There was a really beautiful sky as we looked out from the quay in Ushuaia – breakfast was disturbed once again as I went on deck to take photos!
We said goodbye to our cabin girl Sharon, who had been so delightful, and always made our room look special. She was returning to the Philippines now after 11 months away. All went smoothly for our departure from the boat – we’d sat in the lounge for a while before walking ashore and onto the bus for the airport. We couldn’t find Adrian’s bag for a long time – someone had stood it on end.
It was only a short distance to the airport, but slow going, as there were lots of hold ups and traffic lights. It was nice seeing the familiar places of Ushuaia as we travelled through. It is in such a beautiful setting, with tall peaks and inlets all around.
They are extending the airport, which is quite tiny, and set on a flat area out in the ‘bay’. Everything went smoothly, despite our anxiety of having too much luggage. The weight limit was supposedly 15 Kg, so we had put as much as we could into our hand luggage. In addition, we had our large Quark parkas with their lined fleeces.
Mike and Elaine were on the same flight as us, so we chatted until it was time to board. We had views of Ushuaia as we left, but then went into cloud. The plane was landing in Rio Gallegos, a short distance away, but even so, we were given a cheese sandwich and drink. Rio Gallegos was a colourful low rise town, set in the flat, arid land of southern Argentina, just north of Tierra del Fuego.
We were surprised that almost all the passengers got off, and then a larger number got on, for the flight to Buenos Aires. We were given lunch, with wine, which was a nice surprise. The route followed up the dry eastern coast of Argentina, but when we descended to Buenos Aires, we saw that it was very green with trees – something we hadn’t seen for a while! A few were in flower, which was nice. We had arrived at the International Airport, although our information had stated the domestic one. Hence it was a longer taxi ride to the centre.
The city seemed very western. We arrived at Hotel Ibis, near the centre, and once in our room, got sorted out.
We walked out in the evening, into the vibrant atmosphere. It seemed like London on a rare balmy evening. We ate a delicious pizza, sitting outside on the pavement – what a treat! We walked on a bit afterwards, but having bought a bottle of water and some tonic, decided to return to the hotel with them. We walked out again, around the Plaza del Congreso, where our hotel is, passing numerous busy and happy looking eating places.
Congress square Buenos Aires
Friday 13th March A lovely day in Buenos Aires
We left at 9.45, after breakfast in the hotel, for a day exploring Buenos Aires. The sky was blue all day, and it was beautifully warm.
We started by walking along Avenue de Mayo to Plaza de Mayo, the main square. We had noticed that many people have dogs – one man had about a dozen all on leads!
It was really busy, although only Friday. We went first into the cathedral, the interior of which belied the more humble exterior. Inside, it was a huge, ornate catholic church, with plenty of religious paintings and statues. I saw a young girl yawn, and it reminded me of my time being shown around the churches of Venice – religious painting still have that effect on me!
At the far end of the square was the ‘pink house’, the vast Casa Rosada, home of the National Government. We walked right around the outside of this, and then managed to find our way to Puerto Madero, the former port area, the old buildings of which have been converted into eating places and smart residences.
We stopped for coffee/tea at a small outdoor stall beside the water. We were right beside an old sailing ship, the Presidente Sarmiento. Built in 1899, it served as a sailing warship until 1939, and from then until the 1960’s it was used as a training ship. Now it is a museum. For 2 pesos each (50p), we could wander right through the boat. We clambered up and down the steep stairs, right through the ‘bowels’ of the ship – we could really go anywhere. We certainly got a feel of what it was like to sail in a ship like this – made more real by our recent Antarctic experience. There were all sorts of artefacts to look at, as well as old photographs and other information about the ship. It was an excellent visit.
After this, we crossed the water on ‘Lady’s bridge’, where more places had been turned into upmarket eateries and shops. We headed for a promenade edged by a swamp area. There were street stalls selling food – we stopped at one and ate beef/pork baguette along with the locals, but found the meat disappointingly tough.
The former swamp area has been made into a nature reserve, so we had a pleasant wander amongst the trees, enjoying the birds and butterflies, but not the mozzies! We saw a lot of evidence of heavy rain recently – it was raining lightly when we arrived at the airport yesterday, but maybe it had rained harder in other places. A lot of people were jogging through the park, but cycling had been banned today, presumably because of the mud.
At the far end of the reserve, we saw what must have been the former harbour entrance building. Way beyond we could glimpse the wide River Plate.
Now we headed for Plaza San Martin, and close to it ‘Englishmen Tower’, now called Monumental Tower. This was being renovated, and the grassy square which it was in was completely cordoned off. We had crossed the road on a crossing, to find a high fence, and traffic rushing past!
Looking past the Falklands memorial to Englishmen Tower
Plaza San Martin was like a small Central Park, with grass and trees (although some here were huge), and play areas. There was also a memorial to those lost in the Falklands War.
At the far end was something really different – a huge circle of bears, one representing each of the countries of the Untied Nations. Each bear was decorated in bright colours, and the arms were held up as if holding hands. They were representing unity and love in the world. It was really eye catching, and a lot of fun. It would seem that the bears are a ‘moving display’ which will go on to other countries.
Some of the colourful ‘Buddy Bears’
From the top end of the park, we walked along Florida Street. This is a pedestrian street full of shops, and very busy! We stopped to buy an icecream before the last part of our walk back.
Taking another pedestrian street, we came to Avenue 9 de Julio. We had crossed this vast street this morning – one of the widest in the world. I had hoped to look in the Opera House, but this was boarded up all around, and appeared to be closed for renovation.
We now made our way back to our hotel, arriving at 5.15. It had been a long but very enjoyable day.
Later we walked along the road to a busy eating place, with tables on the pavement. It was still really warm – I had to go back to our hotel room and change from a light jumper into a ‘vest’. We ordered chicken, but were actually served Wiener Schnitzel. It tasted OK, with good chips, and a nice bottle of wine. It was lovely to be sitting out in this warm temperature, with so much going on around us.
A couple of musicians came to play, and various traders tried to sell their wares. We sat, enjoying the atmosphere for a long time, then we walked ‘around the block’ before coming back to our room at about 10 o’clock.
Saturday 14th March A day in Buenos Aires not to be forgotten! or A Tale of Water
We ate a late breakfast at a small café along the road – 3 tiny homemade croissants, orange drink, tea/coffee.
This was the day arranged to meet up with Favio and Mariella, who we had met on our India trip 3 years ago. We weren’t meeting until 11.00am, so set off to have a walk around first. The Congress building, which I’d read was open to look around, was closed and barricaded off. The streets behind it were grubby and well lived in.
We needed to get some more drinking water, so were pleased when we passed a largish supermarket in a side street. We bought a large bottle of water, and a bottle of gin to take on to Calgary. At the checkout, two strange things happened. Adrian was standing with a 50 pesos note ready to pay, when the cashier took it from his hand to give as change to the person in front! Then our turn came and the cashier did give us the change for the 50 pesos note she had ‘pinched’. I had the small rucsac, and Adrian had our small bottle of water in its fabric carrier. She asked to look at both, then directed us to a formidable looking woman ‘guard’. She wasn’t happy at all! It appears that we should have shown her the rucsac and water on the way in. We couldn’t believe the fuss which followed – we imagined that we might both end up locked in jail! Nobody spoke English, and the woman just shouted louder and louder at us. We tried to explain that it was our water, that we had brought with us, but they were having none of it. After a very long time, someone suggested that they check the code numbers on the bottle, and compare them with those in the shop. This somebody did and of course they were different, so eventually they let us go, but not with a ‘sorry’, just with a ranting on from the miserable old woman that we should have given the bottle to her to be stamped when we came in!
It was 10.45 when we got back to the hotel, so we waited in the foyer for Favio. He arrived, a little late, with a friend Sebastian, and then followed a lovely day touring Buenos Aires. We didn’t meet up with Mariela until a bit later, as she was busy with a house move coming up soon.
We travelled first on the underground, which Adrian loved, as it still had the original 1910 wooden carriages. Some of the stations were being ‘done up’, so had lost their old character.
Inside one of the ‘Subte’ carriages
We visited various different areas of the city, sometimes walking, sometimes by bus. We always had to see that we had enough change for the fare, as this appears to be a constant problem here. The day was really hot - 35°C, so heat and thirst were both problems.
The first area we visited was La Boca, home to the football stadium where Maradona had played. Nearby, on an island across the river, is a very dangerous area reached by rowing boat. There was a transporter bridge looking like the one in Duluth or Middlesbrough. This area is the home of the tango, and there were signs of it everywhere. The area had become a really attractive place to visit. The houses are painted in pastel colours, apparently after the style of the early Italians who emigrated here.
Colourful houses in La Boca
We took a bus to San Telmo, where we ate lunch in Plaza Dorrego, a popular square with a lot of trees.
Sebastian, Favio and Mariela at Plaza Dorrego
We ate a mixture of appetisers, and drank beer. Two people demonstrated tango dancing while we ate. By now the day had become unsettled, although still hot, and we often had showers of rain, but everyone just carried on.
We moved on to the smart area of Palermo, with wide streets reminiscent of London, and high class residences and shopping areas. We walked through a large mall, as we moved on into the area called Recoleta. Street stalls were everywhere. We passed the Casa de Cultura, but walked on to the vast cemetery where many past presidents and other people of note are buried. The burial place we went to see was Eva Peron’s. All the graves were in large ornate vaults, set out in ‘streets’. The cemetery was closing as we left at 6 o’clock.
We made our way to an ice cream parlour, where, after a very long wait to be served, we all enjoyed icecreams and much chat. A thunderstorm was about to hit us now, and lightning lit up the sky.
Eventually we set off to travel back to our hotel, by various means of transport, the last part walking. It was now 9.00 pm.Favio was going on to a family wedding, and Mariela had to work tonight, as the clocks go back one hour, and she needed to sort this out for her firm. They had insisted on coming right back to our hotel with us. We said our goodbyes, and they left – not knowing what the next event in this unforgettable day would be!
We went up to our room, on the 8th floor, wondering what to do first – get something to eat, or have a shower, as we felt so hot and sticky. I opted for the later, while Adrian poured a drink. I turned on the shower, but couldn’t get any hot water. Being known for my inadequacy with showers, I called Adrian to investigate. As he did so, he asked what the noise was – a sort of alarm. On going outside to see, he came back and said “I think you’d better get some clothes on, it’s the fire alarm”. I hurriedly did so and we made our way to the stairs. We started dashing down them, noticing a rush of warm, damp air getting ever hotter, and a sound like crashing rain. As we got further down, it became more like a sauna, and then there was water pouring everywhere, drenching us, and we were slopping about in inches of water. We wondered if the water would become too hot to wade through, but a sort of survival thing took hold, and we dashed on down, arriving at the ground floor saturated. Water was flowing everywhere as we made our way out into the street. The heat had gone out of the day by now, and we began to feel chilly in our soaked clothes.
Wet, wet, wet
Chaos seemed to ensue. Fire engines arrived, a lady gave out a small towel each, and a chap gave bottles of water. People stood around in the darkness not knowing what to do. We didn’t either – we’d have gone to eat if we hadn’t been so wet and cold. The hotel went into darkness, and some emergency lighting came on in the lounge. We didn’t know whether to go inside, with fear of water and electrics, or to stay outside, where we were cold. There seemed to be no order at all, and we couldn’t imagine what would happen. The ground floor of the hotel was swimming in water, and the alarm was still making its piercing sound.
Eventually we sat inside in the semi-darkness, and discovered to our amazement that people were being taken back to their rooms. This we couldn’t imagine, but floor by floor they were called. In the end it was our turn – and the journey back to our room was unbelievable. We were led through the kitchen by a young lad with a torch, and then up flight upon flight of stairs – now in absolute darkness, as he was ahead. The stairs then went outside, and we were walking up the fire escape stairs, until we got to our floor!
By now we were quite exhausted. Any thoughts of going to eat were out of the question. We ate a piece of chocolate and got ready for bed. The alarm finally stopped, but often came on again for short bursts to confuse us. With no water in the taps, we wondered what tomorrow might bring!
Sunday 15th March Enjoying Sunday like the locals
Incredibly we slept until 7.30 new time. Adrian went downstairs to investigate, and found to his astonishment that all seemed virtually back to normal! We had to use the service lift, but apart from that, life was going on – breakfast was being served, the floor was dry, and there was hot water in the taps! We pieced together from what little we understood, that the hot water main had burst last night on about the fourth floor, emptying the whole system onto the floors below. Very relieved, we went down to breakfast – we hadn’t relished the idea of changing hotels for one day, which had seemed the only option last night.
We had decided to go to Tigre today. This is an area to the north of Buenos Aires which is very popular particularly on Sundays, as we found out. There is a vast delta area of rivers which flow into the River Plate, and many tourist attractions. We’d considered going by bus, but this seemed too difficult to sort out, so we set off to go by train. We walked to Av de Mayo station and took the metro to Retiro station, where we queued and bought tickets for Tigre - very cheap - 2.7 pesos (60p return).
This was a main line, and it felt like leaving Paddington on a sunny day. The sky was constant blue, but without the extreme heat of yesterday. We realised how large Buenos Aires is, as we continued through the suburbs, stopping at 15 stations before we reached Tigre an hour later. The train was packed with locals, and a seething mass got off the train at Tigre, the end of the line. We wondered where to go, and what to do, as there was no information anywhere. We followed the crowds, and came to the River Tigre, where lots of boats of all sorts were tied up. It looked for all the world like being by the Thames – Henley, Marlow or Maidenhead, or even Windsor.
The River Tigre – or is it Thames?
We spent quite some time trying to sort things out, but by now the crowds had dispersed to various venues – there is a vast funfair, a large fruit market and hundreds of crafts stalls.
Many people were happily picnicking, and we bought a good ham/cheese baguette and joined them, sitting on the grass. We crossed the bridge, and tried to sort out the boat trips, unsuccessfully. Finally we bought tickets for an hour’s trip on a wooden boat – Adrian shunned the large catamarans.
The river was swollen and brown – we had seen a couple of flooded streets from the train. This small river joined with another, and we sped along, passing at first buildings reminiscent of England, making it seem even more like the Thames.
Is this Henley?
As we went on, we saw that most of the properties were flooded, but even so, some owners were sitting in their little ‘sit outs’ by the river.
I enjoyed swooshing down the river, but annoyingly there was a commentary in Spanish by a woman who held the microphone so close that the sound was completely distorted. Thankfully the engine noise mostly drowned it.
After returning, we enjoyed an icecream before walking on to another station – to take the ‘Tren de la Costa’, which we hoped linked up with the train back to Buenos Aires. At the station we spoke to a man in an information booth who told us of the extent of this delta area – we had covered just a tiny fraction of it. There is much more which is uninhabited, with a lot of wildlife –it would have been nice to have seen it.
The Tren de la Costa was very uncrowded (but more expensive), and followed a pleasant route – we had glimpses of Buenos Aires’ ‘playground by the water’. At the end of the line, we connected with another line back to Buenos Aires – it had been impossible to sort out the route with no information, but all was well.
Back at Retiro station, we took the metro back to Av de Mayo and then walked back to our hotel.
We walked out to a local restaurant and ate fish/chicken and chips and afterwards walked around the square, enjoying the pleasant temperature.
Monday 16th March Goodbye to Buenos Aires
It was a fine day, but quite windy for our last day in Buenos Aires. After breakfast, we managed to get an internet connection, so contacted Simon. We sorted and cleared up all our bags, and having put them in storage, we set off late morning to enjoy some more of the city before leaving this afternoon.
We walked along Callao Av. until we reached a metro station and then took the train to Plaza Italie. From here we found our way into the Botanic Gardens, where it was pleasant to walk around among the tall shady trees, with grass all around. The notable thing here were hundreds of cats, which seemed well looked after, so must be fed. We enjoyed seeing the cacti area, and reading the names on some of the trees, particularly the one with large pink flowers, which we realised was a type of Ceiba.
It was now lunch time, so we found a pizza café, where we ate pizza and something called a faina (we didn’t eat much of that – it was like solid dough) and drank a small beer. It felt like being at Marble Arch, being beside the busy road junction.
We walked on down the street beside the zoo until we came to another park area. Someone here had about 15 dogs tied up to trees, all barking - we think that people must give their dogs to be ‘dog minded’, like child minding. We thought that we’d sit on the grass for a while, but regretted it, when the mosquitoes found us!
Walking on further, we were pleased to find the Japanese Gardens which had been a symbol on our map. For 2 pesos each, it was a nice way to while away the time.
In the Japanese gardens, Buenos Aires
We caught a bus from outside the gardens, alighting where we thought we recognised the place in Recoleta. We decided that we might as well walk back to the hotel, amongst the busy afternoon pedestrians, including schoolchildren walking home in their school uniforms, the girls in neat pleated tartan skirts.
We reached the hotel at 4.30 and retrieved our bags before getting a taxi to the airport. The driver (pretending to fasten his seat belt), drove very fast to the Ezeiza International Airport.
It was now 5.20, and plenty of time we thought before our flight at 8.10. Our hearts sank when we saw the length of the Air Canada queue to book in, and sure enough, it took us over an hour to get to our turn. Then it was another wait to pay our departure tax, and after that for security, and then again for passport control. This was a zig zag queue, and on the way, we saw Mike and Elaine wearing their yellow Quark jackets. We chatted very briefly as we passed, but although they were leaving from bay 5, and us from 6, the bays were a long way apart, and we didn’t meet again.
We had no time to get any food to eat, as we’d hoped, and boarded as planned at 7.25.
Unfortunately, all strapped and ready in our seats, we had a delay of ¾hour as the radar in the airport wasn’t working so presumably they were leaving long gaps between planes. All this time, a small child screamed at the top of its voice.
By the time we got our meal, it was well after 10.00pm, and I was really asleep. Amazingly I slept for much of the 12 hour flight to Toronto.
Tuesday 17th March To Calgary
We arrived at 7.30 local time, although Adrian had thought that it was an hour earlier (which was the planned arrival time and the time on the GPS mapping screens!). I’d looked out and seen the lights below, and a lot of water, with a half moon reflected in it. I glimpsed Niagara Falls as we flew over them. It began to get light as we landed and as we walked through the airport, the sun rose as a huge red ball into the clear blue sky, but we could see that it was very cold. We had to queue to recheck our luggage on to Calgary, and then go through security once more. At 9.00am we were in our departure lounge (a different one from that issued on our boarding passes 1 hour earlier and not on an Air Canada plane !!) ready for our 10 o’clock flight.
Unfortunately we hadn’t been given seats together – they were one behind the other, in the centre of three. Fortunately a gentleman changed seats, but annoyingly the man who sat in the window seat pulled down the blind and went to sleep. The flight to Calgary took 4½ hours. I spent much of the time watching a very long film called Australia, which Adrian had watched on the previous flight. The setting and the acting – particularly a young aboriginal boy, who the film centred around – were good, but the story was over dramatic and unreal.
We were given no food on the flight, only drinks, and the attendants were most unfriendly.
All went well at Calgary, and we landed as planned at 12.20 local time. Simon met us and drove us back to his house. Later in the afternoon we collected Manolo and Millie from their day care, and at tea time Laure returned from work.