Buenos Aires – take 3

Back to Buenos Aires for my final destination.
I only had 3 days here, but decided to make the most of my final few days. Milly, my friend from the estancia I worked on, was in Buenos Aires at the same time which was nice.
we both had some shopping to do so headed to san telmo, famous for its antique market, had a wander around then had some lunch in the sunshine. Afterwards we walked to another area called la boca, home to the biggest football stadium in Buenos Aires and to an area called caminito which is an area of houses made of tin and painted lots of different colours. This has become something of a tourist spot and is home to lots of nice restaurants, bars where they play lots of music and have impromptu tango shows. We enjoyed a drink here before heading back to our hostel.
That evening a group of friends from the hostel all headed to a bar/hall to a tango evening. They have lessons early in the evening, but later on they have good people showing off their skils and a live band. I had intended on just watching, but this proved harder than I had expected. I was soon learning some tango moves which actually proved to be brilliant fun!
After appreciating quite how hard the dance is, it was great to watch people who actually know what they are doing! Afterwards, there was an amazing display of a guy doing a form of poi and tap dancing.
Wednesday we decided was our day to head over the river plata to Uruguay, more specifically to Colonia. We took a ferry which was only an hour so it is very easy to do a day trip. Colonia is an old colonial city and is incredibly picturesque. It also has a lovely beach, with sand, on the river shore which would have been ideal for me but unfortunately the weather was not quite sunbathing weather!
That evening we had dinner in Colonia, then got a late boat back. After our day trip we were feeling rather exhausted so we ended up having drinks at the hostel with the friends from the tango night.
Thursday was a beautiful sunny day, and we managed to get all of our respective shopping completed in the morning. This left the afternoon gor sunbathing up on the lovely roof terrace. In the evening Milly and I headed out for dinner at a famous jazz bar and restaurant called Notorious. We had a great meal and enjoyed an amazing jazz show. A perfect final night!
Friday was my final day in Buenos Aires and with only the morning free I was determined to enjoy as much sun as possible.
A fond farewell to Milly and my other friends from the hostel and then it was time for my flight home and end of my South American Adventure!


Rio De Janeiro

Onto Rio De Janeiro.
whenever I have mentioned I was going to Rio the only response I have received is a lot of gushing about what a great city it is and how much I will love it. Now, I live in London which I happen to think is a pretty great city so I was slightly dubious about all the praise that Rio receives. Turns out I was wrong. It deserves all the praise it gets.
I was lucky enough to be staying with a Nigel (from Durham) who, along with his lovely Brazillian girlfriend Fernanda, were wonderful hosts/tour guides/cooks/drinking buddies! I had 10 days in the city staying in Nigels apartment in Leblon, a very upmarket area only 2 blocks from the beach.
What amazes me the most about the city is the fact that it has everything, great shops, bars, restaurants, beautiful beaches, mountains to hike up covered in forests. Where else do you get all of that in one place? The other thing that you really notice are how incredibly friendly people are.
Moving into Brazil and not knowing a word of Portuguese was pretty scary after getting comfortable with my Spanish, but even with a language barrier people are really interested in you, not in a trying to mug you or sell you something kind of way, just in a genuine kind of way! Also, the stereotype of Brazillians being outgoing and up for partying is absolutely true. You see this on the beaches, not just in the choice of swimwear which is eye wateringly skimpy for both sexes, but mainly in that everyone is doing something. The guys selling food on the beaches are singing and playing music or dressed in drag, there are numerous ball games going on, guys working out in the beachside gyms. You don’t need to bring a book to the beach, people watching is plenty of entertainment in itself!
So, I did all the classic tourist stuff, including sugar loaf, corcovado, botanical gardens and a tour of the favelas. All were incredible and provide the most stunning views of the city. The favela tour was a real eye opener and has totally changed my perception of what life is like in a favela. It is like old school England, with the drug lords as kings deciding all the rules. Seems to work pretty well…
The other great thing in Rio is the eating and drinking culture. Nigel and Fernanda were great tour guides and I feel like I have tried all the traditional dishes and drinks both of which went down very well! The bar and restaurant scene in Rio is pretty amazing, I would say it gives London a run for it’s money.

Iguazu falls

I arrived into Puerto Iguazu, the town on the Argentine side of the waterfalls, on Tuesday afternoon and the first thing that I noticed was the intense heat but in particular the humidity. The area in general has the kind of humidity that means you are continually sweating unless you are in the shower or a pool, not the most pleasant feeling! Luckily the hostel had air con, so a good nights sleep was possible which was much appreciated after yet another, but also my final, long bus journey.
Wednesday was a trip to the Argentine side of the falls. Despite having been hyped up by virtually everyone I have met I still found the falls to be incredibly impressive. Just the sheer size and scale of the falls is awesome, but add to this a backdrop of rainforest and you certainly have a winning combination!

There is actually a lot to do on site with numerous walkways along the falls with many getting close enough to be covered in spray from the falls. There are also trails into the rainforest which provide a hreat opportunity to see lots of wildlife, which included coatis, butterflies and a cobra. The latter being very much an unwelcome inclusion on this on my behalf. My response to seeing it was to scream loudly until the snake, very casually went back into the undergrowth!
The highlight is probably the walk out to the ‘Devil’s throat’ which is a confluence of the rivers around a horse shoe shaped enormous waterfall. The noise is tremendous, you get soaking wet and looking down you can hardly see anything due to all the spray from the water. We were lucky to have sunshine so saw a wonderful rainbow in the waterfall.
After a great day at the falls we headed back to the hostel, where we had an asado with yet more beef (I am genuinely considering being a vegetarian for a while when I get back to balance out all this meat I have eaten!) A group of us were sat out until around midnight and it was still around 30C by then, which is pretty hot when the sun disappeared hours ago!
The following day I got a bus across the border to Brazil to the town on the Brazillian side of the falls called foz do iguacu. This only took an hour, so after a quick trip to an ATM for some Reals and a quick lesson in the Portugese pleasantries I headed to the falls again with Tim a dutch guy who I met in my hostel. The falls from the Brazillian side are very different, in that you see the falls in a panoramic view so you get a real feel for the sheer size of the falls and quite how many make up the whole set.
We took numerous photos along the way but as you come to the end of the walkway you are suddenly next to one of the falls. Again, the noise and spray is tremendous and you start to get an idea of the force behind the falls. Whilst you get some great views from this side there is less to do than the Argentine side, so after half a day we were ready for home. This was only confirmed as it began to rain as we got onto the bus. At one point Tim and I were complaining about being cold, the irony of this given that we had been sweating due to heat and humidity only 30mins earlier!
So, it turns out that 5th December is a very important day in the Dutch calendar, as much so as Christmas in fact possibly even more so. As such, we were planning on cooking a traditional Dutch meal (I was assistant since I have no idea what any of the things were), however after a quick look around the local supermarket we realised this wasn’t going to happen. We made do with a very good veggie pasta and a lot if beer instead!
Friday morning was unusually not sunny, but no real issue for me as it is time for Rio De Janeiro! I took a flight, (NOT a bus!) to Rio where I met Nigel (friend from Durham) who I was staying with.

Buenos Aires – take 2

Back to Buenos Aires for the second time. This time I decided to stay somewhere different and ended up in Palermo the middle class haven of Buenos Aires. Whilst the area is less aesthetically pleasing than San Telmo it does have a more family friendly feeling to it and I feel it is less likely I am going to get mugged!
I stayed in a hostel that had been recommended to me, which was lovely but seemed to have half of France staying there. No real issue except that most French people seem pretty poor at English and my French leaves a lot to be desired. Spanish therefore was the common ground!
On Sunday I spent the day in the Recoleta area, which is adjacent to Palermo and home to the super rich. I decided a day of culture was in order and went the the very impressive Belles Art gallery and followed this up with a trip to the cemetery. This is where Eva Peron, made famous worldwide by Madonna in Evita, and numerous other rich and famous Argentines are laid to rest. It is a truly bizarre place with some of the crypts having glass doors that look more like entrances to smart office blocks than a final resting place for someone rich! There are some incredible looking crypts and some which have decayed so much that the crypts are actually open. I think the whole place is a great example of why cremation is the way forward, as it is pretty damn creepy!
That evening a group of us from the hostel had an asado on the wonderful roof terrace. Yet more meat! This was made impressive by an Aussie doing the cooking, but he did a great job and ensured we were running on Argentine timings by having food ready around midnight!
More exploring of Palermo on Monday, including the botanical gardens and the fantastic shopping and cafe culture on the streets of Palermo.
The heat was nearly intolerable by lunchtime and by mid afternoon there was a very intense thunder storm followed by lovely sunshine again. Apparently this is the weather pattern in BA in spring. All very well unless you get caught out in the storm with no appropriate clothing nor an umbrella!

Estancia la margarita – Tapalque

I had 2 wonderful weeks on an estancia a few hours outside of Buenos Aires. An estancia is basically a ranch and there are lots of them in a region called las pampas, which seems to be the bread basket of Argentina. It is incredibly green and lush which actually made me feel very much at home, however it is fairly monotonous as there are no hills or defining landscape features, just lots of grassland, the odd tree and the odd house!
I arrived on the estancia and on leaving the small town where the bus dropped me off all signs off tarmac roads disappeared. There are only earth tracks, which work fine in the dry season but when the rain comes apparently they are impassable. Driving down the road to the house for the first time is very impressive. The house is not very big but it is set in this garden that is like a mini parkland. The veranda around the house has been very well thought through and has honeysuckle, jasmine and wisteria all around so smells amazing!
The estancia is a working estancia with around 320 hectares of land which is all grassland with virtually only cows, predominantly for beef. The estancia is set up as fairly self sufficient with a few pigs, chickens, sheep and a vegetable garden. This all seems really great to start with until I realised that everything is done on the site, including killing and butchering the animals. In my 2 weeks a bullock and a pig were killed and butchered, which is actually really unpleasant however this was soon forgotten when we tasted the meat the next day on the asado (Argentine barbecue)!
There were 2 gauchos working on the estancia, who are essentially Argentine versions of cowboys. They do all off the work outside and are incredible horseman. Their version of breaking a horse in (which I witnessed) is to get on said horse and to wait until it gets used to you being on it. Bizarrely this seems to be an effective method of working! The horses are all criollo mixes and are incredibly hardy by nature. They live outside all year around and never eat anything other than grass. They live in a herd of 15 horses, which is really interesting to see how they interact and the complex hierarchy of the herd mentality!
When there were no guests staying at the estancia an average day would start with a long ride on one of the horses. The other volunteer on site was a German girl called Milly and I was basically her assistant for the 2 weeks I was there. Milly and I would go for a 2 to 3 hour ride which would include walking and cantering only. With the Argentinian style saddles, which are little more than a pad the style of riding is very different to home. You ride with one hand, the horses do not understand it when you try to ride with both hands, and you are supposed to lean back as if sitting in a comfortable armchair! This proved a very alien concept to begin with but by the end I got very used to it, to such an extent that one of the gauchos told me a was a ‘china’ which is a female gaucho!
After riding we would tidy up outside, which included doing a bit of gardening, cleaning the pool, sweeping up. Then after lunch everyone would have a siesta so as not to work in the heat of the day. I am not a big day time sleeper, so used this time very productively sunbathing and swimming in the pool. Around 5pm work would start again and we worked for a couple of hours before helping to cook dinner. Food was great home cooked stuff and there was lots of it. The gauchos ate a huge amount and continually told Milly and I to eat more. I’m pretty sure I have never been told to eat more before! Dinner was, of course, late. If we ate before 10pm it was a good day, something I struggled with!
When we had guests on site the day was fairly similar except that we would spend time entertaining the guests and we would eat some meals with them. There were a lot of English speaking guests, which was a delight for me since it was basically Spanish only between the staff. I thought that my Spanish skills really had improved throughout my trip, but I found understanding the gauchos virtually impossible to begin with. They found me hard to understand and after a number of attempts gave up on my name altogether instead calling me ‘chica’ (girl) or ‘Inglesa’ (English). I learnt to respond to both of these alternative names well!
One of the trips many guests enjoy is a trip to the Pulperia, which is an old fashioned traditional gaucho shop. Nothing had prepared me for the amazing place that it was! 2 brothers, who are in their 80s, run the shop. It has no electricity and the place is lot by gas lamps. There is a counter where you order what you want and you can even by drinks whilst you are deciding! As soon as we arrived I likened it to the shop in Harry Potter where they by their wands from, Ollivanders?! I think! I told one of the gauchos this, he didn’t even grace my comment with a reply!
Nearly everyday we had beautiful weather which always helps and on the 2 days when the weather was bad we spent a lot of time drinking coffee and watching films which was actually a treat in itself! Most evenings we would drink lots of wine and relax together, however on my last night a few of us went into town for dinner. There was live music in the restaurant who found out somehow that there was a German and English in the room so we were continually being name checked throughout the gig. Drinks seemed to appear from nowhere and Milly and I felt like we were minor celebrities by the end of the night. This lead to some hangovers on Saturday morning unfortunately!

Buenos Aires take 1

I arrived into Buenos Aires for my first of 3 stays here on Friday afternoon. Having met a number of people along the way who are based in Buenos Aires I had been well briefed on the city. I stayed in the San Telmo district which is full of beautiful old buildings and has a very artistic crowd, you seem to almost continually be tripping over people selling hand crafted bits and pieces in the street.
With only 2 days in the city I decided to spend time getting to know the local area with a friend I had met previously called Cesilia who lives in the city. I had my first taste of the very well documented petty crime in Buenos Aires when someone tried, and failed, to steal my handbag. Not quite the start I was hoping for, but a good reminder that as a blonde haired, blue eyed, white girl I’m pretty much a walking target to pick pockets and tourist scams here!
The city itself has lots of history and numerous beautiful old buildings and areas so is a lovely place to walk around. There are cafes on every corner and many ice cream parlours which help to keep you going!
On my final night in Buenos Aires a group of friends went to watch a musical which another friend of ours was performing in. This proved to be a great, if slightly challenging due to it all being in Spanish, evening!
The following day I left for 2 weeks on an estancia, just outside of Buenos Aires, to learn how to be a gaucho.

Mar del Plata

After around a month in Patagonia I was starting to feel ready for some real warmth and being able to walk around in shorts again! With this in mind I booked myself onto a bus to Mar del, a very popular beach resort a few hundred miles south of Buenos Aires. I was feeling rather pleased with this decision until I told to Argentinians of my plan, they immediately laughed telling me I was going at the wrong time of year. A quick look at the weather report showed moderate temperatures and lots of rain. This brought on a further round of laughter. I decided to take my bus all the same and see what it was like in person.
I arrived on Monday morning in cloudy, grey weather. Despite having seen the weather report I was still disappointed! I arrived at my hostel, which turned out to be the Argentinian surfers hang out which isn’t perhaps an obvious fit for me. Despite this I met a great group in the hostel, which included lots of people living in Buenos Aires so I was able to get lots of tips for my next destination.
Despite being a massive Argentinian beach holiday destination the beaches here were pretty disappointing. There was rubbish everywhere and the whole coast is lined with high rise hotels and apartments. The bizarre thing is that none of the locals seem to notice this. They are incredibly proud of the place!
Despite a lack of sunshine on the first day I was incredibly lucky to have great weather for the following 3 days and now feel reassured my tan at least visible again! In between sunbathing a couple of friends from the hostel, Felix a very nice German and Liisa from Finland (incidentally my first Finnish friend) went on a cycling trip around the coast to see the sea lions. This did not go well. Firstly it turns out sea lions are ugly, smelly and mean animals which was very disappointing as I was expecting something much more like the incredibly cute seals I saw on the Galapagos islands. Secondly, Liisa’s bike broke half way on the trip so we had to walk all the way back. Not ideal. On the plus side we had calamari for lunch (freshly caught that day) which was absolutely delicious.
After 4 lovely days in Mar del Plata I headed off to Buenos Aires, which has been very much long awaited given quite how much I have heard about the city.