Lost and Found: Cusco 

Lost and Found: Cusco 

It’s a lot harder to keep up to date with things at home when you’re travelling.

For a start, I have no idea if my room has been converted into a gym yet, I don’t know if the Coral betting shop on the corner of Westmoreland Road has finally been turned into a Wetherspoons, and I couldn’t tell you if my Mum still goes to yoga classes twice a week.

One thing that I have managed to keep up with, however, is the football, and what I can tell you is that Crystal Palace have just won their second league game since I flew to South America.

That’s 2 (two) wins in 3 (THREE) months, but it still hasn’t stopped me religiously refreshing Twitter on sketchy Wi-Fi every Saturday morning in the hope that 6’6″ Wayne Hennessey hasn’t been lobbed four times from twenty yards again.

The latest dose of disappointment came in Cusco, as Palace stumbled to a 3-0 defeat at home to Manchester City, and now that my little football rant is over, I can tell you a thing or two about the ancient capital of the Incas.

For a start, looking down on the city from up in the hills makes you realise just how small Cusco is, and its population of 435,000 means it barely qualifies as one of Peru’s top ten biggest cities.

But I’ve always been assured that size doesn’t matter, and what Cusco lacks in magnitude it more than makes up for in charm, and walking down the steep cobbled streets leads you past Inca walls, ancient churches, and a beautifully preserved colonial plaza that’s riddled with an array of cool restaurants and bars.

However, the main draw of Cusco is its rich history, and the first remnants of the Incas can be found right in the heart of the city, where its very own Christ the Redeemer stands in front of Saksaywaman – the historic capital of the Inca Empire.

But most people come to Cusco for one reason, and it’s not the thoroughly underwhelming chocolate factory which doesn’t have the high glass ceilings and bubble works like the one in Mel Stuart’s movie.

Indeed, if anyone tells you that Machu Picchu isn’t one of the reasons they have come to South America, you should immediately turn around and tell them that they’re a liar.

Ever since I started planning this trip, the entire journey felt like it was revolving around finding the lost Inca citadel which attracts thousands of visitors everyday.

Just the mere story behind the settlement is enough to get the mind ticking, given that Machu Picchu was only discovered in 1911, after the Incas planted excessive amounts of vegetation to hide it from Spanish invaders in the 16th century.

And there are several ways to make it to the peak, whether it’s via the Inca trail, the Salkantay trek, or the alternative route of mountain biking, rafting and zip-lining your way through the jungle.

One thing that’s unavoidable, however, is climbing over 2,000 steps to reach the summit of Machu Picchu, and at 2,430m above sea level it really makes you feel like you’ve earned seeing one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Inevitably when I reached the top it was absolutely zipping down with rain, and it made me question whether I’d committed sins against South America to be cursed with overcast skies for both the Bolivian Salt Flats and Machu Picchu.

Once the clouds started to rise, however, it makes you realise what an expertly crafted archeological site the settlement is, and it truly serves as an illustration of some of the earliest human intelligence given that I’d have advised the Incas to build their home at the bottom of the mountain rather than bother climbing all the way up to the top.

And even though the sky wasn’t clear enough for the perfect Instagram photo, it was inspiring to be in a place that I, and probably many others, had been fantasising about for years.

It was another one of those moments on this trip where you have to pinch yourself only to realise that you’re now part of the postcard picture that you’ve been staring into through a computer screen, almost in a similar way that I was pinching myself last night as Benteke nodded in Palace’s second.

Machu Picchu and a Palace win – two real wonders of the world.

Next stop, the sand dunes of Huacachina. Until then.

80 Days and Counting: Arequipa

80 Days and Counting: Arequipa

If you take everything literally, the name of this travel blog might be a little misleading.

While getting from Copacabana to Cali in eighty days would be some feat, it’s also extremely unrealistic if you’re trying to get from one side of South America to the other on a bus.

Indeed, I’ve already racked up one hundred and seventy six hours of bus journeys, which is just over seven days knocked off the eighty that this blog granted me to reach Colombia.

And to be honest, it only dawned on me a couple of days ago that I’d passed the eighty day landmark, in Arequipa, in Peru, and still 3,570km away from Cali.

However, the White City certainly wasn’t the worst place to exceed my limit, and Arequipa doesn’t get its nickname purely because of the heavenly colonial city centre.

Instead, it stems from the Spanish founders and settlers of the city who came to Peru and left Arequipa with a predominantly Spanish population.

In a similar way to Sucre, Arequipa’s beautifully majestic plaza tricks you into thinking that you’re back in the middle of Europe, and the impressive cathedral in Plaza de Armas is the closest you’ll come to a South American example of European architecture.

The city is also up there for being one of the gastronomic capitals of Peru, and although there was the temptation of a McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut trio temple directly outside my hostel, Arequipa is a hub of Peruvian cuisine with an abundance of tasty lomo saltado, ceviche, and even the local delicacy of guinea pig which, by the way, looks frightening on a plate.

While Arequipa is a lovely city in itself, it’s impossible to visit without sampling the surrounding landscape that consists of a trio of volcanoes which reign over the city.

Although the triple team of Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu are extremely intimidating, the main attraction of Arequipa is the Colca Canyon.

Before rocking up in Peru, I’d assumed that the Grand Canyon was the only one worth visiting, but it turns out that Arizona’s finest isn’t anywhere near as deep as Cañon del Colca or even the nearby Cotahuasi Canyon.

Indeed, you only need to go on a two day hike to the canyon to appreciate just how sheer it is. Walking down the steepest of drops isn’t kind on the knees, but stopping for a piece of cactus fruit and staring through the incredible views of the valley and hillside settlements make the pain barely bearable.

Climbing back up the canyon, however, truly makes you understand why a lot of people choose to get driven round Cañon del Colca in the comfort of a van.

Starting in the dark at 4:30 am, the hike is essentially a vertical climb for 6 gruelling kilometres during which the canyon teases  you into thinking that every ridge is actually the summit.

Climbing through thick cloud at a punishing altitude probably isn’t recommended if you’ve got a dodgy heart or a hip replacement, and it becomes a mental battle of wanting to stop but fearing that if you do your legs simply won’t be willing to cooperate anymore.

Reaching the summit, however, is probably as rewarding as getting a blue tick on Twitter, and hiking through the canyon is definitely the best way to see one of Peru’s most stunning natural attractions.

So Arequipa seemingly has it all. The perfect place to relax and indulge for a few days, while it also has the tools at its disposal to satisfy the thrill junkies who binge on stiff legs and heartburn, and if you’re ever in the White City it would be rude not to treat yourself to a bit of both.

Next stop, another closer to Inca territory in Cusco. Until then.

Wacky and Weird: La Paz

Wacky and Weird: La Paz

One of the last books I read before escaping to South America was the true story of one of the most famous British drug smugglers in history who operated out of Bolivia.

However, Marching Powder isn’t simply a success story championing a man from Liverpool who went years flawlessly herding tonnes of cocaine between South America and Europe.

Instead, Rusty Young describes how a young Thomas McFadden was set up, betrayed, caught, and eventually found himself in one of the deadliest prisons in South America without a trial and speaking hardly any Spanish.

In case you’re wondering why this is relevant, San Pedro prison is located in La Paz, but is no ordinary place of confinement where prisoners form an orderly queue for a cold bowl of soup and look upon their prison guards as superiors.

In San Pedro, prisoners need an income to survive and purchase their own prison cells, some of which can be as luxurious as a hotel room.

Some prisoners open shops or restaurants, others continue to sell drugs on the inside, while McFadden became one of the prison’s most notorious inmates for starting up a tour business.

Money talks in Bolivia, and by slipping a few extra Bolivianos in the back pockets of his prison guards, McFadden was able to show tourists his side of San Pedro, and visitors were even able to party into the night drinking and sniffing whatever they pleased.

To cut a long story short, it’s for this very reason that arriving in La Paz is greeted with fluctuating emotions of intrigue, wonder, and uneasiness.

A lot of people will tell you that you never know what you’re going to get with La Paz, but you can be sure that it will throw things at you completely different to any other South American capital city.

If the city prison is like a Butlins resort, you can’t help but wonder what the law abiding citizens can get away with.

Indeed, La Paz functions as the perfect microcosm for the weird and wacky nature of Bolivia, which is far and away the most interesting of countries to travel through.

Rather than wide, well built highways, Bolivians buses are forced to bump and wind in and out of narrow roads and high altitude hills, dipping through canyons marked only with ‘mind the llama’ signs, while every now and then you’ll pass a lonely farmer failing to round up hundreds of alpacas.

Whenever a bus pulls into a remote village, it’s swarmed by street sellers trying to flog anything from a stale bread roll to strawberry jelly to voodoo dolls, and upon arriving in La Paz you’re greeted by one of the most bizarre cities you’re likely to come across.

For a start, La Paz is pure market, and a cable car up to El Alto elevates you 4000 metres above sea level and, on Thursdays and Sundays, bang in the middle of the biggest street market in South America.

Wild elephants, giant marquees, and strawberry flavoured eucalyptus trees are just a few of the things that you can’t buy at this market, but it’s lined with football kits faker than Katie Price’s teeth, and you can buy almost anything useful for just a handful of Bolivianos.

Wandering through the market I couldn’t help but be reminded of the phrase: “don’t eat too many carrots or you’ll turn into one”, as some of the sellers had clearly been working in their stools for so long that they’d become one with their threads.

More bizarre, however, is the eery witches market in Sagarnaga, where dried llama fetuses hang from market stools and you can find remedies for anything from the common cold to dangerously low libido.

And if you go to watch traditional Cholita wrestling, you might even catch on of the so called witches in a scrap. Middle aged women literally fly from the top rope of a ring in the middle of a warehouse that doubles as a car garage while a bemused audience awkwardly applauds having had their perception of the WWE shattered.

But being caught up in the hustle and bustle of La Paz can blind you to the city’s unique setting.

La Paz is essentially a red brick crater in the middle of a mogul field of Bolivian hills, and is also home to the most dangerous road in the world.

Roughly two hundred people die each year trying to navigate Death Road, and given that I haven’t owned a bike for over ten years, I decided now would be the perfect time to reignite my cycling career and see what all the fuss is about.

The cycle starts in a valley just outside of Death Road in a place that looks a little like something out of a Disney movie. At this stage the ride feels like plain sailing, given that it’s all downhill, the roads are smooth, and there’s some incredible scenery to boot.

However, embarking on the main event is a little bit like jumping from amateur to legendary difficulty mode on Fifa. Starting above the clouds, it’s a lot harder to keep control going downhill on uneven gravel while desparately trying to ignore the uninterrupted three hundred metre drop below.

There is, however, something adrenalin inducing about cycling down stretches of road just two metres wide, ploughing through waterfalls all the while being in charge of your own welfare in the middle of one of the most impressive rainforest valleys in South America.

In fact, La Paz is very much an adrenalin inducing place. A lot of backpackers are attracted by the city’s ‘look the other way’ policy, and don’t leave disappointed by the underground clubs (some legal some not so legal) that result in dazed tourists stumbling back to their hostels as the sun rises over the city.

Fundamentally, the city is a bit of a hole, but La Paz is Bolivia’s weird and wonderful hole that is so very bizarre that you might never be able to bring yourself to leave, and not just because the hangovers are so bad in the highest capital city on earth.

Next stop, across the border to Peru and Arequipa. Until then.

New Territory: Potosi and Sucre

New Territory: Potosi and Sucre

“Get through Bolivia as quickly as you can”

“Yeah you’ll probably end up getting robbed in Bolivia”

“Watch your back at the bus stations because there’s a good chance you’ll get kidnapped and have your credit cards emptied”

These are just a glamorous selection of warnings I received about Bolivia from pals, travel guides, and fellow travellers alike.

So if you believe everything you hear, you’d be forgiven for thinking that crossing into Bolivia is akin to walking aimlessly into a warzone wearing shin pads and armed with nothing more than a well sharpened pencil as a weapon.

Although a lot of the stories seem a little far-fetched and a bit like scaremongering, I couldn’t help but feel slightly apprehensive arriving after dark in the middle of a busy street in Potosi, well equipped with pretty much everything I own.

Like most places, however, as long as you don’t strut around shouting about your shiny new IPad or go wandering down dark alleys at 2 in the morning with Beats headphones growing out of your head, things in Bolivia turn out alright on the whole.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing about Potosi is the altitude. At 4,090 metres above sea level, it is one of the highest cities in the world, and climbing a flight of stairs leaves you feeling like you’ve been trying to man mark N’Golo Kante for ninety minutes.

Indeed, a mere breathless stroll up the street made me realise why football pundits assert that no South American football team likes playing in Bolivia, and it would come as no surprise if Messi plots his next impromptu retirement from international football to coincide with Bolivia away.

Potosi as a city, however, doesn’t have a huge amount to offer, and having already visited some of the more developed countries in South America, the contrasts are immediately obvious.

The food is cheaper, the buildings appear more rundown, and Potosi’s main attraction is its mines which, in itself, sounds somewhat outdated.

The mining tour, however, is far and away one of the most interesting tours you can do in South America.

Men can start working in the mines from as young as thirteen years old, and the working conditions that they have to endure are something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

Just a few hours crawling through claustrophobic spaces and climbing ladders through the narrowest of gaps is enough to put you off giving up the day job and moving to Potosi, but learning about the mining rituals and superstitions is incredibly useful for dinner party small talk.

For a start, you have to take gifts down for the miners. This doesn’t involve a cotton hat and new socks, but more useful things like cigarettes, coca leaves, and 96% miners whiskey which you end up awkwardly seshing with the workers.

The most intriguing superstition, however, is the mining God who all the workers offer up sacrifices of booze and cigs. Sculpted like a menacing devil, the deity is well equipped with an above average manhood which the miners believe represents fertility when they drill for silver and zinc.

A trip into Potosi and its mines certainly takes you back in time, but just a three hour bus journey north to Sucre teleports you back into the present.

In most of Bolivia, an unfinished house actually means that the occupier doesn’t have to pay taxes.

However, in Sucre, it’s possible to tax dodge by painting your home white, which leaves visitors feeling like they’re in the middle of Florence rather than a third world country.

Indeed, Sucre feels like the furthest thing you can get from a stereotypical picture of Bolivia. The streets of the constitutional capital are colourful, the roads are quiet, and even the altitude isn’t that exhausting.

However, that doesn’t stop you from gasping for air after walking up a steep cobbled hill to the Mirador cafe for a breakfast view of the entire city.

But as you sit sipping pineapple juice and yamming down bacon, eggs and avocado, while overlooking a beautiful city built high into the Bolivian hills, it’s hard to believe you’re in one of the poorest countries in South America.

Indeed, Sucre pulls somewhat of a blanket over the real Bolivia, and other than being a great place to relax, eat well, and drink for a few days, there isn’t a whole lot to do there.

The black market is definitely worth a trip or two (especially if, like me, you’re in need of a cheap phone), and if dinosaurs are your thing, the dinopark is a must, where you can see 68 million year old Sauropod footprints.

So it’s safe to say that, so far, Bolivia has been worryingly uneventful and, instead of being robbed of my possessions, I feel slightly enriched from learning about the culture of a country that operates with a smile on its face despite not being quite as well off as those around it.

Next stop, the red brick city, La Paz. Until then.

New Year in the Desert: San Pedro de Atacama and Salar de Uyuni

New Year in the Desert: San Pedro de Atacama and Salar de Uyuni

When I was growing up, one of my favourite cartoons was Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner. Not only was the ‘Meep meep’ catchphrase hilarious, but the setting in the desert was completely alien and not somewhere even the most imaginative six year old could picture being.

It was only on the 24 hour bus journey from Valparaiso to the tip of Chile’s border that I started to think back to watching the Road Runner. Puffs of dust and carpets of red sand reminded me of the Road Runner constantly being one step ahead of the coyote trying to catch him.

And it was only at this point that I started to realise how sparse Chile is. Given that it comprises predominantly of desert it’s no wonder that Chileans can’t live in a large majority of the country because of what would be unbearable living conditions.

Even the town of San Pedro de Atacama feels like it shouldn’t be there. Seemingly dropped in the middle of the driest desert in the world, it takes days at a time for supplies to reach it, and hostels are constantly encouraging their guests to be stingy with water.

Although the town is somewhat of an expensive base for tourists wanting to visit the Bolivian salt flats, it is also home to some of the most eye-widening scenery in the whole of Chile.

Being in Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) is a bit like landing on Mars. Here you’re thrown right into the heart of the desert, climbing huge sand dunes and crawling through salt caves directly in front of a backdrop of towering volcanoes.

Although there are an abundance of tours to see the geysers, volcanoes, and piedras rojas, one of the cheaper and less sensible ways to explore the desert is on two wheels.

Indeed, it’s only once you’re on a bike in the middle of the wilderness that you can appreciate how brutal and pure roasting that the Atacama Desert is.

Religiously reapplying factor 50 suncream probably isn’t that advisable, but felt remarkably necessary in the face of dry, cruel winds that threaten to knock you off your bike while simultaneously turning you into the Pink Panther’s identical twin.

Despite the scenery and activities that San Pedro serves up on a piping hot plate, the desert isn’t a place many people would choose to spend New Years Eve.

And I think anyone would have apprehensions about a town where the pubs and bars have a habit of demanding customers to order food first if they want to quench their thirst with an alcoholic drink.

But it turns out that the 31st December is the one day of the year when the locals want a party. Not only were the hostels going all out, but parties in the middle of the desert made for a unique setting to prove to other travellers that you can count down from ten.

However, San Pedro is fundamentally a point of connection between Chile and the Uyuni salt flats.

Indeed, the town is littered with travel agencies trying to convince visitors that their three day tour is far better than any of their 1,472 rivals offering the exact same package deal.

Ultimately, the tours are all in Spanish, and it really doesn’t make a world of difference which operator you choose.

If you believe what you read on Trip Advisor, the three day tour of the salt flats involves drunk drivers, terrible food, and you’ll probably end up going through the windscreen.

It’s times like this that you really have to question the reliability of the website that advises trips.

The problem is that no one is ever going to log on to warn people that their tour was perfectly fine. Instead, people will only write a review when they feel they didn’t get value for money, and want to steer people from signing their life away to an inevitable death in the middle of nowhere.

However, the concept of off roading across the desert in a Jeep is actually pretty swell, and the tour is incredibly scenic from the moment you cross the Bolivian border in a shack over 3000m above sea level.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the entire three days aren’t spent solely in the salt flats.

The first two days take you through Eduardo Avaroa National Park, showcasing rainbow mountains, glistening lagoons, and thousands of flamingos and llamas.

It’s only on the final day of the trip that the tour leads you to the much sought after salt flats, and the perspective photos that guarantee at least fifty likes on Instagram.

They say there’s a first time for everything, and not once have I seen someone post a picture of Salar de Uyuni that wasn’t basking in glorious blue skies.

So when I finally get round to uploading my snaps of the salt flats, I’d imagine I’ll be the only person on my Facebook friends list with overcast photos of one of the most popular destinations in South America.

However, the London-like conditions still couldn’t detract from the weird and wonderful nature of 11,000 square kilometres of bright white salt.

Indeed, standing on a dried up lake surrounded by cactus islands, peculiar rock formations, and something you season your dinner with is an extremely surreal experience, and feels a bit like exploring another planet.

In fact, just over a week in the red desert and shiny salt flats felt a lot like an otherworldly experience.

San Pedro de Atacama and Salar de Uyuni are the furthest things from civilisation you’re likely to find, and although my tour driver wasn’t drunk, the food was reasonably good, and I didn’t go through the windscreen, it was still a pretty good time.

Next stop, one of the highest cities on earth, Potosi. Until then.

N.B. Instagram accounts exploited in this blog include:

@charliehudsn

You Can’t do it All: Santiago and Valparaiso

One of the myths about travelling is that every day brings something completely out of the ordinary.

Indeed, an Instagram post every other day gives the impression that you’re eternally living the dream.

However, constantly being on the move is actually quite tasking, and it means that you can spend days at a time trying to figure out something worthwhile to write home about.

It also means that you don’t get a proper feel for every place you visit.

When you tell people you’re visiting Chile, the first thing they ask is if you’re going, or have been, to the south.

The same can be said for Argentina, because for most travellers, Patagonia is the pinnacle of a trip to South America.

However, Patagonia can be a self-contained and expensive trip, which means that holders of a Tesco club card bypass the south and head north towards Bolivia.

So if you haven’t cottoned on yet, this is my way of saying I was too cheap to head to Patagonia, and opted to do Chile an injustice by breezing through in just a couple of weeks.

One of the highlights of heading across the border from Argentina is actually the bus journey itself.

Normally an eight hour bus wouldn’t sound overly appealing, but eight hour bus journeys usually entail slogging up the M4, rather than winding in and out of the Andes mountain range that stretches between Mendoza and Santiago.

Upon reaching the Chilean capital, you’ve already been treated to stunning views and landscapes which leave Santiago with a lot to live up to.

The city is a huge dust bowl that feels like it’s been blindly dropped in the middle of the desert.

You only need to climb Cerro San Cristóbal to see that although Santiago homes more than 25% of Chile’s population, it’s a mere dot on the map in relation to the encompassing mountains that enclose it.

Indeed, Chile is all about its landscape, and just outside of Santiago is Cajón del Maipo, a huge gorge that offers long hikes and an introduction into the natural beauty you can expect to encounter throughout the country.

However, it would be wrong to completely ignore Santiago which, in itself, is a lot of fun.

As soon as you walk out of the bus station you are hit head on by the buzz of the city, as you’re forced to walk down one of its busiest streets lined with street sellers and crowded market stools.

The city is very congested, but an evening walk up Santa Lucia Hill takes you into a bubble that allows a peaceful look down onto one of the most hectic cities you’ll find in South America.

And just a two hour bus journey from the capital is one of the most unique cities you’ll find in South America.

Pinned on the coastline, Valparaiso is a colourful and cultural favela styled city that prides itself on freedom of expression.

Walking up and down the steep hills is like climbing through one of the most intriguing free art museums – only without the plaques.

The locals, however, are keen to stress the difference between graffiti and street art. Some home owners even pay street artists to decorate the outside of their house to up its selling on value.

Indeed, each display has a story behind it, whether it remains personal to the artist or steeped in the rivalry between local art gangs.

The energy that goes into the street art translates into Valparaiso’s nightlife. Outside of Rio, the city is the second most popular place to spend New Years and it’s easy to see why.

With people drinking in the streets the party atmosphere rarely ceases, and there is a prominent underground scene that makes it one of the best nights out in Chile.

So, while you might not be able to do everything that the travel guide tells you to in Chile, the mountains that make it so famous are never more than a bus ride away, so you can visit safe in the knowledge that you’re never totally missing out.

Next stop, the desert and San Pedro de Atacama. Until then.

N.B. Instagram accounts used in this blog include:

@jacob_kean

 

Property of the Mountains: Mendoza

It’s not often that you visit a city to spend more time out of it than in.

I’d imagine that a tourist visiting London wouldn’t feel the urge to head to Tunbridge Wells, nor would a New York City virgin be particularly inclined to take a train out to the suburbs of Connecticut.

However, it’s also not very often that the surroundings have far more to offer than the city itself.

The centre of Mendoza certainly isn’t boring, it was just slightly outdone by the local wine vineyards, towering mountains, and stunning landscapes that make cinemas and sports bars pale into insignificance.

But the city was, in fact, the perfect basecamp for all the activities the greater province has to offer.

Everything in the city feels closely knit together – it’s littered with lively and sociable plazas, wide paved pedestrian streets and quaint restaurants, while the nightlife is busy without being overwhelming.

But it’s rare to find somewhere located so close to the mountains that is so large and healthily populated. Just a couple hours out of town are mountain settlements with nothing more than a pair of shops, a few houses, and a village goat.

Nothing exemplifies this more than a day trip to Potrerillos – a tiny town with the most beautiful lake being watched over by green mountains that are dwarfed by a backdrop of the Andes.

This is very much the draw of Mendoza. It juxtaposes everyday civilization with the intrigue of nature in a way that few places can. Whereas Rio possessed mountains in isolation, here it feels as if Mendoza very much belongs to the mountains.

Indeed, there aren’t many places in the world that allow you to take a day trip to the edge of the Argentine-Chilean border and look up at the snow scattered over the Andes from a sweltering vantage point of more than 30°C.

Not only that, but Mendoza is a hiker’s paradise. When you’re spending the dregs of your free time drinking the dregs from a pint glass, it feels all the more rewarding when you climb to the top of Mendoza’s equivalent of Arthur’s Seat.

Cerro Arco is more than a family hike though, and after nearly two hours of steep climbing you’re treated to panoramic views of Mendoza’s stunning landscape, and as you turn around to leave you can’t help feeling overawed by the dominoes of mountains queueing further and further into the distance.

Being active aside, it’s impossible to go to Mendoza without sampling some of its wine vineyards. When you think of Mendoza you think of Malbec, but this was just one of a number of great wines on offer, with Merlots, Chardonnays, and Sauvignons seemingly on tap.

The vineyards give you an opportunity to pretend to do something classy in a t-shirt you’ve been wearing for three days straight, and the best way to access them was by renting bikes and cycling from one winery to another.

With cars zipping past on busy roads as your inebriation levels steadily rise, it’s probably not the safest idea, but when you’re high on grapes safety seems to slip further down the list of priorities.

Indeed, Mendoza is a place for thrill seekers and risk takers. There’s so much to do that it’s impossible to leave without feeling slightly accomplished and, most importantly, the scenery allowed me to finally understand what John Keats had been harping on about in his nature poetry.

Next stop, across the border to Santiago, Chile. Until then.