Week 16 – Puerto Iguazu and Buenos Aires, Argentina (and Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay)
Hi everybody! We’ve had a lovely week in Argentina and have another two to look forward to! This week we’ve been in Buenos Aires, with a casual day trip to Uruguay (as Ben’s Dad said, it makes it sound like the Isle of Wight!).
Today we went to visit the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls. We met a girl at our hostel called Robyn who had the same plan, so we went together which was really nice. Almost 80% of the Iguazu falls are on the Argentinian side, so the site is a lot larger. There are multiple walking trails, as well as a train ride that takes you to the top of the Devil’s Throat waterfall.
We started with the lower trail. This wound through the forest before opening up onto gorgeous views of the falls. It was a much larger vista than on the Brazilian side. We could see the falls extending into the distance, giving a sense of just how large they were. There were boat trips running up and down the river, and seeing them gave a sense of scale to the falls we were seeing. They were huge.
At one point, the walkway went right up to one of the waterfalls. There was so much spray that we got soaked as we approached it. I don’t think Ben appreciated being asked to come closer to play photographer – he had been planning on staying well back and keeping dry. The things he does for me!
The upper trail gave us an alternate view looking down from the top of the falls. A wooden walkway took us directly over the rivers right by the edge. It was amazing to look down and see the clouds of water vapour billowing upwards from the bottom. We read on one sign that the falls can vary dramatically throughout the year, depending on rainfall. At one point a few years ago it almost dried up completely, and at another the water levels rose so severely that they washed away a number of the walkways. That wasn’t a very comforting thought while we were standing in the middle of one!
After lunch we took the train up to Devil’s Throat. We hadn’t appreciated just how wide the river was until now. To get to the waterfall we had to go on walkways over the river. It was divided up by small islands but in total it easily took us 15 minutes to get there. When we did, the view was incredible! We had seen Devil’s Throat from the bottom the day before, but from the top we really got to appreciate just how huge it was and how much water was flowing over the edge. The river was like a huge unstoppable force, with huge amounts of spray being thrown into the air as the water coursed over the rim. It was totally awe inspiring. We were very glad of our raincoats!
The Iguazu falls had been amazing. In the evening we returned to our hostel and collected our bags before boarding a bus to Buenos Aires. The journey was 18 hours long, so we’d booked special ‘cama’ (bed) seats which reclined really far back. We were given dinner and even offered wine! They provided us each with a blanket and a pillow. We were so comfy that we fell asleep really easily and the journey sped by.
We woke up with the bus still moving, and entertained ourselves listening to podcasts until we finally arrived in Buenos Aires at around 12:30. We caught a taxi to our hotel, which is an old French style building with high ceilings. We’re staying in an area of Buenos Aires called Recoleta, which is one of the more touristy areas. It’s probably most famous for its cemetery. It sounds strange but it’s true – if you research ‘things to do in Buenos Aires’, Recoleta Cemetery will be one of the top results. We decided to save this for another day, and instead went to explore one of the parks nearby. There was a market on with lots of local arts and crafts. There were a lot of leather products; I wonder if this is because Argentinians are such big meat eaters! We enjoyed looking around the stalls and found our Argentina bracelets to add to the ever growing collections on our wrists.
We saw a building called the ‘Centro Culture’ and went in to explore. There were a number of free art exhibits so we wandered around. Some of them were really strange. One exhibition contained a weird video on repeat. It kept showing an animation of a baby being born, and then of some teeth being fixed by braces. We didn’t really understand what it was supposed to mean. The whole room was a bit strange, and as we left we noticed a teabag hanging over the door. The exhibit was so weird that we couldn’t tell whether this was part of it or just someone’s litter!
One of the exhibits was by a man called Roberto Cortes. He is a very talented painter but I have no idea what his inspiration was. His paintings were so weird! Ben said they reminded him of a Where’s Wally book, where there’s a scene and you have to spot all the odd things going on. There were naked ladies lying on Octopi, dragons flying past demons… it was all very weird. Have a look at the one below and you’ll see what I mean!
By the time we left the exhibit it was early evening. There was a man playing guitar in the park and everybody was sitting on the grass and listening. It was a really nice summery atmosphere.
This morning we joined a free walking tour of Buenos Aires. We were part of a very large group. Our tour guide was called Loli. She was incredibly knowledgeable, which was great, although at times she went into such detail about the back story of different buildings that the tour went on for a very long time. We saw and learnt a lot. For example, the theatre, Teatro Colón, ended up being worked on by three different architects, due to various delays and problems. The result of this is that the ground floor and the first floor have different architectural styles in terms of design – the pillars go from square to round, and the windows change from rectangular to arched. It’s quite funny. We also learnt about some of the old influential families who helped build up Buenos Aires. A lot of their old houses are now important government buildings around the city. My favourite story may or may not be true – a wealthy lady called Corina Kavanagh fell in love with the son of the Anchorena family, but because she wasn’t an aristocrat the family prevented the marriage. In revenge, Corina commissioned a skyscraper to be built, specifically in a location that blocked the family home’s view of a nearby church.
In the afternoon we decided to carry on wandering, and discovered some of the parks in Recoleta. They weren’t quite Quito standard but we did enjoy walking around a lake in one of them and watching all of the people who were jogging and cycling past us.
Today we made one of our more embarrassing travelling errors. We were hoping to visit the Fine Arts Museum, and we went up to the large fancy building only to find it closed. We ended up changing our plans to a day of errands and shopping, only to later discover that we’d been looking at the wrong building! We’d assumed it was the museum because it was the most impressive building in the vicinity, and had totally missed the arts museum nearby. Oops!
Having a shopping day wasn’t a bad thing though. I’ve been looking for a small camera tripod so that I can try some night-sky photography when we go camping, and Ben wanted a watch. We both came away successful so it was worth it!
In the evening we enjoyed some wine on the roof terrace of our hostel. The hostel didn’t have any glasses so we drank it out of jam jars! Not the most sophisticated perhaps, but it was a really nice way of relaxing. We headed out for a late dinner to a place called Plaza Dorrego. We sat at a table outside. There was a couple tango dancing for the customers in the restaurants, so we enjoyed watching them. I wish I could tango, but after our failed Salsa experience in Ecuador I don’t think Ben is keen on taking another lesson! Tango certainly looks very complicated, there’s a lot of leg flicking that looks amazing but also very challenging.
Today we took a day trip to Uruguay! It sounds really funny to say that. Near Buenos Aires, Argentina and Uruguay are separated by the ‘Rio de la Plata’ as it widens and reaches the sea. We took a ferry across to a town called Colonia del Sacramento, on the southern border of Uruguay. The crossing took around an hour. We had to get stamped out of Argentina and into Uruguay, although it was a lot more relaxed than airport immigration.
Colonia del Sacramento is a town famous for its UNESCO Heritage historic centre. From 1680 to 1811 the town switched between Spanish and Portugese rule seven times. It was then briefly owned by an independent Brazil before Uruguay declared independence in 1828 and it finally became theirs. What a complicated history!
We’d heard a lot about Colonia’s gorgeous old town, so we were a bit surprised when we found out how small it was – it only really consists of a couple of streets. After a far too big lunch of a traditional Uruguayan dish called Chivitos (steak with cheese, ham and egg on top, served with chips), we went to explore. There were some beautiful cobbled streets with pretty flowers growing over the walls, and we found our Uruguay bracelets at a market stall in the main plaza. We found a lighthouse and decided to climb to the top. It was very small inside! A narrow spiral staircase led up to the first viewing deck, and then almost impossibly narrowed even further before reaching the light at the top. We met people coming down and had to flatten ourselves against the wall to let them past. The view from the top was lovely though. We got a view over the plaza and the tops of the buildings one way, and back over the river the other.
Once we descended from the lighthouse we found that we’d pretty much seen all that the old part of Colonia del Sacramento had to offer. I’m not sure that it completely lived up to the hype that we’d read online. It was nice to see though, and it was exciting to say that we’d been to Uruguay, even if only for an afternoon!
Our ferry back left at 8pm, and we got to watch the sun go down while we were waiting to leave. It was beautiful.
Today we went back to the Fine Arts museum and actually went to the right building! The museum was large, with both traditional and modern exhibitions. We enjoyed looking around. I particularly liked some of the marble sculptures, and Ben liked a series of paintings by an Argentinian artist, depicting different stages of a battle. The modern art was slightly more questionable – it annoys me that some of them are worth so much when they could have been done by a four year old!
In the afternoon we went to Recoleta Cemetery. It is home to the graves of some of Argentina’s most famous historic figures, including a number of their presidents, the people who fought for Argentinian independence, and perhaps most famously Eva Perón, or Evita. There’s more than just these people though – the cemetery has an impressive 4691 vaults. Lots of these are huge marble mausoleums. They are a very extravagant way of remembering someone.
We decided not to take a tour, and instead just wandered around ourselves, marvelling at the different mausoleums. Some were made of austere black stone, others had sculptures of angels on the top. A lot of them had a ‘PX’ symbol engraved on them. Having since read about this, I’ve discovered that it’s an ancient symbol dating back to the 4th Century. It’s made out of the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ – Chi (X) and Rho (P), and is used as a symbol of Christianity.
While we found the graveyard really interesting, we both found the opulence a bit excessive. We both agreed that neither of us would want a mausoleum. I’d much rather have a bench overlooking the sea or something.
In the evening we went back onto the roof terrace to enjoy dinner and wine. Lush!
Today was our last full day in Buenos Aires. We caught a taxi to a neighbourhood called La Boca. La Boca is famous for its football team and its beautiful colourful buildings. We were more interested in the latter. It was a very touristy area, with a number of market stalls and cafes. We enjoyed seeing the pretty streets, and there was an interesting art installation made from thousands of bicycle frames.
After exploring here, we began to walk to the centre of Buenos Aires. We walked past an area called Puerto Madero, which is the dockside area, and we saw the ‘Puente de la Mujer’ (women’s bridge) spanning the dock. In the city we saw another ‘house of culture’, this time with an exhibition of photos from an Argentinian carnival festival called ‘el Carnaval de la Quebrada de Humahuaca’. We walked past ‘la Casa Rosada’ (the pink house) which is the official house of Government, the Metropolitan Cathedral (slightly more traditional than the one in Rio) and their Congress building. Our feet were quite tired by the end!
Next week we leave Buenos Aires and travel to a town called Bariloche, in the Argentinian Lake District, so hopefully next week’s blog will be full of gorgeous views!