This is the diary of a 15-day trip to Argentina which started on 1 November 2009 and ended on 15 November 2009. It was initiated by Mary who thought that it would be a good idea if a group of us could go to Argentina where her friend Jane, who she met at prep school, would be able to show us around. We booked our trip through Llama Travel (more...) who were excellent. The rate of exchange was £1 = 6 Pesos. Click here for the itinerary and interactive maps. If you just want to see all the photos as a slideshow click here. So now read on...
(But first be aware that most links are to photographs which may take time to load. A link from a day's date is to a full set of photographs while a link within a day is to a single photograph. You should enable window pop ups as moving the mouse over a link within a day will produce a small version of the photograph. Click on the text for the link and you will be shown a larger version of the photograph. If you move your mouse over currency values, 'km', 'metres' or 'C' you will be shown 'GBP and USD', 'miles', 'km and miles', 'feet' or 'Fahrenheit' in a pop up window. If you click on a 'more...' link you will go to some other web site for more information. Click on a for an interactive map of the place last mentioned. If you have any comments please let us have them by clicking )
Briefly, here's how we spent each day:
We are awoken by Mary at 4:10am, get dressed and have a cup of tea. All seven of us are taken to the airport in a minibus, that's the two of us, Bill and Mary, Hugh and Jane and Sue Payne. We arrive at Heathrow and settle down in a coffee bar. At 7:25am we fly to Madrid. Amongst the passengers in business class is someone who looks remarkably like Terry Waite. On arrival in Madrid we are transferred in a coach to the international departures. After an hour's wait we board our flight to Buenos Aires. Eleven and a half hours later we arrive in Buenos Aires and are met by Pablo. Pablo is interested to know that there is a Whitelock in the party as one visited Buenos Aires in 1807 (more...) but did not stay for long as half his men were killed. A minibus whisks us to the Hotel Bisonte (more...) in the business district of Buenos Aires. Bill,Mary and Graham go for a late night beer across the street from the hotel. At 3:35am UK time Graham goes to sleep. The local time is 12:35am.
We wake quite early for Argentina and doze till Hugh rings and asks us to join them for breakfast at 8:30am. Breakfast is semi-continental with omelettes, scrambled eggs and ham. We try the poached peaches and the apple tart. Both are good. The rest of the party join us and at about 9:30am Sister Jane joins us. Sister Jane is Sue's sister and lived in Argentina. Her daughter now lives in Argentina and works at the British Embassy. Today's first task is to get some cash. It's raining so we wander down a street with lots of ATMs but none appears to work. Apparently cards are blocked as a security measure but Jane's Citibank card works. Mary changes pound notes into pesos. We walk to the square of Saint Martin, Argentina's national hero and then walk back to the hotel. It's stopped raining. At the hotel we are greeted by Manuel, a friend of Sister Jane's who has hired a minibus and driver for us to tour the city in. Manuel is the guide and Sister Jane translates his wisdom into English. We travel down 9 July Avenue, the widest avenue in the world, with nine lanes of traffic in each direction. We go past the 66 metre-high obelisk and park outside the congress buildings where there are often protest meetings. The Falklands War is still a hot topic as the people that fought in it are still waiting for compensation. A veteran of the war inhabits a tent outside the buildings. Next stop is the presidential palace called the Casa Rosada. It is an impressive low rise building sitting at the opposite end of a large square (25 May Plaza) and the place where the declaration of independence was signed. We are taken to the dock yard area which been rejuvenated, visit a famous statue, and take lunch in a restaurant. The television announces that a demonstration has closed the 9 July Avenue. Manuel tells us that it happens often. It has stopped raining and the sun is shining. After lunch we visit the parks and polo grounds of Palermo and go and visit Nicky at the British embassy. We park near the Recoleta cemetery and say goodbye to the driver and his minibus. Manuel takes us to the best ice cream parlour in BA – Freddos.We are introduced to dulce de leche in its ice cream form. This is milk caramel which is ubiquitous in Argentina. Afterwards Hugh and Graham drink a coffee with Manuel in La Biela, BA's most famous cafe. Its walls are lined with Fangio's photos and those of other racing car champions. We say goodbye to Manuel who kindly insisted on paying for the minibus. We walk back to the hotel and take a short rest.
We all meet in the hotel lobby at 7:40pm. Sister Jane asks the receptionist where the restaurant Siga la Vaca is and we walk towards it in the warm Spring evening. We get to where the receptionist thinks it is and discover it is not. We are down in the rejuvenated dockland area of Puerto Madero, an area full of restaurants and private yachts. We ask at several restaurants where our destination is and we eventually arrive, 90 minutes after leaving the hotel. The restaurant sells meat, as much as you want. It it served at a counter and you say what you want as many times as you want to. It is a fixed price menu of 57 pesos including a buffet salad starter,wine water and a sweet. We are joined by Sister Jane's other daughter Carolina who was born in Argentina and now lives in Hampshire. At the end of the meal we take a taxi back to the hotel, costing 14 pesos including a tip.
We get up early and have breakfast at 7am. We pack and leave one of our bags at the hotel whilst we visit Iguazu. Pablo collects us at 7:30am and we are taken on a 10 minute trip to the local domestic airport called Jorge Newberry, an early Argentine aviator. We take off at 9:15am and land 90 minutes later at Iguazu where we are met by Renate, a Brazilian, who lives in Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. We are driven to the Hotel Esturion (more...) ln Puerto Iguazu and wait for our room to be ready. It is 40C outside. At 12:30pm we are driven to the Brazilian border and then to the entrance of the Iguazu National Park where we have a sandwich for lunch. We are dropped off near the waterfalls and start our 1500m walk alongside them. They are magnificent and stretch for 3 kilometres across broken into lots of narrower falls. On our walk we see lots of colourful butterflies, a plush crested jay, some coati and an aguti. We walk across a narrow walkway over the falls and get wet with the spray. We ascend the edge of the falls in a 40 metre high panoramic elevator. A bird is spotted in its nest After an abortive hunt for beer we are driven back to the hotel via a souvenir shop. While the rest have a swim Graham has a siesta.
At 7pm we walk out of the hotel and into the town. It is still hot and steamy and lots of people wandering around the streets. The footpath is a bit uneven. After a kilometre we turn off the main street and into the La Rueda (more...) , as recommended by the Rough Guide. As we were drinking our first drinks, beer and water, there is a power cut . Two large candles are placed on our table. We order our first bottle of Malbec and steaks. It turns out that we have a trainee sommellier amonsgst us so we let them taste the wine for us. Sue declares it is good. The steaks and wine were excellent. We walk home replete and retire to bed at 10:30pm.
We get up early and have breakfast at 7am. Renate meets us at 7:30 and we are taken to the Argentine entrance to the Iguazu National Park. Renate's brother is taking another group of tourists. We clamber aboard the park train which takes us to the start of the waterfalls. We walk across a series of foot bridges over the upper river. There are lots of colourful butterflies fluttering around. We pass the remnants of a previous walkway washed away in the floods of 1992. We eventually we get to the viewing platform overlooking the Devil's Throat , probably the most spectacular part of the waterfalls. It is the spray from this part of the waterfalls which we had seen from the plane yesterday. We walk back the same way as we had come, get on the train and alight at the central stop where we take the superior circuit. This is another set of footbridges crossing the tops of parts of the waterfalls. We can see across the river to where we walked yesterday. It is all breathtaking. We end up at the Sheraton Hotel where we are able to pay for the day's trip with credit cards at the offices of Aqua Grandes. We walk to a nearby restaurant for a light lunch washed down with beer. We find out that Renate is 29. She is doing a business course at the local university in the evenings. After lunch we board a truck and travel down a dirt track to the quay for the river boats. We don life jackets and put our belongings into plastic bags. We are taken at high speed up the river to the waterfalls where we are duly soaked by going close up to them. The water is warm but very wet. We get off the boat near the end of the Argentine falls. We climb some steps and are met by Renate. We walk up the hill and eventually get to the place where we had lunch. Some beer and ice creams are ingested. Renate's food and drinks in the place are free – guides' perks. We walk a short distance to a car park and are driven back to our hotel where we are quick to get out of our soaking wet clothes.
At 7pm we strolled into town to the Aqva restaurant (more...) which is in the same road as the restaurant we ate in last night. Two have steaks and five have Surubi, the local river fish. The restaurant got five stars from us. Four walk home and three share a taxi.
During the night Graham awakes with a terrible pain in his stomach and Jane is worried that she cannot find the credit card Graham used to pay for yesterday's transfer and boat ride. Graham suggests he may have thrown it away with some wet paper he'd found in his pocket after the boat ride. A text message is sent to Stephen to ask for a phone number which Jane phones and hands to Graham to get the card cancelled and a new one sent to our home address. By 4:30am the card has been cancelled. After breakfast Jane walks with the others to see where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet. After this she has a swim. Meanwhile Graham stays on his bed reading his book. Jane has lunch with Sue in the hotel restaurant. At 2:30pm Renate turns up to takes us to the airport. At the airport we check in and say goodbye to Renate. What a friendly helpful guide she has been. We are delighted with her. Two and a half hours later we arrive in Buenos Aires and are met by Pablo. We are driven back to the Bisonte Hotel and are allocated rooms on the eighth floor. There is no plug in the bathroom. We were luckier with the first room we'd had. Jane finds the missing credit card in her purse. We walk a short distance down the road to La Chacra (more...) – a beef restaurant. We have a tenderloin and a half for the seven of us washed down with Malbec. It is good. We return to the hotel and retire.
We breakfast at 8:30am and wander through the streets to the district of Recoleta which seems to be a popular place for dog-handlers . Some look after more than a dozen dogs. There is a very large walled cemetery. It is called a city within a city. There are lots of shiny marble follies. They are all arranged in a grid like the streets of the city. We pick up a map at the entrance and stroll around. We visit the Duarte Family vault where the body of Eva Peron has been eventually laid to rest after having spent a couple of decades at a place in Europe. After the cemetery we drink coffee and chocolate at the nearby La Biela cafe. We walk back to meet Sister Jane at noon and take her suitcase to our hotel where she will spend the night. We board a 152 bus and for the sum of 1.25 pesos we travel to La Boca, where the famous Boca Stadium is. La Boca is by a river that smells. It is a tourist area full of interesting architecture with colourful stucco paintings. The place has seen much better days. We find a corner cafe and have empanadas (small Cornish pasties) washed down with beer. We continue around the streets and get cajoled into buying a coffee and watching a tango performance. We visit an art gallery hoping to view La Boca from the roof but the roof is closed because it has been raining. We get back on the 152 bus and return to our hotel. At 7pm seven of us set off down the street for 100yds to a restaurant. Sister Jane has gone shopping. It is a delightful restaurant. We had beef and chicken followed by ice cream concoctions. Sister Jane joins us near the end of the main course and leaves with her sister when the deserts are ordered. We have to get up early to go to Calafate.
Pablo picks us up at 4am to take us to the domestic airport where we board the 5:40am flight to El Calafate which is 3000 km south in Patagonia. We arrive at 8am and are met by Paula. The airport is about 25 km out of El Calafate. The area is very arid without any trees. The minibus takes us to our hotel, the Sierra Nevada, situated at the western end of the main street. We unpack and Jane takes some photos of the yellow ibis which are munching the grass outside the window of our room. The group regathers in the lobby and we walk back into town and eventually find a coffee shop and drink outside on the pavement all wearing warm jackets as it is only about 12C but sunny. The city, as it likes to call itself, is on the southern edge of Lago Argentino, the largest lake in Argentina. It has a population of 20,000. That's a ten times expansion in the last 10 years. We walk to a nature reserve and are quickly surrounded by marauding dogs who attach themselves as a group to us but do not attack us. They prefer chasing vehicles or better still plovers at the reserve. We wander back to the hotel via the president Cristina's country house. At the hotel we have asparagus soup and empanadas for lunch. We are met at 3pm and join a party of 16 French tourists in a large 4x4 truck to go up a nearby hill using a track in an estancia. We stop at the top. The views over El Calafate and the lake are magnificent. We travel on and stop at the labyrinth of stones where we take refreshments in a tent. Our next stop is the place of sombreros where stones have eroded to form sombreros sitting on the sides of rocks. The driver hand-feeds the finches on a bun left over from the refreshments. We return down the hill along a ripio (gravel road) to our hotel. It is 6pm and the end of a very enjoyable ride.
At 7:30pm we all troupe down the street followed by a stray dog. We find the restaurant, Mi Viejo, recommended by the driver who transferred us to the hotel. It is not crowded and we get a table for eight. The Argentines eat out from nine o'clock onwards. However the town's major industry is tourism and there are lots around. Fish, beef and local lamb are consumed washed down with Malbec. Latitude 33 seems good value for money at 36 pesos per bottle. We return to the hotel by 10pm. It is cold but dry and the dogs have disappeared.
At 9am Paula and Gabriel (the driver) pick us up and take us 80km westwards to the end of the Lago Argentina where, at a Kodak spot, we view the Perito Moreno glacier. It is 5km wide and rises 60m above the surface of the lake. We reboard the bus and continue on to a larger car park. Where we get out, put gloves and hats on and receive our pack lunches. We promenade along the passerelles overlooking the glacier. At one place we stop and watch as a large chunk of ice breaks off and falls into the water creating a wave. In the distance we can see a group of people crossing the glacier. It will take them 5 hours. Condors fly above. We continue along the walkway until we get to a seated area here we have our packed lunches and jolly good they are – an empanada, a large beef bap, a salad, a brownie, an apple and a bottle of water. There are light flurries of snow. We rejoin the walkway and go to its end where we wait some minutes before getting on a boat to take us closer to the glacier. From the top deck we wait for ice to fall off which it does. We are reminded of that film. Meanwhile below in the main cabin a French lady is trapped in the lavatory until eventually rescued to much acclaim. The photographer shows his pictures of us all on the display screens around the cabin including some of the locked lady emerging from the toilet. We were lucky as the boat can take 230 passengers but there were only 13 of us. When we dock a hundred people are waiting to board. We get on our bus and are taken back to the hotel. We arrive back at 4pm. Some of us have slept on the way.
Jane leaves at 6:30pm to do some shopping. The sisters decide to have a quiet Sunday evening at the hotel. The rest leave at 7:15pm to walk to the far end of the main drag to a restaurant called La Tablita which we were unable to get in to last night. In the evening the town looks like a ski resort but there is no snow and there are no ski slopes. We get to the restaurant and Jane joins us soon after. We all eat beef. Graham has a mariposa which is a large butterfly rump steak. Some of us have the local dessert speciality called a Don Pedro – vanilla ice cream with walnuts and whisky. After a twenty minute walk we are back at the hotel.
At 8:10am we check out of the hotel and are taken to the airport. On the way Paula demonstrates how to make mate – the infusion made from yerba mate that the Argentines drink. We all have a sip and Bill announces that it is not his cup of tea. Paula has printed out our boarding passes. What a good guide! We each have to pay 38 pesos airport tax. Apparently El Calafate International is a private airport. The plane takes us 1000km south to Ushuia where is is -2C and has been snowing. Six of us are taken to the Tierra del Fuego hotel at the eastern end of the town. About 58000 people live here, the most southerly town in the world. Our room faces over the Beagle Channel. We meet at 12:30pm and wander down the high street and find the El Griego rest-bar where we have a small bite to eat. We continue on down the street westwards to the tourist office where we meet the sisters at 2pm. They are staying with Natalie Goodall, a friend of Sister Jane. They will be driven by Natalie to the centre of the local national park and we are to take a bus. We get to the bus station but there are no buses. A man with a minibus offers to take us to the park. After determining that the price is the same as the normal bus we get in. However the driver only takes us a couple of miles and drops at the normal bus and demands his money. It appears this is a normal procedure for picking up stragglers. We pile into the bus and are taken to the terminus by Lago Roca in the park, We wait for the sisters and Natalie who drops them off. We take a walk by the lake and through the woods. We see lots of hawks and caracara as well as rabbits and smaller birds. It is very picturesque with the snow on the trees. We return on the 5pm bus with the sisters. At 7:30pm we walk down the street to the waterside and into the Tia Elvira restaurant. We tuck into a beer and wait for the sisters and Natalie to arrive. Most of us have cod with seafood sauce. We order noisette potatoes and chips as side orders. The Argentines don't have a large selection of vegetables. Nothing extra comes with the main course. The fish is plentiful and tasty. Outside it has stopped snowing and darkness falls at 9:30pm.
A certain person in the party has a birthday today so he had a few cards to open. Some presents collected from the bathrooms of several Argentine hotels were donated to the lucky boy. After breakfast we walk down the hill to the harbour. Emma phones her father, the birthday boy. We meet up with the sisters and Natalie who has sorted out a good deal on a catamaran for the six of us and the sisters go free. We motor east along the Beagle Channel stopping by islands populated by cormorants, seals and penguins. As we are viewing the penguins Stephen phones and sings Happy Birthday to his father. Stephen laughs when he hears that it is snowing. We see petrels, albatross, sheerwaters and many other birds. We land at the Harberton Estancia owned by Natalie and her husband, Tommy Goodall. Sister Jane lived here for six months in her twenties. We are shown around by Vanina who uses quaint English phrases. After visiting the copse at the top of a hill and the boathouses and shearing sheds we end up at the original house, shipped from England in 1886, and are shown by Natalie into her dining room where we have lunch. The rest of the tourists eat in the restaurant attached to the end of the house. After lunch we walk to the museum. Here there is a vast collection of well catalogued dolphin and whale skeletons. We are shown around by Thomas, an Argentine who has been studying biology at Duke University in North Carolina. He demonstrates how to put together the skeleton of a dolphin from parts in a box. It is fascinating. All bones are numbered and each skeleton has an ID card. The skeletons come from beached carcasses which are brought to the estancia and are cleaned by boiling and then bleached. Natalie (more...) is well known in the world of whale/dolphin/porpoise skeletons. At 3:30pm precisely we board a coach. We stop at a beaver's lodge. Beavers were introduced from Canada into the area for their fur but are now a pest. They have destroyed a lot of trees but have no predators apart from pumas on the mainland. We stop to view some flag trees. These are trees that have been bent by the wind to ressemble a flag. Next stop is the Garibaldi pass which goes through the Andes on the way to Rio Grande - another photo-opportunity. We visit a husky colony and watch a video with English sub-titles but this is followed by a long speech in Spanish on long-distance dog-sledding without one word of English. We are lost and glad to drink the liquor-impregnated black coffee. We return to Ushuaia at 7:15pm. At 7:45pm we clamber up to the Kaupe estaurant which overlooks the bay. Sister Jane taught the owner's children to speak English. Most of us have King Crab washed down with Malbec, The owner, Tessy, greets us all and produces, for the birthday boy, a chocolate on a bed of dulce de leche with a candle in it. It is an excellent meal after which we walk down the hill in the snow and retire to bed.
We have breakfast and phone our son Stephen whose birthday it is today. He has a day off work – company policy. We get some money from an ATM and walk to the Naval base which has a museum and houses the prison for which Ushuaia was first used. It is shut so we walk back to the hotel and are taken to the airport, ten minutes away. We meet up with the sisters and Natalie. We have to pay 25 pesos tax. We say goodbye to Natalie and board the plane to Buenos Aires. We have a sandwich, a dulce de leche biscuit and a drink on the three hour flight. We are met by the cheerful Pablo again and this time we are taken via a scenic route through Palermo and Recoleta to the Bisonte Hotel. We are now well known in the hotel. We say goodbye to Pablo and the driver. Our room is the same as we had when we were last here. We unpack and say goodbye to Sister Jane as she will stay with her daughter, Nicky. We split up to go shopping. Shortly afterwards Graham returns to the hotel. At 7:30 we go in search of the restaurant recommended by one of Bill and Mary's sons. After 20 minutes we arrive at the Parilla Pena and get a table for seven since the locals don't eat till nine onwards. It is the most simple restaurant we have eaten in. The meat, beef steak (lomo), was very good as was the Malbec. The puddings are not needed but are eaten. We are in our beds by 10:30pm.
We say goodbye to Bill, Mary and Sue and get a taxi to the Buquebus Terminal in Puerto Madero. We board the noon catamaran to cross the 40km wide brown River Plate to the town of Colonia del Sacremento in Uruguay. We are are now only two hours behind UK time. A taxi takes us to our hotel, the Posada Don Antonio which Jane booked via the internet. The town is a beautiful Spanish colonial town with plane lined streets some of which are cobbled. Most of the buildings only have one storey. After lunch in a restaurant, where our Argentine pesos are accepted, we wander around the town. It is delightful. The sun is shining and it's 22C. We visit the lighthouse and Hugh points out that the glass for the light was made by Chance Brothers of Birmingham. Three quarters of the party climb the 38m high lighthouse. They claim to have seen Buenos Aires from the top. An attempt is made to get money from an ATM but a female voice says that 'terminal services are no longer available'. It turns out, after discussions in the bank, that this is an error. We return to the hotel and the lighthouse ascenders take a swim in the hotel's pool. The other one reads his book. At 7pm Graham is invited to join Hugh for a beer outside Hugh's room. At 8pm we wander down the street to La Luna, a restaurant recommended by a Hong Kong lawyer on the flight from BA to El Calafate. The meat is good but the wine is over priced – a thumbs down. We walk back to the hotel and retire. We wonder where the others are. They are probably at BA airport waiting for their overnight flight having spent the day at Sister Jane's daughter's having a BBQ. We'll have to wait till we get home to find out.
We have a leisurely breakfast at 9am. We are all pleased to see fresh fruit available. Afterwards we walk in the 26C heat towards the Plaza del Torro but part way there Jane sees that some things are missing from her left hand so we return to the hotel and collect the objects. We decide to hire a golf buggy for 4 people for 2 hours at a cost of 30USD. Hugh is the driver as he is the only one with a driving licence. We get to the bull-ring at the Plaza del Torro. It is closed and has been since 1975. We drive further north to the Sheraton and survey its 9-hole golf course. On the way back we stop at riverside bar for liquid refreshments. We travel around the old part of Colonia and hand the buggy back. There are quite a lot of old vehicles parked by the side of the streets. Some small vehicles ply the streets blaring out announcements from roof top loud speakers. Pavements are uneven, just to remind us of Buenos Aires which we can see from the riverside. We have an empanada and a banana for lunch and then take a siesta before eating ice-cream in Renata's, where we had lunch yesterday. We carry out a recce for tonight's meal and return to the hotel before a storm breaks out. It is a heavy storm and lasts for about 45 minutes. During this time the lighthouse ascenders take a taxi to a Buquebus office and change the tickets for the return journey to BA. We have a drink of beer watching France beat South Africa and then walk down the street to a parillada where the men have beef and the Commander has a whole rack of lamb, about as mush meat as Graham and Hugh have together. It is a much better value meal than last night's. The waiter, Claudio, is very friendly and speaks good English.
We have a quiet morning and leave by taxi at 10:30am to catch the noon boat back to Buenos Aires. We had originally intended to return at 6pm but decided to return earlier as it would allow more time for shopping in BA. We arrive at noon in BA and walk back to the Hotel Bisontes dragging our cases behind us. We leave them at the hotel and decide to have a light lunch of pizzas in the restaurant opposite the hotel. We then walk back to the Recoleta and wander around the street market and watch the tango dancing. The jacaranda trees which were not out in bloom when we arrived but are fully outr now and the flowers are beginning to fall. We go to Freddos and have ice creams. We have had good service and a smile everywhere in Argentina but not in Freddos. They are miserable and slow but the ice cream is good. We walk back to the 9 July Avenue via Alvear Avenue where we call in at the most exclusive hotel in BA – the Alvear Palace. We stroll past the French Embassy and down to the park near the English Tower, Two guards are standing in front of the Malvinas (Falkland Islands) memorial. We wander down Florida Street and purchase cashmere sweaters for Hugh and Graham and necklaces for Jane L. We have a coffee in the Galeria Pacifico which is like an American shopping mall. There is a large Christmas tree and Christmas decorations dangling from the ceiling. We get back to the hotel and after retrieving all our bags we catch a taxi to the airport. We went online last night and checked in. This saves us queuing and we quickly get through customs and immigration. We have some refreshments and board the plane on time at 9:45pm.
We arrive in Madrid at 2:15pm and take the underground train to area H where after 90 minutes we board the flight to Heathrow. Bill picks us up from Terminal 3 and whisks us back to his home. After a cup of tea we say goodbye to everyone, leave and get back to Swanmore at 8:15pm, tired, heavier than when we left, and ready for bed.