A Travellerspoint blog

Week Three

Iguacu Falls and a series of unexpected events in Buenos Aires

semi-overcast 15 °C

According to the original plan I should be writing to you from Montevideo right now. But I am in fact still in Buenos Aires, due to the slight mishap of having lost my passport. I´ll get round to explaining that shortly. Its all fine though. There are much worse places to be stranded, and I´ve had such a good time here the last few days that it sort of feels like Buenos Aires wasn´t quite ready to let me go. I´ll start with where I left off in the last entry, when I was just about to head off to see some very special waterfalls.

The Iguacu falls cross the border between Argentina and Brazil. I spent a day at each and was blown away. Í recommend seeing both. The Brazilian side gives you a more panoramic view whilst the Argentinian side gets you close up to the falls.

The Brazilian side



The Argentinian side


I spent over an hour at the top of the biggest fall, the Devils Throat, just standing and staring - the river roaring, spray rising up, big black birds circling in and out of the flume. Beautiful.

Following the bus ride back from the falls, which was around 18 hours long, I felt pretty travel sick and groggy for a couple of days. So in preparation for my trip to Montevideo I took it easy. Or at least that was the plan. On Sunday evening, which was supposed to be my last night in Buenos Aires, I went for a couple of drinks with Brian and my friend Torra. It wasn´t a hevy night and we just went to two bars and then got the taxi back. It was as I was walking to the door of my apartment that I felt in my pocket to make sure my passport was still there and got a nasty shock. I have no idea how it escaped. There´s a small chance it was stolen but to be honest there´s also a chance it just slipped out of my pocket somewhere. I should have had it somewhere more secure. In fact I shouldn´t have had it on me at all. But there you go. It was a sickening feeling. After a few hours of troubled sleep I went straight to the British Embassy. They were very helpful and it was a relatively painless procedure. I had to pay 600 pesos (about 110 pounds) to get a new one, which smarts but I can claim it back on insurance, and they say they´ll have it ready for me by tomorrow.

Finding myself with an extra couple of days in Buenos Aires, I used the internet at the embassy to locate a highly recommended hostel in the city centre, Estoril. I feel like I´ve really landed on my feet here. Its one of the the best hostels I´ve stayed in and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who comes here. Its kind of quiet and not really a party hostel, but its got a really nice laid back and friendly atmosphere. Í´m sharing a room with two lovely Aussies, Kirsty and John, and we´ve been hanging out quite a bit. I really love it here. In fact I´d go so far as to say this is the most consistently relaxed and happy I´ve felt since I arrived. I´m not saying I´m glad I lost my passport or anything, but there´s nothing like a run of good luck following a run of bad.

Yesterday I found myself missing my ukulele, so I went wandering down a road of something like forty guitar shops (seriously) in search of a cheap one. The thing is, they don´t really do ukuleles here (aside from my Myspace amigo Paul Maudit, who is awesome. http://myspace.com/paulmauditukeleleman ). Ukuleles are near impossible to find, even given the run of a ridiculous number of guitar shops. Instead they play the charango. The charango is the same size as a ukulele but with ten strings close together in pairs. So its like a cross between the uke and the mandolin. The tuning is very similar to ukulele (ukulele:GCEA, charango:GGCCEEAAEE) so its easy to pick up and play with. It originated in Bolivia, I think. I really loved it when i tried it and thought: Well, when in Rome...so now I have myself a lovely charango to accompany me on my travels. I can see it becoming very addictive. Brian saw one in Chile, the body of which was made from a hollowed out armadillo. So if you´re wondering what to do with your dead armadillos, there´s a project for you. Blue Peter eat your heart out. Or better still hollow your armadillo out.

Last night Kirsty´s Columbian friend Andreas took us to a Milonga (tango hall) for a lesson and some live tango and music. It pays to have a resident take you to places off the tourist track. I think it was called Catedral, which is appropriate somehow. It was absolutely stunning, with high ceilings and strange artwork and this gorgeous dark and smokey atmosphere. The wine and food was incredible too. We learnt a few steps and patterns, which was really tricky but great fun once you start to get the hang of it. After our lesson there was an advanced class that we watched as we ate, and then a tango band played. The whole night was beautiful. By the way, the must-know name in tango here is the singer Carlos Gardel. His image and his music are everywhere. He´s sort of like the Argentinian Elvis. He died in his thirties in a plane crash, so actually maybe Buddy Holly is the better comparison. Why does being a musician seem to greatly increase your chances of dying in a plane crash? In the case of Lynyrd Skynyrd I figure it was divine retribution for the ten minute guitar solo in Freebird, but for Buddy, Carlos, the Big Bopper and the others I struggle to explain.

I´ve just heard through Kirsty that a guy staying at a hostel nearby is offering a free bus ride to Lima in Peru. He drove it down to Buenos from Lima with a bunch of people and now he has to take it back. But there are only three passengers so far, two Aussies and an Irish girl, so he just wants to have a few more people on board for company. Should I? I definitely should. But can I? They´re leaving tomorrow morning at 9:30am. I don´t know if the office will have my passport ready by then. The embassy said it would be ready for tomorrow but advised not travelling till after midday. And then I just got this email from them saying they´re still waiting for an important response from a UK office regarding my application. What does that mean? They may not have my application ready tomorrow at all? I´m going to go down there 8:45 tomorrow morning and find out whats going on. Catching the bus to Lima and blagging my way on to an Inca Trail is looking like a long shot, but what if?


How´s that for a shameless cliffhanger? Hasta luego,

Mark x

Posted by MPemb 07:28 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Week Two

Learning Spanish and getting to know Buenos Aires

sunny 24 °C

I´ll begin with photos of a few of my favourite places in Buenos Aires before I give you a quick update.

This is probably the coolest of the Barrios (districts), with beautiful old buildings and a vast market on Sundays when the streets are packed with folk art, crafts, live music, and of course...tango!




The poorest neighborhood in Buenos Aires is also the most colourful. Its very touristy on the main shopping road, and then beyond that its not advisable to venture. Eep.


Just beyond the city is an enormous ecological reserve teaming with wildlife and tropical trees. It seems crazy, walking straight from roaring traffic to somewhere like this.



After one week at Expanish I feel I´ve gained a good foundation on which to build my Spanish. I´m already noticing the benefits. I can now actually have two way conversations with people (even if limited) and do some essential things like decipher menus and understand what waiters are saying to me. Phew. I´ll keep learning as I travel around. The flatshare has been great too. I´ve been living with Spanish speaking Carolina and two really nice guys from London, George and Simon, who are learning at a more advanced level. They´ve all been very welcoming. The other night we all went out to a Brazilian bar and had a bit of a boogie. The Argentinians don´t generally eat dinner until 10pm, and then maybe they´ll leave to go for drinks somewhere between 11pm and 2am. The bars seem to be open all night. When do they sleep? I don´t know!

I do love it here but its a pretty hard place to relax. I had a few days over the last week where I reached a kind of burnt out stage. I was still dragging myself into classes every morning then rushing round trying to see everything and forgetting to eat and sleep properly then wondering why I felt funny. I´m now adjusting and making sure I keep myself hydrated and well fed. The next two places on my itinerary should also help me take it a bit more easy.

This evening I´m catching an overnight bus to Foz Iguacu, some spectacular waterfalls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. They´re one of the National Geographic´s top three natural wonders of the world, and everyone I´ve spoken to says I HAVE to go. Okay. I´ll be there for two nights including atour of the Argentinian side and the Brazilian side. I´ll be back in Buenos next weekend (when I plan to hit the town with Brian and check out some more crazy bars) before heading on to my next destination, Montevideo. Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay and is supposed to be a very beautiful and beachy city, though comparable to Buenos Aires in some ways. All the cities on the Rio del Plata tend to share a similar European influence and folk culture. Its also a great place to see live candombe, a very cool Afro-Latino style of percussion music. I´ve booked three nights in a hostel there and then I´ll see what happens. The chances are my next move will be to get a coach up into Porto Alegre in Southern Brazil. You may have noticed this is completely different from my original plan. Well...

My next update may be next weekend if I get time but we´ll see. I hope y´all in England are having a wonderful start to the summer. Despite my rather enviable position at the moment I was very jealous to hear that Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart came to see a film at the Tyneside recently. I wish I´d been there to give Sir Ian a hug. Fool of a took! Speak soon, lots of love. Mark x

Posted by MPemb 16:07 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Week One

Buenos Aires and Colonia del Sacramento

sunny 23 °C

I'm finally allowing myself a day to take stock and organise my time ahead. Whilst fighting the inevitable twin impact of jetlag and culture shock, I've managed to have some pretty fantastic and full on experiences over the past week.

Those of you who have seen me late for a bus or rushing to catch a train will know that public transport can make me just a little nervous. I'll admit that I was totally flustered by the prospect of a twelve hour flight to Sao Paolo. I spent much of it falling in and out of sleep, waking up periodically and feeling puzzled to find myself in a big metal tube somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean. The changeover flight was 8:30am Latin American time. The next two hours passed relatively quickly, and there I was, a bundle of nerves stumbling into South America.

Brian had given me an address on Tacuari, a road in the city centre. As my taxi neared the city I was bombarded with a series of conflicting sights: crumbling tower blocks, plush high rise apartments, vast roads, tropical trees; a pastiche of European and Latin American styles, wealth and poverty. The contradictions didn't cease as we neared the centre of town. They only grew closer together. Stepping out at the address on Tacuari I was somewhat concerned to find that it was a flat building, seeing as Brian hadn't given me a flat number. I tried pushing a button labeled 'recepcion' though it looked decidedly broken. I even tried inquiring with one of the other residents. No joy. Rather than hang about in the street with all of my luggage, I made a bee-line for the nearest hostel. I booked into the Clan Hostel for one night, where I was given a room in a ten person dorm. As hostels go it had a pretty good vibe - colourful and cheerful if a bit run down. An hour or so later I succesfully reached Brian via the wonders of Facebook. He came to the hostel and took me straight out for coffee and exploring. It was great to get a quick and enthusiastic tour of the centre of town, including the bustling shopping streets and local markets that carry on well into the evening. Finally my initial nerves were giving way to a sense of excitement.

Later we went for a drink in the Clan Hostel bar, making the most of my single night there. We met a few interesting English and Australian people. At one point I found myself talking to a girl who just happened to be from Guildford, about twenty minutes from Sutton, was going to study at Wimbledon where I did my foundation course, and was then planning to move to Brighton, where I'm moving to in September. Shortly afterwards Brian was chatting to a girl who happened to be from Darlington where he grew up. I only mention it because it was a bit like that episode of Red Dwarf in which the crew meet female equivalents of themselves from a parallel universe, except I didn't get pregnant. Sorry - ignore that - I watch too much sci fi. As we parted company and prepared to call it a day I remarked to Brian that I always feel annoyed at myself for using the phrase 'It's a small world', but that it never stops seeming appropriate. He told me the Spanish have a different saying, 'Todo Mundo es un panuelo'. 'All the world is a handkerchief.' Ick. The following morning I bade farewell to the Clan Hostel and moved into Brian's flat - a charming little place, if a little close to the noise of traffic ouside. I've been crashing on his floor up till now.

The first main tourist attraction I visited, and one of the must-sees according to all the guide books, was the Recoleta Cemetary where many of the most powerful figures of Argentinian history are buried. The easy comparison that springs to mind is the Parisian cemetary of Pere Lachaise. Although primarily for aristocracy, the main attraction for many is the tomb of a woman born into the working classes: Eva Peron, or Evita. If a brief history helps...Evita was the wife of Juan Domingo Peron, elected president three times (first in 1946), winning the Argentinians over with his working class sympathies. Evita became a political force in her own right, touring the world and bringing Peronism to the masses before falling ill and dying in 1952. Peronism still maintains a powerful grip on Argentinian politics. The current president, Cristina Kirchner, makes no attempt to dismiss the label 'Peronist' when applied to her. Politics aside Evita presents a great rags d to riches story that will always have mass appeal. Thanks though to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical based on her life we English have one more thing to avoid bringing up in conversation with Argentinians, besides Margaret Thatcher.









Its a big metal flower! The Floralis Generica was designed by Eduardo Catalano. It opens during the day and closes its petals from dusk till dawn. An impressive piece of engineering. But not a patch on Newcastle upon Tyne's Millenium Bridge. Haway man!


I was excited at the prospect of what I might find at the National Art Gallery. There were some Goyas and Velazquez, though they weren't brilliant examples...some impressive Degas...what I was really searching for was a feel for Argentinian art. Who were the key figures? What characterised their art? I would end up finding these questions difficult to answer. Dissapointingly much of the modern Argentinian art from the 30s onwards seemed to be derivative of European styles. A poor imitation of Cezanne here, a poor imitation of Picasso there. But then, as I moved further back through the chronology, it was like I struck gold several times in a row. The most notable perhaps was Cesareo Bernaldo de Quiros 1879-1918, whose striking portraits of old Argentinian gauchos (cow herders) and workers were beautifully executed. They had Manet-like compositions in which each central figure is blocking the rest of the painting in an imposing manner. Two other painters of a similar period, Eduardo Siuori and Ernesto De La Carcova, found their way into my notebook. Another understated but brilliant artist here was Rafael Pedro Figari 1861 - 1938, a Uruguayan painter who painted lively street scenes in subdued pastel colours. Check them out if curious.

Brian was giving an English lesson to a private student the next morning, so I had to be out early. I gave myself a rough list of things to see. Mostly though I took it as an opportunity to spend some time wandering with a map and finding my bearings. Its quite daunting at first given the size of the city, but its not actually too complicated to navigate given the grid system much like in North American cities. I treated myself to an enormous energizing breakfast of coffee, orange juice, croissants, scrambled egg, toast, and apple pie. The food in Buenos Aires, much like the modern art I suppose, is a kind of quirky variation on European styles. There are a lot of dishes with extremely high sugar content - which I think I would struggle with in the long term, but then again it is useful to have access to so much high energy food in a city as busy as this. Also, a real bonus is the fondness for random free stuff. For example, I didn't order that apple pie - it just turned up as an added extra. Sometimes when you order a beer a bowl of peanuts will turn up and they won't charge you for it. My cinicism made me wonder at first whether it was a tourist thing, but apparently not.

This is a spectacular square in the heart of the city, where many protests and marches are held. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo still march here campaigning for a full account of the Dirt War atrocities committed by the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. During this time between 10,000 and 30,000 people died or 'disappeared' under Jorge Rafael Videla's campaign of violence against those with left wing or communist sympathies.




This georgeous cathedral next to the Plaza de Mayo houses the tomb of Jose San Martin, who liberated Argentina from the Spanish in 1816 before being exiled to France. The tomb is constantly guarded by armed soldiers.



Before arriving I had done some research into Spanish schools in Buenos Aires. After spending just a few days here it seemed even more like a sensible thing to get involved with. Expanish (Experience Spanish) had stood out. I tend to trust organisations with well organised websites, so that was a selling point, along with the beautiful old building where lessons take place. I went to inquire and, finding the staff friendly and the atmosphere good, signed up for a week's worth of lessons beginning on Monday. It'll be twenty hours from Monday to Friday, with additional evening activities you can sign up for including tango lessons, walks, wine tasting, and parties. I have also signed up for a week's flat share, designed to help immerse you in the language by sharing accomodation with at least on other Spanish speaker. I just got my flat share info through. I'll be sharing with a 26 year old Psychology student called Carolina in Bario Norte, a neighbourhood roughly a twenty minute walk from the school and Brian's flat. So by the end of next week I should have a good grip on the language that will serve me well for wherever else I plan to go in South America, as well as having met lots of new people and fully experienced Buenos Aires living and nightlife.

I was itching to see some live music that evening, and Brian was not adverse to the idea. La Pena Del Colorado was guidebook-recommended as an exciting place to see live Tango. We enjoyed a few beers and became enchanted by the voice of a middle aged Argentinian crooner. Nice. The beer here is interesting. You drink it more like wine, inasmuch as you order a litre bottle and share it between small glasses. I'd imagine I'll be returning to La Pena at some point. It is a very swanky joint.

On Friday we decided on a day trip to Colonia, taking a ferry across to Uruguay. By reputation Colonia is one of the prettiest towns in Uruguay. I can only decribe it as ridiculously idyllic. Palm trees, coastline, colourful worn down buildings, street cafes - a beautiful old colonial town unchanged by time.







This weekend will mostly be a more calm affair as I get my head straight and plan my next move. The most likely plan for the week after next is to catch a twelve hour bus ride to Cordoba, where I'll spend a couple of nights before heading up to Salta, a much more traditional colonial Argentinian city that will provide me with a clear route into Bolivia and then into Peru. I'll also be brushing up on my Spanish in preparation for Monday's class and moving into my new accomodation. However if I do feel up to it here is a possibility of a football game at Boca on tomorrow, organised by Expanish. I've heard the Argentinians really know how to party when it comes to football. So now I'll sign off and send you all my love for reading this rather lengthy post. I'll try to update in a week or so when another interval from constant activity arises. Chau!

Posted by MPemb 08:08 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)


sunny 22 °C

This is just a quick entry as I pass an internet cafe to let you know I´ve arrived in one piece, and that I´m having a brilliant time. I should have time at some point over the next few days to give a full report and post some photos up. Its been a pretty intense few days. Buenos Aires is beautiful and busy and completely bonkers. More soon...

Posted by MPemb 09:44 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

The Build Up

Welcome to my travel blog. I hope these entries will help to keep you informed of my whereabouts and doings, as I bumble my way across Latin America for what promises to be a spectacular journey. Check in when you like, drop me a line when you can, send me suggestions and thoughts and warm feelings from wherever you are.

So now I'm at my parents' house in Sutton, where for the last couple of weeks I've been preparing for my trip. For those of you who don't know Sutton: Sutton is an outer London suburb with a train station, a bunch of chain shops, and a bunch of chain pubs. Nothing special really. It was recently described as 'seedy' by a friend in Brighton - which isn't entirely fair, but for lack of a better one 'seedy' is an adjective that might help you visualise the town centre. Proximity to Croydon may not help this image. Then again we do boast one of the best town libraries in the country and, having said that Sutton is nothing special, I saw a wizzard in Waterstone's today. He had a long white beard, a black cape, elaborate metal rings, and a live cat reclining across his shoulders. The cat looked calmly on as its master ranted to a veteran Waterstones staff member about how myths and legends are based on fact! So there are some colourful characters around here. There used to be a guy who dressed all in white, called himself Jesus, and fed pigeons who followed him down the high street like disciples. A few years ago the local papers reported that 'Jesus' had died, only to follow it up weeks later by saying that he and his pigeons had once again been sighted around town. So either reports of his death were premature or...he had been resurrected. I think something funny happens to you if you stay in Sutton too long. Anyway I'm leaving Sutton.

First stop: Buenos Aires, Argentina. After seventeen hours of flying (yikes) beginning at Heathrow and changing in Sao Paolo, I land in Buenos Aires around midday. The plan is to jump in a taxi and go straight to my friend Brian's flat. Brian is an old friend from Newcastle who's been working and travelling in South America since October. After I've dumped my stuff we'll go for a cafe con leche, and in the evening Brian has promised to take me to some sort of drumming event at a club nearby. I'm very excited about experiencing the live music in Buenos Aires. My fascination with Latin America stems in part from my love of Latin American music, which I discovered whilst I was living in Germany: Brazilian bossa nova, tropicalia and MPB, Argentinian folky stuff. I'll be aiming to broaden my musical horizons all round and probably come back with a bag full of CDs. I may also learn to Tango. We'll see. I am essentially a clumsy Englishman with two left feet.

There is no plan beyond the first week or two in Buenos. At least there's nothing set in stone. I've done my research and drawn out a number of potential routes, but so much is left flexible. I'd quite like to get the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento in southern Uraguay, bus it across to Montevideo, and then up into Brazil, possibly swinging by Porte Allegre on the coast. The Iguacu Falls are one of my priorities. It'd be great to make it up to Sao Paolo and Rio. Then who knows what I'll have time for and where my two left feet will lead me. Bolivia? Peru? Two months could go very quickly. At the moment it's all pleasantly mind-blowing. Missing you already England - Newcastle - London - Sutton?!

Posted by MPemb 10:21 Archived in England Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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