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Friday, September 19, 2008

Argentina -- Photo Albums & After Thoughts

Information overload - You could not possibly want more!

Photo Albums:  
8.31 - 9.1 Iguazu Fall Buenos Aires

To be honest, before this trip, as much as I love travel and would always jump on every opportunity to explore new place, I was in no rush to visit Argentina, or the whole continent of south America for that matter.  

I would love to visit someday for sure, but there was always a more immediate, more feasible destination to go for my next trip. 

I knew very little about Argentina and it's people & culture.  It was so foreign in concept that the only frame of reference I had about this country was a movie I saw a few years back called "Live-in maid/Cama adentro" (which was a very good movie by the way.)
Thanks to Samantha Brown's Passport to South America series, the deflation of U.S. Dollars, and my American Airline mileages, the "indefinite future" became my "next trip" 6 months ago. 
I had never booked a trip so far in advance, prepared so much for, and still knew so little about.  I had no idea what to expect of this trip. 

The trip brought me closer to the whole Latin America.  Still knowing very little about it, I at least have some personal experience to draw from after this trip. 

It just opened up my appetite for this continent, and made me curious & hungry for more (sorry, Anthony Bourdain, I borrowed your opening line).

Tips for planning your own trip: 
  • Resource: The Trip Advisor forum is an excellent site for up-to-date information.  Many local experts on the forum are extremely helpful.  Utilize it. 
  • Safety:  Traveling as a couple definitely put me at ease about this concern.  However, we did not experience any dangerous situation.  Taking the subte is a none-event.  I kept my bag close to me at all times.  We followed the advices on trip advisor forum, took radio taxi only, and paid taxi fare with small changes. Our friends Mark & Donna noticed that the corner stores tried to short change them twice when they made purchases. 
  • Language: Make the effort to learn some basic Spanish. It will make your trip a lot easier. 
  • Internet: Wi-Fi connections are everywhere in cafes and even clothing stores.  
  • Phone: Figure out how to make calls with land lines and mobiles if you are planning on renting an apartment, getting a sim card, and phone cards. It's complicated. 
  • Apartment rental: We had a very positive experience with bytArgentina and will recommend the agency to anyone who is interested in renting an apartment in BA.  Noise pollution in BA is very bad.  You must put it into consideration when renting an apartment. We loved our apartment. It was quiet facing the back, centrally located, and close to a shopping mall & subte station.
  • Restaurant: One restaurant that I will go back is La Cabrera if I visit Buenos Aires in the future. In terms of the cost, the cheapest dinner we had was at Mosoq for about 160 pesos. The most expensive one was at Thymus for about 320 pesos. (Both with 15% tips included)
  • Iguazu Fall: It truly is one of world's wonders.  Brazil side of Iguazu is worth seeing. Go for at least 2 full days and 1 night.  
  • Map: Say Hueque travel agency provide downloadable Argentina & Buenos Aires maps. 

(I almost feel bad to have you reading to this point.  It's so freaking looooooong!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Argentina -- Puerto Madero & San Telmo Antiques Fair 9.7.08


 * Puerto Madero                                                 *San Telmo Antiques Fair

It was down to our last couple of hours in Buenos Aires.  It had been a hectic trip in Buenos Aires.  I did not feel that I had enough time to explore the city.  I would love to have more time for shopping, try many other restaurants, and visit Once, Belgrano, or even La Boca barrios. 

Despite the late night partying, I dragged H out of the bed by 10AM.  We took the radio taxi to Puerto Madero.  Along the Julieta Lanteri street, many parrilla food carts started setting up the grills.  There were also many outdoor booths selling arts & crafts.

We walked to San Telmo to catch the Sunday antique fair as our last stop in BA.  I was glad we made it and saw San Telmo again on Sunday.  It was distinctively Buenos Aires.  San Telmo was probably my favorite barrio among the ones that I visited.  I thought it was colorful with many interesting architectures.  After getting some accessories and souvenirs, it was time to go.  

Not before we had our last empanadas in Bonjour Pizza.  
(Anyone knows where to get a good carne empanada in New York? I am hooked!)


Monday, September 15, 2008

Argentina -- Tigre/Delta, Palermo Soho & Las Canitas 9.6.08

* Tigre/Delta                                                                      * La Cabrera 

* Las Canitas                                                                      * Sarraro Plaza

We woke up with a rainy and freezing cold day.  UGH... it was not the best weather to visit Tigre/Delta, but we did not have any more time, and I HAD to go to Tigre/Delta.  

I made H getting a hat before we went, which proved to be a smart decision.  He could really use a hat.  This was a full blown winter with 4C/39F temperature.   

We took the TBA train to Tigre.  The trains run every 15 minutes and it is a 50 minutes ride from Retiro for 1.10 pesos one way.  There were so many people selling all kind of stuff on the train.  They placed the merchandise on your lap, and came back later to collect the merchandises or money.  It seems to be a common practice, even on the sutbe as well.  If you shake your head gesturing you were not interested, they left you alone.  On the way to Tigre, we counted at least 10 people, including some kids trying to sell stuff.  It was interesting that none of them sold the same merchandise.

Tigre/Delta was picturesque. However, the weather was just so bad that we could not enjoy it fully.  We randomly booked a restaurant called "Bora Bora" for lunch for sentimental reasons since we were in Bora Bora on our honeymoon last year.    

We must have been frozen out of our minds going to a "Bora Bora" restaurant in Argentina!! I mean, what were we thinking??? The meal was the least issue here.  Once the water bus dropped us off, we walked through some muddy path to a restaurant tugged away inland somewhere with no views of the beautiful river.  Wasn't that the whole point of us coming here??  Somehow, it did not cross my mind that there could be restaurants not right by the river. 

I was hoping to take Tren de La Costa train back to BA for a more scenic route and stopped by San Lsidro. However, the weather totally damped our moods, and "Bora Bora" surely did not help the situation.  We were wet, cold, and just wanted to go home. Put the variables aside, I thought Tigre/Delta was absolutely beautiful.  I felt gypped out of this whole Tigre/Delta experience.

Since we came back to BA earlier than expected, we got off at "Lisandro de la Torre" station and did a little more shopping in Palermo Soho.  The area here did resemble Soho in New York.  Trendy expensive stores with enticing window displays.

We made a reservation at La Cabrera to meet up with M & D again since they just came back to BA from El Catafate the night before, and it was our last dinner before going back to New York. 

I was looking forward to the restaurant after reading all the great reviews and  It did not disappoint.  When we walked in for our 8:30 PM reservation, the restaurant was already in full swing.  We ordered Provoleta (You must try this cholesterol inducing appetizer in any Argentinian grill), salami tapas, and salad for appetizers. 
D and I shared a  bife de chorizo. (Really, ojo de bife was the only way to go.) Being enthusiastic steak devotees, M and H both ordered full portions of Ojo de bife.   Our waiter tried to tell them in Spanish that the portions were HUGE but M and H did not budge.  The waiter shrugged his shoulder, probably thinking "you stupid tourists.  Don't say I did not warn you."  Anyway, we somehow thought that our waiter understood English, but pretended he could not communicate with us in English. He probably saw one too many tourists here and could care less about them.  

Of course, when M & H's orders came, we all cracked up.  The portion was MONSTROUS!  Even our waiter cracked a smile seeing our reactions.  We were so impressed by the size of the ojo de bife that for the next 10 minutes, we pulled out our cameras & cellphones taking pictures & videos of them. 

After dinner, we took a radio taxi to Las Canitas for drinks. This barrio probably resembled  the meat packing district in Manhattan with mostly trendy restaurants.  We had a few drinks in Van Koning until the music got too loud for us to carry a conversation. 

We took another radio taxi to Plaza Serrano.  It was probably 1AM in the morning and there were so many people out partying.  This square gave me the Bleecker street vibe.  We stayed at  Mundo Bizarro bar until one of us bothered to look at the watch,  and we were shocked that it was already 4AM in the morning.  When we got back to our apartment, the entrance of a night club on our block was lined up with plenty people waiting to have a good time.  So, this is how the porteños party.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Argentina -- Recoleta, Barrio Norte, Villa Crespo & Palermo Viejo 9.5.08


* Recoleta Cemetery                                                            * Ateneo Grand Splendid

* Murillo Street                                                                       * MALBA

* Palermo Soho Shopping                                                * Thymus

There was still so much to do and so much to see, but time was running out!  It was getting closer for us to leave BA, and I could still barely believe that I was actually here! 


We began our day with breakfast at "Delicity", another cafe chain and headed back to Recoleta cemetery. It was similar to ones I visited in Paris with elaborate tombs of famous people.  I had to say that it creeped me out a little being able to see some of the coffins through glass doors even in broad day light.

The next stop was Ateneo Bookstore.  This illustrious bookstore is housed in a former theatre.  This bookstore is the biggest one in South America and is voted the second most beautiful bookshop in the world by Guardian. (I googled it and found the most beautiful bookshop was Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht, in a church.)

H and I don't wear leather jackets, but since we were in Buenos Aires, I thought it was only fair to check them out.  We took the subte to Villa Crespo barrio. Again, the subte was packed, and children with school uniforms were out on the streets.  It was not even 3PM.  Exactly what kind of schedules do people have here?? We walked a few blocks on Murillo street and just could not get excited to buy leather jackets.  We stopped by a random bar for some empanadas before heading back to Palermo Soho to check out some more stores. 

The earlier days of warm spring weather was long gone.  It was getting colder and colder the past few days.  Good thing that I bought a down jacket today, it came in really handy for the rest of our stay. 


Before dinner, I had to check off another site on my list.  We made our second attempt to visit MALBA, voted the best museum in BA.  

Huh.... I guess I could not share the same enthusiasm with others.  The museum was very small and it took us no more than 30 minutes to see all the exhibitions.  There were some installation art that took over most of the space and  we just did not get these modern/post-modern arts.......
I did see one of Frida's paintings though.

We had only tried traditional parrilla type of Argentinian cuisine so far, and I was curious to try some more creative Argentinian dishes.  Therefore, we picked Thymus for dinner that night.  It was our most expensive meal in Buenos Aires.  We ordered a bottle of Malbec, Salad, shrimp with Shanghai bacon for appetizers, lomo & ojo de bife kobe for main courses, and shared a fig tart for dessert.  Their ojo de bife kobe was hands down the BEST beef.   The meal cost us about 320 pesos.  We were the first customers when we walked into the restaurant, and by the time we left, the restaurant was full. 


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Argentina -- Tribunales, Calle Florida, Retiro & Recoleta 9.4.08

* Plaza Lavalle                                                              * Calle Florida

* Recoleta                                                                         * Afternoon tea at L'Orangere 

* Mosoq                                                                             * La Confiteria Ideal

We began our day with  Frommers' walking tours starting at Plaza Lavalle. More gorgeous buildings in desperate need for a face lift & repair, a protest in front of  the Tribunals building (Supreme Court), and the famous Theatre Colon in a major renovation. 
(Guess we just have to make a second trip after the theatre reopens.)

We passed the massive Avenue 9 de Julio. From there, we walked to the famous/notorious Calle Florida. And it was actually my favorite walking tour.  No doubt, the streets were crowded with many shops catering towards tourists.  But when you looked up the buildings, there were some superb architectures in places that were least expected.  The elaborated fancy facades of Galeria Mitre was just stunning.  It killed me to see the ugly Falabella store sign hanging in front of the building. 

Inside of Burger king was an elegant house. (See the picture on the left)
I had a mixed feeling about the Burger King invasion.  Would the house be kept in good condition if Burger King did not take over?  How much of it's original beauty was destroyed when it was converted to a fast food restaurant?

We took a coffee break at the  "Havanna" cafe chain.  After cafe con leche y medialunas (Coffee with foamed milk & sweet or salty croissants), we continued walking toward Plaza San Martin.  The buildings surrounding Plaza San Martin were enormous and grand . Palacio San Martin was another building offered free tours that I would have LOVED to go if I had more time in BA.

After Plaza San Martin, we walked to Avenida Alvea, the equivalence of Madison Avenue in New York City. Along the avenue, we passed by the French Embassy, Brazilian Embassy, Polo Ralph Lauren Shop, and finally made my first purchase for a pair of beautiful leather boots.  

We had walked nonstop for 4 hours by the time we came to Alvear Palace Hotel.  High tea at L'Orangerie was just what we needed. Being waited on by white gloved servers,  sipping sparkling wine and aromatic tea, snacking on finger sandwiches, plates of sweet and savoy pastries, and gourmet desserts, we enjoyed the classical music program in this lavish surroundings.  

I saw Bueos Aires at it's prime with striking beauty and incredible wealth.  Time froze in the old world elegance and I was reminded of BA's once affluent era.  


By the time we left L'Orangerie, it was too late to visit Recoleta Cemetery.  We walked around the area, checked out the housing value on this prime location in BA, hailed a radio taxi to Alto Palermo Mall, and continued our retail therapy. 
We were probably a few weeks too late for the winter sale, Most of the winter clothing were off the floor in many shops. 


Mosoq was the restaurant we picked for dinner that night.  I heard about Peruvian cuisine being popular in Buenos Aires, and was curious to try since I never had it before this trip.  The owner lived in L.A. before and returned to BA to open this restaurant.  It was a relief to be able to speak English with someone in the restaurant and knew what we were ordering.  Mosoq was the first restaurant we went in BA that offered cocktails.  I had a picso sour, and H had a bottle of Malbec all to himself.  We ordered ensalada langostino, ceviche (Peruvian sushi), tuna steak, and ojo de bife. We skipped the dessert as we had enough sugar fix for the day from the afternoon tea.  All the dishes were excellent, and H thought this was one of the best restaurants we visited.  

Walking out of Mosoq, it was past midnight. Now we were really living on BA's schedule.  After the wonderful experience we had with the Tango Show in cafe Tortoni, I thought I could push H into visiting a milonga to see real people in action.  

H embraced the idea immediately. We took the radio taxi to La Confiteria Ideal. The place looked like it was closed until we heard the music coming from upstairs. Not fully understanding the whole rules about eye contact & dance invitation in Tango culture, H and I were nervous about looking into other people's eyes.  Most of the dancers were in their 40's to 60's.  It was fun to check out the scene, we felt like we were let in to another secret world of Tango.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Argentina -- Estancia Santa Susana 9.3.08


* Estancia Santa Susana                                                      *Palermo Chico

It was another day that we had to get up early.  We arrived at the travel agency by 9:45 AM for the bus to pick us up.  We booked the tour through Tangol.  I was not sure if Tangol outsourced the trip to another travel agency, but it was Travel Line's tour guide & bus that came to pick us up. 

Estancia Santa Susana was 78 km away from Buenos Aires.  I was looking forward to see the gaucho culture & country side scenery.  On the way there, our tour guide wanted to show us how to make famous Mate, which we had yet to try on this trip.  She told us that she "forgot" to bring hot water, and would get some as soon as we make a stop.  After 30 minutes on the highway, the driver took us to a rest stop with a small gift shop.  Running on New York schedule, I was thinking "it's only an hour drive, do we REALLY need to make a stop?"  Then, the tour guide announced that we would stop for 20 to 30 minutes.  I was not pleased.  There were only 9 people on the bus; I did not think we would need all this time to use the bathroom.  Of course they wanted us to shop around and get commissions on things we bought.  I bet the hot water bullshit was just an excuse to get us to this place.  Judging by the way the shop owner greeted the driver & the tour guide, it was not the first time they met either.  It just reminded me how much I did not like to travel with tours. UGH......

Finally we were back on the bus to the estancia.  The tour guide made Mate and passed the cup & straw around for everyone to have a taste.  I remember watching Samantha Brown's travel show when she drank Mate.  It seemed Mate was meant to be shared among friends.  As much as I would have liked to try Mate, there was no way I would swap saliva with strangers. 

By 11:30 AM, we were still on the highway, and the driver was LOST!!  Now, I was really agitated.  Come on! How could a tour bus driver not know where he was driving?  We literally had to stop three times and ask for directions.  Anyway, we were the last tour bus to finally arrive to the estancia by noon. 

 The aggravation was quickly swept away with warm empanadas, cheap red wine, and cute cowboys dressed in gaucho outfits.  

The estancia was a nice change of pace & scenery from the busty city.  The vast landscape instantly calmed me down.  We rode horses around the ranch while our lunch was prepared on the grill.  I was surprised that H enjoyed the horse riding even though he was never too crazy about horses.  If I had known that before hand, I would have pick a less touristy estancia to visit and spend more time riding horses on the ranch.  

After the horse riding, lunch was pretty much ready.  It was the typical Argentinian grill with blood sausage, beef, chicken, and some unknown desserts.  During lunch, there were dance & music performances on a stage.  

After lunch,  we came back out to the ranch and took a stroll.  It was very windy, and the weather was much cooler than the past few days.  

The gauchos gathered around and demonstrated various horse riding skills & tricks.  It felt like one of the scenes straight out of the western genre movies (not the one Ang Lee directed).  I had to say that all these tourist geared activities were not my thing, but I truly enjoyed the landscape immensely.

At 4PM, we got on the bus and headed back to Buenos Aires.  Thank god the drive back was smooth and easy without any dramas.  We asked the driver to drop us off on Avenida Del Libertador in Palermo Chico and walked through the big avenues and parks.  As a dog lover, H loves the fact that there are friendly and happy dogs everywhere.  The dogs here just seemed so much better adjusted socially compare to the dogs in New York City.  After doing enough homework, I was forewarned many times about the dog poop phenomenon and did not think twice about it.  However, H was not prepared for it and could not accept why there was not a law requiring dog owners to pick up the dog poop.  (I say it was his Germanic genes talking, and I am sure the government had bigger problems to worry about than dog poop.)   

We also saw many wild cats wondering in the parks and some unknown gigantic trees that were in so many plazas & parks.  They were GODZILLA HUGE! (Thanks to BASandy, I now know that they are called gum trees, over 100 years old.)  Trees were everywhere in this city and they were not just small bushes.  They were tall trees with lean branches extending out.  I told H that I would love to visit BA when the weather is warm.  I could just picture how beautiful the streets must be with leafs growing out of the trees, and the sun shining through.

We got back to our apartment around 6:30 PM for the internet repair appointment.  The technician was able to fix the connection problem within minutes.  It was something about not having an IP address in Argentina.  

Once we got back to the apartment, we never made it out again.  We were tired from all the running around and lack of sleep.  It was getting really cold outside and H's throat was feeling scratchy.  Neither of us was hungry for dinner.  We put on our PJs, watched some TV movies, had cups of noodle soup, and called it a night.  

Despite all the wonderful restaurants that this city had to offer; sometimes, a cup of noodle soup was exactly what I needed.  I felt at home that night.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Argentina -- Santelmo,Monserrat & Centro 9.2.08


* Bar El Federal                                                            * Avenue de Mayo

* La Brigada                                                                     * Cafe Tortoni

We spent another hour dealing with our ongoing internet, land line, and local sim card problems in the morning.  All these connection issues were driving us crazy.  Were we stupid or was it just way too complicated???  It didn't seem that we were able to get clear answers from the people here.  Was it communication barriers or did we just simply not understand what they were trying to tell us?  Maybe it was not a fair assessment, but I somehow got the feeling that the accuracy of information was not valued as important here.  We seemed to be getting different pieces of information from different people.  Maybe it was just my New Yorker mentality talking.  

Finally, we started our day taking subte to San Telmo around 11:30 AM.  Much to our surprise, the subte was jam packed at this time of the day! We saw many people with office outfits on the subte.  Do people work different schedules in this part of the world?  The subway in New York would be empty after 10 AM. We got off at the San Juan stop.  As we got out of the subte station, I was a bit uneasy with this industrial area of car repair shops and homeless people under the highway.  
We walked towards the Plaza Dorrego and stopped by Bar El Federal, one of the historical bars in BA, for lunch. We enjoyed the ambiance, but the food was nothing memorable.  

After lunch, we walked along the cobblestone Defensa street heading towards Monserrat.  We passed by some beautiful blocks, stunning old buildings, and took many photos. We spotted a dog walker with a dozen or so huge dogs breezing through the street and even witnessed a protest!  There were about 20 people banging drums while marching through streets and stopped at a residential building.  They stood in front of a building for a few minutes, blowing whistles, making loud noise, and throwing fliers.  The whole process  was pretty organized and peaceful.  

We passed by Farmacia de la Estrella (a charming old pharmacy), San Ignacio (the oldest standing church),   and arrived at Plaza de Mayo.  Before the trip, I've tried to educate myself with Argentinian history, but I just could not remember all the years, events, and people!  I often find myself more interested in learning about the history after I visited the place.  Somehow, history makes more sense after I've visited the place.  So, despite several attempts to read the history portion of my guidebook, I remain pretty ignorant about it. 

At the Casa Rosada, we were trying to figure out exactly which balcony Eva Peron made her famous speech. We approached the guard at the gate to ask the question thinking he must be asked about it all the time.  Surprisingly, he was not sure! He had to ask a colleague to confirm the answer. 

We continued to walk along Avenue de Mayo from Plaza de May to Plaza del Congreso.  Casa de Cultura/La Prensa Building was a stunning building that offered tours on the weekends.  We walked inside the lobby trying to find the tour information.  h asked one of the employees at the information desk about the tours in English.  The guy looked at H and said "No Inglés".  H asked again and added hand gestures this time.  The guy replied, "Español. Argentina. No Inglés."  Wow, the response was not expected, and H was pissed.   

A few days later when we met up with M & D again, we talked about this incident.  From a tourism stand point, is it a good idea to have such a hostile attitude towards non-Spanish speaking tourists?  As a tourist, what is the proper etiquette when you don't speak the language?   Being Caucasian speaking fluent English, H could easily be mistaken as an American.  It makes me wonder if the employee would react differently if I, an Asian woman, asked the same question in English.

Seeing some of the most glorious buildings in such rundown condition, and many facades of the buildings had graffiti and traces of eggs & paint brought back the sadness I felt the first day.  I somehow sensed the anger and distrust people felt towards the Argentinian government.  Was I over thinking it? Do people still feel this way now?  I could almost imagine how glamorous Buenos Aires must've been at the turn of the century.

There were a few homeless people around the Plaza del Congreso.  A  little girl about 5 years old was playing by herself as I assume her homeless mother was sleeping on a dirty mattress nearby. 

We took subte again from Plaza del Congres to a travel agency office to book the estancia (Gaucho ranch) trip for the next day.  When we stepped into the A line train, we felt like stepping back in time. It was an old train with wooden seats, wooden panels, and lamps.  The doors could only be opened and closed by hand.   We were so enchanted by this old beautiful train that we missed our stop.

It was almost 6:00 PM after booking our estancia trip.  We headed home to nap and freshen up for a whole night ahead of us.  
At 8:10 PM,  We arrived at La Brigada in San Telmo.  The restaurant was quite full when we walked in.  We shared molleja and Ojo de Bife.  I did not know that molleja (sweetbread) was NOT sweet bread.  (I thought it was grilled animal heart, but it was acutally thymus gland of the cow - thanks to Andromache's info. ) 

It tasted a bit gamy, but again, I would try almost everything once. Ojo de Bife was H's favorite part of beef.  H was so impressed with how our waiter cut the meat with a spoon.  The meat was tender and juicy, much better than what we had in Don Julio.  Perhaps it was not fair to compare the restaurants when we ordered two different types of beef. 

By the time I got out of the restaurant, I was drunk and happy.  We walked to Cafe Tortoni for our 10 PM tango show (reservation needed). On the way to Cafe Tortoni, we saw many homeless people picking through the trash to find recyclable waste.  Some brought their young children along.  It was a harsh sight to see.  I thought about what our driver in Iguazu said: How he liked the US government being protective of it's children.  Do these people have shelter to go to?  Do these children go to school for education?  Is there any assistance they can receive from the government?
(Thanks to Scarlett, a local expert, I learned that these people were Cartoneros who come into town to sell the recyclables they gather from the trash to make a living.) 


Once inside of Tortoni, it brought us back to another era.  Opened in 1858, Cafe Tortoni is the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires.  I suppose it is one of those landmarks that you simply have to go to say "I've visited Buenos Aires". 

Okay, I must confess again.  With all the stereotype of Tango dances we saw on TVs & Movies, H and I always associated tango with sleazy dirty old men who were swingers.  The dance seemed...just too much for our taste.  Knowing neither one of us were big fan of tango, I did not want to invest tones of money to see those huge production Hollywood type tango shows.  Cafe Tortoni offered 3 to 4 performances every night for 70 pesos per person.  The show last about one hour.  I thought it would be an easy introduction for us. 

Turned out, We really really enjoyed the show.  The singing and the music were so moving.  The dance portion of the performance was awesome!  We thought it was too short and wish we could have seen more. 


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Argentina -- Iguazu Fall 8.31 - 9.1.08

* Brazil Side                                                                                 * Upper Circuit

* Great Adventure & Lower Circuit                          * Garganta del Diablo/Devil's Throat

* Sheraton buffet dinner & Cuban cigars               * De Olivas i Lustres

At 7:30 AM on 8.31 morning, the radio taxi took us to the domestic airport AEP for the flight to Iguazu Fall. We were at the airport by 8: AM. The airline employee that assisted us with checking in at LAN airline counter did not speak English, which was a bit surprising. 

The flight took 1.5 hours from Buenos Aires to Iguazu Fall.  Once we landed, there was a taxi/remis desk next to the exit that arranged an English speaking driver to take us to the Brazil side of Iguazu Fall and back to the Sheraton Resort for 250 pesos.  

Our taxi driver was a middle aged man who spoke very good English.  He told us that he worked in constructions in the US for 5 years after the 2001 economy fallout in Argentina.  He later came back to be with his family.  We talked about his experience in the U.S., the upcoming U.S. presidential election, and how he liked the US government being very protective of its children.  It was probably the most interaction we had with an Argentinian. 

The taxi driver told us that this area had an average of 2 meters of rain annually.  The fact that we had a  very comfortable temperature and sunny weather was very rare.  Also, because we came in the winter time, there were no mosquito problems.  

The trip to the Brazil side of the park, including both Argentina & Brazil customs took about an hour.  He was very helpful with customs, offered to make stops at different sites, guided us with the park entrance, and patiently waited for us while we explored the Brazil side of the park.  It was a delight to have him as our driver.  He was wearing a pressed white shirt and suit pants for work. I wonder if he wore the same thing in the 40 degree humid hot summer.  Being a super impatient person myself, I was curious how he killed time waiting for his passengers.

The Brazil side of the park is called Cataratas do Iguacu.  The park entrance cost about 43 pesos per person. Between pesos & credit cards, we did not need to change any Brazilian reals. We took the park bus to the Macuco trail. The trail was packed with tourists.  There were many quatis wondering by the trail. The panoramic view of  the Iguassu fall on the Brazil side was indeed very impressive.

It took us a little less than 2 hrs to finish the Brazil side of the Iguazu fall.  The taxi driver then took us back to the Sheraton, which was located inside of Argentinian side of Iguazu National Park. We checked in, changed into swimming suits, signed up for the green passport package from Iguazu Jungle Explore at the resort lobby, and just had enough time to catch the last Great Adventure tour at 3:45 PM. 

The Great Adventure tour took us inside the rain forest with a 4x4 Jeep.  After a short ride, we came to the bottom of the fall and took the boat to the fall as close as we could. We were soaking wet despite wearing ponchos.   We later learned  that it was best to avoid the last boat ride as the sun had already  gone down and the pictures would come out dark as you can see here.  However, the boat ride was a lot of fun. We only wish we brought our water proof camera cover so we could capture the whole experience. 
After the boat ride, we headed back to the Sheraton through the lower circuit trail.  There were many stopping points with great views of the fall. 

Once we were back to the Sheraton, we used their spa indoor message pool since the outdoor pool was too cold to get in.   
In the evening, we met up with M & D for dinner.  M & D happened to plan their Argentina trip around the same time with us. We had a few days crossing paths during the trip and happened to stay in the Sheraton on the same night. We had a buffet dinner and moved to the lobby bar for more Malbec.  H got us two Cuban cigars from the resort shop.  They were so good that D and I went down to the shop to get 2 more.  We played cards, smoked cigars, drank Malbec, and talked about Buenos Aires.  It was really fun to get together and share the experience with them.  Somehow, the familiarity of their company made this night and this place less foreign to me.  We did not get back to our room until 2 AM. 

The next morning on Monday 9.1, we woke up with more beautiful weather and a gorgeous view of the fall in front of our eyes.  After breakfast, we began walking the upper circuit trail. Unlike the lower circuit where you looked at the fall from the bottom, the upper circuit allowed you to looked at the fall from the top.  It was a leisure walk that took us less than an hour to finish.  We walked to the Cataratas train station and met up with M & D again for our last trail, the devil's throat.  After a short 10 minutes train ride, we walked through a long scenic river path.  There were so many different types of butterflies surrounding us that D and I became obsessed taking pictures of them.  
At the end of the trail, we started hearing the roaring sound of the waterfall.  On the end of the peaceful river, there was the legendary Devil's Throat.  The view before our eyes was beyond words.  We were in awe of what we saw.  We lingered at the site for over an hour.  It was so dramatic and powerful that we needed the time to take everything in.  I felt so blessed to be able to see it, and I was also glad that we left the Devil's Throat to the last.  Everything else we saw before became plain compare to the Devil's Throat.

We walked back the river path, and enjoyed the peaceful contrast of the scenery.  We spotted some birds and turtles on our way back and took more pictures of butterflies.  At the end of the path, we went on the ecological ride.  The ride was so calm and peaceful that the only thing we heard was complete silence.  Over the 30 minutes ride, we spotted some more animals.  The whole experience of the scenic trail, overwhelming waterfall, and serene raft was such a perfect ending to our Iguazu trip.  We took about 3 hours to finish the trail.  By the time we got back to the Sheraton, we just had enough time for a late lunch and quick shower before our driver came to take us back to the airport for our 6 PM flight.

2 full days were enough time to see what we saw, but H enjoyed it so much that he would love to stay one more night.  I suppose that would allow us time to visit the Isla San Martin trail.  I was glad that we made it to the Brazil side of the fall as it was the second best view after the Devil's Throat. We left Iguazu knowing this was a trip to remember for a very very long time. 

On the plane back to BA,  there seemed to be a family with elder parents and adult children sitting behind us.  Even though I did not understand what the family was talking about, I could hear the excitement in their voices while they were talking to each other and pointed at the window as the plane was landing.  It was endearing to see them so excited. I wondered if it was their first flight or visit to BA.

After we were back in our apartment in BA, we quickly changed into warmer clothes and headed out to the restaurant H picked for dinner.  It was our first wedding anniversary after all. 

H picked a tapas place, De Olivas i Lustres, for our anniversary dinner. The restaurant was within walking distance of our apartment.  I had to admit that after reading some safety discussions on the trip advisor forum, I was a bit paranoid walking on some of the quiet dark blocks at night. However, there was often police presence in the Palermo area.  
 We got to the restaurant around 9:30 PM, and the restaurant was empty! Were we still too early for dinner according to Argentinian standards?  Once we settled in at our table, and took the free shots that the waiter offered us, we actually enjoyed having the entire restaurant all by ourselves.  Being in a tapas restaurant, I thought Sangria was the natural choice of alcohol beverage.  Surprisingly, the restaurant did not offer any cocktails.  It seemed that Argentinians were not cocktail or "wine by the glass" kind of drinkers.  We ordered a bottle of sparking wine instead. 

The tasting menu we ordered came with 13 different tapas.  Even though I had no clue what I was eating half of the time, I enjoyed them tremendously.  I thought the chief was a genius!  The combination of the ingredients he used to prepare the dishes were so creative and the presentations were so artistic.  By the end of the dinner, I wish I could speak Spanish to tell him how much I enjoyed my meal.