Category Archives: General Travel

Posts concerned with travel as a whole, not South America specific.

Comparing Buenos Aires to other World Cities

Buenos Aires is often compared to other cities around the world. Many a guidebook waxes lyrical about the “Paris of the South”. Puerto Madero is Manhattan (at least to those who have never been to Manhattan) and the leafy parks of Palermo have reminded more than one visitor to the large open space of Central Park. I like a good comparison and today I began wondering how did Buenos Aires stack up to other world cities in terms of size. I know it’s 80 square miles with a population of a shade under 3 million, but what does that mean, when comparing to another city I know well, such as London? I decided to find out.

London vs Buenos Aires
London vs Buenos Aires

So here we have a map of London, taken from Google maps with the outline of Buenos Aires at the same scale overlaid. I’ve highlighted some of the well-known spots in the city to make it easier to gauge the size. The Plaza de Mayo is roughly where London Bridge is, which puts Plaza Dorrego round about Waterloo, Caminito in Peckham and Plaza Italia the other side of Regents Park on Primrose Hill and Congreso de Tucuman way out in Hendon.
Paris vs Buenos Aires
Paris vs Buenos Aires (click for full-size)

Paris may have influenced Buenos Aires from an architectural point of view, but the student certainly outgrew the master, with Paris nestling nicely within the Argentine capital, taking up around 50% of the land area.
New York vs Buenos Aires
New York vs Buenos Aires (click for full-size)

Unsurprisingly, New York is much more of a match for Buenos Aires with the 5 Boroughs dwarfing Capital Federal. Note the size of Central Park; about the same sort of distance as Plaza Italia to Chacarita – huge!

Any requests? More cities you’d like to see compared? let me know in the comments!

This post was originally published on Buenos Aires Local Tours.

The Increasing Cost of Travel in Argentina

I recently came across an old notebook I’d carried with me on my travels when I first arrived in Argentina and tucked inside the back cover were some tickets from bus journeys I had taken. Travelling by bus had been such a big part of my trip around South America that it was nice to be reminded of the distances and experiences that these tickets represented. A couple had the prices on them, so I decided to conduct a little experiment.

That Argentina has been experiencing heavy inflation these last few years is no secret. Whilst the government has gone out of their way to deny it, even fining agencies who dared publish figures which disagreed with their own, living here it’s impossible not to notice prices increasing on a monthly basis. So having the prices from the past in front of me, I thought I’d take a look at how they have changed.

In March 2009 I travelled from Rio Gallegos to Buenos Aires, a journey of 36 hours which cost me 500 pesos. The same journey today according to plataforma10.com would cost 810 pesos – an increase of 61% over 28 months. Given that unofficial estimates of inflation have been around the 25% mark for the last couple of years, that’s not too bad.

Other, shorter and probably more popular routes have however suffered much more heavily. Looking at the tickets from my parents trip last October, the cost of Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn has increased by 62% in just 10 months. In the 31 months since I travelled to Puerto Iguazu, the cost of a Cama class ticket has gone up a whopping 154% from 185 to 471 pesos.

The most heavily affected by this type of inflation (which applies to everything, not just travel) is the Argentinian population who will be able to buy less and less as rent, food and transport take up more and more of their salaries which are not increasing by the same proportion as prices. However I do see another side effect which will be to affect tourism. As exchange rates have varied very little in the last few years these type of price increases are making Argentina twice as expensive to visit as it was only 2 years ago.

Flights to Argentina from Europe and North America are not cheap and the relative inexpensive costs (lodging, transport & eating) once you are here compensated for that making a holiday here a realistic proposition. The more those prices increase the less viable Argentina will become as a destination, something which will hurt both the travel industry and the economy as a whole.

Switchit – My New Project

So, after all the recent corn related excitement I’ve been playing around with something else that I get very excited about, maps. When I was travelling South in Patagonia, I often found myself curious about where I would be on an equivalent point in the Northern Hemisphere.

I don’t mean finding the opposite point on the earth’s surface, simply that if I am at 42ºS, what cities are on or around 42ºN?

I couldn’t find anything that did it on the internet, so I built it. After a quiet long weekend here in Buenos Aires, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the GringoStarr Switchit Latitude Flipper! Catchy name huh?

switchit
switchit - Turn Your World Upside Down

It’s fairly simple to use, just type in the name of the place you would like to search for and click the button. For places in the USA, you need to put the state in too, like “Denver, CO” for example.

If you type in somewhere that isn’t in the database, it gets recorded and every day or so I’ll look them up and add them in. Have a play, there are MAPS too, and if you have any comments, please let me know!

592 Days

Monday 14th June was a big day, it marks my return to gainful employment for the first time since that rainy October evening back in 2008 when I walked out of the BNP Paribas offices in Geneva for the last time.

Perito Moreno, Feb 2009

It was a strange feeling then, and it is a strange feeling now and it’s got me thinking about what I’ve done in my 84 week “holiday”. There are plenty of websites out there devoted to all sorts of different types of travel; backpacking, a gap-year, the career break. These sites are filled (for the main part, there’s a lot of self-obsessed twaddle out there too) with information on where to go, how to get there, what to do when you get and, most importantly for my current state of mind, how to cope when it’s all over.

The thought has not been with me much over the last few months. Deep down I’ve always known that one day I would return to the world of work and it has held no terror for me. I think this is due to the fact that, unlike the gap-year student or the “career-breaker” I knew that this was much more than just a trip abroad. Deep down, I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to Europe a year later. Even if I did I woudn’t be returning to the life I knew before. Having made the decision to leave (I described it to someone the other day as the easiest decision I ever took – it was) I knew that whatever I would do in the future would be on my terms.

Train Cemetery, May 2009

The fact that I’ve gone back to work doesn’t scare me, nor does it bother me. Over the course of the past months I’ve come to realise that it hasn’t been the not working that was important. As strange as it might sound, I don’t think that it was the travelling either, although obviously it’s been an incredible experience.

What has been important since leaving Geneva is that, for the first time in my life, I was able to do exactly what felt right, at that particular point in time. People have often said to me that I’ve been very lucky to be able to go travelling (instead of working), and I would often reply that it wasn’t luck, anybody could do it. I still believe that to be true to an extent, but the thing is, lots of the people who tell me I’m lucky, would like to do the same but won’t. They tell themselves, and others, they can’t, but the truth is they won’t.

Doing what I did is not for everybody, and in some ways it was painful, I’m a long way from home. However, coming to South America was one of the best things I ever did in my life, for the simple reason that it was the first time I stopped listening to voices telling me I couldn’t do anything different and just went ahead and did it.

Now I’m here and I know that nothing will be the same again. Never again will I find myself in the same state of mind that lead to me leaving in the first place. Life is great, and it’s 100% on my terms.

Getting all gadgety

Now, this is supposed to be a blog all about my travels, rather than indulging in my nerdy gadget-love, but I’m going to make an exception and tell you all about my PowerMonkey (well there’s a sentence I never saw myself writing).

Before you get all excited and report me for primate abuse, a Powermonkey is a solar-powered charger that ensures that none of your gadgets need ever to run out of juice on that long flight or bus journey. And honestly, it’s one of those things that doesn’t need to sell itself any further, at least not to me.

[singlepic id=27 w=320 h=240 float=center]

I have found this thing insanely useful and whilst travelling used it pretty much every day. It’s very simple – it has a central charging unit which you charge when near a plug socket or using the solar panel. This central unit can then be used with a variety of adaptors to charge your gadgets.

2 big problems stand out – I didn’t actually get the solar charging to work. I would leave it charging in the Colombian sunshine for an hour or so, the bar on the charging unit would show power going in, but when I unplugged it, the level was the same as before. Now this could just be that I needed to leave it longer, who knows, but to be honest I was never so far away from a plug socket (the other, more traditional way of charging it) that this was a problem.

Secondly I only actually used it for my iPod. It doesn’t charge laptops (for that you need to spend another 30 quid or something for the PowerGorilla, and even then I’m not sure it charges a Mac), my camera has an external charger and the adaptor for my phone didn’t work very well. And then I lost the phone, so that was that!

However, simply being able to charge the iPod made this an absolute must-have gadget – particularly when not travelling with a laptop – thanks Rach!

All in a Name

One of the joys of travelling in a country where they don’t speak your language is that occasionally you’ll come across a name that has one meaning for the locals and another entirely for you. And you can take a picture and giggle at the crazy foreign names.

Moron, Salta

Spotted this one in Salta, Moron Firekillers (fire extinguishers). Quite a common one this, it’s also a town in Buenos Aires province.

Farto

A chain of chemists in Brasil. Saw this in the bus station in Sao Paulo which is not normally the sort of place I would recommend walking round with your camera, but I had to make an exception for Farto. Had already spotted it a couple of times, but had been unable to get a picture, so was very happy to catch this example. Kind of like trainspotting – patience and a little bit of luck. You even get a bonus shot of Laura with her backpack.

Barfy Burger

I purchased these fine burgers from my local supermarket here in Buenos Aires, based solely on the name, a mistake I will not be committing twice. Rarely have I come across a product that so ably Does Exactly What It Says on the Tin. God, they were awful.

Wanka Turismo

I was kind of at a loss with this one. Spotted on a tour of bodegas in Mendoza last year. Not my first Wanka spot – there was a poster in the street advertising a Peruvian music concert which featured this word heavily. Was unsure if it’s the music or the group. But again, Google comes to the rescue.

Fanny Tuna

Like the BarfyBurger, I bought this one simply for the name – it’s tinned tuna, it’s called Fanny. This is going to be funnier if you’re English more than if you’re American…

A Hard Life

I remember reading once that in order to maintain reader interest, a blog should be updated at least 3 times a week. Well, you may have noticed that I’m not quite there! Since moving the blog from Vox to jontyjago.com I’ve wanted to write much more, but the simple truth is that when travelling without a laptop, it’s hard to do.

Writing long entries using the iPod is a pain in the culo, using internet cafes is easier but I always feel rushed. Plus, no laptop equals no pictures which makes for less interesting posts, so all-in-all an unsatisfactory situation!

The good news is that next week I should be reunited with the laptop, so I can knuckle down and do some bloggy justice to the last 2 months of travelling. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you stick with me long enough to read what I have to say!

Close One?

Was watching the local news yesterday and was a little bit freaked out to see a brief item about a bus crash having killed 4 people here in Ecuador. Nothing particularly unusual about that, but what caught our attention was that the bus had come from the Peruvian border was travelling to Cuenca and belonged to the bus company CIFA. In other words the exact same bus we’d been on 5 days earlier.

I’ve already written about lively bus drivers and the ones in Peru and Ecuador are very much in the same mould as those in Colombia. In fact I didn´t particularly enjoy the ride from Mancora to Cuenca as the driver was notable in having 2 basic driving tactics. Either the accelerator was glued to the floor, or the brakes were being slammed on. He drove that bus HARD.

Now, I know that this post is going to produce a worried email from my mother, in fact most of what I do over here produces a worried email from my mother (my favourite so far is, make sure you don’t cuddle any monkeys when you’re in the jungle, not with your skin!). But, honestly what can you do about a lunatic bus driver (or your mother for that matter)?

I’ve seen a blog post written by a backpacker dealing with this issue as the bus he was on actually did crash and he has some advice in the light of this incident. I understand that the incident was highly traumatic and seriously unpleasant, however I do seriously question (and had a little chuckle trying to picture it!) the following advice

You could TELL the driver to SLOW DOWN (‘Despacio!’) if you feel they are driving too fast or if you feel uncomfortable with their driving in any way. If they do not slow down I would personally get off the bus at the next suitable stop (i.e. where I knew I would be safe and have somewhere to stay)

I can’t really see that one working, particularly if you shout it in English. And as for getting off at the next available opportunity, again worthy in its sentiments, just won’t work in the real world – how do you know where’s safe and has suitable places to stay? He does make a good point about choosing a decent (ie expensive) bus company and where possible I do make a point of that. I wasn’t actually surpised to discover halfway through the journey to Cuenca that CIFA is actually part of CIAL, but at that stage it was too late to do anything about it.

Realistically this is pretty rare stuff – I’ve travelled over 25,000 miles by bus in the last 16 months and have felt at risk maybe twice. Maybe it’s stupid fatalism but I really don’t see what you can do about it. Planes crash, cars crash, buses crash, trains crash, boats sink, but a traveller’s gotta travel, right?

Best Laid Plans

There are times when it simply just doesn’t work out. We got to Ecuador last Thursday and found a nice relaxing hostel in the historic centre. Friday we just mooched around, Saturday we took a trip up to the Cajas National Park which was beautiful – it contains hundreds of lakes and lagoons, all over 3,200m.

After that however, it started to go a bit wrong, or at least not to plan. I woke up on Sunday feeling like death warmed up, so that was Sunday and Monday out of the way. Tuesday, feeling much better we checked out ready to head to Banos, between Cuenca and Quito. While waiting to pay, I checked my email to find a very alarmed note from a nervous mother pointing out the fact that Banos is situated just 3 miles from a highly active volcano and that the British Foreign Office has been advising against visiting it for the last 3 months.

Now, normally I’m very much a member of the think-positive-and-nothing-bad-will-happen school of travel, but the reports of explosions, molten lava and pyroclastic flows was all alittle bit too much, even for me.

So we sat on a bus for 11 hours and came to Quito. Where Laura has been ill for the last 2 days. So, hopefully, after more than a week, we can actually do something..