Iguazú Falls

We landed at the Aeropuerto Internacional Cataratas Del Iguazú for a short overnight visit to the falls. You take a small train into the national park (that’s the easy part), and then head off on the boardwalk towards the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) trail to see the highest falls. They said it was the season for low water while we were there; but in any case, the falls were spectacular. These are not the highest falls in the world but are the widest with a flow rate similar to Niagara. There are 275 falls that are part of this magnificent system. The trail system is very well laid-out and easy to walk. We saw Dos Hermanos, Mbigua, Chico, and Ramirez, each with its own unique beauty.

There were wonderful vistas and plenty of spots for great photos. I wish I had brought along a better camera, although feel sure no pictures ever really do it justice. The areas to sit and rest or just contemplate the beauty of the falls were very welcome, particularly for my senior mother. We saw coatis (a member of the raccoon family) everywhere; the scamps grab any available food they can find. Of course, we saw birds of all types, including thrush-crested jays and flocks of parakeets, as well as butterflies, lizards, and fish.

I arranged a guide so we would be as efficient as possible, and due to the limited time we had and my Mother’s age, I would recommend the same. The park is between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, and our guide, Clarice, was Brazilian. It was very easy for me to leave Mom resting at a scenic overlook and then head off on another trail myself. The boardwalk system is great, but there are stairs everywhere, and I give my Mom a lot of credit for managing hours of trails and stairs.

We stayed at the Sheraton Iguazú and it was delightful in the late afternoon to relax on our balcony and watch a pair of toucans playing, flitting from tree to tree, all with the backdrop of the spectacular falls. We even had a rainbow – it was perfect.

 

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While in Argentina, we could not pass up the chance to visit the famous gaucho country. San Antonio de Areco is considered the center of this expansive part of the country filled with ranches.

I was contemplating renting a car for the approximately 2-hour trip from Buenos Aires, but thankfully, I had a moment of clarity and hired a driver. At least I wasn’t behind the wheel stressing, but our guide/driver, Mari was completely insane, and we held our breath and prayed as she weaved in and out of the dense traffic leaving the city. From the interstate you really get a good look at all the slums around Buenos Aires; they are extensive. This is a poor country, yet full of riches, and a magnificent city that has been roiled by economic hardship, petty crime, and ugly politics for generations. It’s a shame because you get the feeling this beautiful city, once known as the Paris of South America, could be on the brink of greatness on the world stage.

IMG_6351We finally broke free of the city’s constraints and were soon blazing through some very lovely, tranquil landscapes. Many visitors to the area take in a gaucho show and meal, but we were not the least bit interested in seeing such a spectacle. If that’s your thing, there are plenty of options. Instead, we visited the small gaucho museum, walked around the charming town, spent some time at the Draghi silver factory/museum housed in a mansion that was part hotel, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch. We ate at Almacen de Rimas Generales on Zapiola, serving typical Parilla fare in an old general store setting. Our guide Mari was not only a frenetic driver but a real character, a flaky, blond, extrovert who kept us well entertained with stories and information.

After we recovered from the driving, it was a wonderful, cool, and tranquil visit to beautiful horse country.

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Reunion in Buenos Aires

 

IMG_6251My grandfather Fernando and his favorite brother Rafael left north Spain for two very different parts of the world, my grandfather to the USA and his brother to Argentina. Almost 90 years later, I brought my Mother to Buenos Aires to meet her first cousin and her family. Sharing the same February birthday, the cousins had communicated throughout their lives but never met. It was an exciting and emotional journey.

We arrived on a beautiful spring day with crisp, cool temps.  I think our spring is the best time of year to visit Buenos Aries, but most Americans seem to travel there during our winter to either get on or off a cruise ship. The cruises that sail around the tip of South America are generally during the first months of the year when it is hot and humid.

IMG_6198Benefits of Staying Away from the Central Tourist District

Looking for a bit more authentic experience, we stayed at a boutique apartment hotel in the Palermo district. Leafy streets filled with cafés are a hallmark of this area and it proved to be a good choice. Arriving too early for check-in, we met a rep dropping off our local cell phone and then immediately took advantage of the nearby Café Tolon for a sweet and delicious Argentinian favorite – a medialuna, yum.  The area was crowded with locals and after the overnight flight, we enjoyed being able to walk around and people-watch.

Even though we were visiting family, I didn’t want them to have to shuttle us around to see basic tourist sights, and I also knew their car was in a wreck and out of service. After lunch, we rushed to unpack and hit the town with a private guide, I arranged to take us on a quick overview tour of the city. It was May 1st, a labor holiday, which made the streets quieter than normal and very good for getting around efficiently.

We took in the Plaza de Mayo, saw Evita’s balcony at La Casa Rosada, the Catedral Metroplitana, and watched some traditional labor demonstrations. We loved the colorful La Boca barrio and Caminito with all the artists and interesting people. In one area, a kid was intently watching two young men play a game of chess while puffing on their cigarettes.

 

Final Home of Evita: The Recoleta

The highlight of the tour was the famous La Recoleta Cemetery opened in 1822 and is truly unique. It was far more interesting than I ever imagined and a guide is very helpful to fill you in on all the fascinating history, stories, and legends within these storied walls. Without the guide, we would’ve had no idea what we were actually seeing along the dense maze of alleyways and avenues. We felt lucky to be there during the 4 PM feeding of the cemetery’s obviously well-fed cats, probably kept as mousers.  They were everywhere; eating, lounging, sleeping, and watching.

By now I was pretty much in full panic about my conversational ability since the Porteños accent includes a “ja” sound for “ll” and “y” – it was hard for me to adapt, and even hard for my Mother, whose first language is Spanish.

Family-time

At the end of our first day we met the family and it was a wonderful and emotional occasion. Language-wise, I held my own part of the time, eventually getting adjusted to the accent only to be bedeviled by vocabulary differences (e.g. boliche being a roast stuffed with chorizo for us, vs meaning a disco for them) – lol, we had some good laughs along the way. For dinner, they took us to a place with pizza – no kidding.  There is a huge Italian presence and influence here and they billed this pizza-like “none other.” It did have green olives on top, but I’ve had a lot of pizza in my day, so it didn’t seem that unusual.  The same can’t be said for the odd chickpea patties that accompanied the meal and were a new experience.

A word about shopping here: it is fantastic for leather goods. I am not generally a shopper of clothing when I travel but made an exception here. If you order items when you first arrive, they can be quickly tailored to fit your size and specifications. We headed down to Avear (street) and the area near Florida Street. There are some sketchy areas and some shysters around, so be sure to ask around for reputable stores. Many of the shops will transport you to and from your hotel, but that may not mean they are the best, so do your homework. We went to several, with Silvia y Mario being a favorite. There are some hotels in the area, good for a quick lunch or dinner stop. Later, we shopped all along Santa Fe, buying lots of gorgeous purses. They had plenty of shoes as well, but I figured they would be harder to transport. You need to pack lightly to visit this city.

Stand Don’t Sit

IMG_6291One evening, our cousin took us to the microcenter (downtown) for a free concert in front of the cultural center. We saw the most amazing flamenco dancing, with two men performing a dueling-flamenco routine. The tango music was fabulous.  The only thing not wonderful was that everyone stood for the duration. At home, we’d all be in lawn chairs or picnic blankets of some description. Afterward, we needed to sit, find a bathroom, and have a snack, so we headed to the touristy but historic Café Tortoni. I’m sure our cousin would’ve never gone there, but I wanted to see it, and it was charming (plus we got to sit).

Amelia, Marta, Jose,Ayelen, Alejandra-Ale, y KarenBeing in town on a Sunday meant we could hit the San Telmo Antique market on Plaza Dorrego and shops along Calle Defensa. It was great fun and another absolutely beautiful day, but disappointing in terms of finding anything worth buying. There was a street fair ambiance with performers, mimes, musicians, and big crowds. I found nothing to buy.

We had the family meet us in the area and treated everyone to a delicious and long late lunch at the traditional well-known parrilla, La Brigada.

 

Best Meal in Town

Buenos Aires has great food, but the very best was made for us by our cousin Marta. We took a Remíse (safest type of taxi) to the home she shares with her husband for a feast in our honor. She made empanadas, an amazing stew – locro criollo, homemade wine, and flan with dulce de leche. It was enough food to feed me for a week. Later I got the recipe for the delicious locro criollo and gained even more appreciation for this incredibly time-consuming and delicious dish.

We couldn’t get enough tango, taking in two tango dinner shows while in town. We hit a more local show with the family at Esquina Homero Manzi (not sure this is still open). No one could ever explain what “accompanied with couches” meant on the menu.  Another night Mom and I headed over to the famous tourist show, Carlos Gardel, and loved every minute. We had first row seats next to some lively and really funny ladies from Australia who kept us entertained before the show. And, the dancing – wow, it was Broadway-quality incredible!

Final Notes

We visited some other spots while in this beautiful country, and between trips to other parts of Argentina, Buenos Aires remained our base, so we were in and out of town. One evening we ventured to Puerto Maduro for a great steak dinner along the water.

IMG_6381In the early 1900’s we had another Spanish relative, a great, great-Aunt who had also immigrated to Buenos Aires and who died there with no heirs. Since the first subte (subway) in South America was opened in 1913 and was running at least one of the restored wooden cars (a La Brugeoise car), I thought it would be interesting to take the line and imagine what her life was like in that era.  And so we did. Line A runs in a straight line less than 10 kilometers from the Plaza de Mayo to Plaza Miserere.

IMG_6735On our final day, we were supposed to have about eight hours between our domestic flight returning from Bariloche and an international flight leaving for Miami (they have two airports), and I had great plans for a fairly adventurous excursion. But our plane was hours late, so with our guide Lucia, we reverted to plan B and visited the pretty neighborhood of San Isidro, stopped by an art fair, and got a general feel of this very wealthy part of town. We had a chance to talk about why there is so much graffiti here –it is everywhere, apparently a very popular form of expression.

We definitely felt the heart and rhythm of Buenos Aires.

Patagonia’s Bariloche

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Visit Bariloche to experience a bit of Switzerland and Germany in South America. The gorgeous mountain scenery was matched by the beautiful lake region, all providing a spectacular setting for the luxurious Llao Llao Resort.

IMG_6607You can tell the European influences in the food, and the picturesque little town is known for its chocolate, particularly its white chocolate. We also visited the Museum of Patagonia with a focus on wildlife and history. We needed some hot chocolate to cope with the cold and very windy weather, plus it was spitting rain. Arranging a guide to get us around worked well, and we drove around the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi to see beautiful mountain lakes, and even found some sunny spots for good photo ops. We had no reason to venture back out into the cold for dinner, enjoying the resort’s Patagonia restaurant and the delicious smoked trout. I particularly loved their leather placemats and the beautiful, mountain-style décor. I unsuccessfully tried at the time, and for months after, to buy placemats like those. I was traveling with my Mother, and she was in seventh heaven because this resort had her favorite English-language TV news. BTW, the breakfast buffet here was wonderful as was the food served in the bar.  For some reason, I love eating in the bars of grand resorts like this one.

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This area is a favorite ski resort for many Brazilians and you can see why from the stunning scenery at every turn.  In fact, our guide Natalia was Brazilian. There are so many visitors from Brazil that speaking Portuguese is a must if you want to work in the travel industry here.

IMG_6676For lunch, we visited the quaint Village of Angostura (the Princess of Holland was said to have a home in the area) and saw more beautiful vistas.  We had planned to take a boat to the Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes on the Quetrihué Peninsula and almost didn’t make it due to the blustery weather.  But Natalia prevailed and worked out having us taken on a back, less windy route, eventually getting us over to the island.  It was 35 degrees and very chilly, but Natalia with foresight and knowledge thankfully brought along some warm hats we could borrow. A boat arrived from another part of the lake with a few more guests for our very uncrowded chance to experience this unusual forest of slanting, gnarled trees. Arrayán trees are unique to this spot in the world, and the park looks like it is right out of a fairy tale. Wooden walkways protect the fragile natural habitat with trees averaging 300 years old, and some more than 600 years.

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Sadly, even though I took dozens of pictures, I could not get my camera to focus properly. Looks like the cold affected the camera and unfortunately, I ended up with only a few in decent focus.

It is said that the magical forest, with its little cabin shelter, was the inspiration for the setting of Walt Disney’s Bambi. It could easily be true. I was grateful we were lucky to find a willing boat captain and able to brave the weather and wind to have this very unforgettable mother-daughter experience.

 

 

 

 

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