We are halfway through our trip, which means 5 months of travelling is already behind us. Also being a new year, we decided to take a look back and make a new section of the blog called “Top places”, which tries to summarize our best experiences during this trip regarding several categories. We will update the list regularly as we supersede one of the categories or we find out new ones, so keep checking back for the best of the best of our journey:)
January 23, 2011
The city of Colonia is just a few hours boat trip from Buenos Aires across the Rio Plata. The cheapest and worst way to get there is via the boats of Colonia Express. They advertise a cross of two hours, and after being one hour late at the departure, they manage to pick up another one hour delay at the crossing, so all together it takes 4 hours. When questioned, they blame it on the “unusually strong front wind” that day. Nevertheless the return journey is not any shorter.
Anyway we finally made it to the little city of Colonia, which offers a number of museums, a lighthouse, a port and some touristic restaurants. On a sunny day it is a nice daytrip, and if you want to submerge into the history how Portuguese and Spanish were fighting hard for this little piece of land, the museums are explaining all. Being a sunny day we skipped the museums and took a dip into the river instead. Even though the river is called Silver River (Rio Plata), in reality it is pretty much brown and muddy everywhere, on the Uruguayan side it is less polluted, so all the folks are cooling down in its cool waters.
January 20, 2011
Ushuaia is located in the south of Argentina, next to the Beagle channel, beautifully set amongst snow-capped mountains and breezing waters. It is considered the southernmost city of the World. There is a small settlement on the Chilean side of the Beagle channel, and some expedition stations on the Antarctica, but that’s all what is more south. The weather can be pretty windy, cloud-covered and rainy at times, so some extra clothing is required.
The flights to Ushuaia normally come from Buenos Aires, through El Calafate, land in Ushuaia, then return to Buenos Aires. It happened to be that LAN managed to miss the unloading of my backpack, so most of my personal belongings took an extra round to go forth to Buenos Aires and back the next day. Luckily enough I had packed enough warm clothes in my hand luggage to survive, furthermore the company paid 70 USD and brought my backpack to the hostel next day.
During our days in Ushuaia, we visited the national park, posted some cards from the End-of-the-World post office, went for some penguin watch and hiked up to a nearby glacier.
An interesting discovery was that not only our hostel, but the whole city was full of backpackers from Israel. In fact they were so numerous that we started to simply say “Shalom!” on the streets instead of the regular “Hola!”. The reason: after finishing their military service, they all set up for a 3 months trip at some part of the World, and Argentina is a popular destination.
Ushuaia is also famous for Antarctica expeditions. The standard rates are 4000 USD for a 10 day all inclusive trip to visit the icy continent. Unfortunately this was way outside our budget, but we have met some fellow travellers who jumped in to the experience and even found some last minute offers for 3200 USD.
One day we rented a car with two French girls and headed to Estancia Haberton, one of the first settlements on Tierra del Fuego. The settlement has around 5 houses and 10 inhabitants in peak season. There is no cellphone coverage, but there is Internet! It’s a good 2 hours drive from Ushuaia on dirt roads, all in all it is really in the end of the World. We sat down in the only restaurant/bar of the place and wanted to have a hot chocolate to warm us up a bit. Just for fun we asked for some student discount, or discount for French people, didn’t work. Paul has the habit to ask for Hungarian discount also as we are poor, we don’t even have Euro, and to our greatest surprise the owner lady said: “Ah for Hungarians? Its free!”:) It turned out that her mother immigrated long time ago to Argentina from Hungary and even though she did not speak Hungarian, she had good memories of it. That’s how it happened to be a heart warming experience to be Hungarian at the very end of the World:)
Leaving Ushuaia was not easy. LAN excelled again as this time our flight was first delayed, then cancelled completely. Result: our plus one night spent in the southernmost four star hotel with food and transfer included, all paid by LAN. Luxurious feeling after the hostel dormitories:)
As our plane came to a halt on the runway of El Calafate, the cabin crew warned us to take extra care when descending as there is a 160km/h wind sweeping through the airport. In fact the wind was so strong that we could only walk leaning 45 degrees against it. Some ice tours to the Perito Moreno glacier – the major attraction of the city – were even shut down for that day.
Luckily enough the next day was super calm and we headed for the big blue monster, named after Perito Moreno, an Argentine explorer who, paradoxically never reached to see it in person. We paid the rather expensive trip to not only view the glacier from the front, but also to climb on top of it, with some cramps on our feet. The experience was well worth it. What is not visible on the pictures, that the monstrous ice is alive! It advances around 1.5 meters per day, and as it does so, it makes all kinds of squeaking noises and occasionally a big piece of it crumbles down into the water. This makes it dangerous to approach the glacier, as during the rupture heavy ice projectiles can easily kill anyone.
The trip on the top of the ice is less dangerous and more amazing. The glacier water is crystal clear and very refreshing to drink. The ice we walk on is 400 years old, and as we walk we catch a glimpse of the only animal that is adapted to live in such an environment. When I ask him, Jose, the tour guide says it’s diet includes bacteria and Hungarian tourists. Chistoso:)
At the end of the tour, we have been offered a glass of bad whiskey on 400-year-old ice rocks. Would have been nice to have a 400-year-old whiskey with brand new ice instead:)
January 18, 2011
(Yes, we have left already South America, but the blog is lagging behind, so we try to catch up:)
Cordoba, the second largest city in Argentina looks humble, compared to Buenos Aires. The city has the oldest and most popular universities thus it is packed with students all year long except on school breaks.
We were couchsurfing for a week at Belen’s place and she turned out to be an excellent host. She took us to Cabalango, we shared music and popular sayings of Hungary and Argentina, and she tried to poison our pure Castilian Spanish with all the Cordoban slang she could coin out:) Argentine Spanish is already the weirdest in South America and in Cordoba it is not any better:) We also got introduced to fernet: it’s a drink like the Hungarian Unicum, bitter when drank pure, not so much better when drank with Coke. They say you have to drink three before you start to enjoy it. I stopped at two:) Apart from fernet, yerba mate is the local preferred drink. It is a kind of tea served in a little pot with a silver strew, and after each refill, someone else is sipping out the infusionated hot mate. Sharing mate is one of the most common way of socializing in many parts of Argentina, hot-water thermos sales are skyrocketing here, and it is even accepted to ask random people to share their mate with you.
Cabalango is a place with a river near Cordoba. As the river flows through megalithic rocks, it forms natural pools and sinkholes. A great place to take a dip during hot summer days.
We also had a good asado one night, with other couchsurfers, while on another night we were preparing French crepe and Hungarian goulash. The local couchsurfing people are really great and we had also met some legendary fellow travellers:
Alex “El pirata” from Barcelona. He navigated his pirate ship successfully all across South America. During 10 months of travelling he lost 15 kilos, but gained a lot of friendships and a unique tattoo:) Even though he talks a lot of crap and he calls us Champaign backpackers, we still like him:)
Eunjung “La Koreana” from Seoul. She travelled extensively in South America and Europe. She is a master of tango, dances better than many Argentine do:) She is loved and appreciated by all the bedbugs and insects of South America. We didn’t try her pancakes but the instant Korean noodles were great:)
“El chico perdido” from Australia. He has the amazing capability of getting massively drunken every night without speaking an inch of Spanish:) And he is doing it for 10 months already travelling in South America. Last time I saw him he was swearing he could find his way home alone … then no one heard about him for 2 days:)
January 11, 2011
Today we embark on a flight that will land two days later in Auckland, New Zealand. Not only it is a looong flight, but we also cross the date line, thus the day 12th of January will never exist in our life:) A rather funny experience:)
This day also marks our last day in South America. It was an amazing experience and it fills our heart with a bit of sadness. Thank you for all the beautiful people we have met here! Hopefully we will return some day.
January 2, 2011
…so as Paul said earlier, our winner is Arnaud from Belgium. Congratulations for him and thank you all for playing!