Buenos Aires in 5 Moves, Or, But You Told Me You Loved Me

La Boca

I moved 5 times in the week I stayed in Buenos Aires, and didn’t enjoy a lot of my time there. It was hot, it was more expensive than I expected, I didn’t initially plan on staying the whole week, and it all started off downhill with the sight of my first bedbug. I had booked a private room in a hostel (using an expensive Internet connection from the ship in the Antarctic) – it was cell-like, narrow and dirty, and a big transition from life on board. But I decided to tough it out like a real budget traveller, and I laid down for an hour in the afternoon on the spongy little bed, which was jammed in the corner of the room, up against a rusty old radiator tucked in a little alcove in the wall. After I got up I looked over and saw a brown little bug scuttling across the pillow.

Street Art by Jazz in BA

Move 1-2 In two hours

When I showed the dead bedbug to the guy at the front desk, he shrugged and said “It’s a hostel.” And that’s when I realised I had hit my limit on my very first day of budget travel. It took me two hours to find a decent affordable hotel online, and it was getting dark by the time I made my way there, after forgetting the address and name of the hotel along the way. Walking down the street and I saw a sign for a nice looking hotel and wished to myself that I was staying there. I took a second look at the name and realised I was! I was hoping against hope as I got into the room – it was beautiful, with a flat screen tv on the wall, my own little bathroom, and I felt overwhelming relief. It felt like it had been months since I’d been anywhere nice and comfortable, rather than a few hours. At that point I had to wonder, am I still a budget traveller at heart…?

Falklands Protests – Not an Uncommon Sight

Move 3 – A day and half later

My hotel room wasn’t available the rest of the week, and I realised it was too expensive and far to go anywhere outside of BA before I was scheduled to fly to Santiago Chile. I spent ages trying to find an apartment on airbnb, and after repeated emails and a lower price offered by Nathali, I met her brother to go to the apartment. Manuel didn’t speak English, and it turned out neither did his sister Nathali. I found out I’d been communicating with their mother, Elida, who lived an hour outside of town. The false advertising was off-putting, the building kind of dodgy, I was feeling less safe in the city by this point and very unsure about the apartment. Elida was reassuring on the phone and over email, we talked repeatedly in the afternoon and that evening. Elida told me I had a beautiful voice, and later, she said she loved me. Around 12:30am I was still up doing email when I received a message telling me that a lovely retired couple would be coming to the apartment the next morning and I would have to leave. Through all of our communications it seemed odd this hadn’t come up, and I felt that she hadn’t been entirely honest – how could she kick me out if I was so loveable?

Cast of a Bacardi Rum Commercial – Colonia, Uruguay

Move 4 -5 One day later, then 3 days on

Elida offered me another son’s apartment to rent, but I booked a hotel instead, in the San Telmo area. It was nice, comfortable and clean. My final move from there wasn’t out of desperation but due to a coincidental meeting with my neighbour Austin from about 8 houses away in Ottawa. We met up at the dock in Colonia, Uruguay (a day trip from Buenos Aires) and he turned out to be staying in a palatial rented apartment not far from my hotel. I moved in with him for my last night in the city, where we ate pizza and compared our difficult experiences of BA.

Me and Mafalda

The Rest of Buenos Aires

I had a hard time with Buenos Aires because it seemed grey, with a sense of desperation and unhappiness. With 25% inflation a year, people are increasingly poor and crime is on the rise. Austin was robbed and lost his camera, I had a strange man following me down the street late at night, it all left me feeling on edge.

Train Station – to Tigre

There were some good things though – the graffiti mundo street art tour was really cool and interesting, the long hot walk Austin and I took in the Tigre Delta, on which we shared a litre of Heineken (the largest bottle of beer I’ve ever seen, even bigger than Nigerian beers) at the Monkey Restaurant, the highlight find of the day. The Jacaranda trees with their purple blooms, reminding me of South Africa (imported from S America, they line Pretoria’s streets and coat them with purple petals in the spring time). The zoo, the oldest in South America, was an interesting historical sight, although the behaviours of the captive animals and the humans were desperate and unfortunate.

Austin and Monkey Restaurant Owner Nacho

Buenos Aires seemed to be a lot different than what I experienced during my last visit in 2008. I’m wondering if they’ll be crashing again or on the upswing five years on.

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Fun and Informative Cruise Facts

Paradise Bay

Southern-most Latitude reached – Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula – 64.52 S

Distance Travelled in Nautical Miles

Buenos Aires

Ushuaia, Argentina 1374

Cape Horn, Chile 110

Schollaert Channel and Paradise Bay, Antarctica 565

Elephant Island 324

Port Stanley, Falkland Islands 604

Puerto Madryn, Argentina 633

Montevideo, Uruguay 719

Buenos Aires, Argentina 137

Total 4466

1 Nautical Mile = 1.15 land miles 5136 Land Miles
= 8218 Kilometres

Elephant Seals are the World’s Largest Carnivore – they can reach sizes up to 11,000 – 12,000 pounds

Weight gain from cruise – also rapid and sizeable

Books I read on the cruise – only one, but it was good.

I recommend the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

Blog posts written on cruise – none! Too busy making like an Elephant Seal – eating and sleeping

**Note – Elephant Seal photo is not my own, but I’ve lost the origin so can’t credit it here

Montevideo, Uruguay

City Gate

Our last port the day before the end of the trip, Montevideo was a bit of an anticlimax.We had nothing planned, and the weather was hot and muggy.After walking around through the quiet city streets for a couple hours we luckily found a beautiful old bookstore with a fancy old fashioned iron lift that took us to the upstairs cafe, where we had some cheap Uruguayan wine and tried to cool off for a bit.

The (previously?) tallest building in South America

Not the UN building

Beautiful Bookstore and Cafe

Afternoon wine break

Sponsored by Coco-Cola? The signs and old advertisements are everywhere

Peninsula Valdes, Argentina

Back up the coast into warmer weather we took a day tour to Peninsula Valdes to see the sea lion colony and masses of Magellanic Penguins. Apparently Darwin found this landscape to be the most memorable of all of his travels.We couldn’t figure out why, unless he’d never before come across miles of undulating desert scrubland.What we saw was a flattish, dry, brown expanse, with slender Guanacos jumping across the highway, Argentina’s version of the llama.

Guanacos

Peninsula Valdes is one of only two places in the world where you can see Orcas on land. At high tide when the Elephant Seal pups are in their fat and vulnerable prime, Orcas ride the water up on to the shore to ‘strand’ themselves and grab ahold of a pup to take back to their pod. Unfortunately we did not see this, as Elephant Seal calving season had just passed, and they were not on the beach. We did see large numbers of sausage-like Southern Sea Lions lounging on the beach, with a few hefty males lumbering towards the water.

Southern Sea Lions basking

We also saw a Magellanic Penguin metropolis – Jackass Penguins, as they are also known (closely resembling their South African cousins, who I’ve seen outside of Cape Town), were in abundance. Nestled in gravelly burrows, under little scrub bushes, waddling towards the beach, some sleeping, some fighting, some babies and some adults.

Magellanic Penguin

Making like a Penguin

Summer in the Falklands

Penguin burrows in the peat

What a barren windswept piece of rock. What did Charles Darwin say? Such a desolate landscape he’d never laid eyes on, or something more elegant to that effect. A long low largely flat expanse – even the rocks don’t protrude high above the ground, the plants are of the hardy, low and coarse variety. Everything has proven its mettle just by making a home here. My ideas of feeling a romantic pull towards the place, that might draw me to come back for a longer visit slowly dissipated as the day and the rain progressed. By the time we boarded the tender boat to get back to the ship 1.5 hrs later than scheduled, I had a feeling previously reserved for dry land – home at last. Hot showers ahoy!

It was on the Falklands that Darwin seems to have realised that species were not fixed entities. My question to ponder over is why – why choose to live at the end of the earth, miles from anywhere, with such lousy weather? There’s only one town and around 5000 people on the islands. They’re not on speaking terms with Argentina, so people fly to Chile or Uruguay to get medical treatment if it’s serious. They’re 500 kilometres away from their closest neighbours in Patagonia

Bluff Cove in the rain

It was the driving rain, pelting me in the face with hard ice pellets, while I was squinting over my fogged up glasses to make out the colony of Gentoo penguins in front of my feet that did it. Dripping wet with no help from the goretex (including the waterproof pants that I had packed in my knapsack) even the Rangers were leaving me behind, as I tried to remain steadfast and take in as much of the penguin colony as I could. The penguins were obliging, coming directly towards all of the visitors, close enough to make some people back away. I wondered if it was this innocent curiousity that caused so many to land in the islanders pots in the early 19th century (about 2 million).

Curious and Curiouser

Gentoo Juvenile

I did see the nine King Penguins with their sunburst faces, incubating their eggs (and one with a fat brown chick!) in the middle of the crowd of Gentoos. And after I beat it over to the Sea Cabbage Cafe for a plateful of homemade desserts. My camera was too fogged at this point to take any more photos, but the array of treats was also a sight to be seen.

Not a football – it’s a King Penguin chick

One Month Later – The Falklands Held a Referendum on their Political Status – only Islanders allowed to vote

Falkland Islands: respect ‘yes’ vote to staying British, Cameron tells Argentina

Mar 12, 2013 – Only three vote against staying British in unsurprising landslide, which Argentina dismisses as irrelevant.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/mar/12/falkland-islands-referendum-votes-yes

Port Stanley – still British, for now

Watching Antarctic Seabirds on the Waves

Wandering Albatross with Southern Fulmar*

Graham, our onboard wildlife lecturer who looked uncannily like a walrus, said it well – “it’s not about getting all the names, but just watch them – these seabirds can do things you just can’t see anywhere else”. I have some of the names, though not all (the rest are written down in my journal that is presently in Ottawa), and I watched them. I followed with my binoculars as they soared like kites above the waves, dipping, turning, barely with the flap of a wing. These were the albatross, the fulmars, the larger petrels, whose phenomenal wing spans still managed to look small in the vastness of the Antarctic waters.

Black-browed Albatross**

The Black-browed Albatross at first sight looked like a Greater Black-backed Gull (larger seagull) and were so common I didn’t believe they could be albatross initially. The Southern Giant Petrel followed in the wake of the ship for extended periods, looking for scraps to feed on. Then there were the Storm Petrels (Wilson’s and Black-bellied) the swallows of the sea, who fluttered in the troughs of the waves, protected from the strong winds gusting above them.

There were birds and there were birders – most more serious than me, with fancy scopes and tripods, out on the deck, like the two Scottish guys Rab and Dougie, who kindly gave me a birding guide to Argentinian birds when we left the ship. And there were Brenda and Jane who shared our 8:30pm dinner seating and managed to see much more than me, including a gold star bird, the Andean Condor on their day out in Ushuaia. They also let me know about the site birdingpals, which is like couchsurfing for birders – you can connect and bird with amateur or professional birders all over the world.

My Incomplete Antarctic Bird List

  • Black-browed Albatross
  • Wandering Albatross
  • Southern Giant Petrel
  • Southern Fulmar
  • Wilson’s Storm Petrel
  • Black-bellied Petrel
  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Fairy Prions
  • Kelp Gull

Falklands: Falklands Thrush, Rock Shags, Upland Goose, Black-chinned Siskin, Turkey Vultures (not so exciting as we have these at home)

Penguins

  • Chin-strapped (likely viewing moving quickly through the water)
  • Gentoo
  • King
  • Magellanic

Gentoo juvenile

*Photo courtesy of gallery of birds.com
** Photo found on ofermaimon.blogspot.com

Elephant Island

Elephant Island

Hearing the foghorn blare as we left the cabin didn’t bode well for sightings of Elephant Island. We were travelling through a thick damp blanket of fog, more slowly than planned, and the forecast was uncertain. The expectations were high for the day – to set eyes on the island where English Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton heroically returned to rescue his crew left stranded on the island for 4 months after the shipwreck of the Endurance – not a man lost, despite suffering extreme weather conditions with little in the way of food or supplies. On top of that it was my mum’s 70th birthday and the scenery was a big part of the celebration.

The fog continued through the morning and we sat down by the windows with some books to wait. We were meant to approach around 2pm and I was checking my watch.

The Fog Lifted – Endurance Glacier Revealed

Closing in on 2pm it was a little brighter, there was more sea visible surrounding us, and then suddenly the fog had lifted and there was land! Tall snowy mountains with a large glacier pouring in between to the ocean, called the Endurance. We looked, and looked some more, I succumbed to the anti-seasickness pills and passed out on a lounge chair for a quick 20 minute snooze, and then went back to staring out across the water.

Clarence Island

We saw Clarence Island off the coast of Elephant Island before the encroaching wall of fog swallowed us. We weren’t able to make it round the north end of the island, and so we missed seeing the memorial statue to Shackleton.

Entering the Fog

Travelling through this landscape in an enormous floating city with radar to guide us through the ice field made me wonder how the early explorers managed to navigate and survive the waves, the icebergs, and the solid snow cliffs and rocky peaks that suddenly erupted out of the clouds. Could they have imagined they were making way for budget mass tourism?

In further contrast to Shackleton’s expedition, we celebrated my mum’s birthday with a cake and a second dessert after dinner and came back to the cabin to find a bottle of champagne, a plate of fruit and a bowl of chocolates, plus chocolate-dipped marizipan roses that I had ordered as an extra treat.

Happy 70th mum!

Antarctica!

Going to Antarctica hadn’t been on the top of my travel list mainly because I never really thought it was possible. I didn’t know any bearded explorers or have $10K to spare. But budget mass tourism thankfully brought it within reach.

Up until we got there (Feb 9) I wasn’t really sure it was going to happen – initially I thought we’d be disembarking on Elephant Island (where Ernest Shackleton’s men were shipwrecked for 4 months) – finding out instead we’d be cruising by some Antarctic scenery left me unsure of what we could really expect to see.

image

But see it we did. The weather was on our side, we went, and it was really there – huge walls of marble snow, bright white cracked with crystalline blue, jagged peaks of rock peering out between the clouds, smooth Henry Moore-esque sculpted white shapes, shorelines that looked like some giant undersea animal had risen from the depths to chew big bites out of them.

I think it was some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t get over the snow – there must be a different Inuit word for it, because this was nothing like what I’ve grown up being surrounded by. This snow was solid, like rock, and conveyed a sense of glacial force and strength. My mum was surprised that it was so mountainous – she’d expected the crystal desert to be flat. We learned that the Andes drop off into the sea at Cape Horn (where we floated past early in the morning of Feb 8) to rise again in Antarctica, forming this snowy, forbidding crown at the bottom of the world.

This doesn’t reflect the true turquoise colour

There were whales spouting and diving everywhere – I think I saw at least 16, and pods of penguins porpoising through the water. They arc out of the water like dolphins, and look just as playful. They’re built to fly underwater and they do – we saw them far off from land, jumping over the waves.

We floated through the Schollart Channel and into Paradise Bay by the afternoon, home to a large number of research stations and renowned for the wildlife. It was calm and the sun came out to shine in patches on the mountain sides. We saw zodiacs with researchers coming toward the ship, looking the size of little bugs next to icebergs that had first seemed like small debris. With effort we spotted the American research station at the base of the bay, which was barely distinguishable as tiny red Lego buildings clustered at the bottom of a giant wall of mountains. The scale of the mountains, the expanse of grey-blue water, was an ongoing surprise.

Look closely – see the research station?

As we left the bay and made our way north again towards Elephant Island, I sat out on the upper deck and stared out at the scenery until dinner time.

image

The Albatross

Albatross at the End of the World

We saw albatross in abundance in the Antarctic. Albatross have long been believed to be the souls of sailors who died at sea – they spend the majority of their life soaring over the waves, only returning to land after five years or more to breed.

Rusted Albatross Sculpture, Cape Horn

Cape Horn Memorial

I am the albatross that awaits you

at the end of the world

I am the forgotten souls of dead mariners

who passed Cape Horn

from all the oceans of the world.

But they did not die

in the furious waves.

Today they sail on my wings

Toward eternity,

In the last crack

of the Antarctic winds.

Sara Vial, Chile

1992

Ushuaia – City at the End of the World

Ushuaia from the water

Ushuaia

Ushuaia was our first stop (Feb 7) after three full days at sea travelling down the long Argentine coast from Buenos Aires. It was a welcome relief after being largely inactive on the ship (we didn’t get back to the ping pong after the first day).

My mum and I headed out with Adecia from the US to do our own day tour, hiring a taxi to take us to Tierra del Fuego National Park. There we saw the snow-capped Andes in the distance, a few lakes, a beaver dam (imported beavers from home) and a Fuegian Fox. We met Phil from the UK who had travelled by motorbike down the highway from Alaska all the way to where the road ends in the park.

At the End of the Road

At the End of the Road

Fuegian Fox

Fuegian Fox

Second stop was to the Martial Glacier right outside the town. The cable car up was a beautiful and not scary ride, and we got to touch some glacial snow! Not the actual glacier, but close to it.