A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Hawkson

Buenos Aires

sunny 32 °C

Our geographical confusion deepens as we head north to Buenos Aires where it is more than 30 degrees in the shade, but, just like Chile's Santiago, there is plenty of shade...
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But our confusion has more to do with the architecture than the unseasonable weather – unseasonable for us but not for the locals who are used to the clear skies and the soaring temperatures. However, despite the fact that Argentina has a Spanish heritage, most of the buildings here are distinctly French...
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In the 1930s Buenos Aires was known as the Paris of South America and there is still much today that reminds us of the French capital – especially the dogs...
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It is estimated that a quarter of households in Buenos Aires own dogs and, as virtually all residents live in apartments, licensed dog-walking is a profession that pays better than being a vet. Dog-walking is governed by strict laws that apparently no one complies with, and each walker is supposedly restricted to 8 dogs. The walkers choose their charges based on size and temperament and all seem to be very well behaved - both dogs and walkers - apart from their toilet habits.

The tree-lined boulevards, the elegant mansions, the litter-strewn streets and the piles of dog pooh, all have a Parisian feel as do many of the cafes and restaurants. In the centre of Buenos Aires, across the park from La Recoleta Cemetery, is the most famous cafe of all – La Biela....
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This cafe, (the Connecting Rod in English), is where the rich and famous, (and tourists like us), go to meet over a coffee and a snack. Juan Fangio, Argentina's most successful F1 racing driver, was a regular here in the 1950s as were many other drivers like Emerson Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart. We sat inside the cafe but many others pay extra to sit outside under a two hundred year old rubber tree whose enormous branches shade more than 18,000 square feet. It is so enormous that many of the giant boughs have to be supported...
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However, it is the nearby Recoleta Cemetary that attracts most attention from visitors. This is the church of Nuestra Senora del Pinar which is the last stop for those finally on their way into the cemetary...
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Temporary visitors like us go through the main gates and once inside we joined the thousands who flock from around the world to get a glimpse of just one tomb – that of Eva Peron...
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Buenos Aires seems to be all about Eva Peron – Evita to her supporters. Although she was only the first lady for a few years in the early 1940s., and has been dead for 66 years, she is still idolised by many as the person who empowered the women and the poor of Argentina. However, she is apparently still vilified by others as a gold-digging model who climbed the social ladder when she jumped into bed with the future president, (a man twice her age).

There is so much to see and do in Buenos Aires. For example the excellent museum of Bellas Artas in Recoleto District is bursting with genuine works by French impressionists such as Pissaro, Monet and Manet, and an incredible set of sculptures by Rodin. No photos allowed but, just like the British museums and galleries, the museum has free entry for all. But art is everywhere in the city and almost every boulevard and park has a statue of some sort – some ancient...
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...and some modern like this 18 ton stainless steel flower - the Floralis Generica - that opens and closes with the sun. It was erected in 2002 in the park next to the Bellas Artas museum...
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More of Buenos Aires on the next installment of Blissful Adventures.

Posted by Hawkson 08:33 Archived in Argentina Comments (6)

Where in the World Are We?

semi-overcast 20 °C

It seems as if the whole world has been turned on its head. Where on earth could we be when the grass is green and the gardens are blooming with roses, hydrangeas and hollyhocks?
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Could we be in England? Maybe. There is certainly a very English teashop selling English pudding – known here as Budin...
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But then there are the lavenders, the roses and the excellent restaurants offering such French delicacies as jugged hare and lamb's sweetbreads – maybe we are in Picardy or Provence...
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But there again there are the many log cabins and A-frame houses just like those of rural Canada...
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And then there's the weather. The warm sunny days stretch late into the evening and we imagine ourselves strolling alongside an alpine lake in Northern Italy as we stop for an ice-cream at a gelataria. Could this be Lake Lugano or Lake Como in July?...
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And the wood-fired pizzas are as good as any we've ever enjoyed in Tuscany...
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The small city of El Calafate may be in southern Patagonia but almost nothing here is particularly unusual to us - in fact it is all very familiar. The 'world' has come to this remote valley at the bottom of the Andes in recent times to witness one of nature's wonders and has brought with it all the trappings of international tourism: German bakeries, French restaurants, Italian pizzarias, and shop after shop filled with tourist trinkets and expensive jewelry on a main street that could be almost anywhere.

Patagonia has been a total surprise to us - maybe we are light-headed from walking around upside down – but anyone expecting wild, rustic and bracing could be disappointed. There's nothing here to frighten the horses: and there are horses. (and sheep and cattle), but no sign of llamas, guanacas or any other wildlife. But then there is the glacier...
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This is Perito Moreno – this is what El Calafate is all about...
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The glacier of Perito Moreno straddles the border between Chile and Argentina and is nearly twenty miles long. The face of the glacier is 250 feet high and is a Youtube star because of the spectacular way that huge chunks regularly break off and crash into the lake...
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The Perito Moreno has to be seen to be believed. Photos simply cannot convey the enormity of this glacier or the power of nature that drives this gigantic river of ice. Unlike most of the world's glaciers, Perito Moreno is not significantly receding at present, but who knows what will happen in the future. This is one for the bucket list.
Now our week in Patagonia is at an end and we are heading back to summer and sophistication in Buenos Aires.

Posted by Hawkson 04:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (4)

The Lighthouse at the End of the World...

sunny 20 °C

As the Andean mountains sink slowly into the Southern Ocean at the toe of Argentina our trip to the end of the world has come to an end. For the next 5 weeks our journey will be all uphill as we wend our way home through Argentina, Uraguay, Brazil and Cuba. But we didn't come all this way just to get our photo taken in the most southerly city in the world...
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We came to see the penguins of Antarctica...
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This gentu penguin was looking a little lost and perplexed when we spotted him on an island beach in the Beagle Channel which separates Chile and Argentina. But more of the penguins later. First a quick look at the city of Ushuaia – a city that today is booming beause of the number of ships ferrying passengers across the 1,000 kilometres stretch of ocean to the nearest point of Antarctica. We chose not to take a cruise but found ourselves surrounded by coach loads of cruise passengers at every turn when we visited the Tierra del Fuego National park.
Fortunately we managed to get some quiet time and some great views of the lakes and snow covered peaks...
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Our next stop took us by small boat to visit the sea-lions and the cormorant colonies on various islands...
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You might be forgiven for thinking these cormorants are penguins – but this lot can fly - as can the numerous seabirds that we saw on our trip including thousands of gulls, geese and ibis...
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And then we came to the lighthouse at the end of the world...
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But back to our lone penguin. Maybe he was perplexed by the sun and the 20 degree weather because, like us, he was expecting it to be chilly and rainy. The Patagonian archipelago of Tierra del Fuego is the closest land to Antarctica and it has a reputation for some of the foulest weather in the world. The sea temperature never rises above 8 degrees and the westerly winds of the Southern Ocean circumnavigate the globe uninterrupted for 12,000 miles. The constant wind whips up waves more than 120 feet high and rounding Cape Horn is one of the most dangerous undertakings for ships of any size. Thousands of vessels have foundered off the coast here over the centuries. But not today. With a warm breeze and blue skies we got to enjoy the sight of thousands of penguins at close quarters. These are Magellanic penguins...
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Some were incredibly curious and totally unafraid...
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However, this handsome big guy was the star of the show and he knew it...
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This king penguin had strayed from his colony on South Georgia Island and was taking a breather along with his smaller cousins on Martillo Island...

So, that was our day with the penguins. We have now flown north to El Calafate. No penguins here just lots of ice.

Posted by Hawkson 12:14 Archived in Argentina Comments (4)

The Shady Side of Santiago

sunny 32 °C

The hazy, lazy days of summer are on the wane here in Chile and many stores are having end of season sales and 'Back-to-School” specials. But, with daytime highs still hitting the mid-thirties, it sure feels like August to us. The hibiscus, oleanders and bougainvillea are still in bloom and the Italian gelato parlours are doing a good trade. However, the Santiagans are used to the heat and have created one of the shadiest cities we have ever walked in...
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And walking in the shady streets of Santiago could not be easier. The centre of the city is almost entirely a traffic free zone filled with plane trees and palms. None of the economies of South America have been doing particularly well of late so a lot of commerce takes place unofficially on the street. Santiago is no exception and the shaded boulevards provide good cover for the traders...
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The traffic free areas are also a good place to listen to the many excellent musicians who perform in the city...
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With no traffic to contend with, the Santander bank has spread onto the street and into neighbouring stores where it operates a 'Work Cafe' where everyone is encouraged to just hang out, enjoy the coffee, and do whatever they need to do... it seems like a very good idea...
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Along with the many pedestrianized shopping streets, Santiago has a fast and inexpensive metro system that links all the major sites including the National Museum, the Presidential Palace, and the Plaza de Armas where it is difficult to see the buildings for the trees...
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This is the clock tower of the National Museum where, despite the excellent displays, there is absolutely no information in English...
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At the core of Santiago is the largest urban park in all of South America. The forested park rises steeply from the city centre and is surmounted by a statue of Christ...
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Climbing to the summit is easy thanks to a vertiginous funicular railway that is more than a century old. However, a brand new teleferico (cable car) then transports tourists across the top of the city. Unlike the telefericos of La Paz and Medellin, the Santiago cable cars are not part of the city's commuter network, but it is a great way to get an overview of the place for a few dollars...
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Santiago is a modern cosmopolitan city with French restaurants, upmarket shopping malls, elegant arcades and, of course, American junk food joints, (if you must). Although we have heard that there is considerable poverty in parts of the city and the countryside, judging by the prices in the restaurants and stores there are many Chileans who are seemingly doing very well – there are no four dollar lunches under these sunshades...
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We are now leaving Chile for southern Argentina and Tierra del Fuego. We will be leaving the summer heat behind us, but only for a week, as we go in search of the penguins of Patagonia. See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 12:50 Archived in Chile Comments (4)

Valparaiso's Canvas

sunny 23 °C

As a youngster, James romanticized about life aboard the merchant sailing ships in the 1800s - before the age of steam and the Panama canal. It was a time when ports such as Valparaiso, Iquique and Guayquil were thronged by hundreds of four-masters plying between South America and the colonial powerhouses of Europe. The docks of Valparaiso are virtually abandoned today, but the city is as vibrant and fascinating as it has been since its re-birth following total destruction by the Spanish in 1866. The Spanish destroyed Valparaiso in revenge for the Chileans supporting the Peruvians in their fight for independence - but enough of the history; here's a snapshot of Valparaiso today...
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Valparaiso is one of the most colourful cities in the world, (for our friends at home – imagine Chemanius on LSD)...
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Almost every building in the upper part of the city has some form of adornment...
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The artwork makes great scenery for the many musicians and entertainers who work the streets..
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And everyone loves becoming a piece of the art...
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Art is everywhere in Valparaiso; on houses and buildings, on doorways and steps and, of course, for sale in almost every shop. Meet artist Alberto Lagos in his studio in Valparaiso...
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Alberto doesn't paint. He produces ancient-looking photographic prints by using a technique known as Gum Bichromate that was developed in the 1840s.
Valparaiso is a vertical city where hundreds of flights of steps and antique funicular railways crawl up and down the mountainsides. The buildings cling perilously to the steep slopes and sprawl into the many deep gorges that emanate from the harbour...
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Until last year Valparaiso was a major stopping-off place for cruise ships, but a strike by dockworkers backfired when half the cruise lines moved their operations to the port of San Antonio a hundred kilometres south. Valparaiso is still busy at present because it is the mid-summer holiday season in South America and it is the end of Carnaval.

We are staying in the old city of Valparaiso, but just around the bay is the modern resort of Vina del Mar. There are no colourful murals here: just a solid wall of concrete highrises and a seafront promenade jammed with touts toting touristy knick-knacks and knock-offs – not our scene...
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Now for last week's question. The cost of a 3 course lunch with salad bar and coffee in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was exactly $4.52 Cdn each. Tom was almost correct and wins a $4.52 lunch in Canada, (a coffee and a biscuit if he's lucky). However, we are now in Chile and today's lunch of just a mixed salad and a drink cost $21.00 Cdn. each.
Our South Pacific days are coming to an end so here's one last look at the colourful scenes in Valparaiso before we head inland to Santiago and then south to Tierra del Fuego and the Great Southern Ocean...
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Posted by Hawkson 13:03 Archived in Chile Comments (8)

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