A Travellerspoint blog

Good airs in Buenos Aires (part 2)

We continue our Argentinian adventure

sunny 24 °C
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Sam

It was a beautiful Tuesday, and off we went to the Italianate suburb of Palermo. Its cafes are bustling and its sprawling parks are BA's lungs.

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The rose garden is pretty good, and people paddle around the nearby lake on large plastic swans.

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But the Japanese Garden is the piece de resistance, if that's not culturally inappropriate. Charming walkways, tiny waterfalls and huge gum trees make for a particularly relaxing wander. There's also an entrance fee to keep out the riff-raff.

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Continuing our afternoon of high culture, we hopped over to the decorative arts museum. The art was fine, but the 19th Century mansion that houses it is the highlight. The French architect - who never even set foot in Buenos Aires - was told to build the ballroom to fit three gigantic tapestries on the walls.

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A chapel in the basement

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The ballroom

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We had three more museums in store for Wednesday, all of which we'd tried to go to previously but had failed. The modern art museum was interesting. Much was closed for renovations, but there was a special exhibit, a sort of hyperactive and interactive performance art experience. It was a bit surprising to walk into two people in bed, for instance, and quite fun to get a massage and then chuck confetti into whirring fans. It took us until the evening to get all the confetti out.

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A corridor in the interactive area

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A trippy work in the modern art museum

The second was the national historical museum. We didn't have the energy to translate everything, but it gave some background to the street names we see in every town - all are named after revolutionary heroes.

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The national historical museum

We dropped in to the sunny Plaza San Martin on the way to MALBA, the Museum of Latin American art in Buenos Aires. It's a very impressive space and gallery, and the works were all by artists we hadn't heard of.

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Plaza San Martin

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MALBA

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A giant egg. Me for scale

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Shoes made into boats representing a bridge or something

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We spent our last day catching up on a few things we'd missed. After running a few errands, we dropped in to the Jewish Museum, which is next to the oldest synagogue in Argentina. There are around 160,000 Jews in the city, according to Wikipedia, far more than in Melbourne (45,000 according to the same list). They first started coming to escape persecution in Spain in the 16th Century, but most are Ashkenazi, arriving after World War II.

There are lots of beautiful artefacts, and the synagogue itself is a stunner. We had it to ourselves, which was pretty good.

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We swung past Congress on the way home, skirting around a pretty serious-looking protest over telephone company profit distribution (a big deal, apparently).

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And we finally bought some delicious pastries, which are sold all around the city for ridiculously low prices.

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On our last evening we ventured out into Old Palermo, and got a taste of Buenos Aires nightlife. Lots of cool young people in packed bars and restaurants. One particularly popular steakhouse had a queue of maybe thirty people. On a Thursday night. At 10pm.

Off to Uruguay tomorrow!

Posted by samoline 18:18 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Good airs in Buenos Aires (part 1)

sunny 23 °C
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Caroline

After a lengthy period of writer's block, I'm back. We're hanging out in Buenos Aires for a week as I had to get my Brazilian visa. I expected it to be difficult process requiring quite a few days to sort out. Luckily BA is not a bad place to hang out for a week.

Friday

We started our touring in BA at the Brazilian Embassy. We had drastically over-prepared for this after reading many horror stories on the internet. Much to our relief and disbelief the women flipped through my paperwork and told me to come on Monday and pick the visa up.

The Brazilian Embassy, along with many other embassies is located in a particularly nice area of BA called Recoleta. It's full of colonial buildings, parks and jacaranda trees (or 'hacaranda trees' as our Airbnb host said).

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Recoleta also has a huge cemetery, which is the resting place of many famous Argentines, including several presidents, military leaders, artists and writers. We followed a walking tour of the highlights, passing many very impressive vaults and memorial statues of Argentine heros. It's a busy place, with many Argentines and tourists wandering the graves, enjoying the sunny weather.

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Next stop was Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a grand building housing some great works, including Picasso, Renoir, Pollock, Monet, Manet etc.

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To end the day we visited an absolutely enormous flower sculpture, Floralis Genérica. It used to close like a real flower from dusk til dawn...until the gears broke. It's right next to the university.

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Saturday

We headed into the Microcentro to check out a few important BA landmarks. On the main square, Plaza de Mayo, we briefly popped into the Cathedral Metropolitana. It contains the tomb of General José de San Martin, who is Argentina's greatest heroes, helping the country, along with Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, achieve independence from the Spanish within about 20 years in the early 19th century.

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Across the plaza from the cathedral is the Casa Rosada (the Pink House), Argentina's presidential tour. We were keen to do a tour but as the Presidential run-off election was this weekend, it was closed.

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It's really pink

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Obelisco de Buenos Aires in the Microcentro

We wandered over to Puerto Madero, the Docklands of BA (except more popular). A lot of money has been poured into the area in recent years and it's a great place for fine dining now. We ate our picnic.

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Puente de la Mujer

For dinner, Sam was determined to eat at a parrilla. Even though we've been in Argentina for 2 weeks already, we had not yet made it to one of these iconic restaurants. We had heard stories from other travellers of plates piled high with meat. Vegetarians look away now.

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No 'after' shot this time...you can imagine

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The Parrilla, a busy place on a Saturday night

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An unremarkable church we spotted on the way to dinner

Sunday

We caught the underground 'Subte' over to San Telmo, a bohemian suburb famed for its antique market. Sam managed to maintain interest in the market on the hunt for collectable spoons (success!). The market was full of antique bottles, tea sets and jewellery. Sam found an stall that sold outdated currencies from around the world, including ten trillion Zimbabwean dollar and Iraqi notes with Saddam Hussain's face. There was a old man dancing the tango with passing women and lots of hawkers selling empanadas from their eskies.

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The street art near the market

We ate our dinner as Argentina's new president was announced: Mauricio Macri of the Cambiemos coalition ('let's change'), a 'neoliberal' according to our disappointed host.

Monday

Back to the Brazilian Embassy, we picked up my passport with a freshly printed Brazilian visa in it - hooray!

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We passed 'Torre Monumental' (formerly Torre de los ingleses) in Plaza Fuerza Aérea Argentina (formerly Plaza Britanica) - the monument was a gift from the British residents to BA in 1916. Argentina may still be holding a bit of a grudge since the Falklands War...

We jumped back on the Subte to Belgrano, a leafy residential neighbourhood. We visited the Museo de Artes España, in a very grand colonial house owned by a famous Argentine writer.

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Belgrano is also home to BA's Chinatown. 'Town' is probably a bit of an exaggeration. There is a big gate and about two blocks where some buildings are Chinese. We did find some dumplings, but unfortunately the prices were more Argentine than Chinese.

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Argentina's new cologne has an alluring name

We still have another three days in this cosmopolitan European city so stay tuned for another entry soon.

Posted by samoline 15:54 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

Y Wladfa

In flat, sunny and Spanish-speaking Chubut, we seek out the region's Welsh heritage. Very long entry, sorry

sunny 19 °C
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150 years ago, a group of Welsh pioneers arrived in Patagonia to set up a colony, which they called Y Wladfa.

Like the Welsh settlers, we too had an epic journey to get here. We had to take an early bus from Chalten south to Calafate, then head east for four hours to get to Rio Gallegos, before an overnight bus took us north to Trelew, completing a 28-hour trek. We slept well in the business class equivalent, though. And the bus continued all the way up to northern Argentina, a distance longer than Melbourne to Perth, so it could have been worse.

Y Wladfa covers a wide and empty part of western Argentina. The Welsh set up five or six towns, and we were going to explore three. Trelew (pronounced Tre-leh-oo, like it would be in Welsh) is fairly plain. But it served as a convenient base for our day trips.

We jumped back on the bus to go to Gaiman, and spoke briefly with a guy from the South Wales valleys - our first real Welsh person here. Gaiman is something between a village and a small town. It's flat and architecturally uninspiring, but there's a nice river and a surprising amount to see.

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Peak hour in Gaiman's main street

We walked through an old railway tunnel, built by the Welsh to transport wheat and passengers to port. The audio commentary was in Spanish, Welsh and English (spoken with a very strong Welsh accent). And the signs for the tourist office are also in Welsh. I think the Welsh government was a driving force in doing this place up, keen to maintain the cultural links.

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The railway tunnel

Speaking of cultural links, we dropped in to Casa de té Ty Gwyn, one of many Welsh tea houses. For a steep fee, they'll give you endless amounts of bread, jam, cakes, and of course tea. Caroline got through eight cups, and we both finished with very full and satisfied stomachs.

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Casa de te Ty Gwyn

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Before and after

The Regional Welsh Historical Museum was next. The exhibits were OK - there was a great map of the region that had the names of all the people who owned farms, and there was a photo of early settlers that included one 'Daffydd Huws'.

But the star attraction was the curator. Obviously it had been a bit of a slow day, because we were the only ones to have signed the guest book (and "every visitor must sign it"), so he was more than happy to talk to us, in near-perfect English. His mother was Welsh, he told us, and spoke Welsh at home as a child. He spoke it quite well, having learned at school, but nobody speaks it as a first language anymore. The Welsh government continues to send over teachers, so it's taught in some schools.

He said that Welsh names have spread all over Argentina, but they've often adapted. For instance, Hughes may be correctly pronounced in Chubut province, but elsewhere it's 'Oo-gez', or even 'Hukes' in Buenos Aires.

We also gained a bit of an insight into why the Welsh wanted a colony. In the 1850s, economic migrants were leaving in droves. Welsh immigrants often felt alienated in their new societies, or became fully integrated and lost part of their culture and their heritage. The idea of Y Wladfa, then, was to funnel these immigrants into a new, prosperous but still fundamentally Welsh society, that would allow their culture to continue to grow but be far away enough to escape their problems at home. It didn't completely work of course, partly because Argentina is less economically successful than say, Canada, the USA or Australia. But it has lasted 150 years, which is not a bad effort.

Outside the museum were two students, one from the US and another from Aberystwyth, who are doing research here (on culture and identity, broadly). The girl from Aber was delighted at my Aberaeron connection.

We ended our visit with a quick walking tour of the town, seeing the old post office and school, some Welsh-built houses and a couple of churches.

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The old post office

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'Michael Jones' street

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The Chapel

Gaiman may not feel much like Wales, but the links are still there.

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The next day we set aside for Puerto Madryn, founded by the Welsh a bit later once they outgrew their first port. It's the biggest and prettiest town in the area, being right on the sea. Occasionally whales drop in to visit the harbour. But unfortunately there's little of note about the other Wales in Madryn - perhaps because it's younger, there was less time for the Welsh influence to spread.

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The bus station is on the 'city of Nefyn' street, so that's something

We walked a fair way to a cemetery, but unfortunately couldn't find any names that weren't Spanish or Italian. There were some pretty big vaults though.

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We visited the 'museum of man and sea', which had some good natural history exhibits like a whale skeleton and taxidermied birds.

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And we had a look at the view from the dock, at the long, sandy, smelly beach.

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But we still had the best part of a day to go, and we used it to explore some sites in Trelew town. Well, both of the sites in Trelew town.

The first was Museo Pueblo de Luis, or 'the town of Lewis', or in Welsh, 'Trelew'. The town was named after Lewis Jones, one of the key figures in the colony's early days. His museum has lots of oddly-arranged artefacts from the Welsh settlers, and not much else.

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In front of the old railway station, which is now the museum

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A monument celebrating the centenary of the Welsh arrival in 1965

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And inside the museum, a souvenir from the same celebration. Somehow, I think the centenary was bigger than this year's sesquicentenary

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One of the best examples of Spanish-Welsh hybrid names: Roberto Roberts

More impressive, and less expected, was the dinosaur museum. There are plenty of good areas for fossils in Chubut province, and most of them have found their way to this museum. There are even real palaeontologists on-site working away.

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An ancient flightless bird

That was about it though. Just about to get a cab to the airport, and then we're on our way to Buenos Aires!

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If anyone is thinking of visiting this region, make sure you allow some time to go to nearby Punta Tombo to see the huge penguin colony, and also to Peninsula Valdes to see whales and dolphins. Unfortunately we didn't budget enough time or money on this trip, and we've just been to the Galapagos so we've had our wildlife fix. But I've heard both sites are great.

Posted by samoline 09:13 Archived in Argentina Comments (4)

On the mend in El Chalten

A wild, wintry walking wonderland

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We'd set aside three and a half days for walks in Argentina's self-proclaimed capital of trekking. Only once we were there did we discover that tiny, isolated El Chalten could also lay a credible claim to being Argentina's capital of wind.

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At an 'estacion' (station) on the way to El Chalten

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The view coming in to the town

For the first two and half days the weather was abysmal, colder than Ushuaia and raining sideways thanks to the gales that blow straight down the main street. Some gusts were strong enough to pick up the gravel on the streets and throw it in your face. Even Mum/Sian would have stayed inside. Well, maybe.

We did summon up our Scottish and Welsh genes on a couple of occasions. One day we bravely walked up to a couple of lookouts, and the next we made ourselves as streamlined as possible and trudged to a beautiful waterfall.

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Looking down on El Chalten town

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On the 'River of the Bends' on the way to the waterfall

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But mostly, we made use of the hostel's huge and crowded common room and kitchen, getting our eggplant fix and meeting fellow Melburnians. We needed a bit of a rest, and the weather forced it upon us.

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The view from the hostel

On our last day, the wind miraculously died and the rain clouds lifted a bit, and we made the most of it. We walked the 19km return trip to Laguna Torre, with great views of the Torre Range and Grande Glacier. It had snowed during the night, which made the mountains even more spectacular.

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On the way to Laguna Torre

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At the laguna, with the glacier in the background

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This creature was hovering very low, possibly eyeing off our lunch

We got back at about 4pm, and Caroline was understandably tired, but I figured we may never be back, and set off alone on another 9km round trip to Laguna Capri, which afforded impressive (if cloud-obscured) views of the Fitz Roy Range.

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The River of the Bends

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Laguna Capri

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A better view of the town

The next morning, the sun was out and the wind only light. We cursed the weather gods as we lugged our bags to the bus terminal for our pre-booked trip out of town. A beautiful place, but you have to be a bit lucky to see it.

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A glimpse of the Torre Range, which was basically covered in cloud until our last day

Posted by samoline 06:43 Archived in Argentina Comments (9)

Breaking the ice

The spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier

semi-overcast 16 °C
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Sam

But we begin with another international bus ride, from Puerto Natales to Argentina's El Calafate. It had a couple of interesting points, including some nice scenery, like this,

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We got out of the bus for this shot of the beautiful blue Lago Argentino

and the conductor using us as translators to provide vital visa information for a fellow Australian. We understood maybe half of what he was saying (the conductor, not the Australian) but it was enough to pass on the message, and it was definitely the highlight of our Spanish translation careers to date.

Once in El Calafate, we had a look around the busy little town, seeing some cool models in a park.

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Darwin

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I help Argentine explorer Moreno find his way

There's also a wetlands reserve just out of town, and we had a bit of a walk around there, seeing fighting geese, speedy harriers and feeding flamingos.

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The next day was the reason we were there, though, and we took an early bus to the Perito Moreno Glacier.

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Our first sighting of the glacier as the bus came over the hill

It's huge: 50-60m tall, 5km wide and about 35km long, and it's continually advancing. This means that it drops off huge shards of ice and snow throughout the day, which are stunning to watch. We went on a few walks, but spent most of the day just watching for the next collapse.

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The photos don't really do justice to its scale and majesty. And just behind it is a beautiful view of Lago Argentino.

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In the evening we went out for a meal, sampling the delicious Patagonian lamb and trout.

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Posted by samoline 16:29 Archived in Argentina Comments (5)

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