El Calafete – a rollercosta of emotions

The next stop was back across the border into Argentina to see Glacier Perito Moreno. Our memories of what is truly a spectacular natural wonder of the world will always be overshadowed by the first real down point of the trip; where we both had thoughts of just going home.

Before I go into it, the pics below show this amazing glacier which completely mesmorises you, forcing you to simply stare at it for hours as it creeks; eagerly awaiting a large chunk of ice to break off and plummet into the lake below causing a thundering sound that echoes across the entire width spanning over 5 km. The realisation that this is the reminiscence of the ice age makes the whole experience even more magical.

The one main issue with all of the places we have seen in the south of this beautiful continent is that the governments have cottoned onto the fact that wealthy OAPs will ‘pay up’ to see the many ‘National’ Parks. Particularly in Argentina, where they leave you no other option but to take a tour bus into the parks, which on top of the hefty entry fee makes them an expensive excursion that can at times leave you thinking, was it really worth the money? This is especially true when stuck behind a whole tour group of slow walking, rude grannies that always manage to successfully push you to the side to get the view you have been patiently queueing to see, leaving you constantly questioning how far you can take the firm stance before the stubborn witches actually fall over from pushing into you! Forever labelling you a granny basher 😦

The ever soaring cost of the trip and the obvious misjudgement from our part on how much we were mentally prepared to spend on this adventure does play on the mind and effect some of the decisions you make when planning what to see next. It´s for this very reason that we decided to skip Bariloche and the surrounding Lake District since we had heard that it was effectively the Switzerland of South America.

This particular decision had taken some days to agree on, which would mean that we would take a flight directly to Santiago (missing out a large chunk of both Argentina and Chile) from a larger town we had already passed a couple of days prior enroute to El Calefate.

To cut a long story short, the cheap flight we had passed on due to our indecisiveness was no longer available resulting in us making a decision to make the 2500km journey using a number of different long haul buses taking 4 days and 3 nights at a pretty hefty price passing through the lake district.

Had it not been for a dear ‘traveling friend’ informing us of an altrernative cheap daily flight from a different neighbouring town (that would have got us there in half the time and at half the price) we would have been non the wiser to our huge error.

To make maters worse the first 5 hours of the first leg of the trip was onboard a pretty shabby coach which inaddition to the realisation that his would be home for the next 3 days made it quite a depresing moment. Thankfully we changed onto a superior bus and were fed, helping us to pull ourselves together and actually enjoy the wonderful sunsets across the endless plains of Patagonia (even Puft ended enjoying it!)

After 36 hours watching movie after movie, eating pretty awful food, we were happy to reach Barelocie for a quick overnight stay before taking the first of two buses the following day to get us to Santiago on Wednesday morning at 7am (please bear in mind that we left El Calefte at 4:20 on Saturday!)

Whilst it is very similar to Switzerland it was without question a beautiful part of the word that in hindesight we should have stayed at for a couple of days, particulary since the sun was shining and the hostel (a penthouse of an old 70s highrise) was the most welcoming place we had ever been too with amazing views and a cool bunch of fellow travellers.

Another highlight of the trip was the final crossing back into Chile which took us by the errupting volcano that has been causing havock with the flights due to the ash cloud which has covered everything in the region, killing trees and poluting the lagoons.

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Patagonia and Southern Chile: the crossing of the border

We planned to spend the next leg of our trip zig zaging up from the most southerly point in Argentina through Patagonia, crossing into Chile along the way until we reach the warmer temperatures of Santiago and beyond.

Our first stop was Torres del Paine which is accessed through Porto Natales in Chile. The coach journey from Ushuaia took over 18 hours; whilst we weren’t expecting it to take so long we did start the trip prepared with a whole selection of ingredients in the new set of tupperware we had bought. Yes we have taken the bold step of spending a proportion of the daily budget on tupperware! It can’t get more exciting than this.

The only problem to this new found organisation (clearly the German influence in this powerful traveling dynamic duo that we have become) was me the ” Danny Devito” of the relationship…those of you who have seen the 80s classic Twins will know exactly what I mean!

In an attempt to be more efficient, I decided to take the lead in filling out the various forms that get handed to you when boarding the coach. What appeared to be standard type of questions that usually require you to tick the ‘no’ box seemed pretty straight forward to me, so I filled it out quickly for the both of us and thought nothing of it. It was only when getting to the Argentine border where we were waiting to get back on the coach did it dawn on me that I might have made a huge mistake. Whilst waiting, the English guy in front of us offered us a ham sandwich each saying that he had to eat them because the Chilean border is quite tough on what you can and can’t bring into the country…meat being a particular no no.

I had a classic blonde moment thinking that’s fine because we have pate….( I know completely retarded). Anyway to cut a long story short we had a complete panic within the 10 minuets it took us to cross no mans land to the Chilean border trying to stuff as much of the food down us as possible. Upon arrival at the border there were signs everywhere explaining what wasn’t allowed in which lead me to painfully empty out the remaining contents of the tupperware into the bin, knowing full well that this particular faux pas was going to haunt me for some time.

Suspiciously about 50 meters from the border is the first, and what we later realised the ONLY stop for the next 12 hours; conveniently at an overpriced cafe. As a penance for my stupidity I decided that I did not quite deserve any food or drink , although even if I had wanted to, we didn’t actually have any Chilean Pesos anyway.

To add salt to the wound, we sat next to two sneaky Israeli girls who were giggling to themselves for successfully smuggling their lunch boxes through customs as they tucked into their lunch…obviously what appeared to be a luggage scanner was either switched off or manned by a complete moron. My only one saving grace was that Andre had managed to scoff down 4 of the 5 pate baguettes in under 5 minuets which meant that for the time being he was complete stuffed!

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Five hours into the 12 hour slog we had come to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t be stopping anywhere to buy any food or water and that even if we did,we didn’t have the correct currency to pay for anything anyway. As you can imagine this didn’t make for conducive relations with the already uncomfortable 6’5 giant to my right.

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However, as if an act from god, we were both blessed with a truly magical experience when crossing the Strait of Magellan that helped thaw the icy relations; a group of what appeared to be over 30 dolphins playing in the waves of the ferry.

We eventually reached our final destination where we parted with what now had become a true enemy; the English guy in front ( for making us panic for no reason, leading me to go against the Israeli in me). By this time it was almost midnight and we still had to find our hostel in the freezing cold. Its for this reason we allowed ourselves to be effectively picked up by a granny and her husband in a car offering a cheaper hostel for the night.

Whilst a charming couple that were once a good looking pair this was no hostel….it was their house which I can only describe as a poorly constructed plywood assortment of boxes with suspicious gas heaters. Bizarrely they did have a huge TV with CNN which helped ease the fear of dying form carbon monoxide poisoning during our sleep.

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Tierra del Fuego “Earth of Fire” – the birth of a bird watcher!

After spending over two weeks in the smog of BA, arrival at the most southerly point of the world instilled in us a huge amount of excitement and trepidation given the fact that, as per usual, we were massively unprepared for any climate below 20 degrees. Thankfully we had found some cheap sportswear on sale during our last day in the city to avoid looking like complete muppets in only flip-flops and shorts!

The approach into Ushuaia did not disappoint; with the airport nestled onto a small island off the foot of the main port, the view from the plane is spectacular with the ragged snowy mountains of the Andes meeting the Atlantic.

Given the proximity to the antarctic we were aware that the weather here can be unpredictable at the best of times particularly during the spring; when you can experience all 4 seasons in any given day . Thankfully we have managed to escape the rain which has been a god send since Andre is hiking in tracksuits bottoms, a water-resistant (not proof) fleece and his trusty work out trainers which don’t enable him to wear any socks!

We have spent an action packed three days exploring, each day being completely different.

Day 1 – Sailor for the Day

Crammed with 3 other couples, we spent the day on rustic (and rusty!) fishing boat, island hopping along the Beagle Channel, which forms part of the border between Chile and Argentina.

The amazing surroundings providing some real Planet Earth moments; this is the closest we have felt to feeling like Sir Attenborough, particularly given the nomad tour guide we had for the day (I apologise now if I get all geeky in this post…there just slot of info I wanted to jot down before I forgot it all).

She was a delightful character, even though she was a Frenchie of the worst kind…a Parisian. Interestingly, very much like us, she was disillusioned with life as a sales assistant in a Parisian camera store and decided to go traveling for a year…11 years on and she is still here!)

Whilst we are on the topic of the French, I have to mention the amount of French tourist here! They come in droves in every age group, whether it be the elderly types ( as you will see from pics of our tour group) or as young travellers who seemed to takeover of our hostel.

For those of you who read my BA post, we have begun to live more frugally; meaning we are cooking dinner every night and preparing our pack lunches for our daily treks. Now I know the popular Lurpack advert portrays the French as being experts in the kitchen but this is no excuse for being soo rude! I have never had to deal with such a rude bunch or arrogant bitches before in my life! Slurping their red wine, completely taking over the 4 of the 8 cooker hobs that an entire building have to share, spending far too long cooking smelly cheese, wearing their tight chinos and polo shirts. To top everything off, they frequently decided to let everyone wait for them to finish eating before they bothered to wash the 100 dishes they used whilst cooking their 3 course meal!

Sorry for the rant but I really did need to let it out….back to the tour on day 1

Stop one was to see the Sea Lion colony (which I would just like to add, was nothing like seeing them at the zoo!) who have no real predators here (…apart from the odd whale from time to time!)

This colony is particularly large which in itself was interesting, since there were in addition to the huge dominate male, another 4 teenage sons; all fighting for the attention of the 100 or so women on the island.

Very much like Norwich, they must all be somewhat interbred since colonies work a little like harems with the dominate male spending most of his time spreading the love with his besotted wives. Much like a Roman epic the father will eventually be over thrown by one of his sons in a fatal battle! All of this over a bit of ‘fresh fish’ so to speak….given my persuasion I just can’t see the need to be honest, but hey that’s how god ironically has intended it to be I guess.

The sea lions share the island with a large colony of King Cormorant who equally thrive on the rich waters; a result of the Pacific meeting the Atlantic (specifically around cape horn which is at the end of the channel).

The next stop was Isla H; a privately owned and protected nature reserve home to the more interesting specie of the Cormorant, known as the Imperial Shagor or shitting birds, as the locals call them. Apart from the obvious difference in colour, this specie nest on cliffs (as opposed to the planes of the King Cormorant) with the colony being made up of pairs ( husband and wife) who much like parrots or penguins will spend their entire lives together. Mating season had finished a couple of weeks ago, so the couples were busy taking it in turns to incubate their eggs ( usually two or three) and feeding.

The pics below should help explain why they are known as the shitting birds…as you can see their preferred choice of building material is their own shit! Clearly the more intelligent couples are those choosing to nest at the top of the cliff!

Whilst there were some other birds such are hawks, atlantic doves and some peculiar looking geese, I will save you all the pain of me getting ‘all anorak’.

I will however, spend some time explaining the fascinating story of the indigenous people (the Yaghan people) that were living on these islands as recently as the early 1930’s.

At their peak there were 3000 people from different tribes who were all nomads jumping from island to island living from the land and sea ( mainly sea lions and berries since nothing else much grows in this harsh climate). Unfortunately ever since the arrival of the White man, there is only one true blood native left ( an elderly lady), who I hear has become somewhat of a tourist attraction on the Chilean side ( in Port Williams where most expeditions to the Antarctic begin).

These people remarkably lived naked until their contact with the Europeans. They survived the harsh weather by building fires everywhere, including in their boats which were wooden canoes. It’s for this very reason that the passing Europeans gave this archipelago its name, Tierra del Fuego or Earth of Fire.

The Europeans persuaded them to wear clothes which obviously got wet, leading to them catching the flu which has sadly wiped out the majority of them over the years. Perviously they only had animal fat and shelter from rock formations to withstand the Arctic winds. Interestingly they had evolved a higher metabolism than normal humans; resulting in a degree higher body temperature.

Ironically the only thing missing from the islands was drinking water. Much like the early humans?? They had developed tools which also included straws using the bones of the Antarctic Doves which they used to dig into the ground to drink the ground water…to my utter surprise we came across one of the particular shelter points on the island which still had old bones and evidence of where they had built their fires!

If you’re wondering why I am crouching this way, it’s because they actually sat like this reduce their surface area and conserve heat.

Looking around the town of Ushuaia today you can see the descendants of these natives since they tend to be shorter, stockier with Mongoloid features. Strangely, the town has a vibrant youth culture that have created some impressive walls of graffiti (better than what we spent hours worth of walking trying to hunt down in BA!)

After learning about the Yagahans, I found the piece below, which is on the side of a bank, even more intriguing.

After doing some reasearch on Wikipedia (I know I know I am turning into German Andre!) I discovered that during then time of Darwin ( who was linked to their study) a group of them were shipped over to Europe to be put on show and to be ‘civilised’. 2 of the 4 unfortunately died, sparking controversy in Britain and so the remaining two were returned to be integrated back into their communities to be missionaries and ‘civilise the savages’! A period of our bleak history that I think is portrayed quite well in this image.

This particular thought has made me think of America, which leads me to day two, which was spent trekking with our American room-mate (thankfully he turned out to be Canadian and a fire fighter in a national park, so a great person to hike the imposing mountain range that leads to the Glacier Martial).

Although an experienced outdoor type, our new Canadian friend must have not read the warning in the guide books of the effects of the hole in the ozone layer since he tuned bright red.

Day 3

Consisted of hiking in the regions namesake national park… I will let the pics speak for themselves!

My favourite bird so far…anyone remember woody the woodpecker from when we were kids!

San Antonio De Areco – The land of the Gaucho

San Antonio De Areco is a very pretty town about 2 hours from BA and was one of the best days we had in Argentina thus far. Luckily for us there was an annual Gaucho festival taking place; all of the Gauchos from the Pampas come to show off their horses and compete in a Texas like rodeo.

The pics below speak for themselves, but I would like to add that the day also restored our faith in the argentine beef since it was simply delicious!

For those of you who remember the Rio blog, Andre was up to his old tricks again and was blown away by the very good looking D&G model types on horse back in really trendy traditional clothing.

He spent most if his time hiding behind his camera lens taking secret pics of the men! Unfortunately for him, failed to look where he was walking and cut his foot yet again really badly on a sharp stump of metal.

For your benefit Josephina, I havent put another bloody pic in…this time he actually needed three stitches! When it initially happened we thought it was just another bad cut, so I went off to find something to stop the bleeding.

Another thing I have learnt is that people here are very proud. The never like to not know anything, so instead of telling you they don’t know where something is they will send you on a wild goose chase. About 40 minutes later, after running around in the smouldering heat, I returned empty handed only to see this concoction below;

By the time I had got back a friendly festival goer got the ambulance to come and do this bodged job on his toe…it was quite funny really, since it supposedly caused quite a scene. Although I assured Andre that the bandage didn’t look too ridiculous and that nobody really noticed it…the truth of the mater was that everyone did and they were all secretly staring…some not so secretly!

I didn’t really want to be seen around him to be honest, so we actually split to watch different things only for him to return with a new and much better bandage after being taken to the town hospital by the ambulance who stopped him to check up on how things were. He was given an injection and stitched up in what he describes as the top floor of a house with a large open room with 6 post op people and dirty surgical equipment.

Thankfully all is well with the toe..well it hasn’t fallen off just yet. The funny thing is that despite of all the drama he endured all on his own, he still has massively fond memories of the day simply because of all the pictures he now has of the hot men! So I have no pity for him and neither should you!

Buckets of BA culture

Given the amount of time we have had in BA and the amount of cultural festivals that have been on whilst we have been here, we have lapped up as many of the museums and shows as we could, too many to write about but below are some of the highlights;

Museo de Arte Latinoamerican de Buenos Aires (MALBA) – by far my favourite art exhibition to date. I am not usually a fan of modern art, however this place had some of the best 20th century art i have seen. I am not usually a fan of modern art since its usually things like a dirty unmade bed or a series of splashes or dots that my niece could have done.

First was the life’s work of Carlos Cruz-Diez who I had never even heard of before; ignorantly thinking that it would be great to buy a piece (since found out they go for 50K). He is one of the most famous Venezuelan artist of our time and is what I have since learnt part of the ‘kinetic’ movement, which means quite literally that, movement.

These pieces of work actually move with you and are very clever since they look different from every angle. He is also a huge fan of colour making it all in all a very camp exhibition ( quite ironic since that day was also Gay Pride in BA). The one thing that wasn’t so camp were the bad shoes we had to wear to see an interactive installation…at least there was something for the lesbians too!

The staff there however, are your classic modern art lovers, hugely stuck up and pretentious so you could imagine how much fun we had taking sneaking pictures whilst the ladies weren’t looking ( Andre did get told of a number of times…thankfully no one saw our attempts at our jumping pics…childish I know but quite funny when doing it).

The other exhibit was Modernisms and Avant-gardes, which was perfect, since it took us through the whole history of Modern art from 1910 right through to the present day, exactly what use two novices needed.

This was a little more serious, so a little harder to take photos but we saw some truly amazing pieces that even I recognised; Abaporu by Trasila do Amaral and Antonio Berni’s Manifestacion to name a few. It too had something for the lesbians the famous Autorretrato con chango y loro by Frida Kahlo..although this was fiercely guarded by the angry lesbian so we couldn´t take a pic…sorry Jo!

Another highlight was a show we were lucky to see called El Hombre Vertiente. Initially we thought it was done by the same people who did Fuerza Bruta which showed at the roundhouse Camden a couple of years back. It’s a very similar style but 10x better…really was the best show I had ever seen. If it goes global, which I am sure it will, you must see it even if you don’t like the theatre.

Our videos are too long and pictures don’t do it justice so google it!

The jazz festival was a week long affair with free performances all over the city, although we tended to prefer the vocal performances rather the purely instrumental ones; I just don’ think I will ever truly get the jazz thing.

Other more traditional Argentine cultural things that need to be mentioned are the Argentines love of Matte and coffee.

Given the number of Italian immigrants here, there really is a coffee culture that is just as important as it is back in Italy, (although the espresso is nowhere near as strong as in Italy) people can spend hours sipping way chatting. You will notice that they never walk with coffee, it’s too important to rush, so the only people you see drinking Starbucks of which unfortunately there are a few, are tourists. That said, the shops are lot more swanky than in the UK since the suites in Starbucks have realised that the usual model just wouldn’t work out here.

Matte on the other has much more traditional roots and an integral part of their culture and more a ritual. It’s basically a form of green tea but there is a very specific way of drinking it with particular equipment required. The cup (also called Matte) is filled with Yerba mate (dried) first then with water which has to be just below boiling temp. Once prepared it is drunk from a silver straw called bombilla.

Everyone carries this apparatus with them daily along with a flask stopping numerous times a day to drink it. It’s also considered rude to decline someone’s offer to share it with you which they all do as a matter of course.

La Bomba de Tiempo was also an interesting weekly concert held in an old warehouse and is a purely drum based orchestra with roots in samba. It’s more popular with the younger generation and backpackers as well as strange hippies that dance like they are on acid.

Finally, I have to mention the dogs…everyone has one which unfortunately means there is shit all over the streets and pavements (not great in flip`flops!). Given that most people work, there are hundreds of professional dog walkers that walk an insane amount of dogs at any one time.

San Telmo and La Boca

San Telmo and La Boca are home to the most well known piece of Argentine culture, which after futbol or football is the pride and joy of this place…this is of course the tango.

This sexy, mysterious dance wasn’t always the pride of Argentina, initially it was frowned upon by the elite and perceived as extremely vulgar. It was created by a mix of Spanish, Italian and African drums by the immigrants working the ports as a reminder of a disappearing way of life. Their neighbourhoods changed from being small forgotten portal towns to the large important hub BA finally became once Spanish rule finally named it the capital in the 18 th century. It wasn’t until some of the risqué elite took the dance to Paris where it became a global craze.

La Boca is the former meat packing district where the many warehouses surrounding the port would process and ship most of Argentina’s vital beef exports. Eventually the little corrugated metal houses got a good lick of paint and are now a huge tourist attraction with overpriced restaurants all claiming to also have the best live Tango shows.

Whist a beautiful place it’s not very safe to wonder off past the main few streets and to be honest feels a little bit like Disney World…it’s also the place where we fell foul of our first real tourist trap.

Given my love for Gaucho Grill in London, I couldn’t wait to try the real mccoy so to speak. So imagine my delight when I came across the amazing traditional Parrilla below; it’s very hard not to think the steak wouldn´t be amazing!

To ensure that we didn’t miss anything out with this little treat, we got the mixed plater which had just about a piece from everything you see above served on a hot plate with salad and chips….yum yum

Well the reality is that it’s actually full of all of the worst cuts of meat that are dry to the bone, full of fat and bone marrow. To top things off, they have a blood sausage (their version of haggis I guess) that has to be one of the worse things I have ever had in my mouth.

At least the outside venue was beautiful with lovely traditional live music in the back ground on a scorching hot day with what we thought would be lovely glass of red when we ordered it. They tend to drink their red wine cold here which I have become quite accustomed to these days, so when ordering a Merlot frio it was fair to assume that’s what we would get. What came out already opened was a bottle of Rose which to be fair was nice but for a different time (maybe with some ladies around since the macho argentine men did give us some funny looks!)

To top things off..bearing in mind we thought we had been massively done over since we still at this point couldn’t quite accept that Argentina has bad steak…the bill came to well over AR$ 300 which isn’t massively expensive in pounds but for Argentina and on our daily budget was a massive indulgence that just wasn’t worth it…oh and I shouldn’t forget to mention that we didn’t actually have enough cash and they obviously didn’t accept card! Thankfully I had some dollars left over which are worth more here since the people don’t trust the peso with inflation and tend to hoard USD instead. Since we didn’t know the conversion rate we ended up actually overpaying like a couple of gringos!

We since found out that this wasn’t rally a con at all as it is just simply the way people like their meat cooked here! The nice cuts have to be ordered a la carte and a very very pricy.

San Telmo is home to the largest flea Market I have ever been too which is lined with antique stores all ending at Plazza Dorrego which is really lovely and full of street tango performers and cafes. Strangely enough though most of the Market sellers were dressed in the weirdest fancy dress, which given Halloween was the week before we still to this day are a little bemused as to why?

Buenos Aires…the Berlin of South America?

Buenos Aires was our next stop with a 24 hour overnight coach from Iguazu. I won’t write much about the journey since it was one of those experiences you simply had to be there for to appreciate, but more so for my own record, it was the funniest journey I have ever had. Both Dre and I have never laughed so hard for such a sustained period of time (which was incidentally a great abs work out since we had to laugh into our pillows to avoid disturbing anyone else; god knows I could do with it right now…yes the waste line is still expanding:( ) all at the expense of a classic American girl ( those who know her; this girl reminded us of Helen; Andre’s mate) who quite simply nearly shat herself watching the onboard movie, Buried with Ryan Reynolds

We had both read and heard an awful lot about BA and were really looking forward to it since we heard the nightlife rivals that of Berlin with some big name DJs playing. We also couldn’t have timed it better since there were a host of events taking place in the city over the next two weeks; a jazz festival, night of the museums, Gaucho festival just outside BA and Creamfields festival, so we decided to stay for over 12 nights; the longest we have stayed in any one place.

After learning more about Argentina’s more recent history following the great depression, specifically the horrific human rights violations that occurred during ‘Dirty War’ of the 70s, I can see why there are some similarities to Berlin given the cold war. Much like the Berliners, the people of BA really do value their freedom and have a strong youth activist political subculture which feeds the rich arts scene at your disposal. Whether its small gigs cropping up all over the city or one of the hundred top museums or art galleries ( which on this one particular saturday were open till 3.30am for free with the centre of the city closed off for live music at each museum) this city really does have it all and we tried our very best to see as much of it as we could.

Given the sheer amount we did during our stay and in order to do them justice, I plan to do a couple of separate posts.

We split our time between two different areas; San Telmo and Palermo, staying in some of the best hostels we have seen; Art Factory and Hostel Suites which were both in gorgeous old 1850 mansions. Visually the architecture in BA is the nicest we have seen in South America to date given that a lot of the buildings were built during Argentina’s boom eras of the 19th and early part of the 20th century. The early part of the last century has been particularly good to the city creating Parisian style neighbourhoods in all their grandeur and splendour.

Unfortunately military rule, corruption and economic crises post the historic default of $140b in 2002 have left their mark on this place and it’s people. Walking around I can’t quite stop thinking about the current economic crises in Europe that I have been following in the news.

Not withstanding the quite visible poverty you see around, along with the crumbling infrastructure, the effects are most prevalent within the people themselves. Whilst clearly in a better position than they have been previously, they are coming off the back of a pretty dire destructions in their own personal wealth and are in the main still recovering financially. Understandably still hugely weary of the inflation given the very recent memories of their bank accounts being limited to withdrawals of only $200 a week (a hugely unpopular movement by the government to avoid a run on the banks).

It does make you wonder whether the Argentina of the past 10 years will be the path to be trodden by Greece or even the UK for that matter?

This thought in combination with the huge presence of Standard bank (my favourite client) made me think of work quite a bit and more importantly what I will do when I am back in the UK.

Given the pace at which I am burning through the cash I will be quite literally broke when I get back! This has put a little bit of a downer on the last few days here. The realisation that I am not simply on a holiday has now truly hit home. If I want to last the 8 months and see the places I want to, I have to start being much more frugal with the cash and start cooking and not drinking a beer every night ( which is bloody expensive in comparison to everything else here).

This is the main reason I am sitting here at the hostel for the next two days catching up on things (mainly this blog) instead of gallivanting around the city spending more. So if you have been wondering why this particular post has been such a bore to read through…I have some time to kill 😉

Ideally we would have only stayed a long weekend and headed South sooner but hey life’s not bad at all so no need to complain! The one thing being in BA has thought me is that whilst I think I need to go out at night and experience the club scene, it’s not really what I am hear to do. To be perfectly honest given that things don’t kick off until 2am and finish around 10am, I don’t think I have the stamina anymore; particularly having not met any ‘locals’.

As a result, I have decided that the national parks and countryside is where I want to spend the majority of my time. The cities are of course important, but a long weekend in each will suffice. If I truly want to see things I have never seen before then I need to focus my time and limited budget on those remote places rather than the extravagant lifestyles of the city.

As a final comment I did want to jot down something about the ‘Madres de la Plaza de Mayo’ or the mothers of the disappeared which I think really does explain the most recent horrific history I believe to be at the core of modern-day Argentine culture and something that did move me.

The ‘Dirty War’ as us Europeans call it, explains the period between the late 60’s right through to the Falklands war which I remember hearing about and seeing on the news ( although given that the war only lasted 74 days and ended the year of my birth I must have seen it via programs about Thatcher?) which marked the end of military rule in Argentina. ( BTW it’s not cool to talk about the war as a Brit here).

During this rule there were over 30,000 people who simply disappeared and were in fact tortured and killed in what were effectively concentration camps to quash political opposition (again another parallel to Germany albeit faint). During this period of repression, any form of public gathering was banned with fatal repercussions.

1977 was a particularly brutal year of human rights violations, so 14 mothers marched into the main plaza outside the famous Casa Rosa (where Eva Peron gave her famous speeches) wearing their now iconic White head scarves (which were in fact old style cloth nappies) to demand for information about their missing children. This group of women developed into a powerful social movement and the only political movement to overtly challenge the military rule and are cited as helping kick-start the reestablishment of the countries civil society.

These days the group are more of a political party that are not really liked by many portenos (people from BA) since they have been tainted by involvement with the current government led by what I can only describe as a footballers wife, Cristina Kirchner; a former first lady and now president who is very unpopular with the educated population.

Given the evolution of the mothers party they have split into two factions with the Founding Line being the ‘grandmothers’ who to this day still hold silent vigils weekly in remembrance of the disappeared. As a group they are now a community that help people who were born in this period, people not too much older than myself who feel they could be children of the missing.

Many of the missing were young innocent people with families, often both parents would be killed with the kids being taken by the military to be raised as their own! So you can imagine some of these grandmothers still marching have 30 years later found long-lost grandchildren. Whilst this is nice on the one hand; these adults are now faced with the realisation that his or her parents that raised them are infect war criminals that murdered their real parents!

Right for those of you that bothered to read this essay to the end there are some more pics…sorry probably really boring to read 🙂

Casa Rosa

Grandmothers

Iguazu Falls ¡Adios Brazil! ¡Hola Argentina!

Arrival at Iguazu marked the end of our Brazilian adventure and the beginning of the next leg of our trip. By this point we were both ready to leave Brazil and experience a new culture; the one thing we won’t miss is the general rudeness of the waiters in most places we ate in Brazil. Most of them acted as if they were doing us a favour by serving us and to add to insult they charge you a compulsory 10-15 % service charge on top!

Iguazu sits between the boarders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in a large national park. The respective towns are interesting places to be in their own right, since you can easily hop on a bus and be in a different country within minutes, making it a fascinating place to observe the many differences between the countries.

Upon arrival in Argentina we instantly felt the difference in the people, with the first most striking being the fact that they actually had a recognisable look and features. Given the history of immigration and the slave trade that built Brazil, It is near impossible to put your finger on a typical Brazilian look even outside of the main cities. Another key difference was the fact that people serve you with a smile and are the most outwardly friendly people, often having a joke before actually getting to the point of a conversation ( although in my case it is usually at my expense given my appalling Spanish!)

The main reason for being in these towns however is to do daily treks to the falls. We had one day viewing the Brazilian side before crossing over the border to view them from the Argentine side.

The falls are quite simply a natural wonder of the world and as usual, it is best for me to allow the pictures to speak for themselves. The one thing I will mention is that the Brazilian side has better panoramic views whereas the Argentine side allows you to get under the actual falls; you will notice however, that I am not in any of the pictures on the Brazilian side!

This is because I spent that magical day pretty much on my own; a result of an acrimonious falling out with my photographer. I wouldn’t normally publicly go into any further detail at this point, however given the cultural theme of this particular post and the fact that I can now see the funny side post the rage phase I think it’s worth a little mention.

Much like the differences between the Cariocas and Paulistas there is definitely a clear difference in our approaches to the travels. As you probably would have thought, Andre tends to have a more Germanic approach to things (being hugely organised etc etc) with myself favouring the more ‘romantic’ mediterranean approach ( aka not organised, fairly lazy with the simple excuse of “enjoying the moment” rather than thinking of the next). Truth be told I think the difference works quite well; I wouldn’t have seen half the things I have if not for this producer project managing me, however this one particular morning was just too much to take.

The only one main drawback to these amazing falls are the fact that they are on every travellers itinerary, making them hugely touristy. It’s for this reason that we both agreed to get there early to avoid the crowds particularly since it was also a public holiday in Brazil that day.

As usual Andre was up at 6am playing around on the Internet before the rest of the hostel were alive for breakfast which starts at 8..to cut along story short I was ready by 8.30 to leave but clearly I held us up too much which resulted in us arriving at the park at about ten…a hole hour after it opened.

The main attractions in the park can be seen within two hours so a full day on either side is plenty of time, however similar to the classic story of the Germans laying the towels at the pools side the night before, deep down Andre wanted to get there for 8.50 to be sure he was first in the queue!

Whilst there were a few coaches of tourists it really wasn’t that bad so I couldn’t see the need to sulk, however I had been prepared to simply grin and bear the mood. To help lighten things a little I thought I would stroke his ego and ask whether they were the biggest waterfalls in the world or whether Victoria falls were bigger ( since he would have been on Wikipedia looking it up that morning he normally quite likes to play the teacher).

This next argument is a classic for those of you who have ever worked with ‘tha Germanns’…obviously to Andre this was the most retarded question to ask because he couldn’t possibly give an answer, since I hadn’t really defined the metrics by which I was measuring the falls by; was it volume of water, hight, width…length.

To be honest I couldn’t have cared less but by this point I had just about as much as i could take so decided to explain exactly how much of a pedantic arse I thought he was…which you can imagine was an amusing scene in what’s suppose to be a magical part of the world.

Thankfully we met a really cool fellow traveller the next day (Carla) which meant we had to be on our best behaviour and forget all about it 🙂

The National Park also has a host of different animals, initially our favourites were these racoon type things that seemed very friendly (I can´t quite remember the name of them but I am sure if you ask Andre he will of course know having studied them at some point!). We soon turned to hate these things since they got very vicious around food so became more of a pain.

Another pain were the venomous mosquitos that I am still scratching two weeks later! To be fair the reason I got stung so bad was because Carla and Andre developed a little game throughout the day on what can we make stupid Gary do whilst we take pictures. One of the things was to do an artistic jumping picture with the hundreds of butterflies that were weirdly congregating all in one place.

enthusiastically I jumped at the chance only to realise the grass was in fact a mud pit where they drank along with hundreds of the bastard mosquitos!