A week in Buenos Aires

26 February 2013. We arrive in Buenos Aires at 8.30am after being served breakfast on our VIP 20 hour bus trip from Iguazu Falls.

A walk and a run around the docklands area of Buenos Aires

A walk and a run around the docklands area of Buenos Aires

We’d hoped to go via Uruguay but scouring forums and blogs for information on this route suggested complicated stops and connections with people being stranded at quiet border towns for half the night and having to hitch. Didn’t really fancy this with three tired kids and all our bags! More

Flat Stanley at Iguazu Falls

I loved Iguazu Falls. It was one of my favourite places in South America. I thought it was going to be like the waterfall in the film UP because in that film the old man has a dream of going to some waterfalls in South America but Iguazu is much bigger.

Me, Ben, Lara and Flat Stanley

Me, Ben, Lara and Flat Stanley

I took Flat Stanley to see Iguazu. More

Iguazu Wonders and Wildlife

We were at Iguazu for a few days. We stayed in Argentina and just across the river Iguazu were Brazil and Paraguay. It was wet and jungly rainforest which we hadn’t seen for a while after being in the Andes. Each day we were in a different country. We crossed the borders about 10 times in a week!  Here are some of my highlights and favourite pictures and wildlife!

Brazil

You can visit the Falls in Brazil and Argentina. We started in Brazil.  This was pretty much my first view of the falls. It looked amazing but even more amazing when we got on the boat a few days later. We could see the boats down in the river going under the falls!

Me at Iguasu!

Me at Iguazu!

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Iguazu Falls – where Argentina meets Brazil and Paraguay

Iguazu Falls panorama. Showing just a fraction of the Falls which includes 275 indivdual cascades amidst multiple islands.

Iguazu Falls  – just a fraction of the Falls which includes 275 individual cascades amidst multiple islands.

Iguassu (or Iguazu, or Iguacu Falls) is so incredible it deserves its 3 spellings, or more, if you include versions with or without accents. Then there’s Puerto Iguazu in Argentina and Foz do Iguacu just across the border in Brazil, the towns and airports in the midst of the rainforest, stopping off points for the Falls.

About to get under the Iguazu falls!

About to get under the Iguazu falls!

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A taste of wine and crime in Mendoza.

aka – Visiting Argentina’s wine region with kids plus babysitter!

We arrive in Mendoza, Argentina at 5am. Our bus is about 6 hours late! With super sleepy kids and feeling  exhausted too we gather our bags and our wits and wonder if you can get any cash or a cab at this time. A money changer offers me 6 pesos to the dollar to change a $20 bill – I know the exchange rate is 5 so I’m baffled but accept and am cautious to check all the notes I get. We soon discover there is another exchange rate – it’s called the ‘dollar blue’ aka the black market rate! There is a daily published ‘dollar blue rate’ on the internet – it’s about 7:1 at this point and climbing – more on this and how much of a difference it makes to us later!  Argentina’s economy is in crisis (perhaps as a distraction  President Christina Kirchner is making a lot of noise about the Falklands aka The Malvinas) again and so we’re cautious about the reception we’ll get here!

We find a friendly cabbie who is happy to shoehorn the six of us plus luggage into his taxi! (interesting feat) and take us to our pleasant Aparthotel Tunkelen. Determined to get some value from our paid night of accommodation not to mention being bushed, we drive the now wide-awake kids into bed and sleep till 11am,. Of course we miss breakfast but the rooftop pool is wonderful when we finally wake up.

The rooftop pool and Royal Pavillion ?

The rooftop pool and Royal Pavillion ?

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Crossing the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina

15 February 2013. Our whistle-stop city break in Santiago is done. We ride the Metro for the first time to find yet another sushi restaurant. Its our first subway ride in S America and a bit of an adventure.

Underground and overground - last morning in Santiago.

Underground ,overground – last morning in Santiago.

We stop for sushi, grab Starbucks coffee, then back at the hotel to collect luggage but find it’s locked in a room with a sign on the door :

‘Gone to lunch-back in an hour’ !!

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Speeding south through La Serena to Santiago

Chile. 11 February 2013.
Seven months today since we flew to South America to begin our family gap year and we arrive in La Serena, Chile, our first taste of coastal Chile, on a rather uncomfortable, but bearable 16 hour overnight bus south from Calama, dropping down 2400m from the heights of the Atacama desert. We’ve finally escaped San Pedro and the floods having missed all the amazing trips we’d hoped to do and having to head back through Calama, seeing evidence of where the road was washed right away as the bus queues to get around the missing carriageway.

Th San Pedro to Calama road is washed away

Th San Pedro to Calama road is washed away

The challenge of how to cross the Andes to Argentina

The challenge of how to cross the Andes to Argentina

Plan A had been to take a bus from San Pedro to Salta – we’d even bought our tickets but got a refund when we knew the pass was going to be closed at least a week due to snow. Plan B is to try our luck with the pass from La Serena to Mendoza.

We had ‘semi-cama’ seats (meaning half-bed). Not exactly what I’d call a half bed but they do recline quite well – and are smart by the standards we’re used to. The kids and Martin (sleep anywhere) slept happy enough –  Erika and I found it a bit tough and feel stiff and sleep deprived! ‘Cama’ is a bigger, better recliner, often in the downstairs with semi-cama upstairs. We’re looking forward to trying cama! Maybe next time!

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Flooded in San Pedro de Atacama (the desert!)

We survived our 2 nights in Calama or ’Calamity’ as our friends named it after losing an iPhone. We actually stayed in the same apartment but were super careful not to leave anything. It seems that forgetting an item in a hotel room is like leaving a tip for the cleaners. Only a few days ago Mo left a fleece and socks in Hotel Magia in Uyuni, we went back to ask and were told to return in an hour. Only later we discovered the fleece had several ‘personal’ items in the pockets as it had no doubt been keeping someone else warm! Still, good outcome as we’d had a dispute about the already expensive bill which they’d tried to double! The socks were ’thrown away’, we returned the favour with their ‘pawn’ on a USB drive. (post script – missing socks found in Mo’s dirty washing bag!).

For a booming mining town the Calama centre is pretty strange. More

Back to Chile after 21 years

4th February 2013. Our bus from Uyuni in Bolivia to Calama in Chile leaves at 4am so we are up at 3am to get out of ‘El Salvador’, our less than salubrious hostal. My suggestion of just going for a late dinner and and crashing on a park bench hadn’t been met by much (any) enthusiasm and our 3 bed, £9.50 room with rather basic facilities was a bit of a climb down from the 4* Salt Hotel the day before. I am quietly satisfied that BZL share beds and sleep on the floor with few complaints, better to view a comfy bed as a luxury to be appreciated rather than an entitlement that the loss of ruins your day.

The Bolivian Chilean border

The Bolivian Chilean border

We are out the door at 3.29am to cross the road to the bus office, very glad that another gap year lesson of not unpacking everything each time you stop seems to be hitting home. ’Lazy Lara’ yet again refuses to carry her rucksack, no excuse as it only weighs 2.5kg, kind Dad having swapped her clothes for the kids life jackets. 2 years ago she carried a far heavier one in Cambodia like a trooper. I think the problem is a combination of being the youngest and a touch spoiled plus her force of nature personality that means she generally gets her own way and pushes the boundaries. Maybe I am a bit cynical (moi?) but I think she has worked out that ’Mummy, I’m tired’ is a great way of getting your bag, and often Lara, carried! One to work on.

The 12ish hour journey with Trans Azul has cost us 750 Bolivianos or £14/head (interestingly the ticket says 700BS so the lady in the bus office has made a quick 50BS, about half a day’s salary, I bet she loves this job!).

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