Marta's Photo Album of South America, August 2011

South America
August 2011

Getting there
We departed Johannesburg on the services of SAA at 09H45. The flight to Buenos Aires in total would be eleven hours and twenty minutes. One is allowed 1 piece of checked in luggage weighing 23kgs in economy class. There are no individual screens, only communal ones down the centre of the aircraft. There was a choice of fish or beef and a great selection of drinks, together with friendly service on board. A good book and Ipod is recommended on the long flight. We landed in Buenos Aires at 16H30.

Buenos Aires

Despite its European connections, Buenos Aires has a flavour of its own. Fabulous wines, endless nightlife, friendly locals, the best steak and rock bottom prices, which is what life in Buenos Aires is all about.

Buenos Aires' physical structure is a mosaic as varied and diverse as its culture. The city has no dominating monument, no natural monolith that serves as its focal point. Instead, Buenos Aires is composed of many small places, intimate details, and tiny events and interactions, each with a slightly different shade, shape, and character. Glass-sheathed skyscrapers cast their slender shadows on 19th century Victorian houses; tango bars hazed with the piquant tang of cigar smoke face dusty, treasure-filled antique shops across the way.

The city's neighbourhoods are small and highly individualized, each with its own characteristic colors and forms. In the San Telmo district, the city's multinational heritage is embodied in a varied and cosmopolitan architecture - Spanish Colonial design couples with Italian detailing and graceful French Classicism. La Boca's pressed tin houses are painted a rainbow of colors, and muralists have turned the district's side-streets into avenues of color.

For all its diversity, the elusive spirit of Argentina as a country is present everywhere in Buenos Aires. The national dance, the tango, is perhaps the best expression of that spirit--practiced in dance halls, parks, open plazas, and ballrooms, it is a dance of intimate separation and common rhythm, combining both an elegant reserve and an exuberant passion.

The Province of Buenos Aires invites you to the countryside and its traditions, the sun and the sea, the serenity and the adventure, the delta and its mysteries. There are estancias (large cattle ranches) featuring a great deal of architectural styles, located in the middle of the Pampas.

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Hotel Madero Buenos Aires

This stylish hotel is situated in Puerto Madero and overlooks the river. Warmth, privacy and style is what this hotel is about. There are 197 spacious rooms all with a balcony and are fully equipped and include a mini bar.

The area itself is extremely safe and has superb shopping as well as a fantastic selection of great restaurants on the river front. The food at breakfast of the freshest quality with a fantastic selection of fruits, cold meats, cheeses and fabulous little cakes for which South America is famous for, all beautifully displayed on the buffet.

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What to do

Do not miss visiting the good deal of museums in the city, nor attending the horse racing in the Palermo course, a polo tournament or a pato game (a typically Argentine horseback sport.)

My favourite art gallery was the Colleccion De Arte Amalia Lacroze De Fortabat. This gallery is located in the Puerto Madero district and houses an Andy Warhol, Peiter Brughel, Egyptian pieces and a collection of famous local artists. And nothing beats taking a walk in the Palermo forest, the Rosedal (rose garden) and having tea in the Japanese Gardens or the Café Tortoni, the latter being the oldest literary café in Buenos Aires, located downtown.

On Sundays, one extra attraction is to go to the antique market in the SanTelmo neighborhood. We enjoyed an entire morning in San Telmo, walking through the antique stalls selling real antiques rather than old items of junk. We stopped at a Tango House in the area and had a glass of wine at the tables on the pavement. The music and atmosphere in the area is enchanting.

In the city there are countless grillrooms where the best meat in the world is served, as well as restaurants from all over the world. The neighborhoods where the greatest number of restaurants can be found are Recoleta, Puerto Madero, Palermo Viejo, Palermo Hollywood, Las Cañitas and Costanera Norte. We enjoyed lunch at La Cabrera in Palermo hosted by Quarum Travel. The steak here has to be the best in Buenos Aires. The fare is based on traditional dishes. Every main course order is accompanied with their trademark array of many small, varied side dishes (at no extra cost) .These side dishes range from complimentary sauces (depending on what you have ordered), to couscous, mashed potato with mustard, tomatoes in sauce, calabaza (quash) puree, sweet pickled garlic, sundried tomatoes, guacamole, and so on.

In Buenos Aires there are very many movie theaters and theaters. The Colón Theater - one of the world's finest opera houses - the Teatro Colon a huge coliseum with an exceptional acoustics which offers international level concerts, opera and ballet.

Another must see is Recoleta Cemetary - Eva Peron (Evita) is buried there after her remains endured quite an adventure. Her dead body was stolen, copied, hidden, and then stolen again.

You cannot go to Buenos Aires without seeing a Tango Show. I recommend El Querandi. This big old house has been established since 1867 in the historic centre of the city. Founded in 1920 as a bar and was then restored in 1992. It is now considered by the Buenos Aires City Museum as a living evidence of the civic memory and the most remarkable bar. The atmosphere is intimate and can accommodate up to 200 people in private tables serving a delicious international A la carte cuisine. The show is spectacular, most passionate and truly romantic. We had done a wine tasting in the cellar under the building, this was most enjoyable as we had the opportunity of learning about Argentinian wines which are mostly drank as young wines, having great appeal.

Buenos Aires is a haven for tourists who love to go shopping, particularly leather items, hand-crafted silverwork, clothes and antiques. Florida Street and Santa Fe Avenue offer the greatest number of boutiques and stores. Also, there are luxurious shopping malls in the main neighborhoods.

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Side Trips and Day Tours: Estantia El Ombu

The following morning after a lovely breakfast we were collected by the guide from Quarum Travel for our trip to Estancia El Ombu. In the late 19th century, well to do European families bought huge blocks of pampas, land on which to build estancias, often with luxurious houses reminiscent of the old country. The advent of industrial agriculture has led many estancias to turn to tourism for income. This Estancia is over one hundred years old and the main building dates back to the late 1800’s.

The comfortable ride took an hour and a half, past the outskirts of the city. On arrival we were greeted by the hostess and shown around the ranch. We were able to ride the beautiful horses that they have there. They are very muscular and strong and very well looked after. After our ride we enjoyed a typical Asada which is an outdoor barbeque prepared with the finest beef steaks and black pudding, chicken and traditional potato salad. This is washed down with a robust red Argentinian wine. During this feast we were entertained by the resident gauchos with songs and a riding show. A siesta is recommended afterwards or a nice walk in the grounds or a great ride on the pampas.

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Tigre and The Parana Delta

Tigre is 30km northwest of Buenos Aires by car through the shady riverside suburbs to the river port town. On arrival we walked past some lovely old houses and a church in the area prior to boarding our little boat. The delta is a vast maze of canals and tributaries expanding out like the veins of a leaf. The waterways and close packed islands are punctuated by chichi houses and luxuriant foliage. After our boat ride we drove to Villa Julia’s which is on the island. We had a great lunch in a traditional style dining room with beautiful furniture and of course excellent cuisine and service once again.

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Uruguay - Colonia

It is great to catch a ferry across the Rio de la Plata and within one hour you are in another country Uruguay. You can board at the Buquebus terminal at the northern end of Puerto Madero, it is recommended that you book well in advance as the ferry is mostly booked. On board at the duty free, one can purchase the most fantastic cosmetics and perfumes at the best price compared to any duty free anywhere in the world.

On embarkation you can do the trip to Colonia in one day. The best sightseeing in Colonia is by simply walking on the peaceful cobbled streets through its old town, founded in 1680. The food is wonderful at the many restaurants in the area. We had cheese and wine in a quaint little establishment near the river. The shops are very colourful and quirky with lots of interesting objects to look at and purchase.

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In Conclusion
South America is very diverse offering imposing landscapes, a variety of climates and much to attract foreign visitors. The name Argentina means silver. The origin of this name goes back to the first Spanish conquerors to the Rio de la Plata. The vast Argentian territory has a diversity of landscapes, where ice fields contrast with arid zones, mountains with great valleys, fluvial streams and lakes with large oceans, broad grassy plains with woods and forests. The country’s territory offers a wide variety of climates, sub tropical in the North and sub Antarctic in the Southern Patagonia, and mild and humid in the pampas plains. The current population of Argentina is 40 million inhabitants almost half of which live in Buenos Aires. Spanish is the official language. There is complete religious freedom, with Roman Catholics being the majority.

General Info and Tips
Visas are not required for South African passport holders to Argentina. A Yellow fever vaccination is compulsory. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the return date.

Money changing facilities are available at most hotels, but the rate is slightly better at the airport on arrival. Travel with US dollars cash as these are also accepted for payments at hotels. Travellers cheques are not widely accepted The local currency is the Peso. Do not convert more money than you need. Do not wear valuable jewellery as this attracts attention and you could find you no longer have it.

Special Thanks
A very special thanks to all the wonderful people who made our stay in South America so unforgettable.