Whitlocks Round the World - Travel Diary for Argentina

Click here to read the latest newsThe diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.

Countries visited so far: UK Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovak Republic Hungary Romania Bulgaria Greece Egypt Tanzania Malawi Mozambique South Africa Swaziland South Africa (again) Argentina Bolivia Peru Ecuador Vietnam China Mongolia Russia England


6th February Argentina
Buenos Aires
Our flight to Buenos Aires was smooth and comfortable. The Boeing 747 had excellent entertainments including (to Tom´s delight) an interactive games system built into every seat!

We took a taxi to the centre of the city and stayed at BA Stop, a relaxed and friendly place where the staff were welcoming and very helpful. When we arrived we booked the taxi to take us back to the airport some 36 hours later, for our onward flight to Santiago, but by the morning we had had a change of heart! Several paople had told us that Argentina is just as beautiful and better value than Chile, and everyone we met in Buenos Aires was so friendly and helpful, and seemed so offended that we were leaving so soon, that we decided to stay! We telephoned to cancel the cab, and it was weird to think of the plane flying off to Chile with four empty seats! Well, plans are for changing, aren´t they?



10th February Argentina
Buenos Aires
San Telmo, the birthplace of tango - Click to enlargeWe stayed for one week in Buenos Aires. the city rates highly among the most interesting and welcoming we have visited so far. We had a great time!

On Friday 6th Feb, after we had decided to stay in the city rather than move on to Chile, we took a guided tour of Buenos Aires by coach. This gave us a glimpse of many areas of the city, from La Boca, one of the oldest and most famous districts, with its brightly coloured houses and lively streets, to the new and fashionable parts of town.

Now better informed about the best areas of the city to visit, we set off the following evening for San Telmo, the oldest part of Buenos Aires and the birthplace of tango. We hoped to catch some live music and dancing, as well as to eat and soak up the atmosphere. We wandered for a while in the old colonial streets, and then we struck gold! Upstairs in a little restaurant on the central square a couple were dancing the tango in a small space amongst the tables. the menu was comparatively expensive, but we decided to treat ourselves. We ate a lovely meal accompanied by a bottle of wine, and when the dancers had finished they were replaced by accordeon music and singing. It all felt very exclusive, and the bill came to the equivalent of about ten pounds!

The following day we returned to San Telmo to visit the flea market. The atmosphere was fantastic there, and we easily passed the whole day wandering around the thousands of stalls selling fascinating antiques, and watching the street entertainers. Nick was intrigued by the old coffee machines, cameras and, of course, musical instruments. There were old trinkets and jewelery, and we were treated -and also, at times, subjected- to performances by mime artists, puppet shows, musicians and even an orchestra consisting of strings and accordeons. There was tango dancing in the streets and Indian looking people playing pan pipes. It was all so colourful! As always in Argentina, the food was incredible too. So many little restaurants, cafeterías and bars, all cooking vast amounts of meat! We ate lunch at one of these: ravioli for the kids, a huge chunk of beef for Nick and gorgeous tender lamb for me. Wonderful!

On our last day in buenos aires, Cony, who ran the hostel, BA Stop, offered to look after the children for us while we went shopping. We were amazed. in six months of travelling we have almost never been anywhere without them! It was great. We bought the things we needed, and then went for a cup of tea and a toasted sandwich in peace and quiet!

That evening we, kids included, went to Buenos Aires´famous Colón theatre, where we sat in the gallery and watched and listened to Beethoven´s spring symphony on piano and violin. although the children fidgeted a bit and we were sitting a long way from the stage, the music was exquisite, and it was a lovely evening.

I would recommend a visit to Buenos Aires to anyone who has the chance. It must be one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world.



12th February Argentina
Puerto Iguazú
Tom and Ester at the Iguazú Falls - Click to enlargeWe took an extremely comfortabe overnight bus to Puerto Iguazú, to visit some of the world´s most spectacular waterfalls. We spent two days visiting the Iguazú National Park.

The Garganta del Diablo, or Devil´s Throat, is the biggest of the falls, and was one of the most spectacular sights any of us had ever seen. 1700 cubic metres of water cascades over the brim of the gigantic U-shaped ravine every second! It was breathtaking to see. The river above the falls is about a mile wide and, to look at it drifting gently along, you would never think it was about to cascade hundreds of feet to thunder into a steaming pit below. I imagined an image of the sea falling off the edges of a flat Earth. I couldn´t see how there could possibly be enough water at the top to provide this immense, continuous supply. And it was beautiful! Looking down into the waterfall, you couldn´t see the bottom because of the amount of spray which rose from the bubbling cauldron below, throwing beautiful rainbows into the air. The sight was incredible.

Beyond the Devil´s Throat, there are still more waterfalls, going on and on along a curving ridge (which makes it even more like the edge of the Earth!) We took a walk which allowed us to see these from above. it was amazingly beautiful.

The park itself is also really lovely. Much of it is tropical forest and there are many lizards, snakes and monkeys there. we saw a coati, which is a furry animal about the size of a smallish dog. On our second day in the park we walked the Macuco Trail, a 6km nature trail in the jungle. It was not a hard walk and there was a waterfall with a pool where you could swim. On the way we spotted a few of the 500 or so species of butterflies that inhabit the park. Huge and dazzling they flitted by, some shimmering blue, some crinkled like a doily with yellow and black marbling, or black with scarlet ribbons. Also, we saw some magnificent lizards; iguanas about a foot long, one of which lumbered along the path in front of us, occasionally glancing at us over its shoulder, its tongue flecking out, before deciding to take itself out of our way and sliding off the path into the undergrowth.

The waterfall pool was nice, and the cool water welcome and refreshing, but it was not as beautiful as some of the pools we found in Africa. we enjoyed the swim though, after our walk, and Tom and I climbed together behind the waterfall and out the other side, while the water pelted painfully down upon our backs.



14th February Argentina
San Ignacio Miní
The impressive site of 17th century Jesuit ruins - Click to enlargeFrom Iguazú we took a bus to san Ignacio Miní, to see an impressive site of 17th century Jesuit ruins. The ruins were good to explore. Built of red sandstone they must have been pretty impressive in their day. The huge ornate pillars which once supported the church doors are still standing today, as are the walls of many of the buildings. The Jesuits, we learned, were a group of missionaries who arrived at the beginning of the 17th century from Italy, to convert the indigenous population here to catholicism. They worked with, rather than against, the people and created semi-autonomous communities within the Spanish colonial empire. They were eventually expelled by the Spanish, who were uncomfortable about the influence of the Jesuits over the people they wanted to rule with absolute power.



18th February Argentina
Posadas - Las Termas de Rio Hondo
The bathing pools beside our great apartment - Click to enlargeFrom San Ignacio we took a bus to Posadas, the provincial capital of the Misiones region. It was actually a pretty sleepy town, but we found an OK hotel, and left the following afternoon to travel overnight to Santiago del Estero.

We liked Santiago del Estero a lot. It is the oldest city in Argentina and did not feel at all touristy. Everyone looked surprised when we told them we were English (they tend to expect us to be American, but here, they always ask!) Our hotel in Santiago was lovely, and we ate excellently. Just around the corner from our hotel was a restaurant where the food had a really gourmet feel about it. We had a fantastic meal; medallion of tenderloin, cooked to perfection and pork ribs with a sweetcorn sauce for the kids, and a really imaginative salad. We washed it all down with a bottle of good wine, and the bill was well within the capacity of our budget!

The people in Santiago del Estero were some of the friendliest yet, although Argentina is full of friendly people. It was sometimes difficult to get anywhere, as people would just stop us in the street to ask where we were from and chat to us about the town, the region, the weather or, of course, their sister who went to London once! One man even pulled out photos to show us, and all were completely unperturbed when their stream of fast and often unfamiliar Spanish was met by blank looks from all of us. They just kept trying, and I was usually able to keep up with at least part of the conversation convincingly enough!

We spent two days in Santiago and, apart from spending a couple of hours in the interesting ´Museo de Ciencias Naturales y Antropológias´, didn´t do an awful lot!

We took a bus to Las Termas de Rio Hondo, where I had read we would find thermal pools. We were not disappointed. Termas is a small town with a developed tourist industry, catering mainly for Argentinian tourists as well as North Americans in the winter months (May-August). There was a large campsite that also offered apartments for hire, which cost less than camping does in Europe. We took an apartment! It was really nice with a family bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining room. It was also quite peaceful and we could easily have stayed there a week. Right next to the apartment were the swimming/bathing pools. We had read that the temperatures from the springs fluctuate between 30-85 degrees C, and the pools were certainly between these two figures. The largest of the three pools was not hot, but like a big paddling pool. The smallest was a very pleasant 30-35ish and the middle one must have been at about 70 degrees and was too hot to get into.

After a soak in the warm pool we set off for a walk into town. At the other end of town we found the free public bathing pools, called "La Olla". That was great! A big, greenish pond, smelling faintly of minerals and sulphur, it was hotter than the pool we had been in at the campsite - we reckoned between 35 and 40 degrees. Esther, Tom and I went in for a soak, and edged ourselves into the steaming water the way you do in a hot bath. It was lovely! It was a hot, sunny afternoon and we sat, in the shade of some trees, up to our necks in warm, mineral-rich water. We came away feeling clean and thoroughly refreshed. After a spot of window shopping, and some actual shopping, we obtained our nightly meat fix at a nice little restaurant, and then took a taxi home.



21st - 24th February Argentina
Salta
Spanish style in Salta - Click to enlargeOn the bus from Tucumán (near Termas) to Salta we found ourselves, for the first time since arriving in Argentina, climbing into the mountains. Our journey through the Andes was beginning. The scenery was beautiful, but as we climbed the weather changed. We arrived in Salta in pouring rain.

We spent a relatively long time finding accommodation. We had decided to look for an apartment or somewhere with a kitchen where we could cook for ourselves and, as we had decided to stay there for four days, one of which would be my birthday, we wanted as nice a room as possible. After visiting many places, taking two taxis to avoid rain showers, and getting our feet wet in the rivers that ran down every street, we found Residencial Elena. It was a lovely old house with high ceilings, huge old wooden doors and a sort of central courtyard full of plants. We liked it immediately. Our room had five beds and was pretty basic, but big and comfortable and close to the city centre, with restaurants and cafes all around.

On our first full day there we took a cable car to the summit of Cerro San Bernardo to look at the view of the city. That was fun for all of us, and a good way to pass a couple of hours. Later we took a walking tour of the city centre with a guide. We visited the central plaza and the cathedral there, the government offices, the cultural centre and a big covered market, when the rain arrived, with annoying predictability, in the late afternoon. We braved the rain to visit the Franciscan church before finishing.

My birthday, the 23rd, was a lovely day. Everyone was very excited about giving me me presents and cards in the morning when we woke up. I had to open Esther´s present first to prevent her from exploding! It was a necklace and earrings which she had chosen for me. Then I opened Nick´s present; a dress which we chose together at Termas. it is lovely! Tom had been very clever and bought me something without anyone knowing; a ring made of some kind of reeds woven together. I had a shower and got dressed and felt very special!

We had pastries for breakfast, got some clothes washed at a launderette, and spent a lot of the day wandering around town in the sunshine, taking in the peaceful and friendly atmosphere and chatting to local people. We had lunch in a cafe and then went back to the hotel where I had a siesta to prepare for an evening of eating! When I woke up I went to pick up my email; ecards and birthday greetings from all the family. Then Nick went to pick up the laundry, I got dressed up in all my new things, and we went out for dinner. We went to a restaurant which had been recommended by the guide who led the walking tour, and it was lovely, and a bit more upmarket than our usual style. We were even given a glass of pink champagne before our meal. We ate steak done exquisitely in fantastic sauces, and there wasn´t a chip in sight! We drank a gorgeous bottle of red wine. Fantastic!



22nd February Argentina
Las Quebradas de las Conchas
Rock strata at Quebradas de las Conchas - Click to enlargeWe took a day trip to Cafayate to see the Quebradas de las Conchas, a series of deep river gorges with striking rock formations and fantastically coloured rock strata. All the scenery was breathtaking. On the way we stopped first at "La Garganta del Diablo" (yes, another Devil´s throat!) It was incredible how deeply the water has gouged through the rock. Standing in the bottom of the now dry ravine we were awestruck by its sheer size. We also stopped in various places to take pictures of the incredible colours in the rock strata. When the land was covered by the sea, millions of years ago, somehow layer upon layer of different minerals were deposited here. Then water, wind and earthquake activity eroded and pushed the masses of rock and clay soil to reveal the incredibly coloured oxides left to view. Iron oxide makes rust-red, copper makes green, mica makes glistening turquoise and sulphur makes yellow. It was really incredible.

We arrived at Cafayate at 12ish, and were taken to visit a winery. The area around Cafayate is a wine producing area, famed for its white wine, Torrontés. A guide from the winery showed us around and explained how the wine is made. Then we were treated to a tasting. What fun!

There was a great atmosphere in Cafayate, as the Carnaval was going on and thousands of festival-goers were gathered in the plaza and the markets. We had lunch in a restaurant and then hired a trike for Esther and a bike for Thomas for half an hour from a hire shop doing a roaring trade! We left for our return journey back to Salta at 3pm.

On the way back we stopped at the "Amfiteatro", an immense natural ´amphitheatre´ gouged into the mountainside long ago by water erosion. Again it was impressive, and a small group of musicians were playing pipe and guitar music there, which allowed us to appreciate the acoustics of the place. Also we stopped at "Castillos" where the rocks look like gigantic sandcastles carved into the cliff face.

There was a cafe which kept goats, as well as making fantastic cakes, on the way back to Salta, which was an interesting place to stop for a tea break. Then we dozed, and Esther played with the other children on the tour, until we drove back into Salta at 7.30pm.



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