Arrived in northern Patagonia about 4 hours ago after a 1,400-kilometre bus journey from Buenos Aires that took 20 hours.
I managed to leave the River Plate stadium just after the final whistle on Sunday evening, jog 10 blocks down the road with my rucksack and catch the Boca-bound bus with a bunch of Paraguayans. Fortunately for me the bus was Retiro bound and I got to the bus station just in time for my overnight bus to Puerto Madryn, Patagonia.
Time for a quick rewind of the last few days:
Thursday, July 21
Colonia, Uruguay - Montevideo, Uruguay
It's a 3-hour journey from Colonia to the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo. The view is a little uninspiring; kind of East Anglia with ranches and exotic trees. I keep trying to tell myself I am in South America, not Europe.
But Montevideo is a different story. From the minute I reach the Uruguayan capital it gives me a buzz. The city is like a miniature, more accessible version of Buenos Aires; more exotic and with a small twist of Havana. The city centre is full of 1950s style eateries, collapsing art deco buildings, monument-lined plazas with palm trees popping out of the shadows. But it definitely isn't palm tree weather. After sharing a taxi earlier with an Aussie lad we agree to meet up later in Montevideo Old Town. One of the Aussie girls from his hostel that joins us has her bag snatched and stolen by some blokes with knives despite her being with three friends at the time. It happens just as they step outside the front door of the hostel. Montevideo is very cool but it also has an edge. There is also a big buzz of expectation here ahead of the Copa America final on Sunday.
Friday, July 22
I explore much of downtown and Old Montevideo. This place goes straight into my top ten cities list. It is very cool; very real; and decidedly dodgy around the edges. Highlights include the Old World port market - a time trap port warehouse full of mini restaurants - and surely one of the world's most genuinely cool buildings, in the main square. The local streets have so much character and life that I end up spending hours here.
As it starts to get dark the police are out on the streets in numbers, patrolling every other street corner. They even bring a pack of sniffer dogs onto the streets. When the dog barks, chances are the punter has drugs on them and promptly gets surrounded by five or six police.
Some top lads from Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia serve me up dinner, but they are probably the most cosmopolitan non-Uruguayan fixture in the city aside from the Brasilians who are here in decent numbers on weekend trips from Rio and Sao Paolo.
And somehow Aussie Dan and I, and his two Aussie room mates, end up at a Brasilian night at a local club. A legend of the Brasilian music scene is in town playing. The boy has genuine class; a black Bruce Forsyth with the voice and Brasilian rhythm. It is a top night out but the walk home isn't without an element of fear.
Saturday, 23rd July
Montevideo - Colonia - Buenos Aires
I have gone almost a whole month without a bad hangover. Having got in at around 5 or 6, I have to check out at 10 and get on my way. It is fair to say I feel bloody awful. But I do get myself together in time to make my bus back to Colonia for the ferry back to Argentina.
Half of Uruguay seem to be queuing up at Colonia Ferry Terminal for the boats to Buenos Aires.
Back at Buenos Aires the world's crappest hostel have really surpassed themselves this time by cancelling my reservation. No matter that I made it 2 months ago, they decided to cancel it at 3pm because I wasn't there and 'lots of Uruguayans wanted beds'.
Ten phone calls later to other hostels and they are all full. By now it is 10pm.
Finally, one hostel has a bed an I'm en route in a taxi only for the 300-year-old driver to get lost and fail to find it. You've got to laugh.
We drive back to the crap hostel and get the correct address. It is probably midnight before I get sorted, but the new hostel - Vi Luz Y Entre - is everything Che Lagarto is not. Instead of 19 people in a room, it is 5. It is cosy, warm, friendly, informative and isn't full of 12-year-old backpackers. The owners want it to be a home from home, and that is certainly what it is. I wish I had been staying here when I first cam to Buenos Aires in June.
I am not getting any response from Danish Nick, who has my press pass. Without it I have zero chance of getting a ticket to the Copa final. I fear he is out clubbing in Buenos Aires and I am going to struggle to track him down. He is a lovely lad but you don't give your press pass to a 25-year-old clubber knowing he will still have it on the Saturday night before the cup final.
Sunday, 24 July
I am up very early trying to contact Danish Nick but...nada.
Over the past couple of days I have accepted the idea that I am most likely not going to get into the final but I am not going to give up just yet.
It is 10am when I first get an SMS from Nick. "Get a taxi to mine. I can't get to the press centre." I am guessing he's just got home.
A taxi ride to another new part of Buenos Aires and I manage to track down Nick's rented apartment. "Sorry Justin, I only got home at 9."
Fair play to the lad. Rucksack at the ready, I get myself to the press centre and on the first press bus of the day to the River Plate stadium. Now I'm here I will be gutted if I don't get in.
I explain how I was in Uruguay and couldn't make it back in time to apply in person.
"Sorry but you are not on the list. You can watch on the TVs in the press centre."
Fair enough. Hundreds of journalists aren't getting in for this match. The demand for final tickets is just too high. And God, do I look like a mess with my rucksack and without a shower in 48 hours.
And as I start thinking "at least I tried", my friend from the Argentine FA tells his colleague to please give one of the remaining tickets to the "gentleman from England", and I am in!
What a result. I am inside the River Plate stadium for the 2011 Copa America final between Uruguay and Paraguay.