Monday November 7
Today we were off by coach to Mendosa, the wine capital of Argentina. South American coaches are very comfortable with varying types of seats, the best of which convert to a flat bed. Staff bring coffee, tea, snacks. A downside seems to be the simultaneous playing of movies and music.
After a couple of hours traveling through spectacular scenery through the snow capped Andes we arrived at the Chilean/ Argentinian border. What a process there! First the coach joins a queue to enter the huge customs shed, then passengers all get off and go through both countries immigration process. Back on the coach waiting for our turn at customs where we get off, all luggage is unloaded and scanned. Then back on the coach except for a few unlucky people whose luggage undergoes a cursory inspection. Then we are off again. All this took a couple of hours.
Apart from the mountains which are very high, vast and rocky the countryside is very flat. Much of it desert.
Mendosa is a huge wine growing area and I was surprised that it was a city of 1 million people. The early settlers used the Aztec system of drains to utilize the mountain water so now the desert has been transformed into a green city, streets all tree lined and extensive parks. Our hotel Argentina was very centrally situated and pleasant.
We visited 3 wineries - Caelum, a small family winery whose wines are available though Untapped Fine Wines in Australia; Crios and Ojo de Aqua. All wines were good especially the Malbec which is a speciality of the area. Up to 15% alcohol. We had a nice lunch with matching wines there although the steak for which Argentina is so famous was so tough and sinewy
Mendosa is a very pleasant city - quite sophisticated , lots of outdoor dining.
We discovered that there is government imposed withdrawal limit of 2400 pesos, or about $A206 for visitors along with a fee of about 9 A$. It's even worse for Argentinians.
Wednesday November 9
At the ungodly hour of 3:45am we left our hotel for Buenos Aires. Because the Mendosa airport runway is being upgraded we had to fly out of San Juan. This involved a short transfer to the Mendosa bus station, a bit of a wait there, a coach trip of about 2 1/2 hours to San Juan Airport, about 1 1/2 hours before takeoff, finally arriving around 11:30. After that a more than 2 hour small bus transfer and a bumpy ride in a ute to our home for the next two nights at La Eloisa Estancia. It's an up market ranch where they specialize in breeding polo ponies, cattle and hosting guests. If you are so inclined you can play golf on a 9 hole course, tennis, horse riding, polo, swim or just laze around which is what i did. Reading, swimming, walking, a ride around the huge property in a sulky, eating and drinking. Huge meals except for breakfast, afternoon tea, late dinner, 3 course lunch and dinner, terrific Argentinian wine. They are famous for their beef but I've had trouble chewing it - quite tough and sinewy. This morning had a lesson in making empanadas - I do like them although would like a bit more chilli in them. Apparently Argentinians are not fond of spice. They do like Matè, a tea made with herbs, pondered and drunk through a metal straw. Shared with friends. It's supposed to revive you when tired. It was very bitter.
Friday November 11
Private transfer to Buenos Aires and a lovely hotel - Patios de San Telmo in Chacabuca Street. Our guide Emmanuel took us on an orientation walk to Plaza de Mayo which is an important place for demonstrations, where the church that Pope Francis preached at, and where Eva Peron addressed her admirers. Then on to the waterfront where Debbie and I had lunch, looked at the ARA Uruguay sailing Ship (1874)and walked across the very modern Puente de la Mujer Bridge which was a egift from Spain, further along the waterfront and eventually back to our hotel.. At night we went to a Tango show which was fantastic. Expensive at $US115 ( a special rate negotiated by our guide) but did include dinner and a DVD. The dancing was incredible. A late night - home about 1:20am.
Saturday November 12
Said farewell to Emmanuel, our first guide then back to bed. Late morning I went to the Avenue de Mayo and was pleased to see a fair was on. It seemed to be a celebration of diversity. There were stalls from various communities such as Croatia, Slovenia, Finland, Norway and displays of dancing by people in their traditional costumes. Then did some more exploring before coming to meet the new tour leader, Emilio and 4 new fellow travellers. Nicola from London, Diane from NZ, MaryAnne and her husband Don from Brisbane. Then dinner at a local steak house where apparently Obamo ate at when here. I'm told the steak was delicious and tender but I couldn't face it so had trout.
Sunday November 13
Our first rainy day. Luckily we were on a bus trip around the sights of Buenos Aires. Visited the El Artuna bookstore which is in an beautiful old theatre, la Boca the poor neighbourhood with brightly painted buildings, lunch at a commune set up by an amazing woman to help the poor during the financial crisis of 2001, Recoleta cemetery where we saw Eva Peron,s tomb . At night to a small nearby restaurant.
Monday November 14.
An early start for our flight to Iguazu Falls. So much water o be seen from the plane. The river is 290 kms wide at the widest point! Puts the Murray to shame.
In the afternoon we crossed the border to Brazil and explored the falls from that side. For those who don't know the falls divide Argentina and Brazil. They are amazing - the 1st wonder of the natural world. So many different falls - I think about 300. Took a helicopter ride which was spectacular.
The hotel - el Pueblito on the Argentinian side is good - huge rooms and wonderful garden.
Tuesday November 15
Early start to explore the Argentinian side. It is so spectacular - have decided it's better than Victoria Falls and both way better than Niagara. Infrastructure is good. Walkways almost right up to the falls over the water. Saw quite a few coati like a raccoon . They rummage around trying to steal your food. Many plants the same as at home. A few birds and butterflies, a couple of tortoises and large fish. A very exhausting day with lots of walking in high humidity. Then a visit to an aboriginal commune which was a bit interesting but raised lots of questions about their integration into our society.
The day ended with a very nice meal in Iguazu town. A big storm this evening.
Off to Rio tomorrow