Sunday, 30 December 2007

The hostelling experience finally improves...

Iguazu Falls - dry season

Day 2: Iguazu Falls

We had crystal clear, sunny weather on Day 2. It was hard to believe the weather was so poor on Day 1. We decided to take the Adventure Tour which combined a jeep ride through the jungle with a rafting excursion. A guide told us a bit about the flora and fauna of the area which intersects three countries: Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. There are several species of mammals including jaguars, pumas and monkeys. There are also colorful birds like toucans that tourists spot occasionally in the trees. Most of the animals stay away from the trails, but we saw some large lizards, a toucan, several other species of birds and a cute, little rodent eating some grass.

The best part of the day was the rafting. We took a very sturdy raft right through the rapids and into two of the falls. We got absolutely drenched! It was so exciting. The second set of falls we went into was huge! I couldn't believe we were about to go under all the spray. Stephen and I were right in front so we were soaked. Luckily, we both wore our swinsuits and the fancy ponchos we bought before we went on the Inca Trail. It was a blast!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Iguazu Falls - rainy season

Here I am getting drenched by the mist coming up off the 'garganta de diablo' (the devil's throat), the largest of the falls here at Iguazu. I am also including a great video Stephen took of the falls just before the torrential rain started...
Right now, we are at Iguazu Falls. We arrived yesterday afternoon. It was 40C (almost 110F). Fortunately, our hostel has a huge swimming pool. It even has a concrete island right in the middle of it! We spent most of the afternoon in the swimming pool. It was great! They had a happy hour at the tiki bar with 2 for 1 Capirhinias, yum! The hostel had a really nice barbeque last night. First, we helped ourselved to the all-you-can-eat salad bar. After we sat down, waiters wielding plates piled high with huge steaks and BBQ chicken came round. We helped ourselves to as much meat as we could eat.
This morning we headed over 'the falls national park'. We took a train to the 'Garganta del Diablo', the highest cascade in the park. It was really impressive. I am adding video to our blog. We got drenched by the mist coming up from the falls. As we left that trail, it started pouring with rain. We went to lunch to see if the rain would stop, but it did not. It rained all day. We decided to head back to the hostel because it was so wet and cold. Luckily, we have another day and a half to explore the falls. We will go back to do the rest of the trails tomorrow and this time we will bring ponchos with us :-)

Surfing at the Mar del Plata

The first picture is the group at the hotel in the Mar del Plata. The second picture is Stephen and three friends from his Spanish class - all boys! His poor teacher...I think they were asking her how to say all kinds of naughty things in Spanish!

Stephen and I took a weekend trip to the Mar del Plata with the students from the language school. It was a really nice beach 5 hours away from Buenos Aires (by slow bus).

The water was cold, but the sun was warm and very strong. In fact, Stephen got a bad sunburn on Saturday because he left his sunblock in the wrong bag. He is still peeling!
On Sunday, we all took surfing lessons. The instructor was very impressed with my surfing (although I have done it before and most of the people in our group were complete beginners). Lucas, the surfing instructor, had an 11ft board. I think he is the 4th ranked longboarder in South America. Once I surfed a few waves near the shore, we took the board further out and rode a couple of big waves tandem. I am getting much better. It really helps to have someone paddle you out and push you into the waves though. His surfboard has an orange stripe right down the middle. He had me align myself with the stripe for more balance. It really worked well. I am going to have to paint one on my foamboard...I am really excited about practicing some more. Stephen was a bit miffed after the lesson because Lucas spent a lot more time with the girls than the boys...

Friday, 14 December 2007

Tango Classes

Stephen and I recently took 4 tango lessons, two private and two group classes...
The classes took place at a beautiful old dance studio/ballroom.
It was decorated in the French Rococco style....with crystal chandeliers and everything!
We especially enjoyed the private lessons because they meant that we would not be stepping on each other's toes and that Stephen could not accuse me of trying to lead all the time. They even had pictures of the Clintons (Bill and Hilary), Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra on the walls. They had all visited this tango studio in Buenos Aires at one time or another.

Here is a photo of Stephen and his tango instructor, Cynthia.

la Peninsula PUNTA DEL ESTE (aerea)

Stephen and I tried the beaches on both sides of the peninsula. On the Atlantic side we were sandblasted when gale force winds came up in the afternoon. However, we had a really nice swim on the bay side on Sunday.

Palm Sunset @ Punta del Este

Palm Sunset @ Punta del Este
Originally uploaded by Jake&Sam
Here is a palm sunset at the Punta del Este. This is not our picture. It is from flickr. We chose not to bring our camera to the beach because we wanted to go swimming and we didn't want to have to worry about valuables.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Colonia / Puerta del Este Uruguay

Nipped over to Uruguay at the weekend. Its only 30 miles away but took nearly 4 hours coming back on the boat. Were they pedalling? Didnt know things could go so slowly in water and not sink´.

Good things
They speak Spanish without any weird accents
Nice flag
Can pay for stuff in almost any currency
Colonia has a very pretty old town with cobbles, outdoor cafes and candles. Lots of promenading and white wine drinking in the moonlight.
Also had an open museum night with free outdoor guitar music. Stood next to a skeleton of a blue whale. Enormous. I know whales are big but you dont often stand next to them..
Punta del Este had great beaches for swimming. Bit like Bournemouth in hurricane season
Perfect rainbow on Saturday night
Hot and sunny on the Sunday

Bad things
Poured with rain on Saturday night and was stuck in an expensive restaurant listening to the Corrs bleating about love and being so young etc
Cant get local currency until you re about to get the boat back to Argentina
Punta del Este known for high winds - not told by travel agent. Sandstorms tried to bury us when we were on the beach.
Sea temperatures similar to Britain. Bit of a performance getting in but happy enough once in the waves.
Punta del Este is not 2 hours away from the port, nearer 6 - and there were roadworks and the bus broke down
Left stupid novel in the hostel with only 5 chapters to read.
Left evil granny´s towel in the hotel which Im supposed to replace.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Don't lose this if you're travelling...

Stephen and I had a very eventful weekend...
We decided to take the ferry from Buenos Aires to Uruguay. Friday, on our way to the ferry terminal, Stephen suddenly realized that his passport was not in his pocket. We checked every pocket in his backpack and it was nowhere to be found.
I immediately assumed it had been stolen because we know several students who have had things taken from them and I had just finished watching an Argentinian movie about conmen in Buenos Aires. I then attempted to calm down a very distraught Stephen.

First, we decided to go to the ferry terminal to see if we could still go to Uruguay with a copy of his passport (I didn't think so, but it was worth a try) and if not, to see if we could change our tickets to next weekend. Well - we couldn't go w/ a passport copy, but they did change our tickets. Next, we caught a cab to the British Embassy to report the missing passport. The sign outside said that the embassy closing time on a Friday was 2pm. At this point it was 3:30...I launched into a tirade about the ridiculous embassy hours. A tall British woman overheard me as she walked by. She stopped and asked it she could help us. She was obviously someone of some importance in the embassy. She asked us a few questions and had the security guard unlock the door and allow us to pass through security. As we entered, another embassy employee walked over and asked Stephen if he was 'Mr. Grant'. Stephen said, "Yes!" and the man whipped out Stephen's lost passport. Some kind person had found Stephen's passport on the floor of the metro station and brought it all the way to the British Embassy. We were so relieved and so pleased. It was fortunate that the woman overheard me complaining and that we arrived just after the kind individual handed in the passport. Talk about 'buena suerte' (good luck!)...

We then jumped in a cab and headed back to the ferry terminal to change our tickets yet again. We missed our boat, but they put us on the waiting list for the next boat. We went out and got a drink and came back just in time to hear that we were two out of three they allowed on the boat. There were 20 people waiting! More good fortune... and it was the faster, more expensive boat as well. ¡Que suerte!

Buenos Aires again

Back in Buenos Aires studying the culture and trying to keep awake. Dinner time is 10pm, breakfast doesnt really exist and lunchtime is anytime that you can get it. The rest of the time is spent getting cafeine from cabbage flavoured Mate. Fashion is still the 70s. Long hair for men and tight shorts/jeans. Not allowed either!

Visited Boca in Bueno Aires which is an ugly part of town but with very colourful houses. They used to use the old boat paint to paint the houses. Also Maradona used to play football here, which is about the only thing you can do here now except join a street gang. Also the port has the most disgustingly polluted water. They used to chuck animal carcasses in the water from the slaughter house. The smell still chokes you and makes people nearby ill. Started eating salads.

Good things
Found British bar playing Morrissey songs
Huge cemetary here with large buildings to house the rich, famous and evidently dead. Its like walking round a garden centre with lots of old people.
God rock concert in the park. They can belt out the numbers between the love. Always strikes me as weird - heavy rock and evangelism. Used to have to sacrifice goats. Not sure you re allowed both rock god and god rock!
Amazing tango show with Indians swinging high speed hunting balls over their heads and cracking them on the floor. The dancing was alright. Lots of strutting from the guys and wiggling from the girls.
Making Alfajore cakes and showing off to the ladies with my kneading skills and ample use of flour in the afterschool activity.

Bad things
Got stuck in the bus on the way to the concert and did not know where to get off as there were too many people. Ended up somewhere near Brazil before jumping off having shared some frank views with our driver.
Couldnt find any laundrettes and reached max underpant threashold. All shops are designer label here and relatively expensive when you need some functional attire. Fortunately I have managed to treat myself in a sale and have found a couple of washing places to keep me smelling lovely.
Loads of dogs and dog walkers. They walk 10 at a time and although they are mostly happy woofers they do leave a trail.
Trod in poop whilst going around a ladder to avoid bad luck. Doesnt work here.
Starsky and Hutch style bus drivers that dont really bother stopping when you try and get off or on.

Monday, 3 December 2007

El Chalten

El Chalten is a small but growing town at the base of the Fitzroy Massif (a huge granite mountain) in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina. There are several really good trails to take in the Los Glaciares National Park. We were fortunate with the weather once again. When we arrived on a Monday afternoon it was rainy and miserable, but the next morning we had sunshine and clear skies. We decided to follow the trail to the Laguna Las Torres, a blue lagoon at the base of another set of 'towers'. There were two amazing viewpoints. The first allowed us to see all of the peaks in the mountain range. At the second mirador we had a spectacular view of another glacier creeping down the mountain. We have seen so many glaciers now, but I don't think I will ever tire of them. We were able to walk in shorts and t-shirts until we reached the lagoon and then as we ascended a rocky hill we were blasted by the icy, glacial wind. Stephen and I found a spot behind a windbreak someone had built from the stones on the beach. From there, we were able to appreciate the the view of the 'towers' and the lagoon.

Day 2 - we set off early to climb to the base of the Fitzroy Massif. It was a long uphill trek. The first ascent was gradual. We stopped for lunch at a campsite. The trees provided excellent protection from the cold winds. We made our own sandwiches out of bread, ham, cheese and canned tomato sauce (the small supermarket did not have real tomatoes). After lunch Stephen and I decided to continue the climb to the base of the mountain. From below it did not look like it would take very long to get there. Once we started, though, we realize why they estimated that it would take an hour and a half to get to the mountain base. It was really rocky, incredibly steep and somewhat scary (almost like climbing the volcano in Pucon again, but without the crampons). When we finally made it to the top,after Stephen coaxed me across a few steep ledges along the way, it was 'vale la pena' (worth the trouble). The view was spectacular! Unfortunately the pictures don't quite do it justice. The lagoon below was aquamarine with sheets of ice decorating the surface of the water. We were right at the snowline and the snow-covered peaks were beautiful. Even the views of the valley below took our breath away. I was really impressed with the Fitzroy Massif and highly recommend it to anyone travelling to Argentina.

Chalten itself was quaint albeit windy and dusty. I think it is really an 'up and coming' town because of its close access to this amazing national park.