Friday, January 27, 2012

Santa Fe, Argentina

On our second full day in Buenos Aires we got on the bus to head 6 hours north to Santa Fe. The bus ride itself was long and the bus wasn´t exactly clean either... We obviously chose the wrong bus company.
The landscape was incredibly flat and unexciting but being tired, I managed to sleep a bit.

Santa Fe was hot! Since our bus was a tad early, Guille wasn´t there yet, but even at 10.30pm at night the air was still warm.

We weren´t waiting for long and soon we had a happy reunion and were heading back to her house, where she told us her mum had cooked us a delicious meal.

And delicious it was. I got to meet her parents finally, after meeting her 1st in NZ on the other side of the world. They were very nice and the food her mum cooked us was exquisite. We ate meat and potatoes, but the meat was the most delicious, melt in your mouth meat I´d ever had in my life! After eating and talking, a meal outside in a leafy garden with a perfect climate, we went to bed.

The next day, Guille and her mum took Genna and I on a tour of the two cities, Parana and Santa Fe. They´re both close together and connected by a 3km long underwater tunnel, below the Parana river.

Parana was a gorgeous city, with flowers and cobbled streets and a new shopping mall (quite small though). We stopped at a park up high with a view over the city and the river, and also at a stone auditorium.

On the way back to Santa Fe, her mum stopped and bought us materos.
Mate is a type of tea they drink in Argentina and Uruguay. It´s a very strong leafy tea.
To drink it, you simply pour heaps of the leafs into the cup and then some hot water on top. There´s a special straw you use to drink it out of which has a filter at the end.
Terere is mate, but with cold water or even juice.
Basically every Argentinean takes with them wherever they go, a thermos with cold water and the special cup and straw to driink mate. The flavour takes a bit of getting used to but I´ve found it´s actually quite nice. Cold. With juice.

We crossed the river again and arrived back in Santa Fe, to Guille´s home where her and a couple of friends came over to drink terere (it´s quite a tradition).

After that, we went into downtown Santa Fe and visited the most amazing building I have ever seen. It was the city council, old and colonial and massive. We also visited the cathedral where people were praying with rosary beads, and a colonial house that had turned into a museum. A stroll along the river took us to an incredibly huge outdoor swimming pool filled with water from the river.

The downtown part of Santa Fe was the cleanest downtown I had ever seen and vacant of street vendors. The council had prohibited it. The shops were really cool and it was bustling and lively at 7pm at night.

The stay at Guille´s was definitely a highlight of our trip - staying with Argentineans, eating Argentinean food and being shown around a city by a local, plus being able to catch up witha good friend!

Then all of a sudden it was a rush to return back to Guille´s, shower, drive to the bus station and take our bus to Puerto Iguazu, where we would arrive after 16 hours in a bus!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Back in South America (Buenos Aires)

Well, it's been a while.
So here's the good news... I'm currently sitting in my friend Melissa's apartment in Santiago, Chile, just over 2 years since I left this amazing country.

The other good news is that I haven't just arrived ... I've been travelling around Argentina and Uruguay for 8 days as well. I thought I'd have more time to blog during that part of the trip, but lines for computer access in backpackers hostels plus only 20 minutes per user has pushed blog entries low on the priority list, below hostel bookings and transport bookings.

But the trip so far has been amazing.

It started off with 2 nights in Buenos Aires, a steamy, hot, bustling city with delicious smells, gorgeous people and a continuous beat of cumbia, reggaeton and of course, tango. Love.

We arrived there (I'm travelling with a friend, Genna), put our bags in our rooms up a tiny twisting staircase in the funky and friendly Hostel Ostinatto - definitely recommended for it's extraordinarily friendly staff and cool atmosphere - and went straight into the tiny hostel bar for a tango lesson. Can't exactly say I'm up for a 'milonga' quite yet. It was a Saturday night but after arriving at Auckland airport at 7am and waiting until 10pm for our flight to depart, sleep was required. (After eating some yummy empanadas from the take-away place down the road).

The next day we made friends with a Brazilian family over the breakfast table and ended up bussing it to La Boca, the colourful, postcard friendly district of BA to have a wander.

Colourful houses from corrugated iron, street vendors of painting and handicrafts, tango restaurants were what was on offer. It was definitely picturesque but also alive with peddlers trying to charge pesos for photos, hustling for money... that was the bad side. OVerall we found it quite fake and touristy - not a genuine Buenos Aires experience, but definitely a must see for travellers.

We had lunch back on the same street as our hostel (which coincidentally, was called Chile st), and unfortunately another mildly disapointed naive-tourist experience, in which we reached the end of the restaurant filled street and upon finding nothing that looked that it would fit our budget (the restaurants there all looked quite pricy but as we later found out, weren't) a pushy waitress ended up seating us at the worst looking eatery on the st (with the same prices as the other place) and we ended up ordering from there. Luckily Genna and I shared a pizza and got the bargain, $6 each for half a pizza dripping with cheese and herbs, wasn't so bad after all. Note: due to their Italian roots, argnetinians are big fans of pizza and make it very well! Not italian style but defintiely delicious.

In the afternoon we wandered around the usual tourist hot spots of Buenos Aires - the obelisk, La Casa Rosada and the Docks.

The first two were in the centre of town and there were a smattering of people with cameras taking photos there, we managed to hustle some American tourists into taking a few photos of us in exchange for the same for them. Got a few 'jumping' photos in which the Argentineans sitting on the grass a few metres away were very interested.

Due to good luck or something, we arrived at the docks at dusk and were rewarded by the city of Buenos Aires reflecting in the water, it was a very polished, clean part of the city with smooth pavement - thank goodness! and lined with restaurants and wealthy looking people. The colours were gorgeous as well and it was thriving at 9pm at night.

Upon our return we checked up on bus fares and got some good travel advice from a BRazilian about airfares - a Urugayan airline, Pluna, offers specials every Tuesday (kind of like grabaseat, but all of South America) and you can get flights for $29 USD. Worth a look!

Day two:
Rather exhausted hot (after checking out of the hostel and storing our bags there), we headed to the botanic gardens in Palermo and a bit of the downtown area. The botanic gardens were shady and nice, surrounded by busy roads. In the later part of the afternoon we taxied to the bus station in a shiftier part of the city to take a 7 hour bus to Santa Fe to see a friend, Guillermina, who was an exchange student in NP last year.

Getting away from Buenos Aires seemed to take forever, it's a massive city. We seemed to have chosen not such a good bus line and it was quite dirty - at the same time, it also had a reasonable timetable for arriving in Santa Fe before midnight. It wasn't that uncomfortable apart from the dirt... But getting to Santa Fe was definitely worth it!