Chile- Crossing the Andes by yellow

The journey from Mendoza to Valparaíso occurred in a big yellow bus run by El Rapido. It was not as Rapido as its name would suggest, the scheduled 16:20 arrival was in reality 18:45 after an, on time, 8:30 am departure. The cause was the lengthy wait at the Argentine Chile border, which we understand is usual. El Rapido was a comfortable bus and they even gave us a morning snack and a cheese and ham sándwich around lunchtime. We sat upstairs, at the back, on the right hand side. Upstairs, at the front, is prime position, but we were too late buying tickets to secure those views. Upstairs on the right is second best for the views and views across the Andes are spectacular.

I read that the pass across the Los Libertadores border post operates East West in daylight half of the day and West East during the darker part of the day. While crossing I saw no signs that indicated this was correct. However, as we journeyed west we saw very little traffic coming towards us and certainly not one truck. When we arrived at the Chilean border there was a queue around 3 kilometres long of trucks awaiting passage to Chile and no queue in the other direction. On this basis, I conclude it is a one way timed system for heavy vehicles. This probably makes life administratively easier at the border and safer on the road and in the tunnels. The road had a very smooth, good quality surface which surprised me considering the rockfalls and weather it must endure.

The climb up the Andes from Mendoza takes 3/ 3 and a half hours.

The climb up the Andes from Mendoza takes about three and a half hours.

A slow climb with lots of reasons to keep the camera to hand.

A slow climb with lots of reasons to keep the camera to hand.

The scenery is dry rocky and barren.

The scenery is dry, rocky and barren, even if there is a river in this shot, its taking its moisture away.

Close to the top and it's cold and we are in light snow flurries. Previous afternoon in Mendoza we had been in the pool enjoying a 34 degree day.

Close to the top and it’s cold and we are in light snow flurries. Previous afternoon in Mendoza we had been in the pool enjoying a 34 degree day.

Changing colours

Terrific colours

All fairly inhospitable

All fairly inhospitable

At the top one of the slower border crossings we have ecountered.

At the top one of the slower border crossings we have ecountered.

The Chilean side of the border is totally different. The descent is immediate down a switchback system of roads.

The Chilean side of the border is totally different. The descent is immediate down a switchback system of roads.

I seem to recall the first curve was marked as curve 58 (could be wrong). The curves counted themselves  down from there. I saw a few motorbikes coming up and thought that would be rather fabulous. Cold but fabulous.

I seem to recall the first curve was marked as curve 58 (could be wrong). The curves counted themselves down from there. I saw a few motorbikes coming up and thought that would be rather fabulous. Cold but fabulous.

Looking back up the roads (and vehicles) are protected against rock falls by these concrete lids.

Looking back and up, the roads (and vehicles) are protected against rock falls by these concrete lids.

Until we reach the bottom of the switchback and all is then plain sailing through to Valparaíso. A highly recommended trip. Cost only about AUD33 each.

Until we reach the bottom of the switchback and all is then plain sailing through to Valparaíso. A highly recommended trip. Cost about AUD33 each.

 

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Argentina- Mendoza, Cacheuta

We decided we would visit the hot springs at Cacheuta, Complejo Termal Cacheuta, some 40 k’s outside Mendoza. We made this decision based upon the positive words written in Lonely Planet.

We bought a bus ticket that took some time. We provided personal details and all were sternly entered into the computer. Eight tickets were each printed and each folded neatly and provided to us. The details of departure and return were read to us, while the gentleman also pointed to the same information on the ticket, so everything was clear to us. Each ticket…AUD 1.20 !!!

The trip provided some great views of the Andes. Tall and dramatic and very dry and very barren. An hour later we arrived and made our way to the termas.

Which were a disappointment. The pools were pissy little . Most of the pools were not hot. The word tepid could be applied if I were to be kind, but the word cold is probably more appropriate. This left two or three pools at the top of the resort that were hot and were popular. So popular that there was very little room to squeeze in more humanity. The Lonely Planet said: “do not visit on the weekend, it gets full of locals”. We visited on a Friday and it was to the rafters with locals.

The scenery around the squitty cold pools of Cacheuta is fantastic.

The scenery around the squitty cold pools of Cacheuta is fantastic.

The pools themselves are squitty if hot or cold. Scenery good still.

The pools themselves are squitty if hot or cold. Scenery good still.

 

Oh dear. We had allowed for four hours of hot watery entertainment before the return bus ticket, so carefully and lengthily ordered. The first twenty minutes we wandered around to ensure it was truly as pissy small and disappointing as we had first thought. The next twenty minutes were in our bathers in the hot tubs uncomfortably close to old, fat people……..it was getting a bit boring.

Then Alex stopped it being boring and employed a fabulous strategy to extract us from the mistake we had made. While also revealing insights into the Argentinian psyche.

A young man approached and engaged Alex in conversation. He was one of the operatives of the pools. He pointed out that Alex was wearing shorts. She agreed that she was wearing shorts. Shorts that were sold as swimming shorts, shorts that were bought as swimming shorts and shorts that had only ever been used as swimming shorts and would only ever be used as swimming shorts.  This was not allowed advised the young man. Alex pointed out that I was wearing shorts. The young man agreed, but that was not a problem.

The problem was women wearing shorts. The reason for this is “el problema higienico femenino”. Apparently, wearing bikini bottoms defeats this problem in the way wearing shorts does not. Those Argentinian pool managers have a deeply researched and knowledgeable application of fluid dynamics that is not intuitively clear to the lay observer.

Alex pointed out, half a dozen women we could see who were wearing shorts. These also were not a problem as they were not going in the water. Huuuuuhhh? These other women had come to a thermal pool and changed into their bathers in order not to go in the water. Seemed unlikely. Alex was the only non Argentinian trapped by the problema and the shorts rule.

Management had to be summoned. Management were duly summoned. With the same explanation of the cleansing power of bikini bottoms. We agreed that we would leave the complex with the AUD 36 that all four of us had paid to enter. And so the deal was sealed.

We got out, got dressed, got our money and caught the early bus home. I congratulate Alex for her practical method of extracting us from the pissy small thermal pools at Complejo Termal Cacheuta.

I have to conclude that I agree totally with Argentine managements efforts to reduce the numbers in the hot pools. The hot pools are quite small, packed with people and as a consequence are most certainly, soupily unhygienic. At Complejo Termal Cacheuta the hot pools are at body temerature. At that temperature, those with poor bladder control can experience great confusión knowing if all is under control!! I think it is referred as el problema higienico masculino.

I conclude that the Terma Cacheuta were truly, pissy little pools.

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Argentina- Mendoza

Mendoza is a fabulous little town. Technically, it’s a desert. I tried adding up the rainfall shown month by month in the Lonely Planet chart. My additions came to seven inches annually, compared to Melbourne which receives about twenty six inches per annum.

One of the reasons that this town is delightful is its tree lined streets, and the treed parklands, and the plazas with their fountains. How is this magic woven? With channels and sluices and the proximity of a large mountain range and its snow melt. The big channels line every roadway and crossing has to be done by manly leaps or use of the little bridges. Care has to be taken to not tumble down one of these trenches while wandering along the street, they are not well lit, and not of uniform placement.

Trenches each side of all roads and thirsty trees waiting for a drink are rooted in proximity.

Trenches each side of all roads and thirsty trees waiting for a drink are rooted in proximity.

And the big channels have sluices to the little channels and so on until all the magnificent greenery has a little drink in a desert town.

The big channels have gates to the little channels, and so on, until all the magnificent greenery has a little drink in a desert town.

Most of the time the trenches are dry dusty affairs. And then one day.........a gushing stream appears from nowhere (well originally the Andes actually)

Most of the time the trenches are dry dusty affairs. And then one day………a gushing stream appears from nowhere (well originally the Andes actually)

Treed parklands and plazas are lovely spots to sit and enjoy the end destination of sluice and channel activity.imageimage

Use of tiles to decorate the plazas add to the attraction.

Use of tiles to decorate the plazas add to the attraction.

Plus high volume of plazas. This one being Plaza Espagna that is most tiled and most attractive of them all.

Plus high volume of plazas. This one being Plaza Espagna that is most tiled and most attractive of them all.

While there are Irish pubs here . There is also a Liverpool pub. Presumably, a thriving trade in recently acquired stock occurs from the back room!!

While there are many, many restaurants and two Irish pubs, there is also a Liverpool pub. Presumably, a thriving trade in recently acquired stock occurs from the back room!!

Mendoza has great restaurants that offer fine food and fine wine at prices that seemed very small to us. We ate at Annes and Azafran. At our most profligate dinner for two (without children), the bill totalled AUD 40 per person, inclusive of a fabulous bottle of wine chosen from a visit to the cellar, two courses, amuse bouche nonsense and generous tip.

Mendoza is a delightful town but best known for the proximity of vineyards. This is wine country and more specifically home to the Malbec grape…….Ok they do other red grapes as well, but the focus is Malbec. We saw only one local white varietal from here called Torrentes. We thought it was pretty ordinary, so we swiftly moved back to expand our Malbec experience.

Grape vines prove we are at Maipu.

Grape vines prove we are at Maipu.

The Di Tommaso family winery won the prize for most attractive with its old concrete vats.

The Di Tommaso family winery won the prize for most attractive with its old concrete vats.

Still at Di Tommaso the little wooden doors on the concrete vats sealed with wax.

Still at Di Tommaso the little wooden doors on the concrete vats sealed with wax.

We enjoyed the tour at Bodega Carinae. And of all our tasting really liked the Malbec of Vina el Cerno. The tasting volumes were much larger than we are accustomed to receiving.  Alex collapsed immediately after this photo was taken ( quite embarrassing really)

We enjoyed the tour at Bodega Carinae.
Of our tasting we really liked the Malbec of Vina el Cerno. The tasting volumes were much larger than we are accustomed to receiving. Alex collapsed immediately after this photo was taken (quite embarrassing really)

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Uruguay- Colonia

Just across the river from Buenos Aires is Uruguay. The closest point to Buenos Aires is the lovely colonial town of Colonia.

A SeaCat catamaran leaves for Colonia three times a day and returns with the same frequency. A journey of just 60 minutes each way, so we booked our tickets for a day trip.

Immigration is expedient. The Argentine person sits next to the Uruguayan person before you board the vessel in Buenos Aires. One person stamps you out and passes documents to the next, who stamps you in. The reverse, and a similarly efficient process, occurs in Colonia before the return journey.

This is where it is.

This is where it is, get onto the Rio de la Plata at Buenos Aires and head North.

Stone buildings, cobblestone streets and wisteria.

Stone buildings, cobblestone streets and bougainvillia.

Colonia is packed with fabulous restaurants and fabulous cafes. Its small so a lot of sitting, drinking and eating is compulsory.

Colonia is packed with fabulous restaurants and fabulous cafes. Its a small town, so a lot of sitting, drinking and eating is compulsory.

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The quirky, unique aspect of the town is that old vehicles have ended their lives there.

The quirky, unique aspect of the town is that old vehicles have ended their lives here.

The old vehicles sit parked on the street.

The old vehicles sit parked in their demise, occupying a street berth as if  ready to drive back to their decade at any moment.

The old vehicles slowly rot in rather an attractive manner.

The old vehicles slowly rot. This is a more attractive proposition than you may first think.

And for some the rotting is accelerated by deliberate plantings !!!

And for some the rotting is accelerated by deliberate plantings!!!

Colonia. A great day trip from Buenos Aires and a whole new country.

Colonia. A great day trip from Buenos Aires and a whole new country.

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Argentina- Buenos Aires, River Plate

I picked up a newspaper in a cafe. Over coffee I read that, in total, 269 people had been killed at Argentinian soccer games, three in the previous week.

River Plate are top of the Argentinian Division One at the moment I write this. On Sunday 16 November they played Olimpo at their home ground. We visited to cheer them on. It was difficult to cheer on anyone else, away supporters have not been permitted access to grounds for the past two years, and there are no plans for this to alter in the future. It is one of the steps to try and reduce the number of fans being killed at grounds, clearly not sufficient.

In Europe the leagues rest this weekend as there are International games being played. The Argentinian league does not rest. River Plate as leaders have lost only one player to International duties. He has gone to play for Colombia. No others, which was an ominous sign that ……the best Argentinian players do not play here. The second best Argentinian players presumably are those we paid good money to see.

A rather neat plastic card was our ticket. AUD 35, no designated seat, just a designated area.

A rather neat plastic card was our ticket. AUD 35, not a designated seat,  a designated area.

After four police check points we arrived at, and were welcomed to, the ground.

After four police check points we arrived at, and were welcomed to, the ground.

The stadium hosted the World Cup final in 1978. It had grown a little tired since then. The big screen had been removed and so no replays and no team sheets and no announcements visually available.

Smoking is allowed in the ground which was a surprise to us. A reduction in smoking is assisted by the police checks which will not allow lighters or matches into the ground. Sadly, the police checks are not particularly thorough and many lighters made it into the ground together with the permitted cigarettes. I suggest the police confiscate both…….

The ground holds 60,000 and I estimate that it was about 40,000 to 45,000 full when we visited.

The final score was 1-1. With no opposition fans in the ground it was really strange when Olimpo scored. Not a sound. Not a cheer. Not one hand being slapped against another in a congratulatory manner.

While this was strange, the reason for banning visiting fans is even stranger …….as advised by our Argentine tour guide. The problem with opposing fans is not that they fight with the home fans. No. They visit other grounds and fight between themselves and kill each other. The reason they do this is that they choose a football stadium to settle scores around drugs and other gang related disagreements, presumably financial.

River Plate, the football team, were just awful. They were unable to string together passes to each other, and I understand that much of a teams success in a game rests upon an ability to do this.

I am not small. The sign is large and impressive. far more impressive than the team.

I am not small. The sign is large and impressive. far more impressive than the team.

Now the great bit of the visit. Despite the pathetic performance of River Plate (and Olimpo) the crowd were fabulous. They sang and waved and they screamed for the full duration. At many other places they would have been cursing their own players and regretting their expenditure decision. Here the drums beat and up went the crowd, off went the arms…..unless it was one of the bouncing songs and then of course they bounced…….It was not just a small section of the crowd that joined it. It was the whole of the crowd that joined in. We tried to the extent we could with the clapping and the arm throwing…….we were probably a bit weak, but the locals appreciated our efforts. We were also careful not to applaud the Olimpo goal.

Source of joy and far more entertaining than the team. A big thank you to the River Plate supporters.

Source of joy and far more entertaining than the team. A big thank you to the River Plate supporters.

In the foreground a try hard member of the crowd. In the background the accomplished choir of fine and persistent voice.

In the foreground a try hard member of the crowd. In the background the accomplished choir of fine and persistent voice.

Whenever I am in Buenos Aires I have my hair cut. My preferred barber is a Boca Juniors supporter. This Thursday Boca play River Plate in the Semi final of a Cup (cannot recall its name …..Copa Suramericano or Copa Liberatadores or some such name). Big game. A super clasico, they are called when the two biggest and most bitter rivals create a contest. My barber is not attending because my barber charges AUD10 for a haircut. On the secondary market tickets for this game are AUD800, reflecting the passion for the game and the demand compared to supply.

As a postscript I watched the second half of the Boca River Plate game on television. The final score was nil nil. My barber made a wise decision to keep his savings in his pocket. The teams were again only fair to middling and determined not to lose rather than determined to win. Any moment there was a flash of innovation, or skill, it was mercilessly hacked to the ground by a member of the opposing team. The referee collected a lot of names. If he had taken the names of disillusioned attendees he would have collected even more. I move on from Argentinian football and I move on feeling that such a quality group of supporters deserve better from those on the field of play.

 

 

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Argentina- Recoleta Cemetery

The cemetery at Recoleta is well visited. Mostly because it is the resting place of Eva Peron.

Eva Peron is laid to rest in the Duarte family plot. It is one of the less grand venues and is not located in prime real estate within the cemetery. It is however, the most visited location.

Eva Peron lies in the Duarte family vault. It is one of the less grand vaults and is not located on one of the main thoroughfares through the cemetery. It is, however, the most visited vault.

It is also the resting place of many other great and good people from the history of Argentina. I confess I had heard of not one. The first burial was in 1822 and there are 4800 vaults. The term vaults I think is correct rather than anything that suggests burial. The vaults are little houses, or rather little churches that have been built to hold the coffins. Most of the vaults are mostly above ground. In many cases these are fabulously grand edifices, decorated with statues, imagination and a lot of cash went into creating a suitable honour to the dead person or collection of dead people.

The carvings can be quite scary.

The carvings can be quite scary.

The designs and  imagination at play are fascinating. The plots have a small footprint that in many instances dives deep below the surface and soars high above same.

The designs and imagination at play are fascinating. The plots have a small footprint that in many instances dives deep below the surface and soars high above same.

On a later city tour we learnt that Buenos Aires has a high water table and Recoleta cemetery was originally quite a way out of town and the site of a raised hill. Perfect for a cemetery in a city with a propensity to flood. Of course that was 1822, and now Recoleta cemetery sits as prime real estate swallowed up within the borders of a city that has grown around it.

The 4,800 vaults contain many more than 4800 dead people. The little churches descend downwards or ascend upwards to accommodate many heavy wooden coffins.

More scary statues

More scary statues

Much money has been spent on constructing many, most of these buildings.

Much money has been spent on constructing many, most of these buildings.

There were some vaults that were old and neglected and broken. We could see perhaps twenty coffins, inside, each sat, one on top of another. It looks as if all available space in Recoleta cemetery has been used up in the creation of the little churches. How much space there is still available within each of the little churches is impossible for the casual visitor to know.image

A little morbid. Some of the older untended plots indicate how many family members are typically enclosed in each plot and how deep the chambers go.

A little morbid. Some of the older untended vaults were broken. It was clear to see how many family members are typically enclosed in each vault and the depth of the chambers.

 

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Argentina- Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires doesn’t feel like a South American city, it feels European. Its buildings are grand stone edifices, its boulevards are wide and tree lined, it has coffee shops and cake shops that could have fallen from a street in Italy. Its people are also European, the blacks and indigenous and mixed race peoples that commonly comprise the majority of the population of Central and South America are not in Buenos Aires.

As we know the most reliable evidence of cultural differences is found not in the streets, people and buildings………No, go look upon those supermarket shelves, say I. The shelves and their contents cannot lie, they will tell you what is different about these people and what it is that they value.

The supermarket was called Disco. About five blocks from our very swish Palermo apartment. There are nine separate product placement areas in this smallish supermarket, for alcohol.

The supermarket was called Disco. About five blocks from our very swish Palermo apartment. There are nine separate product placement areas in this smallish supermarket, for alcohol.

Meat was also important here. The value pack feeds a family BBQ for four and comes with a bottle of Cabernet.

Meat was also important here. The value pack feeds a family BBQ for four and comes with a bottle of Cabernet.

The price just AUD20 . In fact, if I now count the bottles of wine in the meat chillers that's ten locations where you can impulse purchase alcohol in this store.

The price AUD20 . In fact, if I now count the bottles of wine in the meat chillers that’s ten locations where you can impulse purchase alcohol in this store.

Back to the streetscape. We arrived in Spring, there are many Jacarandas planted alongside the streets and they were in purple flower which made the city even more attractive. A few photos to convince you this is Paris with Malbec and steak on every table, every night.image

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Casa Rosada from Plaza de Mayo. From its balcony Presidents speak to the masses gathered in the Plaza to protest. Most famously Eva and Juan Peron as played by themselves and later as played by Madonna and captured on celluloid. The portable toilets are a contemporary addition.

Casa Rosada from Plaza de Mayo. From its balcony Presidents speak to the masses gathered in the Plaza to protest. Most famously Eva and Juan Peron as played by themselves, and later, as played by Madonna.
The portable toilets are a contemporary addition.

The city was laid out and built between 1880 and 1929 when it enjoyed great wealth sourced from agriculture, exported through the port at Buenos Aires. It hasn’t really repeated that experience and has slowly slid down the World wealth rankings. The buildings and boulevard and parks remain which makes the place seem richer than it is. I saw not one crane on the skyline during my stay. The building boom came and the building boom left many decades ago. The building boom left great legacy for the citizens.

We had seen dog walkers in other cities. Indeed we have seen dog walkers in our own City. We have not seen dog walkers that take on such ambitious numbers of dogs, twelve was about average. We thought that the number could have been doubled to provide a very lucrative career opportunity and a logistical issue collecting and removing the walkees faeces!!

Anyone who is anyone has a dog in Buenos Aires (usually a Golden Retriever)

Anyone who is anyone has a dog in Buenos Aires (usually a Golden Retriever)

We had a concern for the purchasers of the walkers services. half of the dog walkers we saw seemed to be better described as dog resters.

Anyone who is anyone in Buenos Aires pays someone else to walk their dog. Not only are you missing half the point of dog ownership.....but you are not getting what you are paying for...Trust me, I know a walking dog and I know a sat dog.

Anyone who is anyone in Buenos Aires pays someone else to walk their dog. Not only are you missing half the point of dog ownership…..but you are not getting what you are paying for…Trust me, I know a walking dog and I know a sat dog.

That is, they were not walking, they were resting, usually chatting with other dog resters. I have a recommendation for the dog owners slaving at their offices to earn a few pennies to pay the walkers fees…….A little background. The child of one of our friends had a job posting free sheets into peoples letter boxes. To ensure he completed the route given to him he was monitored via a GPS device. Dog owners of Buenos Aires, I suggest you place such a device upon your dog and monitor its walking and its resting before you pay the fees for this service.

Getting around Buenos Aires. We had the pleasure of using Subte, the Metro system. Its clean and cheap and efficient as we have found in most cities that have one. Also has quite pleasant tiled scenes on stations walls…..it was built when the lovely buildings were being built ( 1880 to 1929)

Subte. The scene potrayed may be well know , but not to me and no clues anywhere close to the tiles.

Subte. The scene potrayed may be well know , but not to me and no clues anywhere close to the tiles.

And cake shops, Buenos Aires has cake shops.

Coffee shops, many coffee shops and many delightful coffee shops very similar to Melbourne……. except…….quite ordinary coffee. A shame really, a missed opportunity.

Lots of lovely character filled coffee shops. If only one of two of the characters had been deleted and greater concentration been placed upon the quality of the coffee.

Lots of lovely character filled coffee shops. If only one of two of the characters had been deleted and greater concentration been placed upon the quality of the coffee.

Who could resist? Not us.

Who could resist? Not us.

Buenos Aires home of the Tango? If not then it came from a place not far away.

Tango at the San Telmo Sunday market

Tango at the San Telmo Sunday market

The city has many taxis. They are painted yellow and black. As a consequence of all the taxis there are many taxistas….taxi drivers. Taxis were cheap so we took taxis. The drivers of the taxis were usually middle aged men or older gents. The drivers of the taxis all knew where they were going. They had no GPS, they relied instead upon a knowledge of the city. It was an unexpected delightful aspect of being here.

Portenos smoke more than others. Through Central and South America we have been surprised how little smoking we have encountered. In Buenos Aires it is heavier than elsewhere, but even here less than I had expected.

San Telmo. I always like a city when I find a suburb that feels like Fitzroy. In Buenos Aires that suburb is San Telmo.

San Telmo. I always like a city when I find a suburb that feels like Fitzroy. In Buenos Aires that suburb is San Telmo.

In Buenos Aires cafes we saw something on the hot drinks menu called a submarino. We had seen no such thing anywhere else and so we ordered one…….and this interactive drink arrived:

A glass of hot milk and a chocolate submarine !!!!

A glass of hot milk and a chocolate submarine !!!!

Dive, dive, dive. Stir, stir, stir and you have one happy child and one sensational chocolate drink.

Dive, dive, dive. Stir, stir, stir. Result, one happy child and one sensational chocolate drink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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