January 17, 2008 GMT
Southern Peru, Chile & Argentina

Mountains, lakes, culturally rich old towns & cities, well formed dirt roads (sometimes) or windy mountain bitumen, and a great bunch of people to travel with - yet more ho hum!!

Through southern Peru - as diverse as the northen section has been - then the Atacama desert of Northern Chile to Santiago - for a well earned rest and some repair - in dire need!

Patagonia - the highlight of the trip for me.

Leaving Nasca in the relatively low desert - we passed the world´s highest sand dune (supposedly) at over 250m high.
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Needless to say, getting close on the big pig was difficult – got as close as I dared without having to dig the bike out – resisted the opportunity to sand board down the dune – local entrepreneurs were taking people up in giant dune buggies – but what a rip off!
The day´s ride from Nazca to Abancay along Ruta 26A was voted as the best day´s ride of the expedition by the guys who did this in 2005.
Wow! What a day – desert riding, up into the Andes, several passes over 4,000m, a new record elevation of 4,600m, canyons, wind, Condors, Vicuna, Llama, Al Pacas, Alti Plano grazing country (over 4,000m), and corners to die for (Greg counted at one stage – average 8 corners a minute – for hours!)

I will try to let a few images capture the feel! I have to say though – this was a riding day – not a stop and catch a snap day! What a buzz!!! The essence of motorcycling.
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A great day to be alive, and lucky enough to be doing what you love doing, in a place that is inspirational!

The next day, more mountains, endless switchbacks, and rich Alti Plano grazing country, then finally coming into Cusco (elevation 3,400m),
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the old Inca capital of Peru – before the Spanish vanquished the local culture – still great animosity today by indigenous people for what the Spanish did – not only in Peru, but everywhere we have been from Mexico down.
5 days in Cusco, because it is a wonderful city, full of beautiful old buildings, markets, antiquities, and great restaurants, pubs and as we were lucky enough to experience – festivals. Also the base to travel up the Valley of the Incas to interesting villages of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and the incredible Machu Pichu.

We stayed in yet another quaint hotel on one of the plazas in the middle of town – wondered the streets & markets till the feet could take no more, then sat in the plazas, drank coffee or pisco sours and watched the world go by. By evening it was time to sample the pleasures of some great bars – The Norton Rats (yes a motorcycle bar – with real character) and a more local bar the Iguana where the late night Peruvian music really stirred the blood – the musicians obviously so talented & so into what they were doing – it was infectous.

One day, a few of us rode an interesting loop through the Valley of the Incas towards Machu Pichu (and the Inca Trail).

Some Inca ruins just outside of Cusco – called Sagsaywaman (pronounced sexy woman).
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As expected, the skill of the Inca stone masons was awesome!

We planned the ride to visit a small village of Pisaq on market day & I was very pleased to support local artisans as their craftwork is a pleasure to appreciate. My nephew Jason & Megan were about to get married (about bloody time guys!) so I bought them a beautiful hand woven rug from my new best friend, and couldn´t resist some Peruvian musical wind instruments that I was sure Jess & Sam (2 of my kids who play wind instruments) would have fun mastering.

Then along the fertile Valley of the Incas up to a picturesque village called Ollantaytambo. As we entered the plaza in the centre of the village, there were celebrations underway – we had stumbled into the town´s birthday, where children were entertaining a very appreciative crowd with their cultural dancing.
After exploring the near by Inca fortress ruins, I wondered around the plaza several times, and took up a place on the sidewalk at a café at the side of the plaza & watched spellbound for hours. The magnificent Inca ruins in the background, and Andes peaks all around.
The kids (from about 4 to about 17) were all dressed to the 9´s in brilliant costumes, taking it so seriously, as it was obvious they had practiced endless hours to get the Peruvian beat dancing just right, but they were having a ball and the crowd was applauding & hooting with such exuberance, the kids enjoyed it even more.

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Life looks to be pretty tough for much of this part of the world, mud huts, dirt streets, donkey carts, and fairly subsistence living – but each child was proudly dressed in brilliant national (or more likely regional) costume, and danced with such enthusiasm that all you could feel was such admiration for them and their families.

Can you imagine kids at 16 to 17 years old in Aus (or the UK or Joburg) dressing in cultural costumes like these and really getting into the performance as these guys obviously did?

It is experiences like this (unplanned – yet so exhilarating) that makes adventure travel so right.

Sitting at the café (the owner was an English lady who uses the income from the café to support charity work in the area) I could not resist - this lady captures the local look so well!
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The old people are small, wizened, and very hardy (carry huge loads on their backs) – supported in cloth tied across their forehead.

A teaser of the mountain tracks that abound in this area.
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The next day, an early start on the train out of Cusco, again up the Valley of the Incas, and to Aguas Callientas, which is the village at the base of the mountain that Machu Pichu is built on. A 4 hour luxury train trip from Cusco that gave us plenty of time to take in the views.
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Interestingly Machu Pichu was built by the Incas in the 1400´s, and as the Spanish invaders came close, was abandoned, and the elite (for whom it was built) hid in the jungle. The Spaniards never discovered Machu Pichu. The jungle reclaimed it (it took only a few decades), and it was finally rediscovered early 1900´s (debate rages about the discovery – local Incas or American Anthropoligist???) It was built for about 600 people only, and was a centre of astronomy, maths and architecture. Currently about 40% restored. Truly the acclaimed 8th wonder of the world!
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The road up from Aguas Callientas:
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A mistake – we did not allow enough time at Machu Pichu – trying to travel from Cusco there & back by train in 1 day (it was an 18 hr traveling day).
A better suggestion for those contemplating a visit:
Stay at Ollantaytambo at least 1 day (1 hour by road from Cusco), walk the last day of the potentially 4 day trek along the Inca Trail over the mountains (coming into Machu Pichu over the mountain crest at dawn where the sun beam goes through the rock eye and strikes the temple at Machu Pichu at least 5kms away), spend a full day (best early in the morning) at Machu Pichu, stay at Aguas Callientas (literally - hot water springs – so relax & enjoy the springs), then take the picturesque viewing train back to Cusco the next day (5 hour trip). You will never forget this journey!

Machu Pichu is becoming so popular, and the Peruvians (Inca descendents in particular) are keen for people to see it – that it is way too busy for most of the day (up to 4,000 visitors during peak holiday season!!!!). So – go early, spend a few hours with a good guide to learn about the place (ours was a proud young Inca fellow who was brilliant), climb the track to the separate ruins at Wanna Pichu mountain, then find your favourite corner & just sit & take it in for a few hours.

It was difficult leaving Cusco after such a great few days – but Lake Titicaca was beckoning.

Another beautiful riding day in the Andes before arriving at Puno, the major town on the edge of the lake (the highest navigable lake in the world – 3,800m).
An impromptu walk around town, and down to the lake´s edge (Sunday afternoon) rewarded Jason & I by capturing what was obviously a dance parade competition at the wharf.
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These guys looked so weird in the hoola hoop costumes – but they were all having fun.
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Then, as we wondered back into town, the sound of hypnotic pan pipe music drew us to a little plaza in a very non tourist part of town. As we sat in their midst and watched – it became clear, we were the only 2 gringos in the plaza – no big deal, in fact a privilege, as we were obviously witnessing a very local celebration – as several dancing troupes performed & marched the streets to that wonderful Peruvian beat.
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Groups of up to 150 – 200 teenage kids danced & played their up beat music through the streets till late into the night. The girls danced & twirled up front, the boys all played a huge range of pan pipes and sang as they marched in formation behind the girls.

Boy these Peruvians love to dance, play music, and generally celebrate all around the streets. Fantastic! A joy to experience – we even joined in (later in the evening – after some lubrication) behind some dancing troops – with a few guys trying desperately (but failing) to come to grips with the pan pipes!

On Lake Titicaca the Uros tribe has lived on floating islands (reed islands) since using this to escape the Spanish attention several hundred years ago. They only do it now for tourists, but this has spawned a return to the cultural ways of the past, and there are now 35 islands, including schools.

We hired a boat, and out we went, visiting a few islands, learning how they are made & maintained & how the lifestyle goes¨
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really quite comfortable – traditional cooking set up - I this - good camping set up!
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even have their own Cuy (guinea pig) hutches for growing their own protein, even though the lake is pretty bountiful with fish.
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The inevitable trinket sales
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and a float on a traditional reed boat
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I had a go at rowing
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Kev (our expedition leader) was awarded the ¨hamburgesar hat¨ at our last weekly ¨pratt of the week¨ ceremony – usually on a Friday evening while having the usual drinks – he was awarded it for a small off he had leaving Nazca, showing off at the hotel & slipping on some painted concrete – no damage or injury – just to the ego! The rule is – you must wear the hat at all official expedition events – so the trip to the Uros islands was a must.

The local ladies fancied the hat & tried bartering with Kev for it.
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Just outside Puno (on the way to Grand Canyon del Colca) is Sillustani, an antquities site where Inca funeral towers were built for high ranking people. They overlook a beautiful lake and mountains.

Different styles of funeral towers, and some in need of repair (some being restored).
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Greg just had to find out how the dead people lived!
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After Sillustani it was to be right up into the mountains again, to stay at a remote reserve called Chivay, to ride the rugged Canyon del Colca and visit the Condors at Mirador Cruz del Condor.

3 of us decided to take a small detour along some dirt roads. A beautiful morning, great scenery, fast dirt roads – and the usual morning stop for a billy tea.

After the tea stop, I felt like a bit of a blast on the dirt – as we had been on tar roads for quite a while, and Mark was being responsible and leading the dirt ride at a ¨sensible¨ pace. I suggested Matt and Mark ride ahead while I packed up the billy, and said I would catch up. I enjoyed the spirited ride, but missed a turn in a village & ended up heading in the wrong direction. By the time I back tracked, asked for directions in my rudimentary Spanish, and headed out of town at a brisk pace – I had lost a reasonable amount of time & was thinking about where Matt & Mark were rather than the deep concrete drain across the dirt road ahead (the only concrete drain anywhere in Peru – across a road – no signs!).

By the time I saw the 1.5m deep concrete lined drain, it was WAYYYY too late, 5th gear accelerating on the boil, so a quick decision – brake, slide or jump it??

Instinct took over, decided to try to brake & lay it down as trying to jump the drain on the big pig was not going to be pretty. Braked, tipped it over, started sliding on the side of the bike (right cylinder head ploughing the road) – no great drama till I hit the drain, I slid across, the bike caught an edge and started to somersault. Time went very slowly as I slid along the dirt road watching the bike somersault along above me – thinking – this is going to get ugly!!

About 20m past the drain, I stopped sliding, got up to see the bike in a ditch, 1 pannier twisted like a pretzel, and various hits to the bike. I was fine – no injuries (except to pride), and started to sort the bike – pick up pieces & assess the damage.

Nothing looked fatal on the bike – tried to start it – no go, fuel leaking from an injector hose & broken throttle position switch!!!

Mark & Matt found me about 20 minutes later – I was already zip tying & trimming the fuel line – hoping I could get it going. After an hour of trying – no luck, and then it rained!!! Matt & I stayed with the bike & made a shelter
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Mark rode to the nearest town (hopefully with mobile phone reception) to whistle up the back up van.

3 hours later – no Mark, no van, and the bike still won´t go. When Mark finally got back, it was late - don´t believe all the hype about satellite phones – we had 2 , and 3 mobiles in the expedition group – nothing!

So with the help of a nearby farmer & his pickup, we got the bike to a little village, and finally could phone Kev at the hotel at Chivay – way up in the mountains (at 4,800m) along a rough road – and now dark!! No chance of the van getting back tonight.

We were on our own – stayed in a hostal in the village, and managed to arrange a lift on a truck the next day heading to Arequipa, our planned destination for the next 2 days.

A difficult time – but Matt and Mark were great, and we made the most of the primitive conditions in the village.We attracted quite a crowd in the village the next morning, as we used a large front end loader to lift the bike into the back of the truck. The people in the village were great – everyone was helpful and we appreciated it.

I rode in the truck & had an interesting chat with the driver and his offsider all the way – amazing how far a little Spanish can go!

We tried again at Arequipa to fix the bike (quite a great deal of expertise in the group between Kev, his staff, some guys in the group, and a phone call to the BMW mechanic in the UK) – replaced the throttle positioner (had a spare in the van), tweeked injectors etc - but still no go, and an annoying engine management system fault light on the dash – the bloody computer was not going to co-operate. Patched a few bent bits, including panel beating the pretzel pannier back into usable form (the bike now has real overlander character!)

So, 5 days with the bike and me in the van – till we could get to Santiago Chile and the BMW dealer. (ended up being a bent fuel injector, and the computer needed resetting)

Luckily for me, the huge days of Andes riding was to abate for a while, as we quickly navigated the Atacama desert along the Pan American highway – doing fairly long days along fairly tedious countryside. Some noted exceptions in the Desierto de la Clemesi, and south of Iquique, but generally just fang it south on the Pan Am – Ruta 1.
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So a few days in the van with Nick (the van driver since Panama) was not too bad – particularly as Nick is 65 – a BMW off road riding instructor, rides faster in the dirt than any of us, and has been a mechanic for several rallies – including the Dakar (was John Deacon´s mechanic) – a cranky Welshman (say some), with a wicked sense of humour, and really a heart of gold – helps anyone who needs it.

I have drilled Nick about the Dakar – he is a hive of information & is willing to receive calls as I need to – when I go to the 2009 Dakar – to support Craig Tarlington – who plans to ride it! (PS – hope the cancellation of the 2008 Dakar doesn´t jeopardize this plan).

Hatch (my business) has an office in Antofagasta on the coast in the Atacama desert. This office mainly supports Escondida – the biggest copper mine in the world. I have been there many years ago, and asked if the group might like to visit the largest copper mine in the world? A unanimous – yes please. So I got onto our MD in Santiago – he was great, and put me onto the BHP PR guy. All was planned!

The day before the planned visit I got a call from BHP – concerned about the safety of 15 motorcycles riding up the 200km road to the mine, early on a Monday morning, potentially in foggy conditions – both for the riders safety and other traffic on the road – as they are unfamiliar with motorcycles. BHP offered to pick us up in a bus in Antofagasta, drive for 3 hrs, show us round the mine, give us a great lunch, and drive us back to Antofagasta. What great hosts! Unfortunately our itinerary would not allow us another night in Antofagasta, so we had to cancel the visit – a real pity as the scale of the place and the incredible technology used there would have blown many people away – that are not familiar with current mining operations – let alone the biggest copper mine in the world. Again, many thanks to BHP for the offer.

Just south of Antofagasta is the famous – hand in the desert sculpture – a great photo op, and a stirring symbol in the stark desert back drop.
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Into Santiago, and a welcome break –nice hotel just around the corner from Hatch´s office – so I spent a day in there chatting and sorting a new computer (including Spanish keyboard) – thanks guys.

Caught up with Paul Barbaro ( a friend of over 20 years) who has lived in Chile for about 12 years – had a great meal with his family and enjoyed the old times chat!

Got the bike serviced & repaired and was lucky enough to get a new seat as it was shredded in the prang. Whilst in Santiago – went to the Touratech agent (also a workshop) and splurged on a few protection type after market goodies to mitigate the risk of similar hold ups in the future – and just had to have a Xenon spot light to replace a fritzed fog light. You can certainly see me coming now – I run ALL lights ALL the time (low beam, high beam, fog light, Xenon spot light) – night and day!! You need all the visibility you can get with these crazy Peruvian drivers.

The guys that run the Touratech business invited us to a BBQ (at Ricky´s place). Ricky runs South Moto Adventures, an off road training school and adventure tour business. He lives on acreage in a wine growing area, with snow capped Andes as his back yard – and as he says – his office. What a job!
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Ricky, Kev and Juan (Ricky´s partner)
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Lisa with one of Ricky´s 12 dogs! (Lisa is always a sucker for animals on the trip)
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Nick kicking back
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Thanks Ricky for the great hospitality – enjoyed it incredibly – except for getting voted to wear the hamburgesar hat at the BBQ – for sending my laundry bag in to the laundry at the hostal at Vicuna (the home of Pisco sour!), with my travel wallet (passport, airline tickets, cash in 3 currencies, and spare credit cards) cleverly hidden in the dirty laundry. The gracious staff at the laundry returned the travel wallet untouched. So, I had to wear the hat for a while (you will NEVER see a photo of that!!!) – even though I wore it with pride, and even to a dinner at a restaurant in Santiago!

South of Santiago, the country changes drastically, some really fine wine growing and general farming country. After a few quick days on the Pan Am (one of which I christened my 100mph day, as I decided to ride the whole day at 100mph+), we were in Patagonia. Changed the tyres to new knobbies in Osorno (yahoo!) and off to the mountains again (this time - mostly dirt)

Wild, austere, dramatic, picture perfect, remote, and variable are the best adjectives I can think of.

I have to say – Patagonia has been the highlight of the trip for me, and we had a month of it to enjoy, with a significant amount on routes known as the Caratera Austral and the famous Ruta 40 which runs from Bolivia in the North towards Tierre del Fuego in the south. It is rugged, often to the extreme, unforgiving to the unwary, yet unbelievably rewarding to those open to the challenge.

We stayed in some remarkable ski and adventure tourist towns:
San Martin de Los Andes (a great little ski town by a lake)
San Carlos de Bariloche (the jumping off point for the Huapi National park)
Los Antiquos (another town by a huge lake)
El Calafate (o Lago Argentino & with glaciers galore)

Patagonia is shared between Chile and Argentina - we crossed the border 8 times - got pretty slick with the paperwork too!

Rather than chronicle locations and events along Caratera Austral / Ruta 40, I will share some of my favourite images, with only brief annotation.

Up into the snow in the Puyehue National Park. These photos were in a no mans land between the border checkposts (20kms).
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Beautiful wild flowers abound
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Lakes a plenty
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The only sad commentary for this part of the adventure is for Mark (my roomy), who had the most innocuous accident in some of the most exhilarating country we had been in – he broke his leg, and ended his adventure.
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Mark has been fantastic to travel with, and I now call him a great friend. His disappointment in ending his adventure 2 weeks before reaching Ushuaia is shared. It was a very difficult goodbye as Mark was headed back to Santiago to fly home, as we were heading into glacier country.

Mountain vistas at every turn - interspersed with flat dirt roads with the ever present wind!
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Yet another billy tea stop
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We stayed on an Estancia Angostura (a ranch) - the dusk view
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Near the end of Ruta 40 - near El Calafate and glacier country.
The Moreno Glacier (see the ship in the water - gives it scale - the face of the glacier was over 100m high!) - viewed from a hill in the ??? National Park
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Stunning ice formations at the face
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a closer view
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a closer view still
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The brilliant Tres Pasos hostal we stayed at in the Torres Del Paine National Park
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birthday celebrations
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Matt proudly showing off one of his gifts - new underwear for his bike (he calls her Jess! - the cheek)
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The Torres Del Paine National Park
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To give an idea of the constant wind in Patagonia. there was no wind when this photo was taken!!!!
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On the ferry - Straits of Magellan - crossing to Tierre Del Fuego (the Land of Fire)
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Arriving to Ushuaia - the southern most town in the world - made it!
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The Southern most point you can get to by road! in Lapataia National Park
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The obligatory (several) photo opportunities
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and then a toaste of champaigne, lots of hugs, and a few tears.

Ushuaia was fun for a few days, then a somewhat anticlimax ride up the east coast of Argentina to Buenos Aires - the country is relatively flat & ALWAYS bloody windy.

Some respite on the way:

some historic (and I think beautiful) wrecks
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A brilliant day at a remote penguin colony (soem great dirt riding):
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thousands of Magellan penguins sun bathing, frolicking, and marching. I sat on the rocks at the beach spell bound for hours.

A day away from Buenos Aires - the mischief was in full swing. Young Greg´s bike ¨parked¨ in the garage of a resort
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Then as a group - into Buenos Aires, and to our final destination
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A very emotional arrival at the hotel - more hugs and tears.

Buenos Aires is a vibrant city, with a mix of new and old, and the intoxicating and envigorating Tango ever present. A great night at a Tango show, a brilliant final group dinner with the ¨best Argentinian steaks¨by the river, and we were packing upto go.

Some emotional thankyou´s, and promises to stay in touch - and I was the first to head to the airport for the flight home.

What more can I say - the expedition was over, I had spent 19 weeks having the most incredible experience, loving EVERY day.

The next adventure awaits (see my next blog).

Cheers & thanks for taking the time to share my journey.

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at January 17, 2008 02:11 AM GMT
 



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