A Travellerspoint blog

Iguaçu Falls

Butterflies

sunny 40 °C

From Buenos Aires it took us 16 hours to get to Puerto Iguazu. Since we would continue to Sao Paulo by bus, we decided to book our hostel in Foz do Iguaçu, the Brasilian side. In order to get there, we took a local bus to the border, got dropped off to go through customs and had to wait there for the following bus. In the meantime, the biggest tropical storm made us soaking wet and by the time we arrived at the Bambu Hostel, we were showered. The hostel was pretty cool, with a swimming pool and a bar, and we were already in the mood of some caipirinhas. Foz do Iguaçu is not particularly a charming city, in fact it's quite well-known for being unsafe, but it's right next to the famous falls and in the middle of the jungle, so it's humid and extremely hot. We had plans to stay just 2 nights, enough to visit the Iguaçu Falls from both the Argentinian and Brasilian sides.

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The first day we booked a full day tour from Foz to visit the Argentinian side, which from what we heard was the best part. We were just around 12 people and our guide was pretty laid-back, so there was no feeling of being in a guided tour. We crossed the border without even getting out of the car, as it was enough for the driver to show our passports. As soon as we got inside the park we got offered a short tour through the jungle and a boat ride next to the falls. The ride through the jungle was fine although the noise from the van and the guide speaking through the microphone obviously makes it impossible to spot any animals...the real fun part was the boat tour. You don't see the falls right from the beginning, so you start off by contemplating the river surrounded by jungle vegetation and the boat goes real fast. You first see the falls after a couple of minutes and even if they're far away, you're already impressed by their size and all the steam around them. The speed boat stopped in front of them so that we could take some photographs but the cameras were already getting wet, and we weren't even that near. We then stored all our stuff in a waterproof bag and off we went, not under the falls but a few metres away, to get showered! We spent a couple of minutes jumping alternating from one waterfall to another until they let us off the boat and started our walk on the platforms. At that point we noticed the park was full of butterflies of all sizes and colours, and they were even posing themselves on our hands and arms to suck the water on our skins. The walk was wonderful and we stared at the falls from different lookouts...the best of all was the famous Devil's Throat / Garganta del Diablo, right at the end of the park and the most impressive group of falls we've ever seen...well you don't even see the river due to the amount of steam that comes out.

The next day we went to visit the Iguaçu Falls from the Brasilian side. From the Brasilian side the panoramic of the falls is splendid, although you don't experience them in the same way, so that's why we preferred the Argentinian side. It took us only 1 hour to do the whole walk and in the end we went to see the Devil's Throat from a platform that had been built on top of another waterfall, that was scary! And we got soaking wet again... :-)

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From Foz do Iguaçu we took an overnight bus to Sao Paulo (another 16 hours) and decided to stay 1 night to rest and meet one of Nick's friends from San Diego, Fred. Fred was our inspiration for this trip, as he quit his life in Brazil to travel around the world for 20 months, and he even wrote a book about it ( "Saí pra dar uma volta" ), plus he does workshops in Brazil and hopefully some day he will have his book translated into different languages, so that everyone has the chance to read about his wonderful stories. We only had one day in Sao Paulo and Fred showed us around...thanks Fred!!! The first thing we needed food and he took us to the "Mercado Municipal" to eat a traditional sandwich with bologna. We then walked a little bit around the city centre and watched locals selling all sorts of things on the streets; from clothes to music to food...we then went to see the Cathedral, the Japanese neighbourhood and of course the famous shopping street Rua Oscar Freire, which felt like visiting a different city as everything was so posh and high-class. We ended our day tour with a stop in a square in Villa Madalena, where there was a market with food stalls and people were eating and sitting watching a band play the local music "Chorinho". We just sat there with the rest of the crowd and enjoyed watching everybody else interact, sing, dance and play. There was also a gay bar just beside the square, with the best music and the largest amount of people drinking an appetiser before dinner. That night we met Giulio for some drinks and dinner at the bar Vaca Veia, in the area of Itaim, where we had a taste of the fabulous caipirinha of maracuyá (passionfruit) and caipivodka with kiwi...OH MY GOD!!! We were also happy to meet again Giulio, who recently moved to Sampa for work, and enjoyed a great dinner with him and Fred.

From Sampa we took a bus the next morning to Paraty...finally the time had come to meet our group of very close friends, known to us as the Family. We couldn't wait!!

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Posted by sonianick 14:18 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

Ice cream & Tango

sunny 38 °C

100% Argentina, Buenos Aires represents its country better than any other city we've been to. Tango, "mate" on every corner, huge parks, amazing food, beautiful neighbourhoods, football craziness, bohemian fever and colonial buildings...Buenos Aires is one of the cities with most attitude that we know. When you're there, you know you're in Argentina, and we're glad globalization hasn't managed to make it another massive cosmopolitan city, but it remained genuine.

We were lucky with the accommodation, this time we were invited by Carmen and Sergio, an Argentinian-German couple Sonia's parents know and who live in Buenos Aires. Without knowing us, they invited us to stay with them and we still thank them for being so nice with us, we had an amazing time there! Our neighbourhood was beautiful Palermo, near bars, restaurants, shops and the Japanese Gardens. We arrived very late due to a delay from Aerolineas Argentinas on Saturday night, so that was gone. After a delicious German breakfast on Sunday morning, we left Carmen and Sergio´s apartment to cruise the city. Being Sunday, they recommended us to visit San Telmo and La Boca, since there are always markets and a lot of locals go there for lunch. We took the underground to Plaza de Mayo and visited the Cathedral where the General San Martín was buried. After that we walked along Defensa street, where the market begins and where you can find all sorts of things on sale, including the mate cups made out of pumpkin. We stopped for a quick snack at San Telmo's main square and enjoyed the atmosphere, watched couples dancing tango, people selling their art works...there was a lot of traffic and we were loving it there.

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From there we took a taxi to the area of La Boca. It's not the safest place to walk on your own, so we stayed in the main touristy streets, and we guess it was enough. La Boca was first inhabited by relatively poor Spanish and Italian immigrants, but they still managed to give it a picturesque character, today more preserved to ensure income from tourism. The neighbourhood is full of multi-coloured houses as the owners used to paint their homes with what was left once the fishermen finished painting the boats, hence having a façade with 5 or 6 colours. We enjoyed a lot the walk around El Caminito, the most famous street, and all its surroundings. Before heading home, we also passed by the fancy Puerto Madero, where Spanish architect Calatrava had one of his bridges built. That night Carmen and Sergio took us to a great Asado restaurant where we had a taste of delicious veal and of course Argentinian wine...we guess that by now it's clear how much we love Argentinian food!!!

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Having little time to see the city, we decided to take one of the city tours that are organised by bus, where you hop on and off as much as you like. We managed to visit the Japanese Gardens, and see some of the most outstanding areas in Buenos Aires; the city centre, La Recoleta, Avenida 9 de Julio, Avenida Alvear, Plaza de Mayo, Plaza Italia, Corrientes, San Telmo etc. We were very surprised by the amount of parks there are in Buenos Aires, and generally how clean it is...somehow we had expected it to be the complete opposite! The tour was great, and we got to use the ticket the day after, so no complaints about it!! On our last night together, Carmen and Sergio took us to a brewery from Palermo where you had all sorts of beers to try and we spent a nice evening together.

The next day, we were taking the bus to Puerto Iguazú at night, so we had the whole day to relax. After a quick stop at the Post Office, we visited the cemetery of La Recoleta where Evita Perón and other important Argentinian personalities are buried. And before we forget, the unmissable in Buenos Aires is the gelateria Persicco; one of the best gelati we ever tried...dulce de leche with brownie and vanilla ice cream...too good to be true.

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Buenos Aires was our last stop in Argentina; we had spent four incredible weeks in a country full of nature, culture and good food...how could we complain about that? We were ready to cross over to Brazil and enjoy the samba, the heat and caipirinhas. And on the way there we would strategically stop at Foz do Iguaçu to watch the world's major natural show; the Iguaçu Falls!!

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Posted by sonianick 14:01 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Ushuaia

World's End

semi-overcast 10 °C

The most painful thing about travelling through this part of the world is the border crossing. Leaving Chile and entering Argentina was a neverending story. A 12 hour bus ride on muddy secondary roads, getting off at the Chilean border, stamping your passport, getting back on the bus, going to the Argentinian border and getting the passport stamped again...at some point of course, because the guy behind the counter was paying more attention to the soccer match on TV than to the person in front of him. It took us around 2 hours just to do this insignificant procedure, and by the time we got to Ushuaia it felt like we had travelled for 24 hours straight.

The moment we went inside the hostel we booked, Patagonia País, one of the guys hanging around greeted us with a "Shalom". For one moment we were confused, isn't Ushuaia in Argentina? Apparently, the hostel is very popular between Israelians, even the hostel's dog name was hebrew (Balagan i.e. Quilombo in Argentinian). Our two roomies were two Italian girls who are travelling through South America, Maria Antonietta and Sara. Hope they're still enjoying their travels around Chile!!

Apart from Port Williams in Chile, Ushuaia is the furthest South you can ever go, and for one good reason it's called "El Fin del Mundo" i.e. World's End. Right on the Beagle channel, in front of Chile, surrounded by mountains and right next to the park Tierras del Fuego, it's a singular place...and it definitely makes you feel you're far away from home. You see the tiny port invaded by massive cruise ships that bring thousands of tourists ready to spend on anything they can, and the Argentinians ready to increase their economy.

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One of the places we remember best from Ushuaia is the restaurant "La Rueda". It serves a salad buffet and asado argentino, and just for 50 pesos you eat as much as you want. Veal, lamb, chicken, sausages...and great dessert! That's where we tried the famous "bizcocho escocés", vanilla ice cream covered with a frozen layer of chocolate and dulce de leche inside it...with dulce de leche on the top plus some warm chocolate sauce...absolutely delicious! So good we ended up going twice there...

Unmissable in Ushuaia are the national park Tierras del Fuego and a boat tour. During the boat tour not only you're floating on the Beagle channel between two countries, you also get to visit the little islands inhabited by sea lions, cormorants and sea elephants. We also stopped at a desert island where the indigenous people (Yamaníes) used to live, and saw the mythical World's End lighthouse, which still works. On that tour we got the chance to talk about the situation with the UK about the Falklands-Malvinas Islands. The Argentinians seem frustrated about the nonsense war that took place and apparently it's too early to stop hating the Brits.

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When we went to the park Tierras del Fuego, we didn't expect it to be so green, well, we initially thought Ushuaia would be colder since it's so South, but again we had a wrong perception. We did the trekking along the coast, quite short, just over 8km, but enough to spot some wildlife and great beaches...although the water wasn't exactly warm enough to take a swim! From North to South, in Chile and Argentina, the Patagonia will be impossible to forget for its incredible landscapes, endless glaciers, exclusive wildlife and of course its welcoming people. Our favourite? maybe it was the sense of conquest after such a hard day, but it has to be the Fitz Roy. UNFORGETTABLE.

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Posted by sonianick 12:29 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Torres del Paine & Punta Arenas

Back to Chile

semi-overcast

After our extreme trekking days in El Chaltén, we took a bus to enter Chilean territory again. We wanted to have an idea of what the Chilean Patagonian looked like. We had heard that it's greener than the Argentinian side due to the rains and, in some ways, more spectacular as the coast is defined by thousands of islands. So we went back to El Calafate, stayed there for one night and took a bus to Puerto Natales, the nearest town to Torres del Paine.

We arrived very late at our hostel but it still felt like late afternoon as there was still some daylight. Being summer, daylight lasted until 11 pm, which in some way was tricking our body clocks and making us more tired everyday. We booked a tour for the next day to visit the national park Torres del Paine, the most spectacular in Patagonia. Trekkings there last minimum 5 days, and we weren't in the mood of walking/camping again, so we decided to make it nice and easy for once.

The tour lasted the whole day, from 7:30 am until 18:00...long but totally worth it. The tour guide first drove us to a cave and from there we continued to the first lookout of Torres del Paine. The mountain that gives the name to the park is as stunning as the Fitz Roy, except this time we were observing it from a distance. We stopped by a lake full of guanacos, an animal similar to the llama, and from that moment on it was just one great view after another. Lakes, waterfalls, mountains, glaciers, and extreme wind were part of our day in the Chilean Patagonia. The weirdest thing was hearing two women talk in mallorquín, thousands of km away from Spain, it seemed pretty random!!

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The next day it was Sunday and general election day, so all bars/restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages were shut. We had to walk through the whole of Puerto Natales to get some food before taking another bus to Punta Arenas. Just two hours away, Punta Arenas is one of the mandatory stops of all cruise ships to go visit the colonies of pinguins around the area. We stayed two nights to visit the Magdalena Island, in the middle of the Strait of Magallanes. Around 60000 pinguins live there from October to March during the breeding period, and when you get off that island you see thousands of these little guys around you. They're tiny, just 50 cm tall, and really funny. We had never seen pinguins in their natural habitat before, so we got to learn some interesting aspects about their behaviour, it was a shame we couldn't touch them...

Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales themselves are uninteresting places, but yet good to go to for what you can visit around them. The cold weather was annoying us, especially the wind...but luckily we wouldn't have to stand it for long; our last stop in Southern Argentina was Ushuaia, after that it would just be sun and heat, starting in Buenos Aires :-)

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Posted by sonianick 05:54 Archived in Chile Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

El Calafate & El Chaltén

Patagonian beauties

semi-overcast 10 °C

It took us 30 hours to get from Bariloche to El Calafate, but the journey was surprisingly pleasant: we had a seat called CAMA, which resembles to the First Class in an aeroplane. Sleeping wasn't a problem, we got breakfast served and the timing was perfect...we arrived at El Calafate just after midday. We had booked a hostel called Buenos Aires, and the owner Carlos was so nice, he explained us immediately everything there was to do in both El Calafate and El Chaltén, just 2 hours away. We decided to just stay for 2 nights and dedicate more time to El Chaltén.

El Calafate seems a sort of purpose-built town, convenient for its location right next to the glacier Perito Moreno. Apparently, it's also where the Kirchner family has a holiday home. Right beside El Calafate is the Lake Argentino, the biggest in the country and the water has a funny emerald colour thanks to the glaciers. To be honest, other than El Perito Moreno, there's not that much to do, but still they have managed to make El Calafate a pleasant little town to hang around. And we tasted our best coffee here, thank God, Nick was getting pretty desperate! (Italians and coffee...)

The next morning we went to visit the glacier. We took a bus to the National Park "Los Glaciares" and one hour later we were standing in front of this huge natural monument. Even from a far distance, it makes you freak out. We had seen glaciers before, we had even walked on them, but their sizes may have covered just one section of Perito Moreno...it was unbelievable. We decided to hop on a boat and take a tour to get closer to the glacier. We were standing outside, looking at all the different ice formations that were part of the glacier, and were lucky enough to see some ice fall into the water. Everytime it happened, the noise produced by the impact of the ice on the water was similar to a thunder...so even if the piece seemed really small, our perception was fooling us! We spent one hour in the boat and then got off to do the panoramic walk on the platforms built in front of it. There's actually a moment when you reach the centre of the glacier, and you can see how it disappears between the mountains...Those who have been lucky to see El Perito Moreno, know there are not enough words to describe it, and the pictures will never reflect its true size. Yet, you can't stop taking shots of this huge ice block. We found out it wasn't the biggest in Argentina, within the same park you have the glacier Viedma.

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El Chaltén on the other hand is the trekking capital of Argentina. Anyone who loves walking or climbing stops by this small village to get in contact with nature. It's particularly famous for climbers as it's the closest point to the peaks Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, two of the most dangerous to climb in the world. We would just concentrate on the walking...that's more than enough. On our arrival at El Chaltén, the bus stopped at the visitor centre where we got all the information we needed on all the walks you can do. We chose to do the classic treks; Cerro Torre on day one and Cerro Fitz Roy on day two. Our hostel, Pioneros del Valle, was full of Argentinians, who offered us to try mate for the first time; strong, but with sugar everything tastes nicer :-) We gotta say that Argentinians are extremely nice people, just like all South Americans we've had the chance to know until now.

The next morning we started our trek around 10 am to the Torre Peak and didn't come back until 5 pm. It was cold, very windy and beautiful. We didn't expect the area around El Chaltén to be so green, as during our bus rides we always saw that the Argentinian Patagonia is pretty dry. At the end of our trek we arrived to a lake called Laguna Torre, and right beside it was the peak, but unfortunately we couldn't see as it was covered with clouds. Still, we could see a glacier that ended on the lake and lots of ice blocks that were floating on the water. The wind up there was crazy, we could barely stand and were covered from head to toes. After some well deserved lunch we made our way back, and by the time we arrived at the hostel the only thing we could think of was a nice hot shower and a bed.

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On day two, we did the big trek; 25 km (12.5 km just to get to the Fitz Roy and back). This was a much more interesting walk, for all the views we saw, but also much more hectic. This time we were lucky, the Fitz Roy was visible and it was incredible, it just gave us more excitement to go up there. During our way, we stopped by torrents and rivers to get some fresh water, because you can still drink straight from the river, without using any magic purifying pills! Crazy huh? Nearly at the end of the trek we saw people that were camping in an authorised site, and we thought it was a pity we didn't have all the equipment to camp overnight as well, as it would have meant splitting the trek in two days and making our lives easier. But no, we're extreme people who decide to do as much as we can! So up we went, to walk the last 2.5 km up the hill, and our muscles were starting to hurt, but people kept telling us that "up there is heaven, nothing like I've never seen before"...so we empowered ourselves to keep going, even if it was painful. At the end, after 4 hours non-stop walking, we got to the top...and OMG!!!! The Fitz Roy peak, surrounded by other mountains, all covered with snow, two emerald blue lakes (Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia), waterfalls, a glacier...and us! It gave us satisfaction, just to know that we had gone through a lot of walking to see this! Even thinking we considered quitting and turning around, thank God we just continued in the end. There was nothing left to do, except walking 4 hours back to El Chaltén, but first...first we sat down and contemplated the Fitz Roy, talking to other travellers about how outstanding this place was. I guess no more details have to be provided, you just have have have to go there!!!

We had walked 48 km in two days, and were very proud of our efforts. We celebrated with a parrillada in a restaurant in the village, and went to sleep with a great sense of satisfaction. Our feet were not that happy though, and I guess, this has been our last trek in the round the world trip.

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Posted by sonianick 12:13 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

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