Sick in La Paz

We arrived in La Paz at 7am. I decided to stay where the other girls I had met were staying which meant another Loki. The only redeeming quality is that the Loki provided a free drink for it being my second Loki, but given I was sick, it ended up being a Powerade but more about that later.

As we had the whole day, we decided to take advantage of it. We wandered the streets in search of Alpaca. La Paz is known for its markets and in particular it’s witch markets. The witch markets are pretty touristy, as are a lot of the stores. If you want to make some Alpaca purchases, your best bet is the stalls.

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The streets of La Paz are filled with vendors.

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It is also easy to get lost in some of the markets as they don’t seem to end.

We headed back to the stalls after getting some pricing and after some difficult bargaining, I managed to get a sweater and some socks for 78 bolivianos, or about 11 dollars. I was pretty proud of myself.

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The view from the top of the funicular.

We had lunch next which was very good. Some tomato soup and a sandwich. After a productive day of shopping, we headed back for internet, rest and a shower before the evening.

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Overlooking La Paz, Bolivia at dusk.

That evening I got up and showered before we headed to the funicular. I didn’t feel quite myself but couldn’t tell what was wrong. I came home later that night and still didn’t feel great. While everyone headed out for dinner, I confirmed that I was sick and I would not be leaving.

I felt awful being the girl in the room who was sick. However, if there is one thing that happens when you do get sick, it is that no one is surprised. The girls in my room were like yea, it happens to everyone. I guess after going two months of traveling without being sick once, I couldn’t complain too much.

Given I could barely get out of bed, I stayed another night in La Paz and another day in bed, getting up only for laundry. Fortunately, I felt well enough that night to eat something, and was able to get out of La Paz the following day. Sorry La Paz, but i don’t think I could give you the time you deserved this time around.

A bit about Uyuni

It is a shame that Uyuni was my first introduction to Bolivia. Whenever you read guides about the Salt Flats, most say to get out of Uyuni as quick as possible. I soon discovered why.

The town is not the largest but it is very flat. It is a series of buildings and homes that appear to be a bit run down. I think this was the first city I did not feel very safe in South America. I was very aware of my surroundings. I decided then that I would be taking the overnight to La Paz.

Fortunately, there were quite a few other people from my tour who were taking the same path. For the cheap price of $12 dollars or around 80 bolivianos, I got an overnight bus with everyone to La Paz, leaving at 8:30pm.

We spent the rest of our time hanging out and trying to get wfi. Apparently, when all the toursits get back from the tour and try to get online, the wifi actually shuts down. People were unable to get money out of the atms because the atms work on wifi. That is how underdeveloped Uyuni is. It is actually pretty surprising given it is the entry to the Salt Flats. I expect in a few years, with all the tourism the salt flats bring, that things will slowly change.

Some of the girls we were with had a lonely planet. I am actually shocked by the amount of people who buy the lonely planet books and bring them around with them. I use online resources for everything, sometimes lonely planet, but more likely than not, trip advisor, as lonely planet seems to be out of date by the time it is published. Anyways, the girls had a recommendation for a restaurant around the corner and we went there to play monopoly and wait out our time.

Two hours plus should have been sufficient to get food, but there was one woman who ran the whole restaurant and there were two large groups. We did not get our food until 10 minutes until we were due at the bus station so after a quick scarfing of our meal, we ran to our bus in what was a mini sand storm.

You know that saying you get what you pay for? I’ve probably already used it. In the case of the bus, you get exactly what you pay for. Bolivian roads are rough. This was by far the roughest bus ride I had ever taken. I’m an avid car reader and I could not even read because the book was moving too much. After 13 hours which felt closer to 26, we finally arrived in La Paz. First impressions of Bolivia were rough, but La Paz stepped up to the plate.

The Salt Flats

We awoke excited at 5am. Of course, the driver was not even ready for us at the given time. We drove across the entrance to the flats at day break so that our first view of the flats was just before sunrise.

The salt flats are amazing, awesome, otherworldly, and breathtaking. I thought I would have been desensitized given all the pictures I had seen. The pictures do not do the salt flats justice. They are beautiful and massive. They are fun to be on. I took a ton of random pictures but they just make you happy.

Made it to the Salt Flats for the sun rise.

Made it to the Salt Flats for the sun rise.

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Overlooking the scenery from the lone island in the middle of the salt flats.

It is a vision unlike I’ve seen before. Very unique and wonderful colors. We stopped in a few places across the salt flats. We stopped at an island in the middle of the salt flats that had cacti and a beautiful hill overlooking the flats. This cost 30 bolivianos to walk through but it was worth it. We also were able to enjoy a nice breakfast here (and more pictures of course).

On top of one of the salt pyramids as one of the last stops on the tour.

On top of one of the salt pyramids as one of the last stops on the tour.

One other cool thing about the salt flats is that you can actually pierce the hexagonal shapes and pull out crystals. Our tour guide showed us this and it was really neat to see the salt crystals in their natural form. Nature really is a beautiful thing that I do not know nearly enough about.

The hexagonal shapes on the salt flats.

The hexagonal shapes on the salt flats.

We headed to the center of the salt flats for some more pictures before heading to the museum del sal (which is really just another hostel and then a statue for the Dakar races). This was also our last stop before exiting the salt flats. We enjoyed a few more pictures of the salt flats before we took off. Most of the morning consisted of picture-taking.

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Having some fun on the flats.

Having some fun on the flats.

The last stop on the tour was the train cemetery. It is just outside the city of Uyuni and in my opinion, is sad. The trains are remnants of the last mining boom in the area and all the trains that used to come and go. It reminds me of Detroit and the pictures just remind me a bit of the much debated ruin porn that Detroit has come to be known for. In an ideal world, places like this wouldn’t exist and the trains would be properly recycled, not left to be graffiti{ed} and fits of tourists to trample over.That is just my personal opinion, and more likely than not because it hits a bit closer to home. Some food for thought I suppose.

The train cemetary in Uyuni.

The train cemetary in Uyuni.

Uyuni Day 1 & 2: The beginning of Bolivia

We started the next morning at 8am at the location of the tour office to be picked up. The first half hour was just driving to cross the border and going through border patrol in Chile and then in Bolivia. Both were pretty simple but it was already a bit chile and we hadn’t even reached altitude. We had a brief breakfast before our first stops, Laguna verde y laguna blanco.

The views out here are incredible and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Beautiful first stops at Laguna Verde and Blanco in Uyuni.

Beautiful first stops at Laguna Verde and Blanco in Uyuni.

The next stop was the thermals which was amazing! If there was any place I’d be quite content for hanging around for a few hours it would surely be this one. The view out of the baths was breathtaking and the water was a perfect temperature. The sun was shinging and you were surrounded by mountains. Not sure what more you could ask for. You do have to pay a nominal fee to enter but for 6 bolivianos or just less than a dollar, it is worth it.

View from my spot in the Thermals. How nice is that view while you are soaking in natural springs?

View from my spot in the Thermals. How nice is that view while you are soaking in natural springs?

We then headed off (somewhat reluctantly) to the Salvador dali desert where the landscapes resemble something out of his art. I think we stopped at a few other lagunas and some geisers along the way but they all seemed to pale in comparison to laguna Colorado. We had our lunch first and settled into our rooms for the night but then we took our own walk around the lake.

Laguna Colorado seems to appear out of the middle of no where. There are so many flamingos as well. You can hike up a relatively minor hill and then look out over the whole laguna. There is also a mini lookout point where you can learn some information about flamingos.

Laguna Colorado in Uyuni Bolivia. You can walk around about half of the Laguna on a nice pathway.

Laguna Colorado in Uyuni Bolivia. You can walk around about half of the Laguna on a nice pathway.

After some nature viewing, we headed back for tea and then dinner. During the tour, you are with the people in your car the entire time. You become pretty close. My car had a couple with one being from Michigan and another from New Zealand, and another couple from France. I had a great car and everyone was so friendly and easy to talk to. I even learned a new card game from Italy called scopa.

The next day we left around 8 and crossed more of the Uyani area. The Uyuni area of Boliva is huge and you just stare in awe a lot of the time at how much space and untouched nature there is. We stopped at a few more lagoons called the altiplanos lagunas. Who knew there were so many lagooons in the middle of the desert? As we decreased in altitude the weather got a bit better and not quite as cold. We were at almost 5000 meters the night before. That night we stayed at the hostel de sal. It is right outside the salt flats.

We had hot showers and electricity and after some time without these now accustomed to luxuries, they felt amazing. The next day was the main feature, the Salt Flats.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: Supposedly one of the driest places on earth

I was immediately nervous coming into San Pedro. It is literally in the middle of nowhere and when you arrive at the bus station all you see are little shacks on the side of the road. There are barely any street signs when you arrive so finding where I was staying was not the easiest task. I fortunately had 3G service still (kind of crazy in the middle of the desert, thanks T-mobile!) and was able to map my way to the hostel.

For those of you who are not familiar with San Pedro de Atacama, it is a desert town in the northeastern corner of Chile. It is surrounded by the Atacama desert and is very remote. The buses only go every other day from Argentina and that is mostly for tourists. It is one of the driest places on earth, although it seemed to rain at least a bit every day I was there. It also is one of the places on earth with the least light pollution making it a prime spot for those who enjoy star gazing.

San Pedro de Atacama is not much of a town. It is pricey compared to other parts of Chile and South America (as everything is brought in) and it consists of only a few blocks. Even more so, most of those few blocks are filled with tour companies. It is overwhelming. Especially for someone like myself who likes to do too much research and overthink options.

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One of the main streets in San Pedro de Atacama. The downtown consists of around 5 x 5 blocks.

I should have done a bit more research before I left. I ultimately planned on staying only two nights and heading to Arica, Chile before heading into Peru. This is one of the best things about solo travel. You can change your itinerary in the course of a few hours. That is exactly what I did.

The first day I arrived in San Pedro I basically decided on which tour I wanted to do. I didn’t want to do Geisers and I wanted to do something that took up most of the day. I ended up settling on Salar de Tara for 35.000 CP (~55 USD). We (other people on the tour) were picked up at our hostels just after 8am. We then headed to the only road out into the middle of the desert where luck would have it, was closed do to a bit of snow, which they aren’t really used to here.

The tour guide took us all back to our hostels and told us if he wasn’t back by 11, we wouldn’t be doing the tour. Well, I went back to bed after waking up at like 6am. An hour later, still asleep, a knock on the door and I was whisked off again for this tour. The road had opened.

Our first stop on the Salar de Tara tour. The landscape was unlike anything I've seen before.

Our first stop on the Salar de Tara tour. The landscape was unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The drive out was pretty long. We stopped at the first lagoon to have breakfast which consisted of Avocado and cheese on bread. We then proceeded to drive through the desert. This was the first time I had done something like this. The views were amazing and it was very cool to see the driver just follow other paths in the rocky sand or make his own path based on previous knowledge. We eventually arrived at the stone cathedrals, where we took some pictures and just stood in awe of the power of water and wind.

The Salar de Tara and myself. It was pretty incredible to see this oasis in the middle of the desert after driving for over an hour.

The Salar de Tara and myself. It was pretty incredible to see this oasis in the middle of the desert after driving for over an hour.

The next stop was the Salar de Tara which is not the typical Salt flat you imagine. It was a bit more of a lagoon like oasis. There were flamingos and what stood out the most were the colors. The Salar de Tara is amazing. It is a gorgeous site and we stopped and had our next meal there.

The stone monks in the middle of the desert outside of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

The stone monks in the middle of the desert outside of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Our last stop was the entrance to the national reserve which had the stone monks, or tall stones standing alone once again carved by wind and water. It is beautiful out in the desert and amazing to see so much untouched land after so much time in cities. This last stop I was once again told I should go to Uyuni in Bolivia and I couldn’t miss it.

That pretty much sealed the deal. I couldn’t avoid Uyuni. Everyone was telling me to go. I felt like I was missing out if I didn’t, and the original Visa fee I didn’t want to pay, was less than half what I anticipated. Given the facts, I arrived back in town around 7 that night and began my research. To be continued.

The one thing you should do in Salta, Argentina

They call Salta la linda because it is so picturesque and lovely. When I arrived it was raining a bit. So I can’t say I had the best first impression. I also used couch surfing for the first time. It ended up being in a hostel called Loki Salta, or a famous party hostel in South America.

Almost missed the Loki stop. I literally laughed when I got off the bus, in the middle of nowhere!

Almost missed the Loki stop. I literally laughed when I got off the bus, in the middle of nowhere!

That was the mistake of Salta. I should have stayed closer to the city and at a hostel that didn’t try to nickel and dime you for everything (food, drink, etc.). I mean it was free so how much can I complain?

If you know me, quite a bit so I’ll just focus on the city. I am not a good tourist. I get really tired of the touristy things. I enjoy eating and walking in a city more than anything else. Salta is a great place to walk and explore. The food was a bit harder and I ended up eating quite a bit just at the hostel. Convenience won in this case.

The only thing I really did, partially due to less than great weather, is hike up the hill that had a great view of the city. It was about an hour walk up and another hour walk down. You can take the funicular but that takes most of the fun out of it. This is the one thing I recommend doing above all in Salta. 

The wonderful view from the top of the hill in Salta. If you are going to do anything, it should be this.

The wonderful view from the top of the hill in Salta. If you are going to do anything, it should be this.

I think pictures can say more about Salta than I can. I heard the areas around Salta are nicer but I didn’t get to do an excursion. Maybe I did not give it enough chance, but I think I prefer Cordoba.

Me all sweaty after the climb to the top. So worth it!

Me all sweaty after the climb to the top. So worth it!

Salta, La Linda

Salta, La Linda

Sierras de Cordoba – Alta Gracia y Villa Carlos Paz

Cordoba is surrounded by mountains called the Sierras de Cordoba which makes Cordoba a great base for those who like nature. I did not venture too far from Cordoba but I did have a chance to visit two nearby cities. It is quite cheap to venture out, around 20 pesos each way, or just under $2 dollars which makes it an affordable day trip.

Alta Gracia is known for being the childhood home of Che Guevara. Che is known as  a revolutionary. He was born in Rosario, Argentina. (Can you guess what other famous figure calls this town home?) He then moved to Alta Gracia with his family where he grew up which helped with his asthma due to the cities many green spaces and clean air.

A statue of 'Che' as a child sits outside the museum that used to be his former home in Alta Gracia.

A statue of ‘Che’ as a child sits outside the museum that used to be his former home in Alta Gracia.

‘Che’ as he was called (also a slang term of endearment in argentina, kind of like saying guy) went on to tour Latin America where he connected with locals and the indigenous. He studied medicine so he spent much time in leppar colonies. Later in life, he met Fidel Castro and fought beside him to overthrow the leadership in Cuba. He was honored with a Cuban passport and a position in the government. Later he fled to Bolivia where he also focused on gathering troops as part of the guerrilla war. Later, he was found and killed by the local Bolivian government, supposedly under orders from the U.S..

Che's Motorcycle from his famous memoirs, the Motorcycle diaries.

Che’s Motorcycle from his famous memoirs, the Motorcycle diaries.

Given that I am from the U.S., and Che’s given disdain of all things American and our influence around the world, I am torn on the topic. It is clear that Argentineans love Che and I believe many of his ideas are good, if not idealistic. However, I still love and appreciate my country and the opportunities it has offered me. It would have been very interesting to see what Che thought of Cuba in the present day, Argentina during the dictatorship, and various other occurrences after his death.

I’ve gone completely off topic now. The museum of Che’s childhood home is a must though. Although, they do charge differently based on where you are from. Basically, don’t say you are from the U.S. I think any other country would be better, and if you speak Spanish, say you are from Argentina.

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It is a nice city to just walk around as well. There is a small river and a few other museums if you care to check out.

Villa Carlos Paz was the other town I visited. This town has a larger lake, a casino, and a kukuclock which is much smaller than I expected. Carlos Paz is a nice place to escape the crowds in the city and just chill out. There isn’t a ton to it so if you skip it, you aren’t missing out.

There are some other towns around Cordoba such as Villa Belgrano and La Cumbrecita that are supposed to be lovely but I ran out of time to check out. I recommend exploring a bit outside the city of Cordoba in order to get a real taste of the area and the beauty that surrounds it.

Cordoba, Argentina

After a ~10 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, I arrived in Cordoba, Argentina. My home for the next few weeks. Cordoba is the second largest city in Argentina. It is in the middle of the country, surrounded by the Sierras de Cordoba. It is a city of around 1.3 million people, so a decent size.

I did not know much about Cordoba before I arrived. I actually still don’t know that much even though I’ve been here a few weeks. It has one of the oldest Universities in South America and as such, a lot of students and neat little bars and shops to explore. Did I mention that higher education is free in Argentina? Like totally free, even for foreigners (along with healthcare). To me, coming from the U.S. this is kind of crazy. It is also kind of awesome because those who really want to learn, have the opportunity. I have

Me in front one of the statues in the main squares in Cordoba.

Me in front one of the statues in the main squares in Cordoba.

noticed that a lot more people take longer to graduate here though, which I suspect is partially due to it being free.

Criss crossing the world gets expensive. So in order to reduce those expenses, I joined workaway and found a hostel in Cordoba where I could work for around 24 hours a week in exchange for free boarding. Not a bad deal, huh? Plus, since I first visited a hostel in Europe where I saw cool, hip foreigners working the desk, it had been one of those dreams that I wanted to check the box on. (Bartending is also on that list so we will see if I get to that).

It is also a great way to meet people and not feel so lonely when you are traveling by yourself. This has come in handy, especially when I want to go out. I’ve gone to the same club twice now. They do play a lot of reggaeton here, which I cannot say is my favorite.

Cordoba has quite a bit to offer and I do recommend a stop if you are traveling through Argentina. I specifically recommend you come on a Wednesday. All the museums are free on Wednesday and it is a great way to get to know a bit more about the city, Argentinean culture, and its art.

One of the hidden market ways around Las Paseo de los Artes on the weekends. You are bound to find something you will want to buy!

One of the hidden market ways around Las Paseo de los Artes on the weekends. You are bound to find something you will want to buy!

I would also recommend trying to stay until Saturday night at least as well. Not only would you get to experience the nightlife but you can also check out Paseo de los Artes. Paseo de los Artes is a little street fair that only goes on during the weekend from 6pm to 10pm. The stalls are filled with handmade goods ranging from wood to leather to jewelery. The area itself is also fun to walk around and lots of open air bars.

Cordoba is a city that grows on you the more you get to know it. There aren’t any world famous sites, but it does have a culture that is all its own. Its proximity to the Sierras de Cordoba make it a great base and its youthful atmosphere will have you missing your own school days in no time. While there are many cities in Argentina that get more attention, Cordoba is worth a visit.

In search of Blue dollars

Argentina is quite the interesting place at the moment. Inflation is rampant. Literally you can go to the grocery store one week, and the next week the price of a vegetable has increased 5-10 pesos a kilo. Even more so, there are basically two markets for currency. There is the official rate, and the black market rate. These rates make a huge difference when it comes to spending here. The official rate is 8.6 ARP to 1 USD while the black market rate (also known as blue dollar rate) is 13. That is over a 50% increase on the official rate. Argentina is massively expensive if you don’t get the blue dollar.

So, how do you find this black market? Well in Buenos Aires it is fairly easy. However, you do need to look out for fake bills. At first, I thought I’d just use the ATM. How expensive can Argentina really be?

Man was I naïve. It hurt my wallet to do anything in Argentina. So, now that I was here in Cordoba, I set out in search of Blue dollars. I spoke to a german girl staying at the same place and she told me of a guy (mafia looking guy) that would exchange at the black market rate. So I set out in search of this guy. Normally, like if you were in Buenos Aires, you wouldn’t be able to walk down one road without hearing ‘cambio, cambio’ being whispered to anyone who looked like a foreigner. Cordoba, was a different story. I was struggling. I walked around the block about 5 times. I thought I saw an exchange go on but didn’t have the courage to just go up and ask. So I gave up for the day. I went to the grocery store, bought a little, and cried while I paid the official rate. Tomorrow was a new day.

Plaza San Martin in Cordoba, Argentina. Best place in Cordoba to find the Blue dollar rate.

Plaza San Martin in Cordoba, Argentina. Best place in Cordoba to find the Blue dollar rate.

So the following day, I set out again for Blue dollars. I walked around some more, hoping to hear those words. Then, as I was getting ready to do another walk around the block, I heard a man leaning against a pole, whisper ‘cambio’. I asked cuanto and he said doce setenta (12,70). Vale. It was good enough for me. He walked me around the corner where there was actually a line. It looked like locals so that made me feel more comfortable. It was a newspaper stand. He asked how much and I said cien. He took the $100 USD and threw it in a box. He then counted out 1270 pesos. I recounted to be sure. They had watermarks so I was comfortable.

I walked away smiling. I had participated in my first black market deal. I felt triumphant. I got ice cream to celebrate. And to also ensure the $100 pesos I just received actually worked. It did.

Who ever thought I would be looking for the black market in Argentina? It is a crazy world we live in.

Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires

You sure know how to welcome a girl, don’t you Argentina? I arrived late on a Sunday, before the holidays, and arranged for my hostel to have a car waiting. Sometimes, when you are a solo female traveler you have to pay a bit more to ensure your safety. You never want to look back wishing you would have paid those extra few dollars. As such, I needed cash at the airport. I prepared ahead and brought a few cards, a few years traveling, and a few incidents will have you doing the same. I tried the first ATM with my no fee card. Could not perform the transaction. Tried the second card. Same problem. I went to another ATM. Tried the first card. No luck. Tried the second card and finally got cash. I soon realized that getting cash out of ATMs in Argentina (primarily local banks) was almost always a roll of the dice. As I was arriving so late, I booked a cheap hostel in the nicer part of town, Palermo, as I wanted to check out the neighborhood in the morning.

I should have just gotten a hotel. I woke up to around 20 mosquito bites, give or take 5. They were on my face, my back, and my arms. I’m so glad I wore long pants to bed. Needless to say, it wasn’t the warm welcome I had been hoping for. My first stop was the grocery store to purchase sunscreen & bugspray. Now prepared for whatever the country had to throw at me, I moved to the other side of town, San Telmo, which was much more accessible to the tourist areas.

It is an interesting time to be in Argentina. The inflation is apparent. Prices don’t make sense. My first few days was sticker shock. I was also operating at the official rate which is extremely painful (see my separate post on the blu dollar). Difficulties aside, I was able to get out and explore a bit.

My first day I was on my own. There were some free museums due to the holiday so I mainly walked around and visited those. I was able to learn a bit more about Argentina’s history.

Casa Rosada in the center of Buenos Aires.

Casa Rosada in the center of Buenos Aires.

That night, I decided to venture out my own as I hadn’t really met many people at the hostel. I went to a little bar close by that had pretty good reviews. The food was less than good but the drinks were great. Cider straight from Patagonia. I spoke to the bartenders a bit but then a group of guys asked me to take their picture. They then invited me to sit with them noticing that I was on my own and from the States (they were also Americans… but I should say from the U.S. as everyone here is technically an American too). Travel definitely brings people together. If I was in the U.S. I’m doubtful this would have ever happened. I spent the rest of the night just talking with them and their bike guide from earlier that day, a semi-permanent expat from England. I say semi because he was there outside his Visa with no intention of leaving. It is crazy to me how brave some people are and how much they are willing to hustle to live the life they want.

The night ended with Indian food (they were Indian Americans from New York, and two of them had actually lived in Michigan for a period of time). I tried Indian food for the first time in Argentina. It is a cool world we live in.

The colorful houses of La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The colorful houses of La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The next day I did another walking tour through La Boca, the disputed birthplace of Tango. It was nice but a bit touristy and if you ventured farther out, the neighborhood was underdeveloped, to say the least. The best part was meeting a French girl who was getting ready for a tour on her own and another guy from Denmark who was also traveling on his own. My favorite part of the trip so far hasn’t been the cities, or the food, but the people I meet and the conversations I get to have. Hearing from locals first hand thoughts on current events is much more satisfying then reading a water downed version in the newspapers.

Some La Boca Street Art.

Some La Boca Street Art.

Buenos Aires has been called the Paris of South America. I do not have much to go off of, as my journey around South America is just beginning. All I can say is, I think my expectations were a bit too high. Or maybe I didn’t spend enough time there. It was also my first time staying in a hostel again since college, so the lifestyle adjustment could be affecting my thoughts as well. I think once Argentina figures out their currency situation, I’ll be more inclined to return.