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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

(April 2009)

I’m back in Buenos Aires for a few days before heading back to Canada. The city has a population of around 3 million and a metropolitan population of approximately 13 million. This time I’m staying in the microcentre and aside from doing a bit of shopping I want to take in some green spaces. The best place in the city to find green space is Palermo.

The Buenos Aires Zoo is an 18 hectare, 45 acre, park and holds 2,500+ animals. When you enter you see a number of free-ranging birds and animals on the grounds. Two common rodents, but the first time I had encountered either, are the mara or Patagonian hare and the semi-aquatic nutria, or coypu. My camera stopped working eight days before my return but you can see images of these animals here.

I saw a couple of condors again. I realize a zoo is a place of research and education but after seeing these large birds in Colca Canyon and the High Andes this struck me as too confined a space for them. Watching the baboons also seemed a little odd. They seemed quite intelligent, although could be rather aggressive. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a zoo.

The Buenos Aires Botanical Garden is located near the zoo. It was designed by landscape architect Charles Thays and is a lovely oasis in which to retreat from the concrete. It’s also home to many abandoned cats.

Buenos Aires has a great public transit system and I took a commuter train from Retiro station to Tigre. Tigre is a town on the Paraná Delta, about 30 km from BA, and is a popular tourist and weekend spot. I took a catamaran tour along the brown delta waters. There are hundreds of islands, some have cottages or resorts, there is even a hostel, but most are not populated. Due to flooding the cottages are on stilts. The town itself is also nice to stroll through.

I’ve come to the end of my excursion in Mexico and South America. I don’t quite feel ready to leave but having spent the final five weeks trying to get around with a hamstring injury has tired me. Travelling is physically demanding and it feels like I could use a vacation!

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Colonia del Sacramento is a small picturesque city with a population of approximately 22,000. The historic quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the layout feels less formal than many of the places I’ve been.  This former Portuguese smuggler’s port was founded in 1680.

There’s not a lot to do here but it’s a great place to relax. The people are very friendly. The historic quarter has a gate and drawbridge at what was the entrance to the old walled city. The cobblestone streets are extremely cobbled! Many of the old building facades along Calle de los Suspiros – Street of the Sighs – are colourfully withered. Other streets are also lovely. The trees and plants add a striking and vibrant contrast. As in Cuba, there are a lot of old cars.

Colonia is a popular getaway destination and, while some travellers just come for the day, I stayed a few days.  With each day you notice more, whether it is the direction you walk up or down a street in, or the time of day and how the light plays on the buildings. The sunsets seemed different each night and, until now, I hadn’t realized I missed waterfronts. I checked out the various small museums – being a former potter I enjoyed the tile museum. The Municipal Museum has a dinosaur bone collection and taxidermy room with many birds, butterflies and insects. I enjoyed the food and wine in the many restaurants and cafes, as well as passing around the yerba mate and an asado at the hostel, explored the shops, strolled the waterfront and checked out Plaza de Toros, a former bull ring, in nearby Real de San Carlos.

Photo courtesy of Richard Abernethy

To get here, I took the Buquebus, a large ferry, across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. This was on my way back from Puerto Iguazu. Unfortunately, my camera died the first evening here.

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(Late March 2009)

I can hear it long before I see it! The roar of the Devil’s Throat, “Garganta del Diablo”, pulls me towards it like a magnet. The sight and sound of the cascading water and the feel of its spray is euphoric! As the quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt goes, “Poor Niagara!”

Before actually hearing or seeing the falls I boarded the park’s Rainforest Ecological Train, which stops near the Devil’s Throat trail entrance and the Upper and Lower trails. With my hamstring injury walking is still slow and painful and I am very happy about the train.

I soon spot a coatimundi. The park is full of these large racoon-like animals but I don’t see another one. I do see hundreds of butterflies! Apparently, they are attracted to sweat and urine. I also encounter several Plush-crested Jays along the catwalk trail to Garganta del Diablo.

Devil’s Throat is a u-shaped cataract, 82m high, 150m wide, 700m long and it marks the border between Argentina and Brazil. It is the largest of the falls but the real magic comes from taking it all in. It is one of the world’s most spectacular waterfall systems.

There are actually 275 falls along 2.7 km of the Iguazú River. Iguazú Falls has an average annual flow of 1,746 cubic metres per second (m3/s) and a peak flow of about 40 ha. Situated amid the incredible beauty and vastness of the rainforest, Iguazú National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

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(Late March 2009)

San Ignacio Miní is one of the best preserved Jesuit Missions of the Guaranís and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. At its apex in the 18th century San Ignacio was home to about 4,000 Guaraní natives.

I had boarded a bus in Buenos Aires the previous night and now, around 8 am, the bus came to stop and one of the drivers informed me that this was San Ignacio. From the side of the bus I was sitting on I couldn`t see a town but once it pulled away I saw the tourist office directly on the other side of the highway. I stored my backpacks at the office, got directions and headed into town in the direction of the ruins.

There is a small and informative museum at the entrance to the site. I’m here before any tours arrive and it’s quiet. I can hear many birds and see a few walking amid the grounds. I have another of those breathtaking moments as I encounter the red sandstone of the primary settlement and I marvel at how nature is reclaiming the housing ruins.

In the early 17th century the Jesuits began establishing missions, or “reductions“, and ran them for the next 150 years. They built 30 missions in Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. Each mission was run by at least two priests and included a church, hospital, school, craft workshops, housing and irrigated agricultural and pasture land. All the residents worked the communal land and children received educational training starting at the age of seven. A native language dictionary was created and the Guaraní became the first literate culture in South America. The Guaraní were trained in many crafts and became highly skilled musicians and artisans with a distinctive architectural and sculptural style referred to as Guaraní-Baroque. Art and music were used in their conversion; however, unlike other reductions, the Jesuits did not force the population to adopt European customs. The missions were autonomous, economically successful and provided protection from slave hunters. In 1767 the Jesuits were expelled and the missions fell into ruin. San Ignacio was rediscovered in 1897.

I’m glad I made this stop and by early afternoon I`m standing by the side of highway again waiting for a bus to continue my journey on to Puerto Iguazú.

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Don’t cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don’t keep your distance

Chorus – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina (Evita) –  Andrew Lloyd Webber

I arrived in Buenos Aires on March 22nd, a Sunday morning.I’ve become accustomed to the smaller cities and BA is huge. After checking in at Hostal Sandanza in San Telmo I headed out into the streets to take in the music, tango dancers, street artists, tourists and locals at the famous Sunday Antique Market. It’s a perfect introduction to the city that I’ve wanted to see for so long!

I like San Telmo. The neighbourhood is an artsy blend of the trendy and the rundown. I feel less like a tourist here than any place I’ve been over the course of my travels. I’ve developed a deep appreciation for empanadas and enjoy sitting outside at Plaza Dorrego and taking in the evening entertainment.

La Boca district was home to the original poor Italian settlers and is a very colourful  tourist attraction. Caminito Street and the neighbourhood are full of restaurants, tango shows, artists and souvenir shops. It’s quite a contrast to upscale Recoleta.

La Recoleta Cemetery is home to the once rich and famous and their crypts are rather ostentatious, although, there are signs of forgotten neglect. The song Don’t Cry For Me Argentina from the stage play I had seen way back around 1980 was what had inspired my desire to be in this country and I thought I should look for Eva Perón’s tomb. The reality of pain induced by my hamstring injury dampened my enthusiasm for the search and I didn’t find it – ah, don’t cry for me Evita.

The hamstring injury also means I’m not learning the tango. Perhaps I’ll have another opportunity to embrace it some day.

The flags in the photos are from the National Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice. It’s a national holiday commemorating the victims of the former military dictatorship and is held on the anniversary of the 1976 coup d’etat. At first the streets were empty but later people were demonstrating all over the city, or at least the microcentre.

When I started this trip I thought I’d spend about a month in Buenos Aires but I arrived with just under three weeks left before heading back to Canada and a couple more places I want to see. Surprisingly, after six days in BA I’m ready to head back out into greener environments.

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(Mid March 2009)

Mendoza has a population of about 112,000. The climate is arid and the pace of life seems a bit slower here. Many of the shops and restaurants shut down for the afternoon siesta. This is wine country although it’s not the main sector. Tourism in the area consists of wineries, obviously, a hot springs retreat, and various day trips to the High Andes. I stayed at the Alamo Hostal – great place!

I never cease to be amazed by mountains and the trip to the High Andes was another encounter with the astonishing majesty of these landscapes. I was dazzled by glaciers, snow-capped peaks, Mount Aconcagua – the highest summit in the Western hemisphere at 6960 metres -, and the soft warm colours and subtle hues which seemed in such contrast to this ruggedness. And, I saw another condor!

Aconcagua is a popular climbing destination and it does claim a number of lives each year.  An international climbers’ cemetery is located nearby. Zig-zag fashion, our bus ascended up Mount Santa Elena to the world’s highest Christ the Redeemer monument at the borderline between Argentina and Chile. It was placed there as a symbol of peace and unity. (Note: when at the top of a mountain don’t leave your jacket in the bus.) Another unusual site was Puente del Inca where a natural stone bridge and the ruins of a spa are stained from the sulphurous thermal springs.

Enjoying a glass of Malbec in Argentina, in the heart of the grape’s growing region, is one of those small slice-of-life moments that I’m truly thrilled to experience. Yerba maté, however, is the Argentine national drink. The leaves are placed into a gourd and the brewed tea is sipped with a bombilla, an elegant straw with a filter attached. Hot water machines for replenishing your thermos are popular at gas stations.

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(March 2009)

Salta is a great city with a population of approximately 465,000 people. It’s more popular than I realized and finding a place to stay was a bit of a challenge.

A fact I missed in my research is that the electrical outlets are not the same as everywhere else I’ve been. I wasn’t able to find the right adapter and had to purchase a new battery charger.  It’s kind of nice to do non-touristy things like go to hardware stores. I even used a supermarket – the first one I’ve seen since leaving Canada!

I stayed here for five or six days but could easily have spent more time in this area. The late summer weather is amazing and Salta’s proximity to the Quebrada de Cafayate make it a highly appealing place.

The Quebrada de Cafayate is a truly awesome part of the country. The colours, textures and forms of the landscape are a feast for the eyes. I am here on a day tour and as part of the tour we also visited Bodega Nanni, an organic winery.

The wine is not very aged and is somewhat light and “crisp” on the palette.  Still nice though. Argentina is famous for its beef and I had an amazing lunch here in Cafayate. It’s the first time I’ve eaten beef in a long time and will repeat the country’s cultural food experience.

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