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