On Sunday 2nd April 2017 (yes – a long time ago now, but better late than never) we arrived in Canada. Before even setting out from the UK we had known that Canada would be our final destination, so when we finally got there it felt fairly seminal.
We were staying with my uncle and aunt in Vancouver, BC. Anthony is my mum’s youngest brother and a treasured member of the family, but with the exception of a couple of famed cameos at mine and my sister’s weddings, we had barely seen each other over the years. He and Patty had kindly invited us to stay at theirs, which – given we were planning to hang around for almost five weeks – was an extremely generous offer and one we were very happy to accept.
Our little Canadian bear riding Sugarlump the horse as we settle into Vancouver. Huge thanks to Uncle Anthony for restoring cousin Emma’s rocking horse for Amber for our stay
Mexico was added as a destination on our journey very much at the last minute. We had originally planned to fly direct from Costa Rica to Canada but for a variety of reasons we decided to opt for a route that would give us a week in Mexico City. We’d heard from a friend that it was a great place to visit and although many link the country with an incredibly violent drugs war and high levels of crime, from our research (which was admittedly just a couple of minutes on the FCO website) we were comfortable spending some time in the capital.
We landed on the evening of 26th March in slightly chaotic circumstances. Towards the end of our flight we had started to read some interactive books to Amber on the iPad. What we didn’t expect was for the interactive nature of the books to induce a significant bout of travel sickness for all of us, but none so much as poor little Amber. As we made our final approach, she decided to show everyone what she’d just had for dinner, proceeding to vomit profusely over both of us. Fellow passengers around us were incredibly considerate as we became ‘that’ family, proffering tissue packets and toilet rolls (which Claire tried to return afterwards, only to be met with polite refusals).
Amber was understandably upset and as is the way with a toddler, anger and frustration followed the tears, manifesting itself in a point blank refusal to allow us to change her trousers. So, not only were we ‘that’ family with the vomiting baby on a plane, but we were also ‘that’ family with the vomiting and crying baby wearing only a nappy, the very last in a long queue waiting to get through Mexican immigration.
While planning our trip we knew we would spend the bulk of our time in Chile and Argentina. But after that we really didn’t know what we would do, and still didn’t until we came close to the end our stay in Chile in February. Countries like Peru and Bolivia are arguably at the top of many people’s lists when they travel in South America, not least as they house some of the continents’ quintessential attractions. But for us with Amber, the altitude at which much of these countries reside and the remoteness of some of their destinations were concerns.
That said, we knew we needed to head roughly north and furthermore we had planned to meet up with friends in Costa Rica in March, so we looked for somewhere that could act as a stepping stone to Central America. Peru was the choice, with direct flights from the capital Lima to and from both Chile and Costa Rica. We would only have around two weeks in the country, and after what had been an incredibly busy period in February, we decided we would only visit one other place aside from Lima. With highlights of the country like Cuzco, Machu Pichu and Lake Titicaca all sitting at well over 3,000m above sea level it simply wouldn’t be responsible to visit these places with Amber without spending time acclimatising and that was time we just didn’t have. So we decided to stay at the more sedate altitude of 2,400m (still nearly twice as high as Ben Nevis it should be said) in the historic city of Arequipa. What we didn’t know at this point was that these two weeks in Peru would end up being the most challenging and intense period of our entire trip.
Exploring Lima before it all went wrong
After spending January in Santiago the rest of our time in Chile was largely spent with friends and family exploring the central coast and south of the country. Like me, Chile is very long and so we always knew it would be impossible to see all of the big highlights in one visit (again, like me). The Atacama Desert and Chilean Patagonia in particular were two such places that logistically, and particularly with a baby, we just couldn’t do. That said, what we did see over the final few weeks really enhanced our sense of the country, and in the case of Chiloe in particular, gave us a wonderful insight into a distinct and unique side to Chilean life.
In this blog entry we briefly sum up this 3-4 week period before our adventure took us north into Peru.
After spending a month in Buenos Aires in October, we realised the value of longer periods of stability while travelling, not only for Amber but also for Claire and I. As such we decided that following a busy couple of months of travelling in November and December, we would lay low for a bit, try to save some money and generally keep things quiet during January.
Santiago was to be our base. The capital of Chile is often overlooked by travellers who use the city as a transit hub in order to reach Chile’s main draws such as Patagonia or the Atacama Desert. However, the city has enjoyed something of a revival recently, boosted by government investment and a subsequent cultural boom.
We had spent 3 days in Santiago in December while on our way to the Chilean coast for Christmas and had rather giddily / drunkenly claimed that the city was the best place we had ever been to. I think it’s safe to say this wasn’t necessarily accurate and could have had something to do with the fact we knew we were coming back for a prolonged period in January. However, even in this short period, we saw a city that was buzzing with a vibrant, young edge. It immediately felt more down to earth than the somewhat haughty Buenos Aires.
And now, having spent pretty much all of January in the city, our opinion hasn’t changed. We loved it and thought the best way to celebrate our time there was to give people a taste of the sheer variety of things to do. So below is a list of not far off everything we did in Santiago, from bars and restaurants to cultural spaces and viewpoints. It’s all there.
We spent the month of October in Buenos Aires. Up until then we had been on the move for almost two months, and while the travelling was amazing, we were starting to feel like we might all benefit from settling in one place for a little longer than a week.
Our plan for the month was to hunker down, save some money, try to improve our respective Spanish levels (more on this in an upcoming post) and find some enjoyable child-centric things to do together. All of this, we managed to achieve (except the save the money part – did someone say budget?) with – to our immense delight – a few additional gems squeezed in as well.
Buenos Aires is pretty dreamy. Beautiful to look at, fun to be in, it is grand, individual and full of life. We spent the first few days strolling about, admiring the architecture, mincing around in parks and generally just enjoying the relative stability of knowing we didn’t have to pack up all our belongings again any time soon.
The Rosedal – one of the many beautiful parks of Palermo
We are now 11 days into our month long stay in Buenos Aires and it’s safe to say we love it here. After changing destination every week since August 26th when we left Rio we were looking forward to the relative stability of an extended stay in a city with a global reputation. So far, despite the fact our explorations have been cut short by Amber’s first illness since being away, we are very happy to be here – the city has met all of our expectations and in many cases surpassed them.
The obligatory photo of the BA sign in front of Obelisco de Buenos Aires (built by Germans in 1936 in just 31 days)
Here’s what we’ve learnt so far.
On Saturday 1st we boarded the high speed ferry from Montevideo to Buenos Aires and thereby drew to a close a wonderful, varied and relaxing couple of weeks in Uruguay. From the Puerto Mercado to Cabo Polonio we felt that despite only being in the country for a couple of weeks we achieved a lot.
As with our Brazil entry we wanted to wrap up our time here with a quick post highlighting some general observations around the country and what we got up to.
Uruguay is quiet. If / when sheep attain a collective consciousness then make a hasty exit because they outnumber humans 3 to 1. It is ranked 198 out of 244 countries in terms of population density with half that population living in Montevideo. Even in Montevideo itself the old town was eerily quiet particularly at the weekend – maybe, like us, everyone was in the Puerto Mercado gorging themselves on beef and wine. On the road we were often the only car. (I will confess that with a mile of straight empty road ahead of me I may of at times gone a little over the speed limit, no mean feat bearing in mind our rental car was a rattly little Suzuki that audibly groaned when it saw how much luggage we were carrying.)
Given our advancing years and inability to go out in the evening we appreciated Uruguay’s laidback, quiet style. There was something innately relaxing about being somewhere with so few people. The fact we traveled out of season helped as by all accounts the coastline swells with Argentinians and Brazilians come the summer months (December to February). This was no better reflected than in Cabo Polonio which felt like an extrapolation of the country’s serenity and peacefulness.
The bustling central square in Cabo Polonio
Rather than do a blog on Food in Uruguay, (similar to our previous one from Brazil) this time we’re honing in on one particular location that we think encapsulates what food is all about here – the Puerto Mercado or Port Market, situated (unsurprisingly) close to the port on the north side of Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja (old town).
One of the recurring images I would think about before we came on this trip was the three of us in Argentina gorging ourselves on high quality, cheap steak and red wine. And it was only as I began to look a little closer at Uruguay that it became apparent we would have the chance to be doing exactly that a little earlier than expected. Uruguay loves beef. Uruguay loves meat. In a country where close to half the population of 3 million live in Montevideo there are vast swathes of sparsely populated interior plains where cows (and cowboys) are the only living things you’ll come across. Indeed it is the only country that keeps tracks of 100% of its cattle, cattle that outnumber humans by three to one. With that in mind it’s no surprise that beef (and meat more generally) is big here.
Our limited research (a quick read of Lonely Planet South America) told us that THE place to eat beef alongside the locals is in the Puerto Mercado, particularly at the weekend. So last Saturday, the day after we arrived in Montevideo, we took that advice and headed down there.
Third on the list of things I love after numbers and plans is food and this was always going to be a major part of our experience.
Before leaving we were intrigued by what we would and wouldn’t find as we went from country to country. Claire and I love food, from the odd Michelin star treat to a hungover Burger King, so we were both excited about the new foods we would discover and how we would adapt from place to place.
The other major factor in our food journey was always going to be what the hell would we feed Amber. It’s safe to say Amber is a typical toddler (it’s taken me quite some time to accept and understand that) in that her preferences seem to change on a daily basis. Just when you think you can always fall back on some bread and cream cheese suddenly both are off the menu and you’re scrabbling around the fridge searching for something she will like. New foods, even new brands of old foods, are treated like extra terrestrial objects – probed, poked and if you’re lucky they may touch the lips before somewhat inevitably being rejected.
So take that fussy toddler and drop her into Brazil with two hyper-sensitive parents and you have a recipe for a rather emotional start to our trip, at least when it came to meal times.