Firstly, profound and sincere apologies to those who have been kind enough to follow this blog of my adventures, and have been (presumably) waiting on tenterhooks for the conclusion. I wanted to write a proper finale after I got home, not a filler entry that left a couple of days to write up, and since returning I’ve either been too busy trying to sort my life out, or I’ve simply put it off. Is it possible that I didn’t want to write the last entry because then the greatest adventure of my life would definitely and finally be over? Very.
I last left you in Valparaiso, a Chilean coastal town that, by the time we departed, would go down as a firm highlight of the trip. We had many, many fried empanadas at the highly, highly recommended Delicias Express. This anonymous-looking eatery serves over 80 varieties of ridiculously cheesy empanadas. Word to the wise: don’t be put off by the combination of cheese and prawns. I would point you towards the #3 (cheese & prawns) but Ben would vehemently extol the virtues of #6 (goat’s cheese, prawns & chives). Once you’ve had molten cheese dribbling down your chin from a fried empanada, the baked ones will never seem quite as good.
We also indulged in a generous quantity of wine, being that we were finally in a country where a bottle of vino wasn’t the most expensive alcoholic option going, enjoyed an informative walking tour with a great guide, and started our days with regular coffees at the brilliantly named* Reina Victoria (Queen Victoria) cafe. If you’re anything like the shipping industry nerds that Ben and I are, don’t miss the chance to take a hot drink down to the port and spend some time enjoying the close-up view of a working container port.**
From Valparaiso, we elected against a stop in the Chilean capital of Santiago, and instead took a bus straight through to our first Argentinian destination: Mendoza. Finding ourselves in the heart of the country’s wine region resulted in a great day out cycling between small bodegas and sampling their tasty grape juice. Although, as we were in town during the lowest of low season, not all of them were open, and we didn’t help ourselves by getting the wrong bus and having to walk 45 minutes to the bike rental shop. We left it late to head out into the countryside, and so only had time to visit two wineries, one craft beer bar and one olive oil farm, having planned a few more. In retrospect, this was plenty.
Despite all of this adversity, the wine was delicious and the tours were friendly, informative and cheap. Excellent pieces of wine-making trivia were learned, and Ben even managed to tell the difference between two glasses of red wine for, as he reported, the first time ever. Though we were there for the wine, the olive oil farm turned out to be a definite highlight; and trying five different types of oil and three different balsamics accompanied by bread, tapenades, tomatoes and olives certainly gave us the energy for the bitterly cold return cycle to the rental store.
There’s not a vast amount else to do in Mendoza to be honest, and by this point of the trip we weren’t able to call upon quite the same financial resources as a few months previously, which might have given us a few more options. I had my first experience of Argentinian cuisine in the shape of parrilla, which is basically a mixed grill to share, featuring steaks, pork chops and sausages. Inevitably delicious and inevitably difficult to walk afterwards.
From Mendoza, we took our last long-haul bus of the trip to the capital city of Buenos Aires, where we discovered on arrival that Ben had booked the wrong hostel, so didn’t get too comfortable. The next day, having successfully negotiated our way to the correct one, we was lucky enough to be joined by my parents!*** They had used my gallivanting around the subcontinent as an excuse to head out there themselves****, and had flown to Rio de Janiero roughly a week prior, arriving in Buenos Aires via a few days at the Iguacu Falls.
It was fantastic to see them, and luckily for me and Ben, the first thing they did was take us out for a pretty special steak dinner at local meat institution La Brigada. In the intimate restaurant, surrounded by walls festooned with signed shirts left by visiting football players, I engaged in a spot of ‘When In Rome’-ing and ordered the T-bone steak. After arrival at the table on an impressive platter, a point was made of the steaks being trimmed of their excess fat, and Dad’s being cut up, with a spoon. A bit of a party trick perhaps, but the desired effect was certainly had.
Over our remaining days in Buenos Aires, we were treated to more great meals with my Mum & Dad, and headed to a local live music night in a trendy part of town. After being turfed out shortly after arrival, we spent the majority of the night at a pool-hall-cum-dive-bar that served bottles of extremely drinkable red for pleasantly low prices.
As well as this delightfully dingy haunt, our other great discovery in this marvelous city was choripan, a street food snack of chorizo sausage in fresh, crusty bread, covered in large amounts of chimichurri. Recommended drink pairing, at any time of day? A generous cup of red wine, of course.
My parents had prearranged their entire trip through a travel company, and their itinerary was taking them via the Uruguayan town of Colonia, a short ferry ride away. Following a small amount of research, we discovered that the cheapest way for us to get to the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo (from where all four of us were booked on the same flight home) was to take a similar route.
It’s a pretty town, but a pretty small pretty town, so Ben and I planned to spend just one night there before moving on again. This turned out to be the correct choice, and after a brief wander around, ascending of the lighthouse and yet another great meal with the folks, we made our final inter-city hop of our adventure, and took the bus to Montevideo.
The capital of Uruguay isn’t as large as that of neighbouring Argentina, and we were able to do a pretty comprehensive self-guided walking tour taking in the main sights – something that would have been impossible in Buenos Aires. This included walking all the way to the end of an impressive pier, past the scattershot collection of men, women and children fishing, and enjoying an impressive panoramic view.
We generally relaxed in our last city of the trip, spending the evenings drinking carton wine***** and reminiscing about our adventure. This was in keeping with the final few weeks of our trip really, not feeling like we had to cram every day full of activities and excitements, just enjoying our time away whilst it was still time away. Knowing that we both had big changes to return home to, new jobs, new cities, new homes and big changes.
Eventually, of course, the trip of a lifetime came to and end in the form of a transatlantic flight to Madrid. Ben slipped away there for a week with his Mum in Spain before returning to the UK, and my parents and I flew back to Heathrow and back to reality.
I can’t really think of a good way to sum this trip up, so I suppose it’s fortunate that I don’t feel like I need to. I wrote this blog because I love writing, because I want to improve my writing, because I wanted a record of my trip but also so that I could bring my family and friends along for the ride. I sincerely hope that, even if you’ve only read a paragraph of each entry, just looked at the pictures, or dipped in and out sporadically, you somehow feel like you got to share this amazing trip with me.
Lots of people have that ‘big trip’ from their youth, whether it was one that they actually went on or one they just had planned in their head but never did. I couldn’t feel luckier that I’ve been able to actually go on mine, and it’s been the most exciting, eye-opening, educational and inspiring experience of my life.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading this blog and providing the fantastic feedback and support that kept me going with it.
Thank you to everyone who supported me in temporarily abandoning the real world, either with advice, words of encouragement or wishes of luck.
Thank you to everyone who told me what I already knew – that I didn’t want to look back years down the line having been able to do this trip, but not having done it.
Thank you to all the wonderful people that we’ve met along the way. If I can beg forgiveness for this more-than-slightly cringey metaphor; I think that without you all, especially the ones that we traveled with for a few days or weeks, this trip might just look a little black and white in my memory. With you all in there, it’s in glorious technicolour.
Thank you to the Colombian person who stole my phone, for teaching me a valuable lesson in perspective and when a problem is really a problem.
Thank you to Mike, Vicky, Ben’s Mum Kim and my parents for coming out to travel with us, and for spoiling us both with your delightful company and your generosity.
And lastly thank you to Ben, for being an unfaltering source of translation, map-reading, enthusiasm, humour, support and occasional idiocy. But mainly for putting up with me for such a long, unrelenting period of time.
I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
*For a royalist like me, at least.
**Intermittently whispering “cooooooooool” under your breath – optional.
***Dr. Paul J. & Mrs Wendy A. Fray. They don’t get up on Sunday morning until they’ve finished the Telegraph Prize Crossword, and yes they do send it in every week in hopes of winning that coveted sterling silver pen.
****What better excuse than to come and see their charming son.
*****Yep, funds seriously low at this point.