And DO 'go chasin waterfalls'
07.02.2014 - 27.02.2014
Leaving Puerto Madryn for Buenos Aires was such a beautiful bus trip. There was one of the most stunning sunsets I´ve seen as the clouds almost met the horizon so the vast, sprawling plains of inland Patagonia were framed by this vivid pink-orange strip of sky. This was almost enough to distract me from the smell of toilet, pooey pants and child-vomit in the aisle next to me.
We arrived in Buenos Aires and went in search of ´cambio´(cash) along Calle Florida which is lined with men calling out ´CAMBIO, CAMBIO´as you walk by, despite the many police about. We chose one, who of course became our friend over the next week, and he whisked us away to one of the many magazine stands, through a side door to a tiny back ´storage´room to continue the transaction and check for fake notes. It´s like what you would imagine an undercover police operation to be working out of. Calle Florida is lined with shops and cafes and it is common to see musicians, artists, cello players and tango dancers performing on the paths. By the first evening, I was already in love with BA. There always seems to be something going on (except during siesta time) and after dinner we heard music (& smelled meat) up the road and found an outdoor dance competition and of course a BBQ with choripan (beef & pork sausage) & chimichurri. Sadly there were also LOTS of kids running around with silly-string (equals new phobia) so I had to run through the crowd away from them all after I was sprayed in the face, then the hair ... I was scared to lose my choripan!
A lot of the time we spent in Buenos Aires did involve partying, but we hear that´s what it is all about so I don't feel too guilty. It was best when we became accustomed to the times in Argentina, as many afternoons we would wander around for a bar or something (and we know there are MANY about) but this is the time everyone lays low before the night. It is common to eat dinner at 10 or 11, then hit the clubs at 1 or later. This is how we got to know the man at the cafe near our hostel as we would come home from nights out at 9am and he would know to sneak us an end of 'night' beer – as long as we hid it. Then it is time for bed until about 2pm when it becomes unbearably hot and you wish you paid an extra $1 for a room with air con. We also thought someone in our hostel was constantly having REALLY inappropriately loud sex for a couple of days until we found out about the adult movie cinema sharing a wall. Although after 10 days at the hostel we became aware it would have been just as likely to be backpackers in the hostel bathrooms.
One night we went to see La Bomba del Tiempo (The Time Bomb) perform one of their regular shows. There are 15 or more percussionists on stage, all really enjoying themselves and following hand signals of the leader to improvise based on the crowds' reaction. That was awesome and a true reminder that I have no rhythm. We did some shopping and found BA-worthy dresses for Tango night, also invested in a straightener to share between the 3 of us...very un-backpackerish. The night started off with a BEAUTIFUL dinner at the intimate venue, all you can drink wine – to help with your lessons which are next – (I suck but we had a lot of fun). I assume everyone who pays gets the tango lesson certificate and it is not a very selective process. After lessons, the Tango Show began. A Tony Bennett like character sang and entertained us throughout and the show was dancers performing tango styles throughout the centuries. It was beautiful, such a romantic dance (when done right of course).
H and I did a bike tour of Buenos Aires, which was great. Our guide wasn´t lying when she said ¨Here in Argentina we have road rules...but there are also no rules¨. Scary! We saw government house at Plaza de Mayo which is where Evita would famously address the crowds on the balcony. Of course we did NOT sing ´don´t cry for me Argentina´at this point...sure. There is also a memorial in the square for the ´disappeared children´of the communist era who were taken from jailed parents and given to other families or who were ´missing´youth suspected to be involved in movements. It´s quite a sad story; older ladies still gather here once a week to pay their respects and some are still being reunited with their families. Evita is a huge figure here, very controversial. There are artworks of her face on buildings throughout the city – it is of a smiling face towards the poor areas and a scowl towards the wealthier areas. Near the main BA bus terminal people don´t even live in houses, you would think they are demolished buildings until you see some clothes hanging from a line amongst the rubble. A real city of contrasts as we then passed through to wealthiest area where many multi-million dollar apartment blocks are left empty as investments for South America´s 'dodgier side'. We were a group of about 20 blondes and maybe 2 brunettes, so it was funny riding past guys and hearing lines such as ´hey Barbie, I want to be your Ken¨, or simply ¨Argentinian boyfriend?¨. I have to say, all the lookers of South America seem to congregate in BA.
Next it was on to La Boca area, one of the poorest, and Caminito and so we tightened any belongings well on to our bikes. Caminito is an outdoor museum and tourist strip lined with bars and restaurants and waiters asking ¨Would you like some lunch señorita?¨- ¨No gracias¨- ¨Get drunk with me?¨ haha. It has a very cool, vibrant atmosphere. This is where you will come face to face with the common image of BA, the row of colourfully painted houses and likely a couple in Tango pose in front. Artists line the old cobblestone streets, musicians perform and dancers pose. Even the trees are decorated in colourful crochet covers. The painted houses represent how the area used to look when Europeans escaping the war came to live in filthy, cramped conditions and wanted to make their houses a little nicer however couldn´t afford paint. They would go down to the shipping wharf and steal leftover boat paint which often wouldn’t cover the entire front of a building, thus creating the colourful patchwork effect. On the way home we passed La Boca soccer stadium – La Boca is worshipped in Argentina, particularly BA where many buildings in the area are painted the blue and yellow team colours. It is a truly beautiful city.
One Saturday night we went to watch one of BA´s local teams San Lorenzo play against Racing Club. WHAT an experience – a highlight of the trip! A bunch of us got the bus from the hostel, sipping as many beers as we could when everyone freaked out upon hearing no alcohol is served in the stadium. Each seat is given a piece of white, navy or maroon cardboard (San Lorenzo´s colours). We tried to learn some chants but ended up just picking up on the swear words we already knew – why are these so much easier to remember than useful phrases? The atmosphere was wild, the crowd was up and singing and banging on any noisy item throughout the entire game, sometimes getting so excited they just had to take their shirts off (to which we had mixed feelings, depending on the person) and swing it around. I wish I could love ANYTHING as much as these guys love football. A dog wandered onto the field. San Lorenzo won. The party rolled out into the carpark and then the street. Amazing!
Sad to leave Buenos Aires but certain we´d be back, we then headed north to Rosario where Che Guevara was born. We actually came hoping to find some beaches along the river (having read good things) but I think our hostel owner Juan was the most entertaining thing about Rosario. He sounds like Borat, calls everyone ¨motherF...er¨ and teases everyone´s nationality. He was a character. The river was again nothing special (supposed to be the place to see), but we did get to have a photo out the front of Che´s family home – very La Dee da – and I had one of the best empanada´s I´ve tried – finally managed to get a snack without dulce de leche, the sweet sweet caramel Argentinians love with almost everything.
´Sadly´ the only bus option to the next destination, Puerto Iguazu, was Cama class (luxury) for the 20 hour trip. Well, this trip raised our expectations to an unsustainably high level as we were first offered red wine with dinner. The bus was pretty empty, so we asked for a top up and he brought us back the whole bottle. After dinner, sparkling wine was offered and this time we didn´t even have to ask – he just poured us a glass each and left the bottle along with some cookies his wife had baked.
Puerto Iguazu was HOT! you can feel the sun pinching your skin within minutes. The town is nothing too exciting – some great food – but is the place to stay to visit Iguazu Falls. Iguazu are the 2nd largests falls in the world – considered higher than Niagra and longer than Victoria Falls. We spent a day on the Argentinian side and wow, these waterfalls are spectacular! They are surrounded by tropical jungle and it is huuuumid! Luckily a lot of the paths take you so close you get plenty of spray so I could disguise the sweat as water. From this side you get to walk over falls, 1m from where they drop off, walk under them and see them from a distance. The many rainbows finish the view off perfectly, especially at ´Devil´s Throat´ where the wide river compacts into a narrow fall and the water pounds down so heavily you get absolutely saturated on the viewing platform above. You would think an entire day looking at the same falls would be enough, but we were back the next day – this time from the Brazilian side. Here you get more of a panoramic view and it really puts into perspective how many falls there are and how much area they cover. This side was even hotter and had less waterfall spray so we were speed sightseers. And dear people - there is an etiquette when having our photos taken at major tourist sights: get in there, get the shot and get the heck out! Do NOT stay in position flicking through 20 photos to see if you got it - you got it! And don't then nudge US to please move out of your shot. This is clearly not an issue we had
The following day we hopped on the bus bound for Rio De Janeiro, bursting with excitement that in 24 hours we would arrive at our apartment in Copacabana and get ready for Carnaval!!!!