Off down South America way


Ecuadorian dancers/musicians in Dudley Street, Wolverhampton

Ecuadorian dancers/musicians in Dudley Street, Wolverhampton


Day One
On the bus from Wolverhampton to catch the plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina from Heathrow to get us over the wet bit inbetween (all 13 hours of it).

Not sure why when we can find this sort of stuff (above) in Dudley Street, Wolverhampton. However, they are from Ecuador  – which is a bit further up than Argentina.

Buenos Aires also offers the opportunity of meeting up with our daughter, Susie Barrow, and her partner, Mattie Harling.

They abandoned blogging two months ago in the US in favour of millions of (rather good) pictures on Facebook .

Skype is great for keeping in touch where they can find good wifi but it will be great to meet up for some real FaceTime.

There is also the tango dancing. However, just I will not spin on my head at a Northern Soul night, I do not favour the split skirt for myself and will be quite happy to watch the experts.

Similarly, unless there is a mobility scooter variety, the goucho experience may be given a miss.

It is disappointing that our ‘Train to The Clouds’ – El Tren a las nubes – has been cancelled but it may be understandable.

This railway goes from Salta, in Northern Argentina, taking nearly 7 hours to get up to nearly 14,000 ft in the Andes. It was a link to mines up there but is now a tourist attraction.

However, at the moment, it is not after the train derailed in a tunnel half way along its journey last month. The 400 passengers had to get out and make there way out of the tunnel as a road support vehicle following the train went to get help.

Unfortunately the vehicle crashed and overturned injuring the two staff inside and the train passengers had to wait for the military to arrive with vehicles to get them back to Salta.

Since then the state government in Salta has taken over and it looks as though the railway will be shut until next September.

My wife, Anna, seems quite relieved to be having a day in Salta rather than riding the rails or bouncing around on dirt roads following the route of the railway.

However, an excellent account of what it might have been like to have taken the trip has been provided by Aussie blogger Olivia Oyster at http://oliviaoyster.com/travelblog/tren-a-las-nubes/

Her pictures are also excellent. Here is one to show what I mean –

Olivia's train to the clouds

Olivia’s train to the clouds

 

After jetlag recovery and a city tour in Buenos Aires comes the tango experience and for some reason the others want to go wandering around a cemetery to see who is buried there.

Our trip oop north will be to the Iguazu waterfalls on the border with Brazil. This is why we had to have yellow fever injections.

Mine had me flatlining with next to no blood pressure so they had better be a step up from Niagra with jungly bits.

If we survive this it will be another plane oop north and to the east to Salta – minus the train trip.

However, there is always white water rafting – or more likely sia pedalo on the lake.

A trip to Cafayate to test the waters (wine) looks interesting before bouncing back to Buenos Aires before flirting back oop north to Mendoza – heart of the wine-growing region.

More wine will be followed by a six and hour bus ride over the Andes to the Chilean capital to tat around there and down to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.

Plane South to Punta Arenas en route to Torres del Paine and on to chill out at the Perito Moreno Glacier and a boat ride through the national park glaciers.

Buenos Aires beckons again afterwards for a bit of rest and recovery before that long hop over the wet bit to get the bus back to Wolvo.
Day two

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Well Heathrow still very much an expensive shopping mall with aircraft attached but safely down in sunny Buenos Aires.
Anna thinks I may have slept through a thunder and lightning storm on the way but all I can remember is turning down another orange juice and the shame.
I think a 13 hour flight is an ordeal but the young guy sat next to me was a polo player on his way home to Buenos Aires from Malaysia after a two hour break in London.
As well as sleeping and knocking back a few wines (none for me after reading the advice about DVT and dehydration ) he looked after his 10 month old baby girl and chatted happily with his partner.
Perhaps it’s a young person thing.
Anyway, after arriving, not having baggage stolen or being ‘disappeared’ by immigration or customs our guide, Jorge, took us into Buenos Aires to drop our baggage , meet Susie and Matt and do the three hour city tour.
This was a surprise after 24 hours plus from leaving the edgy streets of Tettenhall but he assured us it was a good way of getting our bearings – and he was giving up watching the Argentina rugby team play South Africa on the telly to do it.
He was right. Hugely visually stimulating city from the Casa Rosada of Eva Peron to the edgy (just like Tettenhall and me Massive) streets of the Boca barrio (really nice coffee and choccy biscuits – up there with Tettenhall’s best).
The crash course in how not to get ripped off by taxi drivers with false
100 peso notes and not getting robbed by yoots who disappear into the multiple lanes of traffic on ‘the widest road in the world’ was also useful.
He was reassuring, saying that only 1 per cent in the Buenos Aires province were villains – but 18 million people live here.
The Boca looks worth a return visit (not sure if we will get to see Boca Juniors and their crazy fans) as does the cemetery at Recoleta where Eva Peron and Buenos Aires’ great and the good (and not so good ) have their tombs .
The gentrified old docks and the thousands of acres of parks littered with art works also look worth a return.
However, a flying visit might not stretch to a boat trip across the River Plate to Uruguay or a train trip up the coast to Tigre.
After the three hour tour we tipped goodbye to Jorge and driver Juan Carlos but were still too early for our 3pm hotel check-in so were forced to sit drinking beers until the appointed time.
Not sure if this rates as human rights abuse as much as the shopping I have been threatened with.
Once allowed into our room we were able to lavish supplies on Matt and Susie – replacement phones and charging leads for cracked and wonky ones, jungle grade insect repellent, a pink poncho , Aussie shampoo and conditioner, fashion items from H&M and Topshop, diving instruction cards and DVD and three big bars of Galaxy chocolate.
Anna and I also got lovely presents – including a lovely grey Andean jumper with llamas on it. This can double up as a Christmas jumper methinks.
After fruitless attempts at sleep but a refreshing shower it was off to do some serious meat eating at a place recommended by some people in Susie and Matt ‘s hostel.
After negotiating quite a few broken pavements – they have had a few economic maelstrom and high inflation visited upon them – we were lucky to get a table before people poured in after 9.
Steaks for me, Anna and Susie did not disappoint, along with cheesy spinach and potato wedges but Matt was a bit disappointed with what he described as ‘the rest of the cow’.
He found the kidneys, chitterlings etcetera a bit dry – but the red wine helped despite them not having any Malbec !

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Flowers at the Duarte tomb in Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron was laid to rest
Day Three
Buenos Aires’ Microcentro has a pretty tightly arranged group of historic monuments, sites and pretty parks.
Walking seemed the best option for the day – as a prelude to dinner at a tango dancing show.
Sunshine all the way helped as we ambled around the Plaza de Mayo, the wide avenues and tight back streets before being lured away down the longest street market we have seen in our lives – the one called San Elmo.

The quality and variety of stuff on display was impressive – as was the street food and live music popping up on corners and nooks and crannies as crowds swarmed up and down the narrow street lined with stalls.
On days like this stops to rest and refuel with coffee, snacks and beers were essential – especially as we headed off down to the old docks to join the crowds strolling around the new restaurants, bars and cafés among the old cranes, grain silos and turtles sunning themselves on a sunken ship’s hull.
After this we needed hotel rest and recovery before being picked up for dinner and the tango how at Esqiuna Carlos Gradel.
It was a night of more mighty steaks accompanied by a film looking back over tango’s history and super-athletic dancing,sparkling shiny costumes and tight quality music.
It was an ambitious and largely successful attempt to encapsulate a cultural form that has captivated the country.
Elsewhere in Buenos Aires the World Festival of tango dancing was going on at different venues – and on the streets.
Another passion of Argentines – football – was also being indulged in on Sunday as River Plate and Boca Juniors fired up the fans.
Day Four
A trek to the Boquebus terminal proved fruitless because heavy holiday demand (they roll their weekend hols over onto Mondays) meant we could catch a fast SeaCat ferry to Colonia in Uruguay but not get back until 1 in the morning.
As we had to be ready to go to the airport for the flight to Iguazu Falls at 7a.m we declined – perhaps next time.
The walk back took us to the Galerias Pacificas shopping mall/centre so me and Matt ran away and left Anna and Susie to it.
After negotiating the cambio cambio cries of the money changers on Florida we made it to the beautiful Teatro Colon – once the biggest theatre in the Southern Hemisphere.
After taking on coffee and water and finding out when the last tour in English was we returned to the shoppers only to find the shoppers wanted food.
A table on the street brought the usual big portions and a couple of big beers.
After returning to the hotel for rest and recovery it was off down a block or to to El Museo de jamon for excellent tapas and Argentinian Malbec.
Day Five
Time to leave Buenos Aires just as Dawn comes up over the River Plate.
Over to the left jumbles of concrete continue to reach towards the sky on old railway land where people have DIYed their own homes and, according to our somewhat envious/bitter guide live free of the payments ‘normal’ Portenos have to pay.
Up and away after persuading airport staff all our baggage evens out to meet the 15kg per person hold baggage allowance.
The one hour fifty minute flight took us into the 30degree C of Puerto Iguazu’s winter (winter ends in September and then the humidity and heat really take off).
Going up this way the plane follows the River Parana, which becomes the River Plate at Buenos Aires.
As the earth turns a deep red and sub-tropical jungle appears low cloud and mist may fire up overexcited passengers into thinking they can see Iguazu Falls.
Similar false alarms stem from plumes of smoke from stubble burning.
A warm (temperature and manners) from Brazilian guide Alex was a prelude to a minibus ride to our riverside (if you count 200 steps down to the pier swept away in June floods) hotel, Loi Suites Iguazu.
Here a cool timbered reception area looked out over the hotel’s three linked swimming pools and the red stone paths and wood swing bridge walkways connecting the accommodation blocks.
Blocks sounds a bit severe for nicely designed units with rooms containing huge beds, superb showers and baths, air conditioning and ample room.
One weird feature we have noticed in a variety of hotels lately is the desire to display bathrooms, toilets and showers to the rest of the room.
It started with a tiny boutique hotel (only two rooms above a tea room/coffee house) in the village of Romenay, Bourgoune, France.
The high-tech shower pod was tremendous and wash basin, toilet etc were fine – except there was no door.
The place was also weird as the owners lived a few streets away and after the tea rooms closed we were on our own with our own key for the night.

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