South America Tour – Iguazu Falls, Argentina – Day 27

Day 27 – Iguazu – the Centrepiece Highlight of our trip!

We started our Wednesday with breakfast at the hotel and then were only slightly delayed waiting for 2 of our tour group (Carmella and Carlos from Spain) who slept in – but no problems. The only other 2 people were a mother/daughter from Puerto Rico – Carmen & Pidgeon(?). The mother ended up passing on the tour as it involved lots of hiking and she was not up to it. Our tour guide Jorge (George) switched from Spanish to English throughout which was fine.

We started with the hike out to the Garganta del Diablo (Devils Throat), then followed the Top Trail. After lunch the other 3 took the optional boat tour into the falls, but Mike & I opted for the Low Trail hike with Jorge guiding us (and glad we did!).

Words fail me to portray my senses at seeing and hearing Iguazu Falls. I have visited mountain ranges, glaciers, buttes and mesas, deserts and fjords, waterfalls and coral reefs; been on safari in the Serengeti, catamaran sailing in the Great Barrier Reef, and climbed Kilimanjaro – but I think Iguazu has impressed me the most of anything. I can’t imagine being the first European to witness the site – and the native locals must have been just as awed even if accustomed to them.

Some random facts that I picked up from Jorge:
– 2.7 kilometers of continuous waterfalls
– Argentinian park created in 1934 as the 2nd National park in Argentina
– in 1984 Iguazu Falls were declared a Unesco Heritage Site
– over 270 cascades (falls) make up Iguazu Falls
– highly variable water flow depending upon the season and amount of rainfall – fully fed by rainfall, no lakes upstream
– Devils Throat is over 100 feet higher than Niagara

Even the technology to make them accessible is remarkable – the effort and construction skill needed to build the walkways is exceptional!

The butterflies and other wildlife were also memorable – So many butterflies landing on you and on everything around – all sizes and colours. Jorge showed us one which was blue/grey mottled and the male makes a loud ticking sound to attract the female. We also came across many Argentinian raccoons, alligators, turtles along with birds, hanging birds nests, and many spiders with huge nests. But sadly we spotted no monos (monkeys) – which is apparently not usual.

While Mike was photoing on our afternoon tour, Jorge and I talked orchids, which are unfortunately not in flowering season right now but the forest is full of them. He showed me photos of his at home – some on his trees, some in pots, some cultivated from wild and others bought – including the strawberry orchid which smells of …. yup, strawberry.

In the evening we joined our nuevo amigos (Carlos, Carmella and Pidgon) at La Rueda again for a fantastic dinner and had a wonderful time late into the evening. We’ve exchanged email addresses and will share some photos with them – they shot all video so really want some of Mike’s photos.

Michael was in photographers glory with such spectacular views. Weaning down to a reasonable number was impossible, so below are some of Michaels photos, followed by 3 of his videos – be sure to watch with the sound on to get the full effect! I took many GoPro videos also, but editing is more complicated and they will follow at a future date. Tomorrow we head to the Brazilian side for even more views – can’t wait!

South American Tour – Buenos Aires & Iguazu Falls, Argentina – Day 24 & 25

Day 24 & 25 – Buenos Aires / Travel / Iguazu

Monday March 5 was likely our longest travel day this trip – pushing the edge for our aging bodies! It should not have been so long though! We arrived early at the bus station and managed to catch a 1/2 hr earlier bus from PdE to Montevideo. We had time in MV to catch a bite to eat and spend the remnants of our Uruguay pesos before departing. And then the delays started…

The bus from MV to the ferry were very late. But that enabled us to meet some interesting people in line πŸ™‚ We met 2 Argentinians, an Israeli guy, and a girl from London. She was Romanian and an engineer taking a year off to travel – just starting. She reminded me of Patrick; great skill and capability but still more keen on self fulfillment than corporate success. Eventually 3 busses showed up and took us to the ferry. The ferry crossing was on a much smaller boat this time (no cars on board), and it was a rough crossing. Many on the ferry suffered – one woman clenched white knuckles the whole ride, another guy laid out on the floor, several people fanning themselves or their travel mates. No one could walk around without falling over. But the worst was when we arrived in Buenos Aires…

With only 30 pesos of Argentinian money, we expected to arrive at the ferry terminal, take out cash at the ATM and take a taxi to our hotel. But no ATM, the taxis would not take US dollars, and the terminal was in the middle of nowhere! After searching endlessly for an ATM, the local police aided us on how to take a bus. But you need a SUBE card. We found a very helpful friend – Charles -who used his card to pay for us and he even ensured that we got to the right stop with the driver. A very nice man! We finally arrived and it was nice to have a hotel (Loi Suites Arenales) rather than BnB this time to simplify arrival. The location and price were actually very good – worth considering if we ever return to Buenos Aires!

In the morning we rearranged our bag contents to limit the weight in our checked bags – but alas, we needed to pay for every bag! But to our advantage, Andes Linea airlines were ridiculously unorganized. After a super long check in line, we needed to go to another line to pay for our bags. As our flight time came and went, many of us in line were stressed to the max. We were in line to pay for our bags along with anyone buying a ticket to anywhere. And credit card processing wasn’t working. Finally, they just let everyone in line waiting to pay for baggage on our flight to board without payment. So we saved 600 pesos but were delayed a 1/2 hour – guess it’s a good deal!

So finally late Tuesday afternoon we arrived in Iguazu and found our hotel no problem. The organized tour to town was skipped due to timing of other tour member arrivals (which was fine), so we ventured ourselves in to town – first on foot then catching a bus due to the muddy shoulder. We wanted to eat at La Rueda and as it didn’t open till later, we walked to the 3 frontiers to check out the Brazil / Paraguay view from Argentina. Back at La Rueda we had a fantastic meal of local Riverfish and then taxied back to the hotel for an early morning tour departure.

South America Tour – Buenos Aires – Day 11

Day 11 – Buenos Aires

The morning of Feb 20 started in SOHO. Bit of a walk, but well worth it – so much colour and character and so many nice clothing stores. We resisted again, knowing that whatever we bought we needed to lug around for the rest of the trip.

The walls in SOHO were a fantastic kaleidoscopic art gallery. Some were clearly murals added by the shops, others quite certainly graffiti, but all were amazing art. We had a latte in a cute little square and met a woman from Italy. We had shared laughter as we heard multiple police sirens, and then realized it was one siren and dog that howled exactly like a siren in response! We learned about her home town of BRA which is not overly far from Milan & Rapallo where we have been; but more into the mountains closer to Turin. We will need to check out their famous cheese festival which occurs every second September – the next one is in 2019. We also need to try the raw beef, light spiced, sausage in nearby Alba which is famous for its tartar – along with Barolo (best) or (more likely and) Barbaresco wines.

For lunch we had a reservation at a well known local Spanish restaurant – El Burladero. It was fantastic! We had the 3 course albierto (lunch) with ensalata langostinos, I had Chilean Sea Bass with roasted veg, Mike had oxtail stew with mashed. Dessert was espresso with apple tart & ice cream for Michael. The ice cream was flavoured with cardamom and ginger – perhaps the best he’s ever tasted apparently! I had creme w. berries which was better than it sounds. They included a free aperitif before the meal, and a free grappa afterwards – so combined with the red wine, it was back for a short siesta!

Then off to the Museo des Belle Artes. They had an impressive list of artists, although definitely not top quality pieces of the top international names. The Argentinian works were quite impressive however. There was a Rodin show on right now…his work is everywhere! From there we wandered over to the Buenos Aires Cultural Centre where they had a wide variety of eclectic exhibits. Some for kids, but also some extreme adult content sex comics definitely NOT for kids and the best was an exhibit ‘Viva la Vida’ by Roberto Cortes. Interesting in that he had very many pieces which often carried a message. In most he captured himself, perhaps his wife, and there were several other recurrent characters.

Next stop was at the adjacent Iglesias – but as we sat quietly admiring the inside of the church, they quietly closed the cloisters, so we didn’t get to see the relics and museum. Then one last stop for ice cream before we headed back to empty the fridge of beer and salad as we packed for our departure early in the morning.

South American Tour – Buenos Aires Argentina – Day 10

Day 10 – Buenos Aires

On Monday Feb 19 we headed off to visit the Museo des Belles Artes only to find it closed on Mondays. But other sites were nearby, so not a total loss. The giant ‘machina’ flower – Floralis Generica – an 18 ton, 23 metre tall metallic flower sculpture which opens and closes automatically every day. Next off to the Iglesia del Pilar, a very beautiful and well maintained church but as mass was in progress, no photos from the inside.

Next stop was for a coffee at the ‘famous’ cafe La Biela in Recoleta where artists, writers, actors and minor celebrities frequented, and then in the 1950’s it became the popular hangout for racing car drivers; hence the extensive memorabilia on the walls. Outside the cafe was an enormous rubber tree with many supporting beams for the extensive branches.

More walking around town and we headed to the Teatro Colon. We arrived just before noon, but waited in line for 2 hours before our tour at 2pm. At least the lineup was in the shade. The theatre is said to have the best accoustics in the world – and you can see why. The whole theatre is of perfect dome shape; dome ceiling, curved walls in a full horseshoe and with all lower surfaces padded and the only hard surfaces were the pillars nearer the top. There are no walls between the boxes, and everything is velvet and wood. Even the floor seats are on a raised, grated floor to create an echo below them. The very top ring around the chandelier has room for singers (small ones!) to create the sensation of angels or birds singing.

The first 2 architects were Italian, each who died at the age of 44. When the 3rd was hired, he was French and a bit older to ensure completion (lovers scraps were the issue!). As a result there is a mix of styles in different sections of the theatre. The whole teatro was renovated between 2002 – 2010 when every wall was scraped of cigarette smoke and repainted the original colours – a monumental task.

The ‘widow boxes’ were stage left below the seats in a caged area. Widows were not to be seen in public for 2 years, so this is where they had to sit if they wished to attend the opera, ballet, concert etc. As it happened, they needed to enter their seats from the same entry as the orchestra members. So many “friendships” developed with the musicians πŸ˜‰ .

And we need to mention the traffic lights. There is only one traffic light and one walk signal per direction of traffic, and it’s not always in the same location. Even the locals seem confused at times on what colour the light is! This phenomenon seemed local to Buenos Aires – perhaps a way to save money?

South American Tour – Buenos Aires – Day 9

Day 9 – Buenos Aires

It was Sunday – the ideal day to visit the San Telmo Market, so off we went on the lengthy, but picturesque walk there. We travelled the full length of the market, end to end. The initial section was full of all kind of arts of crafts – leather, mate, stitching and more. We came across a beautiful church – Convento Santo Domingo – along the way and it was a lovely spot to get out of the sun for a break in the peaceful surrounds. As you can see in the photos, it was under restoration, with much of the ceiling still in serious need of attention.

Still ‘beefed out’, we chose an Indian restaurant along the route and were treated to some wonderful curry. We shared veg curry and a lamb dish. Interesting spin on the spicing – not sure how, but definitely different than other Indian curries we’ve had. As we approached San Telmo square, the antique markets took over and once in the square, Tango dance performances took over.

We timed it well, and were treated to a fantastic tango show in the square. It was sweltering hot, and the electric fans put out for the dancers were a small respite – not sure how the dancers managed to stay cool looking as we were fully wilted. We walked to the very end where La Boca begins, but it would have been an even longer walk through the worst part of the city, so we decided to head back as it was already late afternoon. So a cool beer later, we were back for siesta and a leisurely night in where we took advantage of our airbnb kitchen to actually cook and eat in… what a strange feeling!

South American Tour – Buenos Aires Argentina – Day 8

Day 8 – Buenos Aires
So actually starting this post on Day 7 with our travel to Buenos Aires. Our flight was delayed a 1/2 hour but otherwise smooth. The arrival in BA was less smooth. We decided to use the recommended airport taxi service on the advice that other taxis are not trustworthy and at the very least may price gouge. The quoted 1/2 hour wait for a taxi turned into 2 1/2 hours. In addition the only kiosk in the airport selling SIM cards was closed for construction, and my gmail account got locked by google due to ‘suspicious’ activity. So we had no way to contact our airbnb host to let them know we were now over 3 hours late.

But good Samaritans came through when we arrived at the apartment. A nearby hotel desk clerk allowed me to call our host and she immediately met us in the lobby. Marisa was very helpful and gave us lots of great advice. We quickly ran out for some groceries for breakfast before the stores closed at 10pm and then out for a ‘late’ dinner – which apparently is NOT late for the locals.

Day 8 was finally a full day of walking with NO BEEF! Our first stop was to the local shopping mall where we successfully ‘phoned up’. Then off to the Recoleta Cemetery where we intended to stay for a short visit – but stayed for a lengthy one. It is like an amazing little city with new and old mixed together. And as you can see, many spiders have been in residence. Many tombs went below ground quite deep for several floors with caskets on many levels and some seemed to be only above ground. Some were recently interred, others very old; some well kept and others decrepit. It was a true village of neighbourhoods. We visited Evita’s tomb – Eva Peron among many others.

After a short siesta, in the later afternoon we went to visit Plaza de Mayo in the city center with the Casa Rosada (Pink Palace), Metropolitan Catherdal and the Needle. The Metropolitan Cathedral was deceiving; on the outside we didn’t even realize what it was – until you step inside and then there was no doubt – Cathedral!

The architecture in Buenos Aires is beautiful and unique and Michael was in his element for photography! And through the city are random statues, some inviting you to interact with them; very fun and engaging. The youth Olympics are being held in BA in October this year, and the city centre had the rings already in place. The routine women’s protest was in process around the central area also. Women in Buenos Aires are very involved and vocal here which is impressive to see.

For dinner we found an Asian tapas restaurant where the meal got better with each course. My fav was the sweet rice cake which was breaded and fried topped with piquant salmon. Every dish had the flavours very well balanced especially the use of ginger. The ginger ice cream to end the meal was superb. We do love the beef, but it was a nice break from asado. And although we skipped the beef, we didn’t skimp on the ice cream….we couldn’t resist another stop at a heladeria where we had more dulce de leche along with raspberry for me and chocolate for Michael. Oh so good…

South American Tour – Mendoza Argentina – Days 6 & 7

Days 6 & 7 – Mendoza

Feb 15 & 16 our time in Mendoza was winding down. We had a chill-axing day on the 15th, which was good as it had really warmed up – mid to high 30’s and surprisingly humid with no breeze. Today Michael made his famous Montgomery Westerns along with hashbrowns. The plan was to initiate Bauti on the cooking process, but he had been up sick during the night so didn’t get his first lesson. Some of the neighbourhood kids joined us along with Iliana, their mother, who brought fruit and whipping cream to complete the scene with the mandatory Irish Coffees.

She also brought her Mate and taught us the basic etiquette. One person ‘hosts’ the mate and they offer to one person at a time, who drinks it dry. They return it to the host who then refills it and offers it to another and so on. When it is ‘washed’ (no longer providing flavour), the host knocks the top layer off and adds fresh mate. You never take out the bombilla (straw) either. It is very common to have mate get-togethers with family, friends and neighbours where you share a mate and socialize.

One other interesting observation here that both Mike & I made, were the garbage storage bins. First, you need to know that there are lots of dogs here. So on garbage day, the garbage is raised off the ground, often in cages, to protect it from the dogs. In the barrio’s, they are commonly underground out of sight. Many of the storage containers are ornate and a wide variety of materials are used.

We spent the afternoon doing laundry, packing and generally getting ready to depart. Jasmine took me next door to meet her friend, Mariana Tripoli, a visual artist who makes jewelry – obviously a purchase was involved given my obsession with earrings :-)! She even custom made the earrings to match a necklace I loved. Her work involves both felting and metalworking – I adored it.

That evening we headed back into Mendoza but without Marcelo as he was under the weather also with a severe headache. Our first stop was the amazing statue dedicated to San Martin in General San Martin Park. Last year was the 200th year of independence, and Bautista had learned about it extensively in school. There were several new plaques dedicated during the anniversary in addition to the many preexisting ones – some which are clearly rubbed for good luck quite often ;-). The view from the hilltop was wonderful as it took in much of Mendoza, and we managed to catch sunset on the way out. As it was getting dark, we squeezed in the fountain but cut the rest of our visit to the park short and headed for dinner.

We met up with Alice, Marcelo’s brothers wife, and her daughter Anna. The ravioli with mushrooms and sweet potatoes in walnut cream was deadly rich and yummy! I took Hilario for a walk along the strip and he was hilarious (well named!) and captured many smiles. He was enthralled by a live music performance and stood mesmerized. A whole table of young girls fell in love with him and took many photos. Back home, we sat up late chatting with Jasmine for our last night here.

The last morning Mike & Jasmine headed back into Chacras to get some lunch so I stayed with the kids (Jasmine did a kid swap with Iliana so that she could drive us to the airport). Marcelo stopped by from work to say good bye, and the kids understood that we were leaving and wanted lots of hugs and kisses – no screaming Mallo (meanie) or Loco (stupid) tantrums from Hilario this morn.

And so our tour in Mendoza was over…so quick, but so wonderful. Endless thanks to Jasmine and Marcelo for their hospitality – it made the trip so much more special.

South American Tour – Mendoza Argentina – Day 5

Day 5 – Mendoza

So day 5 was actually Feb 14, Valentines Day! Marcelo was back at work today – we really lucked out having booked our trip unknowingly on this extra long weekend.

We headed back into Mendoza with Jasmine and the boys to check out the ‘squares’. Mendoza’s main square, Plaza Independencia, is surrounded by 4 other squares; Plaza Italia – where we watched a children’s performer and Bautista participated; Plaza Espana (Spain) – the fanciest with many tile murals and monuments and the pathways were tiled with many different small tiles in the mix; Plaza Chile – who recognize Mendoza for their assistance with earthquakes (reciprocal appreciation); and Plaza San Martin with it’s statue to ‘the liberator’ of Argentina. All are well treed with the acequias doing their role in keeping Mendoza green.

We visited the Mercado Central – with it’s fish, meat, cheese, nuts, fruits & vegetables, the food basic – dulce de leche, not to mention sunglasses and more. We had pizza and a beer just as it was closing at 1pm. Then some more strolling around the city – where Michael captured more street murals and graffiti along with more ‘Vendimia’ posters. And before heading home we stopped in for some coffee Havanna (espresso with sweetened condensed milk) and alfajores. So enjoying eating πŸ™‚ And for dinner Jasmine introduced us to Milanese (basically a breaded cutlet) – which we experienced many a time later in the trip as it’s a basic menu option almost everywhere.

And before the day ended, Mike and I picked up some groceries so he can attempt Westerns tomorrow morning for some neighbours. Bautista’s friends are fixated on ‘American breakfasts’, so Mike’s on duty. But bacon is not an easy thing to get outside of Canada, so hoping our panceta ahumada works out as a substitute!

South American Tour 2018 – Mendoza Argentina – Day 4

Day 4 – Mendoza
When you are on vacation, you often lose track of time. And so it was for most of February 13, when I thought it was actually Valentines Day. It wasn’t until late in the day that I realized my faux pas!

Mike rose early to catch sunrise, and also headed out at end of day to catch sunset. In the morning we met some of Bautista’s neighbourhood friends. It is amazing how they also play with Hilario and hug and care for him. And when they met us, and each time they greet us, we kiss cheeks as a sign of caring and respect. Very inclusive and loving – a great way to live.

This was perhaps our favourite touring day from Mendoza. About 11:30 we headed off for the desert to Laguna del Rosario; bit of a long drive but amazingly worth it. Most people would not know about this place, but that’s the advantage of travelling to visit a local with a deep history of the place. When the Spanish first settled here, they built 7 churches in the desert. The one we went to was the 3rd built and is now in the same spot despite several earth quakes at the location. The current church was built in the 1880’s, the previous 200 years prior and the original in the 1500’s. The church is still used each Sunday, and is well maintained as is the cemetery around it. There seemed to be many houses in use but we didn’t hear anyone apart from the odd motorcycle. It was a bit like being at the scene of a spaghetti western.

The original natives of the area were tall, thin and black, but are all dead now. One white family lived with them and the father created a dictionary and the son recorded many stories – but that is about all that remains of their entire culture. They were partial nomads who raised goats and grew carob and corn. Some carob trees survive, but they are few and far between. The houses are still traditional adobe with outdoor ovens and toilets. Not quite sure how the people here survive – there are some goats, but no sign of gardens and no apparent way to earn a living.

The green parrots make funky giant stick nests on top of posts or trees. They squawk noisily if you approach their vicinity. But they didn’t seem to disturb Marcelo’s siesta. (He did do a lot of driving and we were cutting into his siesta time after all)

From town we headed for lunch to Puesto Dias. Lunch was great – nothing to order, you just get what they are serving for lunch! We had salad, tomatoes, Italian zucchini, olives, cheese, and bread. Then a plate of warm liver and kidney pate. Then the roasted baby goat – very nicely done. For dessert there was candied melon and goiabada with cheese. And of course, with everything…wine πŸ™‚

Before the dessert arrived, the goats where driven in. When we arrived there were 3 babies and 1 mother in the pens, along with a couple sheep and horses. Just after 5 pm – there were 700! All looked might healthy and were only a little hesitant of Mike’s camera as he photo’d their arrival. A bit later, the horses were taken out for a ride. All but one that is, and although it let Hilario touch him, it did try to eat him!

South American Tour 2018 – Mendoza Argentina – Days 2 & 3

Days 2 & 3 – Mendoza
February 11 (day 2) was a chilly one at only 10 C! It was raining back home in Canada – so not all that much temp difference. After a leisurely breakfast of yogurt / coffee/ fruit and pastries, we headed for the foothills to Jasmine & Marcelo’s property, about an hour drive to an area with lots of agriculture. No fruit or veg could be brought into the area to ensure no contamination of local crops. So we had to stop for veg inside the region – and they had the very common foosball table of course. We had a ‘campo’ near their property, and Bauti immediately took me exploring to the riverbed where we found some bones, and many footprints – bird, fox and mouse. We had another asado (so more meat, cheese, wine & beer – all excellent) along with Paul and Fiona. They are a Canadian couple from Winnipeg who have been in Mendoza for 20 years now. They were very helpful in guiding our Buenos Aires agenda as she goes there a fair bit.

We hiked around the property which is lovely – but quite remote and isolated. On the way back we got a flat tire, but Mike & Marcelo were able to change it quickly. The next few days provided Marcelo with quite a challenge however trying to find new tires. It was a super long weekend (we lucked out as it gave us more time with Marcelo), so lots of shops were closed.

We stopped at a local beer pub on the way back and sat outside with lots of fires going it was so cold! We included campari and Fernet con Coca as it was too chilly for beer drinking. Can’t say we’re big fans of the Fernet & Coke, but it sure is a popular drink here.

The next day our plans had to change due to the flat tire. The drive out to the desert is not one to make on old tires – so Marcelo spent the day trying to source a solution. We did manage to check out a cool little bodego, Estrella des Andes (Star of the Andes). It was an old train station and there were lots of antiques around, and a local stone artisan had sculptures around the grounds. and of course, the standard foosball table. Once again we ate and drank too much – but no regrets.

On the way back, we stopped by the chapel on the old Ortiz family finca (farm). Marcelo’s great uncle still lives there. It is still well maintained as is the small ‘machina’ (machine – Hilario’s favourite thing in the whole world!) water wheel in the canal.

After a short siesta, we went out for ‘dinner’ which consisted of ICE CREAM and coffee. The dulce de laite con nuet (with walnuts), and the marscapone con frutas del bosque (with berries) were amazing – they certainly know how to make ice cream!

And as a final success for the day, Marcelo went with Mike to borrow 2 tires from his brother-in-law. They went out to his sisters home, an old school house, to pick them up and also check out the horses. We were invited back to ride another day, but unfortunately that never worked into the plans. Bauti and Hilario are now getting lessons tho’, so next visit we’ll look forward to seeing their progress!