I had promised Martha a trip to South America. We chose Gate 1 again as a tour company since we were pleased with their tour to India. We opted for our own airplane arrangements since theirs was out of Miami. We set it up so we’d arrive in Rio a day before the tour began and have an extra 2 days in Buenos Aires after the tour.
Before the trip I had looked for something to do in Rio and found their amazing opera house which was showing a very nice concert/opera/dance combination. I tried everything but failed to get tickets in advance. Naturally, when we got there it was sold out. So we settled for the guided tour. I still don't know how to get tickets in advance to this kind of stuff.
We heard of a place for lunch that we should visit while we were downtown near the opera house. We spent over an hour looking for the Cafiteria Colombo, asking the nice folks of Rio to direct us, discovering that almost no one spoke English, but that people almost without exception tried to help. After some drastic navigation errors, we got close, and then happened across a woman who knew where it was and spoke some English. We follower her directions and found it. The Confieteria Colombo is an amazing institution. On one side, a pastry shop with little informal tables, but the other side a grand art nouveau gallery serving elegant meals.
Rio was everything we expected. The people were friendly, though not many speak English and we don't have any Portuguese except "abrigado" (thank you). Martha & I really don't do the beach scene but it was still fun to walk along Copacobana and look at all the sun people. The bathing suits were amazingly skimpy, both for women and for men. They do let it all hang out with their dental floss bikinis and their speedos. It's a very athletic scene with volley ball, football (soccer), and soccer volleyball where the ball goes over the net but without hands or arms.
The vendors were impressive - one with an umbrella of hats, another which took me a second to figure out – an umbrella of bikinis. Ipanema is next to Copacabana and each is quite a large expanse of sand. Copacabana is lined with hotels so the beachgoers are not quite as young and good looking as at Ipanima where the locals, rich and poor, all go on the weekend.
Our tour provided an excursion to Corcovado mountain, location of the Christ the Redeemer statue, iconic symbol of Rio. We rode up the steep incline on the cogged tram which goes through the jungle areas and past some favelas, the slum areas built on the hills of Rio. Apparently in the past the favelas have been the scene of drug wars and other violence and crime, but according to the tour guide that has been reduced a lot. At the top are impressive views of Rio, but I never quite got the topography into my head. There are multiple mountains and multiple sides and bays, etc. and I never quite knew where I was. But on a tour, you don’t have to know.
I wish now that we had been able to look into some of the favelas – they do have tours of them now that the violence has been suppressed. There are new cable cars that enable the favelas residents to get down to the part of the city where the jobs are.
The next day we went to Sugarloaf mountain, this time two cable cars. The first takes you to an intermediate peak, then another to the top of Sugarloaf. Great views, but different, and we could see Ipanema and Copacabana – I think. Rio seemed very safe; lots of police everywhere. While walking the long way from Ipanema to our hotel near Copacabana, we saw some excited police activity – several beefy fellows with billy clubs arriving by car and running toward the shoreline across the crowded. We then say their target, a vendor (probably unlicensed) pulling his cart as fast as he could along the beach trying to get away. If this is the worst crime, then it’s all pretty benign.
We took a plane then to Iguazu Falls, landing at a small airport on the Brazil side. We immediately began our tour of the falls from the Brazilian side of the river. It was raining lightly and I invested $2.50 wisely in a plastic poncho. Martha had her poncho left over from Ireland. Approaching the falls there was rain and mist in the air so everything not under plastic was wet. I still managed to sneak my camera out and get some pictures.
The falls were an amazing surprise. If they hadn’t been part of the tour, I probably wouldn’t have gone, but now I’m very glad to have seen them. You approach them on a trail, and you see more and more of them as you proceed. At no point could we see the whole expanse of falls. They cover 2 ½ miles in width, much wider than Niagara and Victoria falls.
The Iguazu river begins at Puerto Iguazu where it branches off the giant Parana river, second in size to the Amazon. Upstream of Iguazu, the Itaipu Dam was built by Brazil & Paraguay in the early 80’s forming the world’s largest hydroelectric project, second now only to the 3 gorges dam in China. The Itaipu falls are no longer in existence.
After walking on the Brazilian side we crossed the border into Argentina. The town of Puerto Iguazu exists primarily for tourists and our hotel there was a very nice. The next day we toured the Argentine side of the river. The sun came out off and on, it didn’t rain, and it was much better for photograpy. There was still mist from the falls, but with a few exceptions, it was going away from us.
Walking the trails along the Argentine side, one discovers view after spectacular view. The sun in the mist showed rainbows, and with falls in the foreground and in the distance, palm trees and jungle surrounding, it looked like a postcard image of Shangri-la. Spectacularly beautiful!
Next day we flew out of the local Argentine airport to Buenos Aires. When our little group of 12 arrived at our hotel, we relaxed in the lobby as the baggage and rooms were sorted out. A older well dressed gentleman sat down with us and we though little of it. Soon we discovered he had taken one of the carryon bags and left the hotel with it. The couple who’s bag was stolen had to visit the police etc, but passports and money were not lost. But it reminded me that thieves don’t have to look like thieves.
Buenos Aires is a huge bustling city of 14 ½ million (including outlying areas). Flying in to the local airport, versus the international airport which is a long way out of town, you can see tall buildings that go on for miles in all directions. It’s huge! They have subways and busses, but taxis are easy and not very expensive. When travelling we usually rely on ATM’s and don’t bring much cash. This was a tactical error for Argentina. Their Peso is quite weak, and while the official exchange rate is 5.x to the dollar, the rate you can get from money changers is over 8 to the dollar. So businesses give you a substantial discount if you have dollars. Martha did change some dollars and was directed to an “unofficial” money changer who had a little booth with a few dark glasses for sale, a flimsy front for his real business.
Our tour hotel was on Avenida Corrientes, a major thoroughfare and their equivalent of 42nd street in New York. All the shows and entertainment was there, advertized with bright lights and giant signs. One of the most popular was Violetta, a Disney Latin America phenomenon, the actress appearing in person. You never saw so many little girls of all ages, dressed in their Violetta garb and carrying their Violetta merchandise.
After the tour portion of the trip ended, we changed hotels to a much less expensive one, but only a block and ½ away. We dragged our luggage there with no problem, and the hotel was quite satisfactory. We found that a very cheap and filling meal is empanadas (10 Pesos $2 each) and a liter of beer (about 60 Pesos $12). This and pasta was our main meal, though we had some meaty meals as part of the tour. On the street of our cheaper hotel, the main business was selling used electronics, jewelry, & cameras. I thought I could get a bargain so I found a zoom lens to fit my camera and spent my last Pesos. It turned out that it wasn’t that much of a bargain, and that hitting the ATM again I ended up with at least one counterfeit 100 Peso note. I discovered this trying to buy ice cream at the airport, the ice cream lady refusing to take the note. I was able to buy ice cream at a different location. Apparently the banks don’t catch the fakes and I wonder how many others I’d been passing around.
As an optional part of tour went to a tango show and enjoyed that immensely. Later, on our own, we went to a milonga, a tango club, paying $35 Pesos each to get in. There were tango lessons going on at one end of the large room and a variety of singles seated around the dance floor. The men would ask the women to dance and typically stay together for a set of 3 or 4 tangos, then a rock and roll tune would come on and everyone would take a break. At one point in the evening, the dance instructor and a young woman joined the others and did a demonstration dance. It was great, but over too quickly.
Tango was everywhere that the tourists go. La Boca is a colorful fun toursty area and some of the cafes have onging tango shows. So of course we did the whole experience. Later we watched while a production companywas trying to film a commercial. A perky girl skipping along to the music with her guy and carrying shopping bags. They filmed the same scene innumerable times but she stayed perky. Later for a different scene, they tried to move some resident dogs out of the way. One could be bought with doggie treats, but the other never did move. Yay for the dogs!
|Movie of Iguazu Falls from Brazil side..|
|Movie of Iguazu Falls from walkway on Brazil side - Martha in raingear..|
|Movie of Iguazu Falls from Brazil side..|
|Movie of Iguazu Falls from catwalk from Argentine side..|
|Movie of Iguazu Falls from jungle on Argentine side - rainbow..|
|Movie of Iguazu Falls from Argentine side..|
|Movie of Tango at La Boca Cafe, Buenos Aires..|