A Travellerspoint blog

Bariloche

Chillin out in the Lake District

sunny -17 °C

b3.jpgWe left Peurto Madryn that evening on a 18hr journey bound for Bariloche, a ski resort town set in the Lake Distict area of Argentina.Due to booking our tickets a little late we couldn´t go direct, so our route took us a bit further north than necessary, passing through the province capital of Neuquen.This added a few hours onto our bus ride, but by this stage we had become accustomed to these long journeys and weren`t really too bothered.We spent a quiet nite on the bus, reading whatever was to hand and watching two Shrek movies back to back.We arrived in Neuquen at about 6.30 in the morning and had just enough time to wolf down a cafe con leche y medialunas (white coffee with croissants) before we transferred onto the next bus bound for Bariloche.This journey was only supposed to be 4 or 5 hours, but it promised to be much more visually interesting as it passed through many of the areas`numerous lakes and mountain passes.And so it was.Beneath an unchanging blue sky we wound down hilly highways and passed stunning lake after lake, all practically undeveloped and unspoilt.Mountains the colour of sun baked rust framed our window view from the coach as we took in the stunning beauty of it all.
I for one was very keen on spending a lot of time in this town, whose full name is San Carlos de Bariloche, for many reasons.It`s the Lake Districts main tourist trap and everyone who travels through Argentina for a length of time ends up here at one stage or another.It`s settled on the shores of Lago Naheul Huapi, a 100km long glacial lake that is surrounded by lofty snow capped mountain peaks and is only a few hours from the border with Chile.Its`proximity to the national park that bears the same name means that Bariloche is the ultimate mecca for the outdoors enthusiast.Hiking, fishing, ski ing, rafting, horseback riding - its all here, and more.We had heard numerous reports from fellow backpackers on what a great place it was, and nearly everyone we`d talked to had spent double the amount of time here that they`d planned.To me it sounded a bit like Queenstown in New Zealand, albeit without the bungee jumps.I was sure I`d love it!
We arrived mid afternoon, an hour late, into the bustling grounds of the main bus terminal.We stepped off into quite a chilled air though the sun was still out in force.To our right lay the magnificent Lago Nahuel Huapi, so long its end shores cannot both be seen at once (perhaps from air?), its icy chilled waters throwing up white tipped waves.More of an inland sea than a lake.Beyond it lay the mountains.We took a cab into town and quickly found our hostel, a small but cozy place called Pudu that was owned by an Irish couple who had come here a year or so ago and had decided to stay.Apparently Pudu is the name of the local, rarely seen deer that is almost pygmy in size.They loved the place so much they`d gotten a 6 year lease on the premises and hit the slopes to board and ski every they had off.They had only opened the hostel a few months before, and still had a lot of work to do.But it was clean, and it was warm.And they had draught beer on tap!We had booked it solely on the fact that our room had a fantastic view of the lake, high as the hostel was in one of the hillier parts of town.
Once shown around and settled in we headed into town for lunch.We did some quick sightseeing of the plaza and the two main thoroughfares, Avenida Bartolome Mitre and San Martin/Perito Moreno which run parellel to each other.Both are chock full of stores built of wooden logs and stone, the kind you see in every ski resort.In fact, Bariloche IS a ski resort, though its main slopes are 20km away on Cerro Catedral.The centre boasts more than 50 runs and 40 lifts, one of the biggest in South America, though we`d heard if you were used to skiing on European slopes you may be a little let down by the quality of the runs.I was all for a day on the slopes, though we had unfortunately arrived just at the tail end of the season, and was persuaded otherwise.
The downtown area really is very pretty though, and could have been mistaked for any number of European ski spots, apart from the lack of visible snow.Though the cold chill certanly reminded you where you were.Hordes of rich Argentinian schookids bounded around, clad in their expensive ski gear, chattering away noisily in Spanish and blocking up the footpaths.The locals however, kept low key, strolling around in the crisp air with the ever present thermos under their arm and their mate tea and gourd no doubt near to hand.We strolled around and soaked it all up, and felt in no need to do anything physical whatsoever.
And so it remained.With a quick check of our finances revealing that we had (not surprisingly) been overspending our budget, we came to the very difficult decision to do no tours or expensive trips, and just entertain ourselves with the free trails and treks that were in and around the town.I was very keen to do horseback riding, as I`d never been on a horse before and seeing as Argentina`s the home of the gaucho and all......but it was not to be.However we contented ourselves with three days of seriously prefessional lounging around, reading in cafes whilst drinking hot chocolate and snacking on the gourmet chocolate that Bariloche is (also) famous for.And man is it good!I had to tear Janelle away!We also explored the greater area of the town and did a few (free) treks that were recommended to us.One of these took us up Cerro Campanario, a steep but short climb up a dusty trail that can be reached by ski lift but we decided we needed the exercise and tackled it head on.It ends in one of the most spectacular views ever, and I`m really not just exaggerating here.National Geographic declared it one of the top ten views worldwide.Ever!We`d heard this claim beforehand and were dubious but it really is something.A permanent cafe on the summit allow for gorgeous views all around of the surrounding lakes, mountains, rivers, islands, valleys, gorges and just about every scenic geographical feature you can think of.We, again, had the place practically to ourselves, and spent a good two hours sippng cafe con leche and staring dreamily out the window.I`m not sure about its title but it IS very probably the most amazing view I`ve ever seen, and that`s saying something I guess.
Another day we busied ourselves with an easy 3 hour trek through some dense forest and (strangely) a plethora of bamboo groves to a `Secret Lake`that we had, again, all to oursleves.We picniced at its shore and took numerous
photos of the area before we headed back to town.We pretty much did everything we could that was free, and to be honest we didn`t mind it too much.It was nice to just relax and kick back after so many days on the move, and I think that we certainly needed to, whether it was deserved or not.
In fact, the only real money we spent in Bariloche was on food.To be honest, the two of us are pretty bad once we get hungry and its nigh on impossible to not eat out.But we consoled oursleves with the fact that we deserved it seeing as we`d spent nought on trips and such.So our first night we feasted on Chinese, after coming across our first Asian restaurant in a month of travelling.Our second was leftover Chinese (from Janelle) and tasty baked empanadas from a great cafe across from the hostel.And our third nght, which was to be our last in Bariloche aswell as Argentina, we decided to try the parilla, an Argentinian favourite of spit roasted meats.For this we headed to Tarquino, a kooky restaurant built of wooden logs that has a full size tree growing in the centre of its floor that reaches right up and through the roof.Its entrance is a heavy wooden door that is circular in size and resembles the doorway to Bibo Baggins house. Truly original.The food inside was delicious and I washed down my meal of roasted pork lamb and steak with a draught of Argentina`s finest, Quilmes,while Janelle had chicken skewers and juice.It was a fitting meal to the end of our jaunt through this fine, wild country.We`d tangoed in Buenos Aires and been soaked by the waterfalls of Iguazu.We`d hiked beneath awesome mountain ranges.We`d stood before the true giant of ice that is the Perito Moreno glaciar and marvelled at the desolate beauty of the Patagonian steppe.We`d seen whales and penguins, elephant seals and guanacos, condors and foxes.We`d travelled the length of Argentina and seen it as a vast wild,desolate country, from city to port, from resort town to isolated village.We`d tasted it`s local treats, the tasty empanadas, the thick grass fed steaks, the Italian influenced pizzas and pastas, the continental breakfasts and the superior chocolates.We drank its teas, coffees, beers wines and mate.We experienced as much as one can in such a time and enjoyed every priviliged moment.We left the next day, heading west to Santiago Chile, safe in the knowledge that new horizons lay ahead of us and that with them were more experiences to savour.We left happy and tired.

Posted by Janelle_B 12:12 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Peurto Madryn

More travels in Patagonia

sunny 21 °C

871.jpgIf i remember correctly I left off at the end of our stay in Calafate.We had arrived back from Chalten after hiking the Fitzroy range late in the nite and woke late enough the next day (most hostels have you check out by 10am, so late would be 9 or so).We had nothing much to do but pack our gear and saunter down to the mainstreet to do some souvenir shopping.Janelle picked a hat and a fleece but I wasn´t too bothered, though her stuff was quite nice.Anyway, we had nasty day of travelling ahead of us; a 4 hour bus ride to the port town of Rio Gallegos on the east coast of ther country and then a short stopover before an 18 hour ride north up to another port town on the coast, Peurto Madryn.So all in all, 22 or so hours of butt numbing boredom.Now, as I´ve said before, these buses are equipped pretty well, with plush reclining seats, balnkets and pillows, tv´s, and snack/food service.But no matter how you try to soften the blow, its still 20 hours sitting on a bus.In Argentina they break down the seats according to comfort (and respectively, price); semi cama, which is a bare bones seat, much like you´d find on any airliner.These do recline but they´re quite cramped, so sleeping on them can be very difficult.Then there´s cama, which are much wider and softer.These do the same but that extra width makes ALL the difference.And then there´s cama total, which are as wide as cama but recline 180 degrees, fully horizontal.These are the ones you want!But, of course, at a price.We tend to stick to cama if its available because as backpackers its hard to justify the luxury of cama total )tho we did splurge once before).
Anyway.I won´t bore you with the details of the journey, long as it was.We made it to Peurto Madryn about lunch time the day after we´d set out.This resort town is, in itself, not anything exceptional, but its popularity owes much to its proximity to the nearby wildlife sanctuary of the Valdes Peninsula.The main attraction here are the southern right whales, which make the sheltered bays around the peninsula their home for up to six months between june and december.This is for the express purpose of birthing their calves and nourishing them in relatively safe waters, before returning to the Antarctic for the rest of the year once their young have gained enough weight.Its an amazing spectacle, as up to 1200 whales a year can make the area their home for the time and sightings are almost gauranteed.
Once we´d found our hostel and checked in (very nice, The Hi Patagonia;double room with a fridge AND a tv), we set about......chilling out.Tired as we were we took it easy, did some minimal exploring of the town and booked a tour for the next day.We were picked up along with a group of other backpackers and driven straight to a lookout point about 20mins from town.Right there, not 30 feet from shore were between seven to twelve of the whales, playing around in the sea sticking their fins and tails out of the water and whatnot.They´re quite ugly beasts actually, the traditional whalelike shape in apperance but they have a very blunt front end that is usually covered in stone looking crustaceans that attach to the whales for life.Difficult to get good full shots of the creatures bar the usual half fin or tail sticking up.That or their continous blowhole expulsions.Once we´d all taken our fill of photos we were herded back onto the tourbus for another 40 mins of bone jarring driving to the actual park entrance, where we disembarked again to pay our entrance fee and had a quick look around at the few exhibits on display, including a complete reconstuction of an entire young males skeleton, that had washed up on shore intact a few years ago.
We left soon enough and drove further into the park, which covers almost the entire peninsula.Our guide pointed out a few of the other animals on offer, roaming freely through the grasses; tall elegant guanaco, a distant relative of the llama and some large Patagonian hares, the size of dogs, squatting in the dirt.By this time we´d arrived at Peurto Pirimide, the only town in the park.This is where we donned bright orange lifejackets and headed out to sea in the hope of catching some more whales in their element.It took some time but once we´d motored out past the sheltered bay and hit the choppy open seas, we weren´t long in sighting some whales.Our captain took us in as near as he could without disturbing them too much, while everyone clambered over to the side of the boat that offered the best view, snapping away like mad.But what with the movement of the sea and the whales breaking the waves at inconsistent periods, it was, again , quite difficult to get that perfect shot.We lost sight of these ones as they dived to lower depths and caught track of a few more and powered over to their location just in time to watch them dive.Foiled again!At this stage we headed for shore and ate a quick lunch before continuing on to another location;the elephant seal colony.
Again, once we´d arrived we trailed off the bus and headed down the wooden steps to the beachfront, where, behind a low protecive barrier, lay maybe two dozen elephant seals, all in various stages of lazing around.I mean these things are chilled out!They lay there enjoying the sun, the males the biggest, up to 2 tons, while the smaller females fed their small dark pups from their exposed underside.They were pretty impressive, but you couldn´t help just wanting to get closer to them, or to see them move around a bit.The most they´d do was flip some of the gravel up from which they´re lying on onto their bodies with their fins, or maybe let out an occasional high pitched yelp.These southern elephant seals are the biggest in the world, and come to the Valdes peninsula for the same reasons as the whales.But we left them feeling little underwhelmed.
Back at the carpark however we noticed a commotion and hurried over to check it out.A group of tourists had formed a circle around something on the ground and peering between them , we saw a hairy armidilloe being fed scraps from a Japanese man.The armidilloe was entirely unafraid, scuttering between the legs of us while he chased bits of food around.I suppose he was used to all the attention as tour after tour would turn up here daily.We took a few pics and boarded the bus to head to our next destination; the penguin colony.
Just a few mins up the road was a stopoff where a relatively recent penguin colony had arrived only seven years before.Up to two thousand of them live here, the Magellaninc Penguin, which is small by Emperor Penguin standards measuring only a foot and a half off the ground.They were again cordoned off by a low fence but luckily their burrows were only a few feet away which made for some excellent close ups.We even caught one guy sleeping standing up!Very, very cute.
With that last stop under our belts we headed back to town, another hour and a half away.We had considered going on another tour, to a place called Punto Tombo which is apparently the biggest penguin colony outside of Antarctica, with 700,000 in all.But money and time conspired against us,and we were told that one tour was much the same as the other.So we decided aginst it and bought our tickets for our next port of call, Bariloche.Unfortunately the bus didn´t run til the next evening so we spent the next day downtown, killing time window shopping and drinking coffee.We did see more of the town itself, which wasn´t so bad and we also had time to check out the seafront´s boardwalk, a pier which stretches out far to sea.But we were lucky enough to catch some whales coming right up to the end of the pier, so close you could touch, a mother and her calf I think.We got better shots then than we had on the boat.In fact, the whole seafront was full of whale activity, fins and tails everywhere you looked it seemed.We counted at least 12 of them.Oh well, we had to leave and catch a bus.Another overnighter to another destination, Bariloche, 17 hours away.

Posted by Janelle_B 07:23 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

El Calafate and El Chalten

Travels in Patagonia

sunny 5 °C

Fitz_Roy-Patagonia.jpgRight.Where was I?Oh, yeah.I left off at our departure from BA.Well, basically what happened was this; we had booked a flight from BA to El Calafate down in Argentinian Patagonia weeks before we left for South America.We´d heard flights fill up quick and we had already decided to fly down as the only real alternative was, you guessed it, by bus.Now, as comfortable as these long distance coaches can be, we really weren´t keen on a 42hr bus journey.I mean 42 hours!Man, we´re getting bedsores from the seats at this stage!Anyway, nite before we leave we book a taxi to the airport.Smart move you may think.It was.Only we booked it to the wrong airport.You see, there are 2 airports in BA, the one that deals mainly in domestic flights, and the one that deals mainly in international flights.Stupid us, we assumed our flight, being a domestic, left from Jorge Newbury, whereas we found out, after we´d arrived, that it was actually leaving from Ezeiza International!Anyway, suffice to say with that with a 50 (US)dollar fare in it, our driver tore through the morning rush hour and got us there in half the time.We made it.Barely.Never been so happy to board a flight.Even Janelle with her fear of flying had a smile on her face.Didn´t last the lenght of the flight tho...
And so, 3 hours later we find ourselves approaching Calafate airport, a hokey one runway outfit stationed about 15mins outside the town itself.The view from the plane was one of a vast, unbroken stoney grey landscape, the Patagonian steppe.Though not in of itself ugly, just... empty.And cold.We stepped off the plane shivering, peering out at our desolate surroundings taking it all in.I loved it immediately.Patagonia.The almost mythical land thats inspired travellers, trekkers, climbers and an outdoor clothing company.First impressions were good.
Calafate is a prime stop on the gringo trail for those with a love of wild remote landscapes aching to try some serious hiking, trekking or just plain soaking up the views.And does it have some views!Perched on the edge of Lago Argentino, the turquoise coloured lake that boasts the lower end of the Andes as its backdrop, the town itself consists of an almost random scattering of buildings and streets, mainly unpaved.Indeed, the main road into town seemed to be the old runway from an earlier airport!It seems half the hotels,hostels and restaurants are still under construction, while the other half are recently finished or awaiting improvements.Indeed, the whole town has the air of being unfinished, looking from afar more of a remote settelement than a well planned tourist stop.Its only when you get to the well paved main street that you see all the flashy stores, every second one selling outdoor clothing and equipment or souvenir t shirts and hats.It strikes you then what it is reminiscient of; a ski resort town.And yet somehow it manages to combine these two seemingly opposing characteristics into a town that remains charmiing in its one way.
Anyway, we were here for one thing.Well, mainly one thing; The Perito Moreno Glacier.Located in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, about and hour and a half away from Calafate, this 60m high monster is the main reason to be here.It´s deep blue hue and jagged peaks are astounding, as is the fact that its one of the few glaciars in the world that is not retreating.5kms wide and 30 kms long, this enormous river of ice is known to advance up to 2 metres per day, making for some amazing scenes whenever huge chunks of ice shear off its face and cascade down into the icy lake that surrounds it.Seeing as its generally considered low season in South America, we almost had it to ourselves.A series of catwalks and paths let you get up close and personal and we paid an extra few pesos for a boat trip up to its face, there to fully appreciate its sheer size.Just being near it was an existential experience, as was patiently waiting for a huge splash as a chunk of ice calved from its face (it never did happen).
So, that was the glaciar.The park also contains a variety of wildlife indiginous to the area, but we never saw more than a few condors circling overhead.And maybe a Patagonian hare somewhere.We spent a quiet afternoon in our hostel and decided almost on the spur of the moment to visit El Chalten, a village 4 hours north of Calafate.Reached by the semi paved highway that is Ruta 40, Chalten is a small (pop. 500) village set in a beautiful river valley that is home to the stunning snowcapped Fitzroy range.We´d heard the place closes down in the low season but were assured this wasn´t so.Just that very little is open.But the hiking there was supposed to be amazing.So we packed our bags and hopped on the coach.
Chalten makes Calafate look like Buenos Aires.It is small, unpaved, dusty, remote and totally underdeveloped.And it is absolutely charming.Like a farming outpost in some Swiss valley, it nestles between two towering walls of rock next to a river of ice pure water.Green fields and the nearby mountains complete the scene.But it is remote; no ATM, no general store, no hospital...Hell, I wasn´t even sure if there was a doctor in the village.But stunning.Worth the bouncy bus ride here alone.
We quickly dumped our bags in the only hostel open this time of year (dorm rooms only) and set about lunch.Which was hard t find.But after checking a few likely looking places, only to be met with blank stares, we were finally directed to a nearby cafe (everything here is nearby).We feasted on pollo milanesa, which is chicken breast in breadcrumbs, served as a sandwich.And what a sandwich!One would have been enough for both of us, and we were starving!So we packed the leftovers for our hike and set off.
We didn´t have time to go too far seeing as it was already lunchtime and some of the recommended hikes are up to 7 hours long, so we decided on a 5 hour hike to a nearby glaciar ( I know - another one), Glaciar Grande.It was semi cloudy day, but the sun was strong when it was out.But is was also cold.Once we left the relative shelter of the village the wind picked up and we could see how the fierce Patagonian winds got their reputation.We hiked on, passing nobody for the first hour, up hills and down valleys.Through gnarled forests that wouldn´t been out of place in Mordor and by streams cold enough to deliver hypothermia.The water is pure enough to drink so we did just that, filling our canteens once emptied.We crested a large hill that looked down another river valley and got our first glimpse of our destination - a faraway glaciar, and at its foot, a glacial lake.It was semi cloudy day, but the sun was strong when it was out.But is was also cold.Once we left the relative shelter of the village the wind picked up and we could see how the fierce Patagonian winds got their reputation.We hiked on, passing nobody for the first hour, up hills and down valleys.Through gnarled forests that wouldn´t been out of place in Mordor and by streams cold enough to deliver hypothermia.The water is pure enough to drink so we did just that, filling our canteens once emptied.We crested a large hill that looked down another river valley and got our first glimpse of our destination - a faraway glaciar, and at its foot, a glacial lake, Lago Torre.It took another 90 mins to get there.We scrambled up the crumbling rocks and stone that made up its terminal moraine and were hit with some serious winds that prevented us from hanging around too long.After Perito Moreno though, this one wasn´t too impressive.But the lake at its base was almost completely frozen and when I climbed down to take some shots I could hear the ice sheets crushing and melting against each other.Very cool.We stayed less than 5 mins and headed back to the warmth and comfort of our hostel.Absolutely exhausted we ate and slept soundly.
The next day though, was a winner.Up early and reasonably rested, the sky was cloudless and blue.Perfect hiking weather.We´d chosen the main hike for our second day - another 5 hours (that turned out to be 6) along the base of the main mountain range and within sight of the two biggest and visually most impressive peaks; Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitzroy.We got a taxi to the start point ( a round trip of the hike would´ve taken 10 hours) and stopped along the way to take shots of some of the most amazing scenery I´ve seen, ever.The peaks covered in snow against the bluest azure sky seemed to loom out at you, seemed unreal somehow.And we hadn´t even started yet!Anywhere else in the world and this trail would´ve been packed with walkers, but here we were at 10 in the morning with nobody else around.Amazing!
The hike started off easy enough, then started to climb up the side of a forested valley, with a river far below and the ever present peaks in the background.The same gnarled trees sheltered us from the UV rays of the sun.We hadn´t hiked for more than an hour when we reached the first lookout point of Fitzroy.Seen from afar, the 3441m spire resembles a shark´s jagged, triangular tooth rising out of the gumline that is the Fitzroy Range.Flanked by Poicenot on its right, the mountain peak is immediately distinctive and always awe inspiring.We hiked on to the next lookout, about a half hour away.This one had a head-on view, so we could easily make out the entire edifice aswell as the glaciar underneath and the glaciar lake underneath that.With the sun out in force and the sky stil without a cloud it made for a postcard qulaity photo.
Seeing as we were basically doing the trail backwards we had seen the main sights first but there was still so much more.As we moved along the valley at the base of the range we got ever different viewing angles of the peaks and soon enough Cerro Torre (3128m) came into range.Though initially less impressive than Fitzroy, Torre is still an awesome sight and its sheer face makes it a serious task for climbers willing to test their mettle.Indeed, the whole range has some of Patagonia´s toughest climbing.
We trekked on through an ever changing landscape, though always with those mountains behind us.More rivers, lakes and stone, all under the blue sky.The weather never failed us once and at times it seemed like too good to be true.Anyway, most of those pics are up on my Facebok site for your viewing pleasure.I strongly recommend you take the time.
We left for Calafate late that evening, but still managed to capture the mountains as the sky turned pink over them.We passed by wild Patagonian horses, roaming the steppe in loose herds, emaciated but free.We even passed by flamingoes.And we stopped for cafe at a midway estancia, or outpost.These really are outposts for the gauchos that live out here.This one, La Leona, had been a hiding spot in 1905 for none other than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ( and his wife Ethel Place ), after they had robbed the Bank of London and Tarapaca in Rio Gallegos.They apparently spent a month here, and were only recognised by the owner afterwards when he was shown their mugshots by the local Policia.So they claim anyway.
We spent the next day or so taking it easy, met with some friends of Janelle´s and eventually booked tickets to Peurto Madryn, a port town on the east coast of Argentina that was 22 hours away by bus.But I´ll write about that later I guess.

Posted by Janelle_B 17:52 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

3 nights in the Tango capital

sunny 17 °C

SANY0399.jpgBuenos_Air..gentina.jpgHey all,

Right.If I can remember correctly I left off with our stay in Iguazu Falls.Which was AWESOME.Well worth the travelling time etc etc.The pix speak for themselves I think.Anyway, our next stop was Buenos Aires, the port capital of this fantastic country.But first we had to get there.
This required a bus ride.But no ordinary, hour long commute into the city centre from whatever suburb of Dublin you call home.NO, this was a wee bit longer...
Twenty two hours, to be exact.BUT!This is Argentina, where they have a very, very different transport system to the one we experienced in Brazil.They have well paved highways for example.But fortunately for us, the biggest and best difference was the quality of the long distance coaches.We splashed out (the exchange rate at the moment is very good, about 4.5 Arg pesoes to the euro- another reason I love this counry!) and went for the cama total, or the fully reclinable, leather lined, wide as a fat American´s ass seats.These things were luxury!On a scale unknown in Brazil, anyway.Included for the 200 or so pesoes were individual flatscreen tv´s, full drinks service, full dinner and breakfast service, pillow and blanket , air con, etc etc.Nice!Just the thing to spend all those ass numbing hours on the road.Perhaps the films were crap, the food not too much better than airline food, and we did have to watch a fellow passenger spill her guts for next to an hour, but these things still couldn´t dampen our enthusiasm for such comforts.
Anyway, arrived in BA about 7 in the morning.First impressions at that early hour were of a large, grey city of no more or less colour than any other capital in SA (or Europe to be fair).However, once we located the nearby metro and found our sleepy selves to our accommodation in the heart of San Telmo (the tango mecca for travelers) we perked up a bit.Seeing as it was sunday we were urged by our friendly hostel guide to make a dash to the nearby antiques market for a bit of sightseeing and haggling, as its only open on the weekend.We refused and went to bed.For a few hours anyway.Once refeshed from a few hours extra kip and a much needed shower we did head down that way to the usual fare; stalls both indoor and outdoor, hawking wares such as the ubiquitus leather caps, belts and wallets that Argentina is famous for (this is, after all, prime cow country), the cup shaped gourds with which the Argentines continually swig their much-beloved mate tea from (the yerba, as its called, is a green weed that apparently has effects much like caffeine - not too bad actually) and all the usual traditional fare that one finds in such countries.Down winding streets bathed in the afternoon sunlight we strolled, finding yet more stalls, hordes of bustling tourists and locals all accompanied by the sound of local musos playing their guitars and accordions.
That was day one.Days two and three saw us catch the major sights that you have to see because they´re there, regardless of your own personal preference.So, we took in the Obelsico, the Plaza de Mayo, the Congresso building, all manner of fountains and statues.Nice, but not so different from any major capital city.BA is surpisingly European in its architecture, or maybe not so much, as it was founded and developed by the Spanish and Italians way back when.In fact, most of the food on offer is distinctly Italian, with pizzas and pasta dishes EVERYWHERE!NIce for a day or two, but SO unhealthy.The other main dish is, of course, steak.Mmmm.SO tasty!Rightly famous and served in portions to frighten even the most ardent fan of hard core beef.Definitely to be tried either way.
We also managed to take in a morning in the Recoleta, Ba´s main tourist attraction and surprisingly, free of charge.This attraction is a high walled cemetary in the heart of the swankiest area in uptown BA, home to the bones of some of Argentina´s most famous rich and celebrated.We found it relatively deserted, and had ample time to take in a multitude of lavishly ornate and monstrously overwrought sarcophagi.Statues of angels, cherubim, soldiers, and even dogs adorn these impressive tombs, and of course crucifixes of all shapes and sizes complement these immense structures.The site is dotted with some well kept fountains and many verdant trees providing plenty of shade to sit in and contemplate the mysteries of Life (and Death).Tombs of every shape, size and design are to be found here - from the simple, squarish blocks of granite to towering pillars recalling ancient Rome or Greece.There´s even a pyramid of sorts.It really has to be seen.A definite list tick-off!
After spending the rest of our second day catching up on sleep and just lazing about the hostel, we left it to the third and final day to see what most will instinctively associate with the city of BA - the sensual, flamboyant and distinctively erotic Tango.Of course, such a show is best seen at night, so we lazed away another sunny day at the green parks of Palermo, just sitting at cafes sipping Cokes and watching the locals (portenos, so called ´Port People¨) jog, roller blade and stroll by.Nothing more could entice us at this stage...We were planning on a 3 hr tango lesson followed by a show but we went for the whole package in the end, just to save time and hassle.Tango lesson, 3 course meal with free drinks (alcoholic and non) and a show lasting just over and hour, detailing the evolution of this reknowned dance over the course of five periods.Well, let it be known that I, as an Irish straight male, do NOT dance.Unless drunk or very. very happy.Or both.So, the first part of this package was, for me, as appealing as it was daunting.Not knowing quite what to expect, we got picked up by a transfer bus at about 7 in the evening.Following a few more pick ups, mostly couples from England or Ireland, we were dropped off at a local dance hall, or milonga.Greeted on arrival by the instructor, a young porteno woman with good english and a sense of humour, we were quickly ushered into the hall.And the lesson began.With gusto!
We were quickly shown the basic moves, how the man holds and leads the woman, guiding her movements with his chest out in the typically arrogant manner of the Tango dancer.Next was the basic 4 step - back, left, forward, feet together.Then the 8 step.And so on.All to the sounds of the traditional tango songs, and all in time (in theory).We had the fun of switching partners every few mins, so not only do you embarress yourself in front of your partner, you get to do it with any number of strangers who happen to be nearby.Anyway, suffice it say, it WAS fun, it wasn´t too hard, everyone had a laugh and we all even learned a bit.Maybe with practise.Maybe...
Well, that ordeal over, we all headed up to the main hall, for, in my opinion, the main event.Not the show - the dinner!Heh, and it was SWEET!Well worth the money we had paid.Starter of carne empanada, a beef pastry common in Argentina, followed by a WHOPPER of a steak about 2 inches think and the size of, oh, I dunno, Donegal!Needless to say I finished both, but not without a serious effort of will (Janelle managed half).Then a dessert of ice cream or something, I´m not sure.Anyway, fully satisfied and nicely mellowed with the beer they poured (it comes in one litre bottles and they leave it at your table in an ice bucket, like wine) we sat back and awaited the Tango!
Hmmm...how can I really, truly describe the scene?I probably can´t, but just imagine 3 pairs of impossibly well tailored dancers, the men in suits, the ladies in all manner of tight dresses, doing all manner of moves to a live house band.Lights flashing, dry ice smoking, music beating out and limbs akimbo....You get the picture...Very impressive, very professional, very sexy.The ladies were dancing between the tables at one stage and took some of the men up to play with...I was one of the lucky ones!!Hehe.Got a nice pic to prove it too.Anyway.It was cool, wicked, amazing.Better than expected, and in a city where every hotel and hostel offer similar packages, it really stood out.Or so I´d believe anyway.Bottom line - if you´re in BA, catch a show!
So, that was BA.We checked out the next day and waved goodbye to a city I had no expectation to enjoy, but did so immensely.Worth it!Pity our flight down to Patagonia wasn´t as enjoyable.Lets just say we made a majorly stupid, rookie mistake and didn´t check our flight plans properly.And Buenos Aires has TWO airports......

Posted by Janelle_B 12:33 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Rio to Iguazu

More travel news from South America

sunny 25 °C

4.jpgHola de Argentina,

Sorry I haven`t written b4 this but its just been so mad acclimatising to this place

the food, the language the madness etc.I did post up a link to a blog on the first

few days we spent in Rio on my Facebook (its in the about me section) but we`ve

done more than since then.Anyway, for those of you not on Facebook or not

bothered I`ll give you a quick summary.Landed in Sao Paulo at 5am, got crazy taxi

to hotel, slept.Did minimum of exploring (its a BIG city)and woke early to catch a

6 hr bus ride to Rio de Janeiro.Nice scenery, weather was beautiful, we thought it

couldn`t change.It did.Whole 5 days spent in Rio was overcast if not downright

wet!We did get lucky enough the first day to go hand gliding in one of the few

moments of clear dry weather.It was class!Scary at first (when you run at full tilt

off a cliff face with a man who keeps telling you its his first time too!), but it

becomes very relaxing very quickly, almost serene.Great views of the city, its

favelas, the beaches etc etc.Defo recommended!

In some ways, tho, it was a bit of an anticlimax.We spent the next 4 days in

raingear muttering about crap Brazilian weather.Well in fairness,now we can see

why its low season.We did have fun tho.Checked out the local area, managed to

enjoy a few drinks watching a reggae band up in the hills of Rio at nite.Did tours

of the local gardens etc.We did see Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, but

they somewhat lose their appeal in the rain when there`s no one around but

the homeless and hawkers selling local touristy crap.Oh, and we took a tram up to

Cristos Rendentor, or Christ the Redeemer, the 30m statue atop a large hill

overlooking the whole of Rio.As such, its become the icon of Rio, even the whole

of Brazil.And we saw ...nothing.It rained.There was heavy, heavy fog and cloud.

The statue itself we could barely make out in the absolute pissings of rain.Heh,

couldn`t have picked a worse day to go, but unfortunately, it was our last

and we had no choice.So we left Rio with a less than ideal view of the city.But,

one thing you can enjoy, rain or no, was the food.They serve a selection of bbq

meats on large pointed skewers, one after another.Beef, chicken, steak, pork,

sausages, different beef, more sausages, a spicy type of pork, a nicer cut of

steak, they just keep coming up to your table and offering it to you.And seeing

as you pay a flat fee at the door, its all you can eat.Nice.This type of meal

is known as rodizio, and it is very popular here.And bearing in mind, this is all

on top of the usual Brazilian buffet fare, rice, black beans, farofa, etc.We spent

our last nite indulging in this, washing it back with the local Choppe beer and

caipiriniaa, the famous Brazilian cocktail.Lots of rum and sugar mainly, but man

is it strong!We were warned b4hand by a British backpacker who swore that

2 of them would be enough to send you on your way.And sure enough, halfway

through her first one,Janelle turned white and had to take a break.SO nice tho!

You wouldn`t believe something so sweet would be so lethal.Anyway, we

continued drinking more of them back at the hostel, but not many more!

Right!That was Rio, or a brief summary.We then took a 22hr overnite bus ride

to where we are now, Peurto Iguazu on the very outer edge of Argentina.It was

nasty!Cramped seats, noisy passengers, and a broken toilet whose reek increased

exponentially as the ride wore on.They did show an English version of the

Incredible Hulk tho, which neither of us had seen.Funny enough, it starts off

in a favela in Brazil!Weird.Anyway, the bus ride went on and on, and we slept,

and woke, to find us still on the bus.And son on.Anyway.We reached the

Brazilian town of Foz de Iguazu at 6am.Weary and cranky and cramped, we fell

off the bus, caught a local bus to the main terminal, which transferred us onto

another bus to cross over into Argentina.The main attraction in this area, the

reason we put ourselves thru such an ass numbing journey is the world famous

and world class Iguazu Falls.275 individual waterfalls, fed from the absolutely

huge Iguazu river, plunge hundreds of feet into the abyss creating a permanent

roar that can be heard from miles around.These waterfalls, or catarats, happen

to lie on the borders of 3 countries - Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.And as such

there are 3 cities built up respectively to deal with the numbers of tourists who

come here annually - Foz de Iguazu in Brazil, Peurto Iguazu in Argentina and

Ciadad del Este in Paraguay.But apparently Argentina have the best views, right up

close, and the better developed amenities in the Iguazu Parque Nacional.Hence

our destination.Anyway, suffice to say we crossed over the border tho we literally

had to walk from one country to another as the bus that dropped us off at the

border station wouldn`t wait for us.Bastardoes!Much to the amusment of the

armed border gaurds in Argentina...

So, yesterday we spent at the falls.And it is AMAZING!So much better than we

could have hoped or expected.We got sunny blue perfect skies too, for the first

time, which just added to everything.Boardwalks thru jungle, wild Coatis walking

alongside us, tropical blue coloured birds flying overhead, lizards everywhere...

It was beautiful..We took a train at one stage, to the main falls, Gargantan del

Diablo, or the Devils Throat and a ferry boat over to San Martin Island to get

closer to the falls.Everywhere we were covered in huge amounts of spray, and

everywhere there were rainbows rising out of the mist with the strong sun out

in force.Of course we took hundreds of photos and plenty of video.And we`re

off back again today to do some more trails that we missed yesterday.And after

that, another bus ride to Buenos Aires, tho we hear the transport in this

country is far superior to Brazil (Thank God).Anyway, must go, ppl waiting to

use thenet as alwyas in these hostels.Feel free to write and keep in touch.I`ll

keep writing anyway!Later, adios amigos!

Posted by Janelle_B 05:42 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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