|Well we spent 4 months in BA. We
didn't really do very much. We visited a museum or two. We
continued studying Spanish. But mostly we just lived like
Porteños. We went to the shops - shops that had things we actually
wanted to buy. We went to restaurants that had food we wanted to
eat and wine we wanted to drink. Surely we couldn't still be in
South America?? We met up with our Tenerife Spanish teacher,
Christian now back home in Cordoba and working as a journalist.
We met up with sailing friends René & Viola who had sailed south to BA,
and also American sailing friends Chris & Jackie who had parked their boat
in Ecuador and like us were cruising South America on land. They
visited BA for a week so we took the opportunity (!!) to do the sights.
Both couples had first been encountered in Rota in the winter of 2003.
What a great introduction to the cruising community that had been.
|But after 4 months of doing not very much we decided we really
ought to make an effort and go and see something more of Argentina and South
America. Though it was to prove even more difficult to leave than we
As a first step we booked up a sort of Grand Tour of Argentina
- Ushuaia on Tierra del Fuego, the glaciers at El Calafate and the falls at
Iguazu. A couple of days before we were due to depart we noticed without
much interest that some stubble burning fires north of the city had got out of
control. The morning of our departure we discovered (with a great deal of
interest) that the wind was now from the north, Buenos Aires was covered in
smoke, and our airport was closed!
We call the travel agent - "It's OK, planes are taking off,
they're just not landing. Go to the airport." - "But if no planes are
landing, there won't be any planes to take off" we point out. "You must go
to the airport so that if there is a problem the airline can reallocate you - perhaps from Ezeiza ( the international airport)." With some
go to the airport. We have checked out of the apartment and left luggage
with our friendly estate agent, so have to go
We arrive at the airport to find it predictably looking like
those shots you see on the TV when the air traffic controllers have
gone on strike during the peak holiday season. It's completely full, people
are sleeping on their luggage. The announcement screens have given up and
simply say "consultar", except there's not really any one to "consultar"
as most of the operators have shutup shop and the few desks that are open don't
know if or when there will be flights. There is one desk that is open and
doing good business. It's the one for rescheduling flights. We join the
very long queue and finally, and miraculously, are able to reschedule a flight
for the following morning from the international airport.
Our problem now is that we have nowhere to stay (along with
several thousand other people). We taxi to the hotel we will be staying at
for a few days when we return to BA. They are sympathetic, but full.
They do though have a loft room, which they don't normally let, it's a little dark
and of course the lift doesn't go that far, but if we like... Of course we like.
What an opportunity to test two hernia repairs and heave our
luggage up a steep narrow spiral staircase - perfect!
Actually the room is charming. The hernia repairs are
fine. And the following morning we're on the plane to Ushuaia.
||Ushuaia, what can we say? It's
desolate, it's drab, it's cold, it's windy and it rains every day.
Not all day, true, but every single day. Being built on the side
of the Beagle Channel it's also extremely steep - the map showed our
hotel as being only a few hundred metres from the centre of town, it
didn't show that those few hundred metres were almost vertical.
Ushuaia is expensive - absolutely everything has to be shipped in.
And finally it's a drab and ugly place - if you want to know what
happened to all those rusty old corrugated iron sheets that used to be
at the bottom of your garden, well they're in Ushuaia. Virtually
every building is roofed (and in many case built completely) in
Plus points? Well there's the "Train to the End Of The
World". This is a narrow gauge steam railway originally built by prisoners
to service the penal colony here, but now a tourist attraction. It says
quite a lot about Ushuaia that no prisoner ever successfully escaped. Most
who tried died in the extremely uncompromising environment. The few who
didn't die ended up returning to the prison which was infinitely better than trying
to survive in the wild. Though miraculously the indigenous people seemed
to survive quite happily until the Europeans wiped them out.
|There's also the wildlife, mostly that's sea life.
Seabirds run to millions, Penguins come in their thousands to breed - They had
however left a few weeks before we arrived because by then it was too cold!
But the sea lions were still there, lots of them and worth a boat trip for a
better look. And finally there's centolla, the huge king crabs that breed
in the channel and, if you take a mortgage to raise the funds, are absolutely
|So that was Ushuaia done. The best news about the place
was that we hadn't gone there in the boat. Now back on a plane and on our
El Calafate. The initial signs weren't encouraging. Our
hotel was built on the old airport runway surrounded by a great deal of not very
much. And that sort of described the inside of the hotel as well. It
was modern, well furnished, but felt incredibly empty. It turned out to be
Chinese owned, Chinese run and many of the guests were on Chinese package tours
(which made for some interesting breakfast choices). It seems that the
Chinese had spotted El Calafate as an investment opportunity, spotted the
disused runway and were quite happy to build their hotel there and wait for the
town to expand to meet it.
The hotel didn't really do food except for breakfast. It
said it did, there was a restaurant, a menu and things like that, but when we
asked the waitress (/receptionist/cleaner/etc - the absence of staff contributed
to the Marie Celeste feeling) if we could eat on our first night, her look of
shock, confusion was so profound that we felt we had no choice but to go into
town. She agreed this would be for the best and managed a weak smile.
The hotel offered a free taxi service into town. We spoke
to the manager/receptionist/porter who also turned out to be chauffer and off we
went. El Calafate turned out to be a nondescript town made up of a mixture
of tourist shops, a casino and bad overpriced tourist restaurants. We began to
yearn for Ushuaia!
|The following morning we were up at the crack of dawn.
breakfasted on stir-fried cabbage and glutinous rice. Lindy was more
conservative. Then we're on a coach on our way to our first excursion
"Patagonia Extrema"! This was to be a day of "trekking" on the Glaciers
with crampons tied to our feet. The guy in the travel agent had talked us
in to it. Barry was easily convinced, Lindy more sceptical. Now
was having a few doubts. Glaciers are big and steep with crevasses. Almost everyone else
on the bus looked young and fit. Barry was feeling older and frailer by the
minute - perhaps a fake cardiac arrest was in order?
Most important of all, the Glacier "Perito Moreno" was amazing. The scale of the thing is
almost incomprehensible. It's hard to see at this scale, but the small dot
in the water in the picture on the right is a large tourist cruiser.
And it's just one glacier, though one of the few that
isn't in regression - global warming really comes home to you when you see the
scale of these things up close and get some feel for the quantity of water
released when one of them shrinks by a kilometer!! Under the surface of
the water the ice is 60 metres deep.
I forget how many cubic miles of water are locked in Perito Moreno, but it's a lot, and it just keeps creeping slowly down
at a couple of metres a day and out across the lake (it moves faster in the
centre and slower at the sides because of friction, just like a river, and it
turns out that ice is actually quite elastic and can cope with this). When
it gets to the other side of the lake it hits the bank and can't go any further
but all those cubic miles of ice keep on coming behind it. so it buckles up very
slowly into a huge arch and then finally, every few months, the arch can't
support any more pressure and it explodes!
The following day we spent on the lake in a boat visiting the
other glaciers. A completely different perspective, sitting on the water
with the huge ice wall groaning above you and surrounded by icebergs. The
bergs themselves were stunning. The most amazing shapes. And the
colours - it's almost impossible to believe that white can be so blue. The
pictures speak for themselves.
Back to Buenos Aires for a few days to change our luggage then
off to Iguazu and the humidity of the rain forests. These amazing series
of waterfalls separate Argentina, Brasil and Paraguay. Iguazu means "Big
Water" in Guarani (the native language). If you ever visit you'll
immediately realise that the Guarani have a real talent for understatement!
There aren't really words to describe the grandeur and scale of this spectacle
and the pictures hardly do it justice. We're working on including a short
video in the next edition of the web, but in the mean time.... You'll just have to go - it really
is worth the trip.
||Incidentally, Iguazu was the real life location of the story in
the the film "The
Mission". The ruins of the actual Jesuit mission are still there, about a
days drive away and also worth a look. Impressive for a different reason,
mainly for having been built so far from anywhere with so little resources.
And before we return to BA for the final time a brief mention
of coaties. These animals live in the forests around Iguazu and, just like
the local people, have learnt the value of tourists. They have acute senses and can identify the smell or sound of a chocolate bar being
unwrapped at 50 metres (you are continually warned not to eat in the park).
The one you see below has been attracted by the sound of a wrapper being rustled
in Barry's pocket. Cute though they look, they are burrowing animals, have immensely strong claws (not to mention cute but vicious little teeth) and can
shred a rucksack. The next picture would show this sweet little thing
taking his first flying lesson, dispatched by Barry's boot as it tried to
demonstrate its shredding skills on his shoulder bag. He didn't even have any
And for us, one more overnight stop in BA to collect luggage and sleep (no time
for breakfast) then back to the airport to fly to Santiago de Chile.