Why didn’t they tell us that!

4 May

We’ve been travelling for just over 2 months now through Argentina and Chile, and we haven’t done too badly but there’s always room for improvement and there have been a few times where we’ve said “why didn’t anyone tell us that!”

So…here are just some things we’ve learnt so far:

  • Never look a dog in the eye! As soon as you do, you’re doomed to a friendship that you don’t want at first but will shed a tear at when you come to move on. The dogs here are smart and go for the sympathy angle looking for food primarily and a good scratch behind the ear. They even try to trip you up as they walk behind you to grab your atttention.
  • Never rustle your shopping bags! See above – the dogs can recognise that rustle from a kilometre away and within seconds you’ll be surrounded by hopeful, doleful doggie eyes. They’ll even wait to ambush you outside supermarkets!
  • Don’t wash up your pots and pans with shampoos unless you’re absolutely desperate. Unless you actually like the taste of Pantene Pro-Vitamin for dry hair! If you’re not sure, eat some and see. Otherwise invest in a small bottle of proper washing up liquid.
  • Don’t take a dry bag with you and not use it – our soggy passports and cash can testify that this is a bad move and a rookie mistake.
  • Don’t try and scrape welded on pasta from the bottom of your pan using a plastic Spork – 2,000 Chilean Pesos (approx 4 USD) to replace the snapped one might prove a good incentive to buy a much cheaper scouring pad.
  • Take a small sewing kit on your travels – anyone who thinks it’s easy to pick one up in Patagonia is mistaken. Carrying around a rucksack of clothes is hard enough without the frustration of not being able to wear your favourite shorts because there’s no button on them!
  • If you have room in your bag, take 2 travel plug adaptors – inevitably most of our electronic gear needs charging at the same time and it’s really frustrating to sit in a coffee shop for 6 hours while your camera, PC, phone and so on are charging one by one. It doesn’t impress the coffee shop owner either.
  • Dried fruit in Patagonia is fantastic (especially Mango and Papaya) and might even satisfy that desperate hunger you are feeling for a bag of Haribos.
  • Be ‘Banos Prepared’! The toilets in Argentina and Chile can be challenging at times! If you’re lucky enough to find some public toilets, its likely that you will need to pay a few hundred pesos to use the facilities so always carry some small coins with you to avoid hopping from foot to foot as you wait for your change. Ensure you take a supply of toilet paper, tissues or wipes every time you go because you can never be sure what you’ll be getting. Ladies inparticular note that paper, if supplied, is usually found outside of the cubical! In rarer cases you may even required to perform some small amount of maintenance to the cistern to aid the flushing process!
  • If you find a coffee shop selling real ground coffee, make sure you take advantage as instant Nescafe seems to be the drink of choice! Cake appears to be cheaper than coffee so fill your boots and your stomach!
  • The saying goes in South America “If you see an ATM then it’s time to get cash!” How true. Having been caught out a couple of times by the lack of cash machines, we now abide by this rule.
  • If the quality of your night’s sleep is highly dependent on the quality of your pillow, then take a full sized pillow case with you and stuff it with clothes to get a bit closer to the real thing. None of the travel pillows currently on the market seem to do the trick.
  • If you don’t ask, you don’t get! It’s easier to negotiate prices when you get to your accommodation, not when you leave them! But you need to know how long you’ll be there – the longer the stay the cheaper the price. Simple!
  • Take a good supply of spare batteries for your gear – they can be expensive and are of variable quality. And some types are virtually impossible to find, rendering your equipment redundant.
  • If you’re cooking for yourself while camping, invest in a proper cookset. Buying bits and pieces as you go along is a false economy as the quality can be poor and individually they take up more space as they don’t fit inside each other
  • Take a few small Tuppaware containers for storing food such as chopped onions, tomatoes etc. It’s always a toss up between space and convenience, but having the ability to store items of food that would enhance our pasta and rice make this a good decision.
  • As you travel, gather a small supply of individual portions of sugar, marmalade, salt, pepper and so on. The small touches will make all the difference to your food!
  • If you’re camping, buy a tent that is less dependent on the use of tent pegs – in some places the ground is too hard or rocky, or you may have to camp on a wooden platform.
  • If, like us, you are partial to an ocassional cerveza, then take care when buying bottles from supermarkets – some will charge you a higher price on the assumption that you will bring the bottles back and get a refund. Even then, be careful because that refund may only be in the form of a credit note for your next purchase in that shop. If you’re leaving town it can be an annoying extra journey to the shop, or you end up buying something you don’t need just to use up your credit. Cans are sometimes the better option as this system doesn’t appear to apply.
  • Beware the buses, or the ticketing system at least! How frustrated would you be if you waited ages for a bus and then couldn’t get on it because you hadn’t bought a ticket from the tiny kiosk 20 metres down the road? In some towns it’s impossible to buy tickets on the buses, so check it out before you grow old waiting for that bus!
  • Ear plugs and eye-masks are an essential if you’re camping, taking overnight buses, sleeping in a dorm room or are a light sleeper in general – our fellow travellers aren’t always as considerate of others as we’d like them to be!

We’ve come a long way so far in terms of kilometres covered and lessons learned but our eyes will remain open as we continue travel through Latin America. We’re under no illusion that as soon as we think we’ve got the hang of things, a curve ball will come flying our way but we’ll look forward to facing the next challenges with a smile on our faces.

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