Archive for December, 2018

Part 8: South America – Uruguay.

Friday, December 21st, 2018

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February 15, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Colonia, Uruguay.

After spending longer in Buenos Aires than expected we were moving on. 

This time to Uruguay. 

Our side excursion package included two ferry rides, a bus trip, accommodation and daily excursions. 

Our ferry from Buenos Aires was the Francisco. It was large, sleek, fast and carried both cars and passenger. 

The ferry terminal was run like an airport with check-in counters and baggage drop. There was even a baggage carousel at the Uruguay end. 

Both on the ferry and the bus transfer to the hotel, not a word of English was spoken. 

There wasn’t that much English when we arrived in Colonia del Sacramento or simply Colonia as it is known. There were only two tourist buses a day that had an English guide. 

Colonia faces Buenos Aires, across the Río de la Plata and was once a Portuguese colony.

Colonia del Sacramento was founded by Manuel Lobo in 1680 under the direction of King Peter II of Portugal.

Over history Uruguay has been ruled by both the Spanish and the Portuguese, however the official language is Spanish. It gained independence from Brazil in 1828 and today is one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America.

It is ranked first in  regard to peace, democracy, press freedom and the perception of low corruption. It also has the most prosperous middle class, with economic freedom and income equality.

Voting is compulsory with 92% of the Uruguayans opting to go to the ballot box. The army is voluntary and mainly used for natural disasters and peace keeping. Marijuana and cannabis are also legal and gay marriage was legalised in 2013.

They certainly are very progressive in Uruguay.

Dinner on our first night was at Típico Nuestro and it will probably go down as one of the worst meals we have had in South America. 

The kababs had been pre cooked and were tough – the beef was inedible. 

There was an extensive list of local craft beers but it took me five choices before they could actually find one in stock. 

I ordered a glass of red wine but, like the beer, it wasn’t available. So I chose another one. The waiter poured what was left in the bottle, which wasn’t nearly a full glass. 

He was content to leave it like that. 

When I ordered another glass of the same wine, it was switched to a different one. 

Do they really think we are that stupid? 

When we came to pay our bill the waiter expected a tip – he got nothing. 

So much for the quality of life and high living standards in Uruguay. We certainly didn’t see it at Típico Nuestro.

 

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February 16, 2018. Colonia, Uruguay.

After breakfast in our hotel we walked back down to the port for our first excursion. 

In Colonia we had both a walking tour and then a days worth of travel on the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. 

The walking tour of the old town was first, however they gave us a drive around the bus circuit before we started. Here everything was explained in English. 

Apart from this trip at 10am and another at 3pm, all the other Hop-On Hop-Off Bus services were only in Spanish. 

Our guide had excellent English and a great sense of humour. 

An interesting feature of Colonia is the contrast between the Spanish and Portuguese heritage. This is most evident in the architecture and, strangely, the construction of the roads. 

The Portuguese didn’t bother about drainage or sewerage, they just prayed for rain to wash everything onto the roads and then into the river. 

Their roads are concave with a central channel to help with drainage. 

The Spanish roads are convex with drainage in the form of gutters on either side. 

Their more formal approach is probably due to the huge influence the Romans had in the Spanish part of the Iberian Peninsula. 

The housing was also different between the Portuguese and the Spanish. 

The Portuguese use adobe and their houses were usually limited to one storey. While the Spanish built with bricks and we usually two storeys high. 

Another interesting feature of Colonia was the street dogs. (This is the subject of a separate blog)

The historical centre of Colonia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many tourists make a day trip from Buenos Aires.

After our walking tour around the historic quarter we jumped onto the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus.

A fair drive out of town was the Bull Ring and Casino.

The bull ring was opened in 1910 and could hold up to 10,000 blood thirsty patrons. It only hosted bull fights for eight events before it was closed by the Uruguayan National Government in 1912.

Today it lies derelict.

The bull ring was part of an ambitious tourist project that also included a racecourse and casino. Only the racecourse is still in operation.

 

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February 17, 2018. Colonia to Montevideo, Uruguay.

The morning was taken up with a bus trip from Colonia to Montevideo.

We were staying in the Hotel Aloft, a haven for the tech tourist, with power and USB points everywhere. We were very close to the water, which was great for a stroll after the bus trip.

It wasn’t in the centre of Montevideo but there were good restaurants and coffee shops within the very upmarket area surrounding our hotel. 

This was good as it was Thea’s birthday, so we needed to find somewhere interesting for dinner.

Also just near our hotel was the Punta Carretas Shopping Mall. It was a former prison built in 1910 and designed by Domingo Sanguinetti.

The site was redeveloped and became the mall 1994. Now not much of the prison remains, except the entrance.

Interesting there was a mass break-out of the prison in 1971. A tunnel was used as part of the escape plan and the exit was in El Berretin, the restaurant where we celebrated Thea’s birthday.

Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay and the largest city. It was established in 1724 by a Spanish soldier, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala. This was a strategic move during the constant Spanish-Portuguese conflicts.

 

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February 18, 2018. Montevideo, Uruguay.

We again used the Hop-Off Bus around Montevideo and stopped at Plaza Cagancha (Stop 3) and walked back to Plaza Independencia (Stop 2). We then picked up the bus again and from there we did the rest of the trip back to our stop (Stop 7). 

In Plaza Independencia there was a very impressive statue of General José Artigas (1764-1850).

Artigas was born in Montevideo and was a national hero of Uruguay. He was a democrat, federalist and opposed to monarchism (The Spanish).

In 1850 he died in Paraguay, aged 86, after a long period of self exile there. It wasn’t until 1977 that his remains were returned to the Artigas Mausoleum in Montevideo.

We were fascinated to see so many Uruguayans drinking Yerba Mate Compuesta (A strange drink that requires a thermos with a cup and straw) Yerba mate is a herb used too make a tea beverage known as mate. It was first cultivated by the indigenous communities of the Guarani people in southern Brazil, before European colonisation.

There is also a chilled version which is prepared with cold water and ice rather than with hot water. 

There were four football teams staying at the Aloft Hotel. They were playing in an under 20 competition, the ‘River Plate’ which was hosted by Uruguay. 

The small pool table in reception was never un-occupied.

 

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February 19, 2018. Montevideo, Uruguay to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The ferry trip back to Buenos Aires wasn’t until 7:30 pm so we had another day in Montevideo. 

Unfortunately the good weather ended and rain was forecast. 

The rain held off and we caught a taxi to the Mercado Agrícola de Montevideo. 

Built between 1906 and 1913, it is regarded as one of the largest covered market in South America. 

After a wander around and then a coffee we walked back to the Parliament building. 

The legislative centre of Uruguay is in a massive Neo-Classical building. Construction started in 1904 and it was inaugurated in 1925 to celebrate the centenary of the declaration of independence. 

We then returned to the market and had lunch – it was still a long time until the ferry left.

Part 7: South America – Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

February 9, 2018. Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It was great to get a good night’s sleep on the ship without it rocking. 

Now it was back to the business of travelling. Initially to to Buenos Aires for four nights and from there we would plan the last part of our trip. 

It was a long day of travelling. 

Firstly waiting to get the bus to Ushuaia Airport, then waiting for the plane to actually take off and finally waiting to disembark at Buenos Aires. 

When we arrived it was a balmy 25°C and didn’t drop much below that in the evening. 

I do prefer the warmth to the cold. 

We were staying at the Hotel Pulitzer in the heart of Buenos Aires. On our first night we weren’t wanting to venture too far so we found a great Spanish restaurant, just around the corner.

The hotel had a rooftop bar and we did go there a few times during our stay in the city.

The staff were friendly and there was a real mixture of tourist and locals. In fact the Hotel Pulitzer was a delight, everyone was friendly and went out of their way to help.

Even the breakfast was good.

 

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February 10, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

After eight day without the Internet in Antarctica, we found that our hotel in Buenos Aires was ‘down’. So much for how good the hotel was.

Florida Garden came to the rescue. 

This large café not only had good internet but excellent espresso and it was also just around the corner. 

We then did the The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus tour of the city. 

There were three lines, Red, Blue and Green and took about 3.5 hours to complete all three. 

It’s a city of wide avenues, parks, statues and Neo-Classical architecture. 

Buenos Aires sits on the Río de la Plata. This is the confluence of the Uruguay and Paraná Rivers and considered as the world’s widest river span at 220 kilometres. 

A fact disputed by Brazil who believe the Amazon is wider. 

Only in the incredibly Catholic South America would you find a theme park dedicated to the life of Christ.

Tierra Santa or Holy Land claims to be the world’s first religious theme park. Here you can walk the streets of Biblical Jerusalem. They even have an 18 metre high likeness of Jesus who rises from behind a rock every hour.

We didn’t bother to go but just read about it.

Despite this over-the-top religious extravagance there are very few grand cathedrals within the city.

This might have something to do with the size and devoutness of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the land before the Spaniards arrived. 

Unlike the west coast of South America, there were no large civilisations such as the Aztecs or Incas. In the east there were only small groups of hunter-gatherers. 

Typically the Spaniards built their churches over the sites of the indigenous temples, thereby offering a continuity of location. As there were no large temples in Buenos Aires, there were no corresponding cathedrals.

Just down the road was Galerías Pacífico, a mall devoted to the religion of shopping. This was as grand as any church we had seen. There was even a central dome with excellent frescos by the local artists, Berni, Castagnino, Colmeiro, Spilimbergo and Urruchúa.

The building was designed in 1889, in the Beaux Arts style, by Emilio Agrelo as a department store for a store known as the Argentine Bon Marché.

It was used as a torture centre by the military junta from 1976 to 1983 and declared a national historic monument in 1989.

Having been abandoned for years it was remodelled and opened as a shopping mall in 1991.

 

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February 11, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

As we still had a few hours remaining of the 24 hour Hop-On Hop-Off Bus ticket we caught the Red Line down to Palermo. We found a great café near the Armenia Gardens and after a coffee started the walk back to our hotel. 

It was about 10 kilometres and we stopped at the Botanical Gardens and the Floralis Genérica, among other spots, on the way. 

In the evening we caught up with the remaining Antarctic group members for dinner. 

 

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February 12, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Thea’s new computer, that was only 58 days old, had a fit in Antarctica and wasn’t working. 

After some research she discovered that there had been a recall of that model in early January. 

There was apparently a problem with the battery. 

For Thea, being without a computer is like being without air. 

We had to get a replacement of some kind so we booked another night in the hotel to give us time to see the sights and to shop. 

On the Sunday night we discovered there was a public holiday on the Monday. 

All the computer stores were closed, so shopping would have to wait until the Tuesday 

We continued on the tourist trail and found ourselves in the old part of the city. Much to our surprise we stumbled across of yet another The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.

This must be a least the fourth we have seen on our travels.

 

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February 13, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Expecting to spend most of the day sending our package of clothing and Thea’s broken computer home, then buying a cheap replacement, we were shocked to find that it was yet another public holiday. 

Carnival goes for two days, not one as we thought. 

In the morning we wandered around Puerto Madero. This development, in the waterfront area, is relatively new and there is a mixture of modern architecture and old warehouse buildings.

It runs along the banks of the Río de la Plata and covers an area of about 2.1 square kilometres.

Work started on the port in 1882 and was carried out by the local business man Eduardo Madero, hence the name.

After completion of The New Port of Buenos Aires in 1926, Puerto Madero became superfluous. Then in the 1990s there was a massive redevelopment along the river bank. Now there are shops, restaurants and apartment blocks.

We stopped and had lunch overlooking the river.

In the afternoon we went on a walking tour with Nicolas Hidalgo Frigo, an enthusiastic local guy who runs walking tours as a living and gets paid according to what the tourists think he is worth.

Under the banner of ‘Critical Thinking Tours’ it covered 400 years of Argentinean history, from a Buenos Aires perspective. 

We started and ended near the Pink Palace, the seat of Presidential power. 

The reason, according to Nicolas, that all the public buildings in Buenos Aires are so grand can be attributed to gloating. 

After gaining independence in 1816, the new Argentina wanted to prove to the world that they could build anything the Europeans could – but bigger and better. 

The Argentine War of Independence was fought from 1810 to 1818. This was between patriotic forces, looking for independence, against those loyal to the Spanish Crown. The independence movement was under the command of Manuel Belgrano, Juan José Castello and José de San Martin.

This guy just keeps popping up.

 

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February 14, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Now the shops were open, this was going to be the day to get the chores done. 

First cab off the rank was buying the trip to Uruguay. This meant a walk down to the ferry terminal and visiting the Buquebus travel agent. 

Then we went shopping for another computer. 

It was a balance between memory, size and cost and was a lengthy, drawn-out process. 

Next was the DHL to send our Antarctic jackets, thermals and waterproof pants home. 

And of course, now the non functioning computer. 

After a very long day walking up and down Calle Florida and some side trips we managed to get two of the three tasks completed. 

A new computer was just too hard. They were either too large, too expensive or the stock was too old.

There appears to be no market for small, relatively inexpensive PCs in Buenos Aires.

I wonder what the students use.

Calle Florida, the main walking street near our hotel, should really be called Cambio Street. There are money sellers every few metres and on every corner. All you can hear is, “Cambio, cambio.”