December 2011

Our pickup for our penguin tour arrived a little late and in a car (not a van as most tours) with just one other couple.  The first stop today was a beach town for dolphin watching.  We weren’t interested in this so we just walked along Playa Union and into town while the other couple (nice Europeans who work for HP) went out on a boat.  The beach was fine and we treated ourselves to cold sodas and ice creams on the walk back.

argentina0523After another hour and a half drive, we arrived at Punta Tombo.  The nature preserve has a a beautiful new visitor center which would have been excellent if we could read Spanish.  We grab a quick lunch and then hop onto the tour bus to be taken to the lower part of the preserve where we will walk among the penguins.  There are a couple hundred thousand penguins here and it’s one of the largest colonies of Magellanic penguins in the world (and I assume that Magellanic penguins are so named because they look like Ferdinand Magellan).  There are nests with juveniles, small groups, and lots of penguins down on the coast.  It’s amazing to be this close to them.  I really should have worn a tuxedo to feel at home.

After we return to the car, the other couple wanted to go to Gaiman, the Welsh town near Trelew.  This was something that we had wanted to do as well.  There was a lot of overhead between buses to and from Trelew and back to Puerto Madryn, but we were able to tour Gaiman.  There’s not a whole lot in the town, but we enjoy the full tea service at Te Gwyn.  We finally get back to Puerto Madryn late and soon it’s New Years and we watch fireworks that are going off around the Puerto Madryn area.  Tomorrow we have an early flight to El Calafate in southern Patagonia.

View the photos from today:,%20Punta%20Tombo/index.html

We forced ourselves up after about five hours of sleep.  We took a taxi into town with our laundry since our hotel is on the edge of town.  After dropping it off, we ate lunch at Cantina El Náutico where I get enough salmon for three people made with enough butter to clog four hearts.  We then did some tour investigating for visiting the penguins tomorrow. Many agencies are closed until after siesta time and the town is kind of empty mid-day.  Puerto Madryn is a good base for exploring things in the area so most tourists are out exploring at this time of the day.

argentina0467We walk back to our hotel along the beach which is pleasant and the weather is perfect.  I take a much needed nap while L’ checks out the beach.  We then catch the bus (which conveniently stops right in front of our hotel), book a tour for tomorrow, get our laundry, and then take the bus back to the hotel since we don’t want to take our laundry with us to dinner.  We then return to town and eat at a recommended restaurant, El Almendro.  The wine and dessert are excellent and the food just fair (on our admittedly high standards).    Still it was nice to have a quiet dinner and when we are done, the restaurant calls us a cab to take us back to our hotel.

View the few photos from today (sorry, no picture of me napping this time):,%20Puerto%20Madryn/index.html

After breakfast, packing up, and checking out of our hotel, we walk about one mile to the Güirá Oga.  Güirá Oga, which means “House of Birds” in the Guaraní language, is a rehabilitation center for birds and other animals.  They have a 1.5 hour guided walk through part of their facility to look at the animals in their care.  They have many birds and also monkeys, deer, and other indigenous animals.  The stop was interesting and it’s good to see some environmental care in this part of the world.

argentina0445We walk back to our hotel for lunch, retrieve our luggage, and go to the airport.  We had requested a 2pm pickup, were told it would be 1:30-2pm, and then, of course, they showed up at 2:15pm.  An example of “hurry up and wait”.  We had plenty of time at the Iguazú airport.  In fact, it was too much time since three flights to Buenos Aires depart fifteen minutes apart, all from the same gate and security checkpoint.  Unfortunately, this would turn out to be the least of the travel frustrations today.

We were flying to Trelew and connecting in Buenos Aires.  After arriving in Buenos Aires and going through security (again), our flight to Trelew took off late.  About a half hour or so after takeoff, the captain informs us that there is a “minor mechanical” problem, we are returning to Buenos Aires, and we’d be provided with more information later.  At least we now understood why the sun was setting on the wrong side of a supposedly southbound pane.

Turns out there are no further announcements, but we land safe and sound in Buenos Aires.  We final start boarding the plane again around 12:30am (after several hours in the airport and my consumption of the world’s worst Cesar salad for dinner).  As we are walking up the stairs to the plane (there is no jet way), we are alerted by the people in front of us to blood on the steps.   The trail of blood continues just beyond our row of seats.  The old woman who we saw really struggling to go up and down the stairs earlier, severely cut her leg.  She was sitting in her seat trying unsuccessfully to stop the bleeding.  We, along with others, flag down a member of the flight crew who cringes at the site of the woman’s leg.  L’ asks me what they should do.  Since I could tolerate no further delays of our flight, with all compassion, I replied “I don’t know, take her out back and shoot her?”.  Eventually, an ambulance arrives and takes the injured woman and her clueless companion off the plane.  By around 1:30am we take off and land without incident in Trelew about 6 hours after our scheduled arrival.  We take the airport shuttle from Trelew Airport to Puerto Madryn around 4am (and we are thrilled they are there at this time as I’m sure the other folks were).  After the hour ride to Puerto Madryn  we arrive at our hotel following about 23 hours of travel.  We get to sleep by 6am and sleep to 11am.  So much for getting a good night’s sleep.

View the photos from Güirá Oga:,%20G%C3%BCir%C3%A1%20Oga/index.html

We have an all day trip throughout Misiones Provence for three separate stops.  First we visit the Wanda Mine, then the primary stop at the Jesuit mission of San Ignacio Miní, and finally the maté factory.


The mission is by far the highlight.  The reddish sandstone beautifully compliments the green grass and blue sky.  The current structure dates from the l690s.  It was abandoned by the Jesuits in the late 1700s.  The jungle took it over and it was rediscovered around 1900.  Unlike the Spanish conquistadors or other European explorers, the Jesuits converted the natives in peaceful, non-violent ways.  The Jesuits learned the native languages and slowly started interacting with the locals (who are the Guarani).  Knowledge was shared and at one point there were about 6,000 people living at this particular mission. 

Our guide is very knowledgeable and I’m fascinated about how a few Spanish speaking priests were able to get the whole thing going. After touring the mission, our tour group makes a brief stop at a maté tea factory which is mildly interesting, although I take a short snooze during the video portion of the tour.  Finally, we return to town where we have an enjoyable dinner with a British couple who was on our tour.

Pictures from today are here:,%20San%20Ignacio%20Min%C3%AD/index.html

Iguazú Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in the world.  It’s composed of about 275 separate argentina0169waterfalls and straddles the border of Brazil and Argentina.  Our initial plan for today was a morning trip to the Brazil side of the falls and then an afternoon trip to the Argentina side.  Brazil requires US citizens to obtain a visa, but we were led to believe by multiple sources that visits of a few hours were a grey area.   While technically required, no visa was normally needed for such a short visit.  It turned out that the information was incorrect and we were denied entry into Brazil.  We walked back from the Brazil checkpoint to the Argentina checkpoint (about 1.5 miles in hot, humid weather), and re-entered the country we left a short while ago.  We had managed to leave a country, but not enter a new one (at least in the passport sense).

We walk into Puerto Iguazú and catch the bus to the falls.  While getting bounced from Brazil was annoying, it really just cost us a couple hours time and a walk in the sun.  We arrived at the National argentina0325Park in Argentina, paid our entrance fee (at the usual “rich foreigner fee” that is much higher than for locals), and we’re on our way.

Iguazú Falls can only be described as amazing.  It’s many big waterfalls and a few huge waterfalls.  We spend the rest of the day (right up until closing time of the park) exploring the upper and lower loops, San Martin Island, and the train to El Diablo del Gargantua (Devil’s Throat) which is the centerpiece of the huge waterfall.  We can see the viewpoints on the Brazil side, too.  To top it off, on one of the trails, we saw some toucans, baby coatis, and my personal favorite, the monkey.  By the time we get back to the hotel, we are beyond hot and sweaty.  A quick dip in the hotel pool is fantastic (and the temperature is around my pool optimum of 87 degrees) before we clean up and have dinner in the hotel.

Pictures from today’s adventure are here:,%20Iguazu%20Falls/index.html

We make use of the morning to pack up our stuff and again wander around near our hotel.  The Plaza de Mayo is much more crowded today and we wander past it to some other government buildings, monuments, and churches.

argentina0125Our time in Buenos Aires is drawing to a close for now, and we return to the hotel to get our bags, check out and go to the domestic airport (Buenos Aires has a large international airport south of the city center and a smaller airport for mainly domestic and regional flights closer to the middle of town).  The airport is not nearly as smooth and organized as US airports, but we arrive in Puerto Iguazú safely and take an airport shuttle to our hotel. 

The hotel is outside of town so we get some exercise walking in to the town of Puerto Iguazú.  Puerto Iguazú is on the border with Brazil and also near the border with Paraguay.  The primary tourism center is where we are staying since it is tourism focused and safe, unlike the other two. 

While in town, we book a tour for Wednesday to visit the remains of a 17th century Jesuit Mission and then have dinner at a restaurant (Aqva) that was recommended in several guide books.   The recommendation is well earned and the food is very good.  After dinner we walk back to our hotel for tomorrow we have a full day visiting Iguazú Falls. 

Today’s photos are here:,%20Buenos%20Aires/index.html

Nearly everything is closed today, so our travel agent wisely recommended we book a day trip out of town.  We go to visit the Pampas (grassland area, outside of Buenos Aires) to see the Argentine Cowboys, known as Gauchos.   We visit a farm and see the gauchos.  It’s very touristy, but with limited choices today, it was fine.  We take a ten minute horseback ride around the farm and visit the small museum.  There is then a lengthy meal (an asado) of various grilled meats.  L’ gets pasta while I enjoy my first taste of excellent Argentine beef.  We talk with a couple of guys from Puerto Rico who are pleasant and speak English (it seemed as if most people on the tour did not). 

argentina0115After lunch, there’s some music and tango dancing.  This is followed by the demonstration of a gaucho skill of called “La carrera de Sortija”.  This trick involves racing on your horse and trying to grab a small hanging metal ring with a small stick as you race underneath it.   It was fun to see and certainly appeared to be challenging.  We had a little more time after the demonstration, but then it was time to board the bus and return to Buenos Aires.

Since we got a little dusty, we take showers and then track down a kosher restaurant so L’ can try the kosher version of the local beef.  We’re off to the Palermo section of Buenos Aires which we reach by a short taxi ride.  We stop at a park with the hope of seeing the menorah lighting, but no one is in sight.  Since we’re hungry, we go to the restaurant for dinner.  Without an English menu, determining the steaks is a bit hard, but the limited English of one of the waiters helps enough.  The steaks were fair and I continue to wonder why the kosher steaks I grill at home are always much better than ones in restaurants (see, I’ve earned the grillmaster title that’s on my apron). 

I make an ice cream stop on the walk back to the main street where we then catch a cab and return to our hotel.  Tomorrow we’re off to Iguazú Falls.

View the photos from the Pampas here:,%20The%20Pampas/index.html#

Because we were flying Delta, our trip was less direct than it could have been as we had to fly through Atlanta.  Delta must have thought I really missed the Atlanta airport since our flight to ATL was rescheduled to leave almost an hour earlier than when we booked it and our flight to Buenos Aires left an hour late.  We had almost six hours in the airport during which we had lots of food and even got massages.  Buenos Aires is two hours ahead of the East Coast of the US, but is a ten hour flight from AT which combined with the time in the airport, made for a long travel day.

We arrived in Buenos Aires in the morning and met our driver to go to our hotel.  Luckily, the room was ready so we could check in and clean up after about 24 hours of travel.  We then walked to nearby Plaza de Mayo, argentina0015home of the Casa Rosada, where the president works (and Evita’s balcony).  We also take in the other buildings around the square, including the monument to Argentine Independence.  The weather is near perfect and not the hot sticky conditions we were lead to believe occurred in summer (and which we would experience on our return to Buenos Aires at the end of our vacation).  We wander around Florida St. (not named for the state) and its many shops and trinkets for sale.

After a pizza lunch, we explore other parts of the city like Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world (supposedly) at 12 lanes of traffic.  There are various monuments to see and we make it to the Plaza del Congresso to see the legislative branch of government.  We take in the various statues and architecturally interesting buildings en route. 

For a snack on the way back to the hotel, we eat at Gran Café Tortoni , the oldest such place in the city, dating from 1858.  I order a milkshake which seems to have almost no ice cream, but is still good.  As most museums are closed, we return to the hotel for some naps. 

Feeling refreshed, we then search for a dinner place.  While the man in the hotel this morning said everything would be open it (which seemed surprising), it turns out that almost nothing is open.  We finally track down a Chinese place that’s not too far and not ten times the price of what dinner should be.  It was more of a big buffet, but at that point we couldn’t be picky.  Finally, having had dinner, we’re ready to get some sleep and be ready for tomorrow’s trip to the Pampas.

View the photos of our travel and arrival in Buenos Aires here:,%20Buenos%20Aires/index.html#