Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Falling for Iguacu & Buenos Aires


Our last two destinations have been the grand finale to a wonderful trip. The Iguacu Falls, from both the Argentinian and Brasilian sides, far exceeded our imaginings. Even though Marie and I had seen photos of them nothing we'd seen had prepared us for their thundering majestic reality, and the huge area they command – they are awe inspiring. We also visited a Bird Park on the Brasilian side of the Falls, where we were taken by the toucans, and fell in love with gorgeous red ibis. As for the butterflies and hummingbirds – every colour you can imagine – and a turquoise one fell in love with Marie and did a dance around her, obviously seeking her attention! It was so hot on the Brasil side, and we marvelled that we'd been paddling in brash ice a week previously. Our kayak guide on Polar Pioneer told us he'd paddled all along the top of the falls - how scarey that would be!!! (Marie says - 'not for her' - I wonder why!)

We stayed at a very charming and delightful B&B in Iguacu City, called The Secret Garden. Our host was John Fernandes who made our visit there memorable. We would thoroughly recommend this as a wonderfully restful and well appointed haven.

We've been back in Buenos Aires now for 4 days. We've been enchanted with the Boca area, seen some stunning tango dancing, done a citywide familiarization tour, another tour to the Delta (River Plate) and Tigre areas, and been to a Sunday market in San Telmo – taking up at least 10 blocks plus one plaza, seen a stirring, vibrant and very noisy street parade (they don't do things by halves here), and thorough enjoyed drinking and eating. It's all been great fun! And yes, we've been shopping, a little bit here and there, and probably the other place too. Staying at the America del Sur Hostel in San Telmo, and getting to mix with other travellers, young and old, from many parts of the world, has been the best accommodation decision for us here. The staff are amazingly friendly, right from the minute you step through the only one year old plate glass doors. Our 3rd floor room does front the very narrow street though, and the traffic just doesn't seem to stop – trucks, buses, carts, people – it's all happening out there.


Been at Buenos Aires a few days now. What a huge busy city. The Argentinans seem to be a happy lot, loud and demonstrative and enjoy life.

Have done a few touristy things like a city tour which gave us an overall look around the city, beautiful suburbs and the slums. There are a lot of them (bit of an eye opener for me) with the tour ending up at La Boca (Jillian and I actually went back there for a day, as it's fascinating with its brightly painted buildings, stalls, cafes and of course tango dancing. The next day saw us doing the Parana River/Rio de la Plata Delta Tour by boat. The Delta is made up of 5000+ waterways, the current delta population being 3000 residents. Lovely lovely homes on an equally beautiful waterway (especially so as it was a hot day).

Yesterday (Sunday) Defensa Street, located near us, closed up for the Sunday market day. People everywhere of course and hundreds and hundreds of stalls (we certainly seemed to go through the pesos). We were lucky to catch up with a street parade finishing off the market day. A lot of bongo drums, dancing, girls with feather headdresses and a wide range of costumes.

I forgot to mention Iguazu! I was fascinated by the power and force of the many falls. I got saturated when our boat went right under the falls, nosing right up to the cliffs - and all the time trying to take photos. Jillian was laughing her head off.

I also forgot to mention the Bird Park - we've done such a lot. I loved the birds, especially the devil-in-their-eye toucans. I was disappointed that a macaw never sat on my shoulder, as we'd been told "take your earrings out or the macaw will take them out for you".

Our last day here and I am sure we can spend a few more pesos. Maybe try out the tango dancing.

JILLIAN - again - Tuesday morning

We came unstuck with our plans yesterday. We'd intended to visit a milonga tango dancing gathering, where everyone and anyone goes to just enjoy tango. However, we'd planned a quick visit/tour to some outlet factories, to look for a handbag for me, and shoes. It took forever; and longer, so long that the tango event was over. I just couldn't find a bag to my liking, and ended up feeling knackered and rather fedup. The tour guide pointed us in the direction of Florida (street) after about 3 hours (groan), and I found just the right bag, almost by chance! And then we walked many blocks back to America del Sur, where we spent a delightful evening with some new Swiss friends, enjoying each others experiences.

That's all for now. It's a holiday here and we've been told nothing is open, but we're off to check out a cafe, and find an ATM for pesos for our account here. Chao for now.

What's next? Hmmmm - been looking at northern Argentina and Chile; at the salt deserts; at La Salta. Looks absolutely gorgeous. Bought a beautifully presented book of photos of up there ...........    :-)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Transformed by Southern seas - the cold beauty of the ice.

Hey we survived! We're back in Ushuaia, after having visited the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Somehow I feel different, having experienced some challenging and fascinating experiences, together with with some very interesting people – especially, but not only, the kayaking bunch.

Gold Harbour in South Georgia is the paddle that springs most readily to mind, not because of the glacier calving right in front of us, but because of the standing waves that greeted us as we addled out of the glacier's lagoon. The tide had dropped, and the swell outside had increased markedly, but Marie and I faced up to those waves like the old pros that we aren't, paddled hard and strong through the break, and then back through the heightened swell to the challenging climb back up on the swaying lurching ship. We heard later that those conditions for reboarding were too extreme, but we did it anyway.

Seeing Shackleton's grave, plus the cross erected in his honour by his men at Hope Pt at Gritviken brought a lump to my throat, and also walking the last 5kms he, Crean and Worsley walked from Fortuna Bay over the mountain to Stromness was very evocative, and helped me understand the struggles they had, especially when I was nearly thigh deep in thick snow.

Peltier Channel from Pt Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsula was another remarkable paddle, and hasn't been paddled in its entirety by a group from the ship before. The weather had cleared again, miraculously, and here we gliding along through spectacular snow encrusted peaks set against an azure blue sky.

The beauty of the Lemaire Channel in the evening was almost overwhelming, awe inspiring, and very very beautiful. I could hardly bear to tear myself away to go and enjoy the fabulous BBQ that had been prepared on the back deck in case I missed some of the unfolding beauty of the channel.

I think with amazement back to the grandeur and majesty of the landscapes we've seen, the wonderful weather we had, and also to the cohesiveness and friendship of the paddling group plus other passengers – and also the challenging paddling! South Georgia was every bit as wild and ruggedly beautiful as I thought it would be, and I'd love to go back – there's so much that we didn't see.

Hmmm - yes I did say that the weather was great - and yes I am including 2 days of Force 8 - 9 winds and 7m swells coming back through the Drake Passage. Not sure Marie will agree with that thought though!


I loved the Falklands and South Georgia, but also the Antarctic Peninsula equally. Paddling the Peninsula seemed to fall into a pattern. Up early, zodiac set off with non-paddlers, and then we paddled off after climbing down a rope ladder, into a zodiac and then into kayak while our trusty guide kept the kayak steady. Did the paddle, back to ship for lunch, the ship moved on and then the whole procedure happened all over again.

One particular paddle comes to mind. Half Moon Island, the wonderful shapes and colours of the icebergs with blue sky and flat sea, penguins, birds – what more could we want. And a lot more.

There was always the thought of chunks of ice falling and creating small tidal waves etc. In particular Paradise Bay which had a huge magnificent glacier. We paddled down towards it while hearing booming noises in the background which to me sounded like chunks of ice breaking off the glacier. Paddled through a large patch of brash ice and on way back wind etc.

Big swells and wind on way back through Drakes Passage to Ushuaia with two days open sea. Still all worth it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Upping the ante in Ushuaia

A long bus trip from Puerto Natales – 12.5 hours. Very interesting, but I wouldn't do it again. The last part into Ushuaia is brilliant though, with the road winding its way up and then down through massive high snowy mountain peaks. Ushuaia itself is quaint and pretty with some fascinating and different architecture – it seems to have its own 'fin del mundo' style. We've been on a day trip which included a genteel canoe trip on a bay in the Tierra del Fuego National Park, followed by a 3 hours walk along the shore of the Beagle Channel (Canal, they call it). Yesterday we took a tour to Martillo Island where there is a Pinguineria, with Gentoo and Magellanic penguins, plus other wild life – all fascinating and utterly delightful, in spite of the driving snow and wind! This morning we've woken up to another snow plastered world – we're starting to wonder if we're carting the weather around with us.

Today we leave on the Polar Pioneer (Aurora Expeditions) for the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, back on 27th November. There'll be no internet connection for us on the ship, so this is it for now. Ciao!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chilling out in Chile - and how!

Marie and I have come up with 'bleak, desolate, cheerless, unkempt and windswept' for Puerto Natales. What's even more we didn't care for our first hostal very much, and moved ourselves + stuff to 'Erratic Rock' when we came back from kayaking! The three Serrano River days were wonderful and varied. We had another colourful guide, a native born Chilean Patagonian, called Angelo. With dreadlocks tied on top of his head, our mischievous mate drinking kayak guide supremo, you didn't want to underemphasize his professionalism on the water. We were well cared for. The first day we quickly reached a waterfall area where we had a 70m portage, somewhat challenging with the kayaks still loaded (single for A. and a double for us), but it was manageable with a fair amount of huffing and puffing up and over a small hillock. Lots of ducks (I'll bet some are related to the NZ Paradise shelduck) and other birds – including 4 condors - all fairly challenging to photograph from a moving boat. Quite good sitting in the bow position though, as it meant I could just stop paddling and take pics - and let Marie keep paddling! Very cool (blimin freezing actually) I thought. We had a seriously windy corner to manoeuvre around as we came in sight of the Tyndall Glacier, and needing to keep our wits about us we kept paddling across from ridge end to ridge end, against the wild wind that kept battering our starboard bow quarter. Not nice, but the immense relief after getting around it safely and then landing at our campsite was worth it. We had a great view of the Tyndall glacier, so decided we'd go and explore it the next morning, instead of heading straight back to Pt.Natales. After dragging our boats part way up a side river (after a rather exciting + scarey ferry-type crossing) we set out on a long plod across the shingle (with a bit of quicksand thrown in), only to find our way to the forest edging the glacier lake was blocked by an impassable river with too much current. Just as well we didn't go any further though as we reached the next campsite at Monte Balmaceda just before a heavy storm hit; the one that had us in the blizzard the next morning. No paddle over to the foot of the Serrano glacier next morning for us either, as the whiteout was too intense for us to paddle safely (ok Angelo! - by the time we stopped taking pics). We did paddle across the fjord about midday though, in order to catch the ship back to Pt.Natales. We loved every minute of these three days!

Marie here: Really I think the Serrano River kayaking has been the best adventure so far. Very scary in places and at times we were all yelling at each other. Waking up with a snow covered tent was wonderful plus the fact that we were miles and miles from anywhere – and no-one knew where we were, except for Angelo, and we weren't even too sure where he was! Heaps and heaps of snow. I actually enjoyed the fjord paddle best probably because of being used to the sea, but it wasn't long enough though. I enjoyed the boat ride back to Pt Natales too.

El Chalten - our initiation into the snow and the cold

Marie in El Chalten, as the snow was letting up

I think I last got in touch from El Calafate, over in Argentina?, - at the north end of Argentinian Patagonia. We spent nearly all the 1st day seeing the Perito Mereno glacier, which is huge, rather awe inspiring - as long as you don't mind if your glacier comes coated with touristos multos. It all took too long for our liking; a lot of effort/time. We had a huge rush when we got back to town to catch the late bus up to El Chalten, about 3.5 hours trip, through some magnificent country, into some even more majestic country, up in the mountains, one of which is El Chalten itself, or Fitzroy. We woke to light snow, which thickened up quite quickly, meaning that we had an enforced stay looking around a pretty little mountain village.  Then we got very lucky as the weather cleared enough for us to walk 1.5hrs up into the mountains, and get a mysterious and tantalising view of El Chalten and Cerro Torre. The Chilean firebush is flowering now, and is gorgeous!

The next day we were on a bus bound for Puerto Natales, and kayaking the Serrano River, starting at the southwest corner of the Torrest del Paine National Park, and carrying on down through the Bernard O'Higgins National Park.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Having a high at altitude

The longest 40 hour 17 October ended with us flying via Santiago and Lima into Cusco Peru, to a breathtaking sight of mountain ranges, adobe houses and charming friendly people. It was rather hard to tell whether our lightheadedness was due to tiredness or 3300m altitude, but whichever it soon wore off and we were out to explore downtown Cusco – didn't continue up one fascinating side street after being warned against the area twice, by two older men, who were sure we were going to have our cameras snatched. Yes of course we've done some shopping! We also did some walking up and around the hills in preparation for our 22 October trek into the Lares valley, an area that is more remote than the Inca trail, and where we saw the Andean people living their village lives, au naturel, with only 9 visitors to the area while we were there. The women and children dress in their beautiful bright colourful clothing, recognizable from quite a distance. Really charming. The children are utterly delightful and were very keen to get the pens and hairties that we took with us for them. Some of them walk/run/skip/hop or roll a tire at great speed and even greater distances from their homes every day, to go to school. It must be a huge advantage to be born at those altitudes (the highest village we slept in was at 3900m) because it was an effort for us to walk. Not for them! Our highest pass was at 4400m which a tortoise may have achieved at a greater speed than we did. I was the pace setter and we did manage to get over it relatively unscathed; puff pant.

Just before that pass, our guide Puma (pull-mar) took us way up high on the side of the pass to visit a woman who was widowed just one month ago, who he wants to support if possible. She is having to let 3 of her 4 children be brought up by other family members, with one son remaining to help look after their animals and land. A very hard life at about 4150m remains for her. Marie had quite a find there – here's how it happened ---

Marie: Yes we went to visit this woman who had a son living with her in their traditional type Inca house with the dirt floor, guinea pig (which they will probably eat) dried something or other hanging from the roof and stuff everywhere (so interesting). Then she produced out of an old sack a few items she was selling so I scored this wonderful handwoven, spun and dyed poncho (which I will hang on the wall). Special because she made it and it is not perfect (like shop bought), probably has earth from the floor of their house on it as that is how things are displayed to you – spread out on the dirt (shock horror) but so exciting like everything else about Peru Just magic.

Jillian25 October - We've just returned from the 4 days trekking the Inca/Lares trail, plus visiting Machu Picchu, which is such an intriguing place - what the Incas used to do beggars belief, and helps you understand why many of them still will have little or nothing to do with the Spaniards. Shades of the Maoris maybe? Intricate stone work, buildings designed for the social status of the inhabitants, sacrificial areas, quarries, terraces for growing crops – all done without the use of the wheel, and incredibly complex. We also climbed Huayna Picchu yesterday, which could explain why both of us have tired thigh muscles today - have a look at pics of the city of Machu Picchu, and you'll see the steep climb we did. We loved the alpine town of Aguas (Aqua) Calientes, a town with hot springs, and would have loved to have had a second night there, just so we could have explored it more. But with a 4.30am start in order to get 5.30am bus up up up to Machu Picchu, and a very long and exhausting but exhilarating day, not much exploring of A.Calientes happened.

Marie: Yes Machu Picchu was just wonderful. Was a bit anxious at first about the height we were climbing when doing Huayna Picchu, but it was no problem. Although very steep (described as vertical) and lots of Inca steps there was quite a lot of bush around so no fear of falling off. Well worth the climb for the view at the top.

Jillian: It's now 27 October, and we are about to leave Cusco this afternoon, for El Calafate in Patagonia, via Lima and Buenos Aires. We've had a very interesting cultural time for the past two days, exploring Inca ruins, one Cathedral that was built on top of an Inca temple site, and another huge and lavish Cathedral, all gold and silver sparkly, ornately dressed statues everywhere, and huge paintings. The Spanish had very clever artisans, but I somehow give the Incas the nod for their intriguing and intricate social structures, plus incredible building expertise. I've been rather intrigued with the Inca way of life. And yes, there's been more shopping – the handicrafts are amazing!!!

Marie:  Jillian is wonderful (Marie dictating this!) communicating with the locals.

Jillian: We've just had our first panic! Marie mentioned that she hadn't seen my suitcase downstairs, and thought that it was still in our room. I knew it was down there, as it was taken down before her's, so had that sinking-in-the-stomach feeling that presages a calamity – and I was right. It had been picked up and taken to the airport with a tour group's luggage. The tour leader should be hung out to dry as far as I'm concerned. It was found – phew – by an observant driver – at the airport. One of the hotel's staff and I were hottaxi-ing it to the airport in the meantime, to try to stop it going only God know's where!

Next time from Patagonia – adios nos amigos!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

There's just a few more hours before Marie & I are off!

           Miriam, myself, Marie - the terrible trio?

South America this time, and south of South America too. Can't change our minds now - that's what's on the tickets! Marie Cooke and I are travelling together, mainly for a voyage on Aurora Expeditions' Polar Pioneer, from Ushuaia to the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica! Miriam Preston is joining us just for the boat trip. We're leaving tomorrow, 17th October, initially to Cusco, walking the Inca Trail, then El Calafate, kayaking in the Torres del Paine, and down to Tierra del Fuego. After the boat trip (more kayaking!) we're travelling to Buenos Aires, and Iguacu. Magic! My suitcase is shut, just, camera gear packed, and Marie is all ready to go too. Wish us luck as you wave us goodbye!