A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Hawkson

The Reality of Rio

semi-overcast 30 °C

Rio de Janeiro was once the seat of the Portuguese Crown and capital of the entire Portuguese Empire. Queen Marie 1 moved her court here from Lisbon in 1815. Rio thus became a prominent world city of great palaces and elaborate mansions that was a favourite of the world's rich and famous in the 20s and 30s when prohibition and mobsters drove the Americans abroad to drink. Today, Rio de Janeiro is a place familiar to us all – a romantic city too dangerous for many tourists; an Olympic city with waters too toxic for swimmers; a seaside city with beaches piled in garbage; a footballing city with stadiums too violent for fans; a genteel bayside city of fancy highrises encircled by millions of the world's most colourful crime-ridden slums – the favelas...
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Rio is an enigma. It is all of the above, and yet its soft sand beaches, spectacular vistas, and superb (though very pricey) shopping malls, draw visitors and businesses from around the globe. This is just a tiny section of Leblon Shopping Mall...
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All of the world's ritziest brands are on the shelves here and the supermarket near our apartment has products from every part of the globe. We are eating the finest French cheeses, English preserves and Swiss chocolates. The tropical fruits from all over South America are mouthwateringly good as are the finest wines from Italy, France and Argentina. The supermarket even has a range of beers and wines for dogs...
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The restaurants are equally eclectic, equally superb and equally expensive. We have said little about the meals in South America because, in general, it has been similar to the food we might get in Canada or Europe. Here in Rio we are surrounded by restaurants from every part of the planet – Arabian, Australian, Japanese, French and even English baked potatoes. And, of course, the ubiquitous Italians. Nowhere in the world is safe from pizza, pasta and gelato. And nowhere is safe from the Americans – especially McDonald's and Starbucks. But we didn't come to Rio for the food – we came for the sights. But the weather let us down. We have had clear skies and thirty plus temperatures for the past three weeks but the 38 degrees that greeted us on our arrival in Rio was simply over the top. Even the professional sunbathers on the beaches of Leblon and Ipanema were feeling the heat...
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And then the skies clouded and thunderstorms rolled in. However, the dark skies and chilly 28 degree weather didn't stop the hardy sunworshippers on Copacabana beach...
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But we are not beach people – we wanted the spectacular sights of Rio and our time was running out. By our fourth night in the city we had only one distant glimpse of Rio's most famous landmark, the lofty statue of Christ the Redeemer, and had barely spotted the Sugar Loaf Mountain through the persistent clouds...
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Now, you are probably thinking that when we got up this morning - our last morning in Rio – the skies had cleared and we raced to get the first shuttle up the mountain to see Christ's statue before the clouds rolled back in and the crowds arrived... And you would be absolutely right...
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How do we do it – we don't know. But just a few minutes after we took this picture this is all we saw...
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Well - that's it for this trip around South America. Now we are going to visit friends in Cuba where the internet is unreliable. Adios for now – look out for our final thoughts on South America in a couple of weeks.

Posted by Hawkson 10:11 Archived in Brazil Comments (5)

The Inland Lighthouse of Iguazu

semi-overcast 32 °C

Blissful Adventurers, the people who recently brought you the exciting Patagonian Production of 'The Lighthouse at the End of The World", now present their latest epic...(cue uplifting music)"... “The Inland Lighthouse of The Iguazu Jungle"...Ta-Da...”
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While some people may question the idea of building a lighthouse in the tropical jungle some 300 kilometres from the nearest ocean and 1,000 feet above sea level, the Argentinians maybe onto something here. How many other countries are far-sighted enough to prepare for the extreme effects of global warming?

This remote part of South America sits at a crossroads between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina where multiple watercourses from the Brazilian wetlands converge. The climate is hot and humid and the jungles thick with almost impenetrable vegetation...
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The verdant canopy of orchids, bromeliads, vines and palms of all kinds block out the fierce noonday sun and provide cover for animals like the coatimundi..
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and perches for numerous exotic birds...
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However, this 'jungle' is actually the garden of our current hostelry in the small city of Puerto Iguazu. The real jungle is in the national park on the outskirts of the city where every day thousands of people from all over the globe come to marvel at the World's greatest water spectacle – the Iguazu Falls...
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Higher than Niagara and wider than Victoria, the Iguazu Falls are made up of nearly 300 cataracts that cascade over an escarpment some 270 feet high. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited the falls she apparently exclaimed, “Poor Niagara”. The falls are so vast that it takes hours to walk their length and a narrow gauge railway took us to the viewpoint overlooking the biggest – the “Devil's Throat”...
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Just as it was impossible to truly convey the majesty of the Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia so too the Iguazu Falls...
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With hundreds of cataracts seemingly pouring out of the sky and thundering into the valley below all we can do is watch this wonder of nature and say – where on earth did all this water come from?...
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...and where is it going?
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Now our time in Argentina is at an end and although we can see Paraguay across the river we must leave it for another time. Our next stop is Rio de Janeiro and the beaches of Copacabana. Meet you there in a few days.

.

Posted by Hawkson 13:44 Archived in Argentina Comments (10)

A Sunday Stroll in Cordoba

sunny 38 °C

It was a sweltering 38 celsius in Cordoba, Argentina, yesterday and we were forced to cool off in our hotel's rooftop swimming pool...
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However, there is no need to feel sorry for us. A cold front from the nearby mountains swept through overnight and we will be lucky to hit 25 today.
In relative terms, Cordoba is an ancient city, although the view from the rooftop pool deck gives away little of its Spanish colonial history...
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However, there is some fascinating British history here...
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This veteran 'Bristol Lodekka' bus from the 1950s now tours the sights of Cordoba. The 'Lodekkas', (think: low-deckers), were specifically designed to be able to pass under low railway bridges on rural routes in post-war Britain. James travelled to school daily on a Bristol Lodekka and had not seen one in 50 years. He was more excited by this discovery than by the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, a Jesuit monastery which may have been the first major ecclesiastical edifice in this part of the world. However, the monastery was shut and the exterior uninteresting. The nearby Convento Santa Catalina de Siena was much more photogenic, (although it was also closed)....
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Unfortunately, the architecture and provenance of the the English bus was easier to determine than that of most of the religious buildings in Cordoba because, being Sunday, almost all were closed. However, the ornate exterior of the 20th century Iglesia de Los Capuchinos is quite a sight...
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The enormous 18th century cathedral in the central plaza was open for business, however there were few takers for morning communion...
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There were even fewer worshippers in another of Cordoba's churches, the Monastery of St. Catalina, but we were unable to get a photo. The equestrian statue of Jose San Martin, the venerated general credited with liberating Argentina, Chile and Peru, from the Spanish in the mid 1900s, was easier to see...
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Cordoba's recent history was marred by the military dictatorship in the late 70s when part of the old city hall, the Cabildo de Cordoba, was used by the secret police for detention and torture during Argentina's dirty war. Many reminders of those who were murdered or 'disappeared' during that time can be still be seen on the walls of the building...
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And so ends today's sermon. Now we continue following the sun northwards to the Brazillian border to witness one of nature's greatest wonders.

Posted by Hawkson 14:11 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

Salud from Mendoza

sunny 32 °C

The Andes loom over the city of Mendoza like a giant umbrella and shelter it from all but the most persistent rains. The city and its surroundings should be as dry as a bone in the mountains' shadow yet its boulevards and parks are just brimming with century old trees...
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Mendoza is hot, with mid-summer temperatures reaching into the 40s, but its ultra-wide boulevards, traffic free zones and living canopy make it a great place for pedestrians. Restaurants, cafes and bars,flow onto the shady sidewalks and allow residents to escape the searing sun during the afternoon siesta until the stores and offices re-open at 6pm.
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The restaurants don't re-open until 8.30 or 9 but that gives us plenty of time for a pre-dinner drink and, as Mendoza is the wine capital of Argentina, drinking is both easy and cheap. This pleasant little local Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve cost about three Canadian dollars...
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The Mendoza region is blessed with dozens of major wineries. Many Spanish vintners set up shop here after the rapacious phylloxera aphids spread from North America to Europe and wiped out their Old World vineyards in the late 1800s. With good soil and plenty of sun the missing ingredient was water in Mendoza. However, the meltwater from the snow capped peaks and glaciers of the nearby Andes was easily chanelled and the city and the desert soon bloomed...
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The Lopez winery was founded in 1898 on the outskirts of Mendoza and is still a family business producing 20 million bottles a year and our 'private' tour of the winery was one of the most informative we have ever enjoyed. (It was private because no other English speakers showed up for the free 2 hour visit and wine tasting). Our guide, Nicolas, gave us the works from the 30,000 litre French oak barrels...
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To the glittering stainless settling and filtering tanks...
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And this ancient British steam powered fire engine in the museum...
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And then, the best bit, where we had an in-depth lesson on wine tasting and even got to try several very generous glasses of their wine including some of their most expensive...
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Sad to say, but we actually preferred the plonk. However, we now consider ourselves experts. Unfortunately the Lopez wines are not sold in Canada, (in fact few of the 20 million bottles are sold outside of Argentina). However, Nicolas suggested that we should take at least one bottle home with us – and James chose this one...
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It may seem a romantic notion but the next time you are enjoying a glass of Argentinian wine from Mendoza pause to reflect on the fact that every drop of grape juice squeezed into the bottle began life high in the Andes as a glacier.

Posted by Hawkson 13:56 Archived in Argentina Comments (4)

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Buenos Aires

sunny 31 °C

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with majestic buildings, elegant boulevards and numerous parks and gardens bursting with sub-tropical plants and blossoming trees...
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This is the famous Palacio Barolo built in 1890 and supposedly reflecting Dante's Divine Comedy. The basement is hell and the top 8 floors are heaven...
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Buenos Aires also has many areas of derelict sites and decaying buildings...
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The city was the home of the present Pope, Francis, and not far from the cathedral where he worshipped as a young man is the most famous of all of the city's coffee houses – Cafe Tortoni. The cafe was opened by a French emigre who modelled it after the Grand Tortoni Cafe in Paris and it was remodelled into its present form at the end of the 19th century. It is rated as one of the ten most beautiful cafes in the world. Celebrities and aristocrats from around the world have been meeting here since 1858 and now it is our turn...
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All restaurant meals in Argentina are enormous and the prices are reasonable for us, but rampant inflation and stagnant wages over the past few years have put them beyond the means of many Argentinians. As in many poorer countries much of the commerce in Argentina is done under the counter with cash. To combat this the government requires businesses to accept bank cards, but it is no coincidence that many of the card readers seem to malfunction whenever we try to use a credit card. Public service workers can't avoid paying tax and today we witnessed a peaceful, though noisy, demonstration by a hundred thousand teachers and professors who are on strike in an effort to raise their wages from a measly six thousand dollars a year...
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The depression of recent years has taken a toll on public works and, while improvements are being made to some roads and parks, there are plenty of pavements and public buildings that need a facelift. These are the doors of the Ministry of Modernisation... No kidding...
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However, there are plenty of glittering spires in the recently developed port area...
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The markets are one way that entrepreneurs, artisans and musicians can scrape a living and there are many held every weekend – especially during the summer when the city is bustling with cruise passengers. The Recoleta market has hundreds of venders and entertainers winding along the pathways and under the shade trees outside of Recoleta Cemetary. We loved the trad jazz – but never saw the tango...
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Despite the financial woes Argentina seems laid back today, but it has had a stormy past. In the 1970s the American CIA fomented right-wing military coups both here and in most Central and South American countries as part of an anti-communist purge. It was codenamed Operation Condor and is a chilling reminder of how far the Americans will go to get their own way, (as if we need a chilling reminder today). This is the Casa Rosado (the Pink House) which is the rather austere presidential palace overlooking the Plaza de Mayo...
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Between 1976 and 1983 some 60,000 dissidents, unionists and academics, were tortured and murdered by the military dictators. The children of those who 'disappeared' were either killed or adopted by junta insiders and the grandmothers of those children still demonstrate in front of the presidential palace in the Plazo de Mayo in the hope of getting them back. The women are known as the “Grandmothers of the Plazo de Mayo.” ( Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo).

Our time on the coast in Buenos Aires is now at end and we are heading back to the Andes to Mendoza – capital of Argentina's wine region. (We will write in few days - if we are sufficiently sober!)

Posted by Hawkson 06:15 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

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