Northern Argentina

10 October 2013


It has been a long but comparatively uneventful couple of days.  I think there’s always some kind of issue when you travel and this time was no exception, but all the issues were minor.  I can never sleep when I take an overnight flight in sardine class but this time I actually had an empty seat next to me so I didn’t have to remain 100% upright and I did sleep a little.

Since it was an overnight flight I arrived in Buenos Aires in the morning.  I got a shuttle bus to take me to their station which was only about a kilometer from the hotel so I walked.  The hotel let me check in early.  I appreciated that.  That allowed me to shower and shave.  The people I dealt with that day were probably grateful I’d showered.

My hotel is very centrally located and I wandered the immediate area to orient myself.  First stop was San Martín Plaza across the street.DSCN8793DSCN8792As you can see it’s more like a park than the traditional plaza.  It does, however have the obligatory statue of San Martín astride his horse.DSCN8795

The Torre de Los Ingleses (The Tower of the English) is a monument built by Britons who had emigrated to Argentina and was presented to the country to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Argentina’s independence.  DSCN8778The clock in the tower was manufactured by the same company that made the clock in Big Ben and the chimes play the same melodies played by the chimes in Westminster Abbey.  Most of the material for the construction of the tower was imported from Britain and the architect was British.  The tower was dedicated in 1916.

After Argentina and England went to war over the Falkland Islands (British name) or the Islas Malvinas (Argentine name) in 1982 the tower was officially renamed the Torre Monumental (the monument tower).  Old habits die hard, however, and it’s still frequently call the Torre de los Ingleses.  In contrast to the name of the tower, if you’re in Argentina, however, you best not refer to the islands off their coast as the Falklands.  Those are the Malvinas, thank you very much.  There is still a lot of bad feelings about the war over the islands.

Across from the Torre is a monument to those Argentine military personnel who died in the war with England that’s guarded by two uniformed honor guards.  DSCN8782DSCN8781This is the Torre de Los Ingleses as seen from the monument to the Argentine military who died in the war with England. DSCN8788The memorial’s Argentine flag is in the foreground.

I was there for the changing of the guard which was done with traditional pomp.  DSCN8784DSCN8783The monument to the fallen, by the way, is on a hill that looks directly down on the Torre.

I also wandered a very busy commercial street that’s closed to vehicles — Florida.  It’s considered the most important commercial street in Argentina.  DSCN8799For lack of a better term there’s a multi-story upscale mall on Florida replete with fountains, mood lighting and ceilings with painted scenes more commonly seen in large important government buildings and cathedrals.  I think it’s the only mall I’ve ever taken pictures of.DSCN8801

11 October 2013Buenos Aires

On most previous trips I’ve rented a vehicle to get around. This time I’m depending on public transportation. I don’t think I’d want to drive around Buenos Aires. I don’t enjoy trying to drive in any big city, even one I know fairly well. Today I decided to take one of the hop-on hop-off buses that follow a set route through the tourist areas of town. It’s a long route here in Buenos Aires with some 27 stops.

I’m not going to have time to explore 27 different areas but we’ll see what I can get done. One of the first stops was at the United Nations Plaza. In the center of this 10 acre park is a large sculpture of a flower officially known as the Floralis Generica. DSCN8803It’s made entirely of aluminum and stainless steel. It has 6 petals that close at sunset every day and open each morning with 4 pistils in the center.DSCN8805

I said it’s a large sculpture. It weights 18 tons, it’s 20 meters (65 feet) tall. When it’s closed it’s 16 meters (52 feet) wide and when open 32 meters (105 feet) wide. When it’s closed it’s lit internally so a red glow emanates between the petals from within.DSCN8807

It’s supposed to be set in a large reflecting pool but when I was there the reflecting pool had no water. Still, I thought it was very impressive.

It seems that the Chinese have emigrated just about everywhere and built a China town wherever they landed. Buenos Aires is no exception. DSCN8810If you’ve been to China Town in Los Angeles or especially San Francisco, though, the Buenos Aires version will be very disappointing. It was pretty small and not very impressive by comparison.  Nevertheless, a China Town exists, even in Argentina.

I spent a significant amount of time in the Recoleta Cemetery. The cemetery was first started in 1732 next to a Catholic church and it later became the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires. It’s 14 acres and has been recognized as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. Because of the style of the monuments it has the appearance of a small city with buildings on either side of streets. DSCN8816There are wide, tree lined main boulevards with narrow streets branching off.

It’s an amazing place to visit and I wandered it’s streets for hours. I won’t bore you with all the pictures I took but I’ll give you a sampling. (Trust me, as many pictures as I uploaded to this blog I still have more.) It’s amazing how much time, effort and money have gone into building monuments over graves to remember the dead.DSCN8818

This cemetery holds the remains of a lot of notable Argentines including Eva Perón.  Hers was the only one I remember seeing with all the flowers people left on the door. DSCN8822Argentine presidents are here.  This monument is for Domingo Faustino Sarmento, a former Argentine president.DSCN8820 A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is interred here.  This is the monument for Dr. Carlos Saaverra Lamas, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.DSCN8843And there’s even a granddaughter of Napoleon. Eva Perón’s was by far the most popular.  In order to get pictures of Eva Perón’s site I had to hang around and take pictures in between the tourist groups that came by to see it.  This is what it looked like otherwise.DSCN8830

In keeping with Hispanic tradition she kept her maiden last name so she was born, and remained Eva Duarte. When she married Juan Domingo Perón she became Eva Duarte de Perón. She’s entombed in the Duarte Family tomb.  A number of plaques placed by various groups are outside the tomb. DSCN8824

This relatively simple monument is for a General Terrada who fought in the war for independence.DSCN8817Some of these tombs have stairs leading underground so in addition to what’s above ground there are presumably more underground.  And sometimes the casket isn’t buried, but is on display.DSCN8834There is an endless variety of magnificent edifices built to memorialize the deceased.

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Finally I went downtown to the Teatro Colón. The main Buenos Aires opera house and considered one of the best in the world. DSCN8857After singing there once Pavarotti said that the Teatro Colón has one major flaw. The management got rather excited and wanted to know what it was so they could fix it and he replied that the flaw is that acoustics are perfect so he can’t afford to make any mistakes.

By the time I got there the last tour had left for the day so we’ll return tomorrow for a tour of the inside.

I was asked about the food. I haven’t been here long, so I haven’t had many meals here, but Argentina is noted for its beef. I’ve had some amazing beef and one that was pretty mediocre. Breakfast tends to be light with an emphasis on bread, rather than eggs. Argentina is also noted for its wine and I’ll be traveling later to one of the areas that’s noted within Argentina for it’s wine. I assure you, I’m not going hungry.

I got a two-day ticket on the hop-on hop-off bus so today it was back on the bus to pick up where I left off yesterday. Sorry the picture below is so very crooked but it’s a “grab shot” from a moving bus. I saw a US flag flying over this building which caught my interest. It’s the US embassy in Buenos Aires.DSCN8862So my first stop today is returning to the Teatro Colón, the opera house, and buying a ticket for a tour of the inside. Just outside the teatro a police bike caught my attention.  Police ride a variety of bikes here. This one is an FJR. It doesn’t surprise anybody who knows me that I’m including a picture of a motorcycle.DSCN8864

The opulence of this theater is beyond imagining. I’ll try to convey some of it in the pictures but really there’s no way I can. It’s really quite an overwhelming experience being there.  This is the entry foyer.DSCN8866And a stained glass ceiling.DSCN8867

This theater is a major source of identity and pride for Argentina and even in times of economic austerity the maintenance of this theater is a national priority. From what they say it’s at the pointy end of the pyramid among opera houses in the world.

This is the marble staircase leading from the entry foyer to the concert hall.  If you look you can see there are three different kinds of marble used to construct this staircase. Each color of marble comes from a different country.DSCN8868

Construction on the theater started in 1880 and finished in 1908. It was the largest opera house in the southern hemisphere until the Sidney Opera house was built in 1973. It was completely renovated in 2010 for Argentina’s bicentennial celebrations — 200 years since Argentina won independence.

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This is a “small” side room with a piano up front used for recitals or something minor.  I don’t see how anything in this opulent environment could be called “minor”.DSCN8875

These are pictures of the main concert hall.  To fine tune the acoustics, even though you can’t see it, the boxes along the sides of the theater are built of different materials with different sound reflective characteristics from the fourth level up. There’s a special box reserved for the president of the country and major VIPs when they attend.

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This is the view from one of the VIP boxes.DSCN8886DSCN8885And a couple more pictures of the exterior.DSCN8892DSCN8899

Not far from the Teatro Colón is the Templo de la Congregación Israelita, the largest synagogue in Argentina.DSCN8895DSCN8896This is over the door. I have no idea what it means.DSCN8897I thought this was funny. Somebody who apparently was upset with the justice system had thrown paintballs at the facade of the Superior Trial Court of Justice. A graffiti removal team was there working on removal.DSCN8898

Then it was back on the bus and I got a first-hand look at what they mean when they say Argentina is a soccer (football)-mad country. Yesterday Argentina played Peru in a World Cup qualifying event and beat Peru 3-1, thereby assuring themselves of passing though to the next stage of qualifying. And they did it without two of their best players who were out with injuries.DSCN8901If you look off to the far left of the picture you can see the bell of a tuba sticking up out of the crowd. There’s an entire brass band buried in there.

Apparently when there’s a major soccer win like that people gather downtown around the obelisk to celebrate.  This is the obelisk.DSCN8893The game was yesterday. And the celebrations that started last night were still going so strong this morning that they had still had streets blocked off downtown.  I could see a band playing in the middle of one street and the bus company canceled 3 or 4 of their stops and altered their route significantly to avoid the celebration.DSCN8902

I got a few pictures of the crowd that we could see from the bus. DSCN8903Hard to believe that they could still be going this strong after celebrating the entire night and better than halfway into the next day. I definitely like soccer… but that’s over-the-top.DSCN8905

El Estaño 1880DSCN8911
This is a famous and upscale bar that’s been here since 1880. It’s set in a very hard-scrabble neighborhood now but the bar has been kept up to its original glory.

This is in the rough and tumble section of town called la Boca.DSCN8916DSCN8914DSCN8913And the Caminito Street Market.DSCN8919

After churches are built sometimes other, bigger buildings go up around them and the church gets squeezed.DSCN8925

This is the Edificio Kavenaugh.  Completed in 1936 this building was, at the time, the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world. It still receives design awards and in 1999 was declared a National Historic Monument.DSCN8928

Didn’t get as much done as I would have liked but it was a good day nonetheless. In spite of the logistical problems the soccer celebration caused, I’m really glad I got to see a little of it.

13 October 2013Buenos Aires

Today will be my last full day in Buenos Aires.  Well… it will be my last full day for a few weeks. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks. Tonight I’ll be on an overnight bus to Córdoba so this morning was packing everything up and getting ready for that trip. Then I vacated the room, left my packed luggage with the hotel and took off to see parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet.

First stop was the Plaza de Mayo. This is the Pirámide de Mayo, a memorial obelisk in the center of the Plaza de Mayo marking the first anniversary of independence from Spain.DSCN8960

The Casa Rosada (the Pink House) is on one side of the plaza and that probably has a great deal to do with the number of protests that occur here, just as they do in Lafayette Park in front of the US White House.

The Argentine Pink House, is basically the equivalent of the US White House.  This is the view from the Plaza de Mayo and is actually the back of the palace.DSCN8961

The Argentine president has her offices in the Pink House although she doesn’t live there. On the day I visited the park the protest du jour was about not forgetting the military personnel who gave their lives in the battle with Britain over the Malvinas Islands.

DSCN8958DSCN8959Thursday is the regular day of protest for the “Madres de la Plaza de Mayo,” the “mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.” These are the mothers of those unaccounted for individuals who “disappeared” during Argentina’s repressive military dictatorship 1976 – 1983. At that time the government tried to suppress all opposition to its reign and thousands of people “disappeared”.

These incredibly brave ladies began marching in the Plaza de Mayo, in the shadow of the Pink House, the presidential palace, in 1977, at the beginning of the dictatorship’s reign. They had met each other as they struggled to get information on sons and daughters who had disappeared and had been tortured, murdered and dumped in unmarked graves. To this day there are still thousands unaccounted for.

On another side of the park is the city’s main cathedral, the Catedral MetropolitanaDSCN8957 which also contains the mausoleum of Argentina’s biggest hero of the war for independence, José de San Martín, who has countless parks, streets, plazas and other things named after him throughout the country along with all the monuments of him astride his horse. An eternal flame burns on an outside wall of the church to San Martín.DSCN8934

The cathedral was my first stop and, since it’s Sunday, there was a service in progress, but when your church contains the mausoleum of the country’s greatest hero you can’t stop the flood of tourists so while people sat in the pews participating in their regular Sunday service, DSCN8935a steady stream of tourists came into the church and headed for San Martín’s mausoleum, which is guarded by two uniformed honor guards. DSCN8949I can’t imagine anything like that in most churches, though because cathedrals are frequently such grand edifices they get tourist traffic that few other churches do. It would be just a little disruptive to a church service to have tourists going in and out of the church with cameras taking pictures, parents corralling children, etc. while people are worshiping.

En route to San Martín’s mausoleum I took pictures of some of the side chapels.  Each one a chapel to a different saint offering a place where people could pray to that saint.  The Chapel of San Juan Nepumoceno with somebody in prayer to him.DSCN8936The Chapel of San Luis Gonzaga.DSCN8937The Chapel of Nuestra Señora de la Paz.DSCN8944And the interior of San Martín’s mausoleum.

The Casa Rosada, the Pink House, offers free tours on weekends so I headed that way. If you saw the musical, Evita, you saw Madonna, who played the role of Eva Perón on the balcony of the Pink House singing to throngs of Argentine citizens in the Plaza de Mayo. There are a couple of theories about why the Pink House is pink. DSCN8965One theory is that President Sarmiento (whose tomb you saw a picture of when I visited the Recoleto cemetery) attempted to make peace between political parties blending the red of the Federalists with the white of the Unitarists during his presidency 1868 – 1874. Another theory is that the color comes from painting the palace with bovine blood. Apparently a common practice in the late 19th century.

This is an interior courtyard inside the Casa Rosada.  Tours are very popular and are led on a first come, first serve basis.  Once you’re inside you wait in the area of this courtyard until they’re ready to take the group you’ve been assigned to.DSCN8968This is a chapel inside the Casa Rosada. Argentina is overwhelmingly a Catholic nation. A chapel like this in the White House would be unthinkable.DSCN8969This is another interior patio. Although there are no signs and there is no writing anywhere, the image cut out of metal on the back wall are the Islas Malvinas. The Argentine loss to Great Britain is a very big deal here, even to the point of a display like this inside the presidential palace.DSCN8970This view is looking out at the Plaza de Mayo from the balcony of the Casa Rosada. This was the view Eva Perón (and Madonna) would have had when addressing admiring crowds (or singing, as the case might be).DSCN8977And more pictures of the interior.

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The tour of the Pink House is surprisingly complete, even allow tourists in the office of the President although we were instructed all cameras had to be put away or lens caps had to be in place, and we were kept a discreet distance from the president’s desk which was stacked with books and papers.  Although we were not allowed to take any picutures in the president’s office we could photograph her elevator.DSCN8999The previous pictures of the Casa Rosada were of the back of the palace.  This is the front where dignitaries would arrive.DSCN9000

On another side of the Plaza de Mayo is the Cabildo, the 18th century town hall.  This is the humble mid-18th century town hall. There used to be colonnades that spanned the Plaza de Mayo but surrounding streets took priority and they were destroyed.  This is all that’s left.  I think they call that “progress”.DSCN9002

My next stop was the Manzana de Luces, the block of enlightenment. During colonial times this block was run by Jesuits and was the center of the city’s learning. This is one of the original buildings on the Manzana.  DSCN9006DSCN9005This is the interior of one of the buildings in the Manzana.  DSCN9010The Manzana includes the city’s oldest colonial church and two of the original buildings dating from 1730 still stand. This is the Iglesia San Ignacio, the city’s oldest colonial church, built by Jesuits. Construction began in 1686 and was completed in 1722. Unfortunately street construction was in the way so the view of the church is partially blocked.DSCN9009

In 1912 defensive tunnels built by the Jesuits were found. They had been constructed in about 1730 and are now restored.  DSCN9011Since independence was declared in 1810, the site has been run by the Universidad de Buenos Aires.

You’re only allowed in if you’re part of a guided tour and I’d just missed a tour. The next one wasn’t for a few more hours so I wandered around, took some pictures from the street and sat and waited under a building overhang. While I was waiting I felt a splattering on my back. I looked around and couldn’t see anything or anybody, but could suddenly smell a foul smell.

A man walking by exclaimed that I had bird poop all over my back and pulled out a packet of kleenex to wipe it off. I pulled off my vest that had all my camera lenses and camera equipment in it and there were smelly splatters all over the back. I started working on the poop on the back of the vest with the man helping. This is all part of a subterfuge to steal from tourists. An accomplice, whom I never saw, moved in while I was focused on the poop, which was really quite disgusting, and walked off with my good camera. I never even saw them, though my camera was right next to me. As soon as the camera was gone the man “helping” me disappeared.

I usually carry two cameras. The good one is a film camera for which I have multiple lenses and accessories. The digital I use for this blog and is a cheaper camera. Two policemen were apparently notified by a bystander and showed up about two minutes after the crime. I didn’t have good enough suspect descriptions to give them to do any good. The crooks probably had a car close by so they were out of the area. So that was that.

I’m still working on getting over the feeling of being violated. They say that there’s a lot of street crime of this sort in Buenos Aires. But that doesn’t make it feel any better to be on the receiving end.

I went on to the tour of the Manzana de Luces then headed for the hotel. I travel with one suitcase and my carry-on is full of lenses, strobe and camera accessories. Since I no longer have the camera the accessories go on, I’ll leave the carry-on with the hotel as I travel around.

I walked from the hotel to the Retiro bus terminal. It’s only about a kilometer so it’s easy walking distance. At least that’s the theory. I managed to make it about a two kilometer walk because I didn’t know where I was going. I’d given myself plenty of time, though, so there was no problem.

I don’t think of Buenos Aires as having particularly severe winters but it’s October, spring in Argentina, and it isn’t uncommon to see decorations on store windows welcoming spring.  I stopped to take a picture of the front door of a business decorated with stick-on flowers and a “Happy Spring” sign.DSCN9014

I’m traveling by bus to Códoba tonight. I selected what’s called “cama ejecutiva” class, (executive bed) because the bed will lay out almost flat. That way I can sleep. The seats are wide and comfortable. Service was excellent and they surprised me by even serving a hot meal after we were under way, in spite of the fact that departure time was 10:30 pm. Argentines eat dinner quite late. 10:30 is a pretty common time for local restaurants to be in high gear. Not knowing they were going to serve a meal I had already had dinner. I ate a little but a lot of food went to waste.

I had a computer monitor in front of my seat showing a movie, but I was far more interested in sleep than a movie so I laid my seat out flat, used the provided blanket and pillow and tomorrow will wake up in Córdoba

14 October 2013

Buenos Aires to Cordoba

I arrived this morning on the bus. Can’t say it was one of the better nights of sleep I’ve had, but it wasn’t one of the worst either. Before I left home I had printed out a map with a walking route from the bus terminal to the hotel. (Thank you Google.) So I pretty much knew where I had to go and walked from the bus terminal to the hotel.

The route took me through some areas I wouldn’t really want to be staying so I was hoping the hotel wasn’t in the middle of some sketchy area. It turned out fine. The hotel is on a pedestrian walkway that is part of a couple of walkways which form a major shopping area for the city.

The funny thing was that there was almost nobody there and all the stores were closed. I wondered if there had been some huge economic downturn but it turned out that today was the last day of some local holiday. Pretty much everything, including local churches, museums, many restaurants and tourist sites, were closed.

I wandered around town and took pictures of the exterior of buildings but couldn’t get inside any place yet. I’ll try to get in everywhere tomorrow. In the meantime here’s an introduction.

The Manzana Jesuítica was, like the Manzana de Luces in Buenos Aires, contructed by Jesuits before their expulsion from the country by Spain. This is part of the Manzana Jesuítica.DSCN9013DSCN9019

The inscription over the lintel of this doorway in the Manzana Jesuitica reads, “Casa de Dios y puerta del cielo.” House of God and door to heaven.DSCN9020

They constructed churches and a university as they did in Buenos Aires… LOTS of churches.  This is the Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús.  The Jesuit Church in the Manzana Jesuitica.DSCN9022DSCN9021This is the Iglesia de Santa Teresa.DSCN9015The Iglesia de Santa Teresa y Convento de Carmelitas Descalza de San José was completed in 1628 and has been a closed convent for Carmelite nuns ever since.

And the Iglesia Catedral.DSCN9018The main cathedral (Iglesia Catedral) began construction in 1577 and gradually inched along for a couple of centuries… obviously under the direction of multiple architects.

The Jesuits were, of course big on education and Córdoba university enjoys premier status within Argentina.

And, of course, the main Plaza in town is named the Plaza San Martín. (With the obligatory statue of San Martín on horseback.)DSCN9016La Cañada is a river that flows through the western side of Córdoba.DSCN9023

After wandering around the city I found a restaurant nearby that wasn’t closed, ate, returned to the hotel and crashed.

15 October 2013Codoba

Good night’s sleep last night. With the hotel on a pedestrian walkway it’s pretty quiet. Breakfast is included in the room rate, but mostly just bread, croissants and pastries. And, of course, coffee; the Argentine way of drinking coffee — cafe con leche — cofee with hot milk. What Americans would call a latte.

While walking down the street my attention was arrested by a car parked at the curb. There was white tape crossing the line between the hood and fender, every door and door post, as a matter of fact every point you could think of where somebody might open something it was sealed with this white tape with the word “secuestro” (seizure) printed across it. And there were what appeared to be three obvious bullet holes one on the hood, one in the center of the windshield and one off to the side of the windshield.DSCN9026

There were no police around, no yellow tape, nothing except this car sitting at the curb by itself. Very curious, if you ask me. It appeared obvious that something had happened… something involving a shooting… and that police had been involved… but in my book, seizing a car means actually taking the car. Not just putting tape over all the doors, hood, trunk, windows etc. Very curious.

Today most sites were open. The Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús, the Jesuit Church, was built between 1645 and 1671. DSCN9035The designer was a former boat builder and they say he designed the roof to be made of cedar in the form of an inverted ship’s hull. DSCN9034The Baroque altar and pulpit were carved from Paraguayan cedar.DSCN9029

The Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús interior.DSCN9028

Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús side chapels.DSCN9032DSCN9031

The ceiling of the Capilla Doméstica, the Domestic Chapel (no I don’t know why it’s called that) was made from cowhide stretched over a skeleton of thick taguaro cane and painted with pigments composed partially of boiled bones. DSCN9038DSCN9039And I visited the main cathedral; the Iglesia Catedral, which, as you would expect, was impressive and beautiful.DSCN9041DSCN9042DSCN9051The ceilings are always incredibly detailed and wonderfully painted.DSCN9044DSCN9048DSCN9047DSCN9050And the ornate pulpit.DSCN9052Not far from the Iglesia Catedral is the Pasaje Santa CatalinaDSCN9054

A sign at the beginning of this passageway says that since its creation in 1750 this passage way has been used as a place of torture, repression and death. Initially native Americans, slaves and people opposed to the regime were executed here. It goes on to document repressive activities carried out here in the 1930’s, 1960’s and 1970’s.


Córdoba, of course has its own cabildo, or town hall which was completed in 1785 and has since been completely restored. Unlike the cabildo in Buenos Aires, the colonnade of the Córdoba cabildo is intact.  This is the exterior.DSCN9069and the interior of the cabildo.DSCN9070

In 1989, the City of Córdoba, while laying underground phone cable knocked open the roof of a subterranean room that had pretty much disappeared from memory. It turned out to be a Jesuit Crypt. It was originally designed as a novitiate and later converted to a crypt and crematorium. Apparently it had been sealed off when a street above it was expanded around 1829 so it had been off the radar for a long time.DSCN9073

The crypt was restored and is used regularly now (in addition to giving tours for tourists) for musical and theatrical performances as well as art exhibits. You can see some of the artwork here.DSCN9077The crypt was originally built in the early 18th century and contained an ossuary, a room full of bones from a cholera epidemic in 1820.DSCN9076

One of the more emotionally difficult visits I made was to the Museo de la Memoria, the Museum of Memory. This museum is set in the minimally restored center for detention of the Department of Intelligence (known as the D2) during Argentina’s military dictatorship. The D2 was dedicated to the kidnapping, torture, interrogation and murder of Argentinians whose politics were “suspect”.  This is the nondescript D2 Detention and Torture Center Exterior.DSCN9068The graphics on the walls around the Detention and Torture Center are lists of the names of people who “disappeared” along with the year of their disappearance. They’re arranged graphically to look like fingerprints.  Here are pictures from the interior.DSCN9056DSCN9057DSCN9058DSCN9066These are two of the cells in which prisoners could be locked up.DSCN9061And this is the interior of one of the cells.  A very tiny space.DSCN9065

The children born to pregnant women who were kidnapped were “reassigned” to be raised by families who were more politically “pure”. There are numerous displays of the the pictures of people who, after 30 years are still “missing”. DSCN9060Displays have quotes by people detained there with some of their memories of their experience of this space as they were led around blindfolded and tortured.  The interior is a real maze so being led around blindfolded you would become quite disoriented.

I almost didn’t include this picture because it’s so hard to see, but it spoke powerfully to me so I’m including it. It’s inside the D2 torture center. Lots of electrical sockets are hanging from the square metal structure at the top. A few of the sockets have bulbs in them. The rest are empty, to me, symbolizing the lights… the lives… that were snuffed out here.DSCN9059

I had to sit for a while to recompose myself after my visit. Tears were very close to the surface at the enormity of man’s inhumanity to man. Walking through that space… that same space where so many were tortured… was chilling.

I walked down to Nueva Córdoba (New Cordoba) to see the Paseo del Buen Pastor (Promenade of the Good Shepherd). This is a cultural center and performance space that was originally built in 1901 as a combined chapel, monastery and women’s prison. It’s been a cultural center since 2007. What was originally the chapel is now used for live music performances.

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Across the street is the Gothic cathedral, Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús de los Capuchinos. (The Parrish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Capuchins). The church was built between 1928 and 1934. Looking at the pictures, you might notice the rather unbalanced look with a tall steeple on one side of the church and no steeple on the other side. DSCN9088That was done intentionally as a statement to symbolize human imperfection.

It’s also interesting to note that the usual carvings of saints on the facade are all being supported by obviously struggling men. These symbols are Atlases struggling to hold up the spiritual weight of the religious figures above them.DSCN9089This is the colorful entrance.DSCN9090

The Capuchin order lives in solitude so if you look carefully at the pictures of the front of the church you may notice stairs going up back behind the altar. DSCN9091Those stairs allow access to a small room behind the altar which, during services, is where the monks sit separate from the congregants. The monks access the room by their own separate stairs.  And a closeup of the altar.DSCN9094

Lastly I went to the Palacio Ferrerya. Originally built in 1914 as a private residence (or rather a private mansion) it is now a fine arts museum.  The exterior — DSCN9096DSCN9097and the interior.DSCN9098DSCN9099Kind of mind boggling to imagine this as a private residence.

That made for a pretty full day and I headed for home for dinner and bed.

16 October 2013Codoba

A storm blew in today. I got a few things done around town before it really started to rain. Used most of my day to catch up on this blog. I don’t know if I’m just a slow worker or what (my teachers always said I was kind of slow….) but I’m forever behind on the blog. It seems to take a lot of time.

The hotel let me sit in their lobby and use their Wi Fi in spite of the fact I checked out this morning. I was grateful for that.

I had planned to take an overnight bus from Córdoba to my next stop, Cafayate. But like the old joke that you can’t get there from here, you can’t go from Córdoba to Cafayate. So I’m taking an overnight bus to San Miguel de Tucumán, then from Tucumán I get another bus to Cafayate.

17 October 2013Cordoba to Cafayate

The best laid plans of mice and men. I had planned to take an overnight bus from Córdoba to Cafayate. Since that wasn’t possible I ended up adding about a half-day or better to my travel time. My overnight bus trip got me to San Miguel de Tucumán at about 7:30 in the morning. The first bus from Tucumán to Cafayate left at 12:00 noon. So I had a bit of a wait.

The bus to Cafayate was another of those large luxurious tourist buses. I left my camera packed in my suitcase which was stored underneath because I figured taking pictures through a bus window as the bus moved down the road would be less than satisfactory. I don’t know if any pictures would have been usable but now I’m sorry I didn’t have my camera. It was a beautiful ride.

The ride took a while, too, because although the bus was of the large comfortable tourist bus styles, it apparently also serves as local transportation and made stops pretty much wherever people wanted them to. We stopped to pick up and drop off people all along the way. (The signal you want the bus to stop is to hold your arm out parallel to the ground as the bus approaches.) We picked people up and dropped them off in little towns along the way, by the side of the road or at isolated little houses in the middle of nowhere.

Tucumán is set in a large flat expanse with lots of agriculture. Important, certainly, but not very interesting to watch, kilometer after kilometer. Then you get into the mountains. The route goes through a narrow gorge carved by the Río de los Sosas. It’s heavily forested and would be a wonderful twisting motorcycle road except it would be very uncomfortable to meet a bus like the one I was riding in going the opposite way.

Frequently in order to navigate a hairpin turn the bus would use the entire road. The driver also made his way around slower traffic by crossing the double yellow line approaching a blind curve. I’m sure it was safe, though. The bus driver honked his horn as he approached the curve while driving in the wrong lane….  It seems to work, because everybody here knows there’s a chance a bus will come around a curve in their lane.  So if they hear a horn they dive for the side of the road.

Those of us who expect other drivers to follow the rules of the road probably wouldn’t last long.

At the top, the mountain opened into a beautiful valley with a lake and the little town of Tafí del Valle surrounded by the peaks of the Sierra del Aconquija. (The name of the bus company that serves Cafayate is Alconquija.)

We traveled across the valley then back down the other side of the mountain out of the forest and, obviously, into the mountain’s rain shadow because the terrain became very reminiscent of the American Southwest. Dry sandy desert landscape with scrub and cactus growing, surrounded by mountains of apparent volcanic origin. I could have believed it was the American Southwest.

I arrived and a helpful taxi driver told me where I could find the bus station to buy a ticket to Salta for Saturday and showed me a chart of the hours available. He didn’t even try to get me to allow him to take me there. Cafayate is a small town and everything is pretty close. I found the station and bought my ticket then started following the Google map I’d printed at home to get to the hotel. Google isn’t my friend anymore.

Although it had the right address it took me somewhere different. After walking around the area it brought me to, I could confirm the street I needed was nowhere around where the map graphic took me. I asked a nearby construction worker who got my nose pointed in the right direction. (I’m forever grateful to be able to communicate comfortably in Spanish.)  I found my hospedaje right off the main square and got checked in.

The main square is, naturally, the Plaza San Martín.DSCN9107The center of town is kind of picturesqueDSCN9106with the primary church right on the central square.DSCN9105

I wandered around town a little, bought a tour to the Quebrada de las Conchas for tomorrow and am on a list for a tour to some Inca ruins. They need more people than are currently signed up if they’re going to do the tour. It’s a nice quiet little town so most of what I want to see here means getting out to the surrounding area.

Dinner, home and time to call it a day.

18 October 2013Cafayate to Quebrada de las Conchas

This morning was spent wandering around Cafayate and shopping for some native crafts to bring home. This afternoon is a tour of the Quebrada de las Conchas. A quebrada comes from the word to break and in this sense would probably be translated as a gorge or a pass through the mountains surrounding Cafayate. Conchas are shells, like sea shells.

Because of the volcanic activity in this area’s geologic past it’s a very colorful area. We did some hiking following a dry riverbed. (No rain anywhere around so no flash flood danger.) Unfortunately there was a cloud cover however, so with no sun the colors don’t “pop”. It is a beautiful area, though. Very reminiscent of the American Southwest.

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When the sun did finally come out I suggested to the guide that we start the tour over so we could get pictures of the rock with sun on it.  For some reason he didn’t think much of that idea, though. He just laughed at me. Go figure.

There was one natural formation that had been given a name — El Obalisco —  The Obelisk, because of its shape.DSCN9127

The road we took to get here followed a river — the Rio de las Conchas, and there were some very nice views along the way.DSCN9125DSCN9126DSCN9124DSCN9153DSCN9159

Since this is Inca territory we were introduced to part of the Inca belief system. Among Inca dieties Pachamama is the earth goddess. At the beginning of a trail or some significant spot on a trail a stone cairn, called an apacheta is begun. As travelers pass that spot they add a rock to the pile as an offering and chant a little chant to Pachamama for happiness and protection as the traveler enters her valley, climbs her mountain, or begins their journey along whatever significant portion of Pachamama’s earth they’re about to enter.  This was the apacheta at the beginning of our walk.DSCN9134

We also stopped at a lonely spot in the canyon where a family had built a home and a workshop. They made ceramic articles and fired them on site in a wood burning kiln. They had some llamas tied up outside, I assume to help attract tourists, though the llamas could have done double duty in providing the family with wool or fulfilled other needs for the family.DSCN9129There was a baby llamaDSCN9130who decided it was lunchtime while we were there.DSCN9131

After the commercial break we stopped at a natural amphitheater carved out of the rock by running water. DSCN9162The area has outstanding acoustics and once a year there’s a “concert to the mountain” where native music is played in the amphitheater. That also has Inca religious significance because the mountains are seen as sacred and making offerings, presumably including musical offerings, to the mountain would be fitting. While we were there a man played folk music in the amphiteater for small change. If he were on a street he’d be called a “street musician”. In this setting I’m not real sure what to call him.

We also climbed a narrow side gorge call Garganta del Diablo — the devil’s throat; a steep gorge also carved out of the canyon wall by running water.  This is the view looking down the gorge at the Rio de las Conchas.DSCN9168

and this is the view looking up toward the top of the gorge.DSCN9169Parked out front of the Garganta del Diablo was another police motorcycle.  This one is much smaller than the FJR I saw in Buenos Aires.DSCN9173

One of the parts of this trip that I found the most amazing had nothing to do with the area or the scenery, but with my fellow tourists. There were 7 tourists on this trip including me. It happened that two of them were German. We talked briefly and they graciously allowed me to practice my lousy German on them.

As we talked I explained that my father was born and raised in the town of Paderborn in Germany. They were very surprised and told me they were from the town of Bielefeld, a town I know well as it’s only a few kilometers north of Paderborn and some of the German side of my family lived there before moving to Paderborn.

Now it was my turn to be surprised. I don’t know what the odds are, but they have to be some truly astronomical odds that people with roots in two small neighboring German towns meet on a 7-person tour in Cafayte, Argentina. You certainly couldn’t get me to ever take that bet.

But what an amazingly small world it is. The three of us talked during the tour, met for dinner afterwards and had a wonderful time getting acquainted. Fortunately they were both totally fluent in English because our conversation would have been very short if we were depending on my German. (Though one of them is also very fluent in Spanish which would have been fine.)

What an amazing day.

19 October 2013Cafayate to Quilmes to Salta

Today is my last day in Cafayate. This afternoon I take the bus to Salta. Before I leave I wanted to take a tour to Quilmes, the ruins of the largest pre-Columbian Indian settlement in Argentina. The tour agency required a minimum number of people and when I first inquired I was the only one wanting that tour. At the last minute the necessary number of people signed up so the tour is on. I paid for my tour and also changed my bus ticket to a later time to accommodate the tour (for a 20% change fee).

Since the ruins are south of Cafayate I first went with the tour south to the ruins, then returned to Cafayate, where I got the bus that took me north to Salta.

The Indian settlement of Quilmes covered about 75 acres and dates from around 1000 AD. They think the settlement had a total population of about 5,000. It’s up against a steep, rocky hill and spreads out into the valley.

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The population there was pretty good at resisting invaders. The invading Inca did not subjugate them and, after the Inca, the Spaniards tried and failed.  Fortifications were built high over the settlement and probably played a significant role in the inability of the Inca and Spaniards to conquer.DSCN9190DSCN9191The walls are all that remain.  The roofs were thatch and have not survived.

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The Quilmes site had the biggest apacheta I’d seen.  (Probably because all the tourists that come here keep adding to it.)DSCN9176A stone used for grinding corn was still here.DSCN9183And since it is Spring here, many of the cacti are in bloom.DSCN9181

Failing to subjugate the Quilmes people, the Spaniards rounded up the remaining 2,000 and forcibly moved them to Buenos Aires in 1667. The section of Buenos Aires to which they were moved is, to this day, known as the Quilmes neighborhood and is identified as such on maps of the city.

Speaking of having things named after them, I don’t know how the Quilmes people feel about it, but the Quilmes name is probably most frequently on the lips of Argentines because a popular local beer is named Quilmes.

Access to the site is controlled by the native people now and they collect the entry fee and provide a guide to talk about the site and answer questions before sending you off to wander around the ruins.

From the site of the ruins we went to a private museum to the earth goddess Pachamama which was pretty well done and included a mock-up of what the dwellings would have looked like DSCN9194as well as Indian art, explanations of the local geology, mining interests, history, culture and religion.

From there it was back to Cafayate where I had a late lunch and caught the bus to Salta, about a 4 hour ride. Pretty short compared to my other bus rides here. The bus traveled throug the Quebrada de las Conchas and I had my camera with me this time so I took a few pictures from the moving bus.

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Once I arrived in Salta, I was able to walk from the bus station to my hotel. Google had it right this time.

First stop was the tour agency I’d been corresponding with via email. They’d wanted a deposit to reserve a spot for the tours I wanted but there was no practical way to do that since they don’t take credit cards. That’s pretty common here. Even some of my hotels (including the hotel here in Salta as well as the hospedaje in Cafayate) will only accept cash.

Argentines keep pretty late hours so the agency was open until 9pm. I made arrangements with them and then found a restaurant for dinner, took a quick trip around the central plaza, (surprise! this time the central plaza isn’t named San Martín but Plaza 9 de Julio) and returned to the hotel for the night, a delightful place built in a huge colonial-era home, thoroughly refurbished with multiple interior patios.  This patio was just outside my room.DSCN9207

20 October 2013Salta

A half a block from my hotel is the oldest building in Salta, the Convento de San Bernardo, built in the late 16th century. DSCN9210A hospital was attached to it and eventually it fell into disrepair. It was rebuilt in 1844 to house the Orden de Carmelo. I wasn’t allowed inside since I couldn’t convince anybody I’m a Carmelite Nun.  This was the front door.DSCN9211

I was disappointed to see that the Iglesia San Francisco was covered with scaffolding and the street next to it torn up for refurbishing. It’s a striking church painted a rather unusual magenta and yellw. It was built in 1870. All the construction made taking pictures difficult and the results aren’t that great but maybe you can get an idea.DSCN9212DSCN9214This is the main sactuaryDSCN9215and an interior open space.DSCN9216

The main Plaza in Salta is the Plaza 9 de Julio. Streets and plazas here are often named various dates that figure in Argentine history. July 9 is the date of the signing of Argentina’s Declaration of Independence from Spain. The statue in the middle of the plaza is of Juan Antonio Álvarez de Arenales, a revolutionary war hero and governor of Salta. DSCN9219The plaza is noteworthy partly because it’s the only plaza in Argentina completely surrounded by colonnades.  This is the cabildo (town hall).DSCN9232DSCN9230

The primary church is, of course, right on the main square —  the Catedral Basilica.

The original church on this site was destroyed in an earthquake in 1844, The cathedral was rebuilt and this one was consecrated in 1878 and has what looks to me like an Escher-style 3D look entry floor. DSCN9223You notice the kids, sitting on the floor on the right.  I was taking this picture of the tile floor when the little girl in blue came up to me and started talking to me. I took her picture then turned the camera around to show her and she looked at it then ran back to the older girl whose back is against the wall, who I assume was her big sister excitedly telling her all about it.  So here’s my new friend.DSCN9224

The church is noted for containing the ashes of a couple of revolutionary war heroes including Juan Antonio Álvarez de Arenales.

I have no pictures of one of the most interesting things. No pictures were allowed. The MAAM, the Museum of High Altitude Archeology. This area was Inca territory and Mount Llullaillaco (6,700 meters, 22,000 feet) in the province of Salta on the border with Chile, was the site of an important Inca religious ceremony during which the lives of high-born children were sacrificed to please the gods.

The Inca didn’t see the children as dying but saw them as being reunited with their forefathers who kept watch over Inca communities from the highest peaks. The museum is the repository for artifacts found at the site on Llullaillaco and the bodies of the sacrificed children there. The bodies of the children are kept stored at -20C (-4F) and the museum rotates which one is on display.

The children were prepared for their sacrifice by being made the center of a large celebration called the capacocha. After the celebration the child was returned home but had to go in a straight line, a very difficult journey.

After they got home there was another celebration and they were taken into the mountains where they were fed and given an alcoholic drink. When they passed out they were taken up to the peak of the mountain where they were buried, sometimes alive and sometimes after a blow to the head.

One of these sacrificed children was found in the 1920’s (at a different site) the burial site was looted and the artifacts and the body were bought and sold on the open market, stored in a basement and generally treated as commercial property. (I can’t really imagine storing a mummified body in my basement but maybe that’s just me.) That experience led authorities to resist the pressure to leave the burial site intact and they brought all the artifacts and the children’s bodies to Salta and establish the MMAM for their display.

I liked some of the different balconies on the buildings that surrounded the plaza and took some pictures of them.

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The buildings are nicely lit up at night.

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21 October 2013

Salta to Humahuaca

I signed up for a tour for today up into the mountains and the “altiplano” (the high plain) north of Salta. The ultimate destination is the little town of Humahuaca, a town populated mostly by a Quechua speaking Indian population, but there are a number of stops on the way there.

There were about 25 people in a big tourist bus so it was a big group.  The tour was in Spanish and I think I was the only one in the group who wasn’t Argentine. I was in for a big surprise at our first stop which sounded pretty routine. We stopped at a little convenience store so people could get any water, soda, snacks or other small comfort items for the trip.

It turned out that one of the options for small comfort items included coca leaves. Yes I do mean the leaves of the plant from which cocaine is extracted. I knew the Inca chewed coca leaves but I had no idea it was still a common (and apparently legal) practice here. The attached picture is of the signs in front of the store on the sidewalk advertising the coca leaves. DSCN9242A lot of people bought a package of coca leaves… and made active use of them.

No I did not buy… or use… the coca leaves.. I did, however, have the passing fantasy of trying to bring back some coca leaves with me to the US and trying to convince US customs they were just “souvenirs”.  I can’t imagine that’s legal (though I don’t really know) but I’ll bet there are some who actually try it.

Then we were on the road and heading for the altiplano. Before we’d gotten too far, traffic came to a total stop. It turned out that a local group decided to stop all traffic on the freeway in both directions by creating a line of people standing in the traffic lanes, burning tires and holding up a sign.protest

I asked the tour guide about it and apparently this is an “accepted” method of protest… at least it’s accepted among the protest groups. She rattled off a list of issues the local people protest using this method, both political and economic issues.

The black smoke is coming from burning tires. As best I can determine, after consulting with local people who know more than I do, the protest was about a land tenure conflict in Barrio Libertad near Oran City.

As our tour bus driver tried to maneuver the bus out of our lane of traffic, into opposing lanes and off an on-ramp I watched three policemen ambling toward the demonstrators. Their physical demeanor said, “here we go again” though, of course, I have no idea what they were thinking or just how they handled the situation, since we got off the freeway to take an alternate route through town (by the town dump… not an advertised part of the tour).

Whatever the police did, it seemed to clear up traffic because when we got off our detour and back on the freeway traffic seemed to be moving normally coming from the direction where the protest had been.

We passed through the Quebrada de Huaumaca.  This was typical terrain.DSCN9247We didn’t stop, but drove by the Cerro de los Siete Colores, similar to the deposits I saw just outside Cafayate.DSCN9248


First stop was Purmamarca. Purmamarca sits just below the Cerro de los Siete Colores, the Hill of the Seven Colors. A wonderfully colorful geological formation located in the Quebrada de Humahuaca. This Quebrada is sufficiently picturesque that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are small villages sprinkled all the way up this canyon and all of them seem to have as their primary economy, selling handicrafts to tourists.

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The little church, Iglesia Santa Rosa de Lima, dates back to 1778 or 1779.

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From Purmamarca we went to the town of Humahuaca, after which the Quebrada is named, Lots of tourist buses were parked in the town and before we entered the town a local guide came on the bus and took over from the guide who’d been with us. I later asked the local guide what percentage of the population of the town earns their living from the tourist trade. He estimated 70%. Based on what I saw, I’d guess that’s pretty accurate.

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It’s an Indian village and the population among themselves speak Quechua, but of course everybody is fluent in Spanish to sell to the tourists. Tourist buses have some kind of connection or contract with a restaurant in town that sets up rows of tables for all the tourists and lunch is served with assembly line efficiency while some local musicians serenade you then pass the hat.

Our next stop was the little village of Uquia where we visited the little 17th century church, Templo de la Santa Cruz y de San Francisco de Paula de Uquia.

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The most unusual feature of this church was the paintings of angels; if not the only, probably almost the only paintings of angels holding firearms. In this case arquebuses. They didn’t allow pictures inside the church so I can only tell you about them. I guess an angel (complete with wings) holding an arquebus was the “modern” version of an angel wielding a sword.

Pucará was our next (and last) stop and is the site of a reconstructed pre-Columbian fortified Indian site. The reconstructed stone ruins date from the 11th to the 15th centuries.

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It appeared to have been an extensive and impressive site, commanding a dominant position overlooking the valley.  This was the view of the valley from the site.DSCN9294

This is the interior of one of the stone buildings.  I was interested to learn that the large round wooden support beam holding up the roof is cactus.  I’ve never thought of cactus as producing building material.DSCN9300

22 October 2013Salta to San Antonio de los Cobres

There’s a well-known train that goes from Salta to the little altiplano town of San Antonio de los Cobres called the Tren a las Nubes, the train to the clouds. (I should note that, although I’m using the word “altiplano” because it’s more familiar, the word used in Argentina is “puna”. Both refer to the high altitude plains.) The train follows the Quebrada del Toro and is more touristy than simple transportation from point “A” to point “B”. Passengers are treated to on-board folklore performances and tourist guide commentary.

I wanted to see the area but decided to skip the train in large part because it’s hard to get the pictures I want from a moving vehicle. Although I admit I’ve never tried, I strongly suspect that the train engineer would be very unlikely to stop for me when I wanted to get out and take a picture.

The amount of time required for the train was another deterrent. It leaves Salta at 7:00 am and returns at about midnight. That’s a really long day… at least for this old man.

Local tourist agencies offer tours that follow a road that parallels the train tracks with multiple stops along the way for picture-taking and, of course, visits to little towns along the way for the opportunity to spend money on handicrafts. I signed up for one of these tours.

This was a small tour with only other tourists being 4 Argentine women, and the child of one. They all knew each other and were traveling together. They were surprised to find a Spanish-speaking American in their group and were very friendly and loquacious. I noticed that our driver, though he kept up pretty much a running commentary on the trip, was never without a wad of coca leaves in his mouth.

Although the road is designated a national route and has a national route number it’s only partially paved. Much of it was gravel though very passable. DSCN9311Our first stop was to take a picture of an iconic spot where the train crosses the Rio Toro on the way up to San Antonio de los Cobres.DSCN9314

And once we stopped at my request. I had noticed traveling around the country horses being used as work animals. In the out-lying, rural areas there’s the occasional horse-drawn cart clip-clopping down the street carrying something.

And outside the towns I’ve seen horses pulling plows. I’ve wanted a picture but never been able to get one from the moving vehicle I’m in. Because this was just a small van and I was sitting next to the driver it was easy to ask if he could stop and I got a picture. Coming from a totally mechanized society a horse-drawn plow is not something you see. DSCN9320Argentina is certainly not close to a third-world country but, even so, there are still remnants of that life.

The people in the area let their animals graze freely in the valley which is fairly narrow. I guess they don’t wander too far because usually there was nobody in sight keeping an eye on them. I got some pictures of a llama herd.DSCN9328DSCN9329

So… help me with my English.  What’s a group of llamas?  A herd?  They have wool like sheep.  Does that make it a flock?  Or is there some other word that’s unique to llamas?

Here are some more pictures from along the Quebrada del Toro.

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When we crossed the mountain pass before dropping down into San Antonio de los Cobres there was a sign that our altitude was 4,080 meters, 13,380 feet. The air was noticeably thin.  And there was a lone bicyclist making his way down.DSCN9326

We went to the train station at San Antonio de los Cobres DSCN9333

This is the view of the town from the train station.DSCN9335Then we went into town for lunch at one of the restaurants that obviously contracts with the tour companies with long rows of tables packed with tourists.

San Antonio seems to have passed its prime. It’s history is as a mining town, but the mining industry appears to have pretty much dried up leaving little besides tourists as a source of income. There’s a military base with typical look-alike barracks


but the town’s houses are weathered and patched adobe. We had some time so I wandered a little, taking pictures of the houses and the little church in the center of town.

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For the most part the streets were empty except for wandering tourists and natives trying to sell things to the tourists.

On the way back down the mountain we made a final stop at the town of Campo Quijano to visit a monument to a local hero — Richard Maury. Instead of the usual revolutionary war hero, this monument was in honor of the engineer who built the railroad from Salta, through the Quebrada and into the altiplano in the early 1900’s. The train is a reproduction of the original train that ran the tracks he engineered.  He was American, but died in Argentina and his remains are now buried at this monument.DSCN9345DSCN9344

25 October 2013Salta to Puerto Iguazu

If you’re paying attention to dates, you’ll notice a couple of dates for which there is no entry. I will combine the narrative for all three days here. I left Salta the afternoon of Wednesday, October 23. I had originally planned to go on a tour before my bus left but the bus left earlier than I could have returned from the tour so I spent the morning in the hotel catching up on entries for the blog. (Finding the time to keep up with this blog is a constant issue.)

I left Salta by bus Wednesday afternoon bound for Corrientes where I was to arrive at about 5:00 am Thursday. The plan was to board another bus bound for my destination of Puerto Iguazú at about 7:00 am Thursday with an intended arrival time of about 4:00 pm Thursday, a little more than 24 hours after my departure from Salta.  It’s obviously a long trip from Salta to Puerto Iguazú.  It crosses almost the entire width of northern Argentina.

The overnight leg of the trip went as planned and I arrived in Corrientes on time and ate an early breakfast at the bus terminal. When the bus to Iguazú had not arrived I checked with the bus company’s representative and was told it was delayed. It eventually showed up about an hour behind schedule.

Although my plan was to try to take pictures out the window since there was daylight, it poured rain and the only picture I could get was a blurry rain covered bus window. I dozed off and was awakened in the town of Posadas and informed I had to change to another bus. This bus couldn’t continue.

I never found out what the problem was but I insured my luggage was changing buses with me and I trooped off to the other bus. I arrived in Puerto Iguazú about two hours later than planned but had the cell phone number for John, the owner of the B&B where I’m staying, to notify him when I arrived so he could pick me up. Argentina still has pay phones so I used one to call him.  He picked me up and took me on a quick introductory tour of the town of Puerto Iguazú before driving me to his home.

John has named his B&B “Secret Garden”  and he does have a wonderful jungle-like garden, which is totally fitting for the area which is jungle.  This is the view of the guest rooms which are in a building separate from the main house at the back of the property.  My room is the one straight ahead in the middle of the picture.DSCN9778This is looking from my room toward the main house.DSCN9360

And these are looking into the garden from the wooden walk.

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Lots of ferns, some interesting flowers and a papaya tree.

One of the hallmarks of John’s hospitality is an evening of drinks, hor d’oeuvres, and conversation on his rear deck. DSCN9779One of his guests was a German psychoanalyst from Berlin whose English is outstanding and was also traveling alone. We extended our conversation by going out to dinner together. Then walked back to John’s and bed. The plan for tomorrow is Iguazú National Park.

Friday morning I joined a couple who were also staying with John who’d ordered a car to take them to the national park.

This national park is probably the biggest single reason I chose to travel to northern Argentina. Eleanor Roosevelt is reputed to have said, when she first saw the Iguazú Falls, “Oh. Poor Niagara.” The other apropos quote I’ve heard is that Iguazú is Niagara on Viagra.

There simply is no possible way to capture, in pictures or by words, the experience of these falls. Their immensity and their power is simply hard to wrap your head around. I’ll throw some numbers at you. There are about 275 falls that range in height from 60 to 82 meters (197 – 262 feet). It isn’t so much the height of the falls but the number and the volume of water. The falls are spread across 2.7 km (1.7 miles) over which about 1,756 M3 per second (over 62,000 cubic feet per second) of water falls.

The roar of that volume of water and the spray that rises up over such a vast area creates a visceral sensation of overwhelming power.

The falls are set in a jungle setting so you see them in more or less their natural state. Although the falls are the main attraction, just walking through the jungle from one set of falls to the next is interesting.  Fungi are very happy in the moist jungle environment.  These orange fungi were just asking to have their portrait taken.DSCN9365And these white fungi were cup-shaped and full of rainwater and jungle debris.DSCN9366In addition to colorful fungi there are flowers.

And jungle animals, some of which are familiar and some not-so-familiar.  Some of what I saw today are birds, including the common vulture on the top left, a finch on the bottom right and a tanager on the bottom left.  Those are tanager nests on the top right.

Lots of lizards.

A butterflyDSCN9416

And an Agouti

The falls are accessed by metal walkways, one at the level of the tops of the falls and the other at a level near the bottom of the falls.  There’s a little train that transports you to a couple of different areas in the park. As you can see it’s rather popular.

Today was all about seeing the falls from every angle I could. There’s an island in the river at the base of the falls and, in theory your park entry also buys you a boat ride over to the island so you can hike the island trails and view the falls from that vantage point. Today the boats weren’t running so I didn’t have the option of seeing the falls from the island although that was something I very much wanted to do.

The plan, however, is to return tomorrow and, hopefully the boats will run then.

Instead of taking you on what would be a virtual tour, first taking the upper trail then the lower trail, I’m going to try to group my pictures  so you can see the same set of falls from both upper and lower vantage points.  Each set of falls is named and I’ll give you the names as best I can recall them.  So, this is the Salto Dos Hermanas — the Two Sisters Falls.DSCN9382DSCN9482The Salto Chico. Or “little” falls.DSCN9476DSCN9384

The Salto Ramirez.DSCN9398DSCN9469If you look at the top photo in the center toward the bottom you can see the lower walkway and how crowded it is with people.  It was like that all over the park.  This is a must-see part of a tour to Argentina.  This is a closer view of what the walkways are like at the viewing points.DSCN9393I was grateful to be here during the shoulder season and not the height of the tourist season, though at spots away from the falls it wasn’t so crowded.DSCN9486

The Salto Boscetti.DSCN9414DSCN9415DSCN9470DSCN9472To give a little more context, this is Salto Boscetti on the left and Salto Ramirez on the right.DSCN9461And then pivoting a little, Saltos Boscetti, Adan y Eva.  The two falls on the left are the Adan y Eva (Adam and Eve) Falls.  The larger falls on the right are Boscetti.DSCN9473The falls range from the massive to the small, with many in between.  One of the smaller ones was the Salto Lanusse.DSCN9436If you look carefully toward the bottom, you can see a hint of the rainbow in the spray.  It was more obvious in real life.DSCN9437Salto Alvar NuñezDSCN9438DSCN9439

A word about the pictures of the Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat). These falls are the tallest, and they also have the greatest amount of water going over them. I did my best to get pictures that would visually convey the falls, but I failed. With such a vast quantity of water falling so far the majority of the falls were obscured by mist. And mist collected on my camera lens. I’m showing you what I have, while acknowledging it fails to give you any realistic idea of being so close to those massive falls.DSCN9494DSCN9489DSCN9492A big part of the majesty of the Iguazú falls, is their vast expanse.  The individual falls are interesting and worth seeing individually.  But the expanse of so many so close is an overwhelming experience.  There is no one vantage point from which to capture that, but here are some panoramas.

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The end of the day was another pleasant time on John’s deck with good conversation with the other guests and dinner together afterwards.

26 October 2013Puerto Iguazu to Cataratas

Most people who come to Iguazú visit the national park for a day, see the falls and move on. The park offers a discount if you come back a second day and I wanted to return anyway to try to get onto the island that was closed yesterday and to hike a jungle trail. Although the falls are amazingly dramatic there’s lots to see in the jungle and the park has a 7 kilometer trail through the jungle to an isolated waterfall.

So it was back to the park today after breakfast. Since the couple who went by a hired car are leaving this morning, I took the public bus. A large percentage of the people in Puerto Iguazú is here to either visit the falls or to make money off the people who are here to visit the falls. With almost all the tourists going to see the falls and a large percentage of the town going to work at the falls, there’s a bus from the town to the national park every 20 minutes or so.

There was no problem taking the bus and my first stop was to the information booth to see if the boats were running to the island. Nope. The island is closed again. OK. I’ll go straight to the trail through the jungle. I get to the start of the trail and it’s blocked with a sign that says, “Cerrado para mantenimiento” (closed for maintenance).

That kind of put a crimp in my plans for today.

Back to the information booth. They confirmed that everything I had planned for the day is closed. Although the free park boats can’t run because the river is running too high, all the commercial boats that take you into the whiteout in the middle of the spray at the base of the falls are running so they offered to sell me a ticket on one of those.

Thanks, I already took my shower and pictures of a whiteout aren’t real interesting.

The trail is closed but there’s a parallel road used by a company running a 4 wheel drive tour to the same waterfall. I can buy the optional-at-extra-cost ticket for that tour. Or they also run another optional-at-extra-cost tour through the jungle.

I suspect that most jungle animals have good enough hearing to know when a big diesel 4X4 drives through the jungle and they probably don’t hang around for an encounter. I’m guessing, therefore, that I’m probably not going to see the animals on a mechanized tour that I’d see walking. I pass on the ride through the jungle and opt for the ride to the waterfall. While I’m waiting for the time for that tour to start I return to the upper trail to the falls and took a few more panorama-type pictures.

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Argentines love a tea made from yerba mate and it isn’t uncommon to see them carrying around a cup of the stuff. This lady, in addition to a large purse across her back is carrying a set made for your mate. The large container she’s holding onto is a thermos of hot water to make the tea. On the right is the cup to make the tea in. And, unseen, on the left of the thermos is a container for the dry tea leaves.DSCN9743You have to really love your tea to lug that big thermos around with you all day.

While walking through the jungle to the trail to the falls a troop of Capuchin monkeys came by.DSCN9575

I caught this monkey in midair jumping from one tree to the next. He’s a little hard to see because he has some more distant trees behind him, but he’s jumping from the foreground tree on the right to the one on the left.DSCN9660This is a Coati,  These animals are totally unafraid of humans and you see them everywhere. This one was digging a hole in the ground.DSCN9679And more common varieties.

There’s only one other couple on the tour so it’s very comfortable. The falls are small (by comparison) but pretty and they allow swimming in the pool at the base of the falls.  They’re known as the Salto Arrechea.DSCN9756DSCN9758I didn’t bring anything to go swimming in so I don’t enter the water but the couple did come prepared so they go in and tell me the water is really cold. A small group of adolescents show up and go swimming. They walked in from somewhere… maybe taking the “closed” trail that I wanted to take but obediently didn’t when I saw the “closed” sign.

The guide/driver was interesting and informative, but I have a very limited ability to remember the names of the many plants and trees he identified.  There was a veritable cloud of yellow butterflies flying in the sun through the jungle road we were following.DSCN9745

Orchids grow wild in the jungle.  These orchid plants are attached to a tree trunk.DSCN9747I wouldn’t have expected it, but there’s even cactus plants in the jungle.  The spaghetti like plant hanging from this tree in the jungle is a variety of cactus.DSCN9748

After the 4X4 ride I took the lower falls walk again.

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Then it was time for the return bus ride to town and back home for drinks, hor d’oeuvres and conversation again. Tonight I’m the only guest so the conversation is with John and his wife Cristina. Then dinner, home and bed.

27 October 2013Puerto Iguazu

In town, along the road to the national park, there’s an animal rescue operation called Güirá Oga. They take in injured wildlife and animals that have been confiscated by law enforcement from people who have captured and tried to sell jungle animals. Sometimes, also, people who’ve bought and kept wild animals change their minds about keeping them and bring them to Güirá Oga on their own.

The tricks poachers use to sell the animals are creative. Before taking monkeys to market they’re fed bread soaked in wine. The wine makes them sleepy, so the monkeys are quiet and passive when the potential buyer sees them. After the sale, when the wine wears off, the monkey reverts to being a wild animal who’s in a strange environment, becomes scared, aggressive and destructive.

Animals who can be rehabilitated are released back into the wild after their rehabilitation. Animals that cannot be rehabilitated live out their lives in Güirá Oga and, if they’re young enough, are used in a breeding program to raise young of their species that can be released back into the wild.

Güirá Oga is about 3 kilometers from John’s home so it’s within walking distance but John was taking his wife to the airport and offered to drop me off. Far be it from me to pass up an offer that lets me ride rather than walk.

John dropped me off just as a Spanish language tour was assembling to leave. All visits to Gürá Oga are by guided tour. You aren’t allowed through on your own. The group, though, was comprised primarily of early adolescent kids, apparently part of a school group. The group tended to move right along which didn’t suit my desire to take my time to try to get some acceptable pictures. Adolescents, however, aren’t noted for their long attention spans so the pace was appropriate for at least that part of the group.

After that tour, I talked to the people at the entry, they called somebody for permission, and let me go through again, this time with an English-speaking tour. This time there were only three of us, the other two being a Swiss couple. We moved at a much more sedate pace, for which I was grateful.

It will be obvious from many of the pictures, but all the animals are captive and are seen through their cages, though I did the best I could to minimize the visual impact of the cage.  It’s a big place and I’m not including all the different animals, but here’s a good sampling.  I include the names when I can remember them.  We’ll start with some of the birds, many of whom are quite colorful.

A toucan.DSCN9790

The Aguila Viuda
This eagle’s name I remembered — it translates as the “widow eagle”.DSCN9805Although I don’t remember the name of this particular eagle, you may have noticed the tethers on the eagles’ feet.  The eagles are tethered to individual perches because they’re very territorial and will hurt each other if not kept separated. An outside expert works with the eagles daily to teach them how to fly again.DSCN9809A falcon.DSCN9813This is an Aracari.  There are many varieties of Aracari which, as you may have guessed, are related to the Toucan.DSCN9861DSCN9874A vulture.DSCN9882A Parrot.DSCN9830A Macaw.DSCN9858And a couple of birds whose names I don’t remember.DSCN9893DSCN9891There were some reptiles — a turtle and a caiman.DSCN9802DSCN9818There were some baby caimans in with the turtles.DSCN9898And, of course, mammals.  This is a Howler Monkey.DSCN9798And a Capuchin Monkey.DSCN9887A CarpinchoDSCN9819And a Capybara.  Hard to tell how big it is from the picture but that’s about a 150 pound animal.DSCN9815An Anteater.DSCN9904OK… the caterpillar wasn’t a rescue animal and it wasn’t captive, but I like the colors when I spotted him on some vegetation so I took his picture, too.DSCN9795And some more orchids growing wild on the trees.DSCN9822

From Güirá Oga I walked up to the road toward an attraction John had told me about. On the way I saw signs advertising the Bottle House, about which I’d read. I followed a little dirt road DSCN9934into a community and found the house. It’s built out of plastic bottles like the two liter soda bottles. DSCN9917If you look at that picture you may notice that pretty much everything is built of plastic soda bottles.  The green umbrella in the front is made from bottles.  The fence in the background is made from plastic bottles.  The trash can on the side of the house and the seats on either side of the front door are all made from plastic bottles, too.

The owner, Alfredo, DSCN9918explained that during an economic crisis he lost his job and couldn’t find another. He tried to sell his tools but couldn’t find a buyer so he started digging through trash trying to find enough he could do something with to survive.

His daughter wanted a doll house but he couldn’t afford one so he started looking for a way to make one out of trash. He came up with a way of doing it with soda bottles, cutting one in half then inserting another inside the half-bottle for stability. A small nut and bolt attach the bottle to the next one above and stabilize it and the process is repeated until you reach the height you want.

He discovered that bottles from soda containing caffeine are treated so UV rays don’t destroy the caffeine and the plastic is thicker and stronger. As he developed his project he learned to use plasticized juice cartons to make a waterproof roof. DSCN9920By putting the UV-proof bottles on top of the plasticized cartons he protected the plastic on the carton from UV caused deterioration, making a waterproof, long-lasting roof.

He’s an active salesman for his technique which he has taken to multiple Latin American countries as both an ecological movement to reduce waste and an anti-poverty movement to help homeless learn how to build a home for themselves from trash.DSCN9931DSCN9928DSCN9922DSCN9921

He used this technique in Paraguay to build a 50 square meter (540 square foot) building that was declared a building of national interest by the Paraguayan government and now houses a tourist office. He’s even developed ways to run flexible electrical conduit through the spaces between the bottles so houses can have electricity. By putting up a thin board and coating it with plaster the walls look like “normal” wood-framed plaster walls.DSCN9923

Rooms are furnished with chairs, sofas, beds and tables made of plastic soda bottles. And they’re strong enough that another visitor who, by my estimate, definitely exceeded 200 pounds was easily supported by the bottle chair he was sitting in.

Alfredo’s an extremely creative man who’s very excited about what he’s done. Although building houses from trash is probably the most dramatic thing he’s done, his creativity didn’t stop there. He found a technique to make effective brooms and brushes with thin strips of plastic he cuts from plastic bottles, freezes and forms. Plastic bottles become children’s toys, children’s purses, woven totes, lamp shades, and umbrellas. Old bottles become drinking glasses, aluminum cans become doll house cooking pots, pans, teapots, etc. The little pop top tabs become bracelets or belts.  All these items are for sale at the bottle house “gift shop”.DSCN9927DSCN9925DSCN9926He also has a sense of humor.  Old toilets rescued from the dump become flower pots. The sign translates as, “You never thought much of me when you hurriedly sat on me, but you never imagined what my future would be.”  (In Spanish, it rhymes —

Siempre te sentaste, con desprecio y apuro

Pero nunca imaginastes que sería mi futuro.)DSCN9932

He’s an irrepressible, enthusiastic and highly creative man. I’m glad I made the detour to his home and met him.

From there I walked to La Aripuca, An “aripuca” is the name of a trap used by the local Guaraní Indians to catch live birds. DSCN9942 Food is placed under the aripuca which is hidden under branches, leaves and brush. When the bird enters to eat a string propping up the aripuca is pulled, dropping it over the bird.  An Indian guide showed me how an aripuca works then took me into the center. Inside is a huge building made of the trunks of large trees from the jungle that had been felled for construction, confiscated from people poaching trees illegally, struck by lightning or otherwise died. DSCN9937DSCN9941DSCN9938They emphasize that none of the trees were felled for the purpose of creating this building.

Inside are ecological displays about the jungle explaining the jungle ecology and how the human activities are continually reducing and destroying the jungle. The building is intended as a metaphor. Human visitors find themselves “trapped” inside a trap of their own making as they destroy the environment on which they are dependent for life.

The building is 17 meters (55 feet) high and the tree trunks that it is made of represent 30 different species of jungle trees and weigh 500,000 kilograms (550 tons). Pictures don’t really capture just how overwhelmingly huge they are. Other buildings on the property sell handicrafts made by Guaraní Indians.DSCN9939

From here I walked home, share drinks and hor d’oeuvres with John and called it a night.

28-29 October 2013

Puerto Iguazu to Burenos Aires

30 October 2013

Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento

There are no entries for the last couple of days because it would be pretty boring reading about them.  I spent most of the 28th on John’s rear deck catching up on this blog.  (It takes a surprising amount of time to do this.)  That afternoon John took me to the bus terminal for the start of about a 19 hour bus ride from Puerto Iguazú to Buenos Aires; a trip of almost 1500 kilometers or about 930 miles.

Being on the bus that long also used up much of yesterday, the 29th, though I slept through a good part of the trip.  It’s quite a culture shock to go from a comparatively small tourist town of about 80,000 to Buenos Aires with its population of almost 3 million.

This morning I requested an early wake-up call so I could eat breakfast and walk from the hotel to the Buquebus terminal where I’m taking a ferry across the Rio de la Plata DSCN9961to Uruguay.  As you can see from the map, at this point the river is pretty wide.  I had a choice between a cheap, slow ferry that would take about three hours for the trip and a “buque rapido” a fast ferry that was more expensive but makes the trip in one hour.  It’s about a 50 kilometer or 30 mile trip.

I didn’t have to think a really long time to decide.  I didn’t want to spend 6 hours of my day just traveling to and from my destination.  The ferry is a very large, very modern, comfortable ferry.

After taking care of ticketing you present yourself to Argentine Immigration authorities who process you out of the country then walk your passport over to another booth about 3 meters or 10 feet away to Uruguayan Immigration authorities and they process you for immigration into Uruguay.

After Argentina has cleared you to leave the country and Uruguay has cleared you to enter you can go to the waiting area until boarding time.  As we left the Buquebus docks and sailed out into the river we passed the Argentina Yacht Club, founded in 1883.DSCN9960

I’m going to the historic town in Uruguay of Colonia del Sacramento (known locally simply as Colonia).  It’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a popular tourist destination.  It’s one of the oldest towns in Uruguay, founded by the Portuguese in 1680.  There were constant battles between the Portuguese in Colonia del Sacramento and the Spaniards just across the river in Buenos Aires and the town kept swapping countries, sometimes being controlled by Spain and sometimes Portugal (even briefly belonging to Brazil once) until 1828 when it finally went to the newly independent Uruguay.

Part of the acrimony between Portuguese Colonia del Sacramento and Spanish Buenos Aires was the fact that the Portuguese made a tidy profit by turning Colonia into a major source of smuggled goods, undercutting Spain’s effort to maintain a trade monopoly.

I’m heading for the Barrio Histórico, the historic neighborhood, home to both restored and original colonial era buildings, streets, etc.  The streets are very pretty, cobblestoned, sycamore lined and follow the Portuguese plan of meandering streets that follow the terrain instead of the Spanish style of straight streets that intersect at 90 degree angles regardless of terrain.

After finding an ATM so I could get some Uruguayan pesos, I entered the Barrio Histórico through the Portón de Campo, the city gate that dates from 1745, and was reconstructed between 1968 and 1971.  DSCN9973DSCN9968Extending toward the river from the gate is the thick fortified wall which is also reconstructed.

From here I walk to the Calle de los Suspiros, the Street of the Sighs.  DSCN9976DSCN9978I would very much like to know the history of that name.  I’ve never heard a name like it.  The street is paved with the original Portuguese pavement in the Portuguese style with the drain down the middle.  DSCN9977(The Spanish style put the drains on the sides of the street.)  Houses on either side of the street also belong to the first colonial period.

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The Calle de San Francisco is another street with Portuguese era buildings.DSCN9983DSCN9985DSCN9984The Convento de San Francisco was built in 1694 and destroyed by fire in 1704.


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Construction of a lighthouse within the ruins of the convent was begun in 1845.  DSCN9989For a small fee you can climb the very narrow circular stairs to the top where there are wonderful panoramic views of the town and the river.DSCN9993DSCN9994DSCN9991At the base of the lighthouse was an early light source.  The sign says, “Kerosene rope lantern used in the Colonia lighthouse before 1938.”DSCN9996The town wharf dates back to 1866.  It was originally longer and had a perpendicular section that was lost to weather and age.DSCN0017

There are a number of museums scattered throughout the Barrio Histórico, many of them located in colonial era buildings.  I bought a ticket that allowed me entry into all the museums.  Unfortunately at least half the museums were closed (in spite of posted hours that said they were supposed to be open) and none of them allowed any photography inside… even without flash.

This was the Archivo Regional  — The Regional Archives.  A colonial era building housing a museum containing items excavated from the 18th century Casa de los Gobernadores, the House of Governors.DSCN0011The Governor’s House is no longer standing but the ruins can still be seen.  This is the site of the excavation of the foundations of the Governor’s House, which was started by the Portuguese but destroyed by the Spanish in 1777 before it was finished.DSCN0038This colonial era home is also a museum; one of the museums that was inexplicably closed.DSCN0016This was the Museo Portugués — the Portuguese Museum.  It was housed in a 17th century stone Portuguese home with walls 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm) thick. This was another of the museums that was closed.DSCN9986Of course there was a wondeful old church.  This was the Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento.  The Portuguese stone walls date to 1808. The facade and cupolas were restored in 1957.

And there is a cultural center; the Centro Cultural Bastión del Carmen.  Currently a cultural center housed in buildings that were built in 1880 as a glue and soap factory, wool laundry and hide tanning.

A variety of wonderful old cars are parked around the Barrio and many of them seem to be there to attract tourists and provide tours of the Barrio.  Nevertheless they add a wonderful atmosphere to the Barrio.

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For the most part it’s just a wonderfully picturesque colonial-era town.

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When it starts getting close to the time for the ferry to head back to Buenos Aires I walk back to the Uruguayan Buquebus terminal.  Going from Argentina to Uruguay was quick and efficient.  Going from Uruguay to Argentina the lines moved at a snail’s pace; so much so that I wasn’t sure I’d be cleared through immigration before the ferry left.  I don’t know if the change is the difference between Argentina and Uruguay, morning and afternoon, or it’s just an anomaly.

I finally made it to Uruguayan immigration with about 15 minutes before sailing time.  The Uruguayan official processes me out of Uruguay and gives my passport to the Argentine immigration officer standing right next to him.  She asks me for my proof that I paid the reciprocity fee.

Uh Oh.

Argentina charges Americans a fee to enter the country.  Apparently the US charges Argentines a fee to enter the US so Argentina requires a $160 “reciprocity fee” of American citizens to enter Argentina. I have the paperwork showing I paid the fee and showed it when I originally entered but didn’t think to bring it with me for this one-day trip to Colonia.

Now I’m getting a little anxious.  I don’t have written proof I paid the fee, I’ve officially left Uruguay and now I’m not sure Argentina will let me back in.  I tell her that of course I paid and if I hadn’t, Argentina wouldn’t have let me in when I arrived 3 weeks ago.  She can see from the stamps in my passport that I was admitted to Argentina three weeks ago.

She tells me I’m supposed to have the paperwork with me.  I repeat that they wouldn’t have let me enter the country 3 weeks ago if I didn’t have proof I’d paid the fee, and I do have the paperwork, but it’s in my hotel room in Buenos Aires.  After letting me sweat for a minute she says that now they have a system that gives her the ability to look it up on her computer.

Regardless of whether she looks me up or simply accepts the logic that I wouldn’t have been allowed into the country 3 weeks ago if I hadn’t paid the fee, she stamps my passport, allowing me back into Argentina and I make it to the ferry before it sails (but only because they keep the ferry at the dock for an extra 15 or 20 minutes past the scheduled sailing time).

It was an uneventful trip back to Buenos Aires where I walked back to the hotel to get rid of my camera gear, went back out for dinner and called it a day, grateful to have been allowed back into Argentina.

31 October 2013

Buenos Aires

Today’s agenda is to see a few final things in Buenos Aires then be sure I’m packed up and ready to go tomorrow morning. I’ve been to Manuel Tienda León and purchased a bus ticket from the city out to the airport. Tienda León offers a very reasonably-priced bus and will even pick me up at the hotel to take me to their bus terminal. The only fly in the ointment is I have to be up much earlier than I’d like so all the packing is going to get done today.

My primary stop is the Palacio Paz, the largest private residence in Buenos Aires. DSCN8930DSCN8797At least it was built as a private residence. It no longer is. Guided tours are only offered twice-a-day in Spanish and twice-a-week in English. I was never here at the right time before. Today I can get in on a Spanish language tour.

The palace was begun in 1902 and finished in 1914 by José Paz, the founder of the Argentine newspaper La Prensa. He was also the Argentine ambassador to France from 1885 to 1893 where he fell in love with French architecture and he hired a French architect to pattern his “home” after French chateaus of the era. The center section of the exterior was patterned after the Louvre. All the materials for the home were made in France and imported.

This is the car entry from the street side.DSCN8929And this is the view from inside the grounds.DSCN0049This is a view of the interior grounds from the car entry.DSCN0051Tourists enter through the “humble” side entry.  The date of 1881 over the door is the date the Círculo Militar, the current owner of the building, was established.DSCN0048As I waited for the tour to begin I took a couple of pictures of the marble stairs leading into the residence from the side entry.DSCN0046DSCN0047At the top of the stairs was a “small” landing.DSCN0052DSCN0054This was one of the incidental decorative items in an alcove on the landing.DSCN0055

José Paz had political ambitions in Argentina and when he built the house he built it with the idea that, after he was elected president of the country it would be regal enough to serve as his presidential palace. His ambitions, however were for naught. He died in 1912, even before the building was completed but his widow and children occupied it after its completion.

This room was built as a dance room, but it was being set up for a banquet when we were there.DSCN0056DSCN0057DSCN0058

It’s a 12,000 square meter (almost 130,000 square foot) 140 room mansion. By comparison, the United States White House is about 55,000 square feet (5,100 square meters) though the two buildings have a similar number of rooms. On the tour they said a staff of 72 servants was required to keep the home functioning. There was one servant whose entire job was maintaining the chandeliers. It took him three months to make the rounds of all the chandeliers in the palace, then he’d start over.

There’s nothing about this house that isn’t over-the-top ostentacious.  This is a hallway, which was grandly known as the Gallery of Honor.DSCN0062The Gallary of Honor had an impressive clockDSCN0061and regal seating.DSCN0060Not all hallways were quite so ostentacious, though even this simple one was beautiful.DSCN0082Provision was made for small, less formal occasions.  This was an intimate little dining room.DSCN0064DSCN0065With an intricate, carved ceiling.DSCN0063Along the walls were exquisite, hand carved, furnishings.DSCN0069DSCN0068

They’re almost impossible to see because the figures are looking down, but, in these details of some of the carving on one piece of furniture, the eyeballs of the figures are inlaid with a different kind of wood so the whites of the eyes are actually white.DSCN0070DSCN0072And another detail of some of the hand carving and inlay on one of the pieces.DSCN0073At first glance this looked like an intricate decorative panel on the wall, but it was a door for the servants to unobtrusively enter and exit the dining room.DSCN0071Guests, on the other hand, entered grandly through double doors inlaid with glass panels so they could be seen approaching.DSCN0067This, they told us, was a small “side room”.DSCN0074DSCN0075DSCN0076Since Paz felt certain he was destined to become President of Argentina and this was to serve as the Presidential Palace, he built this room to serve as the Presidential Office.DSCN0078DSCN0079With a suitably grand entry to the office.DSCN0081The official reception room was huge and ornate.  It was impossible to capture in a single photograph so I took several.  It had a cupolaDSCN0084

and an intricate tiled floor.DSCN0090This was the “backyard” with the rear of the building.DSCN0092

In 1938 it was sold to an Argentine social club, a military officer’s association, the Círculo Militar to which it still belongs. The palace is incredibly ornate and furnished luxuriously. It is beyond my imagining how much it would have cost to build, furnish and maintain. The tour included only the public rooms on the ground floor. The second floor, which was built to serve as the family’s personal living space, was not open.

From here I went to the Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento. DSCN8925This basilicaas you can tell from the picture above seems to have been almost blocked off by surrounding buildings.  It is virtually hidden behind the immense Kavanaugh building, built right in front of it. DSCN8928The story is that the woman who ended up building the Kavanaugh building, Corina Kavanaugh, fell in love with, and was to have married, the son of the Anchorena family, a wealthy aristocratic family.

Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena, the mother of Corina Kavanaugh’s lover, had paid for the building of the Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento which was started in 1908 and finished in 1915. The Anchorena family lived in a mansion just across the plaza from the basilica and from which they had a perfect view of the basilica they’d built.

Mercedes Castellanos de Anchorena forbade the wedding of her son to Corina Kavanaugh, because Corina, although fabulously wealthy, didn’t have the appropriate aristocratic bloodline to marry her son.

In 1938 Corina Kavahaugh built the immense Kavahaugh building next to the basilica completely hiding and isolating it. After the Kavanaugh building was erected the Anchorena family’s view was of the Kavanaugh building rather than the Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento.

Do you think Corina was upset at not being allowed to marry the man she loved?  Do you think she was feeling a little vindictive?

The exterior of the church is hard to see because it’s so hemmed in but the interior is very beautiful. I limited my picture taking because there was a service in progress when I was there.

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From here it was back to the hotel to pack; hopefully in such a way as to avoid any overweight charges since I’ve added some purchases, including ceramics, to my suitcase since my arrival. After a final dinner, I return to the hotel for some sleep before leaving first thing in the morning.

Adios, Argentina.

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