Day 90 – Buenos Aires, Argentina

I have eaten steak for the past 3 meals in a row.  Supper last night, breakfast this morning, and lunch a little while ago.  When I have another steak for supper tonight, I will have successfully completed the steak trifecta: steak for 3 meals in one day.  I absolutely love the steak in Argentina.  It could quite possibly be the best in the world.  And this is coming from someone who was born and raised in Alberta.

Not only is Argentinian steak second to none, the wine is fantastic as well.  I have already tasted three Malbecs and three Cabernet Sauvignons.  The Mendoza varieties are particularly good.  Once I thought I was ordering a glass because the price was 5 Argentinian pesos (just over $1).  They brought a whole bottle to the table.  Of course I had to finish it.

The modern metropolis of Buenos Aires is a dramatic contrast to the mud-hut villages of Bolivia.  It was a bit of a shock to find myself riding on an 18 lane freeway yesterday.  I had become used to the dusty tracks in Bolivia where you could easily ride for an entire day without encountering another vehicle.

Now that we’re in Buenos Aires, we have officially come to the end of our trip.  With the trip over, it is time to hand out the prizes.  Canada and the US are not included.

Best food: Argentina.  With steaks that melt in your mouth, how could I give it to any other country?  Runner up: Columbia.  The Cuy was delicious, as were the Arepas.

Worst food: Mexico.  I’m sorry, it was just too spicy for me.  Runner up: pretty much any country (most of them) where all you could find to eat was chicken and rice.  For weeks on end.

Best drinks: Guatemala.  The rum was delicious.  Mmmmm Zacapa Centenario.  It also wins for the non-alcoholic fruit licuados and the rice drink hochata.

Most beautiful women: Columbia.  Runner up: Argentina.

Best drivers: Argentina.  People actually stay in their lanes (even when there are 8 of them) and stop at red lights.

Worst drivers: Peru.  Lima was absolute chaos.  But even worse were the smaller cities filled with mototaxis.  There were no rules.

Craziest drivers: Without a doubt it was the truck drivers in Honduras.  Semis would pass each other on blind corners at night.  Multiple times I had to pull the bike off to the side of the road when I rounded a corner on a narrow mountain road only to come face to face with four headlights racing towards me.  It was unbelievable.

Best roads: Argentina

Worst roads: Do there have to actually be roads to qualify for this category?  If not, then Bolivia wins.

Best signage: Argentina.  It seemed like on the corner of every intersection in the country there was a sign pointing the way to Buenos Aires.

Worst signage: Well there were no signs in Bolivia.

Best meal: One morning we stumbled across a bed and breakfast in Costa Rica’s remote Nicoya peninsula.  Officially it was closed, but after talking to the owner about our trip, she offered to cook us breakfast.  It turned out that she was a certified chef from Texas.  She cooked us banana walnut pancakes and omelettes to die for.  Easily the best breakfast, if not meal, of the entire trip.  It didn´t hurt that the setting was absolutely spectacular on top of jungle covered mountain overlooking an idyllic beach.  This Costa Rica breakfast won best meal partly because it was so unexpected and partly because it became part of the lore or our trip.  Weeks later, when we knew damn well that all we were in for was leathery eggs and rice for breakfast (yet again), one of us would inevitably ask the other: do you suppose they serve banana walnut pancakes here? 
Runner up: Argentinian parrilla (barbecue).  Rico!

Worst meal:  Isla Grande, Panama.  We were served overly salted (because there was no refrigeration) deep friend red snapper, skin and head included.  We only choked it down because we did not want to offend the kind woman who had cooked it for us.

Best campsite: Ecuador.  4700 metres high on the slope of volcan Cayambe.  The ground was rocky and it was the coldest, windiest campsite of the entire trip.  But hey, we were camped on the only glacier that exists in the middle of the world.

Worst campsite:  Honduras border.  The temperature was mild and the ground was level, but having to camp at a border crossing was maddening.

Most rain: Guatemala.  We would get hit by a torrential downpour every afternoon, without fail.

Coldest country: Bolivia.  The temperature plunged to minus 20 degrees Celcius every night.  Brrrr.

Best border crossing
: Entering Argentina from Bolivia.  There were no vendors, no helpers, no money changers, and no corrupt officials.  It did not cost us a dime, and was easily the most painless crossing since the Canada-US border (which is excluded from this competition).

Worst border crossing:  Entering Honduras from Guatemala.  How could it possibly take two whole days and require a Honduran to escort us to another office 65 km away (and mucho dinero) to enter a country?  Ridiculous.

Friendliest police: Columbia.  There were so polite and bent over backwards to help us out.

Most corrupt police:  Peru.  Twice we had to bribe the police after being stopped for completely bogus violations.  The first time we were stopped because we didn’t go around a traffic circle properly.  It was such a scam.  The highway went right by the traffic circle.  You had to pull off the highway to go around it “properly”.  The police of course knew it was confusing to anyone not from that particular area and were parked just on the other side, waiting.  Now I know why the locals pointed off to the side of the road as we passed by: they were trying to save us a ticket.  The fine was 640 soles for both of us (320 soles each).  We would have to pay this fine in a nearby town.  Of course the police made no move to actually start writing up this ticket.  They were waiting for the inevitable: “Can we pay it here instead?”  Yes of course we could.  Out came my international student card, which had already been useful in reducing the amount I’ve had to bribe the police in the past (see runner up).  I explained that we were both students and did not have much money.  They asked how much I had.  I said 50 soles.  The officer nodded.  I was just about to hand him the money when he said that the total would be 100 soles in total because there were two of us.  I actually lost it at this point.  I angrily said no, turned my back on the officer, and walked away from the police car.  I was planning on sitting on my bike for the next 5 hours if need be.  Perhaps sensing my resolution, the officer called me back and said that 50 soles was good.  I paid him and we were on our way.

The second time we were stopped in Peru it was for speeding in a “school zone”.  Apparently the posted limit was 30 km/h.  It was a four lane divided highway.  There was no school in sight.  I’m not sure how fast I was going, but Ted said he was going about 40 km/h.  It didn´t matter.  The police had no radar gun. The whole thing was a scam.

Luckily we had in our possession a counterfeit bill.  We had paid for laundry service in advance in the town
of Chimbote.  When we picked up our laundry seven hours later, we were told that we had originally paid with a fake 20 sole bill.  They asked us for another one.  This was suspect in itself, but what could we do?  Ted had the brilliant idea of saving the fake 20 for the police (we had already had to bribe them once and he correctly figured that we would have to do it again).  I put it in my front pocket for just such an occurrence.  What a feeling of satisfaction it was to bribe the police with a counterfeit bill.

Runner up: Costa Rica.  I got pulled over for a bogus speeding ticket.  Apparently I was going 90 in a 50 zone.  There was no 50 zone.  It was an open stretch of highway with nothing but jungle on either side.  While we were stopped, truck after truck whizzed by at easily 110 km/h.  The officer just thought he could get more money from me than the locals.  Originally the officer’s bribe rate was 10,000 colones (about $20).  After I showed him my international student card, he was willing to accept 5,000 colones.

Cheapest country:  Bolivia.  We paid just over two dollars (for both of us) for a hotel that included breakfast.  Runner Up: Honduras.  I challenge anyone to eat $5 worth of food in Honduras.

Most expensive country: Costa Rica.

Hardest place to get a ticket:  Columbia.  We tried everything.  We split lanes against oncoming traffic.  We passed lines of trucks in the emergency lane, right in front of the police.  We went 130 km/h in 30 km/h zones.  Everybody else was doing it, so why not do as the locals?  Early on I developed the theory that it was impossible to get a ticket in Columbia.  When we finally got stopped by some cops with a shiny new radar gun for going 130 in an 80 zone, we just pretended we didn´t understand a word of Spanish.  The officer that stopped us called his partner over for a conference.  He asked how could he explain the violation to us if we didn´t understand Spanish?  The other officer shrugged and they waved us on. 

Friendliest people: Colombians.  Everywhere we stopped we made instant friends.  Sometimes before we even got off our bikes someone would see us looking confused at an intersection and come up to help us.  We were invited into people’s homes.  We ate many a meal with people we had just met that day.  Columbians were so friendly that even Ted made friends.

Most generous people: Peruvians.  We experienced the generosity of the Peruvian people over and over again.  Even people with so little to give gave us so much.  I was touched.

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