A Travellerspoint blog

The end of the world

all seasons in one day 8 °C

So ends phase 1 of my trip. P. went back to snowy Ottawa on Friday. I was sad to see her go, we had a lot of fun shopping, drinking too much Malbec and feasting on beef tenderloin. On Saturday, I took a 4-hour flight to the end of the world, aka Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentina. It was a rude shock. I got off the plane and nearly froze my toes off. It was a chilly (and windy) 8 degrees Celcius! Quite a difference from the the 30 degrees in BA. I am wearing gloves.

Today, I went hiking the national park of Tierra del Fuega (land of fire). Even in the summer, it never gets warmer than 13 degrees. I hiked a lovely trail along the coast between the Beagle Channel and the Martial mountain range. It was peaceful. There were many little coves with rock beaches of green slate set against the jagged mountains and blue ocean. The weather was crazy! One minute it was raining, the next the sun came out, then it was cloudy, the rain came back, then windy, and so on... Walking through the lenga (forest) was fascinating. There were dozens of fallen trees and broken branches, and the sound of trees creaking in anticipation. The wind here clearly takes no prisoners! I also saw a Fugean red fox and a red-headed woodpecker. It was a nice day.

My boat to Antarctica leaves tomorrow. I am very excited! I won't have internet access until Feb 17th.

Posted by Caro369 18:02 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Change of Plan

A mini beach holiday at Mar del Plata

sunny 32 °C

Hello Everyone,

I am sad to report that I was unable to go see the penguins and sealions at Peninsula Valdes in Northern Patagonia. :( We got to the airport on Monday morning and our flight to Trelew was cancelled!! The airport in Trelew was closed because of ash clouds from a volcano erupting in southern Chile. Crazy, huh? The airline was not sure when the airport would re-open, so instead of waiting around, my friend and I decided to go to the beach at Mar del Plata (5 hours by bus from BA) for a few days instead.

Mar del Plata is beach town for Argentinians. The place is just overrun with families on summer holiday. We went to the beach downtown and it was insane. Every inch of sand was filled with people, umbrellas and chairs. We couldn´t even walk through the crowd!! People were even side by side in the ocean. It was kind of like Canada Day on Parliament Hill except on the beach. So not relaxing... We arrived on a weekday. I am scared to think what the weekend is like.

Fortunately, we decided to walk to the next beach (20 minutes from downtown). It was much better! The beach was in a cove so we had to descend to the water, the sand was nicer and there were fewer people (your towel was not overlapping someone else´s). We were so relieved! The ocean here is the Atlantic so the water is cold, but given that it is 32C here and the sun is vicious, it was very refreshing. There was also a wide, pleasant promenade at the top of the cove along the ocean that went on for kilometres overlooking other beaches. The walk was just beautiful!

Downtown is nuts. In the evening, the hordes of people on the beach take over the pedestrian shopping streets. It reminded me of Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls -- tons of shops with cheap clothes, fast foody restaurants, but instead of the carnival of the freakshow, there was cheap Broadway shows. On Rivadavia, transvestites, street performers and people in tacky, outrageous costumes handed out flyers for various shows.

It´s been fun! Back to BA tomorrow.

Posted by Caro369 18:24 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

See http://www.travellerspoint.com/photos/gallery/users/caro369/ for a few snaps

sunny 28 °C

Hello Everyone,

I am happy to report that I am having great fun in Buenos Aires! Unlike other historical cities I have visited in South America (e.g., Lima, Arequipa, Sucre), it lacks that Spanish colonial feel. The Adobe churches, narrow cobblestoned streets and Romanesque arches are around, but visiting the various neighbourhoods, it feels much more French/European. There are broad boulevards lined with shady trees, and elegant, well maintained 100-150 year old buildings with a twist. Investing the wealth from their plantations in the late 19th to early 20th century, the families of wealthy Portenos (people of Buenos Aires) hired European architects to build amazing palaces and public buildings that rip off every French architectural style of design ever conceived! The luxury of these buildings is staggering. We (my friend P. and I are the dynamic duo for the first leg of my trip) took a tour of the spectacular mansion of the family Paz. The French-style palace took 12 years to build (Finished in 1912) and the place is meant to impress! From the Rococo-style ballroom inspired by Versailles, to the domed "waiting room" with walls covered in coloured marble from all over the world, cut to make lovely designs, reminding me of churches in Florence, every room was a little taste of Europe. Not everyone had a palace, some of the rich had to settle for spacious penthouse apartments with private gardens and extra rooms for their servants. Walking the neighbourhood of Recoleta reminded me a bit of Park Avenue, except the architecture is more like the Champs Elysee than Art Deco modern. These families carried this flair for ostentation into the next world, the Recoleta cemetery is indescribable, filled with crypts topped with mini-domes, stained glass and containing personal altars made of marble. There are also beautiful carvings and statutes, some representing the dead and others just for show. It is still an active cemetery, though some of the family crypts have (sadly) fallen into disrepair.

Not only the rich, but the working class have left their indelible mark on this beautiful and culturally rich city. Today, P. and I visited la Boca, this was the old port in the 1880s where the poor immigrants from Spain, Italy and Germany lived and worked to build a better life. It was these poor families living in close quarters that developed this dramatic and sensual dance which is tango. The words of a tango song are sad and moving, portraying a difficult life. The music itself was built from blending the sounds of instruments brought from other countries (e.g., violin, german accordian, etc). Parissa and I saw a show at the famous Cafe Tortoni. The dance is difficult and intricate, full of emotion, but what struck me was the music. There was a five-piece live band and the music was lyrical, pulling you into the drama of the dance. Sadly, I think tango tradition is not embraced by the young. We went to milonga (where the locals come to dance tango) and the place was geriatric. It was still fun to see that many couples dressed the part with men in pinstriped suits and ascots, and the ladies in form-fitting, backless evening dresses and impossibly high heels.

This clash between rich and poor has been evident in Argentina's turbulent political history. After the 1930s the economy tanked creating considerable social unrest. This ushered in the famous President Juan Peron and his wife Eva. Peron was not a communist or a fascist, but he stole from both traditions and the working class loved him. He legitimized the trade union movement, extended political rights to the working class and gave women the right to vote. His party created a foundation (led by Eva, or Evita) that helped the poor. With his cult following, he held massive rallies from the Casa Rosada (presidential palace). In the process, Peron pissed the rich and powerful (remember all of those families in Recoleta) and when the moment was right, the military seized power. There was one military coup after another from the 1960s to the 1980s. Lots of unsavoury things happened such as 30,000 people from the left "disappearing" in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It isn't perfect, but the middle class seems very well established in BA, despite the economic crisis in 2000. The streets are clean, people seem to have a good life (enough to care about how they look) and you can drink the tap water. I am impressed.

On a lighter note, P. and I have also been indulging in another BA passion -- coffee. The coffee house is omnipresent. Sorry Starbucks! There are coffee house from the 1930s with suited waiters equipped with silver trays, marble floors and tiffany lamps. The coffee tradition is wonderful. The waiter comes with your coffee cup (or tea in my case) on a saucer. There is also a small glass of sparkling water and a plate with a sweet (e.g., a biscuit, a wafer, I got a spoon of dulce de leche yesterday). I am getting addicted. P. wants to know when I will be done with this missive so we can go for a coffee. :-)

Tomorrow we go to San Telmo market, not that we need to do more shopping. We hit the shops in Viejo Palermo yesterday. I was blown away. With some many cute shops with creative and unique clothes, it reminded me of Soho, but with Banana Republic prices.

Posted by Caro369 13:25 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Itinerary

By popular demand...

Where am I going for 3 months? The long version...

Argentina
Week of Jan 23 - Buenos Aires
Week of Jan 30 - Patagonia, Reserva Faunistica Peninsula Valdes
Feb 6 to Feb 17 - Antarctica Peninsula and Weddell Sea, aboard the MV Polar Pioneer :-)
Week of Feb 20 - Tierra de Fuego, Ushuaia
Week of Feb 27 - Patagonia, Parque Nacional los Glaciares (Fitz Roy Mountain Range & Perito Moreno glacier)

Chile
Week of Mar 5 - Patagonia, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (W-trek)
Week of Mar 13 - Santiago & Valparaiso (ahhh civilization)
Week of Mar 19 - La Serena & Elqui Valley
Week of Mar 26 - Easter Island
Week of Apr 2 and beyond - maybe Mendoza (Argentina) and maybe more Santiago, TBD

Timing is approximate.

Posted by Caro369 21:40 Comments (0)

Last Minute Jitters

Should your backpack be ready to explode before you leave?

I leave tomorrow for Buenos Aires. Arghhh!!! I promise to write soon.

Posted by Caro369 07:28 Comments (0)

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