Valparaiso, Chile, 29 August 2013
Valparaiso was the final destination of our trip. Tomorrow we’ll go back to Santiago airport for our last flight to Australia.
We caught a bus from Llay Llay to Valparaiso (a very comfortable one, with wifi included) and reach the city in less than two hours.
Valparaiso, once a prosperous port city and a necessary stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan, fell into disgrace after the opening of the Panama canal which took away great part of the business.
After many year of decay, in the last decades the city has been experiencing a renewed interest thanks to an increase of shipping and improvement of the chilean economy.
The city is organised around many steep hills that overlook the Pacific ocean and provide great views. You can’t help noticing the artistic side of the city: beside being one of the place where Pablo Neruda had his residence (‘La Sebastiana’ house), many of the cobbled alleyways are decorated with dozens of murales, mostly inspired by the Chilean history (former President Allende) and cultural figures (Pablo Neruda) and many of the once-rusted roofs of corrugated iron newly primed with red oxide, giving the city a colourful look.
Llay Llay & Panquehue, Chile, 28 August 2013
We had some amazing party time (“San juedes”, Holy Thursday, a random celebration some friends came up with) with some friends in the town of Llaillay in the central Chile’s Valparaíso Region and visited a swiss-owned winery in a nearby town of Panquehue.
Santiago, Chile, 28 August 2013
Santiago was the last stop of our trip.
The Chilean capital has the fame of being heavily polluted (mostly due to the fact that the surrounding mountains “traps” the pollution) but it is relatively quiet compared to other south american metropolis.
We joined a walking tour that took us through the main sights of the city, including La Moneda, where the military coup lead by general Augusto Pinochet took place in 1973 (and where former president Allende committed suicide), Plaze de Las Armas and the metropolitan cathedral, the Basilica the la Merced, Palacio de Bellas Artes and finally Cerro Santa Lucia, from which you can get a nice view of the city an the surrounding mountains (if the smog allows it).
Santiago seems a to be undergoing a massive renovation (after all elections are coming up) and many sites are obstructed by construction sites. We are now off to Valparaiso region and we’ll be back in Santiago to take our last flight back to Australia.
Rio de Janeiro, 26 August 2013
The first thing you notice in Rio (especially if you arrive in the weekend) is that every single tv screen in bars, kiosk along the beach, new stands and restaurants is showing a soccer game. So I might as well move here. And on weekdays they are showing highlights of football. To my despair, I had planned for long time to come to see a game, but a series of unpredictable circumstances denied me this opportunity. So this weekend Botafogo, Fluminense and Flamenco are playing away games.
Still there is Vasco da Gama - Corinthians in Rio so good chances to watch a live game. Then I am on the verge of tears when a couple of days ago I found out that the game for unknown reasons would have been played in Brasilia. One weekend in Rio and all the 4 teams are playing away. So after no games in Buenos Aires, no games in Rio either!
We dedicated the first day to visit central Rio, which has some sites that are maybe underrated compared to its world famous beaches and Corcovado mountain.
The highlight was the futuristic Sao Sebastiao Cathedral, which seems to come from directly from a science fiction movie. The internal part is quite spectacular with its pyramidal shape and coloured glasses.
There are some others interesting modern building along largo Carioca which have clearly been influenced by Niemeyer style. Also interesting the colonial Paco Imperial and the Teatro Naciolal on Cinelandia square.
Then off to Lapa which has a good share of colonial architecture, particularly along Rua de Lavradio, and of course the famous steps decorated with tiles from all over the world.
Then caught a bus to Cosme Velho to see the Cristo Redentor and indeed this is a scary experience as bus drivers in Rio are nuts! They drive insanely fast along narrow steeproads and it feels like being on a roller coaster inside.
The first attempt to see Rio from the Corcovado mountain miserably failed as there is an annoying cloud wrapping the mountain. Otherwise it’s a sunny day; just one stupid cloud around the mountain. We’ll try again tomorrow.
On the second day it has been raining all day so still no luck in trying to get a good view from the Corcovado mountain.
We joined a favela tour in the Rocinha favela. This favela is home to 160,000 people and it’s probably one of the “richest” amongst the 760 favelas of Rio.
In this favela there are several thousands of small businesses, there banks and police too. Apparently is relatively safe (for the safety standard of other favelas).
Still the conditions of life are baffling. Many people probably work in nearby Ipanema or Copacabana or downtown Rio. That’s why it is relatively quiet.
The most interesting thing for me is that the level of poverty is visible only in their precarious housing, which form an overwhelming maze of narrow alleys and streets: the way people dress here is absolutely decent, and I wouldn’t even notice the difference with people from Copacabana. There are no beggars and hasslers here, but still the condition of the location is quiet arrowing. Still, you have to appreciate the level of decency the majority these people maintain. These would be top real estate location in other cities.
Our guide is angry at the government policy that consist of throwing social cheques at these people and doing nothing with regards to services ( school in particular). Then it feels entitled to relocate these people at its own will (and it will happen with the World Cup and Olympics coming up). Relocating them without proving the necessary infrastructure for them to make a living.
His argument is: give us schools, teachers and hospitals instead of handouts, so people can actually hope to get out of the favela (without having to be football stars).
Finally, on the last day we got some decent weather and managed to do the touristy thing and caught the expensive cable car to Corcovado and Cristo redentor statue.
Foz do Iguacu, Brazil, 23 August 2013
The town of Foz do Iguacu on the Brazilian side seems much bigger than its Argentinian counterpart but has really nothing to offer besides accommodation for tourists.
The Brazilian side of the falls has one big panorama but it’s not as various as the Argentinian side.
Catching the flight to Rio was a bit of a nightmare as we were already running late, and the crook taxi driver quoted as an astronomical fare for a two minutes tide to the airport; so we got off the taxi and waited for the bus although we were running late.
Warning at the airport: The airport of Foz do Iguacu has the most demented organisation I’ve ever seen: it’s clearly operating over capacity and despite this, there is a baggage scanning at the very entrance that turns into massive bottle neck for passengers. Basically doing the check in online is completely useless as you get stuck first at the baggage scan.
Then other countless queues that made us nearly miss our flight to Rio.
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, 24 August
Since our flight to Rio was delayed, we decided to postpone our visit to the Brazilian side of the falls and head (more or less legally) across the border to visit the (in)famous Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, originally named Puerto Presidente Strasser.
I knew that Ciudad del Este would have been messy, hectic, dirty and possibly dangerous but I had to see this great bazaar, this free for all piece of land renowned for contraband goods and all sort of legends - including the presence of Hezbollah affiliated terrorist.
But I really want to walk into this mayhem and sneak into Paraguay - read about their incredible unfortunate history (the disastrous war of triple alliance, the Nazi colony of Nueva Alemania, the only Australian communist colony of Nueva Australia..) and you will understand why I am so curious about this country
I thought it would have been pretty complicated to sneak across the border (as Australians need a visa for Paraguay) but the truth is that Paraguayans immigration couldn’t care less (you will asked for bribes though if you get busted); only Brazilians police officers are after people buying cheap electronic goods and reselling them in Brazil.
Apparently the Asian presence - taiwanese - here is big, and that explains the cheap electronic goods. Also the Taiwanese government helped build CDE and that explains the Taiwanese flag on the town hall.
As the lady at our hostel said, hordes of Brazilians head to CDE to buy cheap electronic goods and other stuff. Locating the bus was not difficult as it seems that the occupation of ever Brazilian here is to go to Paraguay for shopping so we just joined the flock.
We caught the bus from Foz do Iguacu to Paraguay, cross the Puente de Amistad where none checks document and got off in Paraguay.
Once in the middle of the mayhem the biggest disappointment is that electronics goods are not as cheap as expected (pretty much same price or even more expensive than in Australia) - don’t want to know how expensive they must be in Brazil then.
A quick stroll along the main streets - where we got offered various electronic goods, USB pens, fishing rods, belts, Viagra and other pills not identified, jumpers and other items - and glitzy shopping malls and then we walked back to Brazil.
Iguazu falls & Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, 23 August 2013
After the scariest flight due to some turbulence from Buenos Aires to puerto Iguazu, we headed to the Iguazu national park on the Argentinian side.
These might be indeed the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. Kilometres and kilometres of waterfalls, with the benefit that the Argentinian side offers several different panoramas. It also possible to spot some wildlife, such as tucans, deers, and many colourful birds.
The town of Puerto Iguazu doesn’t have a lot to offer but the waterfalls (in particular the Garganta del Diablo or devil’s throat) are truly amazing.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 20 August 2013
Buenos Aires has been one of the highlight of our trip and one of the best city so far.
We stayed in one apartment in the historical San Telmo, just 20 minutes walk from the Microcentro (where La Casa Rosada in Plaza de Mayo is located). Here you can still see a lots of protest regarding the Isla Malvinas - Faulkland island and the desaparecidos sons of many moms who still take on the square every Thursday.
It’s incredible the character that this city can boast. From the historical San Telmo to the Microcentro and its colossal Avenidas (av. Santa Fe, av. Cordoba and the widest street in the world, avenida 9 de Julio with the characteristic obelisk) that run through the upscale barrios of Recoleta and Palermo, Buenos Aires can boast great architecture (that make it look quite similar to Paris in certain areas) and a rich cultural life. The new area around Puerto Madero bears some resemblance with Sydney.
Practicalities: Argentinians can’t withdraw US dollars. To this, add that the government established a fixed exchange rate of 5 pesos to 1 dollar that doesn’t correspond to the real value, and that inflation runs at 25%.
All of this favoured the growth of a black market for US dollars, also called blue dollars.argentinians are eager to get some dollars and put those in their savings as they know too well that their peso will be devalued sooner or later, as its exchange rate set by the government doesn’t correspond to the real value.
With that in mind, if you manage to exchange some dollars at 8.80 rather than 5.00, Argentina become an insanely good value for money destination, especially when it comes to its glorious food. There are some shady characters on avenida Florida - although not recommended by some travel forums- , but if you manage to locate a gold shop, that should be ok (I’ve done it twice and never came across a fake pesos note). Just make sure none is following you after you change or withdraw some money. It helps though learn how to recognise a fake bill.
Other highlights included the tango show at the historical El Viejo Almacen on avenida Balcarce, the visit to Boca and la Bombonera stadium (I was desperate as I didn’t get to see any game), the Recoleta cemetery with the grave of Evita Peron and the beautiful streets of Palermo soho.
Surprises: 8 out of 9 taxi drivers have been very honest and I probably had one of the best ice cream ever in Argentina.
Salta, Argentina, 19 August 2013
Salta in the Lerma Valley is the most important city of northern Argentina and it boasts a good amount of well maintained Spanish colonial architecture, especially around the main square Plaza 9 de Julio (which was the site for a local commercial of whiskey).
We spent one day before our trip to Buenos Aires, and enjoyed our first great parillada and few saltenas (local empanadas).
San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, 18 August 2013
Rest day in the tranquil Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama, which serve as a base for tourist coming to and fro the Bolivian salt flats.
Chile feels much more advanced than Bolivia, and inevitably more expensive. Suddenly we have hot shower again, even though the electricity went out for the entire town for few minutes. And thankfully the weather is much more bearable (I.e. not insanely cold).
Then it’s time to hit the road again on the way to Salta, Argentina.
Some breathtaking landscapes, and very scary as well, as the bus drives along some cliffs around the Andes with drops of several hundred meters.