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Day 12 – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

Day 12 – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

Up early for a morning flight. Quick taxi ride to the Areoparque and an eventless flight south to the little town of Ushuaia. The airport here is like I’ve never seen before. The interior in all exposed pine, reminiscent of our place in Sussex street, but with cleaner edges, higher ceilings and a lovely sense of light. Quite charming really.

The town makes me think of all the little tourist towns supporting skiing and surfing. Every third shop is for branded gear or clothing, very second a bar or eatery, mainly pizza and pasta. The view over the bay at 9 pm, when it is just starting to become dusk, has the most gorgeous reflection on the glassy water. Hard to imagine that not that far from here Drakes Passage awaits.

The supermarket has a very odd system for queuing ( thanks for the heads up Alex) and the man at the express queue seems thoroughly depressed, despite having a chair so he can sit down while he works.
The hotel we are staying in is the Las Lengos, in the middle of the hill / mountain the town Is situated on. This time we are on the first level so no elevator woes as we had at the Sheraton, and no beeping elevators like the Bristol. We do have a construction site outside our window, between us and the view,   But we are working on the assumption they’ll stop by the time we go to bed. As with many cooler places the rooms are overheated (for our tastes) but we turned on natures air conditioning by opening the window.
Up the hill Angela and Lorri are staying in a fancy place where you can set your alarm, and instead of an annoying noise, the blinds slide up and the curtains gently open to reveal a view of the bay.  Now that is style. I look forward to Kingsley implementing this for me at home on our return.
Fun fact leant from Di and Dave, there actually are monkeys at Iguazu and the sign off the balcony door warning you to keep it closed so they don’t steal your things has merit. 
And you’ll be delighted to know we found a laundry service just around the corner so we dropped off all our stinginess and should no not be shunned on the boat. At least not for being stinky.
It’s funny walking around a strange new town and running into people you know. The other members of the group we are travelling with have been arriving here over the last few days so there were a few chance encounters as we wandered into town for lunch.
We also had a lovely dinner with the bulk of the group. We are very lucky to have the talented Bridgid (sp?) along as she speak fluent Spanish and was able to liaise with the waiter on a number of issues. 
Serving sizes here are big. Far bigger than I can ever manage. I nearly insulted the waiter by passing my dish over to Kingsley to finish. I never thought I’d say this but I can do without anything with cheese in for for some time. 
Not much else to report today. We’re off into Tierra del Fuego tomorrow at the very civilised hour of 8:40. Internet here is sooo slow so no pictures today.
Day 11 – Buenos Aires

Day 11 – Buenos Aires

Today is brought to you by the number 3 and the letter C. The number 3 is for the number of dachshunds spotted today, all short haired, two minis and one standard. The letter C is for Closed on Mondays, which summarizes most museums  and the ecological reserve.

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It would be fair to say we probably should have availed ourselves of the hopping element of yesterday’s hop-on, hop-off bus tour to visit these things when they were open. We choose to see the silver lining that our tramping about today with nowhere in particular to go helps our match fitness for clambering in and out of zodiacs and up icy embankments in the weeks to come.

We did mange to see the cemetery, get a closer look at the UNESCO listed ugly skyscraper, which from street level isn’t nearly as ugly as I thought it was yesterday, have a stroll along the front edge of the ecological reserve, not get our laundry done AGAIN by being disorganised, had a leisurely lunch and evaded  a second round of sunburn. We also managed to get lost on our way to join a walking tour (missing it entirely) and have a cheap eat with cheap beer in the antiques end of town.

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With a little Prior Planning and Preparation we might have maximized our time here a little better, but we have nearly a full day here on our return journey so will be visiting the history museum and the ecological reserve on our way through then. Possibly dinner and a tango show depending on how deplorable the budget is looking by then. Apart from seeing a multitude of statues and Evita Peron’s  tomb I have sadly learnt very little about how Argentina came to be the place it is, which leaves me feeling like a very bad tourist. I could google it and pretend I’ve learnt it here, but that would be cheating. What I did learn is that an awful lot of the art and some of the gardens have been donated to Argentina by other countries. I wonder which government department sits down each year with a gift list for other counties of the world. Do they all have a calendar of significant dates like a birthday list (foundation, independence etc)? I’m sure there is a committee for that.

I should note that the people of Buenos Aires have clearly been reading about the coming zombie apocalypse. Nearly every mausoleum / crypt is bolted, padlocked and chained shut to slow the rising dead from attacking the city when it all starts. Now that is thinking ahead. However, some appear to have tried to make a break for it already with a number of broken hinges, glass and general disrepair. In all seriousness, wandering around cemeteries is another one of those weird religious type tourism things that leave me a bit iffy. The best bits were the cats who are apparently there to keep the rats in check, although the one I saw was more interested in eyeing off a pigeon snack, and the statue of the lady and her dog which had a Tim Burton kind of aesthetic. When I go, burn me and and feed my ashes to a tree. Failing that, the dog statue was nice.

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I expect Buenos Aires is much better suited to night owls than to we morning people. We went out for a quick breakfast this morning and ended up at a cafe run by Surly and Grumpy I(clearly not morning folk). What I initially out done to a bad case of mondayitis may in fact have been blue market blues. In December the newly elected president of Argentina freed up the currency exchange, which has none some damage to the so called blue market. That is the exchange of US dollars for peso and vice versa. There used to be a big difference between the official exchange rate that offered on the blue market. Now it is just one or 2 %. The cafe was still doing some trade while we were there, but I assume it is not as profitable as it was just two months ago.

After a bad currency exchange experience in my youth in Bali I’m a bit of a sucker for a more official exchange, so paid the lazy tax and changed our cash at the hotel. You pay a premium for peace of mind, but not that much of one in this instance. Kingsley and I have also come to an understanding that perhaps it is best if I look after the money side of things as dividing by 10 and dividing by 100 seem to be interchangeable for him when it is getting late in the day, and adding 10% to things can also be problematic. Play to your strengths is the key. He talks to strangers and I dole out the cash. And don’t ask me the difference between left and right. 

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I’ve also realised that I struggle much more with navigation in cities where the ocean lies on the wrong side (east) like BA than those white the water is where it ought to be on the west like Santiago. Go figure.

We’ve found BA to be reasonably affordable if you want it to be. I think we have been surprised by the lack of diversity in the food between here and home. Mainly grills joints (parrillas) serving enormous quantities of meat, salads and potato dishes, Italian pasta and pizza joints and general cafes with sandwiches and the norm. Nothing seems to stand out as something we haven’t tried before, but perhaps we have been looking in all the wrong places. Serving sizes are big, so an american thing not just a north american thing. I have read about some amazing closed door restaurants, but they are a bit above our price range for this trip and a,lso require the 3 P’s. Always leave them wanting more as they say in the classics I suppose.

Having carted my camera bag all over town for two days for no very good reason I’ve come to the conclusion that most days I should just leave it at the hotel and use my phone for the obligatory travel snaps. If I have the time I can always go back to a particular spot at the right time of day for anything more serious. I’m also working very hard to stick to my normal workflow rather than taking shortcuts and regretting it later. it is a bit frustrating when trying to get blog photos done quickly, but I know, deep, deep down, that I’ll kick myself  if I don’t and bugger it up and end up losing shots I want to keep. Other notes to self while I’m on  that subject (bear with me for those others of you who are actually reading this), before my next trip I need to get a light weight laptop not this hulking boat anchor, and bring a usb hub so I’m not having to switch between mouse, camera or card reader, iphone and primary and backup external hard drive. you would think I’d know better.

My last observation is that platform shoes are back. Can anyone explain that to me? We are going around in sensible shoes and have had about five near misses on rolled ankles so goodness only knows how these girls manage it. Especially when you’re dodging the drips form the multitude of air conditioners retrofitted to every classic building in town ( I can hear the numerous architects whose names I have forgotten from yesterday rolling in their graves, or crypts or mausoleums or ashes beneath trees or whatever) . I can only imagine what life must have been like in the days when effluent was tossed out of Windows. I’m not sure that ever happened here.

We fly out to Ushuaia tomorrow morning, so a few more days in Argentina before we get on board our boat. Our first job on arrival is to get our blooming laundry done finally or we are going to be the most unpopular people aboard.

PS : I know I still owe you day 8. I am now thinking I might schedule it to publish some random day when I’m out of contact to see if you’re paying attention. There is a cute, giant, ponderous rat in that post.  I know, I know, a rat I like.  Who knew?

Day 10 – Buenos Aires

Day 10 – Buenos Aires

We’re staying in a sweet little hotel in the middle of town. It has a brass revolving door at the entrance and lifts that you swing open on the outside by hand and an automatic inner door.

We did manage to get out and about for dinner last night, muddling our way through the menu and ordering with a little help from our waitress.
Knowing that we have to stay up again tonight we slept in, not leaving the hotel until after 9. Unheard of. To get a feel for the city we opted for the hop-on, hop-off bus tour, complete with audio guide in several different languages. Apparently it also comes with a bottle of wine. You’re not allowed to drink it on the bus. That was fine, it was 10:30 in the morning.
This is a pretty big city, full of a variety of impressive buildings, including the first concrete skyscraper that has been heritage listed by UNESCO. It is very, very ugly.
If you’re into architecture then this tour will likely mean more to you than it did to me.  I don’t really know my French provincial from my neoclassical. Gothic I can probably pick at a pinch. There are also a seemingly huge number of art museums, but I didn’t hear them m etiolated one for history, which interests me more. The history museum won’t be open tomorrow so that’s on the list for the return journey.
The audio guide does give a little bit of history as you go along, but each bit of the guide is tagged to a particular location it seems, which means when there is no traffic and you move quickly it cuts off part way through the commentary. I may never know why the zoo was ground breaking in the late 20th century. 
The headsets they you give you are a bit average. Luckily Kingsley had his own ear phones in his bag so we used those and could hear what was going on. It’s a double decker bus which is open to the elements so sunscreen is a must. Take care to apply it all over, failure to do so will leave you with sunburn, right Kings? A hat that won’t blow off in the wind is also required. I think both of those points serve for anything you do here in daylight hours. It is hot out there.
There is a little stop ‘for lunch’ at a cafe that gives a mini tango show. Great to see and the charming gent gave the girls on the bus a quick lesson and photo op. A black coat and fedora made all the girls look the part and the ladies look great with intense eye contact with their instructor. One girl was more excited than most, I’m not sure what her story is. Maybe doesn’t get out much or was raised with the Armish? That’s not fair, she wasn’t quite that excited. Nearly but not quite.  I’m sorry to say I think I have forgotten everything I ever learned in tango class, and  I didn’t bring my dancing shoes on the trip so declined the opportunity. Kingsley was the invited up. Probably just as well. The lady dancer was drop dead gorgeous and I may have had to continue to Antarctica alone.
Lots of things are closed on a Sunday, not least laundry services. Not even the hotel offers laundry on a Sunday. With an 11 day boat trip ahead we we hoping to get washed and pressed here, but it may be a rush around in Ushuaia instead.
Buenos Aires isn’t quite as pedestrian focused as Santiago but we are yet to have to walk on the road which sets it apart from most places we’ve visited in Asia. There are a lot of statues, monuments, fountains, parks and museums. It makes me hungry to know more about what they represent.
We’re back at the hotel for a nap as the restaurants don’t even open until 8 so I’ll need some z’s. 
Day 9 – Iguazu to Buenos Aires

Day 9 – Iguazu to Buenos Aires

Before you start, I am well aware I’ve missed a day. It was a great day, and I have started to write it up, but the lack of Internet in our room at the Sheraton in Iguazu Falls just made things harder than it needed to be, so this is going to be out of order.

Today was a travel day. Or at least that was what I was expecting. What I didn’t take into account is that they eat late here. Like after I’m normally tucked up in bed late. So I might have to tough this one out and stay up past 9pm… We shall see.
We had a nice lazy start to the day with breakfast at the hotel. I felt obligated to dig out the macro lens I brought with me around the gardens for little effect, and then Sergei, our driver from yesterday, who you don’t know about yet, picked us up and drove us the 15 minutes or so to the airport. Check in was easy and we got extra leg room in the emergency exit row for no charge. Might be to do with the split demographic. Either partners with children or the elderly with strength or movement impairment. We are both safely in middle age with no kids we were a good fit. It didn’t stop Kings sticking his feet into my space though. 
We ran into a NZ couple at the airport who are traveling with an annoying Australian. Who knew they were out there 🙂 they are off to some cricket to in Buenos Aires. I’m glad I’m not traveling with them.
Uneventful flight. We ended up spending more time in line to exchange USD to pesos than in the air. That may be a slight exaggeration but not by a lot. The baggage carousel advertised was not the one our baggage was actually on, but following a man shouting randomly in Spanish we found our bags. Kingsley’s was missing his luggage lock which was interesting…
The taxi ride into the city and the Hotel Bristol on the main drag took about 15 minutes and cost about 150 peso. I felt significantly safer in the car with Sergei than this taxi driver. I guess there are also fewer speed bumps in Buenos Aires. The music in the radio was a 80’s mixup so strange flash backs.
It is definitely cooler here than it was at Iguazu. Again the air conditioning in the hotel works. For those of you who don’t know our friend Craig you may not understand why I keep mentioning this. We walked in to our room at his ‘happy place’ temperature of 17 degrees. The view is not quite the same as our last hotel, looking into a back alley this time, but the room is cozy and the location is great.
Stuck between lunch (which we missed) and dinner (which is at a crazy-person hour here) we popped down to the local supermarket for some cheese, crackers, beer and medicine (some may know that as wine). Very thankful ro the lady behind is in line who explained what the girl at the checkout was trying to tell us about returning beer bottle for a Refund, like in Vietnam only less hand waving. Must study more (aka some) Spanish before coming back to South America.
The hotel we are staying in is just south of ‘the obelisk’. This part of the trip I have delegated to Kingsley to organise for good or ill. I recall when I took some tango classes with a very dear friend 12 or so years ago the most important lesson I learned was how important it is to allow someone else to lead. I will be dredging up that lesson over the next two days. I don’t know that I’ve been a very good student over the last decade so wish me luck.
First impressions are that this is much busier, less pedestian focused than Santiago was, and a lot more smokers. Might be my low blood sugar though. We shall see when it gets cooler and we head out.
Day 8 – Iguazu Argentina to Iguassu Brasil and back again

Day 8 – Iguazu Argentina to Iguassu Brasil and back again

Here is the picture of the giant, ponderous rat I promised you. Capibara by name and super cute by nature.

On Day 8 we spent the day being driven around by the lovely Sergei so we could see the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls.. He made the trip quick, simple and fun.

He picked us up at the hotel at 7:30 as requested, which turned out to be ideal timing both for setting out and for our later return as all the traffic was going the other way.

Our itinerary for the day was the Brazilian side of the falls, a helicopter ride over said falls for Kingsley in a Bell Jet Ranger (the same model of helicopter that we had sitting in our driveway for a month or so), the bird park and finally a tour of Guira Ora, the wildlife rescue centre back here in Argentina.

This final destination was the most interesting. Our guide spoke both English and Spanish so commentated the walk in both. We we the only English speakers but felt included the whole way round.

It was fascinating to hear that they get animals and birds in not only from road accidents and general misadventure, but also surrendered animals from people who have taken native animals as pets but have discovered that the little things that was cute as a wee thing is now trying to savage them (now illegal here) , from seizure or confiscation by authorities and as a result of injury from trapping or hunting.

These included some native cats, porcupines, toucans with missing wings or legs, monkeys and the biggest otter I have ever seen in my life.

The birds and animals that form the tour for visitors are those that have no prospect of re-release. Those that are blind, have had feet or wings amputated or have been kept in captivity as pets and would not know how to fend for themselves in the wild. The animals that will be rehabilitated are kept away from the public which is as it should be.

We learnt that the largest of the toucans is like a pelican in that it can be car versus, devouring the chicks of other birds. That sweet and open demeanor is just a cover. Beware birds bearing large beaks.


In contrast I felt a bit iffy about the bird park in Brasil. Most of the enclosures were relatively roomy and full of stimulation, but I didn’t get the feeling that it was about conservation as much as tourism. The butterfly house was lovely, but they don’t stay still any longer the than in the jungle.

The border crossing, as I mentioned yesterday (well of day 7 seeing as I’ve posting this very late), was the first I’d done on land. As I’m sure all of you already know that me at first going through Argentinian immigration (very slick) and then Brazilian ( looks like it was slick once but now not so much). Sergei took care of it all for us. At the Argentinian border then is a fast lane for tourists and you pass your passport over form the car. We had to slide open the door so the guy in the booth could see us, but it all took about 3 minutes and we were on our way.

On the Brazilian side Sergei just took or passports into a little office then about 15 minutes returned with them stamped and processed. If you recall we had our visas sorted in advance. The return journey worked the same way, except that we needed to show our reciprocity tax receipts at both.
The rain gear came in handy again as we did the other side of Garanta del Diablo.

The other side of the falls is more panoramic. You arrive at the visitor centre then jump on a bus that takes you out to where the water is. This is one we wouldn’t have wanted to walk because it is too far, not all that interesting and there is no pathway. The bus is a double decker so you can look at the rain forest from up high. E most interesting thing to watch on the bus was the very sweet little girl and her loving dad on the the seat in front of us. She was loving the ride and the most beautiful smile. It was a reminder to enjoy the simple things like the feeling of wind on your finger tips.

I may expand on this if I have time, but we check out of the hotel with the very slow internet very soon and I want to get this done, so here are some pictures of the beautiful creatures who live in this part of the world, and one of Kingsley. We did see wild toucans while at the hotel and they look pretty silly when flying.

Day 7 – Iguazu Falls National Park

Day 7 – Iguazu Falls National Park

I’m looking at the window as I write and I am struck by just how green everything is here.  From our window we can see Brazil. Our family has always lived on islands. England, Guernsey, Australia. This whole being able to see another country from your window thing, let alone drive to it takes some getting used to. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve traveled before, but all my border crossings have been through airports or ferry terminals. Tomorrow will be a first for me, transiting to a new country by road.  It is very weird to think I’ve lived this long and have never done that before.  And not because I’ve stayed home for all of my 40+ years. But I am getting ahead of myself, that’s tomorrow.
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Unlike our Santiago apartment the airconditioning here works.  Too well in fact.  Craig would love it.  It’s set to 24 degrees, but I’m sitting in the room with my polar fleece on…
Outside it’s another lovely day with blue, cloudless skies (which sucks for sunsets but you can’t have everything).  You do get sweaty after walking a hundred metres, but there is a nice breeze and you can always go and stand in the spray of one of the waterfalls to cool off. Now that we’ve got our bearings the park is very easy to navigate. You’re restricted to the main paths, but given the importance of the site that’s fair enough. It does mean we are unlikely to see any significant wildlife apart form birds and butterflies, but we’re planning to head to the local wildlife refuge tomorrow which helps to rehabilitate critters that run afoul of vehicles etc. Reviews suggest they do good work.
Like yesterday I hit the lower circuit first thing and had it pretty much to myself for a good hour. I was trying out the polarizing filter for pictures of the waterfalls.  It’s one of those cases where what is in front of you is so amazing that photos just can’t do it proper justice.  Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.
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There are an amazing array of butterflies in the park.  Upwards of 500 species apparently. Very few stay still for any length of time. I saw one which was about the size of my hand, beautiful sky blue and black wings. No photo sadly, but I love that thrill you get when you see a beautiful creature in its natural environment.  My heart always beats faster.
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About 10 o’clock we walked up to Devil’s Throat at the north end of the park.  There is a train you can catch, but that requires lining up with gaggles of tourists, so we legged it. The walk took us about 40 minutes each way, mostly in shade but you’ll need water and sunscreen. The track is flat but a bit rocky. Decent walking shoes a must. Butterflies everywhere along the way and a misc lizard of some sort.
On arrival there is a long boardwalk that takes you, and the hundreds of other tourists, out to the top of the waterfall. In retrospect we should have come out here first thing, but you live and learn.
A side note on tourists. The paths and boardwalks here are wide enough to accommodate people walking single file in both directions with room to spare.  However, most of the people here seem to think they own the joint and can spread out across the whole path, stop and block up traffic in both directions to take a selfie and generally think of no one but themselves. And at the cafes, despite the multitude of signs around the park about the Coaties (the biting and the scratching and the stealing little rug ruts that stalk anyone who might have food) we see people either feeding them, squealing at them, or taking their small and very bitable children up to point at them. Apart from that everyone seems lovely lovely…
A side not of coaties. Even with their fearsome reputation the coaties are very cute, and very quick. And like to hang out where the light is dappled.  All of which are my excuses for not having managed to get a decent photograph. First you have to dodge the tourists who are doing all the wrong things, and position yourself so you don’t actually get savaged yourself, or do any of the stupid things I mentioned above, and then you have to wait for one of them to stay still long enough in a spot with enough light.  Well you get the picture, and I didn’t.  At least not yet.
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Back to the Devil’s throat.
The view at the end is spectacular and well worth braving the crowds for. There was a lot of spray, so today I got to try out the wet weather camera gear. The aquatech rain cover worked really well, but you really do need to know how to work all your camera controls without being able to see them ( changing ISO, aperture, focus points etc). A simple rain cover over the backpack worked out too, All good stuff to have tried out before Antarctica.
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Lunch was buffet style at one of the restaurants at the park.  They had a great range of salads etc which was exactly what I was craving. About $30 AUD each including a couple of beers. They take USD and credit cards which is handy.
The up side of staying at the Sheraton is that the temptation of room service is removed from you because we can’t figure out how to get the phone to work. All round Kingsley has been having a frustrating time extracting information out of the guest services staff at the hotel. Simple things like how to get laundry done, what’s involved in getting a car to take us across to the Brazilian side of the park tomorrow and some other odds and sods. I’m just glad he’s taking care of it and not me.
An afternoon walk around the park revealed that it is much quieter than it was in the middle of the day. I saw a stunning rainbow, double in places, and whatever passes for a crocodile in these parts. Also lots of men wandering about with no shirts on, which did NOT improve the view.
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We may meander down to the pool a little later to warm up – yes you read that right and those of you paying attention will know that the pool (bath temperature) is warmer than our room (arctic). Actually, now I think about it this room might be good conditioning for the later stage of the trip…
We are off to Brazil for the day tomorrow. Bird park, National park, a helicopter flight for the K man and the animal refuge on our way home. At least, that’s the plan…

Day 6 – Iguazu Falls National Park

Day 6 – Iguazu Falls National Park

It turns out we’re not allowed to go traipsing around the park until 8am, which is good news for Kingsley as it means he’ll be able to sleep in for the next three days. And we will still get a couple of quiet hours before the unwashed masses arrive.  And do they ever.  Today was a Wednesday so the mind boggles to think what it might be like on a weekend.
I did take a walk around the hotel grounds and spotted a number of interesting birds that I’ll be looking for with the camera tomorrow while Kingsley is snoozing. Today was a bit of an exploration day with the camera and I’m hoping for more success tomorrow.
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After a typical hotel breakfast (no pictures again I’m afraid Michelle, but once you’ve seen one chain hotel breakfast you have seen them all) we geared up and ventured out.

We walked the Lower Circuit first and it was us and three other people, and some park staff doing some pruning Jackson style (ie with a chainsaw). Over the sound of the waterfalls you could barely hear it. There were places where you could get yourself drenched, so I’ll be getting to try out the Aquatech camera raincoat.
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We met up with a number of different types of wildlife including the cute but apparently quite bitey and scratchy coaties (check spelling), a squirrel, sound fascinating insects that move as one slithery slime mould type commune, a toucan (species yet to be determined) and a range of butterflies and birds.
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I didn’t put my pseudo landscape lens to use this  morning, a job for tomorrow, but I’m not sure it will do the vistas here justice. Sadly because of the hours we’re allowed in I won’t be able to get any close early morning / evening shots, but Kingsley did get some good footage on the go pro.
I haven’t seen Niagara or Victoria falls, so it is difficult to know how these compare.  I can say they are awe inspiring in their size, volume breadth and depth.  One of those things in nature that makes you catch your breath and be conscious of the forces that have shaped the very face of the world we live in.  I’m very glad that the three bordering countries all recognise its UNESCO status and are working hard to preserve what truly is a natural wonder.
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The spider pro camera holster worked like a charm.  So much better than a neck strap, though there were some moments when I was extra careful to make sure the wrist strap was fully secured to prevent it going flying over the falls.
The other bit of gear I am delighted with are the shorts I picked up in the last Kathmandu sale.  I’m practically living in them and they are so comfy, cool and have the right kind of pockets in all the right places. They weren’t cheap, even on sale, but I guess it is one of those ‘you get what you pay for’ things.
It is pretty warm and humid out there so we picked up some fast food (empanadas again and still no photos) and headed back to the hotel to rest the feet and have a swim.The water here is like a warm bath, maybe a touch too warm, which is just about unheard of for me.
We had our first proper evening meal of the trip, in the hotel as at night there are no other options unless you get a taxi into town. We had a very nice and very affordable Argentinian Malbec, a Ceaser salad for Kingsley (no suprises there) and the dish which had the most veggies for me.
More park exploration tomorrow.

Day 5 – Santiago to Iguazu Falls via Buenos Aires

Day 5 – Santiago to Iguazu Falls via Buenos Aires

Day 5 was the day I was dreading. It was another travel day, and we were at the mercy of many things over which we had no control. Overall it all went smoothly.
We had a transport booked from the apartment to the international airport in Santiago which arrived on time and whisked through the still sleeping city quickly and quietly. At the airport we attempted to use the self check-in, which worked for me but not Kingsley so I was furnished with boarding passes for the flight to Buenos Aires and the domestic flight from Buenos Aires to Iguassu Falls. Kingsley had a neatly printed slip of paper saying something had gone wrong.
Staff at the bag drop desk were able to assist however and we soon both had boarding passes for the first flight.
The flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires took us about an hour and a half and gave us a spectacular view of the Andes as we flew over.

I have a What The? For the city of Buenos Aires. Why build the international and domestic airports so far apart (45 km) Our connecting flight was domestic, so we needed to disembark, clear immigration, collect our bags, get through customs and trek across town in time to check-in, drop our bags and present for boarding on the new flight. We touched down in BA at 10:50 am, as scheduled. Originally our connecting flight was due to leave at 14:20 pm, but LAN had kindly pushed that back by an hour, giving us more time for which I was thankful.
*i have since learned that the Jorge Newberry airport is an international airport so probably my own fault. Even so…
We managed to clear customers etc in 40 minutes, and the airport transport service I had booked form home was waiting for us at arrivals with my name printed clearly on a board. I saw lots of other people waiting with names scratched on a piece of paper so I felt quite special. Our driver was also in a suit! He didn’t speak any English though, and we have already established that my one day of Spanish in duo lingo doesn’t get us very far. He knew where we were going though so we followed him to his car.
The car was a Renault. Kingsley’s suitcase fit in the boot. Just. Mine did not. It got wedged into the passenger seat, which would have been fit had the car been an automatic. It wasn’t and our poor driver kept prodding at it to make room to change gears.
The drive across town to the domestic airport took just under an hour. We were travelling between 11:30 and 12:30 and there was very little traffic. Being in a strange place the traffic is always the killer. On arriving a possible reason for the distance between international and domestic terminals presented itself. The national Argentian carrier does have international flights arriving at the domestic terminal.  This would clearly give tham an advantage as if we’d flown AA we wouldn’t have had to make the dash across town. I could be wrong. I don’t think I am. I also which I’d done my research as I could have booked our flight from Santiago with AA. Live and learn. 
We had arrived in plenty of time for our flight, in plenty of time if the time had been the original easier time too. It was a big relief. A friendly LAN staff member helped Kingsley check-in and we were ready I for our next challenge, local currency. 
We had come armed with USD to exchange in country, but had heard that the rates oat the airport are unfavourable. We were going to need cash for our transfer form the airport to hotel in Iguassu and the entry fee to the park (260 ARS per person). And we were ready for a drink and a bite to eat.
So I thought an ATM on this occasion would do the trick. I was aware that the banks have a daily withdrawal limit or either 1000 or 2000 pesos. In our case 1000 pesos (approx $100 AUD) was going to be very tight and leave us nothing for tips or spending money on arrival in the park. I couldn’t find an ATM that would give me any more than 1000 pesos.
I should have listened to Kingsley and stopped to work out how much we’d need before heading to the departure lounge area. Then we could have bitten the proverbial bullet and changed some USD at the exchange place there. I figured there would be one at Iguassu airport. I was wrong.
There was another ATM that allowed me to withdraw another 1000 pesos though. I will be looking at two lots of withdrawal charges when I get home so my $200 AUD will cost me $216 plus whatever pain is associated with exchange rates that I haven’t anticipated. Live and learn.
On arrival on Iguassu I was feeling we were on the home stretch. We had been on the move since 5:30 am and as it was now 16:30 we we’re feeling a bit done in. Kingsley had booked a remiss to collect us and take us to the hotel. We stood around and waited until the arrivals hall was empty of passengers except us. No remise.
A friendly taxi driver offered for drive us for less than we had been quoted for the remise, and Kinglsey suspected there had been some mix up with the date he had booked so we jumped in the taxi, where both our bags fit this time and off we went to the park.
There are only two hotels inside the national park. One on the Brazillian side and another on the Argentinian side. We are staying at the Sheraton on the Argentian side making this the decadent honeymoon part of the trip. One of the reasons is that I am very keen to squeeze as much as I can out of the four hours each day between 6am and 10 am when all the bus loads of other tourists arrive.
Our hotel room has an amazing view. You can get a similar view form the patio bar, but as we discovered the seats their are quickly monopolised by the roving packs of octogenarians than seem to be the main residents of the hotel. 

The funny thing is about staying in a more expensive hotel, you seem to get less included. No free wifi in your room here. We signed on to their loyalty program ( I’m expecting spam in my future) which give us wifi in the common areas. Very odd. So I’m blogging from the lobby.
We survived the day without arguing, arrived in the right place, on time, with baggage,  enjoyed a cocktail looking out over greenery to an amazing waterfall. I’m calling it a win.
Day 4 – Casablanca Valley

Day 4 – Casablanca Valley

Many museums and other attractions in Santiago are closed on a Monday, which was the perfect excuse to book ourselves on a wine tour out to one of the valleys near the city. It was $195 USD per person so a bit of an extravagance, but I think we got our money’s worth.
Our guide, Andrea from Uncorked, picked us up promptly at 8:50 and we set off on the roughly one hour drive northwest. On the journey Andrea filled us in on a mixture of topics ranging from history, culture, climate, geography and of course wine. All in flawless English and with a lovely, fun twinkle in her eye. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer guide. We were also the only ones on the tour so had plenty of room to ourselves.
The Casablanca region used to be cow country, much like Margaret River.  It is primarily granite soil and the temperature ranges widely during the course of the day from cool mornings to mid thirties in the afternoon, making it great for some of the cool climate wines like sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. Once you’re through the tunnel you feel the difference in temperature to Santiago immediately. The climate is impacted by the Humboldt current, bringing cool water up from the Antarctic and rainfall to the coastal areas in the south of Chile.
The region is relatively young, with vines only being planted in the 1980s. The first winery we visited is the lastest venture by the man who first started to grow grapes at Casablanca, Don Pablo Morandé. Bodegas RE is a boutique winery with a very clear and delightful philosophy.  They focus on bringing together the old and the new with techniques long abandoned and now recently rediscovered. This includes the use of clay and concrete pots for fermenting wine.
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The cellar door and showroom is outfitted with some charming antiques, the floors are old railway sleepers and the building is designed to work with the climate of the area so they don’t need to use air conditioning.  Mum would love this place.
We tasted a new wine we’d never heard of before, carinena. My favourite wine of the day, and possibly the nicest wine I have ever tasted (big, big call so keep in mind this was the first place we visited and only the thrid wine of the day so my judgement was as unimpaired as it could be). The Cabergnan, 2009 was smooth as silk with all the rich flavours you’d expect from a full bodies red.  If they shipped to Australia I would have ordered a case.  Maybe two.
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The red grapes are grown in the Maule valley on vines that are to 160 years old. They are dry farmed, meaning they are not irrigated at all. And they are not grown on trellises, but as bushes, something I’ve never seen before.
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Wine tasting here, at least the ones we were treated to on tour, are not the small tastes you pay for at home, but almost full glass paired with bread, cheese, the nicest olives I’ve ever tasted and balsamic and olive oil. No spittoons in sight. The tour of the cellar and the grounds was just as enjoyable at the wine and Bernadette was very informative and entertaining.
Our next stop was the Kingston Family vineyard. Also very nice but much more like any other winery with stainless steel vats. A pretty outlook though. We were joined by a couple form Arizona who were a bit more into their wines than we were.
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For lunch we stopped at Viña Quintay. I didn’t catch the names of all the dishes, but salmon ad seafood prevailed, with a cheesecake to finish off. Again, we didn’t need to worry about dinner when we got back.
The other things we learnt about the region is that frost can be a real problem. They used to use the old fashioned method of fires along side the rows of grapes, but because many of the vineyards are next to the freeway, and there is fair amount of fog about, that was soon outlawed. They now use fans to move the air about, the igloo effect by misting about the buds, or helicopters to stir the air and bring the cool air up and the warm air down.
As an Australian traveling I always stress a little about how the tipping works. I end up never known if I’ve tipped too much or not enough. There are some guides out there so I just followed along with the. And went for 10% in most cases, though as lunch was included in the tour price I had to take a wild stab in the dark when leaving a tip at the restaurant. I also didn’t realise you’re meant to tip the girls packing your groceries at the supermarket so I feel bad about that. At least there is no haggling in Chile so that is one less thing to worry about.
The location of our apartment has been amazing.  Less amazing is the woeful air conditioning.  Craig would not be happy. Seeing as we are only here a few days it wasn’t worth trying to communicate the issues to the poor girl at the well hidden reception, but paired with the very load garbage collection in the street below between 1 and 2 am we haven’t been getting a lot of sleep.
We found out from Andrea that the roads are closed every Sunday for the cyclists and runners so that answers that question.
That completes our time in Chile. It has been lovely and it is on my list of places I’d like to come back to and explore further. Santiago seems to be a city at hat would be easy to live in.

Day 3 – Santiago

Day 3 – Santiago

Technology makes traveling a different beast to the one I knew in my twenties. On this trip in particular we seem to be carrying a vast array of electronic devices of all shapes and sizes. I remember my trip to Europe in 2003 armed with the shared investment of a new and exciting digital camera with shutter lag that meant you could have a nice cup of tea between pressing the shutter button and the picture being taken. We had mobile phone, but google maps was still a twinkle in Larry Pages’s eye.

Having had the obligatory talking to by iiNet before activating global roaming at home, I live in fear of getting home to an enormous bill in case of allowing a megabyte of data download while I’m away. Most of the places we will be staying while on land include free wireless which is awesome. And today I’ve made the breakthrough discovery (that the rest of the world has probably known about for forever, or at least the last 10 years since Google maps was released) that you can download a offline area in google maps that comes complete with directions.
That saves me the anxiety I had yesterday when I realised we didn’t have a paper map to navigate. So old school, who does that now, right?
 The best of directions won’t always mean you do the right things in the right order, and today we estimate we walked a total of 35-40 kms, at least ten of which could have been avoided. I don’t regret a step of it, but the ones that included navigating lots of steep, slippery steps at Santa Lucia hill are going to be felt in my calves and butt muscles tomorrow I expect. Despite going the long way once today I still stand by the impression that Santiago is a great city to find your way around, even if you are navigationally challenged like I am.
We set out at about 8 am. Nothing really opens here until at least 10am, but an early start means you get to enjoy a very comfortable 17 degree walking temperature and you have the place pretty much to yourself. Well, not entirely as there are a number of people out clearing up litter from the day before, and people walking their dogs. 
I should warn you now there will be few pictures of architecture here. There are many pretty buildings, but I have taken pictures of pretty buildings in my previous travels and rarely go back to look at them. Most building photos are likely to be on the iPhone. I should add that this morning while entering one of the main parks, Parque Forestal, we were looking at the cute young pug being walked much more than the very handsome, important building across the road ( I believe it was gallery of some sort).
I mentioned yesterday that Santiago is very pedestrian friendly.  Well that goes double for Sundays, or at this this Sunday. Many of the roads in the city were closed so that the locals could pull on their Lycra and ride or run through the city unimpeded by cars. Lots of these happy runners and cyclists took it upon themselves to express their zeal by riding or running up San Chistobel, yes, that big freaking hill with the Virgin Mary statue at the top.
We got tired just riding the Funicular up the side, but hundreds of folk, in the 35 degree midday heat , braved the steep and winding road to the summit, at which point they all sat around comparing Fitbit results, drinking some kind of sago like tea and eating empanadas, kind of like the MAMILS at coffee shops on a Sunday morning back home.
Back on the flat, at a particular set of junctions street performers busked for the cars stopped at the traffic lights. We saw ballet dancers and jugglers and some guy with a glass ball like David Bowie from Labyrinth. As the lights go green they flit their way amount the cars collecting cash for the performance. Much more appealing than being accosted by boys and their squeegees.
Every day in Santiago seems to be take your dog to work day.  Most ages seems to have a water bowl out for their canine guests and dogs happily seem to go into shops with their people. Some dogs clearly take themselves to work though and are likely street dogs.  Most of these still appear to be well fed. There is a collection of four kennels in the big park that presumably are there for the use of the dogs when the weather is inclement. Apart from the afore mentioned pug we also spotted five dachshunds during our travels today and resisted the urge to rush up and try to communicate with their confused owners that we are crazy dachshund people. 
After we discovered that where we were going didn’t take us as long as we thought, and that the Funicular that takes you up the hill didn’t start running until 10 we performed our first backtrack to climb up Santa Lucia hill. Very pretty with some nice views and crazy crazy steps with somewhat dodgy railing to hang on to and you and it fall to your deaths. If your not very mobile this may not be for you. We saw two ladies with a local guide and were tempted to follow them from a discrete listening-in distance, but decided against it. We did get a good view of the big hill that the crazed cyclists were riding up though.
Having pottered around for a bit we trekked back to San Christobel to find it now in full swing. We bought return tickets on the green trolley cars at the weekend price of 2600 CLP per person (around the $5 mark) and waited in line for our turn. 5 minutes later we got off at ( or at least close to) the top.
We went o have a look at the big statue, as you do.  The huge radio tower at her back it a little distracting. As a side note I find the religious tourism thing a little odd, being an atheist myself. I’ve visited any number of cathedrals in Europe and templates and such like in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Bali. I always feel awkward as I see people lighting candles, firecrackers or whatever, and praying to their deity of choice. I feel like an intruder, though few have ever seemed to mind and I try to be as discrete as possible.
Once we’d grabbed a drink and a bite to eat and oohed and aahhed appropriately at the view of Santiago from above we ran out of things to do at the top and jumped on the next Funicular to the bottom. That left us with an hour and three quarters until our lunch reservation at the highly rated (TripAdvisor) Peumayan Ancestral Food restaurant in Bueno Vista. In retrospect we could have found somewhere to sit and have a cool or warm drink, but I felt sweaty and wanted to change before lunch so we decided to walk back to the apartment, dump some gear and freshen up. 
On that note, my tip to fellow travellers would be bring more tops that you imagine you’ll need. I’m going through two a day at the moment in an effort to not be too stinky.
The trip home would have been fine if we hadn’t zagged rather than zagged on the way back, taking 40 minutes rather than 20 to return.
Lunch lived up to expectations nicely. They do have a vegetarian option on the menu, but if you’re put off by the fact they also have horse on the menu best to avoid.  We did NOT order the horse and I try not to impose my cultural values on others, but I must say the idea made me feel a bit icky.
The first dish we were given was a tasting plate of different traditional breads. Only one was made form wheat, the rest being various grains, legumes or potato.

We started with two cocktails based around Pisco sour which were lovely and followed that with a nice rose, because we’re on holidays and we can. The service was top notch and we are very glad we booked as lots of folk were being turned away. Lunch, consisting of the complementary bread plate, palate cleansers between each course, cocktails, a bottle of wine, shared tasting plate and two mains came to 60,000 CLP including a 10% tip ( approx $120 AUD) but given that we’d probably spent $50 for a steak sandwich and a pint each at the Inglewood it was well worth it.nit was also the only meal we paid for all day as we had toast and sloppy marmalade in the apartment before heading out. In retrospect a good move as I don’t recall seeing anywhere open to serve breakfast…
By the time we were stuffed to the gunnels it was 3 pm. The funny things is that in Santiago it seemed significantly hotter at 3 than at midday. I’m not certain if that is scientifically verifiable or the lunch talking. Either way, we had planned to head across town to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos. This turned out to be a longer walk than we anticipated, so if your planning a visit I would recommend checking out some public transport, or going in the morning when it is cooler. 
They have an English audio tour for hire at 2000 CLP ($4 ish AUD) which is recommended as everything is in Spanish. We should have allowed ourselves more energy for the visit as by now our feet were whinging and whining like bored toddlers and we didn’t make it through the whole exhibit. It did give us a taste for what Chile went through during the rule of the Junta and a desire to least more about the history of the country. It is always amazing to realise just how recent some of the atrocities people do to each other world wide really are.
The walk home was hard work and we promptly collapsed fro a nap, not feeling any desire for dinner as our bellies were still distended form lunch. I’ve dragged myself out of bed to write this but won’t be up for much longer.