03 Dec

Monday Moment: Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

It’s hard to fathom the amount of water tumbling over the edge of Iguazu Falls in Argentina. As one of the largest waterfalls in the world it is an impressive sight on a normal day. The storms from the days before had saturated the earth and caused the falls to be even grander on this day. Coloured red from the soil, the water had started to take over the surrounding jungle.

Hard to believe that there was a time in 1978 when the falls were completely dry.

30 Apr

Monday Moment: Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina

This isn’t the craziest road we drove on.

I think the road from Kathmandu to Pokhara in Nepal was crazier but I think that was because the vehicles were older and the drivers cared less (I’m afraid I have no pictures as I was terrified and clinging onto whatever I could find that was solid).

This one did cause me plenty of stress though. As the only route between Santiago, Chile and Mendoza, Argentina I knew we had to traverse it but doing so in winter seemed asinine to me! I prayed for good weather and obsessively checked the weather and road reports to see if it was open and what the conditions were like.

Thankfully the day dawned clear and we were on our way. Twenty nine switchbacks later we reached the 3200 metre peak and the border of Chile and Argentina.

Quite the ride.

13 Feb

Monday Moment: Argentinian Gauchos

Argentinian Gaucho

Much of central and northern Argentina is pampas…long stretches of flat, flat grassland punctuated by estancias (ranches) and small towns. In the late 1800’s these fertile grasslands were ruled by gauchos. These South American cowboys are held in folklore much like their North American counterparts.

Quiet, stoic, and proud, they were nomadic cattlemen back in the day. Today, they still work the land and maintain some of their mystique, but less so.

We met these two while visiting an estancia outside of Argentina. Although more of a ‘dude ranch’ now they hinted of a by-gone era as they showcased their talents and jauntily posed for pictures.

25 Jan

Remember That Time…We Visited The Dead?

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

I’m not one to believe in ghost stories, or think that my ancestors are looking down on me. I have a pretty pragmatic view of death and will be utterly surprised if I ‘wake up’ on the other side. I am fascinated, though, by cemeteries and the lengths to which people will go to honor and remember their loved ones.

La Cementerio de la Recoleta in Buenos Aires is a grand display of love, and worship, and wealth.

Ensconced within the tony Recoleta neighborhood, hidden behind high walls, it is a city within the city. City blocks, stone streets, narrow alleys and plazas mark the landscape and live up to the name City of the Dead.

In this city the streets are not lined with houses, and driveways, and green lawns; but with mausoleums, and tombstones, and statues honoring those that rest here.

It is truly a sight to behold. We wandered for hours, checking out all the nooks and crannies, reading the inscriptions and poking our heads into open mausoleums to see stacks of coffins inside! It was, at times, a little creepy but more-so it was fascinating to think of the time, and energy, and money that went into these final resting places.

There is a reminder of this grand cemetery here at home. From the window near the front door of our apartment I can look out to the biggest cemetery here in Victoria, the Ross Bay Cemetery. It is a beautiful, parkland-like setting on the edge of the ocean; in fact, local lore says that high tides and storms have been responsible for sucking caskets out to sea…that was until they shored it all up a few years ago and wrecked the ghost story-telling potential.

Housing many local founding fathers (such as Sir James Douglas and John Dunsmuir), Canadian icons (Emily Carr and Billy Barker) and historical figures (Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie and Nellie Chapman), it is the perfect place to take a walk..and we do often as we cut through on our way to the grocery store.

It is old; just as old as La Cementerio de la Recoleta; opened in 1873, and is showing it’s age with many of the tombs covered in moss, or caved in but it is no match for the grandest cemetery in Argentina. Don’t tell those resting there though…they have an ocean view and are proud of it!

25 Aug

The Amazing Power Of Nature

Rainy Day Bus Ride We arrived in Iguazu Falls in the middle of a rainstorm, not knowing that the worst of it was yet to come. That night I saw biggest thunderstorm I have ever seen. The storm cells circled the town for hours on end, flashing lightning, crashing thunder loud enough to shake the house, and dropping rain harder than I thought possible. I’m from the West Coast of Canada so I’m used to rain, but this was like the skies just opened up and poured out what they had. I was mesmerized and, like a little girl, kept running to the window to have a look.

The next day dawned calm, although overcast. We made our way to the falls easily on the local bus and set about a plan to view them from all possible angles.

Iguazu Falls, Argentinean Side We started with the Upper Walkway which would give us a view of the falls from above. The first view of the falls was stunning but, literally, every footstep revealed even more falls and an even better view. The water level was high resulting in even better waterfall viewing than expected, and was a reddish brown color due to the storm runoff picking up the richly colored soil as it made it’s way to the falls.

The catwalk walkway wound it’s way over several of the falls allowing views down to the tumble of water below. From here I could also see the lower walkways and how close they got  to the falls from the bottom – that looked like even more fun!

Gillian Under The Falls The Lower Walkway was way more fun! The largest waterfall had a walkway almost to the base – I pulled my raincoat tightly to me, tugged on the hood strings and made my out. The wind created from force of the water whipped around me. The sound was deafening and the spray got heavier and heavier as I got closer to the base. Once there I stared straight up at it, amazed at how much power was there. I got soaked but had a huge smile on my face!

The Devils Throat is the main attraction at the falls. A catwalk more than a kilometer long reaches out over the river to get to the lip of this tight horseshoe shaped behemoth. It is stunning and awe-inspiring. We couldn’t even see to the other side of the horseshoe as the spray was so thick. Needless to say, there are no close up pictures and yes, we got soaked. But happy again.

There is a border that runs directly down the middle of the Iguazu River and the falls  themselves. On one side Argentina, and on the other, Brazil. It was an easy day trip to get to the Brazilian side.

Iguazu Falls, Brazilian Side-3 The difference between the Argentinean side and the Brazilian side were described to us by some fellow Canadians as being like Niagara Falls…Canada owns the falls, but the States has a better view. I don’t know if I  would say Brazil’s view is better, but it certainly is more panoramic. From here we were able to see the full majesty of the falls on the other side.

The White Smurfs In Front Of The Falls They too have a catwalk and it pushed out across a fast moving section of the river, in front of a wall of water cascading from above and ending at the edge of the fall as it made its final descent. The wind and spray were like being in the middle of a storm and, as I reached the end of the catwalk I gasped at the view of the water plunging over the edge. So much water, moving so quickly right under my feet…truly, a fine display of natures power.

It’s impossible to decide whether the Argentinean or Brazilian side of the falls are better. The Argentinean side will forever be remembered for the first amazing views, but it was the Brazilian side that literally took my breath away.

19 Aug

I Heart Buenos Aires

In Buenos Aires At first, I was a little scared of Buenos Aires. I mean it’s a city of 13 million people! I worried that we would get lost, that we would get mugged, that we would be overwhelmed. I needn’t have worried – we spent 10 days and could have stayed longer we loved it so much.

We started our stay with a couple of walking tours by BAFreeTour. The excellent, and funny Sol and Maca showed us the best of the city and gave out advice and recommendations easily. I highly recommend them – they helped us realize that the city doesn’t have to be overwhelming and can be conquered.

Our apartment was located in Palermo, a fabulous neighborhood filled with cafes, shops, restaurants and apartment blocks – a city of 13 million lives a stacked life! We loved it, wandering around for hours, finding something new every time we went out. We were able to walk everywhere we wanted to visit but, once we mastered the subway we took advantage of it also – piece of cake.

Buenos Aires Cafe Coffee culture is huge in Buenos Aires, and I upped both my coffee intake and my ‘cred’ when I discovered the cortado – a mix of espresso and just a hint of milk, definitely stronger than any coffee I’d been able to consume at home (I’m a Starbucks latte kind of girl…no longer). Here, coffee is not consumed in take out cups while hurriedly running off to attend to something else. No, here one goes to a cafe and leisurely sips while chatting or just watching the world go by. Linger for a while…no-one minds. Fabulous!

One BIG Steak My beef and wine intake also increased substantially. I think I’ve eaten more beef in Argentina than we normally eat in a whole year. Seriously!! And it is as good as advertised. Our big ‘steak dinner out’ was had at  La Cabrera, a restaurant I had read was a touristy but worth it. It was totally worth it. I have never seen a steak so big, and accompanied by 13 small side dishes! We were absolutely stuffed…but happy. And wine…I think we’ve drank a bottle of wine every single day…it really is like water at this point!

Wandering Through Recoleta Cemetary We took in the city at our leisure, enjoying art galleries, regular neighborhoods, fancy neighborhoods, markets and, of course, the famous Recoleta cemetery. It really is stunning! The tombs were built to honor the people within them but also must have been built with a keep-up-with-the-Jones kind of mentality as every one is grander than the next. There are sculptures, and spires, and chapels, and monuments everywhere. Quite the sight to see.

Tango. How could one go to Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango, and not see a tango show? It is possible to see tango in the streets, although the weather and time of year did not bode too well for us and we only saw one or two couples shilling it for tips. Tango shows can cost a fortune and we were not nearly ready to go to a milonga where one can dance tango…there are strict ‘rules’ around dancing and ad-libbing is not encouraged!

More Tortoni Tango Fortunately I like cheese. You know, campy…put-on…over-the-top…Vegas-like. In fact, one of my favorite shows ever was the Follies Bergere show at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Pure camp…feathered headdress, topless, mirrored ceiling kind of entertainment. But, back to the tango…we found that the cheapest show in town was at Cafe Tortoni, which also happens to be the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires. It was perfect. Live tango music by an aging band, a Sinatra-like singer, and a stunning couple dancing tango on the smallest, red velvet curtained stage around. I loved it!!

We left Buenos Aires wanting more…more time. This was a place we could settle into, enjoy, explore. Not scary at all.

13 Aug

Like A Rhinestone Cowboy

Riding out on a horse, in a star-spangled rodeo.

Gauchos at La Cinacina Much of central and northern Argentina is pampas…long stretches of flat, flat grassland punctuated by estancias and small towns. In the late 1800’s these fertile grasslands were ruled by gauchos. These South American cowboys are held in folklore much like their North American counterparts.

Quiet, stoic, and proud, they were nomadic cattlemen back in the day. Today, they still work the land and maintain some of their mystique, but less so.

Our base is in Buenos Aires but we have had a couple of opportunities to experience the more rural aspects of Argentinean life by traveling just outside the city limits.

Read More

09 Aug

Meh In Mendoza

Seriously, Staight Up Although the drive through the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza was breathtaking, taking us straight up one side of a mountain and then slowly easing back down the other side, we found Mendoza itself a bit lacking.

It seems that, in the summer, there would be plenty to do. But, in the winter, the city is definitely much, much quieter.

There certainly is plenty of wine…it’s good and cheap too. There are lots of cafes and restaurants and squares but not a lot of sights to see. In summer I could see that the tree lined streets would provide welcome shade for the sidewalk cafes where one could wile away an afternoon easily. But in winter it’s too chilly to lounge for too long and, outside of skiing and vineyard touring, other activities are minimal.

Olive Oil Production We did tour a winery (or two), and an olive grove too. We walked and walked and walked and, upon discovering a large park just off the downtown we got a long needed run in too.

Serious About Siesta in Mendoza Mendocinians are serious about their siesta. Come 1PM the shops are shut up tight, traffic slows to a dribble and everyone is heading home for lunch and a nap. Until about 4PM there is nothing open except cafes and restaurants and, as we weren’t in love with either of the hostels we tried out, we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do.

I wanted to like it, really I did, but sometimes things just are what they are. I won’t say I didn’t like it, but I certainly will not be rushing back. Sorry Mendoza, but you underwhelmed me.