Trip Start May 01, 2005
17Trip End Mar 25, 2006
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Onwards to Mendoza, and a dull 18 hour bus ride was made much more interesting with a three hour bus-and-bag search by narcotics police. This is where I discovered that dressing like a christian and speaking a few words of Spanish has its advantages, as my bags were given a cursory glance and I was asked politely if I liked Argentina. Three dread-locked and scruffy German travellers, however, were strip-searched and had their belongings turned inside out. One was arrested when the police found a pipe in his bag that looked nothing like the kind my Dad used to smoke.
Mendoza, one of Argentina's biggest cities, is surrounded by the snow-covered Andes and is the wine capital of the country. I learnt how to tell my Malbec from my Merlot on a tour of the local bodegas, and took a trip into the Andes, passing the hundreds of trucks waiting patiently to get through the pass into Chile, currently closed because of bad weather. On the way to catch of a glimpse of Mount Aconcagua which, at over 6000 metres, is the highest mountain in the western hemisphere, we drove past the forlorn-looking mountaineer`s graveyard and stopped in Los Penitentes, a beautiful ski resort, where we took a ski-lift up a mountain to play in the snow and throw snowballs. What is it about sunshine and snow that makes you smile? The Andes are stunning, the snow on their peaks like white silk, and condors fly lazily round them to catch the warm air currents
My next stop is Buenos Aires, where I hope to catch my breath a bit, do more Spanish language classes and find some kind of voluntary work, preferably teaching small fat children to impersonate inanimate objects. I really like Argentina so far, it`s so different from the other countries I`ve visited. Most of the roads are paved, for a start, and the buses are wonderful. You can even play in-bus bingo during long journeys - a classy way to travel.
But travelling for almost five months has sorely tested my efforts to keep fit, and carrying one`s full running gear just isn't practical on a long trip around South America. And so for those of you who have been asking how I am managing to maintain my fabulous figure, here are a few tips on how to keep in trim whilst doing absolutely no exercise on your extended holiday:
- to maintain taut abdominal muscles, take a taxi from any major airport in Brazil. The speed of the cab and the reckless driving will ensure that all major stomach muscles will remain tight for the duration of the journey. This is also beneficial for wrist flexibility as you grip the seat in sheer terror. Neck muscles may also be exercised as you brace for impact when a horse bolts in front of the cab (Salvador only). Additional methods to aid neck flexibility include nodding furiously in agreement during a conversation with a shop assistant as you realise you haven't a clue what they're saying, and swivelling the head from side to side in a slightly maniacal manner as you try to cross the road without being killed.
- for calf muscles, a leisurely stroll around Ipanema in Rio will aid flexibility and ensure a finely-turned ankle as you navigate an assault course of strategically-placed dog shit. This also boosts overall coordination, as you simultaneously maintain a close watch on the men on the beach in their teeny-weenies.
- upper arm muscles will benefit enormously from any number of activities, from the regular frenzied assaults on small and crafty insects in hostel dormitories, to holding a heavy rucksack above your head whilst trying to secure it safely on top of a bus, or raising your hands repeatedly to cover your ears to prevent having to listen to Dire Straits in the hostel bar for the fifth time.
- cardiovascular exercise is assured when staying in dodgy hostels. You will jump up and down and wave your arms briskly in an attempt to keep warm under a freezing cold shower. The muscles around the heart will be strengthened as you become more and more agitated because the hostel owner promised you a hot shower and you haven't had one in three weeks.
- long distance buses of an inferior quality are a perfect substitute for bottom-clenching exercises. You will move from cheek to cheek regularly to ensure your bottom stays awake during the journey even if the driver doesn`t.
- keep your brain active with a range of mind-gym exercises, such as trying to remember which currency you should be using and what the exchange rate is when you cross the border at 3am; working out how much your laundry will come to if each pair of knickers costs 50 centavos and a shirt is 2 reais; and deciphering your hotel bill at the end of the week whilst trying to work out how you could possibly have been charged for using the shower cap.
- facial muscles will have a full work-out as you grimace in pain following a particularly strenuous trek. Laughing uncontrollably at the 18 year-old girls from Luton wearing full make-up on the same trek will have similar advantages to facial flexibility.
And, of course, the most regular exercise you get will be from spending most of your time in internet cafes working on your fine motor skills churning this stuff out.
!Hasta luego! x