Sunday, 26 January 2014

Feliz Navidad in Buenos Aires & Iguazu Falls

After another overnighter we finally arrived at Retiro staion in Buenos Aires and made our way to the penthouse apartment in Palermo; an up market swanky part of town. We had booked this as a Christmas treat to ourselves, as presents would be pointless this year. We found it on Air BnB in LaPaz so had spent the last month or so looking forward to it. A chance to chill in our own place, celebrate Christmas and explore the city at our own pace. Hannah nearly died and went to heaven in her first bath for 4 months.

Having a steak in a local restaurant

In the days leading up to Christmas we explored the local area a bit and visited Casa Rosada, the stunning building that Evita famously gave her public speeches from on the balcony. This wasn’t before Hannah gave me a little Argentinean education on whom she actually was, yup…  through the somewhat comical performance from Madonna and Antonio Banderas in the film EVITA!
Obviously there is still a lot of political and social upset, there are barricades and riot police in permanent guard around the plaza.

The Obelisk is pretty impressive as is the building sized portrait of Evita in the background that illuminates the night.

One evening we cooked an epic steak meal (in true Argentinean style though we didn’t start cooking until 10pm).

We visited San Telmo Market on Sunday which was awesome; bands playing music in the street, Tango dancers under the trees in the antiques market plaza and what seemed like miles of stalls … huge and very hot. 

Argentinians are LOCO about their herbal drink mate'

We were trying to meet up with Robbie and Rhea our friends that we met in Mancora as we both said we would be in BA for the festive period. With no phones it was tricky to keep communication but I had a feeling that we would bump into them (like we had on the Isla Del Sol and in La Paz, Bolivia). Just before leaving to go home I spotted Robbie and his pal Joss, who we also briefly met in Mancora. I had a strong feeling that we would bump into them, low and behold we did. I call it the power of intention.

We went back to Joss’s warehouse in San Telmo where he lives with his girlfriend Alicia and an American called Jeff. We caught up with Rhea and Alicia there too and found out all about the setup that Joss and Alicia have here in BA. Joss is managing a stunning old Argentinean mansion next door, hiring it out for film and photo-shoots as well as accommodation for over $1000 a night. 

Naturally my head sprung into film mode and I got thinking about some possibilities… more on that later. Alicia has some part time work organising some crowd funding schemes as well as volunteering for a couple of NFP organisations. Robbie and Rhea were staying with them until the New Year. It was pretty clear from the off that we were going to have some fun in BA!
We put on a BBQ the following night with those four as well as some other friends, including Angus Berkley who is the son of friends back home, his pal and his Dad, Robert, who arrived that day to spend the festive period with him. As well as Greg and Karina our pals from Cuzco, who were here for a month, also living in the San Telmo area. Hannah made and distributed her mini chocolate Christmas puddings, like she does every year, but this time having to substitute most of the ingredients, but they still tasted great and everyone was very impressed with the effort. 

We BBQ’d on the roof with a great view. 

Needless to the say with just the 6 of us left the night got messy and we were asked to move down to our flat. Everyone but Joss fancied leaving around 4am so typically we grabbed another beer and he and I stayed up until the early hours watching the Christmas Eve sun rise from the balcony.

We discovered that the Argentineans do not really celebrate Christmas in a big way like we do at home, but Christmas eve is a different story! After the tradition of watching Home Alone...

...and just as we were heading to bed around midnight suddenly the whole sky exploded with fireworks as far as the eye could see: 360 degrees! 

It was incredible how close the fireworks were to buildings, we definitely had the best seat in town from our balconies and managed to stay up for another hour until we gave in… before the fireworks stopped.

Although we knew that Christmas Day was going to be very different this year, we were still determined to do it properly!

We still started it off with a little traditional bubbly. The bottle of Moet cost more than the whole Christmas meal… but it was worth it. By 11AM we were pretty tipsy, standard! 

The day was mostly spent FaceTiming family and friends, gate-crashing everyone’s Christmas days... 

Carols from across the Atlantic!!

...and preparing our meal of roast chicken, pigs in blankets, roasties and veg... 

We also took some time out to cool down in the tub up top before tucking in to the grub and finished off with the one and only ‘Love Actually’. 

Not at all a homey Christmas but as close as we could make it. It was our first one just the two of us which was fun. 

We got a lot of pleasure from making our Christmas film and showing everyone and getting their reactions....

(Hannah now writing)
Come the 27th December when our week was up we were not ready to leave BA. We made a last minute decision; to stay another 8 days! We did a money transfer online and got an even better rate for our money. Result!

We moved right into the microcentre to Supacha street to a gorgeous little apartment; transitioning from ultra modern to old style antique French! 

The building had one of those fabulous old lifts, which took us back in time.

Being right in the heart of the city, it was great for exploring!

Me taking a picture of Kyle..... his pic follows :) 

For this next week we were determined to see and do more Argentine Tango. For our first night in this area, we met up with Greg and Karina (Karina is a very keen tango dancer) and we had a class in a milonga very close to our apartment. Buenos Aires has hundreds of milongas; public dance halls for tango. An old couple from BA led the class. It was fun, although extremely hot. ‘Bloody marvellous’ – the old man said to us in his best British accent after we had practiced a step loads. We also got good feedback from another couple that were impressed it was our first class. We found it hard though; our contemporary background shone through with us both really ‘covering the space’ bumping into people, tables and chairs! We need to work on keeping it contained!

Kyle dancing with the teacher

After the class we went onto another milonga. Karina went in separately so as not to look like she was with us(!) – the reason being that she would not be asked to dance at all as men would assume she had a partner. It was really interesting to learn the social etiquette in these milongas. Men always ask the women if they’d like to dance – not verbally though; with eye contact and women reply in the same way. This technique is called the ‘cabazeo’. Karina explained to us that women need to scout out good male dancers as bad ones will make them look bad and then they won’t be asked by the good ones! So whether they accept or decline is very important! Phew!

Greg, Kyle and I sat in a 3 in the corner – just there to observe. It was fascinating to watch the sea of couples travelling around the central dance floor all completely immersed in their secret dances. This was tango!!

The next day we visited the Teatro Colon, very close to us – across the incredibly wide ‘9 de Julio’ road. This stunning theatre is famous for its perfect acoustics. 

....the picture Kyle took :)

When Pavorotti sang here the critics asked him how he found the place. He said that there was one fault - to everyone’s horror – that the acoustics were perfect! Therefore only the very best of the best singers can perform here as the audience will be able to hear everything – even the tiniest of mistakes will be magnified. 

We had a tour, guided by a very sweet and engaging lady amongst a group of about 30 tourists.  

That evening it was another tango night in another milonga! This time with Alicia, Joss, Robbie, Rhea and Jeff. We had a class with Yuyu (pronounced shoo shoo), Jeff’s girlfriend; a little feisty Argentinean powerhouse! 

After the class, some more friends of Alicia and Joss joined and we formed a large table, drinking, socialising, watching the fabulous tango and even doing a spot ourselves! 

Cheeky Alicia and Kyle!

There were quite a few same sex couples dancing which was great to watch. A highlight was right at the end of our night at gone 2am when 2 gay guys got up to dance. The floor cleared and they were incredible – dancing a fusion of tango, salsa and folklore! To know that it was all improvised too….wow!

Another day the 6 of us packed a picnic, hired bikes and cycled over to Puerto Madero – an island attached by bridges. It’s an ecological reserve where you could quite easily forget you’re in BA!

Lovely to see the sea and lots of trees. The weather was unbelievably hot- apparently this December was the hottest for 43 years…

That evening we all went for a delicious meal in San Telmo. Such fun wining and dining and experiencing a city with our new friends.

Only in BA!!

On New Years Eve Kyle and I took a bus to Recoleta. We wandered around the huge cemetery there – massive mausoleums packed in tightly together, trying to out-do each other with their grandeur. They are so incredibly ornate, looking like mini churches; lots made of marble. Catholicism has allowed cremation now – making things a tad less expensive when you die! You can actually SEE the coffins inside! Very eerie. 

Kyle got a bit weirded out, particularly when he stuck his head in one of them and smelt…well…death. Ugh! He was quite keen to leave after that! 

The main attraction was of course Evita’s grave. 
Crowds of people lined up to see it with flowers outside.

Later that day we met with a friend we went to Laban with; Lucy Glover. She had flown out from the U.S. and arrived that morning. Lucy is travelling until March and BA was her first stop in S. America; just in time to be a part of the city’s new years celebrations! Her hostel was just a little way down our street so she came over for a catch up before we all headed out to spend the evening with Alicia, Joss, Robbie and Rhea. We went to their friends’ house- Steve and Leoni, to have dinner and see the new year in.  

Their place was gorgeous and we moved to the roof top garden before midnight for the countdown. 

Lots more fireworks, many being set off from the streets around us. Slightly dodgy!

A few hours into the new year, Robbie and Rhea had to turn in as neither of them were very well – both having had nasty bouts of tonsillitis, they needed to rest. Steve and Leoni opted to call it a night too so at around 3am, the remainder of us took taxis to the planetarium where outside there was a trance rave going on!! It felt like a festival. Loads of people! We came across a spot with a group of fire spinners and some contact juggling. Kyle of course had to get involved and did a brilliant job, really getting the crowd going!

...he did have to pay for it a bit over the subsequent days with countless burns. He has now become obsessed with ‘sudo cream’!

The night ended around 6.30am and we caught a taxi home. It was such a beautiful sunny morning; windows down, awesome music on the stereo, slightly inebriated! Welcome 2014.

Our last few days in BA involved more time spent with our wonderful new friends. We had our last meal with Robbie and Rhea before they got a flight down south to Patagonia. Next time we meet it will be back home! Kyle and Robbie shared a 'completo'- a meat feast- including kidneys, intestines and other dubious looking innards- Kyle really was only interested in the steak though!

Another day, Lucy, Kyle and I headed to Palermo's Jardin Zoologico. BA's zoo! We saw all sorts of animals including elephants, giraffes, lions, bears, hippos and lots of native Latin American animals too. 

The zoo was very attractive, with lots of old ornate buildings within the enclosures built around the turn of the century when the zoo opened.

Then we headed south to La Boca and explored the area. Bright coloured buildings, markets, street tango performances in cafés- there was a real bohemian vibe. It was very touristy though.


We stayed for a beer and an empanada in one of the outside cafes

before we took a taxi to Alicia and Joss’s for the evening, and enjoyed a lovely home cooked meal by Alicia.

Our last day in the beautiful Buenos Aires was spent doing a spot of dance filming! Kyle had organised through Joss to shoot a tango film in the mansion next door. The latest guests moved out the day before and new ones were in the day after – a window - perfect! The dancers were Yuyu (Jeff’s girlfriend) partnering a rather dashing and suave Martin. It was a great opportunity for the dancers to have a film of themselves, for Joss to have a film of the mansion to use for promotion and for Kyle of course to add to his portfolio (and for me to be able to watch the gorgeous tango)! Everyone was a winner!

Film coming soon!

For the rest of the afternoon we took advantage of the empty mansion and chilled out in the garden by the pool. Then it was time to say goodbye to our new favourite city and our lovely new friends. 

'Catarina' or 'Princess' - A & J's cat!

It felt quite sad to say goodbye as over the last 2 weeks we had really settled here; staying in our own places, getting to grips with the city, seeing Robbie and Rhea again, going over to Alicia and Joss’s lots, bonding with them and meeting their friends. Knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing them for a long time as their plans are to stay out here for at least a few years, made it harder to leave.

After the goodbyes we took a taxi from theirs to Retiro bus terminal for our 16 hour overnight bus ride up to Puerto Iguazu (the town next to the famous Iguazu Falls). It wasn’t the standard trip though. We booked full cama (180 degree reclining) seats and with that we had our own personal TV screens, got served wine and nice food and even had a glass of champers! It was great! It went too quickly!

Unusually after these kind of long bus journeys we arrived with lots of energy around midday and whisked off to the Brazilian side of the falls. This wasn’t my first time here; 17 years ago when I was 8(!) I visited with my family. I knew it was going to be a very different experience though. When I last came out, they had had some serious rain - much more than normal and as a result there were incredible volumes of water being chucked over the edge. So much so that walkways over the river had been swept away! It was an absolutely unforgettable experience – even for an 8 year old – yet I was so excited to go back and actually do parts of the trails and walk ways that were closed off before. Kyle and I spotted stranded broken walkways sticking out of the water at precarious and ugly angles that might have been from that very year!

Here is a picture so you can see the difference!!!  Pretty extreme!

The hotel I stayed at last time:

The Brazilian side was brilliant to have an overview and see the falls in it’s entirety. It was just as spectacular the second time around – (if a little different).

The following day we spent exploring the Argentinean side.  Here we got the chance to get up close to the individual waterfalls. 
Look for the lookout point in the middle... we where there!

It was so hot and sunny, the spray from the falls was a welcome refresher!

Got very close to nature!!

This lighthouse definitely is looking more shabby than I remember...

We took a boat across the river into the island in the middle. Here we did the trail round the island and also managed to take a cheeky dip in the Iguazu River – bliss!

We also did the adventure boat trip where they zoom you into a few of the waterfalls – one being extremely large! Pounding water on top of us, unable to open your eyes or do anything! I was uncontrollably screaming! It was bloody amazing!!
Yep...we went into that!!!
In the middle of the afternoon it started raining and we had a bit of thunder. It really didn’t matter as a) we were already very wet and b) it was nice and cooling.

We were on the 6.15pm bus back to Puerto Iguazu, having pretty much done all the trails in the park.
We had a good steak dinner that night, followed by ½ kg of ice cream from a heladaria that cost us only £2!

This brought us to the 7th January. We had a flight out of Asunción, the capital of Paraguay in the early hours on the 10th January. So..we had 3 full days to…. Well we didn’t have a clue! We spoke to the lady at reception and she mentioned a nice town 6 hours south, so we up’d and left. Luckily the bus was leaving in 5 minutes and so we legged it.

We were dropped off on the side of Ruta 14, the main highway, and pointed to walk straight up this dusty road. So we did, without a clue of where we were, what we were doing or where we were staying. It was a scorching hot day with the sun beating down on our big backpacks. We got to the centre of this little town called San Ignacio and stumbled across the Jesuit ruins that we had heard about. We got a recommendation of a hostel from there and walked a bit further to it.

Later we returned back to the ruins to look around. They were very impressive. Apparently they are the biggest and most well preserved Jesuit ruins.


We also went back that evening for a light show. It was very popular with lots of people. We were pretty blown away! It was so magical – all the ruins were lit up and there was fantastic projection through sprayed water to tell the story of the Jesuits. We thoroughly enjoyed it and were left inspired to create something similar for Bodium Castle!

The 8th and 9th were hectic days of traveling with some stressors along the way! We left San Ignacio in the early afternoon and then got a taxi to the bus station. 1 hour to Posadas. From there, again we weren’t sure what we were doing! We knew we needed to change our Arg Pesos. We had 4000 (equivalent £250) – it could be difficult to do out of the country as noone seems to want this currency. So we had to head into town – another taxi. We were dropped off at the official money changing place and were told that they do not change from Arg pesos…shit! For 20 minutes we stood there trying to figure out what to do. We had a lot of useless money. We approached some blue market street changing guys who pointed us in the direction of another. To cut a long story short we managed to change most of the money for dollars – at a poor rate – but at least we could get something. A lesson to anyone going to Argentina – do not get greedy and exchange for too many pesos; what gets left over is potentially useless and dead money.

After this stressful ordeal with slight headaches from our poor maths, we had a beer and a cartoon drawing done of us! Then onto dinner and splashed out a bit as we still had some pesos to... literally... burn.
By this point it was 10pm – still no plan! We paid 75p each to cross the border on a local bus! A bit drunk and slightly hysterical we were told to rush as quick as we could through the passport controls. Everyone on the bus was waiting – we were the only foreigners.

We got dumped in Encarnacion in Paraguay and heaved our bags into a big impersonal hotel for a room for the night.

The next day check out was at 10am. Whilst booking a bus to Asuncion we realised we needed cash in the local currency so I went on a mission into town to try and find a cash machine that worked and then buy food supplies for the bus. Succeeded.  Then 6 hour bus, followed by a local bus to downtown for food and happy hour cocktails, 3 hours in TGI Fridays(!) Then another local bus 20km to the airport. Arriving 4 hours before our flight. It would be Paraguay to Panama – 1.5 hours layover – Panama to Colombia.
Once at check-in, we encountered a potentially catastrophic problem; we did not have evidence of leaving Colombia in a few weeks. Gulp!! They have a policy that doesn’t allow passengers to enter Colombia without proof of onward travel. We showed them evidence of correspondence with Blue Sailing, the company we are using for the Colombia – Panama sail trip at the end of the month. Luckily with our best British accents, smiles and a quick call to her supervisor… she let us pass!
It seems our travels have only just begun!

P.S. Oh and to top it off we found out that we had either booked business class flights by accident... or been bumped up.....!!
Let the 3week adventure in Colombia begin :)


  1. I love that you watch Love Actually on Christmas, we do too! Glad that you two have enjoyed all South America has to offer, and BA and the falls looks amazing! Matt and I still want to make there sometime. Too bad I'd never be able to get him on the dance floor for some Tango.
    Can't wait to hear about your Colombian adventures. If you haven't left yet and are looking for good hostels to stay, Fulano Backpackers is a really nice one in Bogota, and Casa Kiwi is a great one in Medellin.
    Still think you might be passing through Guatemala? Small chance we might be back there! :)

  2. That looks like you had an awesome Christmas in BA! Roast, plenty of booze and cheesy films are hard to beat :-) what an awesome spot to watch the fireworks too. We hope the rest of your travels have been going well-it sounds like it from your blog! We're now in vietnam until the end of april when it'll be hometime...the Bolivian jungle already feels like it was a long long time ago! Big love and hugs, Alex & Bea