Monthly Archives: February 2013

Day 249: Puerto Iguazu – Argentina – Feb 21st

Rolling into the bus station at 8am, we had to take a local bus to our hostel which was inconveniently located along the freeway instead of in town. The location was poor, but the facility itself was pretty cool. Spacious and large with this extremely pretty pool in the front, it sort of made up for it. Then again, the people working there were some of the worst service staff we’ve seen so far in our travels. Horrible.

Background: Iguazu Falls is neatly situated along the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The falls itself is a UNESCO heritage site shared by Argentina and Brazil, and to see everything this natural wonder has to offer, most people say you should visit both sides. Problem is, for Canadians you are required to have a visa! We scrambled back into town to get our visa application in, paid about $60USD/person, paid $8USD for print-outs at the hostel next door and hoped that we got our visa the next day. We were already here, and Iguazu is so far away from anything that you really don’t want to have to travel here again just to see the other side of the falls….. the perils of traveling. We’ve actually heard stories of people crossing the border without visas or even getting their passport stamped, but we asked around and that doesn’t happen anymore… so we didn’t want to risk getting shut out at the border and paid up for the stupid visa.

By the time we got everything done, it was too late to go to the Argentinean side of the falls, and we were sort of stranded in Iguazu without much to do, and to add to the fun it started pouring rain. Fun. The rain stopped and we headed out to a animal rescue centre close by. It was pretty cool as it was all privately run and worked off donations, but instead of acting like a zoo where they kept animals in captivity, they would release animals back into the wild whenever they can. Unfortunately, some wild animals were injured, domesticated and could never be returned, but at least they take good care of the animals!

It was buffet night in our hostel, and since we were living along the freeway where there was no other choice, we ate at the hostel and drank a few beers, chatting up with some people for a couple of hours before calling it a night.

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Day 248: Bus to Puerto Iguazu – Argentina – Feb 20th

We booked a 2:15pm bus out of town and to the border town of Iguazu, about 18hrs away. With a bit of time to spend in the morning, we headed out to the old port area of BA aptly named La Boca, or The Mouth, as it is sitting at the mouth of the BA harbour. It’s famous for two things: a little pedestrian called El Caminito, and home to the world famous soccer club, Boca Juniors. The neighbourhood has a bit of a rough edge about it as it is home to the working/labour class of the city, but that’s part of the charm….just don’t wander off too far from the tourist streets.

The street was colourful, and full of souvenir shops. That, or sidewalk restaurants with tango dancing right in front of you. To be honest, we felt there are more places in BA that has a bit more charm, but for the most part it was well worth our 30min visit. Short, but we that’s all we had because we needed to hop on our bus!

Considering that bus tickets were about $100USD, it was really quite expensive but flights would’ve been about $80 more, so for two people that would’ve added up to quite a bit. Then again, they give you your money’s worth. We took the “cama” or sleeper, which is the 2nd best class next to the executive style where you can lie flat. We were served snacks twice before dinner time, which by the way was actually GOOD TASTING, the airline industry has something to learn. For drinks at dinner, there was coke, sprite, and red/white wine. Cool. One more thing we love though, is that the movies aren’t dubbed, but rather they are in English with Spanish subtitles! It was a long ride, but it was rather enjoyable for the circumstances.

And at around 10pm when they shut off the lights, the attendant came around asking the most ridiculous question we’ve heard on a bus:
Champagne, or whisky?” HA HA HA. Awesome.

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Day 247: Buenos Aires – Argentina – Feb 19th

We spent what was the worst possible day as a tourist. That’s part of the trade-off when traveling without making set plans, but it is a real bummer because we’re trying to book our itinerary for the next couple of days but we’re getting some mixed signals, false information and a lack of communication from all fronts.

In the end, we spent all day waiting for information by our agent, who just ended up telling us at 4:30pm (when everything is closing) that she can’t sell us the tours because we talked with the agency she was working with first. W T F. Wasted us TWO days of sitting around.

At night, we splurged on a rather stereotypical Buenos Aires event…. a tango show! With the hostel, we paid $360Pesos (~$50USD) but online, the price is $140USD, which is closer to $1000Pesos at the unofficial exchange rate!!

Buenos Aires in general is pretty safe to walk around at night, and we did some exploring of the downtown streets outside of the usual Florida and Lavalle pedestrian avenues, but that doesn’t mean the shady money exchangers didn’t ask us, just less frequently.

The tango show is located in another touristy area, but the bright lights and dark wood all around makes it a bit of a fancy place. It didn’t help that we were dressed in our only style of clothes: hiking. It’s not even like weekend casual in university kind of laid back, we’ve got brightly coloured synthetic tops that look like we’re going out for a jog, and we have those pants that unzip at the knee to double up as shorts… NOT really working for a fancy dinner place. In fact, if we were back home we’d feel sort of strange just to wear this to go out even to the food court! =P

We got some pretty sweet seats in the middle, and the whole atmosphere is a bit old school classy without being cheesy. Service was decent and they seemed to have a system going on with the menu coming first, the bartender introducing himself, followed a pair of dancers and the photographer coming to see if you’d like a picture. It would’ve been fun, but we look like we’re about to do a 10k run and that would just look strange with a tango hat now wouldn’t it? Dinner was good, and the meats were as awesome usual even if they over cook it (They seem to like over cooking their steaks here!).

The show started at 10:15pm and ran for a full two hours. It was brilliantly planned with very little ‘boring’ parts or getting overwhelmed by crazy dancing footwork. The live band did their thing for about 10mins, followed by some REALLY crazy tango dancing for about 50mins mixed in with some singing here and there. Then out of nowhere they shut the lights and the female singer starts on a Spanish rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, and towards the end all the dancers came out and waved Argentinean flags above our heads (we could feel the gusts of wind from their waving). It was a bit strange and cheesy, but hey, it was pretty good! We expected more tango, but out came a show of the natives of Argentina doing some traditional folk music, and the performers really loved their music and you can feel the contagiousness of the performance. And the folk performers had this guy who would do some crazy rhythmic dancing with two wooden yo-yos that’d make a clicking sound when it hits the he’d spin the things in various rhythms and dancing along to it! It was crazy! Two full hours later, we were full, extremely content with the really entertaining show we just watched and was out on the street being extremely content.

BA really does liven up a lot when the sun sets and the wine starts flowing. It was a TUESDAY at half past midnight, but people were still happily dining on pasta/grills on the streets, with the waiters still setting tables in hopes of more customers coming. That’s crazy….

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Day 246: Buenos Aires – Argentina – Feb 18th

While eating some delicious frosted flakes at the hostel, a pretty girl in a nice retro looking attire comes over to chat with us, telling us about a local tour she was about to give, and if we would like to join we could watch the short video clip and then head out for a walk. We watched the video, chatted with her for a bit and got a bit more of an understanding about Argentina’s history and briefly understood why things are the way they are here. Like why Eva Peron is so popular, why everyday there seems to be protests. Someone pointed out that, the actual FX rate for dollars is actually 7.5 instead of 5.0 as posted by the official government.

Wait…what? You can get 50% more for your US dollars than at the bank?? W T F? We figured that’s probably because Argentina is going through some serious inflation, with the ‘official’ rate being spec’d at ~11%. Banks say they forecast 2013 inflation to be closer to 30%…… WHAT!?!? Okay, this makes sense now, and it also makes less sense that we keep pulling money out of the ATM if we can get 50% more …. but where?

Since Alan’s goretex jacket decided to pledge guilty and jumped off the boat, he needed another rain jacket for the upcoming hikes we’ll be doing. Heading over to the local Patagonia store, we browsed around and found what he needed, but we needed more pesos to pay for the jacket! (Please read the next post about exchanging money)

The rest of the afternoon was spent admiring Alan’s new jacket, and waiting at the travel agency for information updates on our upcoming trips. It was a bit tricky, and we had to work around several layers of agents and in the end got nothing. They told us, tomorrow they’ll have everything! Okay….we’ll have to trust them, but this was one wasted day.

Near our hostel, we found this Chinese restaurant, and we ate there at lunch and at dinner! The chef was from Guangdong, and made some pretty authentic stuff. Thinking we have a lot more time to eat grilled steak, we settled for more Chinese food now instead. Funny thing is, if you imagined what a Chinese triad-member would look like in South America, that’s the owner. He even walks around without a shirt, showing off his tattoos and all.

Doesn’t matter, he cooks alright and we ended up eating there THREE times!

outside our ho

outside our ho

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Day 245: Buenos Aires – Argentina – Feb 17th

We woke up too late and missed the free breakfast in the hostel, it seems like everytime they do have free breakfast we either wake up too early or too late! We had all day to see the city centre of Buenos Aires, and our hostel couldn’t be more centrally located as we’re about 200m away from the obelisk, a symbol of BA. It’s not as solemn as the one in Washington, but this one wins for being on the widest road ever.

We wandered into the pedestrian zones of Florida Avenue, where it felt more New York City with the architecture, the stores and the mix of figures. Standing about every 10m or so is a guy asking if we’d like to go to their restaurant, and if not would we like to exchange some money. Shady. For lunch, we had some DELICIOUS Argentinean ribs, or asado, grilled to perfection and a tasty bottle of grapefruit soda.

Plaza Mayo is where most of the government buildings are located, and where a lot of history takes place. The president’s office, or Casa Rosada (quite literally, pink house) is overlooking the plaza, along with several statues. Not as impressive as other government buildings we’ve seen around the world, but this one wins because it is open to the public, free admissions AND has a free guided tour!! And the president REALLY works here! How’d we know, well because we went to her office! Cool.

Casa Rosada feels more like an art gallery than government building, with spectacular paintings, hallways dedicated to arts and some modern art pieces in display in most places. Even in the reception area for diplomats and others who would meet the president, they are received in a room with an old Argentinean flag from 1910, and this massive modern art mural. Cool. We stood atop the balcony where presidents make public speeches, and to the office, and when we left we also took the same exit that the president uses (which by the way, is beautifully adorned with the busts of previous presidents, similar to a hall in the Louvre?). Neato!

Around the plaza there was also a cathedral, which in addition to its spectacular architecture, is home to the ashes of the revolutionary hero who liberated Argentina back in the 1800s. Outside though, we were trying to guess what the building was, and we both thought Supreme Court! Nope, it was a church….. the Roman columns and Latin writing totally threw us off.

We then made our way towards the Sunday market at a Dorrego Square, but not before we stopped by a nice little cafe at a shady corner of Graffiti St and Trash Blvd. The streets of BA are rather dirty, with trash everywhere, graffiti on all vertical surfaces and for the strangest reasons, patches of dug up streets that looks like the workers forgot it was there. The shop though served some really delicious coffee, and the whole store just had this NYC feel to it, even down to the green colour used in the exterior canopy. Great stuff, and we moved on with some caffeine and onto the market.

The market was one of the more interesting ones we’ve seen so far, with vendors lined up along both sides of the street offering a variety of different things. We walked and walked and walked, and eventually got to the end of the stalls which we figured was about about 2-3kms long! Every stall had different wares, people were laughing, drinking 1L bottles of beer, sipping mate from a cup+straw, and the whole atmosphere was very very lively. Street performers played some wonderful music, BBQ shops opened up in old parking lots where you can sit on plastic lawn chairs, drink beers, eat some freshly grilled meats and listen to their in-house performers sing Spanish songs as their music seeped across the concrete walls which divided them and the rest of the market. People seemed… happy!

Tempted numerous times to buy something as there were some talented vendors selling some real pretty stuff. We thought about having to carry it for 4months, and reluctantly walked away. The street is also lined with interesting stores behind the stalls, and several antique markets as well.

We strolled through the market until it closed at around 6pm, and stopped by Galerie Pacifico, which is supposed to be a mall but it had this concave dome with frescoes overlooking the shoppers. Pimp. Didn’t buy anything, as most goods in BA seems to be extremely expensive compared to North America. Seems like everywhere we go, most things are cheapest in the USA.

For dinner, we took the subway to another hot pot restaurant. Yes, there are more than one! This one was shadier than the one last night, with moldy and peeling walls, and a female owner that reminded us of some unsavoury figures in her slippers and one-piece nightgown…. sorta like the home-owners in Stephen Chow movies? The food was bad, and extremely overpriced! We had this bottle of green tea, costed 25P or $5USD!!!! Crazy.

BA Subway: We rode the subway 3 times, and only had to pay once! The first time, we walked up to the ticket booth but someone opened the gates for us and waved us over, we tried to pay him but he said “Gratis. It is free!”. Second time, we once again tried to buy a ticket, but nobody was at the ticket booth! So we had to jump the gates, while everyone just paid their fares like normal, self-respecting citizens. The third time back, we finally found an open ticket counter and a police guarding the gates…hehe, 1 for 3 is still a good deal!

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Day 244: Buenos Aires – Argentina – Feb 16th

Our flight was at 6:40am, so we had to wake up at 3:30am to make it in time for the airport. After waiting for 1hr + 15minutes for a queue about 5 people deep, we finally got onto our flight. There was a group of Argentinean archaeologists in front of us who had two cart loads of scientific luggage. Slowest check-in ever.

On the flight we sat next to this middle-aged man that looks like he was running marathons for a living. Seriously, who flies with a pair of short running shorts? We tried to use our Spanish and had a nice chat with this guy, but man…. was it ever tiring talking in Spanish. Our Spanish was never great to begin with, but it doesn’t help that Argentineans seem to have a totally different ‘style’ of Spanish, forcing us to pay 110% attention and understanding only 10%.

Funny story at customs though. Argentina has a pretty advanced system at customs with mandatory photo picture and finger print scans. Alan though, had a problem with this because ever since leaving Honduras he’s been experiencing some strange skin issues where his hands started peeling about two layers of skin. It was pretty strange and pretty gross, but seems to be healing by now. Well, when your skin peels off, it leaves your finger prints pretty much illegible…. and the customs officer had to try like 10 times before finally getting a passable scan of his fingers. Almost got pulled into the ‘back room’ for some special screening…because who tries to wipe off their finger prints!?!??!

With the flight, time zone difference and the long wait for our hostel shuttle (it was free!), we got into the city of Buenos Aires at about 7pm. In Quito, which was near the equator but 2400m above sea level, it was pretty chilly in the low teens. In Buenos Aires though, it was summer there and felt like low 30s! Between the airport and downtown, the whole place had this Toronto vibe to it, with wide roads, green space and large trees on either sides of the road, and even the familiar green signs on the roads, it all felt very Toronto to us!

Downtown BA is a totally different story. With massive monuments to independence, large public parks with streets full of glitz and glamour, this place feels very much like Europe in some parts, and Manhattan in others. We found our charming and extremely well-run hostel smack dab in the middle of downtown, and were on our way out for dinner. Strange though, was during our ride into town, we noticed that most restaurants were all closed, even as it was close to 7pm. We asked our driver, and he just gently reminded us that “It is just too early.”…

One of the biggest reasons we looked forward to BA was the fact that this city has a rather large Chinese population, and with that comes… Chinese food! Not just any Chinese food, but HOT POT!!!! WAHHH! After taking the subway, walking 8 blocks to Chinatown, we had to take a taxi back to another part of town because the blog we read about BA hotpot gave us the wrong freakin’ address! Hotpot was awesomely good and Alan actually ate so much he felt ‘drunk’…. Impressive! Finishing dinner at 11ish, we finally understood the full extent of our driver’s comment on “It is just too early…” because while taking the bus back to the hostel, we saw lines of people queuing for every restaurant on the street, from coffee shops to pizzerias to McDonald’s, every place was packed! People were on the streets drinking, and the whole city had a very lively feel to it.

Too tired, we slept like pigs. Exploring BA will take some time, but we are starting to like this city already.

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Day 243: Quito – Ecuador – Feb 15th

Today is our last day in the Galapagos. Our flight is scheduled for 10:30am, and because of us everyone on the boat has to get to the airport early even though their flights are all at 12:30pm! Feel sorta bad…

Our last excursion was an easy one, but one that ended our trip marvelously. Taking a 6am dhingy ride out into Black Cove Turtle Bay, our guide made a bold statement: “This is a sea turtle mating ground, if we don’t see any turtles mating then that means mating season is over!”. Sometimes, it’s strange how humans like to witness amazing moments of ‘life creation’ by other animals…. which literally is like watching animal porn, but this is in the name of science!

The cove was full of the usual suspects, but spotting them is always exciting. Golden rays, reef sharks, and of course, sea turtles! There was several coves which had an ‘entrance’ covered by mangroves, but once you get into the cove, it was like hitting the jackpot for spotting turtles! The cove was so quiet, you can hear the turtles coming up to the surface, and taking a deeeeep breathe. And it seems like mating season is still on, as TWO turtles would come up for air at the same time! Haha, it was really interesting!! We are also puzzled at how, two turtles with fins can manage to ‘hold on’ to each other during the process…..

Back to the boat, we ate breakfast, packed our bags and said farewell to the crew members and our home for the past week. We did the reverse commute back into the airport, and before we knew it our flight landed and we were on our way back to Quito! We met many new friends, getting extremely close to wildlife, and had an incredible time on the cruise and were a bit sad to have to go. One thing we didn’t miss though, was actually living on a boat!

Taking an AeroGal, we thought it was the discount airline of the region until we got aboard the plane and were seated in wide, comfy seats and had our own personal TVs. For a 3hr flight, this seemed a bit excessive, but getting to watch episodes of Modern Family, The Office and other shows made time past much faster and we made it into Quito at about 3pm. We were quite familiar with the city now, and there wasn’t much left to see so we spent the afternoon posting our blog…

One downside of living on a small yacht is that… the food quality seems to be lacking and was reminiscent of airplane food. It’s food, it’s edible, but they all taste the same and it gets tiring real quick. Back onto the mainland, we headed for the closest restaurant which happens to be a Vietnamese restaurant! It was well regarded by people, but we not only was it overpriced but also over-rated. In fact, our bowl of pho was cold and the beef was raw, and covered by a handful of rotten-looking beansprouts. Gross. The portions were also soooo small, we had to grab a hot dog a few hrs later to fill up.

Note: Postage in Ecuador is super expensive! It costs $2.00USD for each post card.

Note II: The official currency in Ecuador is the $USD. Question for any economists out there, how does any country manage their economy this way….? They do mint their own coins though, which makes it even more strange.

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Day 242: Golindrina Yacht – Galapagos Islands – Feb 14th

A slight change of plans, as we didn’t have to walk at all in the morning, but instead took a ‘dhingy’ (the small boat that shuttles us around) ride around Eden islet. Everyone was in full wet suits, as the clouds were smothering the skies and rains were starting. Heck, I didn’t even bring my camera! But, the Galapagos has its way of surprising everyone, and by the time we got out near the islet, the rain stopped and a bit of sunshine came out. It just so happens, these picturesque scenes of blue-footed boobys were chilling on a picturesque rock, with iguanas and crabs (all endemic to the Galapagos) just serving as a backdrop!! AAHHHHH!

After the dhingy ride, we went for a snorkel around the island. There weren’t enough equipment to go around for everyone, but everyone played nice and shared. Sometimes it’s strange as you would find it somewhat gross to drink something from the cup of a stranger, but it’s totally permissible to take offer your snorkel to someone else, and the other person would be happy to suck on the snorkel you’ve been sucking on for the past 20mins?!?! Anyways, we had some pretty amazing swimming with some inquisitive sea lions, saw several sharks, schools of fish, and just perfect snorkeling you can imagine for about 1.5hrs.

After a couple hours lazing on the ship and watching fellow travelers do some crazy jumps off the top of our boat, we took a nap and were awaken by the bell which was to call for all passengers to get ready! We were doing a nice hike around Cerro Dragon, or Dragon Hill where it is famous for spotting land iguanas. It was a nice walk, and saw some pretty awesome land iguanas (which are TOTALLY different from the marine iguanas) in all their golden yellow glory. They have different colours, different diets and totally different behaviours compared to their black marine iguana cousins. We also found a nice colony of blue-footed boobys standing close to the dock as we were about to leave, giving us a final chance to snap some pictures of these awesome birds.

It was snorkel time again, but we were weary of jumping into the water and took a break instead, ending our snorkel streak with the high note of this morning’s awesome swim. Dinner, conversation and several beers later, we were up on the deck just gazing at the amazing stars that blanketed the skies thanks to no light pollution. And not used to being in the southern hemisphere, the stars were actually in a different alignment than we’re so accustomed to with the dippers being close to the horizon and Orion’s belt being much higher than we’re used to. Ha ha…. science is awesome.

We also saw a sea snake off the side of the boat (someone had a really strong flashlight), then out of nowhere a sea lion comes out and eats it! Wooo, crazy. The sea lion proceeded to do some strange poses next to our boat, showing off her cute feet and tail….. well, an awesome way to end the trip! One last excursion tomorrow and we’re back on the flight out to the mainland….

Galapagos Rocks!

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