Wonder-fall Iguaçu

We spent nine days in Florianopolis, but we left wishing we had more time there. It was such a great place to relax and enjoy some sun that we didn’t really get to explore the island that much. We weren’t too discouraged however as we had more exciting things on the horizon.

After a short five hour bus journey, we found ourselves in Curitiba. It’s a city two hours from the coast that we were using as a brief stop-over before getting a flight two days later. We didn’t have much time and the hostel recommended a city tour on an open top bus…not really our thing but she somehow managed to persuade us it would be a good idea.

Curitiba Botanical Gardens
Curitiba Botanical Gardens

We started the tour with a quick trip the botanical gardens… not much to say about the gardens other than it’s a pretty place with a big greenhouse (or crystal palace) in the middle. After a brief walk around the park, we boarded the linha tourismo to begin our tour of the city.

Now I’m no expert when it comes to these buses, but it really wasn’t that great. Katy had been telling me that we would have headphones with an English speaking guide to talk us through the sites. We also thought we would be able to get on and off when we wanted if we saw anything of interest along the way. What we actually got was no headphones, a pretty poor route map and we were allowed only four stops along the way. Undeterred we tried to keep track of the sites by reading our leaflet which thankfully had an English translation.

Colonial Curitiba
Colonial Curitiba

All in all the tour was average, but we did get to see a lot of the city. Curitiba is a fairly nice looking city with lots of very expensive areas but there was nothing that stood out as a must see. The historical centre had lots of nice colonial architecture and churches, but after six months of seeing this in South America it all becomes a bit of a blur. It’s similar to seeing temples in Asia…after a while they all look the same.

The next day we were back on a plane to visit one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Iguazu Falls. The falls are situated on the border of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, but we were starting on the Brazil side in Foz do Iguaçu.

First class travel
First class travel

The flight was a bit comical, as the spaces between the seats were so small that I struggled to even sit down. The air stewardess just laughed at me as I tried to wedge my legs in. On the bus into town Katy kept on saying to me that she could smell soy sauce…I just thought the heat was getting to her. When we arrived at the hostel, we soon realised where the smell was coming from, and it was not good news. For the past two weeks I had been carrying around a bottle of soy sauce for Katy’s home cooked delights, and this had come open in my back-pack and covered half of my clothes. Most of the sauce had eventually soaked into the sleeping bag that I have carried around for 15 months and only used twice (now in the bin). On the bright side my bag is looking half empty now.

That evening we went to a Rodizio restaurant, which is a Brazilian style steakhouse. We helped ourselves to some salads and sides, and then a precession of waiters began to bring us meat…lots of meat, non-stop for about two hours. There were over 32 different types and cuts of meat to choose from, and we just didn’t know when to stop…so we didn’t  We tried pork, beef, rabbit, chicken and about ten different cuts of beef. But the meal finished on a high (for Katy anyway) when the waiter brought a full joint of pork with a huge bit of crackling on the side. She said “don’t bother with the meat; just give me the crackling”…in her best Portuguese obviously. It was a huge meal that was finished off with home-made ice cream.

Iguaçu Falls
Iguaçu Falls

We were up early the next morning with a meat hangover for our first visit to the falls. Originally we had wanted to do the Brazil side first, but our flight times the previous day changed so we didn’t have time. We decided to take a tour as it supposedly made it much quicker and easier to cross the border to Argentina. We had also been told that we could just get dropped off and make our own way around the various trekking routes at the falls and meet the group later for our lift back into town.

What actually happened was it took us nearly three hours to cross the border, which included a half hour stop whilst our tour guide disappeared with our passports into his friend’s house (to photocopy them no doubt). When we did eventually arrive at the park we were told that we had to stay with him. He refused to give us a meeting point, and when Katy kicked up a bit of a fuss about it he was quite rude to her in front of the whole group. As you can imagine this didn’t go down well at all.    

Iguazu Falls
Iguazu Falls

Our first stop in the park was Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s throat), a walkway which takes you over the river and above the falls…amazing. We had to get a small train to the start of the trail and were accompanied by thousands of butterflies along the way. The walkway ended right above the main waterfall and I am sure our pictures do not do it justice but the sheer size of the waterfall let alone the thunderous sound it made was just incredible.

Stumble and Fall
Stumble and Fall

We got covered in the waterfalls spray which made it hard to take a decent picture and we also had to elbow quite a few other tourists out of the way but it was such a spectacular sight as tonnes of water per second pours over the cliffs and the mist rises amongst the jungle. They are taller than Niagara Falls, and twice as wide. Numerous islands along the 2.7km edge divide the falls into about 275 separate waterfalls, varying between 60 to 82 metres.

All Fall Down
All Fall Down

We continued our tour of the falls by following the upper and then lower trails each giving a very different perspective of the falls. We opted out of the boat trip which actually took you under the falls but it did look amazing and a lot of fun.

After a long day in the searing sun, we made our way back to our hostel still on the Argentinian side to meet our friend Candy that we met in Florianopolis. We enjoyed dinner and drinks and compared notes on our falls experience so far.

Delight-fall
Delight-fall

The following day we got on a bus for another trip to the falls, this time on the Brazil side. Most people try and see the falls from both sides as each side offers a very different view and experience. We’d been told that the Brazilian side was not as good but we were really looking forward to exploring this side especially as we were tour guide free.

Wonder-fall
Wonder-fall

It was another really sunny day, and thankfully the walkways through the jungle were much quieter and more relaxing then Argentina. It probably helped that we were not being herded around in a group, but we immediately preferred this side of the falls. The views were amazing, although you aren’t quite as close as you are in Argentina. We spent a few hours slowly making our way along the path until we reached Garganta do Diablo, this time on a walkway in front of it rather than above it.

Plenti-fall
Plenti-fall

As with most attractions like this, the experience is slightly tainted by the amount of people you are competing for space with. It was the same at Angkor Wat and various other places we’ve visited. This is just the price you pay for visiting such a unique attraction. Perhaps we planned badly and shouldn’t have visited on a Saturday…perhaps we shouldn’t have got a tour guide? At the end of the day it was well worth the effort to see the falls and we got to tick off our fourth natural wonder of the world.

Free Fall
Free Fall

With just a few weeks left we’re headed for the beach and trying hard not to think about cold and rainy London.

Until the next time…

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Argy-bargy in Buenos Aires

Sometimes this blog is quite difficult to write, or at least write and keep it vaguely interesting. It has got harder as our trip has gone on, but is usually hindered by the fact that sometimes we do very little of any interest. That’s not to say that we haven’t been having a great time…just that we’ve had a quiet few days or weeks…and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing in Buenos Aires.

We had a pretty action packed few weeks in the south of Argentina, so we booked an apartment for our time in the city, and it was good to have our own place rather than staying in dorms for a change. It turned out that our friends Kristin and Matt were here at the same time, so we offered them our sofa bed for a few days…in exchange for wine of course.

San Telmo
San Telmo

Our first few days were dominated with very little other than eating and drinking. We were staying in a nice area of the city called San Telmo, which has loads of small restaurants and bars to visit. BA can take some getting used to though. Most locals don’t go out for dinner until well after 21:00, they might then pop out for a few drinks at about 23:00 and won’t hit the clubs until at least 03:00. Luckily we’re far too old for clubs nowadays, so that wasn’t really a problem.

Another steak dinner
Another steak dinner

One thing we had both said we wanted to do while we were here is watch a football match. It’s such a huge part of their culture that it is a must for a person visiting; especially in Buenos Aires.

When we looked into it, it turns out that the big derby game was on at the weekend. Now this isn’t just any derby game…this is River Plate vs Boca Juniors…El Superclásico.

 

Superclásico
Superclásico

The rivalry between Boca and River Plate is the most intense in Argentine football and in my opinion the rest of the world as well. Buenos Aires has the highest concentration of football teams of any city in the world, and River and Boca are the two main clubs. Both clubs are originally from the dockland area of the city, but 90 years ago it was decided that one of the clubs needed to move to a different area of the city. So they played a game to decide who should move, and Boca won. River moved away from the area to a more upmarket district with a more affluent fan base, hence their nickname, Los Millionarios.

Boca Juniors fans
Boca Juniors fans

This now leaves without doubt the fiercest, most vibrant, loud and violent derby experiences in the world. Anyone who doubts this really should take the time to look at some of my videos of the game below. This game was even more intense as it was the first time they have played each other in 15 months, as River were relegated to the second division last season.

Tickets for the game were a budget busting £150, including a guide, pizza and beer. We had also read that this might not be the best game for women to attend, so Katy decided to leave it to me. I thought this all may have been slightly exaggerated, but when we got our security briefing on the bus, I realised that I was wrong. I was told not to speak in English to anyone. If anybody asks a question in English, just reply “no entiendo” (i.e. I don’t understand). We were told not to get our cameras or tickets out before we had to and all bags should be left on the bus.

The National Stadium
The National Stadium

Let’s just say the walk from the bus to the stadium was a bit tense. It was so obvious that we were a group of tourists; mainly as we were the only group of people within three square miles without club colours on. Thankfully before we drew too much attention, a group of Boca fans already in the stadium started to throw things from the balcony down on the entering River fans, diverting any attention away from us.  All this and it was still two and a half hours before kick-off.

Most of the stadium is old style terracing with the rest unreserved seating. Even though we were so early, most of the stadium was already full and watching the equivalent game for the reserves. The noise even at that point was deafening, and made the atmosphere at most big premiership games seem rather drab. There is a capacity of 65,000, but so many people were pushing through the turnstiles I would guess that at least 75,000 were in there.

A bit crowded
A bit crowded

After a long wait we were treated to a 2-2 draw with Boca scoring in the last minute to equalise. To be honest though, what was going on in the stands was drawing more interest. Just before the second half started, the River fans inflated a giant pig dressed in Boca colours, suspended directly in front of the Boca fans. I’m not sure how they got this through the strict security and into the stadium, but let’s just say this didn’t go down very well.

The Boca fans proceeded to rip up every chair from their section and throw it down onto the River fans. Some stewards were sent in to try to calm them down, and just got a severe beating (see my video below that already has over 40,000 views on YouTube). We have since heard rumours that two of the stewards actually died from their injuries.

It was all a bit bizarre as while this was all going on, the game continued below as if nothing was happening. Apparently this type of thing is quite common, and so much so that away fans are banned from most grounds. It was an amazing experience. I got to see a pretty good game, but the sheer noise of the crowd were what really made it for me.

While all of this was going on, Katy, Kristin and Matt were in San Telmo for the Sunday market. Somehow I think I got the better deal. We visited the market the following week as well, and it is a really nice place for a Sunday stroll. We went for an amazing steak lunch at a great restaurant called Gran Parrilla del Plata, which is one of many that had been recommended to us. We did our best to sample them all during our two weeks in town.

San Telmo Market
San Telmo Market

We also had a few nights out in Palermo, which is another area of the city with hundreds of bars and restaurants to choose from. It’s quite difficult to know where exactly to go as there is so much choice, but we knew a few people that lived here so they helped with a few tips.

Yet another steak dinner
Yet another steak dinner

We’re now getting ready to leave and head into Uruguay. Argentina has been incredible, and by far our favourite country in South America so far. It’s a big place as well, and there are so many areas that we didn’t get a chance to see. Hopefully we will get the chance to come back some day and see some more.

Until the next time…

Ice Ice Baby

After a comfortable two hour flight we arrived in El Calafate, located in the heart of Patagonia and home to the amazing Glacier Perito Moreno, the main purpose of our visit.

We splashed out on an airport transfer which meant being dropped off at our hostel door and were pleasantly surprised with our hostel choice, especially considering we’d gone cheap and booked a dorm room.  We quickly dumped our bags, chatted to the hostel owners about the various tours on offer and had a quick walk into town to check prices etc. We decided to book our tour through our hostel and settled on a mini trek across the glacier which gave us three hours on the ice…perfect. The hostel owners even lent us there walking shoes as apparently trainers wouldn’t have been good enough.

Laguna Nimez
Laguna Nimez

We then checked the weather as it can be quite changeable and decided Sunday would be a good day…forecast clear blue skies and very little wind.  We had two free days to fill in a very small town. We spent one afternoon walking around nearby Laguna Nimez which is a wetlands sanctuary, so great for bird lovers (which we aren’t)  but it was a nice afternoon. Until, we were followed by a pack of stray dogs on heat which made me feel very uncomfortable. We took refuge in a nearby Dinosaur museum and tried to explain to the owner that we just needed to hide out for a minute but he didn’t understand and instead tried to sell us a tour. We would have done it too but he was asking for $10 each to literally walk around a shed of dinosaur pictures…no chance! The dogs disappeared; we made our excuses…no money etc…and quickly headed back to our hostel.

We had one afternoon in the local pub watching Arsenal lose to Norwich…the less said the better. We then spent our remaining time organising our last two months, booking hostels and remaining flights we might need. It was a pretty depressing task to be honest but we have managed to book some amazing places (on our budget anyway) and we now have a lot to look forward to. We rewarded ourselves with some home cooked (well by the hostel) Patagonian lamb stew and a bottle of red.

Stunning view from the bus
Stunning view from the bus

Sunday finally arrived and after a very early breakfast we were picked up and on our way to Perito Moreno. The glacier is located about 80km out of El Calafate in Parque National Los Glaciers.  Before I tell you about our experience, here is how the Lonely Planet describes it.

Few glaciers on earth can match the suspense and excitement of the blue-hued Glacier Perito Moreno. Its 60m jagged ice peaks sheer off and crash land with huge splashes and thunderous rifle cracks, birthing small tidal waves and large bobbing icebergs. What makes this glacier exceptional is that it is advancing – up to 2m a day – and constantly dropping chunks of ice off its face.

For once the Lonely Planet has got it spot on…we had the most incredible day and the glacier was AMAZING! We started with a view point so we could take it the sheer size of the glacier before boarding a boat which took us right in front of the wall. After about ten minutes on the boat we were greeted by our guide for the day (who was great) and told that we would walk about twenty minutes towards the glacier, get our crampons on and start our trek across the ice.

Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier

Whilst waiting for our crampons we had our first ice falling experience of the day. None of us were able to catch it on camera but the noise it made and then watching the ice fall was spectacular. Apparently the day before there had been a huge piece of ice fall and we were experiencing the after effects. At this stage we couldn’t wait to get on the ice. We were taught how to walk properly with our crampons on and after a few minutes it became very easy.  It’s a bizarre feeling walking on what is basically a block of ice but we were assured that the glacier was stable and to just relax and enjoy it.

On the glacier
On the glacier

Our guide took us up as high as we could go without having to start ice climbing…probably a good thing. Along the way up we had to walk over crevasses and gorges, had our photos taken by ice lakes and just got to enjoy the glacier from a totally different perspective. About half way down we were rewarded with a glass of Jameson’s whisky on the rocks…courtesy of the glacier and got to relax and take it all in for ten minutes or so.

Cheers...I don't mind if I do
Cheers…I don’t mind if I do

After handing back our crampons and with our feet feeling 100 pounds lighter, it was time for lunch. Well I’ve eaten sandwiches in worse places…our picnic table looked right over the glacier and the whole setting was just stunning. Whilst I was unpacking everything Sam was busy taking photos and was in the middle of a panoramic shot when the biggest chunk of ice fell so unfortunately he didn’t catch it on film but look at the photo carefully and you’ll see the ice falling.

Spot the iceberg
Spot the iceberg

Once lunch was finished we got back on the boat for the final part of the day. We were taken to a series of walkways which are purpose built for tourists but provide amazing views of the glacier wall. We had about an hour, so we headed straight to the walkway nearest the glacier and sat and watched, waiting for more ice to break off.

View from the walkway
View from the walkway

We were just about to leave when we started to hear loud cracking sounds. Camera at the ready we waited…and waited until a big piece of ice broke off and crashed into the water, creating a massive tidal wave. Fortunately this time Sam had the video ready and pressed record at just the right moment. What a truly amazing day, one we will never forget and a definite highlight of our 13 months travelling so far.

Next stop El Chalten; Argentina’s trekking capital and home to the incredible Fitz Roy mountain range. I know some of you are thinking…Katy and trekking is not something you hear often in the same sentence but Sam somehow managed to persuade me that it would be a good idea and nice way to end our time in Patagonia. It’s only two hours away from El Calafate so we arrived by lunchtime, were greeted by a park ranger and told about the various walks we could do…some long and some smaller easier ones, obviously more my style. It was at this stage that I started to feel a little out of place amongst all the proper trekkers in their smart outfits and walking poles…there was us with our trainers and alpaca hats!

As Fitz Roy is the main attraction we decided we would definitely do this but probably just as far as the mirador which is about a three hour round trip. You can go as far as the summit which sits at 3441m but this was definitely not on our agenda. We had arrived on a beautiful clear blue day and the ranger kept telling us how lucky we were as the weather can change very quickly and that the following few days were forecast to be cloudy and very windy.

Fitz Roy
Fitz Roy

We quickly checked into our hostel, had a bite to eat and began our trek up Fitz Roy. As much as I moan about trekking, this particular trek was stunning. The scenery was just beautiful and with the Fitz Roy range as a back drop it was a constant reminder as to why I was struggling to breathe.

View from the mirador
View from the mirador

We made it to the mirador in record time…55 minutes instead of the advertised 1 hour and 30 minutes. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or Sam! Anyway at this stage I was still feeling pretty perky and the view was just amazing so Sam talked me into the doing the next stage, a one hour walk to the base of the summit climb. I think it also had something to do with Sam offering to take me for a steak dinner that evening…he obviously knows me far too well! I reluctantly agreed and off we went.

Lago Capri
Lago Capri

The next stage had been advertised as reasonably flat which is another reason why I was so easily persuaded…well it wasn’t  The terrain got harder to walk over and the wind suddenly picked up so it was time for the Alpaca hat to make an appearance. It was all worthwhile though as the views just got better and the closer we got to Fitz Roy the more impressive it became. We’d run out of water by this stage so took our chances and filled our water bottle up from the steam …mistake? Well we’ll soon find out! When we eventually made it to the end we rested our legs, drank our stream water and shared a packet of peanuts…very romantic!

Not a bad spot for a rest
Not a bad spot for a rest

It was time to head back as the temperature was dropping. Sam kept assuring me that it would all be downhill so it would be really easy. I think he’d forgotten that I had just walked the same trail as him so I knew it wasn’t all going to be downhill. I’m not sure how many of you realise this but neither of us have proper walking shoes, Sam has the same pair of £30 trainers he set off with 13 months ago and I have a pair of £10 Pan trainers bought in Thailand. Well it was at this stage of the walk that I really wished I had invested in a decent pair of hiking boots.

Alpaca hat time
Alpaca hat time

There wasn’t much I could do except carry on through the pain and by the time we were about half an hour from town I had totally lost my sense of humour. Sam said he’d never seen me looking so grumpy and fed up. Anyway we managed the trek in 5 1/2 hours, bang on time…not too shabby for a novice trekker wearing crap trainers. It is time to say goodbye to the trainers now though. I don’t foresee and certainly haven’t planned any more treks, well nothing that my flip flops can’t handle. I don’t expect any more cold weather in our remaining two months so it’s goodbye and good riddance Pan trainers.

A walk in the woods
A walk in the woods

I was so exhausted after our trek that I couldn’t even be bothered to go out for Sam’s bribe of a steak dinner, instead we settled for home cooked Chorizo risotto and of course a bottle of red. Our last day in El Chalten, as forecasted was overcast, cold and rainy so we had a day of recovering and enjoyed the view from our hostel.

Another amazing day in Patagonia
Another amazing day in Patagonia

Until the next time…