Saturday, 26 April 2014


8th - 10th Apr 2014

Argentine Air Force post Falklands.
Back to Buenos Aires in the rain. In fact it cleared up by mid-morning and the remaining two days I spent there were warm and sunny with blue skies. I noticed (that evening)  the weather reports on BBC World TV were telling us that storms and heavy rain were occurring here and the foul weather was to continue. It wasn't and didn't. Not only are these weather 'experts' unable to forecast remotely accurately, they can't even get the present weather correct. It makes me entirely cynical when reading weather reports, past, present and future.

A relaxing couple of days spent wandering around Town. Left: A delightful 'Oirish Bear', one of several in the city, but this one, in Thames St, Palermo district, was a particularly hospitable watering hole.

It served a selection of 'home brewed' beer (right) and excellent food. Definitely recommended.

I couldn't resist a return visit to the Tango 'milonga', the Canning Salon, in Palermo (left). Quite an extraordinary, and popular, venue. Very old-fashioned but the clientele varies from old-age pensioners to youngsters who all thoroughly enjoy their tangoing, some very good at it including a few extravagantly dressed 'poseurs' showing off their dancing and chat-up techniques. As with most Argentine entertainment it doesn't get busy until about 2.00am which is normally well past my bedtime. The drink is cheap, despite which I remained firmly a spectator.

Another common sight on the streets is the dog-walker (right). This lady had 10 in tow. I would imagine the scope for a major fur-flying bust up is quite high.

There are several large grassy parks in the north and north-west of the city including a botanical gardens (infested by cats) and a large zoological park. Left: A statue in the botanical gardens.

......and an impressive monument outside.

Left: Horse-drawn carriages are available as per Central Park in New York.

Right and below: Modern art dotted around the parks. I was quite intrigued by the 'aeroplanes and aircrew' and the Don Quixote style horsemen, all made from scrap metal.

Right: The pilot...!

Right: "Don't Fry For Me Argentina"!

On the day I was due to get to the airport there was to be a full-scale General Strike in Buenos Aires. Typical! I had to hire a private car (no taxis, let alone metro or buses) and set off very early to avoid potential 'demos'. The streets at 6.00am were, understandably, remarkably empty. I got to the airport at 7.00am for a 12.15pm departure. Fortunately BA Intl. airport has a decent restaurant/cafe with free unlimited WiFi  so able to amuse myself adequately. I'm still a bit pissed-off that I had my Kindle nicked in Mendoza. I managed to spend my remaining pesos on a bottle of duty-free and pots of the rather disgusting sweet goo that is popular in Patagonia. They will make excellent Christmas presents.
Initially to Madrid, Barajos, airport. As explained at the beginning of this journal Barajos is one of the worst airports I have experienced. Bugger all facilities, no free WiFi, confusing signage and a rather bolshy lot of jobsworths to not help you (none of the information desks was manned). It put me in a bad mood. Of course, I had to re-check in my duty-free booze because it was not packed in an EU-compliant tamper-proof bag and also the 'dangerous' pots of potentially explosive Patagonian goo, and virtually strip-searched going through security. It involved lots of queuing. Actually it didn't really because I adopted my well tried and tested anti-queue  technique. This involves, quite simply, walking with great confidence up to the front of any queue and stepping in. I have yet to find anyone who objects; they either assume you have a right to be there or are just not prepared to 'make a scene'. It really works, believe me! Some call it 'queue barging'. I call it 'enterprising'.
So back to grotty Gatport Airwick at 8.00am the next morning. I was, however, pleasantly surprised at the passport/immigration check. The staff were actually wearing smart(ish) uniforms and an unusually polite lady directed me to the 'electronic' check-in. This was queue-less and simply involved scanning my passport while looking into a camera. Magic; in and out in less than 5 minutes. 

My observations on Argentina:
1. Travel. Excellent, good value, comfortable and reliable buses with good roads (other than parts of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego). No trains, even when advertised. Not ripped off by taxis (avoiding the obvious bandits). Flying as per Europe; expensive with tedious procedures and restrictions.
2. Food. Excellent steaks and 'empanadas' but not so hot on vegetables. A 'veggie' would find it challenging in Argentina. Monopoly of processed cheese and ham sandwiches at cafes (to the exclusion of all other). Cheese (processed) features largely on all menus. Although seemingly 'queso' obsessed they don't even appear to have a selection of other more exotic types. Poor breakfasts with a lack of hot food and, if anything other than tea/coffee with a sticky croissant, cold processed cheese and ham! Good cheap wine.
3. Accommodation. Generally excellent, lots available and great value at the lower end. Curiously, in the less than luxury places, no plugs in bathroom sinks! Always helpful and polite staff which are also apparent at bus stations, restaurants, information offices and just about everywhere else.
4. Comms. Free WiFi and often quick broadband at all hotels and many bars/cafes.
5. Money. Irritating necessity to hunt out 'blue market' exchange for your foreign currency. The rates varied inconsistently from around 12 pesos/USD in BA to 9 pesos/USD in El Calafate. The 'official' rate was 7.8 and thus ATMs were out of the question. I am not an economist so don't understand the complexities which underlie this system.
6. Things to see and do. Lots, with varied cultures, geography and climate. Slightly disappointed by the much acclaimed trout fishing down south!

In general a hassle-free (apart from losing my Kindle), safe, most enjoyable and educational journey. It was also great value for money, provided you got a good exchange rate!

That's it amigos! Hasta luego.........Where next?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


4th - 7th Apr 2014

Part of the Iguazú Falls. The Garganta del Diablo bit. (The Devil's Throat).
Got to the bus station in Retiro, central Buenos Aires, just in time to get a ticket for the 2000hrs bus to Puerto Iguazú. This is a 20 hour overnight journey and this time I was in a Cruzero del Norde 'Cama Suite' bus which was incredibly luxurious and, for the comfort and service provided, remarkably cheap (£50) considering it replaces the cost of a hotel room and includes drink and meals. 

The seats (left) are within curtained off mini-cabins and go completely horizontal to make a comfortable bed. There is also an 'entertainments' console which, for once, showed up to date films in English. It is a two storey bus and I had an upstairs bunk; much better for viewing.

We were also treated to a pre-prandial 'aperitif' (whiskey) and a little 'amuse-bouche' before dinner was served. The three course meal was delicious and served with unlimited wine by a rather attractive, and attentive, 'hostie' (right). A somewhat better service than that provided by Aerolinas Argentinas! 
I slept very well. Whether my snoring allowed any of my fellow passengers to do likewise I never discovered. Actually there were only a few of them on board and at a relatively safe distance from me.

The route follows the Río Uruguay up the north-eastern border with Uruguay and passes through grassy pastureland with plenty of cattle farming in evidence. At the northern end it then follows the Río Paraná, the second longest river in South America after the Amazon, along the border with Paraguay, through the city of Posadas, into the north-eastern province of Missiones. This is so named because it was the region successfully developed by Jesuit Missionaries before the Spanish kicked them out in the late 18th century. Remember the film 'The Mission' starring Robert de Niro, Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons? This was what it was all about and was filmed in the Iguazú area.

We arrived in the small town of Puerto Iguazú at 4.00pm. It is a pleasant enough, if rather sleepy place, but nothing to write home about. It is surrounded by some smart chalet style hotels (I was staying in a relatively modest establishment in the centre) and it's whole raison d'être seems to be to cater for tourists visiting the Falls. There are one or two decent restaurants and bars, but it certainly doesn't push the boat out when it comes to entertainment. On the Sunday I was there just about all the shops in the  town were closed. There is a rather good Japanese restaurant which presumably caters for the large number of Japs who visit the place. Iguazú Falls is on the Japanese tourists' 'life-time list' of places to visit.

Left: Plenty of tourist tat on sale and, as always, rack upon rack of mate mugs.

The next day on down to the Falls National Park, about a 30 minute trip by road. The Falls themselves occupy a large area on the river Iguaçu. The border between Argentina and Brazil runs down the centre and the Falls can be viewed from both sides. The more comprehensive viewing area is on the Argentinian side.

There are two main 'viewing' routes to follow, the upper and lower. A little train (left) takes you (unless you want to walk) to the upper route and a series of well constructed paths, elevated walkways and viewing platforms take you across the wide river, between islands, to see the dramatic 'Garganta del Diablo' section. (photo at top and above).

As said, the waterfalls cover a wide area on different levels and, unlike Niagara or Victoria Falls, you can't see all of them from one spot. Each waterfall is given an individual name. Below are some random photos of different parts.

This sub-tropical rainforest boasts much exotic wildlife. Large carp-like fish were visible in the upper parts of the river, while  totally different species live in the lower river. A few caimans were lurking around  The place was swarming with different kinds of butterfly. They were very pretty and tame and harmless....

....Unlike some of the monkeys, and especially rather nasty racoon-like creatures called coaties (left) which infest the place. These greedy little beasts are aggressive in scrounging food. They have become used to being fed snacks by tourists who think they look 'cute' and therefore associate bags being carried with food. They would attack a carrier bag and it's owner if given half a chance. Mine was hidden under my jacket.

Warning signs are in place to try to stop people feeding them. They have unpleasant looking long snouts and viciously sharp teeth and make squeaking noises. The sign here (right) shows the sort of injury they can inflict. I most certainly gave them a wide berth but some punters were actually going up to them to stroke them. I didn't see anyone get bitten (unfortunately, as it would have provided some spectator amusement), and I am sure the stupid victim would have tried to sue if they had been.

Left: A boat ride goes from a riverside jetty on the lower level. All things you don't want to get wet are put into a waterproof bag, including socks and shoes.

Initially it goes upstream and, after a last chance to take a photo, takes you right into and under a couple of the cascades (such as this one, right). Yes, amongst much screaming and yelling from the passengers, you get absolutely drenched. What fun.

At least the weather was very warm which made drying off easy.

Then the boat travels a few miles downstream to a jetty where you get onto an open truck for a 'jungle safari' with a guide who tells you all about the various exotic birds (such as toucans, parrots, macaws etc.) and animals (such as monkeys, tapirs, pumas, jaguars etc.) which live in the area. We saw bugger all. Not surprising considering the number of vehicles and humans about the place. We were then told about all the different types of tree (which couldn't run away) including the capok tree with it's bulb-like fruit in which the fibrous strands grow. I hadn't realised that is where capok stuffing comes from.

There are plenty of park wardens, such as this charming young lady (right) who politely gave me instructions on where to go. Interestingly she, and all the others, carry 9mm pistols. Im not quite sure what the threat is. Coaties perhaps.

The following day I took a trip to the Brazilian side. Immigration is very relaxed here; just a quick passport check.
Before we got to the Brazilian Iguazú National Park, I was encouraged to stop off at the Parque das Aves (bird park).  It is an impressively large and well maintained 'walk-through' aviary containing every species of sub-tropical bird you can think of, plus snakes (anacondas; nasty looking aquatic things), reptiles and butterflies. An ornithologist's dreamworld.

Lots of toucans (left) which were so tame that you could stroke them. I didn't. Not sure if those beaks could take your fingers off and I wasn't going to risk it.

....and hundreds of different species of parrots and macaws etc. I saw one Japanese lady being attacked by a parrot (I think she was trying to feed it) which was quite amusing,

Although not so extensive, and no boats, this side has a couple of more dramatic viewing stations, one of which is reached by going up in a lift to a high platform.

There is another platform from which you can, should the urge take you and you can spare $30, abseil down one of the higher gorges.

The Brazilians also do helicopter flights over the Falls. This is a contentious issue and the Argentinians want to stop it as it wrecks the tranquility of the area (as per Victoria Falls).

Below: More photos of the Falls from the Brazilian side. So many of these, but once you've seen them you won't need to go there.

Left: Some marvellous rainbows are produced through the water vapour.

Right: This anorexic lady was getting close up to photograph and feed a coatie. I was hoping.......but it didn't. They say when an anorexic person looks into a mirror they see a fat person looking back at them......

So that was my tour of the Iguazú Falls. Most educational and enjoyable it was too. 

Onto a 'cama suite' bus the next day for a relaxing and well catered-for trip on the long road back to Buenos Aires. It pissed down with rain overnight. Only the second bit of rain I have experienced in 6 weeks.

Arriba arriba..........

Sunday, 20 April 2014


1st - 4th Apr 2014
El 'Tren del Fin del Mundo'. Camila
Ushuaia became home to a penal colony at the end of the 19th century. A large jail housed up to 800 of the most notorious convicts and political prisoners. It was built and operated on much the same lines as Port Arthur in Tasmania (Australia). The convicts played a large part in building the town and to do that they needed timber. A narrow-gauge railway was built to take them up into the forests to fell trees and bring back the logs and ran as such until the jail closed in 1947.

It now operates as a popular tourist attraction. There are five small locomotives, two diesel and three steam in current use. One of the steam locomotives, called Camila (at top), was built in Daventry (England) in 1995 and was the one pulling the train on which I travelled.
The (now) home station is 20 mins taxi ride west of the town. I imagine the original one was actually in the town itself. There were 5 carriages and we certainly didn't go very fast. The journey is uphill for about 10 miles at fast running pace, and then back again. The whole trip, including stops, takes 2.5 hours.

The train stopped halfway at a little station called Macarena where we disembarked to wander up a path to view the Macarena waterfall (left).
There is a recorded commentary broadcast into the carriages in both Spanish and English (fortunately). Quite educational but sometimes difficult to hear.

Right: On the other side of the tracks was a reconstruction of three Yámana Indian 'huts'. Rather flimsy affairs if you ask me, especially considering the Yámana didn't wear too many clothes (see previous blog). You would have thought with so much wood around they could have done a bit better. DIY was obviously not their strong point.

Left: We crossed the Rio Pipo which looks a promising little trout stream....

Right: ....and on up into the national park area where several pax got off to go hiking, or pig-sticking or whatever you do in a national park.

Left: At the top end there is a parked carriage devoted entirely to loos.

Right: There are still large areas consisting of grass and  tree stumps; the result of the convicts' labours.

Quite an amusing little journey I thought.

The old jail is in what is now the Naval HQ complex and is predominantly a maritime and natural history museum, as well as a museum of the prison itself (plan right). It features much detail and many models of ships from the past, and very extensive, maritime history of the region. Just about any sea captain and explorer of note from the earliest days onwards visited this place. Lots of tales of disaster, and much success, rounding Cape Horn.

Left: The front door; the original prison entry.

Right: I'm not sure how Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson fitted into the picture as I'm sure Trafalgar is quite some way away, but this poster was prominently displayed.  Perhaps he called in due to some erratic navigation.

Left: A model ship, of which there were many. This one is of the 'Beagle' in which Fitzroy and Darwin sailed in 1833.

Right: One of the prison wings. Most of the cells contained a display of some kind. One floor of cells was entirely devoted to modern art featuring, almost exclusively, penguins.

Left: A typical cell with a typical convict carrying a typical (stolen) Waitrose carrier bag.

...and giving the naughty man a jolly good talking to. Their uniforms remind me of someone's racing colours. Can't remember whose.

As mentioned, decorative penguins featured to a large degree throughout this museum. Can't think why because I don't think there are any live penguins on the main island. I never saw one. I suspect there are some colonies on outlying islands, including the Falklands, before you get to the main bunch in Antarctica.

Right: A convict penguin. Female?

...and another bloody penguin.

I had arranged to go fishing the next day. This part of the world is the Mecca for trout fishing enthusiasts, especially in the rivers around Rio Grande to the north, where there are, reputedly, enormous brown, rainbow and sea trout. Anglers come from all over the world to fish for them. It is, admittedly, coming to the end of the season which finishes on 30th April.
I met my guide/ghilly, Juan-Carlos, and his boss, Serge, at 9.30am outside a fishing shop in town. They had arrived in a large 4X4 pickup with a quad bike stowed on the back. Unfortunately Juan-Carlos did not speak much English, and Serge absolutely none. This was to prove a bit tedious as I was rather left out of the conversations and 'plans'. I had imagined we would be tootling over to one of the many rivers near the town. Wrong! It was a two hour, 150km drive, stopping for coffee en-route, north up towards Rio Grande and the river Ewan which is, by all accounts, a renowned trout river. It was in fact quite an interesting journey not seen previously as on my arrival into Ushuaia it had been dark. The scenery over the mountain passes was impressive and I was interested to notice several ski-lifts and cable cars. Apparently the skiing here (June to September) is excellent. Also many attractive lakes further on.
After parking the 4X4 by the side of the main road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, they off-loaded the quad-bike. Self and Juan-Carlos then set off for a 40 minute (I thought it would never end) jolting cross-country ride across rough tracks, streams and steep hillocks until we eventually reached the confluence of the North and South Ewan rivers near the coast. Serge was following us on a bicycle!

Left: Self and Serge at the roadside 'Start Point'.

This river, being tidal, was slow running with incredibly slippery slimy banks. It was quite difficult to remain upright. We started fishing at 1.00pm just upstream from the river junction. "Perfecto!" said Juan-Carlos. Where have I heard that before?
We thrashed the water for about two hours, up and down, and not a nibble. It was at this point that Serge joined us, on foot. His bicycle had broken. Then, three of us, back on the quad for another long trek across the prairie to an inland stretch of the river. Perfecto again, I was told.

The three of us fished on, and on, with several changes of fly and location, until about 6.00pm with absolutely no result.

It was then decided to go back (phew, I was getting a bit saddle sore by now and my waders had leaked), to the place where we started, but not without bogging the quad in a deep muddy ditch on the way which involved much pushing, heaving, cursing and getting covered in muck. I had visions of a very long squelchy walk.

Left: A bunch of guanaco amused by our efforts

A couple of others were fishing here by now as dusk was setting in. One of them had caught a decent sea-trout which encouraged Juan-Carlos on to greater efforts and, at about 7.30pm, he duly hooked and played a fine sea-trout himself. Perfecto! He didn't have a landing net and so, as I held his rod, he slithered down to the water to lift out the, by now, tired fish. The tide was out and there was a lot of very gluey and slippery mud to cross. In lifting the fish from the water he slipped, dropped it and the hook came out. Mr Trout swam away flicking a few V signs as he went. Oh dear! I don't think I was entirely to blame and J-C was remarkably sanguine about it. I know you won't believe me when I tell you we reckoned it weighed about 15lbs.
It was now pitch dark and, quite thankfully, they decided to call it a day. Navigating by the stars, as far as I could tell, it was back across rough tufted grass, ditches and sage brush (only a couple of back-tracks) with three of us on the quad to a 'lone tree' where Serge had dumped his broken bike. With that hoiked on board the going was even slower and more uncomfortable. We eventually got back to the main road at about 9.30pm. My legs were very wet; my waders had leaked badly and my dry socks were in the pick-up. Then, guess what? Serge discovered that he had lost the car keys! After much searching and unpacking of bags they were eventually found. Dry socks on and quad loaded, off we set for the long drive home. We did at least have some coffee and sandwiches (cheese and ham of course) on board which were very welcome. It was to be made an even longer journey after Serge got a telephone message to say that one of his other clients had had a road accident somewhere to the west and would need collecting. We stopped at a cafe where a replacement car (after only 30 minutes fortunately) arrived to take myself and Juan-Carlos onwards. With much difficulty in translation I gathered that he is a ski instructor in the ski resorts around here during their winter. He has also instructed skiing in Andora. We arrived back in Ushuaia shortly after midnight.
Despite the language difficulty my guides were remarkably cheerful and amusing company and probably rather disappointed that we had had such a long and 'fishless' day. I was just a bit knackered.  To be honest, I begin to think I am to trout what green kryptonite is to Superman. The fact that it was the tail end of the season probably didn't help either.
Most fortunately the Dublin Bar was still in full swing and I had a decent steak with a reviving tincture or two. That was indeed Perfecto!

The next day, back to Buenos Aires. I had decided, against all my principles, to fly this leg due partially to time constraints and also the fact that the east coast road does not look particularly interesting (although it might have been amusing to spot the Yakkyda community around Puerto Madryn and Trelew).

Left: Leaving Ushuaia.

The expensive flight, in an Aerolineas Argentinas Airbus 340, to Buenos Aires was well up to expectations. A long wait at the airport  and during the 3.5hr flight only one measly cup of tepid coffee/tea was served together with a  little cardboard box containing two sweet biscuits and a small bag of things with the consistency and taste  of  blotting paper. No alcoholic drinks were available (I would have loved a beer) and despite only 72 of the 300 seats being occupied (I counted), the cabin service was perfunctory to say the least. That's air transport (tourist class) for you.

We landed at 1630hrs and I rushed off downtown to the central bus terminal for the next leg of my journey. This is to be up to the north-eastern corner of the country on the borders with Paraguay and Brazil to the town of Puerto Iguazú and the famous waterfalls nearby. It will be quite a contrast in weather and scenery to Tierra del Fuego I expect. I don't think I'll bother with the fishing up there.