A Travellerspoint blog

From BA to a little place called Uruguay

Buenos Aires, Colonia and Montevideo

semi-overcast 10 °C

From tango lessons to antique fairs, our remaining time in Buenos Aires was spent doing a bit of sightseeing and a lot of relaxing, a little holiday in the middle of my travels. A particular highlight out of all of the touristy activities had to be The Evita Museum. I did not quite realise how much she had achieved in terms of social welfare reforms, the right for women to vote, and being nominated for the position of Vice-President all before the age of 33, when she passed away. I know she has her haters, the "long live cancer" chanters, but I am pretty sure I will not have achieved anything to even compare to Evita by the time I am 33, if ever. We also strolled around the parks in Palermo and one of the things that has continuously amused me with all of the parks is that there are so many dog walkers. They are professional, some of them taking 15 dogs at the same time and they think nothing of walking across 8 lanes of traffic in the middle of Buenos Aires.

On Wednesday 25th May we did as the Argentinian´s do, celebrate the Bank Holiday due to the revolution in 1810. I love it when the roads are closed for these kinds of events so you can stand in the middle of them, and walk along them, when usually you can´t even cross them due to all of the traffic. The live entertainment in front of the Casa Rosada was not amazing, the first few hours aimed at children with dancing frogs, but the atmosphere was great along with all of the street-side snacks- dulce de leche filled ice cream cones!

We also managed to squeeze in a spa day, Stew´s first time at a spa, but there was really no reason for him to feel out of place as I was the only woman there. I don´t know if it is this particular spa, or an Argentinian thing, but the spa seemed to be a great place for male bonding. You just wouldn´t really get a group of men heading to the spa together at home, but then they also don´t greet each other by kissing each others cheeks, so I am not surprised. Also both of our massages were done by masseurs, Stew being asked to get completely starkers for his massage. They didn´t even suggest that I take my bikini off- oh so rejected.

It was then time for Stew to depart and head back to England, so after a tearful goodbye at the port, I headed off on the ColoniaExpress ferry to Uruguay. It could have looked quite romantic, waving each other off etc. but you can´t really shed a beautiful tear like in the movies so my blotchy face just didn´t quite portray the correct image. First stop, Colonia del Sacramento, full of beautiful colonial buildings and cobbled streets. There was such a relaxed atmosphere, so much so that the people living opposite the hostel did not waste their time, or energy, by picking up the leaves in the road outside their house, but instead just set them alight in the middle of the road. I decided to go on a tour of the historical center as most of the signs were in Spanish, so I did not get much information from them, and we had the most over-enthusiastic tour guide in the world. She also had to say each piece of information in English, Spanish and Brazilian, which was a little tedious, but made a whole lot worse by the stupid American man on the tour. He was so obsessed about taking pictures of everything with his many different lenses that he would wonder off and then come back to the group to, each time, ask a question that had already been asked and discussed- Fool.

From the beautiful Colonia to the not so appealing to the eye Montevideo I took a short coach journey to my amazingly cheap hostel. You can´t complain about staying anywhere for 5 pound a night, and it really wasn´t too bad. The main bits to go and see in Montevideo, when it is way too cold to head to the beach, and you have done a lot of walking, are the museums and historical buildings. The not so large but amusing Museo de Carnaval had to be the highlight as I had missed carnival time but still got to see lots of costumes and masks. Some of them were really creepy, with long noses and strange faces but I am sure with the right music and dancing they have their intended affect.

Time to wrap up warm, let´s head south!

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 12:41 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

I think I´ve fallen in love with Argentina

Rosario and Buenos Aires

semi-overcast 14 °C

We decided to travel in style from Mendoza to Rosario on the wide seated night bus that gave you your own little pillow and tartan throw, a couple of interesting meals and a glass of champagne. Deciding to sit upstairs at the front of the coach however, for future reference, has it´s positives and negatives. You do get a seat where people are not able to recline into you, however you also can´t ignore the scary over-taking that the drivers continuously do to get you to your destination on time, (or to ensure that they get a long break).

After our 20 block walk to the hostel we were pretty tired but decided to head straight out into the city befrore check-in, firstly visiting the Monumento Nacional a la Bandera. A very imposing building that dominates the scenery, has a flame burning constantly outside of it, and contains the crypt of the Argentinian flag designer. We seemed to visit the area at a time of unrest due to the protest that was taking place outside of the building. Lots of students sitting in the road, looking like they were having a bit of a jolly, but with some banners, chanting something that we couldn´t understand. The protesters outside the church however seemed a little more serious, with their tyre burning, so we promptly decided to leave the area and not inhale anymore thick black smoke.

We of course visited the usual museums and galleries, Rosario home to the Museo Municipal de Belle Artes which had a frankly weird exhibit where people were filmed pretending to be attacked by sharks. We then strolled around the Parque Independencia and went around the lake in a pedelow. It was at this point that we attracted “Samson,” our wolf like canine friend. He was waiting for us as we came off our boat, did not fall for any of our diversions of walking in different directions, or hiding, and then joined us on our next adventure of visiting the Rosario soccer ground. An intense but amazing experience attending the match of “Newell´s Old Boys” versus “All Boys.” A 1-0 victory to the home team unquestionably made the fans around us, no most of the stadium, go mad, however I am sure they are the same with any result- very passionate and loyal supporters of their team who are at the moment bottom of the league. A plus to watching football matches in Argentina is that tickets for women are ½ price, it should be like that at home. Sitting behind the goal, next to the away fans, meant that we were thoroughly caged in by barbed wire yet the young teenage boys and children seem to use the fencing to their advantage. Not only can it be used to climb up to give a lot more emphasis to your taunting or crotch grabbing at the opposition, you can also tie your jumper to it and make a sling in which you can place yourself close to the pitch for the entire game.

We then moved on and made Buenos Aires our home for the week, staying in the cobbled district of San Telmo. I certainly announced my arrival to the whole hostel by promptly causing a power cut after I had put my rucksack away. I got a little excited by the fact that there were hairdryers provided and did not really look at the interestng wiring before I tried to make it work- my first proper electric shock. Feeling a little tingly we headed out for our first of many steak nights in BA. There are so many nice restaurants in San Telmo, and I have eaten so much cow accompanied by a small glass or Malbec, Stew finishing the rest of the bottle, that I am quite looking forward to a few meat free days. One of the highlights of BA, or San Telmo in fact, had to be the sprawling Sunday antique/crafts market. I could have bought so much but luckily I had Stew there to restrain me, it would not have been practical with a rucksack. Stew then added to his collection of beaded necklaces at one of the stalls and all I can say is that I admire their selling technique. They proclaimed with such conviction that this certain necklace, that they were selling for about 30 pounds, had a pearl on it, a bit of a tree from the Amazon rainforest, and then to top it off a bit of the actual Inca ruins.

You can´t go to Buenos Aires without partaking in a Tango lesson so on the Sunday evening that is exactly what we did. The male instructor was incredibly annoying, a great example of an Argentinian male who loves himself, but the woman was very helpful. She did manage to slightly offend Stew by telling him he had bad posture, but in the end it turned out that he just had a sticky out bum, but she really helped us attempt to perfect our 12 step mini routine. No we weren´t perfect but in all seriousness I think that we did quite well and Stew has certainly developed a great facial expression for his tango dancing. I was also slightly hindered by the choices of footwear that I had to dance in, I don´t think they recommend flip-flops or walking boots but we made it work.

And next time on The Adventures of Stew and Becks in Buenos Aires………………. Coming Soon!

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 14:44 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Let´s Do It Gaucho Style


semi-overcast 14 °C

We have had so much fun in Mendoza, Argentina´s famous wine region. Although the hostel was probably by far the worst that we have stayed in- think box size bathroom where you have to lean back over the sink to get your head under a shower, while there´s an electric socket right by you, and a fan so low that you get your head caught in it, the pastries weren´t half bad. The City itself is full of beautiful little plazas and wide moon lit streets to eat your dinner on while various musicians fill the air (or torture you as one attempting to be an opera singer did two nights in a row). It is a great place to fill your people watching needs, as I so have, and being in that setting does make you feel that in some ways the Argetinian men in Mendoza have it slightly easier than our English men at home. Who wouldn´t feel the romance sitting in the evening in the plaza, by the fountains and their lights, looking at the stars with the warm breeze on you. Against the Wantage park there is really no contest, the rain and the cold, the water pressure pads in the centre, a few ugly street lamps. But then the Argentinian men would bring along a bottle of red wine, not White Stripe, so I guess they know how to work it a little more.

As everybody says, travelling is a very educational experience as you learn so much about yourself and the world around you. Stew and I have certainly discovered some of our limitations, one of these being that perhaps we should not choose to tandem ride around the vineyards of Mendoza while drinking a lot of wine. There are several reasons for this-
1. We do not tandem ride and getting our balance right at the start was post two glasses of red wine, which took a while.
2. I do not drink wine so I´m pretty sure that each glass had a little more of an effect on me than if it had been another beverage.
3. The Argentinian´s are really not stingy with their wine tasting. They do not expect you to participate in any of this spitting out and wasting the wine nonsence that you may do in other places and they give you a good 1/2 glass of every wine that you taste.
4. In Argentina you have to remind yourself to keep the tandem on the right hand side of the road while the locals skirt around you in their vehicles.
I´m sure Stew will not be overenthusiastic when describing my ability to steer the tandem, when it was my turn at the front, but there was no flying off our mode of transport this time so I think that´s success all round. A particular success after we went to the chocolate and absinthe shop and had our large shots of the pure stuff, 75%.

The vineyards certainly provided the scenery in which to tandem around, it was still warm but you had all of the colours from the autumn leaves hanging off the trees and the quaint country buildings that you´d love to be able to move to England and afford to buy. Once we had visited the Tempus Alba vineyard I had started to develop a real liking of red wine, however I fear that I will not be able to continue drinking it at home. The wine that we were tasting was not cheap, and I became very excited when I could start to tell how the wine had been aged and take a good guess at how long it had been in the oak barrel for. I could then actually taste the oak, the certain fruits, the hint of cinammon and realised while I was talking that I really did sound like one of those prats that thinks they know a lot about wine. Maybe I am now a wine snob, I will hate the taste of the cheap red wine at home but will be too stingy to buy a nice bottle- I can see my own downfall already. It was at the Tempus Alba vineyard that Stew and I also met one of the highligts of our trip, Christian, one of the owner´s sons. A man so very Catholic, with a great love of Pope John Paul II, and yet a great realism that the Catholic Church should always be doing more to help people. He really opened up to us, got a glass of wine and sat with us while he explained how his mother is dying of pancreatic cancer and how he feels about it all. Such a humble man who on some subjects talked so philosophically about the many possibilities of a matter and yet on the subject of having children told us very matter-of-factly that he would be getting his partner pregnant at the start of November, for them to have a summer baby next year. We have swapped email addresses so will hopefuly be updated about the progress of this.

From one saddle to another we spent the next day as Gauchos, horse back riding around the vineyards of Mendoza on Picasso and Mezane Rio. Gaucho style horseriding is very relaxed, one handed and slightly slouching as you try and fall into the rhythm of your horse. From trotting around the vineyards they then took us out to gallop along some paths, after they had decided that we were good enough at riding to control the horse and not go flying off, and again we got up to some high speeds. The man in charge, Fabian, was amazing with the horses and so helpful in teaching us how to take a bit more control and get into a good gallop. Stew´s Picasso was less hands than mine but had a bit of a fiesty nature as he went to bite Mezane a few times. I was then told that my horse was the new one and the other horses didn`t like him so I think there was a bit of bullying going on. We finished our 3 hour ride by trying out the Argentinian horse game "Pato" where you throw around a heavy ball with handles and have to get it through goal posts. If you drop the ball however you have to pick it up from the ground while hanging off your horse. You are supposed to do this while your horse is galloping along however, due to our slight lack of experience, we did this while our horses were standing still. It was only Stew and I with the two people that ran the business, and the tour guide, so they got to experience our competitiveness during the game. You have to keep hold of the ball while trying to tug it from the other person, and stay on your horse at the same time, so of course Stew and I would not let go and nearly ended up both coming off our horses. The day was then rounded up with the most beautiful bbq. Fabian says the trick to a good steak on the bbq is a bit of fresh lemon, so we will have to give that a go- don´t blame us if you try it and don`t like it!

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 11:47 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Tango Time

Paraguay and Cordoba

overcast 16 °C

Now I have put this on paper I am sure my luck will change, but South American border crossings are surprisingly easy. From Brazil to Ciudad Del Este (Paraguay) we had a brisk walk across the bridge, made sure our passports were stamped in all of the right places and got to the bus station in just over an hour. From Encarnacion (Paraguay) to Posadas (Argentina) it was slightly more difficult as we had to cram ourselves onto 3 different buses, wedging our rucksacks in with us, but it just shows that crossing the border in South America is not as difficult and stressful as you let yourself imagine. The border officials certainly make it seem that it is a very relaxed affair, wondering around with your passports while they finish their conversations, mint tea, and then eventually give you a quick glance and ink them. But again I have many more borders to cross and will most likely be correcting myself soon. Watch this space!

The journey through Paraguay on our first day however was not quick and easy, 100% the most tedious bus journey I have ever endured. It was only 6 hours long, which is nothing when you are travelling around South America, but it was the fact that you know they could have done the journey in about 1/2 of the time if only they had stopped a little less. I understand that you need to pick up passengers for the bus but when the ticket man gets off every 15 minutes just to have a chat on his phone (talk on the bus, you´re not the driver), or to buy something, you start to generate a few negative feelings towards this man that you do not really know. But to be fair to him he is not selfish with his buying, he makes sure he lets everybody on the street come onto the bus to sell you bread, or pokemon stickers (those were the standard items), which like the bus ride also gets a little tedious. What is nice is that you do not get singled out because you are a tourist, they sell as ferociously to the locals as they do to us.

Our short stay in Paraguay was based in Encarnacion, popular for it´s proximity to the Jesuit ruins in Trinidad, which we visited on our second day. We shared the entire ruins only with the security guard who really didn´t seem to care that we were hanging ourselves out of building windows for a good photo, and the ruins were deceptively larger and perhaps more interesting than we first thought. It was a little eerie going down into the crypt, that they hadn´t put any lights in, by ourselves, but it is supposedly one of the most interesting Jesuit ruins that you can visit out of the many dotted around Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay etc. We also spent some of our time in Encarnacion itself, often sampling the "Chipa"- a bread made with manoic flour, eggs and cheese that I surprisingly liked even though I hate cheese. This may be a turning point. Walking around you could definitely feel the increase in levels of poverty in comparison to the areas in Brazil that we had visited, the lack of upkeep of buildings and seemingly more informal labour. You also would not want to mess with the regular police and security guards that so many shops have, I feel very privilged to live in a country where they are not issued with a huge shut gun as standard.

From Paraguay to Argentina we made the 16 hour night bus journey to Cordoba, Argentina´s so called "second city." On this journey I had the pleasure of watching "Letters to Juliett" in which the guy is meant to come from Oxfordshire, yes we all sound like that, and "Skyline." If you haven´t watched either of the films then save yourself a little bit of time and money and do something better with it. I love Cordoba, with it´s central Plaza San Martin lined with the beautiful Cathedral. They may have gone a little overboard with the gold leaf technique, as with most of the churches in Argentina, but you cannot deny how grand it looks. The parishioners also use so may gestures and expressions when they are praying, I have never seen someone cross themselves and genuflect so much in the space of 10 minutes as one elderly lady, it must keep her very fit. Cordoba also has a great night life and our hostel is surrounded by bars selling Fernet and coke, a herby spirit that I was really looking forward to buying and then thoroughly regreted after my first drink. Luckily there are also some really good cocktail bars and I may have developed a bonbom addiction alongside my cravings for dulce de leche in any of it´s forms. Dulce de leche ice cream is amazing but being given caramel to have on your bread for breakfast is something I could become very used to.

On our second night in Cordoba we went out for dinner and a tango show which was amazing. Sadly there was a lot more singing than dancing in the show but it was still very impressive, the woman looking so sensual and powerful and yet so graceful. The Argentinian Tango was explained to us as a dance in which a man and a woman give themselves to eachother, feeling powerless against the world and knowing there is nothing that they can do about it. During the show Stew drank a bottle of wine and we followed this with cocktails so I got an extra show of the Argentinian Tango as we were walking down the street. I was quite impressed with how high he was kicking his leg but do slightly fear for myself when we do some tango lessons.

We also had a tour of the Cabildo Univerity and the church next to it that was the first church in Cordoba, built by the Jesuits. Once the tour guide had explained how the church was built it seemed even more impressive, the roof completely made from bent wood and cow gum, no nails, and the biggest altar piece imaginable originating as trees in Paraguay. They had carved the pieces there and taken them by river along the route that had taken us 16 hours by coach, effort, but then there are no trees in Cordoba. We also saw some of the oldest books in the library collection of the University. The lady became very defensive when Stew asked how much they were insured for but then I suppose they do not want their cultural goods to be stolen and enter the South American market.

Next stop- Mendoza!

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 14:09 Archived in Paraguay Comments (0)

Falling Water and Falling into Water

Ilha do Mel and Iguacu Falls

sunny 25 °C

So we have left the paradise of Ilha do Mel now and we spent our last couple of days there walking round the island to the Farol das Conchas (lighthouse) and the Fort. On our last day we missed the boat back from Brasilia to Encatadas, where we were staying, so instead decided to set ourselves a time challenge of covering the 5km route as quickly as we could in plus 30 degrees heat. I did some pretty good coasteering in my bikini and birkenstocks followed by some sprinting along the beach. As you can imagine we were both pretty tired when we got back to the hostel.

The meal that was to follow my last blog did not quite go to plan as I had had a few too many caipirinhas and dropped our key between the decking at the front of the hostel. Luckily the tide was out so the key was not instantly washed away and we fashioned some kind of hook from a wire so we could reach the key while two people from the hostel assisted with a torch. I say "we" rescued the key but really I mean Stew as I wasn't of much help after the amazing limy Brazilian cocktail. We were therefore late for the restaurant but as soon as we opened a menu we realised it wasn't quite in our budget- £20 each for an entree. I guess they have a captured clientele on the island but we decided best to be honest and say that we couldn't really afford it, I pretended to feel ill and we regrouped in the supermarket to buy some nice steak for about £4. My moment left unattended sautéing the potatoes however was probably not a good idea as Stew realised when he became aware of the smell of burning tea towel, ( I can't cook at the best of times)!

The trip from Ilha do Mel to Foz do Iguacu was long and tiring but we did manage to cram in a few different types of transportation- boat/ bus/ coach/ train. The highlight had to be the train journey from Morrettes to Curitiba on the Serra Verde Express. Incredibly scenic with lush forest, mountains and close up views of the landslides that had occured in March from flooding, they also had the best honey roasted nuts I have ever tasted! A Brazilian tutor of English, that we met on the bus, explained that in one of the villages that he knows only 2 of the houses are left out of the 80 that were standing pre-flood. It seems that any Brazilian that actually speaks English jumps at the chance to talk to us and ask for clarification of English words. Defining English words is an activity in a language I can actually help with.

From getting off the night bus in Foz do Iguacu we made the underestimated walk to the hostel at 6 am, a nice 5 km walk with your rucksack to start the day. It was then straight out to the Iguassu Falls, the Brazilian side. The 1200m walk to the Devil's Throat was stunning, giving you a glimpse of the 275 waterfalls in the area, only intercepted by the rainbows due to the sunny morning. We then decided to finish the day with what should have been some light rafting down the Rio Iguacu. That was however until the water became white and the raft that Stew and I were in became the 5th in 2 years to completely flip over in the rapids. I put the helmet to good use as I catapulted over stew from the side of the raft that was fully in the air, and then got trapped under it. Yes not being able to breathe while the other 4 in the boat are also grabbing you and keeping you under water is bad, but for me the worst bit was being the last person left in the water and the whirl pools that the rapids create being strong enough that your life jacket doesn't keep your head above the water. We were all a bit shaken when we got back into the raft but it was relatively calm and there was a nice little swimming hole in which we could get pur breath back. I dont think they were quite prepared for the boat to flip but you would have thought they would have had a few more precautions in place seeing as 2 Americans died at the Falls on a boat trip a couple of months ago.

That evening we put our body under a bit of pressure again with a Brazilian Buffet BBQ. The most steak I have ever had in one sitting, accompanied by some very off putting chicken hearts that you could see the arteries, but the most delicious roasted pineapple that I could eat until I burst. We were therefore fully revitalised the next day to go to the Iguassu Falls again, the Argentinian side. On the Argentinian sound it felt that we got a bit more up close and personal with the falls, you could really feel the power of the water that is quite obvious when there is 1500 cubic meters of water passing through an area each second. We also had a tour guide for the Argentinian side that we shared with two other English girls at the start but when they went to do the boat ride Stew and I had our own private tour guide. It was during this trail that he shared with us that the calm part of the river that we had been swimming in after the raft had flipped had piraña in, but not to worry, they'll only go near you if you're bleeding. I didn't really check if I was bleeding after I got chucked out of the raft but I think now I can safely presume that I wasn't.

So Brazil and Argentina yesterday and we have just arrived in Paraguay today. Time to go and see some ruins.

Posted by TEAMNORRIS 18:02 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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