the political conspiracy theories he knew and I also explored Puerto Madero.

Holly arrived the next morning so I made a general plan of what I would do with her and also tried to figure out some more of the technicalities of the holiday. I had three days left in Buenos Aires with Holly, Aoife and Aisling and I didn’t want to waste them.

I should probably add that part of the reason we came to South America was because when we were planning our holiday, I think I was the most stubborn about where I wanted to go. I love planning holidays, almost to an obsessive stage and I can’t even describe how excited I am that I managed to convince our little crew to go!

 

We’re Still Alive! (just about)

Hey folks! Aisling here, writing from Cusco because life is cool.

So the posts so far haven’t been as frequent as we’d’ve liked them to be – internet is dodgy at best here and we have, believe it or not, been doing stuff so I’ll give you a quick update on our travels so far. Unfortunately we were holding out for photos as well which just aren’t uploading and that’s a real shame because some of the places we’ve been over the last two-ish weeks have been spectacular. Quel horreur!

The trail so far: from Buenos Aires (which Doireann covers in what hopefully will be the next post) we’ve flown to Lima on the coast of Peru to complete the travelling group with our last addition, Lisa, who was working in a hospital in Chile for the two weeks prior. Then from Lima we went on to Cusco, that famous ancient city of the Incas high in the Andes, where the old women of the city dress up in their traditional clothes and carry around these gorgeous baby alpacas, taking photos with the tourists for a sole. They don’t let you take them home, though. I’ve tried.

After a three-day adventure/trek winding up to Machu Picchu we’re finally back in Cusco, a little sicker, a lot more tired, but very happy. Again, there will be posts on all these amazing things we’ve had the good fortune to do, but we’re determined to do them justice, so bear with us and rest assured they’re on the way!

In the meantime, love from the Core Four Plus One More in Cusco!

(Also imagine that I inserted a picture of a llama pulling a face here because I tried so hard to do that and I’d hate for my efforts to go unrecognised. Thanks folks. Llamas be with you.)

POST UPDATE: SAID LLAMA HAS BEEN LOADED! I hope you enjoy funny llama faces as much as I do 🙂

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Resurrection of the Blog

Let’s see if we can raise this thing from the dead!

Hello there to anyone who may STILL be listening at this point: thanks for sticking with us! This time I’ve returned with four new wonderful additions to tell the tales of our travels across the continent of South America. This is just a brief hello to say we’re changing tack, sweeping across to the other side of the planet to begin travels at Buenos Aires, jumping over to Lima and trailing our way across the Andes through Peru, Bolivia and Lima to experience our fair share of alpacas, dulce de leche, Macchu Picchu and Inca history.

It’s going to be different this time, but if you’re still interested: welcome back!

It’s a scary thing to look at your backpack, ready to go, knowing that everything that you need to survive the next few weeks has to be in there. Having packed, unpacked, repacked, cut, shuffled and discarded anything even slightly unnecessary, it seems like the bare minimum required to sustain life in an unknown environment. The ordinary act of locking your door and walking away from your house is made surreal by your spaceman pack, and walking through the crowds of Dublin to catch the bus to the airport you feel buoyed by the weight of your rucksack: a sign to the ordinary work-going people that you’re going on an adventure.

The adventurers:

Doireann Ní Shíocháin

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Holly Cotgreave

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Aoife Harrison

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Lisa Comerford

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….aaaaand myself, Aisling Finnegan. Enjoy my face.

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Welcome to the South Side… of the planet.

Eek!

 

One Last Thing…

Hey there!

I’ve been back in Ireland for a couple of weeks now, and I thought I’d just give one last shout out to say a proper goodbye to all my readers before I go for good. It’s not going to be anything too soppy; I’m not half as emotional as I was when I wrote the last post, so have no fear!

Over the last while I’ve been getting back into the swing of things – coming back to college has been an explosively social experience after my three months of isolation from everyone at home! Rowing has been tough but rewarding; I’m finally getting back into shape (I guess all the yoga was counteracting by that damn (and damn good) ice cream parlour next door to where we lived in Preet Vihar) and I even made it home Waterford last weekend! I was so happy to see my dog, though I think I must still smell of India to him..!

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Waterford is great. Take a look at the home I’ve been missing for four months!

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There were even hot air balloons there on the final drive home!

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It’s great being back. And now life as it was before is finally continuing on – so many people have said to me that it must feel like India never happened, but it’s never going to feel that way. There was far too much sweat and diarrhoea-related indignity to make it a misty, surreal experience in my memory, and there were far too many good times to let me dwell on the aforementioned bodily malfunctions we had over there!

I’m still in touch with the teachers at Rani Garden. They’re celebrating Bakra Eid at the moment! I hope it’s as good as the Eid-al-Fitr we spent at their home. “I miss you” seems to be every second one of our conversations, but just because we keep repeating it doesn’t mean it gets any less true. I think about the kids on a daily basis – I’ve had snatches of their names in our conversations, and they’ve WhatsApped me recordings of their voices.

“Good morning.”

“GOOD MORNING, MA’AM!”

Even over the phone, the volume is deafening!

So that’s it. Life goes on. My promise to return there someday still stands though, and I’m already looking forward to the reunion.

Now to finish…

Really I just want to say thanks to everyone who read, particularly all my college friends – I was absolutely flummoxed by the amount of you who told me you enjoyed the blog! I’ve enjoyed being back in your company immensely over the last couple of weeks, and look forward to it for the next five years at college and after that for however long we’re alive. It’s amazing to have had that kind of support and I hope you found something interesting along the way. To anyone I haven’t said it to already (even though I know I’ve said it to one and all!) I highly recommend including visiting India in your bucket lists. It’s an incredible place.

To all my other readers, from all over the world – I’ve been so impressed by your following! What was it that made you want to read the mediocre words of an absolute stranger? Your enthusiasm for the blog left me dumbfounded! You lovely folk from the USA made it to second on my list of top-viewing nationalities, followed closely by Canada and the UK. Apart form that I’ve had views from Spain to South Africa and so many places in between. All I can say is thank you. I hope I’ve been as much entertainment for you as you have been for me! I’ll miss reading your comments and seeing your views; it’s been a source of enjoyment and incredulity for me ever since I began this thing. If you ever want to know more, or even to just say hi, I’m always here!

That’s it for this traveller, folks – slán, au revoir, auf wiedersehen and of course, फेर में लेंगे!

Under the coconut tree Walking through fields of green Smogset Elephant riding Textile Shop purchase! Amer Fort Arches Sarang Palace The Textile Shop - Sari Fabric Oldest building in Varanasi Varanasi Dawn Offering - plus bug. :) Sarnath Cow plus homeless person yoga edited The Maharajah and his McCourtesan Lotus Gardens Oneness Deathplace from Far Rajiv Chowk Light Arches Dinner! PARTY saris! 20140807_130758 TGIF Yamuna Trail Auto The Queen and I Feast BiKing Down! At the base Khardungla Alleppey Beach Kichaka and Malini Sunset over Leh Gold dust on Leh Leh sunset View over Gangla The idiot's climb Coconut trees and rice fields Bad Teacher Delhi Times Train Coconut and potato curryTea-picking Rippled reflections Alleppey Sunset on Palolem Beach (Goa)-M *Munnar overhead landscape Desert Himalayas First snow from the airplane Lots of slow from the airplane! Role play The Lodi Tombs Lodi Arches People at the water's edge in Varanassi Master Weaver Elefantastic! Ghazipur HUMAYUN TOMB The Fountain of Youth Sunset on the Jungle Sunset Selfie Forest Trail Henna both hands Mosque Flowers Akshardham ceiling Rush Hour Get Well Card cover The Taj Mahal The Ivory Tower Friday Class Delhi pants! 20140610_171844 Shopping in Delhi Arriving in New Delhi! RedFort A room with a view Brown fingernails Pothole Hindi Lessons!

A Most Glorious Return

I’m home! God, it’s weird here…

I really, really can’t believe I’m home. It feels great, but strange as well – I didn’t really foresee past the end of India, and while I consciously accepted that I really was going to be home at some point, subconsciously it’s like I never expected to leave. I feel like I’ve come back from war!

The flights were fine – the guy beside me on our way to Istanbul managed to fall asleep and wake up about six times before we’d even left the ground. Every time he managed to make a huge show of waking up as if he’d completely forgotten where he was. It annoyed me to the extent that I forgot to feel sad about leaving.

I stayed awake for most of the flight. I think for the most part I really enjoy flying, as long as I’m not surrounded by an ensemble of gombeans along the way who insist on reclining their seats upon you before you’ve even taken off (I mean, really, did that guy expect to sleep as the plane hurtled forward from the ground into the air at 300 kilometres per hour? Most people have trouble breathing…), the chorus of screaming babies, the messy eaters who get the already-less-than-satisfactory airplane food everywhere, the snorers, the every-fifteen-minute-pee-ers and those absolute gobshites who steal the armrest.

But really, I do like flying.

Flying back to Dublin was something of a surreal experience. The first part of the flight seemed to drag out forever – I felt like I’d watched about three movies and done all the Sudoku they had before it even got to halfway, but then… I don’t know. Every few minutes that we got closer to home, I got more excited, I guess – but it didn’t feel like the usual jittery hyperactive happy excited; I’d like to think it was a little more profound than that. It felt like that sequence in Inception when Leonardo di Caprio is going through the airport with that rather stirring Zimmer soundtrack playing “Time” in the background, and there’s that look on his face when the nice passport control guy says, “Welcome home, Mr Cobb.” What I’m saying is, all of my life’s events are dramatic and movie-worthy and I have looks equal or greater than those of Leonardo di Caprio.

For the last part of the flight, I just watched the real-time flight information, and I watched from a whole bunch of differently-scaled maps as we flew over Europe, over the UK, seeing bits of the world that made me think, “Nah, we couldn’t be there, that’s too close to home to be where I am” and then finally we began our descent into Dublin, where the whole thing began.

I physically wasn’t able to keep from smiling when we were flying in. I was looking at the ground – Irish ground! – and I’d never been so excited to see that dull murky green landscape beneath me. When we hit the ground I nearly laughed! I’d say the guys beside me were wondering if I’d had too much to drink when the air hostess came around with the drinks trolley. I can only describe what I felt as pure elation. Even writing about this makes me wonder – why does anyone feel this way about returning to the place where they come from? Why does it matter so much? I’d say it’s just a place, but it’s really, really not.

We landed at half four in the afternoon and were guided into to our gate by Irish guys in high-vis jackets. It was so weird to see a place like this being managed by white guys! I felt like I’d never seen anything but brown skin and black hair in my life! Because a lot of people on the plane were also Irish, they managed to stay in their seats until the seatbelt sign was off (something the Indians never seemed to manage when we were travelling) and then we were stepping off the plane into Ireland. It was a little anticlimactic that we had a tunnel instead of walking down the steps, but I still had “Time” playing in my head as we walked through the airport, past passport control (in my head the guy behind the desk said “Welcome home, Mr Cobb.” It wasn’t the same but I still had a great time!) and into baggage.

Up until then, we had been a band of travelling Irish people, all with the same experiences – the same elephant pants in our bags and the same Indian silk scarves wrapped up for our families, the same wall decorations and photo frames the kids had given us on our last day of school, the same stained T-shirts from ten weeks in forty-five degree heat and a camaraderie forged through laughter, sickness, heartbreak, wonder, and most of all, sweat. I’ve never been linked with people in quite the same way before – in all seriousness, there’s something else to a friendship that comes through persevering against the same struggles in a difficult world, rather than a friendship made because you were scared on the first day of school and needed someone to find the toilets with you. We’ve lived together experiencing something out of the ordinary, something incredible, enlightening, devastating and wondrous – something that precious few else will understand.

We said our goodbyes at the carousel, the hum of luggage whirring slowly around replacing my infinitely more elegant imaginary soundtrack. It was a strange goodbye – we’ll all be seeing each other in a few weeks at the Suas return weekend here in Dublin, but I think what made it different was the feeling that this was more of a goodbye to India than a goodbye to each other. We were still wearing our travelling clothes, our faces were still gritty and bare – after this it would be homes like palaces, college, the friends we’d left behind rather than the friends we’d made, no staring, no camels ambling along the beach, no cows in the streets (although Dublin HAS surprised me in this regard before…), functioning showers, public toilets (and toilet paper!)… Past this point it was all going to be what we’d known of this world before it was turned upside down. So we said fer me lenge, shared a hug and a smile, and walked out of the end and into a new beginning.

My little sister met me first, then my parents. Everything else was instantly forgotten! I hadn’t spoken to them all summer, (except for that one disastrous Skyping incident) – seeing them all in person was overwhelming! They took my bags and listened to me spew out whatever jumped into my head about the past three months as we drove out of the airport and past Dublin’s neat little red brick terraced houses (for half an hour at least until the last few minutes of the hurling final was on!) and they brought me back to my home in Rathmines. They had done up the house, made dinner for me, put fresh sheets on my bed and they let me babble on about India through the meal until, afterwards, I slumped, too exhausted to move. All too soon they left for Waterford. I’ll see them again next weekend when we go to Gravelines in France to see my older sister row at World University Championships! Exciting times!

After that I was just about able to drag myself into the shower, scrub myself as clean as I was going to go, wash my hair and dress myself in clean pyjamas before collapsing into my bed (which is, I know now, the comfiest bed in the world). I was asleep ten seconds later, and I slept unwakeably until half an hour before my nine c’clock lecture the next day. If the world had ended over night, in the loudest possible way, I never would have known.

So… that’s it. The whole thing is over. I’ll write one more post, and that’ll be it from me. I am of course devastated the whole thing is over, but it’s been really amazing – and there is nothing in this world that beats the feeling of coming home!

See you around for one more story!

Return to Delhi… Last Time, I Promise!

It’s almost time! We have just a few more hours to go and then it’ll be time to fly right on out of here, stopping over in Istanbul and then, it’ll be fer me lenge, India!

We flew up from Goa this afternoon, catching an easy afternoon flight and landing just as Delhi was getting dark. God, it’s weird returning here – we landed at five or six, I think, and we’re leaving the house at three in the morning – we’re staying in the East End for the night, where we used to live for the ten weeks. I cannot describe how weird it is to be back here. We have one room here, and it feels so wrong that there’s just the five of us, and none of the rest. Poor Alice has to stay another night because she changed her flights so she could travel for longer, and THAT is going to feel weird! It’s so strange to think that everyone else is home (or in Sweden, in Amy’s case!), and has been for ten days now. They’ve readjusted to life in Ireland, and we haven’t even left yet.

Driving through Preet Vihar as we came back to the guesthouse was a weird experience – it was like we’d never left (except for the fact that we were in a taxi and not an auto!). We got one last Oreo milkshake from the ice cream parlour – savoured every second of it! – and tied up all the loose ends, picking up saris that were tailored while we were away, sorting out luggage in the common room, choosing what clothes we want to wear when our families see us again for the first time…

It’s bizarre that we’re going back. We’re going home! I feel like we’re returning from a war. There’s a nervousness and an excitement and a sickening feeling of loss too that sends panic surging through me unexpectedly sometimes, like when I saw we were passing V3S for the last time, or when Nisha, who works at the guesthouse and came to be a daily source of entertainment for us, said goodnight. I don’t want to think about leaving. I’m trying to focus on the happiness of going home so that I can’t think about everything I’m leaving behind. Right now I’m in the same city as the teachers and those kids that taught me a million more things than I taught them, and tomorrow I’ll be seven thousand kilometres away, on as good as another planet – certainly in a different world. How are you supposed to let any of this go?

I don’t know what else I can say about leaving. All our Indian experiences are over – from here it’ll be guesthouse to taxi to airport to airplane – I’ve already left everything that makes India… India. I won’t even get to see any of those kamikaze traffic antics because it’ll be three in the morning when we leave and even the yoga fanatics won’t be up (not like they have cars to drive, anyway). Looking at it like that, I guess it’s all done. It’s all over. These three crazy, crazy months are complete and to me, they may as well have come from another lifetime.

It’s finally over – there’s nothing left to do except leave.

Deep breaths. I’ll see you on the other side of the world! One last goodbye – and I’m home.