Away with zee `Aires

Trip Start May 05, 2011
Trip End Sep 08, 2011

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Where I stayed
What I did
Not much so far, other than wander aimlesly. Still, when you`re in San Telmo...

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buenos Noches, mi amigos! My Spanish is improving day by day, as you can tell (!) Purely out of necessity, you understand. For ssme reason, my pointing and mime skills also continue to improve at an unprecedented, possibly exponential rate...

Last time, I left you all with a bit of a teaser, hinting that I might be fleeing Brazil and heading to Argentina (historically a smuggler's, runaway`s, and general renegade's paradise). Actually, that was a bit of cheat, `cos I was already in Argentina at the time. Hiding from hgh prices, and from those murderous, revengeful toucans (never get on the wrong side of a bightly-beaked bird). Right now I`m in Buenos Aires, at the beginning of my stay (steak restaurant advice much-appreciated!) But I`ll begin by recounting my adventures, and my epic flight from Brazil.

Actually, epic only in one sense (sadly, it was not epic in terms of me fleeing to the border - apparently you need to upset way more druglords/policemen/high-court judges for that to happen). BUT I did come to Argentina via epic Iguazu Falls (think Niagra Falls, only stop imagning a puny little American-Canadian water feature and start imagining the waterfall at the end of the world - then you`ll be getting close). Iguazu is famous for several things - it is the border of thre countries (Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay - the first too have spectacular falls); it has LOADS of wildlife; the river splits into dozens of cataracts, so it is one of the largest falls in the world; toucans (damn them!); oh, and tourists USED TO be able to hire a local to row them out to the precipice-edge of the falls, where the local would keep the boat from going over by rowng furiously against the current whilst the tourists took pictures - until one local got a little overwrought (no survivors - that was NOT how I saw the falls...)

On Saturday I took in the Brazilian side, which was very nice and panoramic, although no comparison to the amazing experience of being up close to the falls - as I was on the Argentinian side. You get the impression that the Brazilians are more organised (they had more cute animal safety notices, more serruptitiously-expensive cafes, better behaved coatis (racooon-type things). Sadly, they lacked as much wow factor, although it was still worth going to both sides. Brazil does have the bird park, though, which is brilliant (Brazilliant, perhaps) - you get to se macaws, toucans, rheas, flamingos, eagles, vultures and wayyyy more up close in walk-in aviaries. The signs outside the macaw cage were slightly unnerving - warning of risk of death by biting, and stressing that visiting THAT cage was a totally optional part of the tour. But the only animal that nearly `done me in` was a toucan (he was near me, I focused my camera; he jumped to a closer ledge, I refocused; he flew at (over) my face - I now have a picture of the tail-end of said toucan taking off at me...) Anyways, that was all fun.

The Argentinian side was also great. I stayed on that side, because it was much cheaper, if a bit more rustic, a bit more of a frontier town. But on the plus side, it was nearer to the better falls. And when youŕe headig across a 1km walkway towards a waterfall that is green, lucious, roaring, powerful, and bigger than you can comprehend, you can`t complain. Even les so when you see monkeys up close AND avoid getting eaten on the do-it-yourself jungle trek they have there.

Oh, and on Monday, I decided to quickly drop in to Paraguay. You know, for an hour or so. I wandered over to Cuidad del Este (a dirty, cheap-electronics shopping centre) for the grand total of one hour. Then, in desperation not to miss my onwards bus, I got a motorcycle-taxi across the bridge back into Brazil, and a bus back to Argentina. Thre countries in one day - not bad going.

That afternoon, I set off on a bus journey to San Ignacio, a pretty little historic town made famous by its beautiful ruined jesuit mission. The bus journey was immense. I don`t usually rave about journeys, but on the basis of this one, I could live in Argentina. Rolling hills, lucios green grassland,  miles and miles of beautiful (if artificial) pine forest. I know it`s bad for the environment, but I don`t care. As I was telling Lorena (my Buenos Aires friend, who I met on the bus and toured San Ignacio with) - anywhere with pine tres is automatically pretty much great in my estimation. So it is with Argentina.

San Ignacio itself is great. We stayed in the youth hostel, which apparently used to be a hotel, and still had many quirky-cool features, such as a huge room with a masive barbeque pit (and giant chimney) slap bang in the middle of it. I was really glad of my Argeninian friend, because 1) She is also a history student. Thus many geeky history chats. I now know a LOT more about Argentine politics) 2) No one in San Ignacio spoke a word of English 3) Though it wasn`t mentioned anywhere in my 2 guidebooks (I got one in exchange for Empire film magazine - score!), dring my stay in San Ignacio the Argentines celebrated one of the two most important days in the calendar - the festival of 25 May, celebrating the declaration of independence from Spain in 1810. In San Ignacio, they were BIG fans of observing said festival - lots of processions, speeches by the mayor, lots of `vival la patrie`, country dancing, and inexplicably, all of the children dressed in Argentinian gaucho or founding father gear - including flamenco gresses for the girls, and top hats for all the boys. It may be an understatement to say that this was confusing when I first saw it... Anyway, I had a great time with Lorena, and of course it`s great to have a friend to advise me now I`m in BA.

The missionary buildings in San Ignacio (my main reason for going) were absolutely spectacular - huge, and something I had very little awareness of (apparently, it was a semi-utopian social-democratic society set up by the Jesuits for the native Guarani, which nonetheless avoided messing with the tribes`social systems or with their self-rule. That is, all of this did exist until Spain and Portugal got fed up with it, and quashed them). The buildings were beautiful, but ruined - perfectly framed for a slightly romantic temperament. In the later afternoon we headed to the house of author Quiroga, surrounded by bamboo (Quiroga is possibly the least lucky person ever - his father accidentally shot himself, then his stepfather committed suicide by shooting himself after a stroke, then Quiroga acidentally shot his best friend, then jungle-life drove Quiroga`s first wife to suicide - guess how. Then his second wife left him (the list goes on...)). So a fun day!

Yesterday, I chilled out in nearby university town Pousadas, before catching the sleeper bus to BA. And today`s been crazy! Lots of wondering around - I`ve seen almost ever sight in Centro (including the Evita balcony at the Pink Palace - lit up in fuscia lighting at night, possibly the most shockingly barbie-like government building I have ever seen). It is cold, though - like a crisp Autumn - and so I`ve been in and out of cafes, and just returned from the new Pirates of the Carribean film (what??? after Ilha Grande it feels topical, OK?!) Tomorrow is more of the same - possibly with more exploring of historic, bohemian San Telmo (where I am incidentally staying). Can`t wait to see what the rest of the city has to offer.
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