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Argentina to Chile border crossing

We had a flight out of Santiago in Chile and as such decided to cross the border from the Mendoza side of Argentina. As we had been told that the views were spectacular through the Andes we wanted to ensure we would make the most of our journey. So we took an early morning bus from Mendoza with Andesmar, as they were they only ones with available front second floor seats. The tickets were 180 pesos each and the journey was supposed to take 6 hours.

Unfortunately, as soon as the bus arrived we realised that we wouldn’t get the great views we had expected as they advertising across the windscreen. It didn’t completely block out the road but the hundreds of dots on the screen made it difficult to enjoy looking out. At least we still had the views from the side windows and it was a sunny day.

Argentina, Andes crossing to Chile

Argentina, Andes crossing to Chile - sun rays over a lagoon

Argentina, Andes crossing to Chile - colored mountains

The actual border crossing procedure was simple and fairly hassle free. You are stamped out of Argentina and into Chile at the same place. You just need to make sure you have your immigration form from entering Argentina. The next step in the process is the bag check.

All bags need to go through an x-ray machine as they do not allow any fruits, vegetables, meat etc to go through into Chile. They take this very seriously and have several sniffer dogs hanging around to check that you do not have anything on you too. Once done everybody is allowed back on the bus to carry on with the journey and there are no more checks along the way. One thing to remember is that Chile is an hour behind Argentina unless on daylight saving, so its worth checking ahead of time.

Back on the bus we were happy with the good time we were making and hoped to be able to grab a late lunch in Santiago. However, just as we said that we realised the bus had stopped in seemingly unmoving traffic. After 10 minutes of waiting around we discovered that apparently a section of the road had failed just 5 minutes before we arrived, and that we would have to wait for emergency repairs of some sort before we could continue. We then learned that this would take 4 hours!

As such our original 6 hour journey turned into 10 hours, and to make it worse there was nowhere to get any drinks/food and the bus did not carry any emergency supplies. When we eventually got going again, 3 hours 45 minutes later, we did think it appropriate that our last bus journey in Latin America had to be eventful!

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Mendoza and a wine and olive tour

We arrived in Mendoza following an overnight bus journey with FlechaBus from Buenos Aires. The journey was really comfortable as we were lucky enough to get a new bus with seats on the front row at the top. There were numerous bus options to Mendoza but we decided to choose one we knew. A useful website we found was Omnilineas, for a full timetable and prices of buses from Buenos Aires to across Argentina.

Once in Mendoza we headed out to our pre-booked hostel, Chimbas, located a short 10 minutes walk from the bus terminal. We were pleasantly surprised with the hostel and would go as far as saying it was one of the nicest we have stayed in!

Our main reason for visiting Mendoza was for the wine tours, this was one activity I had really been looking forward to. We were also considering renting a car for a day to drive up to the pass between Argentina and Chile and take in the sites, such as the Inca bridge and surrounding Andes. However, we were already over our budget for Argentina and when we looked at the rentals we simply couldn’t afford it.

As such we decided to spend the couple of days we had left in the country absorbing the last of the sun and going on a wine tour. We spent a day walking around the city and to be honest weren’t overly impressed. It was a nice enough place with plenty of places to eat, cafes and shops, but with nothing of particular interest to us.

Mendoza - busy cafes on pedestrianised Paetonal Sarmiento

On our second day in Mendoza we booked a half day wine and olive tour for 100 pesos each. The reason we booked a tour instead of doing it ourself was due to the fact the wineries/vine yards are spread out across a large area and getting from one to the other on public transport is not so easy.

The tour mini-van picked us up at around 3pm and we headed over to the region of Maipu, located about 30 minutes drive from Mendoza. The tour consisted of 2 wineries and an olive products producer.

The first stop was Baudron, a medium-sized winery which both exported and sold their wines around Argentina. The tour itself was fairly interesting, if not a bit rushed, and we got to see the process on making and bottling wine on a large-scale. After the tour we got to sample 3 of their wines, 2 reds and 1 white.

Maipu, Baudron winery - old huge wine barrels

Maipu, Baudron winery - industrial machinery

The next stop was at the second winery, Cavas de Don Arturo, a small-scale family business with the vineyards in the same grounds. Despite this one seeming more promising and hoping for a more in-depth tour, our Canadian guide seemed more interested in just getting the tour over with than anything else, and when asked a question she kept saying she was new and didn’t really know. At this point I wished I had opted for the Spanish guide instead, as they not only seemed to take longer going through the same tour but I also over heard her giving a more detailed account of the vineyards. After the tour, we again got to sample their wines and this time were lucky enough to trial 4 of them with free snacks too. The owners who didn’t speak English were present for the tasting and seemed very welcoming so it’s a shame the tour was not the same.

Maipu, Cavas de Don Arturo - winery storage cell

The last stop of the tour was Pasrai, an olive oil producer who also produced olive oil skin care products and dried fruits. This was definitely the most informative of the 3 tours and it was really interesting to learn about the process of making olive oil. The tour also included a sampling of their oils on bread, their olive paste ranges and some of their raisins. It could have almost been a mini banquet if they had added a free drink!

Maipu, Pasrai - olive oil processing plant machines

Overall, the tours were ok. It was a shame that they felt so commercialised and at times rushed, as it could have been a very interesting and fun afternoon. The only person who was informative and energetic throughout the day was our transport guide, Dolores, who gave us loads of useful information about the industry, the growing of the grapes and the places we would be seeing.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Warning for vegetarians in Argentina

This is something I would not have come across if I didn’t need to check the ingredients of everything I buy for milk products. Being lactose intolerant by nature and choosing not to have milk in my diet, has led me to always revise everything I buy, and so due to this I stumbled across something I had never seen anywhere else in Latin America.

Whenever I buy biscuits or snacks I almost always find butter or margarine listed as an ingredient. However, in Argentina I was shocked to find that instead or as well as these products they also use bovine fats. Worse still is the fact that they don’t mark the products as unsuitable for vegetarians.

I asked a local in Mendoza why this was and they explained that as they have such a large production of beef, pork and lamb that they have a lot of extra fat kicking around. As such, to not waste the produce they use it in products instead of oil ,as vegetable oil is apparently very costly in Argentina.

They also warned me that regular bread will also most probably have butter or “fats” used in it too. Needless to say we became extra vigilant with what we bought and ate!

However, if you’re vegetarian this is something you should be aware of as it is not openly advertised. So next time you buy something, just double check the label.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Travelling – the good and the bad

Its true that you can never really predict things in your normal day-to-day life, but this is even more the case when you’re travelling. We had officially celebrated 9 months of relative hassle free travelling, we had never had problems finding somewhere to stay, never really struggled with the transport systems and almost always found something to eat, so all-in-all it had been a stress free time.

However, on our last day in Buenos Aires, that all changed.

We had learned that travelling overnight on a Saturday was not always a great idea as most countries would observe the Sunday closure traditions. As such, we had taken to travelling overnight on Sundays and enjoyed the relatively quieter departures from bus stations.

As we were heading to Mendoza next, a 14 hour bus journey, we left Buenos Aires on Sunday afternoon. Heading off to Retiro, the bus terminal, we thought nothing of the journey. The only thing that got my senses tingling were the types of people hanging around outside the terminal. I don’t like to judge people by their appearances, but the crowds just seemed a little rougher looking than the ones we had encountered when we arrived.

Unfortunately, my senses were right, with only a few more metres to go from the entrance I heard a hissing noise, like a bottle being squeezed. Seconds later I smelt a terrible odour and when I touched my unfortunately long hair, it was covered in green slime. Within seconds a lady approached claiming it must have been a bird dropping and offered me a tissue, however I instantly noticed my partner seemed to have the same green slime all over his trousers too. We stopped for a minute and tried to get the stuff off, only to realize it would be a lost case without a bathroom to hand.

The lady then started to say that the stuff was on the backpacks and we should clean them. I had already realised what the game was here but had not been sure if she was in on it too or not. Instantly I turned around and headed straight to the bus station with my partner in tow, thinking “its bad enough I just got selected to be robbed, but I am not giving you my things that easily!”

For anyone not aware of the scam, it goes like this:

Step 1, cover victim with something such as spilled drink or in our case bad-smelling slime.
Step 2, offer help and try to get backpacks, bags etc away from victim.
Step 3, steal said bags from now double victim!

At the terminal we realised just how bad they had gotten us, we had the stuff on our trousers, bags, tops and I had it in my hair too. Armed with a change of clothes and shampoo I headed to the bathroom, praying it would wash out. Luckily, it all came out from the clothes and hair and did not leave any stains or smells behind. Needless to say the bathroom attendant was not surprised when I explained what had happened, saying “yeah that’s how they try to steal from tourists”.

Once we were both washed and changed we headed off to catch our bus for Mendoza and tried to leave the bad experience behind us. As is always the case you never know what’s coming next, and luckily following the bad came a bit of good.

The bus was brand new and they served champagne as soon as we moved off, apparently something included in our ticket that we did not know about. And so despite the foiled robbery, we sat on the bus and toasted Buenos Aires goodbye with our complimentary drinks!

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Buenos Aires

From Iguazu waterfalls we decided to head to Buenos Aires to explore the city of Tango. I am not usually drawn to large cities and we have often avoided the capitals on our travels, but Buenos Aires seemed to attract me. So we took another overnight bus with Rio Uruguay for 624 pesos each. There was actually a special offer for 20% off the normal fare for the “cama” bus, so needless to say, we treated ourself to the fully reclining seats.

We had spent a great deal of time trying to find an affordable hostel in the city, and despite looking at all different options we were unable to find one within budget, without opting for dorms. Then we accidentally stumbled across Airbnb, a website for rooms and apartment rentals. Against the odds, we found an actual apartment in the Federal district with lower rates than the hostels!

We initially booked for 4 nights and after a few phone calls met the owner at the apartment. We didn’t have huge expectations of the place but it actually turned out to be a full apartment with a small living room, bedroom, bathroom and small kitchen. We were thrilled.

After a couple of days of exploring the area we decided to extend our stay for another week and the owner gave us an even better rate of 140 pesos per night!

Buenos Aires is a large city with the usual traffic congestions and suits rushing around the place. However, there is also another side to the city, in fact several sides. Each district of the city has its own feel and character to it, from the business centre of the Federal district to the charming area of San Telmo. During our time we visited the following areas:

Federal District

The business centre of the city is filled with shopping outlets from small stores to large commercial centres like the Galerias Pacifico, and eateries, from upmarket restaurants to fast food places. However, the area also has the famous Obelisk located on Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the world’s widest avenues, the government palace, the cathedral and the plaza San Martin with the beautiful Palacio Paz.

Buenos Aires, San Martin - beautiful building of Palacio San Martin

Buenos Aires - Casa Rosada on Plaza de Mayo

Buenos Aires - the obelisk and ever present purple trees

Buenos Aires - widest avenida of the city, 9 de Julio

San Telmo

Located just south of the chaotic Federal district, San Telmo has a different pace and feel to it. Strolling through the cobbled streets filled with old buildings, cafes and antique markets, you can feel yourself relax. Although there aren’t many actual places of interest to see, apart from maybe the Russian Orthodox church, the district is worth an afternoon to chill out in the sun and catch the odd Tango show with your coffee.

Buenos Aires, San Telmo - old bar Dorrego and cobbled streets

Buenos Aires, San Telmo - five blue-dome orthodox church

La Boca

Probably one of the most famous districts of Buenos Aires, La Boca feels like it belongs to a different era. The walk there is not great and you can be forgiven for thinking you are heading towards the worse part of town, because in essence this is also one of the poorest. Yet when you turn the corner onto el Caminito you step through to another world. A brightly coloured world filled with beautiful buildings unlike anywhere else in the city. The actual tourist area is only a couple of roads but it is not to be missed.

Buenos Aires, La Boca - colourful facade of pizzeria on Garibaldi street

Buenos Aires, La Boca - colourful facade of a shop at Lucia's corner

Buenos Aires, La Boca - Caminito Havanna on Araoz de Lamadrid street

Recoleta

Located just north of the Federal district, Recoleta is most known for its cemetery. The area itself is not unlike the centre except there are larger parks which make it feel less busy. However, the Recoleta cemetery is not something to be missed, despite how unusual it may seem to pay one a visit. You need to allow at least 2 hours to see the whole thing properly. It is open everyday until 6pm and you can take photos without any problems. It is most famous for having the tomb of Evita Peron along with other national figures, but walking through this cemetery feels like being in some strange other worldly village.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery - one of the streets

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery - Faustino Domingo Sarmiento monument

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery - fantastic detail on one of the monuments

Palermo

Located just above Recoleta, Palermo seems to be more catered towards nature, with its expansive parks and zoo. Our favourite places were the free botanical gardens, filled with many different species of trees and plants and the Japanese gardens. There is an entry fee of 16 pesos each for these gardens, but it is definitely worth it. Originally built for the visiting royalty of Japan, the gardens are a little gem in the city. With bridges, ponds, waterfalls and a Japanese cafe it makes for a perfect afternoon place!

Buenos Aires, Palermo - botanical garden

Buenos Aires, Palermo - Japanese garden

Buenos Aires, Palermo - postcard shot of a bridge in the Japanese garden

We really enjoyed our time in Buenos Aires, and ironically it was our cheapest place yet in Argentina, a country where you really have to make your money work!

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Can I please just send my parcel?

During our travels we had sent parcels back home without too many problems and surprisingly they had all arrived. So, instead of shipping our last parcel from Bolivia, we thought let’s ship out from Buenos Aires, Argentina, as surely it would be easier and faster from there.

To save money we always re-used carton boxes to send our items and so we saved up 3 cereal packs, turned one inside out and made a nice little brown box. Armed with our still open parcel we headed to the post office.

At the counter the gentleman asked me what was inside, and I showed him the wrapped up souvenirs saying they were stone sculptures and some bits and pieces. Somehow my explanation and his questions didn’t match up, and he tells me I need to go and get my items certified before I can send them. Let me mention at this point that Argentinian does not always sound very Spanish, so am thinking something is strange here.

Luckily, a lady who was beside us comes up and asks me what is in the box, to which I show her and explain again. She then tells me the guy thought I was shipping medicinal items and hence why I needed the certificate, which apparently involves going to another office and queuing for a few hours to get. Surprisingly she goes to the counter and explains the whole misunderstanding to the guy for us, so we are called back for round 2.

I am asked where it needs to go and if I want a box. I say no thanks I already have the brown carton box and there is nothing fragile inside, to which he replies I will need to wrap it with brown paper. I look at him and tell him that the box is already brown carton, is that not the same? The answer is no, I need the brown paper.

Feeling a little frustrated we go and buy the roll of brown paper from the nearby shop. We return to the post office, wrap the brown box in brown paper, tape the box shut and write the address at the front and back. Now, so far in every country I have sent a parcel from I have used the same address for both, as after all I do not have an address abroad, and it has not been a problem.

So with the box wrapped and addressed we head back to the counter. I hand over the box and the guy starts shaking his head and saying no, no, no to me. Am thinking now what the hell is wrong? He looks at me and says I can’t use brown tape to close the brown parcel, only clear tape or string. I stand there open mouthed thinking you are kidding right? But no he is not.

I take a deep breath and explain I only have brown tape with me, so he says I’ll need a post office box to put into. At which point I think fine, I don’t care just put into whatever you want and ship it out! He gives me back the box and tells me I need to fill in the addresses and then come back to him. On a hunch, as everything has been going so smoothly, I ask him if its ok that I use the same address for both.

He looks at me incredulously and starts to shake his head again saying no, you have to have an Argentinian sender’s address or you can’t send. I reply that I’m a traveller, how can I have an address here? But he just tells me that if I don’t have an address I can’t send.

All of a sudden I feel the bubble of rage mounting inside. So much for choosing a nice modern city from which to send I think. Fearing I may just explode I grab my parcel, rip off the brown paper and say fine, forget it, I’ll carry it with me to New Zealand instead, and decide enough is enough for one day!

I should have just sent it from Bolivia after all…..

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Iguazu Waterfalls Brazil

After visiting the Argentinian side of the Iguazu waterfalls, we decided to spend the next day seeing the Brazilian side. We took the Crucero del Norte bus from the Puerto Iguazu terminal, which runs roughly every 2 hours, and costs 60 pesos each for a return ticket.

The process to get to the waterfalls involves going through immigration. You have to get stamped out of Argentina and then back in when you return, but if you are visiting Brazil for just one day you don’t need to get stamped in or out of Brazil. These buses will stop for the border control and wait for you to go through the process.

The journey takes about 45 minutes and the bus drops you off at the park entrance, but remember that Brazil is an hour ahead of Argentina so ensure you get the first one of the day at 8.10am Argentinian time to make the most of your time there. The good thing about visiting the Brazilian side is that you can pay the entrance, of around 100 Argentinian pesos, and anything else within the park, in Pesos, Reals or US dollars.

The Brazilian park is not as big as the Argentinian and there is only 1 circuit to follow. There is a bus that runs through the park from the entrance to the start of the circuit with stops along the way for additional extras you can do, from treks to boat rides, none of which are included in your entrance ticket.

However, what the park lacks for in size, it more than makes up for in views! From this side you are able to fully appreciate the sheer size and magnitude of the waterfalls, especially the Devil’s throat.

Iguazu (Brasil) - panorama of the waterfalls across the argentinean side

Iguazu (Brasil) - on the way to the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall viewing platform

Iguazu (Brasil) - approaching Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall

Iguazu (Brasil) - Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall from the closest viewing platform

Iguazu (Brasil) - closer look into the impressive Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall

Iguazu (Brasil) - Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat) waterfall from above at the highest platform

The whole park can easily be done in a couple of hours, and if you have time to spare it is worth going across the road to the bird park. Again, you can pay for the entrance and any food etc, in Pesos, Reals or US dollars Entry is around 70 Pesos per ticket. The park is a sanctuary for a large species of rescued and endangered birds, including a large variety of parrots, flamingos, toucans and many other strange species, and makes for a nice afternoon stroll. You can get real close to the birds, with walk through pens and cages and they are not afraid of humans, but obviously a “do not touch” policy is in place.

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - flamingos

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - grey crowned-crane birds

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - yellow-headed amazon parrots

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - macaws

Parque das Aves (Bird Park, Brasil) - tucan close up

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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