Humahuaca (27 April 2012)

Our bus ride from Salta to Humahuaca did not go as smoothly as we expected. We did not realise that Salta is 1200 m above sea level, while Humahuaca is 2900 m above sea level. Everything went smoothly until we got to about 2400 m, where Cobus started experiencing sinus pains (he has not fully recovered from his flu in Buenos Aires). The last 45 min (and 500 m climb) of the journey was extremely intense as the sinus pressure increased and was joined by a headache and dizziness (to the point where we were even thinking of turning back). We arrived in Humahuaca at around 3 pm and started towards the tourist information situated below the bell tower in the main square (of course ;-)). Unfortunately it was closed, so I left Cobus with all the baggage on a bench next to the square in order to search for a place to stay. I was rather worried about him and the altitude was also starting to have its effect on me, so I just quickly checked a few nearby hostels. I decided on a local place (that did not really cater for backpackers) which seemed clean and comfortable, and had its own restaurant. Cobus went straight to bed dosed with sinus pills and diamox. I explored the town a little bit more, and bought some water and coca leaves. When I got back, Cobus got his mouth stuffed with coca leaves. The leaves are very bitter, it’s almost like putting raw spinach leaves into your mouth. After a few hours of sleep, Cobus felt a little bit better, and hungry, so we stumbled into the small restaurant area across from our room. We had costeleta (beef ribs) and humitas (again; it was nicer than the one in Salta, but the one in Cafayate remains unbeaten).

The local hostel we stayed in. Right – Cobus feeling a lot better at the sight of meat.

The next morning Cobus felt a lot better, but still not 100%. We decided to stay another two nights in Humahuaca to acclimatise, making sure that the next increase in altitude would be less painful. We found a cheap hostel near the main square where the rooms looked clean. Again we were lucky to have the dorm room to ourselves. Unfortunately, we didn’t really check the beds or the kitchen or the warm water, so were surprised by the condition of the place. The beds had really uncomfortable mattresses, the kitchen facilities were scandalous and the not even luke warm water (24 hours hot water is advertised), even though it was freezing outside, ensured that you are colder after a shower than before. Hostel Humahuaca is really not a good option to stay in – it seems like the owners do not really care about the place or anyone who stays there. Honestly, I think the only good thing about the hostel is the dog Canella! But, we were not up for moving to a third place in three days, so we bit the bullet ;-).

Hostel Humahuaca and the lovely kitchen facilities. What you see in the pictures, was literally all there was, together with loads of dust. Bottom right – Canella, the super cute dog.

Humahuaca is a small town with cobble stone roads and a beautiful surrounding. The town may seem a bit touristy as there are plenty of hostels and on a Sunday scores of tourists arrive by bus to visit the weekly markets. Apart from the markets and the surroundings, the only real attraction in town is the massive Monumento a los Héroes de la Indepenciathat towers above the main square (their independence seem to be celebrated everywhere). Other famous towns that we passed on our way to Humauca include Tilcara and Purmamarca, also known for their beautiful coloured earth. A less touristy option further Northeast on the road to the Bolivian border would be the the town called Iruya, where homestays are offered for a more cultural experience.

Humahuaca

We decided to book the Hornocal trip for the afternoon, which is a trip to a beautiful sight high up in the mountains at around 4300m above sea level. Just before the trip we gave the kitchen at Hostel Humahuaca a go, and managed to cook some carbonara in the very cold room with almost zero facilities – we were a bit proud of ourselves ;-). The trip up to the Hornocal was bumpy and dusty and we had to stop a couple of times for the vehicle’s engine to cool down. Once at the top, the views were stunning as the sun illuminated the bright coloured ridges of the Hornocal. We only managed to stay a little while due to a blazing wind, but it was worth the trip.

Hornocal. I couldn’t stand the cold for too long, and forgot my beanie at the hostel, so Cobus was kind enough to lend me his jersey to wrap around my head 🙂

Back at the hostel we had leftover carbonara for dinner, while chatting to 2 german girls studying Latin American studies in the nearby city of Tucuman. We found the conversation to be a bit lobsided – one would expect someone studying sociology and history would have some very strong opinions, but they did not really have a lot to say about anything. We later concluded that maybe it was due to the big difference in age, hehe ;-).

Our last day in Humahuaca was spent sleeping till 11 am, enjoying a decent, self-made breakfast (egg mayo sandwiches, cereal and cappuccino) and walking about the small town. Believe me, if you had dry toast and coffee every morning for a couple of weeks, an egg mayo sandwich tastes like heaven. We decided to buy a typical maté cup from Argentina (before we went over the border) and a tarca flute (typical instrument in northwest Argentina and in Bolivia). Our dinner consisted of pasta again (anything else was impossible to make in the kitchen) with a tomato based sauce and olives.

The big monument at night

The next day we got onto the 10h10 bus to the border town of La Quiaca. Obviously the bus was half an hour late: South America time seems to be similar to Africa time…

Top – having some fun in town. Bottom – the very rapid bus service; waiting for our bus; Cobus having to use some South African remedy to help cure his dry skin

The bus journey to La Quiaca took more or less 2 hours with some pretty scenery along the way. Luckily Cobus didn’t experience any sinus pain at the increased altitude, yeah! From the bus station in La Quiaca we walked the 2 km to the Bolivian border town called Villazon. The border crossing went smoothly – it only took us a little more than an hour from the bus station to getting our passports stamped.

Approaching the Bolivian border 🙂

Our stay in Humahuaca were supposed to be only one night, but the extra two nights made it possible for Cobus to recover. He gained a special insight into the following Psalm (especially verse 1 ;-)) :

Psalm 121

I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? 2 My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. 8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.

 

Advertisements

Salta (25 April 2012)

We arrived in Salta around 3pm (a 4 hour bus journey from Cafayate), passing through the Quebrada de las Conchas again on the way. We were greeted by some eager hostel promoters, trying to convince us that their hostel was THE ONE. Since we didn’t get the chance to book a hostel in advance, we were rather thankful for their initiative. We chose to stay at the Hostelling International Backpacker Suites, which turned out to be a rather good choice. Salta is a popular destination in high season, but during the late autumn and winter months, the hostels in Salta compete for the fewer travellers passing through threre. Hence we managed to book an ensuite double room, including dinner and breakfast, for half the usual price (and even cheaper than some of the dorm rooms in high season) – the price even included a free taxi ride to the hostel.

After seeing our nice room (in comparison with the cheap price we were paying), we decided to postpone our bus tickets to Humahuaca to the next day. Luckily we found an office of the bus company in the main square and didn’t have to go all the way back to the bus station again. We had lunch at a local restaurant near the main square, and ordered humitas together with the menu del dia (a 3 course meal at a very reasonable price of 20 pesos). Unfortunately the humitas was not as tasty as those in Cafayate, but it was still good. We had flan with dulce de leche for dessert – yummee. On our way back we were introduced to the Bolivian folklore dance called the Cueca, which is being described by some as a seduction game between a man and a woman who dance while agitating a white handkerchief in their right hand, hehe. Some variations exist, according to region: Cueca chapaca (Tarija), Cueca paceña (La Paz), Cueca chuquisaqueña (Sucre), Cueca cochabambina (Cochabamba). Obviously the dance has also become popular in the northwest regions of Argentina that borders Bolivia.

The Cueca

We returned to the hostel to relax a bit before heading off to the place where we got our free dinner (it was about 14 blocks away from where we stayed). The free dinner was onion cake – not my idea of a nice meal, and my stomach is not very fond of onions as well. At least Cobus enjoyed the free meal, with the added bonus of the virtue “gasvryheid”.

The onion cake

The next day we reserved for searching for the Cafayate Alfajores brand, and just spending some time walking through the city near the main square. Most tourists use Salta as a base to explore the surrounding areas (for example Cafayate, Cachi, and the Jujuy region), and the city is perfect for daytrips to these areas.

Some of the buildings around the main square. Obviously the Coca Cola company is also present. Further away from the main square the buildings is not as nice.

Unfortunately we couln’t find any good quality Alfajores 😦  We had lunch at the Guemes house – tallarines and ravioles with very chewy meat for 27 pesos pp. Our dessert was ensalada de frutas, which turned out to be a slice of weird tasting cheese with (also a  weird tasting) fruit jam and nuts on top – not necessarily the fruit salad we had in mind…

The “Ensalada de frutas” at Guemes house

The Guemes house is a museum in tribute to Martín Miguel de Güemes (8 February 1785 – 17 June 1821). Güemes was a military leader who defended northwestern Argentina from the Spanish during the Argentine War of Independence. The museum is situated in the house where he used to live in Salta. After lunch we did some shopping and were able to buy ourselves a nice Tango cd. In the supermarket we were surprised to find almost anything for sale, even car tyres ??

Tyres for sale in a supermarket…hmm…not a common sight in South Africa

We also visited the local market. We decided not to try the complementary dinner again, instead making ourselves some nice fresh fruit salad (the kind of fruit salad we are accustomed to) and yoghurt.

Locals selling their products near the market. There is a definite increase in poverty in the Northwestern region of Argentina compared to the rest of the country.

We didn’t spend so much time in Salta to really appreciate the city, but we have seen Cafayate and were on our way to Humahuaca. Honestly we didn’t think Salta was such a beautiful city, but we think tourists rave more about the city due to the opportunities of day trips from Salta. The alternative option of San Salvador Jujuy is apparently not so nice. Our bus left Salta at around 10 am.

Cobus haven’t completely recovered from the flu yet, so we were thankful for the two more quiet days in a nice and clean hostel. Travelling is hard work 😉 and to give yourself a day off seems to be more important than we originally thought.

Mark 6:31

31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.

Cafayate (22 April 2012)

On our arrival in Cafayate, one of the local woman (a primary school teacher) whom we met on the bus, helped us to find our hostel. She advised us to rather take a taxi as it was already late and quite a distance to walk with backpacks. We arrived at our hostel, La Casona del Ser, at around 9 pm. The hostel is on the edge of town, with an almost farm feeling to it. The owner of the hostel did not receive our booking via hostelbookers, but fortunately had an empty dorm room available for the night. Although the mattresses were thin, we did not have any other option at that time of the night. We met another couple, Marianna and Max, in the common area of the hostel from Mexico and France and ended up chatting until about 4 am in the morning! Obviously we enjoyed their company a lot 🙂 After that the hard beds didn’t matter at all.

La Casona del Ser

It was great being in a small town again! The next morning we went with M&M to town, where they helped us to book a trip to see the Quebradas de las Conchas near Cafayate (they could speak Spanish). Afterwards, they went a different way as we went to a local restaurant for pizza and a glass of the local Torrontes white wine. The thin crust pizza with a lot of toppings was filling and the white wine was refreshing and definitely worth tasting – very fruity and sweet, almost like a fortified wine. Our Quebradas trip started just after lunch time, so we hurried back to the tour agency where two other people joined us on the trip. One of them was a lady from England, called Hillary, who helped to translate some of the trip as she could speak a little Spanish. The Quebrada de las Conchas nearby Cafayate are fascinating, beautiful rock formations. These formations were formed over years by wind, water and weather while the coloured layers are a result of the exposed minerals in these rocks.

The first stop on the trip in the Quebrada de las Conchas. In the bottom middle I discovered that Cobus is one of the X-men 🙂

Bottom left – Everyone seems to name something in their region “The Devils Throat”.

The various minerals inside the different rock layers result in different colourful patterns.

God’s canvas

We returned to our hostel just after 7pm. The plan was to have dinner together with Marianna and Max, but we all were so tired after the previous late night, so we stayed at the hostel. The next morning we went on a wine tasting tour visiting Bodega Nanni and Bodega El Transito. We really enjoyed tasting, among others, the different variations of Torrontes wine produced in the region. Some of the Malbec was also good. Nanni was a bit more professional and informative than El Transito, but both had some good wine.

Wine tasting in Cafayate with Marianna and Max

Next on our list was tasting some local food at the municipal local restaurant. Marianna introduced us to goat stew, humitas and tomales. Humitas is basically a mix of maize meal, different spices and cheese, and cooked within fresh corn leaves. Tomales are similar, but combined with meat, less spices and cooked within dry corn leaves. The goat stew and the humitas were both very tasty – a perfect combination of flavours. M&M had to catch a bus to Salta, so had to leave early. We hope to see them again somewhere along the gringo trail.

Goat stew, humita (left) and tomale (right). Humitas are cooked within fresh leaves, while tomales are cooked within dry leaves.

After our very tasty lunch, we walked to Cabras de Cafayate, the goat´s milk cheese farm approximately 2 km outside town. The road was beautiful, making it a definite worthwhile outing. At the farm they took us on an explanatory tour – from breeding and feeding the goats all the way to how they make the cheese. Some of their goats they imported from South Africa. They concluded the tour with a cheese tasting – they had some really nice cheeses!

Top – Cabras de Cafayate and a goat herd. Bottom – Mr Goat White from South Africa, and a very scary chicken

After the cheese tasting we stopped at the ice cream shop in order to taste some of the recommended sorbet in Malbec and Tannat flavours. It was good, but it’s like eating frozen wine, so a bit weird. We also went to the Alfajores shop. They have a great selection of Alfajores and they tasted great too – the best we’ve had so far! Even better than those from the Havanna shop…

For our third and last night in La Casona del Ser we were lucky to get a double room with a much better mattress than in the dorm room. The next morning we got a bus to Salta. The owner was so kind as to take us to the bus station in his very antique car 🙂  We had a good laugh on the way to the station – the car is very old, and the boot didn’t close anymore. The owner waited until we were in the bus to wave us goodbye before he went on his way again! 🙂

The proud owner of La Casona del Ser with his antique car

We enjoyed Cafayate a lot and would love to go back for the friendly small town atmosphere, the Alfajores, the wine, and the beautiful surroundings. The owner of La Casona del Ser was also a special person with a kind and gentle heart, someone who went out of his way to keep his customers happy – a quality not always found in the South American tourist industry. He actually gave us a huge discount for not having a room ready for us on the first night. Sometimes as a tourist in South America one feels so exploited having to pay gringo prices for almost everything, a lot of people trying to talk you into buying things you don’t need or want, people cheating, museum prices being 4 times more for tourists than for locals, etc. Therefore La Casona del Ser really surprised us. We wish the owner well and hope his hostel becomes very popular! We also had a great time with Marianna and Max with whom we would like to spend some more time.

I hope, as a christian, that part of our witness will also be that of gentleness and kindness.

Philippians 4:5

5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.

Buenos Aires (17 April 2012)

Our first overnight bus experience in Argentina was good. Compared to long distance busses in South Africa, the cama bus was a very comfortable way of travelling 15 hours to Buenos Aires (much more comfortable than the 14 hour flight from Dubai). Obviously if you expect a hotel in the form of a bus, you will be disappointed, as it’s still a bus. The Via Bariloche busses seemed to be all fairly new and comfortable. To our surprise, the prices quoted currently are more than double the prices listed in the Lonely Planet guide book for Argentina, which made it difficult to stay within their on-a-shoe-string-budget of $35 pppd. The cama bus from San Ignacio to Buenos Aires was about AR$500 pp compared to the listed price of ±AR$170 in the guide book.

We arrived in Buenos Aires around 9 am the following morning. The original plan was to stay with a fellow CouchSurfer again, but unfortunately our host had to go on a business trip. We therefore booked a room in Reina Madre Hostel in the Palermo district of the city (as the couple from Denmark recommended). The hostel is a family-run hostel, with some semi-permanent students living there. I think we were the only backpackers in the hostel at the time. The family was friendly and helpful, and the hostel was very clean. We stayed in the double room the first night (for a good sleep after the bus journey) and can recommend it – very comfortable bed!
Later the afternoon we went on a city walking tour covering the area from the San Martin square to the Recoleta area. Our guide shared some interesting stories about the city’s people and the aristocratic era of Buenos Aires. At the start of our trip we saw a photographer taking some “arty” pictures of a crazy guy climbing onto one of the statues. The guy threw a rope over one the horses and climbed on the horse in his “adamsgewaad”. Hahaha. A couple of minutes later the police were on the scene… On the tour we saw some of the aristocrat palaces. Wow, we couldn’t believe that so many families (over a 100) lived in these mansions, like they were kings, with loads of servants, hosting parties, etc. Today, only 1 of the mansions is still privately owned (by an old couple). The rest of the palaces are now either owned by the government, or used as embassies, hotels or museums. Our guide also shared some info with respect to plastic surgery in Buenos Aires – some medical plans have one free plastic surgery every two years! Apparently, like the Brazilians, Argentines are very conscious about their bodies, especially the Porteños (citizens of Buenos Aires). According to our guide there occurs about “100 boob jobs per day, uhm, that means 200 new boobies a day…?!”. We did not see so many tattoos as in Brazil though. During our tour we also passed the most expensive hotel in Buenos Aires, namely the Alvear hotel, with a min of US$800 and max of US$10000 per night. Ouch. Buenos Aires has the face of a European city – a lot of the buildings look like French / Italian / British buildings. Most of the Porteños have a European background, and the rest of Argentina tend to call them snobs. We also visited the Malvinas memorial – the Argentinians maintain that the British illegally occupies the Falkland Islands (which they call the Malvinas) and in a recent war in 1982 against Britain, they lost over 600 soldiers of which most were 18 year old boys serving their one year mandatory service.

Top, from left to right – entrance to the Recoleta cemetary; the Franciscan church building at night (at the end of our city tour); one of the 100 aristocrat palaces. Bottom, from left to right – legend has it that if you drink from this fountain, you will return to Buenos Aires, Cobus was hopeful :-); the crazy art guy before he got naked; a soldier at the Malvinas memorial; the Portenos call this little Big Ben (?!), not sure what the British make of this!

The next day we went to visit the Recoleta cemetary. On our way we encountered some of the professional dogwalkers – how in the world they manage to walk 10 dogs of different sizes at the same time is still a mystery to us!

The dogwalker with his dogs

The Recoleta cemetery is basicly the graveyard for the elite families in the history of Buenos Aires and includes the grave of the famous Evita. The mausoleums of the different families are more like artworks than anything else. Some of the statues are really amazing. But I must admit, we found it so strange, it’s as if they think too much of themselves – not all of them were actually SO important and contributed to the country and it’s people in significant ways. The Evita mausoleum (Duarte family), on the other hand, was not so impressive as some of the others. But maybe it fits her legacy – she maintained that she was there for the people, and not for the rich.

Mausoluems in the Recoleta cemetary. Bottom right – the grave of Eva Peron.

After wandering through all the graves, we went next door to the Franciscan church. It contained some interesting religious art and history. We also found one of the Gregorian music chant books inside – Cool!

An original Gregorian chant music book

The next stop was one of the big parks in Buenos Aires for a picknick lunch. After lunch we visited the Evita Peron museum. Some of the quotations from her biography actually sounds like she was an amazing woman. There may be another side to the story as some Argentines maintain, but who will really know her true motives except she and her Creator. We especially liked the following quotations:

I am the wife of the president of the Argentine people, but presidencies expire and in the end history does not remember a simple marriage bond, but rather an unselfish heart and an upright conscience.” – Eva Peron, L.R.A Radio Nacional, Feb 24th 1947

…I’ve erected this institution for social welfare’s sake – depriving it of any trace of charity – in the hopes that it’d become a banner of social justice. The poor are not cared for out of mercy or commiseration, but because they are also Argentine citizens who find themselves in despair, but who are as much worthy of attention as the rest of the citizenry.” – Eva Peron, July 6th 1949

Evita museum. Left – this is a parrot, but it is not applicable.

On our way home, we found Geri in a park nearby the museum making some friends while playing his game 🙂

Geri and his “non-imaginary” friends in the park

We returned to our hostel, relaxing the rest of the day and only went out to buy some food at the supermarket. At this point Cobus was rather sick with the flu, so we had to take it easy. We also decided to stay in a double room until he was better before moving to a dorm room.

We had a slow start the next morning and went to the city centre at around 12pm where we had our own “walking tour”. In the subway, someone tried to pickpocket Cobus – luckily Cobus didn’t have anything in his pockets and he just stared at the guy. The pickpocket put on his sunglasses (weird in the subway) and got off together with his friend at the next stop. We think the sunglasses were some sort of sign, like “I’ve been caught out” or “a dud”. We saw the unimpressive Obelisco and the very impressive Teatro Colon (although we didn’t pay the ridiculous gringo fee to see the inside – a ticket to an opera the following Sunday would have cost less, but unfortunately we left one day too early). We saw the famous Casa Rosada (meaning Pink House) where Evita delivered some of her well known speeches (next to the Plaza 25 de Mayo). Around the plaza were several other historic buildings. We also stumbled across a fairly new museum next to Casa Rosada, with interesting facts about the political history of Argentina. Unfortunately everything was in Spanish, so we had a hard time making sense of it.

Top, from left to right – Teatro Colon; the Obelisk; the Congress building; Casa Rosada. Bottom, from left to right – Plaza 25 de Mayo (it seems like every town in Argentina has a Plaza 25 de Mayo); the Cathedral outside and inside.

We returned to our hostel later the afternoon in time for a quick shower before we went to La Viruta, a closeby milonga, for some tango lessons. The first tango lesson was at 7pm, and we were glad we went early since the group was small and it was easy to follow the instructions. We had a great time figuring out the most basic tango steps – although my toes didn’t enjoy it so much! The Argentines wake up from their siesta late in the afternoon and only go out after 9pm. The group was much bigger during the second tango lesson at around 10pm, and it was difficult to find ones way around the dance floor. We also had a salsa lesson which was lots of fun. There was supposed to be a tango show later that night, however, at around 1am the Portenos were still on the dance floor enjoying themselves while we, the gringos, were getting tired (their late night energy is probably thanks to their long afternoon siesta). We left before the show started and waited for a bus in the hostel’s direction. There were fewer busses heading at that time of the night and we were freezing, so we decided to jump on a bus that we thought were going in more or less the right direction. It turned out, however, that we were heading towards an area that, according to our hostel owner are very dodgy late at night. We got off as soon as possible, and took the first taxi we saw back to our hostel.

The next morning started almost the same than the previous – very late. The late night tango and Cobus’s flu was not a good combination. We only had a few objectives for the day, which included the Tango museum, the two famous landmarks Puente de la Mujer and Floralis Genérica, and an Argentine steak for dinner. It turned out that the Tango museum was closed for renovations, but next to the museum we found Café Tortoni, one of the recommended places to visit in Buenos. Cobus had his first submarino (warm milk in which you desolve a chocolate bar) -yummee.

Cafe Tortoni – they also host tango shows during the evenings

Next on the list was Puente de la Mujer. On our way there, we bought our first Havanna Alfajores, a must try in Argentina. Havanna makes some of the best Alfajores, which is basically dulce de leche (similar to caramel treat) between two cookies covered with meringue or chocolate.

Alfajores – yummee!

When we arrived at Puente de la Mujer, we realised it doesn’t look so impressive during the day compared to the pictures we’ve seen taken by night. Next on our list was the Floralis Genérica. We managed to find a bus close to the Obelisco going in the direction of the flower. The flower is an impressive piece of art. It opens in the morning at sunrise and close at sundown, mimicking a real flower.  We concluded our last night in Buenos Aires with an Argentinian steak at La Doritas. We ordered the special 600g steak for two with salsa, papas fritas and salad. Although it was very tender and perfectly prepared, we were not overly impressed as the meat lacked flavour (maybe our expectation was too high). We’ve had much more tasty steaks in South Africa, but it is possible that we ordered a less tasty cut – in Argentina they don’t have the same cuts than elsewhere. It is difficult to distinguish for example between sirloin and fillet. The bus journey home was less “eventful” than the previous night’s wild goose chase, and it was not long before we were safe and sound in bed.

Puente de la Mujer, Floralis Generica, and Cobus enjoying his steak.

Our last day in Buenos Aires was reserved for the two Buenos Aires suburbs San Telmo and La Boca. We only had until 4pm before we had to return to our hostel to pick up our luggage and head for the bus terminal. In San Telmo we quickly realised that nothing really happens there, except on Sundays when there is an antique market. We decided to go onwards to La Boca straight away and found it much more alive (with the sound of music, la la la la, hehe. No really, there was a lot of music). The bus dropped us off just in time to see the last part of a live Tango street performance. Cool! We spent some time walking through the open air museum and market, on the way buying a different brand of Alfajores which was almost as tasty as the Havanna brand. The tourist section of La Boca is definitely worth a visit – colourful buildings, live music and tango, and in general a nice vibe. According to a small museum,  the sailor community of La Boca used the left over paint of ships to paint their houses – usually one colour was not enough for a whole building and therefore most houses were covered by two or three different colours. Today this custom is continued to attract tourists. Deeper into La Boca it becomes more dangerous and even the touristic parts are not open at night. We left colourful La Boca after enjoying a little picnic at the docks (I have to admit that the bread/buns and viennas in Argentina are not very tasty).

La Boca. Top left – the real tango. Top right – the fake tango.

We took a bus back to our hostel to pick up our bags, and then headed straight for the bus terminal. We managed to book an overnight cama bus to Tucuman with the Vosa company, who had a special going of AR$370 pp instead of the usual AR$500 pp. The Vosa bus was not as comfortable as the Via Bariloche bus, but is was still decent and the bus food was slightly better.

We arrived in Tucuman the next morning and decided to go onwards to Cafayate the same day (Tucuman did not seem like a very pretty town, but we only saw the older part of the town around the bus terminal). The semi-cama bus to Cafayate left at 2pm and Lonely Planet said it would only take 4 hours to our destination. It turned out to be an 8 hour drive up to Cafayate. At least the scenery along the way was beautiful!

I have to admit, our experience in Buenos Aires wasn’t so positive compared to Rio. With the exception of the tango experience, we felt like tourists in another big city that is great for shopping and has some nice landmarks. The CouchSurfing at Marcos and Ludmilla made our stay in Rio much more special. It is amazing how people contribute to ones experience of a place (and I guess life as well). It’s almost as if they let you see the place (or life) through different eyes. Buenos Aires and Rio, like most other cities, has their own problems of poverty, crime and polution. The atmosphere in Rio, however, was different and more relaxed. Almost, if I may, like Cape Town compared to Johannesburg. We are so thankful that nothing bad happened to us in Buenos Aires compared to so many other tourists visiting the city.

Psalm 30:12

12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

Psalm 91:2

2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”

San Ignacio (15 April 2012)

The cheapest bus we could get to San Ignacio (AR$47 pp) left Puerto Iguazu at 15h30 (so we had to wait a few hours at the bus station). We arrived in San Ignacio 4 hours later and went in search of the Adventure Hostal (a more or less 1.5 km walk up and downhill with our backpacks – not too bad). We booked a dorm room, and luckily no one else shared the room with us.

We went in search of a place to eat or an open supermarket, however, San Ignacio is a typical small town where everything is closed after 5pm. Luckily we did find a small local restaurant, and ordered a Napolitana (pollo) – which is a (very large) chicken fillet, covered with a (very large) piece of ham, tomato paste and cheese.

The biiig Napolitana

The next morning during breakfast (toast,cake, dulce de leche, coffee) a green Katydid decided to join us. The insect looks like a leaf!

A green katydid sharing our breakfast 🙂

The reason for going to San Ignacio was obviously the San Ignacio Mini Jesuit mission (which we went to the next morning). It is one of the best preserved missions in the Misiones province of Argentina (all the missions in this province were destroyed in the years following the expelsion of the Jesuits). One of my favourite movies, “The Mission”, relates the story of when Spain expelled the Jesuits from the missions. I was rather dissappointed to learn that the only part of the movie filmed in the Misiones district of Argentina was at the Iguazu falls. The rest of the movie was apparently filmed in Colombia!

A model representation of the Jesuit mission

The San Ignacio ruines. Top left is the living quarters of the Guarani. The rest is from the church building. In the bottom middle – they first built the sceleton of the buildings with a very hard type of wood, afterwhich they filled it with stones.

One tree has grown around the remains of a pillar that was once part of the San Ignacio Mini mission. At the right, the pillar is just visible inside the tree.

I was impressed by what the Jesuits managed to do at the missions. They seemed to have a fairly modern approach in the way they integrated the two vastly different cultures. They respected Guarani culture, learning from them, learning their language, and taught them about Christianity in the Guarani context. They used different art forms (music, dance, sculpting, painting, etc) which the Guarani could relate to, since in the Guarani culture music and dance was also the way in which they communicated their history and religion. The Jesuits were also clever in maintaining that, since the Guarani were living in towns, they were Spanish citizens and could not be exploited as slaves. The missions were therefore also a safe haven for the Guarani people.

We enjoyed reading about the Guarani culture and beliefs. They were very respectful of the forest and animals, living by the rule of never taking more than they need (I wish more cultures were like that). We found an interesting story which sounded like a Guarani version of Noah’s ark:

The Guarani version of Noah’s ark

The religious beliefs of the Guarani reminded of some texts in the Bible, and I think the Jesuits could easily have explained the Biblical story by comparison. For example the following two quotes from Guarani texts:

When the earth did not exist, amidst the ancient darkness, when nothing was known, He made the fundamental word open like flower, and, with Him, it divinely became Heaven; this Namandu did, the true father, the first one.

The Guarani knew he had to die and was not afraid of death, but his ideal was those people who, on reaching a certain level of perfection, without dying would pass straight onto that land without evil where plants grow abundantly and without needing attention and where feasting and dancing never cease, and no one gets tired…

We met a couple from Denmark at the missions, who shared their experiences in Argentina with us – it’s always helpful to talk to fellow travellers! They just came from Buenos Aires, where they stayed in the San Telmo district. They enjoyed staying in the lovely, old neighbourhood, however, they were mugged during the day, and lost their camera. They advised us to rather stay in the Palermo area, since they’ve heard of other travellers also being mugged in broad daylight in La Boca and San Telmo the past few months.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the town, waiting for the 6pm overnight bus to Buenos Aires.

Old cars everywhere…Awesome!

It was nice to spend some time in a small town again. As in so many small towns in South Africa, the people were warm and friendly. We found the story of the mission both interesting, and sad. Sad to learn about how the Guarani were almost destroyed by the Spanish and Portugese. Sad to learn how something like the cross-cultural Jesuit missions had to suffer due to silly people in powerful positions feeling threatened by the mostly good relationship between the Jesuits and the Guarani and the growth in power of the missions. We’re not sure if the Guarani texts were from after the missionaries or before, but it reminded me of the following verses from Romans:

Romans 2:12-17

“12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ…”

Iguazu / Iguaçu / Iguazú (12 April 2012)

We were rather glad that we booked a flight to Foz do Iguaçu, the city on the Brazillian side of Iguaçu Cataratas (Iguazu Waterfalls), instead of going by bus. We arrived at our hostel between 3 and 4pm. The hostel, Iguazu Guest House,  is a good, clean hostel which we would recommend, except that it may be a bit noisy late at night. We stayed in Foz do Iguaçu for three nights. Although we did not look for a hostel in Puerto Iguazú (the town on the Argentinian side of the falls), it did seem to be a little bit nicer to reside in compared to Foz.The day after our arrival we were on our way to the falls and decided to visit the Argentinian side first, although some people advised us to rather see the Brazilian side first. According to them, the Argentinian side is more impressive and it is best to leave the best for last. Instead of going by taxi, we took the cheaper public transport (bus) across the border. There are two main bus companies doing the trip across the border. The busses drop you off at the Brazilian border control and drive on. Once you managed to get a stamp on your passport, you have to wait for a bus from the same bus company to get to the Argentinian border control. We got tired of waiting and thought it won´t be to far to walk across to the Argentinian side. It turned out to be a more than 3 km hike (our bus company passed us 400 m from the border control).

Hiking in no man´s land, across the border

At the Argentinian side, after getting our passports stamped again, we took a bus from another company so had to pay the fee again. The bus dropped us off at the Puerto Iguazú bus terminal, from where you have to take another local bus to the Iguazú National Park. In total, the journey from our hostel to the entrance of the park took about 2 hours. If you opt for the hassle free option of going with an organised tour (R$50 pp), the journey time is between 30 and 45 minutes, since they wait for you at the border controls. If you want to save money, the bus journey is looonnng, but quite an experience… we had some nice conversations with fellow travellers from Germany, Peru, the United States and Britain.

Waiting for our bus again... at least we had some American/Brittish/German entertainment 🙂

We booked a Gran Adventure boat trip at the park, which includes a sight seeing trip through the forest before getting into the boat. The trip through the forest was interesting, but we thought the extra money we paid didn’t justify the trip. The boat trip on the other hand was a lot of fun. They actually go so close to one of the waterfalls that you’re almost right underneath it. Obviously, the resultant is super soaking wet passengers, especially for us sitting in the first row.

The Gran Adventure. In the bottom right picture you can see why everyone on the boat is soaking wet afterwards...

After the boat trip, we did some of the hiking trails beneath, above and around the numerous waterfalls (they call it the lower and upper circuit routes), and then took the Tren Ecológico de la Selva (Rainforest Ecological Train) up to the biggest waterfall, called Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s throat), which to me was the highlight of the day (the boat trip was to Cobus the most exciting part of the day). It was an incredible experience standing there at the lookout point watching tons of water tumbling over the edge with the mist rising up to 150 metres. I didn’t want to leave, but we had to catch the last train back to the entrance and return to Foz by bus.

The Argentinian side of the falls

Wildlife spotted: Ring-tailed coati, a giraffe (?!), lizard, antelope and very curious weird bird.

Hundreds of beautiful butterfly species can be seen all over the park.

The following day was a bit cloudy, but we still decided to visit the Brazilian side of the falls. It turned out to be a good decision as we saw a lot of things we didn’t see on the other side, including a panoramic view of the falls, some close up views of other waterfalls, and a wild armidillo (which made Cobus’ day – its one of those things he always wanted to see).

The armadillo!

We were glad we did the Brazilian side second – it was definitely not less impressive than the Argentinian side. It was a nice progression from being close to the waterfalls on the Argentinian side and to then see the grand overview in Brazil. On the Brazilian side there is a walkway along the canyon with an extension to the lower base of the Devil’s Throat. You get soaked by the spray when standing there. Most people put on a rain coat on the Brazilian side of the Devil’s Throat, but we thought it much more fun getting wet!

The Brazilian side of the falls

We also went to the Parque das Aves (Bird Park) next to the Iguaçu National Park. We are not really fond of looking at animals in cages, however, we enjoyed visiting the bird park. Rare and colourful birds are able to fly in huge aviaries which have been built to blend in with the humid subtropical forest. Visitors can enter some of these areas to enjoy the bird even more. The focus of the park is on environmental conservation, to reintroduce species into protected areas, and to promote the breeding of species in danger of extinction. The smaller cages are only used for the purposes of breeding and rehabilitation. We were thrilled watching the Parrots, Macaws and Toucans flying all around us. We were so excited about seeing so many different kinds of Toucans – our childhood days of eating fruitloops only fimiliarised us with one kind!

Different kinds of toucans. Top right: "Koppie krap"

Cobus looses a button

We concluded our day with a “per kilo” buffet dinner at a nearby restaurant. Good value for money… it’s like eating at the Neelsie in Stellenbosch (with some better variety and some better tasting food).

The next day we took up the border challenge again, but this time we were more informed and we even met some bewildered Peruvians who we could guide through the process. At Puerto Iguazu bus station we booked a bus to San Ignacio, a 4 hour journey south.

Smuggling a Peruvian family across the border (hehehe)

Sitting, waiting, wishing ...

One of my prayers is that God will continue to make Himself known to us in unexpected ways and places and in everyday throughout our lives journey. A woman chanting “Cuán grande es Él” in Spanish on our way back from the waterfalls was definitely one such moment which I cherish. I can’t think of a better way to conclude this post than with the (English) lyrics of the amazing song:

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Refrain:
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;

How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Refrain

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin:

Refrain

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art!

Refrain