SOUTH AMERICAN ADVENTURE - February/March 2017


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South America » Argentina » Buenos Aires
March 13th 2017
Published: March 13th 2017
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ARGENTINA



Hoorah we are travelling again - this time with our good friends Bob & Elaine, who we met in Tobago in 2003 and have been close friends ever since. We will be visiting Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and the Falkland Islands where Paul wanted to go to in 1982 only to be told that he could not due to other military commitments at that time. Most exciting for me though was to be able to cruise the Southern Ocean around Cape Horn.





LONDON TO BUENOS AIRES VIA PARIS



We flew out of Heathrow with Air France to Paris for our connecting flight to Argentina and 13 hours and 45 minutes later we had left Europe far behind and had arrived in South America. We had travelled Premium Economy though so were really lucky to have had quite a bit of space and seats that reclined without disturbing those behind you … … I think all Airlines seats should be like this as it would take a lot of stress out of air travel. We have had so many unhappy occasions when people in front of you recline their seats as soon as possible after take off, without having the curtesy of saying so, sending anything on the drop down table top flying off! Notwithstanding the fact that if you wear Varifocal glasses you cannot see the small TV screen when its nearly right in your face!!





Anyway moan over and back to our travels - coincidentally Buenos Aires the vibrant capital city of Argentina is known as the ‘Paris of Latin America’ - so we had really travelled from one Paris to another! If you ‘google’ the city it will tell you it is a place of stylish people and buildings, wide boulevards and leafy parks, poignant history, gastronomic delights, tango in the streets and extravagant arts and architecture - something for everyone. We had arrived on Saturday and the wide boulevards were quiet, with little traffic as we drove to our hotel from the Airport. We were staying at the central Lancaster Hotel and it was early morning so we were not expecting to be able to get into our room. However the kindly receptionist said that we could upgrade to a suite for the equivalent of £10 and these rooms were ready, so we were able to drop our bags, freshen up and head out on to the streets within a couple of hours of arriving on the American continent.





The city is divided into barrios (neighbourhoods), each different, yet all full of so much character. Its centre, the Plaza de Mayo was lined with stately 19th century buildings including the pink stone Casa Rosada, an iconic, balconied presidential palace which we had glimpsed as we drove to our hotel from the airport. Research mentions that to experience the joy of being in Buenos Aires then you should explore these barrios on foot, pausing often to sit in a street café to sip espressos or a cold beer and people watch. That sounded like a good plan as we only had a very short time in BA and only had two items on our ‘wish list’. Firstly it was to visit the Recoleta Cemetery, ‘why a cemetery you might ask’, but it was apparently the place to go when visiting BA. The other was to be able to watch dancers perform the famous Argentine Tango.





Getting around BA was pretty easy as most of the city is relatively flat with long grid-patterned streets. Our street map was clear and we soon found our way wandering around the small back streets as well as crossing over a massive 16 lane dual carriageway, lined with stunning Silk Floss trees in full flower. This flowering tree is deciduous and native to the tropical forest of South America and has many local names but I quite liked the name it has as it aptly described this pretty tree covered in large bright pink flowers. It belongs to the same family as the lovely Baobab trees we had recently seen in Tanzania as well.







RECOLETA CEMETERY



The area known as Recoleta is best known for its lavish cemetery and the final resting place of important people, presidents and also where Eva Peron is buried and Napoleon’s granddaughter. The cemetery was a 35 minute walk from our hotel so it was great to stretch our legs after so long sitting on the plane. It was getting towards midday so a little warm but soon after a ‘little’ incline up the Plaza Francia we had arrived at Eva Peron’s last resting place. The entrance was rather grand with tall white Doric style Greek pillars marking the main entrance to this ‘City of the Dead.’ Outside the mausoleum’s gates a weekly market was in full swing with locals and a few tourist milling around the stalls. We walked through the pillars and were happily surprised to find there was no entrance fee and were immediately met with these huge gothic tombs with live sized sculptures of religious icons, bold crosses, cathedral like domes and many winged angels peering down as we walked along the avenues. We had never seen anything like it before and it quite took your breath away……





There are estimated to be about a quarter of a million people buried here in large ‘family tombs’ straddled side by side along these ‘little’ streets. It was very much like a miniature grid designed city that one would live in with alleyways, squares and little plazas. These streets though are just for visitors as the only residents here are in perpetual sleep. The layout of the streets reminded me of Pompeii & Herculaneum in Italy - another ‘City of the Dead’, we had visited a few years ago. As we strolled along a feeling of great wealth and power was obvious and the inscriptions stated it was the final resting place of many past presidents, generals, poets and writers etc etc - so only rich and famous families could afford to be buried here in this mid city location.





The most visited tomb of course belongs to the Duarte Family, and contains the body of the former ‘first lady of Argentina’, Eva Peron (Evita). Iconically more remembered by the song ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ recorded by Julie Covington for the 1976 album, Evita and which was later included in the 1978 musical of the same name, the song written and composed by the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. A map at the entrance gate informed us that her tomb was number 88, so we followed the ‘streets’ to get there, but you really did not need a map as her tomb was the one where there was the largest group of tourists. It was a very low keyed structure compared to some of the other tombs but much more colourful as it was adorned with floral tributes pushed through its grilled entrance as well as a couple of fresh floral bouquets on its stone steps.





EVA PERON



When we asked our city guide about Eva Peron she said that the people of her country were divided equally 50/50 on whether they liked her or not as they were in most political situations in her country - it was always a close contest - she said, ‘she was not a witch and she was not a saint’ … …



Born in 1919, María Eva Duarte de Perón, also referred by the affectionate Spanish diminutive Evita was the second wife of Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón and the couple were very popular amongst many Argentinians. Born in poverty she became a stage and film actress and married the future president in Buenos Aires and championed women’s rights, funding the nations first female political party and received great support from the poor but opposition from many others. Sadly she died with cancer aged just 33 in 1952. Shortly before her death she was given the title of ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’ by the Argentine Congress and was given a State Funeral, usually only reserved for heads of state. Juan Perón was elected to a second term the year of his wife’s death.



Later the Peronist party was outlawed and Juan was exiled but returned to Argentine in 1973 and was re-elected for a third term. His third wife Maria Estela Martinez, known as Isabel Perón succeeded him as President upon his death a year later. Although today they are still controversial figures, Juan and Evita Perón are considered icons by the Peronists and praised for their efforts to eliminate poverty and to dignify labour.



Three years after Eva Peron's death, her embalmed corpse disappeared, removed by the Argentinian military in the wake of the coup that deposed her husband. The body then went on a global odyssey for nearly two decades until finally with the assistance of the Vatican the remains of Eva were taken to Italy and buried in a Milan cemetery under a false name. In 1971 the body was flown to Spain where it was on display in the home of her husband until he died. In 1976 her body was returned to Buenos Aires where it was briefly displayed before being finally buried here in the Recoleta Cemetery.





Recoleta Cemetery is considered to be one of the most beautiful of its kind in the world and it really was quite unique the likes of which we had never seen before. Walking around the cemetery the sculptures and tombs were fascinating and unique with many stylistic differences from one vault to the next. Some were tightly packed together whilst others dominated huge areas. Rather than being as expected overtly macabre, the first thing you noticed was the beauty of the tombs ranging from fairly plain, to intricately detailed and many were powerfully imposing and spectacular. Others were unquestionably great ‘works of art’ in their own right and must have cost a fortune to design and build.





Most of the caskets themselves were in crypts below ground, however some were placed just inside the entrance of the tombs at ‘street’ level and others were in open and closed chambers above one’s head. These being later ‘extensions’, as the crypts below filled to accommodate more family members as the years went by … … It was much more poignant to see these with many bodies entombed just a few feet from away from you, especially the ones that were in a state of disrepair, although overall the cemetery was kept in good order.





On the way back to our hotel we stopped at one of the many pavement street cafes and sampled some local beer and wine and had a delicious meal before we headed back to our hotel. The next morning we headed to the domestic airport to catch our flight to Iguazu which was one of the highlights of our trip to South America so we were really excited to be visiting this area at last. The airport had a very scenic location bordering the wide body of the River Plate.







IGUAZU FALLS - The meeting of the Waters



Although only a short flight of about two hours from Buenos Aires our plane was cancelled and we were put on to another flight which was full and we found that our four seats which we had chosen together were now ‘scattered’ across the aircraft … … We did not get any window seats so had no window views which was a shame but the flight was quick at least.



BRAZIL

We were met at the airport by a local guide who said that instead of going directly to our hotel he would take us to see the falls from the Brazilian side so we would need to cross from Argentina to Brazil at the border crossing first. We had been told that the falls were even more spectacular on the Argentine side than on the Brazilian side but we did want to see them on both sides to form an opinion of our own. We know that having viewed the mighty Victoria Falls from both Zambia and Zimbabwe you get a totally different view perspective from different landscapes.





The Brazilian and Argentine sides of the falls are both national parks; Parque Nacional do Iguacu and Parque Nacional Iguazu respectively. Similar to Amazonian rainforest there are high temperatures, humidity and rainfall encouraging a diverse habitat for flora and fauna.



The falls form the boundary between these two countries spread along a 2.7 kilometre ridge through pristine rainforests. They comprise 275 distinct waterfalls with the largest ‘Devil´s Throat’ which falls 85 metres down to a long narrow u-shaped chasm far below.



We stopped at the border post and completed the necessary documentation and drove over a long bridge, above the River Iguazu that divides the two countries. Half way across the paint on the curb stones is changed from the Argentinian colours to the Brazilian national colours. Green and yellow for Brazil and pale blue and white for Argentina. We were not allowed to stop on the bridge but you could see the river stretching into the distance on both sides. Although the falls only border the two countries the River Iguazu joins the Rio Paraná here and three countries meet; Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay - hence the meeting of the waters.





A short while later we were at the falls entrance gate where we had to catch one of the many buses to view the falls themselves and before long we were gazing over a multitude of different water falls. It really was a spectacular view even though it was busy with many tourist you could still see the nightly falls cascading over the rock canyons. We took so many photos but none of them does it any justice you just have to view it with your own eyes to appreciate its beauty. We hiked along the cascades and were greeted with wonderful views each time we stopped and were also joined by little family groups of South American Coati (Quati) a species of the Possum family, with long ringed striped tails. They are omnivores and raid the litter bins trying to steal people´s packed lunches or anything else they can grab! We were to see hundreds of these little mammals around the National Park on both side of the falls.





Crossing back over the border, we had to queue this time to get checked out of Brazil and back into Argentina - someone had overstayed their Visa and it was taking a long time to process the problem. As we drove to our hotel we noticed that all the cars had their headlights on even though it was not dark. Our guide informed us that in Argentina and other South American countries, the law requires you to have your headlights on all the time day or night ..… Unlike in North America, Argentine headlights do not come on automatically whenever you start the car. You have to remember to turn them on, we found it quite strange to see cars with their lights on during the midday sun. The speed limit in most rural areas is 70 mph (110 km/h). The majority of drivers observe seemed to observe it or drive perhaps a few miles over although we did come across a few drivers who went much faster.





We checked into the Sheraton Hotel which although expensive was located right inside the National Park and we had a wonderful view from our room of the giant falls themselves surrounded by the lush rainforest - so worth the additional expense for us. Although it was a very upmarket hotel it did not have coffee/tea in the rooms and the food was nothing special which was a shame but I suppose you cannot have everything with views like that!



As the hotel was within the national park and many of the scenic falls views were on tracks directly from the gardens one was not allowed to venture in before the allotted time and the doors to the back of the gardens were kept locked until the park officially opened at 0800 hours. However we did see a few people venture out of the front of the hotel and sneak around to the back on to the tracks before the ‘offical’ time. We of course waited for our guide and set off exactly at 0800 hours so did avoid most of the crowds. Our guide was very informative and we followed several rainforest trails, each terminating at more and more wonderful view points.



One of the main highlights of the falls on the Argentinian side is called the Devil´s Throat. To reach it, one had to first take a little train through the rainforest. However the train queues were huge and our guide said we would be better to walk along the side of the track. All along the track we had to avoid walking on these little black clumps on the ground and on looking closes you could see that it was hundreds of Black Caterpillars slivering along the rainforest floor en masse. It was getting hotter as it headed towards midday with the temperature reaching 39 degrees and with at least 70 percent humidity it was extremely hard going.



We stopped for a rest at the end of the track and the train did only arrive just before us but we still had a further hike to do to get to the Devil’s Throat itself. Obtaining a good ‘sugar hit’ with some cool lemonade we sat in the shade and spotted our very first Toco Toucan high up in the trees which was magical such a lovely colourful bird and nearby a group of Androgeus Swallowtail Butterflies were dancing all around us.



Once refreshed we walked out across the upper vast water table and rapids of the upper river on a metal walkway to view the Devils Throat, tumbling over the very edge of a 85 metre drop - it was just awesome. We did catch the train back though as the temperatures were still soaring and we had another hike to do that day. Whilst waiting for the little train to arrive we spotted a Capuchin Monkey swinging in the trees above our heads and he stopped and posed for a photo before clambering off into the undergrowth.



Later we were lucky to spot a Giant River Otter feeding just near the edge of yet another waterfall, our guide had never seen one before and we stayed and watched it for ages swimming along on its back whilst eating anything it could find. The falls are home to many rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, among them the giant otter and the giant anteater. The otter is the longest member of the Mustelidae (weasel family) and can reach up to five and half feet long. Above the falls a large group of Black Vultures were floating on the thermals swooping down just above our heads.



We were lucky to see so much wildlife in the rainforest that surround the waterfalls and ideal location for them all. We particularly liked the brightly coloured Chestnut-eared Aracari, the Plush-crested Jays which were very colourful more blue than yellow. We also spotted groups of Southern Lapwings, a common yet handsome bird of open habitats throughout much of South America. One family group were being permanently trailed by their youngster but were soon to move off with the youngster closely following if you approached too near. In the middle of the rainforest we spotted a cute green and blue Humming Bird feeding on some red flowers in the dense undergrowth, these birds are hard to identify so was not sure what it was.





We ended our hike taking the Lower Falls Trail and even though we had seen so many waterfalls of all shapes and sizes from every possible angle we were still astounded with the view that greeted us here, it was truly amazing. At one point, we were totally surrounded by waterfalls, on a narrow walkway that extended out to the edge of several of them, affording views up to three massive falls with the Devil´s Throat tumbling down the middle. We got drenched many times as we walked across the metal walkways but it was defiantly worth the soaking not withstanding it cooled one down in the heat of the day. To stand at the edge of these viewpoints and listen to the noise, the power and rush of water was immense. To see the gallons of water tumbling just over our heads and then disappear into the abyss below would stay with us for a very long time to come.



We have been fortunate to visit many waterfalls including Victoria Falls in Africa and Niagara Falls in Canada but I can truly say that these have been the most magnificent by far.



ARGENTINA AGAIN



The next day was Bob’s Birthday but instead of celebrating it became a ‘journey from hell’. In brief; our plane back to Buenos Aires to catch our Cruise around Cape Horn was delayed - this seems to be a permanent fixture on these flights to the falls where they appear to double up many flights to Iguazu!! Once on the plane the turbulence was dreadful and then we flew into a thunderstorm just as we were coming into land. With lighting flashing, thunder roaring and the plane swaying in the strong winds we did finally land only to be told by the crew that as it was ‘raining’ and so we were not allowed off the plane for safety reasons! I watched from the plane window as the ground crew unloaded our luggage and saw one of our bags being thrown into a large puddle … …half an hour later with the rain not improving the pilot said that we could get off the plane if we wanted … … we did … … …





BUENOS AIRES PORT



Luckily our taxi had waited and we drove through the city amongst heavy traffic, the roads turning quickly into fast flowing rivers as the rain continued. At the cruise terminal there was no one to greet us, apart from a very rude lady who said she should not be on duty and was only staying to help those delayed on our flight - there were about 20 of us. Our Holland America Line cruise ship did not have any shuttle buses to take us through the container port to meet our ship so yet another long wait. Finally we were allowed through the necessary security checks to board the shuttle bus and driven amongst the huge containers all stacked up ready to go to their finally destination - it was life amongst the container here….





When we finally reached our ship there was no-one around and we had to carry our luggage across the narrow gangway in the pouring rain. One poor lady nearly fell off the gangway but luckily she made it and finally so did we. Will not go into detail here but needless to say we did make several complaints…..





Luckily we did manage just to make it to the dining room for dinner, we had not eaten all day and also had not been offered any water so we were really thirsty and hungry.





Once we retired to our little on board cabin we started to unpack to find that all our clothes were soaking wet, some stained where the dye had run between our clothes. Our Eagle Creek bags are usually very waterproof, so they must have been left out in the rain for a very long time at the airport - we were very disappointed with LAN airlines and still are.



It had been a bit of a day and the ‘icing not on the cake’ moment came when my small backpack, which contained my zoom lens, spare batteries and my prescription sunglasses had got lost somewhere between our hotel and the cruise boat never to be seen again. I think it must have been in the chaos of getting off the plane and whether I lost it or it was stolen I do not know but it has not been handed in anywhere. The reception staff on board were really helpful and did contact the airline without success before we set sail.





Even though we had boarded our ship we still had another day in Buenos Aires before we set sail. However instead of enjoying our time in the city we spent a really hot day trying to locate a new zoom lens for my camera and some drop down sunglasses to fit over my prescription glasses. We visited lots of possible shops but most were selling mobile phones rather than camera supplies (how times have changed). Just as we were about to give up someone directed us to a Canon dealer and we did at last manage to find a replacement lens, not as good as the one I had lost but better than nothing at all. Trying to get something for my eyesight though proved too difficult. We also missed out on seeing some Argentine Tango and glimpsing a little more of BA on our final day in the city. Thank you Bob & Elaine for joining us on our hunt for our lost items - we did get a great cup of coffee and tea though!!







THE START OF OUR CRUISE



We are not really ‘cruise’ people, and have only ever undertaken one before and that was a convenient way of getting us from Alaska to Vancouver in Canada. However we did quite enjoy our time on board the Statendam so here we were at the start of another cruise with the same shipping line, Holland America.

This time we wanted to get out into Antarctic waters and pass Cape Horn and also see the large King Penguin population that were located in this area. Again this was one of the easiest and cheapest way to get to see them on the Falkland Islands as well as sail around the renowned Cape Horn on the tip of the Americas.



So after a very unhappy and difficult day we were now hoping that our journey would be on much ‘smoother waters’ cruising on the Zaandam heading south to the Falkland Islands and Cape Horn - hopefully we will see you there … … …


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