Spring in Buenos Aires – Beautiful!

10 02 2012

Eray in Parque 3 de Febrero

One element of our Patagonian odyssey that has been consistently spectacular has been the weather! And these last two days in Buenos Aires are no exception. We have two consecutive clear days in the mid-80’s with low humidity.

I’m still getting the most of the breakfast buffet at Castelar Hotel! I ensure I get down there early and enjoy my favorite meal of the day. Saskia arrives, as do Elwin, Angelique, and others. Orange juice, fresh fruit, sausage and some scrambled eggs are something I’ve missed.

There are no plans for today. Tonight, we are all headed to the airport for mid-evening flights. So my usual crew of Angelique, Eray, Elwin and I look at the options and make plans. Christoff has departed for a few days visiting with acquaintances in Chile.

Eray is extending her time in Argentina, and she has arranged for lodging at Home Hotel, in the Palermo neighborhood. She says it’s really nice and encourages us to check it out for a late morning coffee or cool beverage. Sounds good! We also look at options and because it’s late spring, we decide to walk back through some of the beautifully designed parks in Buenos Aires.

We catch a taxi and head to the Home Hotel. The Palermo neighborhood is completely different from any we’ve seen. While it’s urban, it’s very residential. It’s quiet. There are cozy, European style and up and coming neighborhood restaurants and cafes. The Home Hotel is nestled in amongst all of this. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d miss it. Once past the front counter, one walks through a tall atrium and into a rear area complete with patio, garden and pool.

We settled into some chairs out by the garden and ordered some cool drinks.

Angelique and I get a shot of ourselves out back…

It’s very contemporary and refreshingly relaxing. Some of teh guests had bathrobes supplied by the hotel. The menu actually had breakfasts with eggs!

It was tempting to stay there for hours. But we only had today. So, we departed to walk amongst the lovely parks and the blooming jacaranda trees.

Walking past the Centro Islamico, a large Mosque, we reached Parque 3 de Febrero. This is one of the famous parks designed by French architect Carlos Thays. His handiwork is everywhere as it is so familiarly European. Carlos Thays not only designed the parks but had trees and shrubs brought in from all over. Today, these parks and the flora he planted are testament to his genius. Portenos enjoy his creations each day.

We stroll through the greenery. There are lots of birds. Geese and swans ply the ponds. Gregarious parrots cackle above, perching next to their favorite nuts and seeds, which they consume with great pleasure.

Portenos make the most of the parks. Jogging, rollerblading, bicycling or walking, they are enjoying the open spaces.

There are rose gardens and so many flowering trees.

It seems to me that every tree is in bloom at once!

We are the lucky ones, we get to enjoy this.

 

In this video you get to hear the birds singing, see the flowers everywhere, and even catch some women with thermoses of Yerba Mate walking by. Not to mention my travel mates!

And below is one of the flowers on a magnolia tree. Really lush! Later in the day, our whole group gathered at a restaurant near the hotel to celebrate our time here. And to say our good-byes. We’ll be staying in touch. We had a memorable time in Argentina and Chile!

Gorgeous Magnolia Tree flowers.





Buenos Aires – Halloween!

3 12 2011

Monday in Buenos Aires broke clear and bright.  I was now in the southern hemisphere of course, and unlike home in Oregon, days are growing longer, instead of shorter, so morning light comes in early!

Things are going to be interesting, as we spend time in the city but then we are set for a 17-hour overnight bus ride to Puerto Madryn tonight – in coastal Patagonia. Once there we are to simply check in and head out. I wonder how I am going to handle that? Will adrenaline just keep me going?

Today we are going to see other parts of the city. We’ll get to see some parks, and the rehabilitated and upmarket Puerto Madero riverfront area, plus the Rio de la Plata, and the cemetery where Evita is buried, a soccer stadium, and take a peek at where Tango is done. Today is Halloween in America, so I am excited to get to the cemetery!

We gather and head out into the city. The weather is unimaginably perfect. Smog-free, smoke-free, cloud-free, no humidity, a light breeze, and 80 degrees! Shorts weather! I ask if this is typical and the answer is no. I’m told that the Chilean volcano sent ashes this way not long ago, obscuring everything. And it can get humid! No matter. Today is incredible!

A high quality of life is evident as I see plenty of joggers and cyclists in the parks, one of the biggest is Parque 3 de Febrero, and another smaller one is Parque de la Flur. It’s clear somebody has planned parks into the city architecture. These parks are huge. They have rows and rows of flowering plants and trees, and plenty of lagoons. Birds are attracted – parrots, doves, swans, geese, swallows and swifts. The parks are filled with statues of all kinds.

In fact the city was planned by a French landscape architecht, Carlos Thays. He directed the planting of the thousands of Jacaranda trees that line the avenues. These trees put out beautiful purple flowers in November. We will see them when we return! He also directed the fantastic assortment of other trees I saw, such as palms and magnolias.

We don’t have a ton of time, so we have to see a lot of it by bus. We do stop in the parks, we get to see Puerto Madera, we walk through several of these beauties.

It’s obvious people have a quality of life here. People are out roller blading, or jogging, or enjoying the parks. There are sailboats.

I also notice a marked difference from Mexico and some of the Southeast Asian countries I’ve been to. People here have breeded dogs. Instead of “street dogs,” or what I call “generic dogs,” those light brown dogs ubiquitous in these other countries, in Argentina I see black labs, german shepherds, beagles, afghans, etc. Not only that, I see dog walkers! Imagine that. Things can’t be all that bad, right?

Take a peek at the video of a nice day in Buenos Aires!

It is Halloween, so we’ve got to visit a cemetery! The cemetery we see is full of mausoleums – above ground. It’s absolutely perfect, and I’m filled with glee that it is Halloween. I scamper around and my fun is only increased by the the discovery that many have coffins visible. Some have glass doors with stairs leading down to the ? underground. Others in disrepair had broken glass, making it look like spirits had escaped.

And many had cobwebs covering the inside, or chains “locking” opened doors, making it look like something was trying to get out! It can’t get any better than this.

Something tried to escape!

So, I just couldn’t help myself. So here’s a nice video of what I saw: .

And of course the obligatory Halloween mausoleum video:

Later I saw some folks trying the tango for gawkers…

Well, that’s it for our time in Buenos Aires, until we return in three weeks!

We are about to embark on a 17-hour bus ride. Prior to heading to the bus station, we get take-out empanadas for everyone.

Empanadas...good stuff!Now the empanada is something I can deal with for lunch. They are like mini-calzones.  They can be stuffed with cheese, pork, chicken, beef, onion, all sorts of good stuff!

OK. Now we get to the bus station. Bus travel in South America is something else. They have these double decker overnight buses. Ours was such a bus.

The seats almost fully recline. Leg room is almost like airline business class. The bus is equipped with flat screen televisions – we saw at least four movies. If you have earphones, you have awesome sound. And get this! There is a steward! That’s right. We have a uniformed guy who comes around and serves snacks and dinner! And free wine/beer!

So, bus travel ain’t so bad after all. I quickly discover the best seats are 2nd floor in the front – there, you get an incredible view!

So, the journey to Patagonia begins. My partner for this segment is Monique. We talk about work, about our health, about Holland and America. We view “Captain America.” I find that movie infantile. Worse, later they show “The Expendables.” Well, at least they show a comedy in between.

The bus moves through Buenos Aires rush hour traffic. Eventually speed increases, and it moves at the speed limit on a multi lane highway into the Pampas. Ranches (or Estancias) raising cattle pass by one by one. So it is here where the cows are raised!

Eventually, however, the Pampas gives way to what looks to me like Eastern Oregon high desert. This is the Patagonian steppe. The highway becomes one lane in each direction. There are no vehicles visible ahead. There are no hills. This nothing-ness – this is something we will see for the next several days!

Except, however, for the Atlantic Ocean!





Portland, Oregon to Buenos Aires, Argentina

30 11 2011

Travel on this trip was complimentary, courtesy of United Airlines’ Mileage Plus frequent flier program. My route was Portland, Oregon, through Dulles, Washington, DC, to Buenos Aires. The layover in Dulles was 8 hours. Not one to complain on a free flight, I just hung around the DC airport reading, eating, web surfing, whatever, to occupy myself. My arrival time in Argentina was just an hour later than the Iberia flight bringing the rest of the group.

My dear paddling buddy Jessie picked me up at 4:45 a.m. and delivered me to the Portland, Oregon airport. She remarked, “your bag is small, isn’t it?” And I kind of agreed. I opted to use the same Mountain Travel Sobek bag I got for a 2007 trek and frankly wondered how I managed to fit 12 days of trekking stuff into that bag. But my gear fit into it with room to spare. Still, on this trip, I had the smallest bag by far! My neighbor on the Portland to Dulles segment was headed to Bangalore, India – he was training for Adobe Systems.

The United Airlines flight to Buenos Aires was a Boeing 767. I was surprised they’d use a smaller plane for such a long flight! It was definitely older than the planes I’d experienced on the trans Pacific flights, which were Boeing 747s or Airbus A330s. It had no on demand entertainment. It had old style “tune into the movie that started twenty minutes ago” system. But it did the job. No delays for the start of the trip. I sure wished they’d given us more films and overnight kits like the Asian airlines!

Landing on a sunny Sunday morning, I was due to get to my hotel and immediately catch up with my group…no rest whatsoever!

One indignity Americans suffer is the “reciprocity” tax when entering Argentina via air. It’s a whopping $140 – but it’s good for 10 years. Once clearing passport control I was off to the Castelar Hotel.  From my taxi I noticed differences from the Asian Countries I’d visited previously. People were out exercising. They were jogging. Couples were in amorous embraces in public. They rode high tech road bicycles, clad in brightly colored biking apparel. And the vehicles were mostly European! Dominant makes are Renault, Citroen, Peugot, Volkswagen, Mercedez-Benz, with some Chevrolet and Ford. Toyota and Honda were present, but not in the numbers like in Asia or in the USA. And almost no representation from Subaru, Mitsubishi, Nissan.

Driving style is aggressive. My taxi driver clung to the bumper of whatever lay ahead, darting around to get to the destination asap! As we entered the infamous 12-lane Avenue 9 de Julio, the largest avenue in the world, I learned pedestrians just don’t have the right of way in this place as elsewhere. When a light is about to turn green, the yellow ‘caution’ light comes on for a second, letting everyone know it’s time to step on the gas! And that they do. Time and time again I’d witness cars drive right up to pedestrians and blare the horn! It’s not like Bangkok, Denpasar or Phnom Penh, where a pedestrian can walk across through the ‘stream’ of traffic and allow it to move around them. Here you risk everything if you step out when the traffic is moving! The only thing missing on cars is a cow catcher. When I saw riot police trucks, I noticed those DO have cow catchers!

Another issue I encountered right away is language barrier. Unlike many other capital cities, English is not commonly spoken in Buenos Aires. Even the concierge at the Castelar Hotel had difficulty with English. But he had been alerted by my guide, Saskia, that I would be arriving. My group had checked in and gone out for a coffee when I arrived, and he did the best he could to direct me to them.

So once checked in, I was right out there on the street in Buenos Aires – all jet lagged but full of adrenaline! Being Sunday most businesses near the hotel were shuttered, and the shutters were splattered with political graffiti. Testament to the turbulence of political and economic life in Argentina! Later on the trip we were to experience this for ourselves on more than one occasion.

So fair warning to those considering a vacation in Argentina: Once in-country, your trip may fall victim to the whims of Argentine politics. Be prepared and be flexible!

I found the group four or five blocks away sitting outside a cafe. They were getting introduced, and Saskia recognized me right away as I strode up. It was a sunny morning, and at that time maybe 60 degrees outside. Across from where we sat was a plaza. At its end was the Argentine Congress building.

As we were all gathered and accounted for and a day yet to be experienced, Saskia had us head back to the hotel to get refreshed, and then spend the afternoon exploring Buenos Aires! It was this day several of us headed out and became travel buddies.