Day 222 to 245 Chile Chico to Asuncion via Patagonia, Buenos Aires and Uruguay
20.07.2011 - 04.08.2011 12 °C
No of countries in view from the river bank in Puerto Iguazu= 3 (Argentina, Paraguay & Brazil)
No of Argentina stamps in our passports = 6
No. of photos taken at Perito Moreno Glacier = over 300
No .of times Pauline fell over on the ski slopes = 0
No. of times Pauline fell over on the street returning her ski's = 1
No .of people crammed into the Centenario stadium in Montevideo for the Copa America victory parade = nearly 100,000
So we exchanged pleasantries with the military border staff to venture into Argentina for the first time. To our disgust, however, they confiscated half a garlic bulb and an onion even though we´d declared them. Gutter. Our first major destination was the town of El Calafate and its nearby tourist attraction of the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of only a few in the World not to be receding, apparently.
It has to rank as one of the top sites on our trip so far and we spent a few hours standing in the same spot just staring at it. Eventually, in classic global warming Antarctica style, a bit did fall off and made a racket echoing around the valley. Our stay in the area was made all the better by getting 3 nights for the price of 2 at the hostel. (loving the deals again eh Pat!)
Next we returned to Chile and Puerto Natales but this time missed out the major tourist draw of the Torres del Paine national park due to too much snow and Pauline´s tonsils. We then bussed it onwards to Punto arenas and Ushuaia – or the end of the World as the signs remind you of at every turn! This is as far south as we got and may ever get to be honest. We had a great time here and even managed to fit in a days skiing. We would have felt less like backpackers had we not been wearing the same naff bodywarmers we´ve had all year instead of even slighty trendy ski gear! Pauline was delighted though as it was Richard who stacked it all day long. His own fault for being a snob about the quality of the skiis and boots and opting to snowboard instead. Although Pauline still managed to steal the limelight with the most spectacular fall of the day. 6pm, on concrete, wearing shoes while rushing back to the ski shop carrying all our gear, stupid pavement!
After much deliberation and discussion with the locals we found out that flying from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires was our only credible option taking into account the extreme weather conditions, money and time. A bit of a shame since we had planned to visit a small Welsh town on the Atlantic coast heading north, we could already taste the Welsh cakes and Bara Brith but it wasn´t meant to be. Still, 3 hours in the air was a lot more comfortable than 3 days by bus. Landing in BS AS was oh so exciting for me and I couldn´t physically restrain myself from a quick burst of "What´s new Buenos Aires?" in the arrivals lounge. Again, still surprised Richard hasn´t done a runner yet.
A freak reunion with our Mexican amigos on the 45 bus enroute to our hostel was a welcome surprise. We dined out on a meat feast Asado (just the boys) and an amazing pizza for me and caught up on the Copa America latest. We spent 3 days in the capital and managed to fit in a fair bit of sightseeing in between napping. The essential 'Evita' hotspots were taken in including the recoleta cemetary where she was finally laid to rest, the Casa Rosada from where the Peron's addressed the Nation and the museum documenting her life and controversies. If anyone is interested, the tomb next to the Duarte family is empty and for sale, no idea how much for but I would be interested to find out. We saw lots of imressive French style architecture and marvelled at the amount of art on show everywhere and took full advantage of the many parks to chill out in. Pauline even found time for a brief tango in La Boca. Classy shoes!
Overall we enjoyed being tourists in a bustling South American city again, feeling more like we were on a weekend break somewhere in Europe.
Apologies to the very proud Porteños though, I think we preffered the buzz in Montevideo. That was largely thanks to our good freind and original Spanish teacher Diego and his very welcomming and interesting house mates Rasa & John. It was so good to catch up with Diego after nearly 4 years (I think) and we can´t thank him enough for his hospitality, generosity and tireless enthusiasm for showing us around the city. Our visit coincided with the final of the Copa America and we watched the final between Uruguay and Paraguay in the Esplanada de la Intendencia along with what certainly felt like the entire population. It was amazing (if a little scary! - flares and fireworks all over the place) and after The sky blues won convincingly we joined the masses and crammed in to the Centenario stadium (which hosted the first ever world cup in 1930) to welcome the team home from the final in BS AS.
We waited for the champions to return until midnight and entertained ourselves by joining in the Mexican wave and chants. But after our beer ran out and rival fans of the city´s two teams started belting each other, Diego and his friends decided we should bail. A good decision we discovered the next day as the team didn´t arrive until 3am.
After the capital we wanted to experience a bit more of Uruguay before moving on. We spent a day in the port town of Colonia de Sacramento which was a bit posh for our budget but very lovely non the less, beautiful lighthouse, cute cobbled streets and a nice beachy coastal walk. Oh and a really good pie shop! Then we bussed up to Salto and spent an afternoon soothing our aching backs in the hot springs there. Lovely but with one major pit fall, it´s winter in Uruguay and although not cold by English standards, way to cold to get out of a hot pool and have to walk about 400 metres to the changing rooms!
Quick summary of the last week then. Iguazu falls, unbelievable. Heavy rainfall had forced the closure of the main draw, Garganta del diablo, but what we could see was immense and kept our jaws thoroughly ajar all morning. The water was a rich browny red colour in parts due to the loose soil caused by extreme logging, which only seemed to add to the other worldly look of the series of gigantic falls.
Not to mention the volume of water rushing through, far higher than usual again because of the rain. A bus ride through Brazil (20 mins) dropped us in Cuidad del Este in Paraguay which immediatley felt very different to the other SA countries so far visited. To Pauline´s delight, it turned out to be Cuidad del Pringles due to the tax free contraband on sale everywhere. No time for shopping though, we headed out of town to visit the worlds second largest dam. A joint project between Paraguay and Brazil, the Itaipu Dam is still clouded in controversy since its creation in the 70´s flooded a series of waterfalls apparently more impressive than Iguazu and caused all manor of environmental issues. This info wasn´t freely available on the tour we ventured which had only postive press for the impressive structure. A sight worth seeing despite the problems, not least because of the stats it provided us with!
We are now in the capital, Asuncion, and having witnessed the world's funniest food fight, we´re now heading out on the town where Richard's going to get the 'chop'. Full explanation next time!