Friday, 29 January 2010

Cosquin

Cosquin is a small town, an hour away from Cordoba by local bus. We visited this town because of a music festival there, which a Swedish couple at our hostel told us about.

They were absolutely charmed by the dancing they saw and the attention they got as foreigners. We figured it couldn't hurt to check it out.

When we got to Cosquin, around 4pm, it took us a little while to find the action.

Near the bus terminal we came across an abandoned stage and some limp banners advertising the festival, but there was no one around. I asked a police lady if it was over, or when it would begin... when she realized what I was going on about, she pointed down the road, said I needed to walk 5 more blocks.

Ok! Off we went.

Five blocks later, we came to a large stadium with even more banners. Closed. The tourist info was also closed. The streets weren't quite empty, but it was very quiet. Hmm. We could see that there were people in the stadium, on stage, rehearsing something, so this was definitely more promising, although it still failed to live up to the Swede's enthusiasm.

We remembered they had mentioned the river as well, so after a beer and a sandwich, we headed downhill to see what we might find. And there it was!

A river! With people in it! Quite a few people, mostly women tanning themselves and letting the shallow water keep them cool.

But still no music. We walked some more, stopping to buy a bottle of wine so we could have a picnic by the water, if the music festival turned out to be a merely a myth. The guy who sold me our cheap fun-in-a-bottle said we should keep walking upstream, there was a small stage around the bend. He also told me the big show in town (in the stadium) wouldn't start until ten. Overall, the information was probably worth more than the wine.

We happily walked around the bend, found the stage and joined the small group of spectators, drank our wine and watched the locals dance, 2, 8, 20 at a time. It was a small, relaxed party, kids and dogs running around, adults bathing in the river, people-watching or dancing. The dancing was very fun to see - worth the trip for me, even though the crowd only seemed to know one dance. Apparently the event was sponsered by some company that makes Yerba Mate - bags of the stuff were given away as prizes, or for no reason at all. We got one.

Ewelina said the whole scene reminded her a lot of some of the country festivals back in Poland, for me the experience was more novel.

The most interesting event was a traditional dance-off between a young man, a boy, an even younger boy, and a drunk man. They took turns waving their legs around and stomping so frantically one almost expected a limb to come flying off into the crowd. It was a bit like Irish traditional dances on speed. Happily no one lost a leg, although the drunk dude did loose his balance more than once, much to the crowd's delight. One of the little boys won, we clapped a lot.

This was followed by a poetry competition that went right over our heads, and some more dancing.

Eventually, the sun went behind a mountain, it got colder and we ran out of wine. We slowly made our way back up the hill and pushed our way through the throngs of people that had suddenly filled the streets, found a bus and made it back to our hostel in Cordoba.

We never did figure out what got the Swedes so excited, but it was a good, fun day all the same.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Cordoba

Cordoba was a pretty, very European-feeling city, full of students and bars. We were still reeling a bit from the Argentinian prices, so we mostly just wandered around looking at things and people, window-shopping.

We stayed in a the very nice Grand Hostel, which actually was a hostel, not a B&B or small hotel as we had become used to. There was a TV room, a little cybercafe, a kitchen and an small courtyard with a ping-pong table. The staff were very friendly and helpful.

We cooked and played ping-pong, and sweated in the heat. Unfortunately, the internet access and TV room weren't of much use to us, as usually when we felt like using them, there was no electricity: our neighborhood at least had scheduled power outages every afternoon - exactly when we wanted nothing more than to hide from the midday heat and be nerds with air-con. Or at least a fan...

After walking around town we discovered that it wasn't just our neighborhood. The entire city seemed to be run on generators. Shops either closed in the afternoon or put small diesel generators out on the sidewalk and burned oil to keep the lights on and the freezers frozen. Weird.

Aside from wandering around, our Cordoba activities included a long morning at the post office, a long night at a local bar, and a day trip to nearby Cosquin. But the most memorable thing was definitely the ubiquitous generators. :-)

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Salta

We arrived in Salta rather late, too late to go looking for my friend Mario, who had offered us a place to stay. So I walked around the center, looking for alternatives. The pickings were slim, and expensive.

Eventually, after much failure, it started to rain and we decided to just take whatever; we ended up in an expensive, small room in a fancy downtown hotel. But at least they had a good breakfast and wifi - we were able to get in touch with Mario.

That first night our late-night dinner was Parilla, a collection of meat, internal organs and sausages off the grill, which is apparently a local standard/speciality. We didn't like it much.

The next day we met Mario in the city center and took a cab to his place, which was about 15 minutes away. He made us feel very welcome, very at home. It nice to see him and catch up, discuss some tech and gossip about Iceland - Mario and I used to work together in Iceland, at Frisk, so we had lots to talk about. In keeping with the geeky atmosphere, Mario also lent me his soldering iron and I performed surgery on my laptop.

Overall, Salta was a quiet stop for us - the main impression was one of reverse culture shock: the city felt so European after Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. We could even throw toilet paper in the toilet some of the time! It took us a while just to recognize again the characteristically South American things; the chaotic busses, crazy market and shops that seemed to be nothing more than glass display cases.

We walked around a lot, discovered medialunes (sweet crescent shaped breakfast pastries), figured out the city busses, saw a local crafts market, visited a museum to see more Inca mountaintop mummies, and played quite a few games of pool with Mario. He also made sure we tasted a local cake with icing made of sugar-cane and took us out one night for typical empanadas, which was followed by an exciting taxi ride through torrential rain and completely flooded streets back to his place.

We still had such camera-hangover after our tour of Southern Bolivia, that we hardly took any pictures - a week later when we went through our photos we realized we hadn't even a single photo of our host! Oops...

Friday, 22 January 2010

Border crossing

We reached the Bolivian/Argentinian border around 7.30 in the morning, after catching a 4am bus from Tupiza.

There was a bit of a queue on the Bolivian side, to get an exit-stamp, and the tiny building was so poorly suited to the task of handling all the traffic that for a while we couldn't figure out where to go.

Once we got that sorted out, got our stamps, we crossed the bridge over to the Argentinian side. That is where the fun began.

First we queued for an hour and a half, to get our passports stamped. While waiting, we watched with confusion as border guards picked people at random from the queue, took their documents and sent them to another queue, to have their bags searched. They would then return with the stamped documents a few minutes later. The confusing thing was, that apparently many people wanted to be searched, shouting at the guards and demanding to be moved. Weird.

After finally getting our stamps, we realized why: everyone had to be searched. After standing patiently in one queue, not arguing with anyone, we were rewarded for our coopertation by being sent to the end of the other queue, while the pushy and greedy and lucky had long since passed us by.

It was really quite infuriating - our first day in Argentina wasn't off to a very good start.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Salar de Uyuni

Upon arrival in Tupiza, after securing a room for the night, our first priority was to visit the El Grano de Oro tour operator and see about booking a tour of the Uyuni salt flat.

El Grano de Oro had been recommended to us by a pair of South-African girls on the little boat that evacuated me, my poor elbow and the worried Ewelina from Isla del Sol. We passed the agency as we walked into town looking for accomodation, so we didn't even have to look for it, and when we asked about the tour, we were told that a French couple had been there shortly before us, asking for the same thing, a tour the next morning. The couple was staying in our hotel, so we just walked back, found them and everything was settled. The price: 1150 Bs each, everything except tips and one park entrance fee included. It would be the four of us in a jeep, along with a cook and a driver/guide.

We left the next morning around 9am.

The tour was fantastic: colorful mountains, deserts, weird rock formations, beautiful lakes, hot springs, a natural bath, museums, adobe huts, hotels made of salt, a public phone ringing on a deserted villiage square, a cemetary in a lava field, a flat tire, flamingoes, llamas, wild vicuñas, little rabbit-creatures... and of course the salt flat itself.

The say a picture is worth a thousand words, and we took almost a thousand pictures - the best of which we put online.

The tour was excellent, and although it wasn't the cheapest, during our last meal, in a hotel made of salt, French girls from another tour convinced us we had gotten our money's worth: they literally begged for scraps of our lasagne and wine - they were about to have chicken and rice for the third night in a row. Their guide was a young boy, probably not even 20 years old - ours had been doing the tour for years. We only paid about 100Bs more than they did.

Our main regret was that, due to not doing our homework properly, we didn't realize that the tour we signed up for was mostly about the amazing landscapes South of the salt flats, the flats themselves only got one morning out of the four days we spent on the road. Not that the other three days were wasted - but if we had realized, we might have stayed in Uyuni after the tour, instead of returning to Tupiza, so we could do another tour and spend more time on the salt.

It's an amazing place.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Legends of the Cordillera de los Frailes

Not far from Sucre, in the mountains of Cordillera de los Frailes, on the banks of the Mama Huasi river, there is a deserted Spanish hacienda. Three household buildings and a small church remember the times when, on the slopes of the surrounding mountains, battles were fought for Bolivia's independance. The white walls of the homestead listened to the bang of consecutive rifle volleys; volleys fired by Spaniards towards rebels hiding in the mountains. They, however, soon realized that their enemies in the valley couldn't see who they were aiming at. A trap was prepared: local costumes were put on trees, in the hope that, due to the height, the Spaniards wouldn't see the difference. While the gunshots continued, the rebels crept down the mountain and surrounded their enemies, killing them all very quickly. Winning that battle didn't end the fighting though: the Spaniards soon caught one of the uprising's leaders. In front of the locals, his arms and legs were tied to four horses that were then whipped to the four directions. The man died a martyr's death, dismembered alive.

Revenge had to come quickly. The indigenous, indignant at the brutal treatment of their hero and used to being treated as slavish man-power on the Spanish hacienda, decided to rebel against its residents. On an autumn night in the eighteenth century, the Spaniards were woken by Quechuan screams outside their home. The smell of burning grass wafted through the air, smoke squeezing itself into the white buildings, wood crackling. When members of the family rushed towards windows and doors, they were already all very well barricaded. Fire was ravaging the hacienda, the bamboo roof caving in under its power, the Spanish family slowly dying inside their own four walls. Whether it was the grandmother, or her daughter, nobody knows today, but one thing is for sure: amidst the stench of burning skin, under the yellow-red sky, somebody cursed the locals. The curse prevailed over the hacienda for a few centuries, causing people to avoid the place. And though a few years ago the buildings were restored, today serving as someone's granary, still none of the locals are brave enough to spend the night. Supposedly, one can hear inhuman screams, cracks of broken roofs, Quechuan chants; supposedly fire will squeeze itself into your nostrils: you will wake up the next morning, having lost all your senses.

Some time ago a small boy got lost in the area, and, too exhausted to continue walking, he fell asleep against the walls of the hacienda's. The very next day, when he was found, he couldn't even recognise his own family, "he went crazy". Today he is a grown man, living high in the mountains, next to a cemetery, along with his father (or grandfather, nobody is sure anymore); supposedly every night he screams wildly, unable to fall asleep..

...

Cordillera de los Frailes hides many incredible stories. Locals say that once a year, on an August night, its slopes shine with gold and silver. Spaniards, fleeing from the rebels, supposedly hid their treasure high in the mountains, not wanting its weight to slow them down. Deeply convinced that they would return for it as soon as they crushed the rebellion, the Spaniards buried their blood money in the ground. Life had different plans though: Bolivia gained its independence and the Spaniards never returned for their gold. The treasure is still there, waiting to be discovered.

They say that one who is lucky enough to be in that area on a special August night, will see blue flames lighting up the slopes. If he wants to be rich, he should then, as soon as possible, head toward the flames, thrust a knife into the source of the fire, and leave without delay. The next day, the knife will mark the location of the treasure. Locals will also happily lead people to the gold, running away as soon as they start digging. Careful though! Before reaching the treasure, a deadly gas will erupt from the ground, killing the unprepared. Without a human sacrifice to Pachamama, the valuables cannot be touched... Supposedly, every now and then, families of local farmers build impressive buildings in the centre of Sucre. Nobody knows where these recently-poor people get the money for these projects. Do they find Spanish gold, after sacrificing someone's life to Pachamama?

...

Or do they have luck talking to the Devil?

Supay Huasi, the Devil's Cave, is hidden between rocks high in the mountains. Rain and snow washed away the path that, until only a few years ago, led through the area, quite close to the cave itself. Today one has to climb slippery rocks, with the remains of the old trail barely visible. Without a guide this is impossible. When a tenacious wanderer finally reaches this cave, he will see red paintings on the walls. They show small figures that represent the pre-Inca underworld. One of the paintings represents the Devil. It is He who rules this place, feasting here once every year with His entourage.

Once upon a time, a young man was returning home, following the path that has since been washed away. Accompanying him was a donkey burdened with a huge bag of coal, bought by Uruchi in a village a few kilometers away. There was a smell of frost in the air, foreshadowing the rapit onset of winter. The coal was crucial to Uruchi's large family's survival. The prices in the village had gone up and the boy spent more time than usual haggling, now it was getting dark and he still had a fair distance to cover. He knew he wouldn't reach home by nightfall, and even if he hadn't been so tired, a hike in the darkness wouldn't be the best idea: hordes of wild animals were roaming the area, eager to tear to pieces anyone foolish enough to cross their path. Uruchi knew that, aside from the cave around the bend, there was no shelter nearby. The cave always terrified him, even when passing it in daylight, because of all the horrible stories people told about it. Supposedly, once a year, right about this time, residents of the valley below saw lights in the hills, where the cave could be seen by day. Incoherant screams and loud singing began around midnight, keeping people awake for what seemed like forever, but was probably only an hour or so. And after things quieted down, there was a distinct smell of sulphur in the air. Supposedly. Uruchi had never heard those songs, never seen the lights, his house was a few kilometers up the valley. Tonight though, he felt he didn't have much choice, he had to seek shelter within the walls of the cave. Maybe he would have some luck, and tonight wouldn't be that mysterious night?

The cave was enveloped in darkness, but Uruchi somehow managed to untie the bag of coal from the tired donkey's back. The animal thanked him with a twitch of its ears and made its way to the other end of the cave. Shivering with cold, exhausted by the hours of hiking uphill, terrified at this place he found himself in, Uruchi huddled in a corner and hid under a blanket. The blanket slowly became damp, as water dripped off the wall of the cave. Uruchi must had fallen asleep, as he was awakened by chaotic song. The cave had changed beyond all recognition: its walls were lit by the flames of massive candles, a huge monster was seated on a throne that appeared out of nowhere, and horrifying creatures danced around the embers of a slowly fading coal fire. The unbearable music abated, as the monster rose to his feet. Uruchi tried to pretend he wasn't there, but he knew he had been noticed. The monster approached the boy: "The coal that lies in the corner, is it yours?" "Yes, my lord", the scared boy somehow managed to mumble. "As you can see, ours is about finished. Shall we trade?", asked the monster, pointing at a similarly sized bag beside his throne. Uruchi could only nod, too afraid to upset the creature with a refusal. "Fine then, put my bag on your donkey tomorrow morning. But don't you dare look inside before you reach your house, no matter what!", the monster turned his back to Uruchi, snapped all three of his fingers and disappeared together with his entire entourage. The cave looked as before and only a foul smell remained as evidence that something strange had happened here. Dawn was breaking. Uruchi rubbed his tired eyes and, still not sure whether he had just awoken from the weirdest dream of his life, or whether he had met the Devil himself, fastened his sack to the back of the donkey. The coal seemed unusually light, the walk home unexpectedly easy and finally, much sooner than he had expected, Uruchi reached his home. Inside the small house, his older brother sat by the hearth. Seeing Uruchi, he shouted: "Why so late?! And why do you bring such a small bag?! I am doing everything I can here, and you can't even handle the simple task of purchasing coal! I bet this stupid donkey could have carried twice as much!". Uruchi hid his head in his arms, as Thaluki grabbed the bag and dumped its contents on the floor. The little house was suddenly lit up by glittering reflections: gold brightened the room much more than the fire of the hearth ever could. Thaluki forced the astounded Uruchi to spit out the story of his unexpected meeting, and at that moment the older brother swore he would seek even more riches next year.

The year seemed like an eternity for the impatient Thaluki. Disgusted by the stupidity of his brother, who kept wasting his money helping others, Thaluki dreamt of a bigger house and purchasing hundreds of donkeys and lamas. The field was spoiling unused, but Thaluki did not care: soon he would be rich. When the right time finally arrived, he set off for the village to buy coal. By the time Thaluki finally reached the cave, his poor donkey could barely move under the weight of two gigantic sacks, but Thaluki was too excited to unload the creature. Hurrying in his younger brother's footsteps, he went inside and huddled against the wall, covering himself with a blanket. He didn't fall asleep though, he waited patiently for the party to appear. At last, around midnight, candles lit up, a camp-fire burned, and the cave became full of dancing demons. As soon as the Devil appeared on His throne, Thaluki threw off his blanket and ran towards Him. He was brought to an abrupt halt by dozens of spears, and only their master's rough voice prevented disgusting creatures from impaling him right there. "What do you want?", asked the monster. "I have a proposal for you. I want to exchange those two bags my donkey is carrying, for two bags of yours!", Thaluki responded without needless ceremony. "Oh, really? That is good, we need coal!', the monster laughed, and the deal was made. The lights went out, the singing silenced, the hellish ballroom became merely a cave once again. Thaluki couldn't believe it was that easy, that he himself had just talked to the Devil. He called for the donkey, but couldn't hear it braying anywhere in response. He searched the immediate vicinity, but to no avail. The stupid donkey, finally relieved of its load, must have wandered off foraging for food. Well, or it might itself have been eaten. Thaluki promised himself that as soon as he found it, he would give it a good beating, but until then he would have to carry the bags of gold himself. He struggled with the load, the sacks seemed to get heavier and heavier with every step. He could barely breathe when he finally reached his house, much later than usual. Drenched in sweat, he threw the bags to the ground and tore them open. Then he fell to the ground beside them, vomiting helplessly in disgust: inside, instead of the anticipated gold, were the bowels of his hapless donkey. The Devil mocked Thaluki, teaching him a lesson: it is not a man who chooses to deal with the Devil, but the Devil - a man.

...

I pass the hacienda, I walk by the crazy man's house, I pause by the cemetery on my way to Supay Huasi, the cave hidden in the hills. Luckily it is a hot day, the sun blazing overhead in a cloudless sky, so I am not at all frightened by the stories I hear on my way. It is a beautiful landscape: birds singing in the trees, majestic mountains towering over the river winding through the valley, their slopes are covered with green. A few hours of hiking through surroundings like this, is a pleasure. During lunch, our guide tells a tale of himself and his friend getting lost in the area. Fortunately, they had a tent, when they stumbled across a clearing, so they pitched it in the darkness and slept. In the middle of the night they were woken up by voices outside. Neither of them was brave enough to check what was going on. When the first reys of sun finally entered the tent, the boys left the tent and spent an hour looking for signs of human presence in the area, but to no avail: there wasn't even a single footprint on the ground... I laugh at the story, it seems strangly unlikely to me.

It's odd though, on this long a long hike, I only find four-leaves clovers in places belonging to the dead: near the cemetery and on the hacienda...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Bolivia

Our three weeks in Bolivia have passed very quickly. We arrived here on the 29th of December: our bus stopped before the Peruvian-Bolivian bridge, ejected its human cargo and, empty, drove across as we approached at a slow walk. Stamps at the Peruvian police and customs offices, a mark in our passports on the Bolivian side. Without any problems, without our bags even being checked, passing policemen lazily gazing at the bikes and carriages of the locals, we crossed the bridge as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Finally, our bus reached Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titikaka. A man wearing a baseball cap welcomed us, charging every single passenger a small fee for entry to the town, before going back to reading his newspaper on a little folding chair by the road-side. We drove off, only to stop again a few metres up the road: we had reached our destination. We soon discovered that Copacabana, the only beach town in Bolivia, had no cash machine. Luckily, we had some dollars with us, which we exchanged for local currency. We didn't stay in town for long though: we caught a boat to Isla del Sol, the island where the sun was born. The island greeted us with a long flight of Inca stairs, for me much more difficult than the four-day Machu Picchu hike, which we had to slowly climb with our backpacks before reaching the village above. We found shelter for the coming night in one of the many guesthouses and spent the rest of the day getting lost in the fields and admiring the views. The evening was spent on delicious pizza in a very romantic setting, followed by a bit of a panic when Bjarni injured his elbow. Early the next morning, by a normal, aquatic means of transport, we evacuated the complaining Bjarni from the island that had no medical facilities, returning to Copacabana and boarding a bus destined for La Paz. After a few kilometres the road ended and a serious obstacle appeared: a river. Bolivians had found a way to deal with it though, more innovative than the usual bridge: the bus was placed on a barge and its passengers, on a boat. The two were reunited on the other side.

As we approached La Paz, everyone rushed toward the windows on the right side of the vehicle. The view was amazing, this huge city covered a vast area, houses blanketing the hills in all directions. As we drove down, into the valley, the bus started to make terrifying sounds and the smell of burnt rubber filled the air. We stopped by a petrol station: the driver and his assistant checked whether they could squeeze any more out of our poor bus. After some fifteen minutes we moved again, climbing a small hill: we stopped again at the top, mere meters away from our first unexpected stop. The driver opened the door and informed us that this was the end, we wouldn't go any further. People started laughing, but he was right: it really was the end, they had driven right to their office; exactly as planned. La Paz turned out to be incredibly noisy, polluted, masses of people flowing like rivers and uncountable stalls everywhere. At least, that was how the historical centre looked; when we went sightseeing in other parts of the city, our impressions were slightly different: the city seemed full of parks where whole families enjoyed ice-cream. We also stumbled upon a small church and at least four weddings in rapid succession, entertained by the same group of mariachis. They gave us their business-card, just in case... We spent New Year's Eve on the roof of one of the local hostels, staring as fireworks colored the sky above this city of millions, and then we followed the crowd to some random disco. In La Paz we also visited the wonderful Dr. Orellano, who fixed Bjarni's elbow.

After a few days in La Paz, it was high time to move on. We went to Cochabamba, from where we planned to visit the Torotoro National Park, famously full of dinosaur footprints. The trip didn't work out though: travel agencies were charging much higher prices than we expected, and when we went looking for the only bus company able to get us to Torotoro (some 140 kilometers away from Cochabamba, the journey lasts - if one is lucky - a mere seven hours), its office magically vanished from the face of the earth. After a few hours of being lost in infinite rows of stalls (Cochabamba has the biggest martket I have ever seen in my life), between clothes, CDs, jewelry, books, shoes, appliances, fruit, computers, tyres; after getting a massive headache and panicing that there was no way out of this place; we gave up and instead of Torotoro, we decided to go to the city of Oruro.

Oruro was boring: for two days Bjarni suffered from fever, which didn't help with sightseeing at all. On the second day, we decided to pay a visit to a doctor. He, apparently in a hurry to be elsewhere, sat Bjarni on a hospital bed, looked in his mouth, listened to his lungs and promptly prescribed a few days worth of antibiotics for what was apparently a throat infection. He also recommended we visit him again, for an injection, two hours later, after the pharmacy's siesta. Bjarni toughly refused to come back, refused all drugs, and spent the rest of the day in bed. He was miraculously cured the very next day. We could travel further, onwards to Sucre.

Sucre turned out to be the most beautiful town in Bolivia. Well-kept houses, tall palm trees towering over the main plaza, a fountain around which children joyeously laughed and chased balloons, eldery couples resting on benches - everything here made it very difficult to leave this town of roses and dinosaurs (dinosaurs lined the streets, hiding public phones in their bellies). When we finally managed to leave, we ended up in Potosi. The town, at 4000 metres above sea level, was cold: there was no point in leaving the house without a scarf. We had considered visiting the silver mines here, but instead we spent our days riding local vans to the bus station and back and eating pizza, delivered to our table by two twelve-year-olds.

After Potosi there was also Tupiza, but that is another story...

...

Anyway, three weeks in Bolivia made me fall in love with this place, feeling for the first time that I had found a South American country I would really like to return to. Smiling and helpful people, local women wearing completely impractical felt hats (when it rained, they wrapped them in plastic), beautiful landscapes, an atmosphere of otherness...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Extension cord

Today, sitting on a bench in Sucre's central park, I realized that our once novel method of unplanned travel is now months old. Since August, once or twice or thrice a week, we've arrived in a new city and found a new home, if only for the night. It used to be a bit scary, now it's just routine. It usually takes half an hour or so, sometimes less.

The routine continues after we've found a place. We shoulder our packs and walk to the hotel or hostel or guesthouse. We hand over photocopies of our passports and ask what time they serve breakfast, verify that the promised price still stands. We enter our room and each of us attends to our duties without discussion: Ewelina unpacks the soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toilet-paper (if the hotel hasn't provided us with any). I look for a socket and plug in our laptops, charge batteries for our camera, find a hiding place for our passports. Then we check how comfy the bed is and have a hug to celebrate reaching a new place.

But one the thing I've noticed about my part in this little routine, is I wouldn't be able to complete it without the crappy three-socket extension cord we bought in Mexico. It's white, ugly, about 2 meters long. It has American-style sockets and prongs; sometimes I have to use an adapter to plug it in. It always spits nasty sparks at me when I plug my laptop in.

I remember feeling a bit silly when I bought it, and Ewelina accepted the purchase only because it was cheap enough that we wouldn't feel bad about throwing it away. Except we never did. What kind of backpackers carry an extension cord around with them, from one hemisphere to another and across a whole continent?

Apparently, the Ewelina and Bjarni kind. It's one of very few things that we actually use everywhere, every single day. It's right up there with toilet paper!

And yet, I'm sure, extension cords aren't on any Lonely Planet packing list. I've never heard sage travelers warning neophyte backpackers to never leave home without their trusty extension cord. I'm carrying rolls of untouched dental floss, based on guide-book's advice, but the silly white cable I use every day still feels a bit like an uninvited stowaway.

But there it is, stretched out on the floor, enabling this blog post, a Youtube sound-track and charging batteries for tomorrow's amateur photography. It's been with us since Mexico and I expect we won't say goodbye until the airport in Rio.

The past!