Argentina and coming home early….

La Boca barrio in Buenos Aires, the birth place of Tango.

I landed in Argentina on the 13th June from Bolivia, into Buenos Aires, not realising that this would be the last country on my round the world trip. One thing I never foresaw when I was travelling was the prospect of having to come back home early, especially due to my health. I had planned to travel another few months, onto Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba and the US with New York being my last stop. Sadly the pain in my back was becoming a lot worse and once I arrived in to Argentina I knew I would have to sort this out before continuing anymore travelling.

Snapping photos of the Argentinian flag.

Looking back on all this now, it makes me realise how I probably would have spotted this all a lot earlier if this had happened in the UK. I guess with travelling, you’re moving from place to place and in countries with very different environments to what you’re used to so maybe it’s harder to spot. I had also spent the last few months in some very high altitude countries which had affected my breathing and tiredness levels, so it was difficult to spot something else might be the cause.

So here we go, after 10 and a half months of amazing travels to 14 beautiful countries, here is my last country blog from this trip.

I had taken a flight from Sucre via Santa Cruz in Bolivia, onto Buenos Aires, internal flights in South America are super expensive and this cost around £240. I had met a friend previously in Chile, called Helene, who had been travelling long term as well. We had decided to meet up again, as luckily we were both wanting to see Buenos Aires and Helene was already in Argentina.  We rented an Airbnb apartment which was really cool, especially to have our own space and time to chat and catch up, we ended up spending 10 days together in Buenos Aires.

Me, Helene and Chiary in BA.

I found Argentina fascinating, along with many other South American countries is has had a long and sometimes tumultuous history. However what I noticed most about Argentinians was their passion for their culture and history, I guess this is similar in most South American countries but the mix of so many different cultures was very apparent here.  Buenos Aires was such a cool, trendy city, with lots of attitude, culture, beautiful architecture and museums. I found most Argentinians spoke english too which made it a little easier compared to other South America countries. It was also quite a culture shock from Bolivia as Buenos Aires has a much more European feel about it due to its early Spanish and Italian settlers, influencing the food, music, culture and architecture. The city has lots of amazing buildings such as the famous old theatre, the El Ateneo Grand Splendid which is now a beautiful library.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid, magnificent library in Buenos Aires.

Frida Kahlo at the Malba museum.

We did lots of walking and exploring in Buenos Aires and also met a friend of Helene’s, who lived in Buenos Aires so it was great to have a ‘guide’ in the city. I visited a few museums such as the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires or Malba, which is the modern art museum and holds work from artists all over Latin America, such as Frida Kahlo. Another highlight for me was visiting La Recoleta cemetery in the Recoleta neighbourhood. It’s a beautiful cemetery right in the centre of Buenos Aires, which contains the graves of Eva Perón and various presidents of Argentina. It was even named one of the worlds best cemeteries and named by CNN as one of the top 10 most beautiful in the world.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires.

Tango dancers.

We also of course couldn’t miss out on visiting a Tango hall in the neighbourhood San Telmo. Tango was born on the streets of Buenos Aires and Montevideo in Uruguay. It apparently originated in the 1880s in the lower-class districts and has slowly spread through-out the world. It is believed to have started on the streets of La Boca a famous neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. Of course trying to find a good Tango hall was a little daunting as there are so many of them, but we managed to find one which included our wine and dinner (most of them seemed to offer this). It was beautiful to watch the show and see these amazing dancers and hear Tango music.

Our tour guide around La Boca with a Boca Juniors football shirt.

Another highlight of mine in Buenos Aires was taking a 3 hour walking tour in the barrio or neighbourhood of La Boca, I did this with Free Tours in Buenos Aires who were fantastic. The guy who lead the tour was very passionate, it was his last tour, so at the end we all got to try some of the famous Fernet and coke (a very popular spirit drank in Argentina brought over by early Italian settlers). He also spoke passionately of his love of La Boca the local football team, who are world famous. He told us Argentinian men love football more than anything else in life and spoke of the passion they have of the game (as with many other South American countries). There is also a fierce rivalry between La Boca and River Plate the other Buenos Aires well renowned football club. It is seen as one of the fiercest and most enduring rivalries in football teams in South America. It was one of the best walking tours I had done!

Amazing street art in La Boca.

Republica de La Boca.

La Boca is also famous for its colourful streets, the Caminito street (where Tango is supposed to have been born), La Boca football stadium, and its strong Italian influences from early settles from the city of Genoa. It was also good to do a walking tour through La Boca as its still a fairly poor neighbourhood and there is still apparently a lot of petty crime in the area, so it was great to have a guide.

La Boca restaurant.

It has become a little touristy this area, but it’s definitely still worth visiting and really was my Buenos Aires highlight. It really gives you a true sense of Argentina and the real heritage of Buenos Aires.

Colourful La Boca streets.

Argentinian and Córdoba city flag.

From Buenos Aires, I flew onto Córdoba which is about 700km away and is the second most populous city in Argentina. I ended up staying here until the end of my trip and stayed with a friend, Mauro, who I had met in Chile at the same time as Helene, he studied and now works in Córdoba. Córdoba is such a fun city, it has a huge student population and is home to the second oldest university in South America. I relaxed here as there is great nightlife, cool cafes, cinemas, shopping, nice parks and museums to visit. I also visited a town outside the city called Villa Carlos Paz, which is a tourist destination for locals.

Villa Carlos La Paz.

So going back to the saga of my back, in Buenos Aires I had been to hospital and again been told it seemed to be a muscular problem so was given different muscle relaxants to take for a week. However this hadn’t helped with the pain and once I arrived into Córdoba I knew I would have to look into this all more deeply as it was starting to affect me carrying my bags and I was feeling tired and in pain…not so good for my further planned 6 more weeks of travelling! Luckily I had really good travel insurance and looking back on it, I was very lucky to be in this situation and with someone who spoke spanish when I was going through this. After a few weeks of going back and forth to a private hospital (which my insurance company paid for) I finally found out I had something called a pleural effusion which is a build up of liquid underneath the lungs. I had mentioned before of having a chest infection in Asia and feeling unwell in Bolivia so they started to piece it all together and realised it was a problem with my chest and lungs and not muscular.

Views of Córdoba, Argentina.

Even though I knew someone in Córdoba, it was a weird situation to go through without family and friends around me. The language barrier and different culture was hard and at times I found it hard not knowing exactly what doctors were talking about, even though they did exactly what a doctor would have done in the UK. But I guess being so far away from home felt lonely, especially as initially I didn’t want to worry my family or friends. To cut a long story short, I was finally deemed ‘medically unfit’ to travel further which meant my insurance company would pay to send me home and get this all figured out properly. I went through a lot of different emotions over this, I think mainly because I wasn’t ready to come home and it felt hard to accept my trip would end like this. However in the end, I was spending my precious travel money and the doctors didn’t really know for sure why I had this and were worried I may carry on travelling and something worse could happen.

Mate beverage famous in South America.

I left Córdoba on the 14th July and it felt really strange and sad to leave South America and Argentina and finish my ‘big’ trip! It also felt weird to leave Córdoba, as it had become a little bit like home, I had been taking spanish lessons, going out to music festivals and of course drinking a lot of Mate ( a traditional caffeine enriched drink), good Argentinian wine and food (Empanada’s had become a favourite). I had been here for 3 weeks which is the longest time I had been in one place on my whole trip. So leaving it all, felt sudden and strange, but I was excited to go home and catch up with my family and friends.

It was a pretty big culture shock coming back to the UK, especially still being ill as well. I have lived and worked abroad before so I knew some of the highs and lows I would go through. It was hard though coming back and having to go in and out of hospital.

I was later diagnosed with something called Legionnaires Disease, which the doctors think I picked up somewhere along my travels and had caused my chest infection and pleural effusion. It’s quite rare and is found in water sources, usually in bad air conditioning units. I have no idea where I picked it up from, however I knew I was so lucky to have been home and to have the NHS to come back to who were superb.

I have now been back for 2 months now and of course I miss travelling, especially that feeling of complete freedom and independence. But being home of course has many highlights, apart from seeing family/friends there are the little things like a comfy bed and not having to plan every day, share a room with 8 people or spend hours on night buses! I look back on my travels with complete happiness and no regrets, it was undoubtably one of the best things I have ever done. I have learnt a lot about myself but mainly been lucky enough to visit some amazing countries and meet some truly unique people with inspiring lives and stories to tell.

I have been given the ‘all clear’ from the doctors, there is still a little way to go but my health should be back to normal soon. So now its time for me to start thinking about what’s next (…or start planning my next travel adventure!). Thanks for reading…xx

“Adiós a Argentina mi amigo”

All photographs copyright Jemma Nicholson.

Peruvian love!

Views of the surrounding volcanoes in Arequipa, Peru.

I arrived into Peru at the beginning of May overland via two buses and a ‘collectivo’ (taxi)  from San Pedro, Chile arriving into the city Arequipa. I was a bit worried about this journey, I think because it would take so long (almost 24 hours) and also being on my own with no spanish was proving a little harder than I thought. I took an overnight bus from San Pedro to Arica (just on the Chilean border) which took about 19 hours, then from Arica I took a ‘collectivo’ or taxi across the border into Tacna in Peru.

Julie and me at the Beer Festival.

Luckily I had met two lovely American girls on the night bus from San Pedro, who also spoke some spanish, so we did the crossing into Peru together, it took about 45 minutes to cross the border by effectively paying a ‘collectivo’ to take us across the border. One of the American girls had lost an entry form you get when going into Chile which you need to leave the country and the passport control guy took great delight in pretending he wouldn’t let her into Peru, apart from this is was all pretty easy. From Tacna we then all took another 8 or so hour bus to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, this journey was beautiful arriving into Peru and seeing some spectacular mountainous terrain and the andean mountains.

Shayla, Julie and me watching Peruvian rock band.

I sadly was still having a few issues with my back which had started in Chile. At the time I put it down to doing so many uncomfortable night buses, lugging around my backpack and generally jumping around countries! So due to this I ended up spending nearly 2 weeks in Arequipa, which is a beautiful city to just chill out in, I took some spanish lessons and met some lovely friends to hang out with in cafes and restaurants! I even ended up at a beer festival one weekend, which felt a bit like being in London and also managed to see a ‘famous’ Peruvian rock band one night.

The historical center of Arequipa is a UNESCO World Heritage site, it really is a charming city with beautiful white washed buildings similar to European styles. I did a great walking tour here which took us to some beautiful spots in the city.

Arequipa ‘White city’, Peru.

There are lovely views of three volcanoes around the city as well making for some stunning scenery. I also visited the amazing ‘Mummy Juanita’ in Museo Santuarios Andinos. She is a well preserved frozen Inca girl who was killed as an offering to the Inca Gods between 1450 and 1480. She was found on Mount Ampato part of the Andes Cordillera in southern Peru. Pretty amazing (and kind of spooky) to see, as her body is very well preserved.

I ended up spending a month in Peru, it was finally time for me to ‘slow’ down my travels a bit! I feel like I left out a lot in Peru, but at the same time my travelling needed to slow down a bit, I had been moving around on average every 3 days in the last 7 months, so it was not surprising I was craving sometime in one place! For the first time in a while, I decided to get a nice hotel in Arequipa and treat myself to my own room and bathroom (it was heaven!!) and looking back on it now, the hotel cost about £15 a night which doesn’t seem so much now.

Arequipa known as the ‘White city’, Peru.

Here are the rest of my Peru highlights –

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Next stop South America, first stop Chile.

Valparaiso street art in Chile.

Cerro San Cristobal hill, Santiago.

After 7 months of travelling I was excited but also apprehensive to reach a new continent and get to South America for the first time. I left Auckland and some lovely family and friends there and to be honest was pretty terrified of going to a new continent and to a place where I didn’t know anyone…oh and didn’t speak a word of Spanish (my anxious streak was in over drive!!).

I landed in Santiago on the 10th April, the capital of Chile and spent 3 days there staying in an Airbnb with a Chilean lady. I always think it’s funny arriving into a new country and being at the airport, when I arrived into Santiago airport I was approached by two men asking me where I was going and did I need a airport taxi, they kept flashing me security badges to reassure me that they worked there. It’s funny looking back on this now, they then wanted to help me with my luggage and when I said I was fine but just needed a cash machine, they took me over to one and proceeded to stand right behind me whilst I tried to get money out.

Yep…my nerves were now in overdrive, but after telling them to move away slightly from me as they were making me a little nervous, they did and finally took me over to a reputable shared taxi service who got me to my Airbnb apartment safely. I realised that this was just their way of trying to help me but it’s funny how we can take some friendliness as a threat. I think that sometimes travelling on your own means you constantly have to have your wits about you, which can be tiring.

Views from Airbnb apartment, Santiago.

I should also mention that after 7 months of travelling, I was getting pretty tired of hosteling! It wasn’t that I had had any real issues (except for some very loud snorers) but I was just finding it hard sharing a room and repeating to people  over and over again…. ‘where are you from?’ and ‘how long are you travelling for?’. I think this was totally normal after spending 7 months away from my home comforts and family and friends. So Airbnb was a nice change, nice for a few days and in a big city where there was lots to do! Unfortunately I ended up staying in an Airbnb with a even louder dog to contend with who was also the owners pride and job…oh the joys of travel (I am not a big dog person either).

I was also a bit nervous about travelling solo as a women in South America, you hear so many stories and even before I left New Zealand, people kept saying I was so ‘brave’ to travel alone to South America…..I certainly didn’t feel brave! I think New Zealand had given me a glance back to my life in the UK and I had fallen back into a kind of normality, so landing in Chile felt like me leaving the UK all over again.

Not to help matters, on my first day in Santiago, I witnessed a boy on a bike trying to steal a mobile phone out of someones hand who was right next to me on the pavement. This did nothing to calm my worries and made me feel a little anxious however it also made me think about how this happens all the time in London and that I just had to be sensible with my belongings.

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