Jan 2016 Argentina & Antarctica Part 1 “The Waiting Trip”

During 2015; Lin, who had an important number birthday coming up, announced that she would REALLY like to visit Antarctica – Yawellnofine – somewhat different – and I suppose that these reports – there will be three – do not belong here on an African Travel website – Tough – build a bridge and get over it, this is where they are going and staying.

Having done some research, well OK Lin did it 🙂 It became obvious that Quark – managed by Unique Destinations – Leo Van Heukelem – website here = Click… uniquedestinations were the people to go with. And after spending some time with the unflappable & extremely knowledgeable Leo we decided that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something really off the scale.

There was no doubt that this was not going to be a cheap exercise, but having got into the swing of things I decided that if we were going to go all that way then I wanted to see something of South America and Argentina particularly. And so it came to pass that with Leos help and knowledge we planned a trip that would take us from the North of the Country just over the border with Brazil adjoining Paraguay and Argentina at the Iguazu Falls right down to the South to the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia.

Due to the the sheer size and magnitude of this trip I have decided to divide the trip report up into three sections. This first one will concentrate on coming from RSA to Sao Paulo in Brazil, across the border to Iguazu Town and Falls and then flying onto and staying in Buenos Aires and a day trip across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay.

Part two will be the rest of Argentina South from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, then onto El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier and thence to Ushuaia, the Southernmost city in the world; although Chile has a town slightly further south which is trying to give Ushuaia a run for its money.

Part Three will be the actual boat trip, on the Ocean Diamond, into and onto the Antarctic Continent with the fantastic Quark Expedition 24/7 happy and helpful staff & Crew.

So we left Cape Town, and the waiting part of the trip began in earnest – bloody airports ! minimal hand luggage only – we packed small & tight including our antarctic wear bought from First Ascent in CT and tested in a Karoo winter June/July 15, only failure was gloves so went into Graaff-Reinet and bought mohair gloves to go under the waterproof ones – problem solved ! Hoped to get away with not having to put our stuff in the hold for obvious reasons and in all the journey it was only at CT airport, as we were in the tunnel to the actual plane they actually had a scale and weighed Lins bag and fortunately it was “just” OK. Unbelievable. The usual schlep to Jhb which is a foreign country, particularly the airport, however we had printed out our boarding cards so this solved a lot of hassles and after the usual long wait boarded for Brazil, uneventful; boring. Sao Paulo Airport is huge and we must have walked miles to get to our connection for Iguazu. Gained 5 hours in travel but to us we had been travelling for nearly two days and it felt like it.

Lin broke a bone in her foot back in August was in a boot for a while. I insisted that she take a walking stick on this trip as I knew we would be walking on ice etc and I didn’t want her taking any risks. Great thought on my part. There we are standing in an endless queue waiting to go through control at Sao Paulo and this woman official comes up to us and takes us out the queue muttering “Priority” What Joy 🙂 Lin gets all embarrassed but at every queue after that I merely pointed at Lin and each time it worked 🙂

The mighty Iguazu River

Going into the falls

We were met by our hyper-efficient guide; Graciela, at the quaint Iguazu airport; it felt just like being in Africa and looked similar but cleaner, in fact like parts of Zambia. Hot and humid.

Our taxi driver had his priorities right and immediately took me to exchange dollars for Peso at a better rate. The next day the new government did away with the two tier system and instead of 10 Peso = 1 US$ it became 14. Trust me the black market still exists.

Our hotel, a way out of town, Hotel La Cantera Jungle Hotel was just that, in a heavily treed, hot and humid situation. We arrived after lunch but were hungry as what Brazil & Argentinean Airlines offer on their flights is junk food and coke. These countries have a SERIOUS sugar problem. The hotel very kindly rustled up something for us to eat and having dumped our bags we took a taxi back into town to explore.

South American Plane Food

quite run down

Shades of Angola here

Tourist shop photo forgive the xmas tree !

Having walked town flat and become exhausted a full litre beer each !!

You can stand and watch things grow here !

Back to hotel nice supper and off to bed.

Next morning our Guide Graciela and driver arrives and off we go to the National Park and the Falls. Queue mile long for entrance but because we have guide no queue for us and we sail through. Very very busy.

Iguazu River

These photos will never to justice to what we saw, heard and experienced, my go-pro does record some of the magnitude of the place. I never thought much of Niagara but always assumed that Vic Falls was the best. Let me tell you Iguazu is something else entirely for sheer size alone. Plus the facilities that they have provided, walkways etc are beyond belief.

They have a miniature railway to take you to other parts of the falls; at the station:

The place is full of butterflies who just land on you and take off when they feel like it:

After a soaking…..more to come

our guide Graciela sensibly stayed put !

Falls Argentinean side

Lunch followed 🙂 Hoping to get fed. They are everywhere.

Old Hotel no longer used – Sad –

Yep the yanks were here –

After lunch we had said that we would like to do a nice quiet boat trip up the river. Somehow this didn’t quite work out and we found ourselves on a Zodiac with a bunch of screaming & yelling argos & others having a thrill boat ride – little did we all know at this stage……..

Bit late now

Don’t like the look of that cloud

Oh Shit……….

Hail in Mid-summer

And to crown it all it was raining cats and dogs all the way back from the river to the falls centre on a open topped lorry that we were on. Arrived back at hotel laughing our heads off at our stupidity 🙂 Hot and humid let’s hope the clothes and our sole pair of shoes each dry !!!

Great night supper and to bed. Early next morning as expected arrives our guide who has also printed out for us our onward boarding passes to Buenos Aires – How considerate and much appreciated. Today we cross the border again and go to the Brazilian side of the falls. People often debate the value in this. Be under no misunderstanding you need to be mad not to go to the Brazilian side to get the Full picture – so glad we did. Again huge long queues of cars at the border, people crossing for a foot-ball match – no worries our driver just goes to the front and we are through in a flash – having a guide and driver was worth every cent. It is raining again today – sadly – but it is warm and very humid. Most of the photos are go-pro in the waterproof case. It was a no-win situation with the camera.

How on earth did they build these walkways ?

Can’t get closer than that and no “ealth n Safety anywhere in sight !!

Beyond Wet

Back to Hotel and then as it still light a walk through the “jungle” surrounding the hotel.

And so the end of a wonderful day with a truly wonderful guide. Sorry to leave Iguazu of which I had little expectation. How wrong can one be !

Next morning our driver appears and takes us once again to the airport and the flight to Buenos Aires. Lin & I get priority boarding – Lin says to me have you no shame – who me ? you must be joking. “Sugar” snack on plane but at least the coffee is seriously good. Coming into land at Buenos Aires one is gob-smacked by the huge size of the place.

Arriving at Buenos Aires Airport we have to find our own way to the City Hotel which is in the centre of town near the Presidential Palace. The hotel is a wonderful Art-Deco building with lots of brass, highly polished.

One thing which struck us is that given English is the language of the Internet and all kids are on that these days, very few speak English, the ones who do will get on and they say of the rest that they are just lazy. This is of course a major problem if you do not speak Spanish; rather like not having Portuguese in Angola. Everyone is very kind and considerate and these people have manners ! What a joy. No beggars at the lights. Lots of litter, crowds of people, large very neat and well turned out police force both men and women – seemingly benign but there in any case, just in case.

We get a taxi – metered – it is 130 Peso to the hotel. Going back it’s a mini cab as called for by the hotel – mistake – its 190 Peso. But on the other hand you could get caught in the huge traffic jams. They do not give a millimeter, drive like crazy, piece of paper between them but is there aggro ? Shouting? Screaming ? Hooting ? No there is not. The traffic merely melds into where it is going with much over and under-taking, what a joy to see.

Long queues at all the bus stops – orderly – At the Palace there are barriers with police presence – you are allowed to demonstrate on this side of the barrier but not on the other and there are permanent demos; some by the mothers wanting to know what happened to their sons and daughters who “disappeared” and others wanting to know about what happened in the Falklands war and others just complaining that they now have a semi-right wing government trying to undo all the financial mess ups caused by their seemingly much loved left wing female former president. Not tying to be an expect after such a short visit, and there are obviously problems; but after the mess that South Africa is now in – this place is seemingly wonderful – with climate to match. Buenos Aires sort on the same latitude as Cape Town but without the Cape of Storms.

Having checked in and dumped our bags we go out onto the town. It is walkable. Beautiful buildings unfortunately over shadowed by modern monsters with no thought of beauty. Huge wide boulevards criss-crossed by narrow lanes that stretch as far as the eye can see.

I enjoyed this town and its building so much that I will put up a separate album on Picasa just showing these buildings.

Graffiti everywhere – they see it as their right to express themselves as such and it has been this way for years – pity !

roof top view from hotel

Cathedral with girls in mini-skirts; religion not so serious here after all !

Presidential Palace

City Restaurant



Another well deserved beer having walked the town flat

Night time walk across town – quite safe – to a restaurant where the locals eat – recommended by a client who is an SAA pilot. Girls walking in ones and twos – quite safe – even where the people thin out. I am sure however that there must be dodgy areas too. The police presence is always there nearby. Also the Argentinians are a mixed people from all over the world but there is no sense of them and us – they are all one – with obvious differences where politics is concerned. The women are self assured and carry themselves as such.

Night Time City Centre

Restaurant menu – don’t think so somehow. But the steak and Malbec was excellent. Not cheap
Average meal about 500 pesos with wine 250/300 a bottle about R 750 and R 350 for good wine.

Litter at night……..every night………….

Lots of old ladies trawling through the trash and a large pavement doorway sleeping crowd.
The people who collect the trash pay by weight so the vagrants dump water into the trash bags to make it heavier – Cape Flats connections ??? 🙂

Good Nights sleep – huge breakfast selection in the morning… sweet, sweet, and yet more sweet – they cannot do eggs and bacon – they murder the bacon and words fail me where the eggs are concerned. Go figure.

Breakfast at Hotel

We take the half day city tour the next day as organised for us. We had done most of it the day before on our own !! But never mind it was interesting and to get some info too. Got taken to all the tourist traps too – can’t blame them for trying –

Re-created old area – the buildings are old but there are a lot of new ones gaily painted here and there too to sort of match in. In the football part of town.

Russian Church snap from bus !

Gainfully employed

And so to the highlight of the day trip the Recoleta Cemetery as seen in countless films – very beautiful none the less – could have spent far more time here but again too many people.

Evitas resting place – far too many people wanting selfies !

Drawer space only !

So on our own again we jumped onto the metro which is colour coded so dead easy to understand and set off to a far side and then to walk back !

Opera House


Check the amazing brass work, all highly shone and no one steals the stuff !!!

And again back to bed after an amazing day and a good meal at another restaurant of the locals.

And so the big day looms – Lins significant number birthday (21) 🙂 I had organised a day trip across the River Plate to Colonia in Uruguay. How many people can say “I went to Uruguay for my birthday, just for the day you understand” !!

It was raining in sympathy for Lin – we were collected at the hotel by the Unique Destinations Resident Guide and taken down to the port where we went through customs – again Lin & I were taken to the front of the queue !! and through customs where they take a photo of you plus a thumb print, electronic, no messy ink pads – home affairs take note !

The Distance across the river is almost 50 Kms but what surprises is that the river in some places is only 2 metres deep – the ferry is a Catamaran – and it takes almost a hour to cross – it is still raining !

Leaving BA for Colonia on the River Plate

Once through on the other side we are again met by our own personal guide and he takes us the short distance to the old city of Colonia – far too many people yet again.

The old wall & entrance – always some bugger in the way.

It is pretty and would have been better if it had stopped raining.

Into the tourist trap area

Check the depths

More tourist restaurants

Looking back across the River you can just make out the high rise buildings of Buenos Aires

In desperation I bought an umbrella R 150 and yep you got it, it stopped raining, brought the bloody thing all the way back home – my talisman against further rain. Yawellnofine.

old town square

Out of the old town

Leaving Colonia

Approaching Buenos Aires

And so we came to the end of part 1 of our trip. Tomorrow we fly South to Bariloche, a town that could be up in the Alps – Heavy German/Austrian and Italian influence.

It has been a wonderful trip so far, loved Iguazu – far more than I expected to and Buenos Aires, what can I say ? we loved the place and wished that we could have spent way more time there exploring further out. Another time Maybe.

Part 2 Bariloche – El Calafate and Ushuaia will follow in due course – it will be a while 🙂

More photos at:photo album

Beautiful Buildings of Buenos Aires at:photo album here