Posts Tagged With: Buenos Aires

Montevideo: Small City, Big Happenings

Tango music fills the streets in the Pocitos section of Montevideo

It’s a river so vast it resembles an ocean. And it sometimes behaves as such. Fed at times by the salty waters of the South Atlantic Ocean – depending on shifting currents – the La Plata is the widest river on Earth. From one shore to the next, there’s no sign of land. Just water all the way to the distant horizon. Add fine-grain white sands to its shores聽and you have a beach.

MONTEVIDEO: Reflecting the old and the new

On the two sides of La Plata’s shores rise two great cities. One of them on the Argentina side – Buenos Aires – is known throughout the world as a desirable place to visit. The other, on the Uruguay side – Montevideo – one might say lies in the shadows of the much larger and better known Buenos Aires. Uruguayans acknowledge their capital city is not exactly the destination that is Buenos Aires. But they don’t seem to mind. They like Montevideo for what it is – small with easy access to just about everywhere – and full of laid back and very friendly people.

But to me, Montevideo is much more. Like Buenos Aires, it has some amazing classical architecture; good transit system – although no subway – great nightlife; worthy museums and historic sites to see; and all the great restaurants you will ever need. It also has something Buenos Aires does not have: beaches.

VEGANS LOOK AWAY!: Meat-eaters, you MUST have a chivito canadiense when you come to Montevideo: beef, ham, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, bacon, cheese, mayo, yum!

I fell in love with Montevideo. To me it’s a smaller version of Buenos Aires – sorry Uruguayans, I know you don’t like that comparison 馃檪 – but with people who can’t wait to show a stranger genuine hospitality. So for me, 聽Montevideo struck the ball out of the ballpark. I say to you, go ahead and visit Buenos Aires. That is an absolute must. You would be a fool not to. You will find much to enjoy. But do not overlook Montevideo. Hop on the BuqueBus – the very comfortable ferry – and go across the La Plata to Montevideo. The crossing is three quick 聽hours, as the ferry has food, drinks, televisions, wi-fi, and much more to keep you busy during the crossing. Or you can just sleep :).

The BuqueBus also travels between Buenos Aires and聽Colonia, Uruguay. Spend a day or two in this beautiful, historic city, then take a bus – again with free wi-fi – to Montevideo. That’s what I did. And when I got to Montevideo, intending to spend just a couple of days, I stayed for weeks!

The BuqueBus: Ferry crossing the La Plata River, the world's widest river, from Buenos Aires (in the background) to Colonia, Uruguay. That's the Uruguayan flag fluttering in the wind.

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Buenos Aires: A City Of Contradictions

Mixed Messages: Old meets the new

So what’s it been? About a month? For me, that’s a long time in one place. I didn’t plan to stay this long in Buenos Aires, but that’s the way it goes in the world of no-hurries, no-worries travel. I get to any given place, remove my hat, wipe the sweat from my brow, look around, survey, take stock, 聽go!

I should have been gone for weeks from Buenos Aires. Instead, I stuck around, looking for something more, something extra or extraordinary out of the place. I’m not always sure just what that one thing more might be. That’s Buenos Aires. You get a sense that you’ve had enough of the place, but you stay one more day, and another for something you fear you may have missed or could miss or absolutely don’t want to miss.

On the "A Line" old wooden trains from a bygone era are still in use

Look at me, talking about “you”. That “you” is of course me. There is something about Buenos Aires that I simply 聽have found mysterious. In one month, just when I think I have my finger on 聽South America’s second largest city, it’s a faint beat. Is Buenos Aires dead to me or to die for, I ask. I want more, I want to hear more, experience more, and the more I do and see, the more I want to do and see. So I stick around. 聽It’s hard to leave.

And what have I learned about Buenos Aires?

I’ve already written about the peopleof Buenos Aires. That still stands. I’m not going to rehash that. I’m all about the place this go round. And what I’ve seen is a great city. Truly one of the best. Striking architecture. Imposing. A mix of styles and eras. I love the buildings in Buenos Aires.

Unusual Sight: A deserted subway. This almost never ever happens in the second largest city in South America

If you come to Buenos Aires, look up! You will see buildings straight out of Europe. There is good reason Buenos Aires is labeled “the most European city in South America.” Hands down, it is! Walk the city – it’s easy to do, but while you are casually strolling looking up, every so often glance down – the sidewalks are unfortunately a minefield of dog poo.

I could live in Buenos Aires. That’s a huge endorsement, people! But I don’t think I could do it forever. Some cities I know I could spend a lifetime there. Buenos Aires is not one of them. I don’t exactly know why, I just know. Like every large city, there are good things and there are bad things about the city. I believe the good outweigh the bad, but the bad – for me the lack of diversity, for instance – is a biggie. I am currently in the city next door – Montevideo, Uruguay– much smaller than Buenos Aires, but far more diversity of people. You see a spectrum of people and that makes Montevideo a warmer, more inviting place.

Evita's final resting place, in the Recoleta Cemetery, a tourist mecca!

That is of course my opinion. For others, the fact that they can go all day without seeing a black person is just fine, even welcomed. I think Montevideo is a richer place because of its diversity. And it’s just across the La Plata River, the widest river in the world. It took three hours to cross the river by ferry and every time I look at the river it feels more like an ocean. You cannot see the other side from one shore to another. Amazing.

Anyway, the bottom line about Buenos Aires is that it’s a world-class city with Third World oddities. You will still see horse and buggies driven by men who go around the city rummaging through trash to find cardboard and other recyclable. On the subway trains and buses, peddlers peddling everything from bootlegged movies to chewing gum; and people riding outside overcrowded trains, hanging on for dear life! And yet, you can spend a night at the opera in one of the finest theaters in the world. Spend time in some of the most beautiful parks. Dine at a myriad of super fancy restaurants. In short, Buenos Aires is a city of contradictions.

So come to Buenos Aires and spend a little while. You might find it hard to tear yourself away. I did.

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Double Trouble In Patagonia = A Change Of Plans

After a 22-hour trip by car from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, my river dance

I’m in a cafe in Bariloche. The town in the breathtaking Patagonia region of Argentina serves as a launchpad for mountaineers, hikers, skiers, campers and travelers headed to all points, but mostly south to the end of the American continent and its spectacular glaciers. The place is packed. I am hearing many languages: Hebrew. German. Italian. Dutch. English. Spanish. French. Some others I can’t quite discern. 聽These are people who absolutely love the outdoors. Hardcore climbers. Extreme sports enthusiasts. They’ve somehow made it to Patagonia, despite the challenges getting here, not to mention spending any time here under current conditions.

There haven’t been commercial flights to Bariloche since last June. For these last eight months, the airport has been closed because of an erupting volcano and the ash it has been blasting into the air. Visibility on some days here is down to almost nothing. The volcanic ashhangs in the air, looks like heavy fog, falls from the sky and coats everything. There’s a thick layer of the stuff on the ground, and at first glance it looks like a fine gray sand.

Sand? It's volcanic ash that traveled for miles to Bariloche

It makes people cough and sneeze and stings the eyes when the wind kicks it up.聽I’ve had just three days of this. Imagine how it has impacted the people who have lived with it for months. Economically, it hasn’t been good, they say. Tourism is down. Way down. The only travelers in town are the hearty souls who have opted to make the 22-hour road trip from Buenos Airesor from other parts overland. They are the people now in the cafe who are here to conquer nature: a mountain covered in ice; a rushing river; a few days surviving in the woods. Nothing, not even an erupting volcano, was going to keep this crowd away. Just to look at them you can tell they live and breathe the outdoors.

Road Trippers: With Massi of Italy and Austria, a stop on our way to Bariloche

I’m here with them. Not much was going to keep me away either. I have been looking forward to Patagonia for years. I checked news reports about the volcanic eruption and all official reports indicate it’s safe to be here. And yet, this isn’t exactly how I had hoped to experience Patagonia.

It’s amazing when you stop to think that this ash has traveled for thousands of miles from southern聽Chile, where the 聽Puyehue Volcano聽rises as but one giant in the 聽Andes Mountains聽chain.

My plan for Patagonia: to head to the southern tip of South America, with stops in Punta Arenas, Chile, and Ushuai, Argentina. Beyond that lies Antarctica. But things don’t always go according to plan. With the volcanic ash, I had decided to cut short my trip in Bariloche and head to聽El聽Bols贸n, which by all accounts is a cool place to visit in Argentina.

Some car repair and a check of the map on our way from Buenos Aires to Bariloche

From there, to Perito Moreno glacier. But south of聽El聽Bols贸n a destructive forest fire rages on. It has destroyed homes and forced evacuations. It has also closed the roads – albeit temporarily – south. So now I am rethinking and redrawing my plans. Perhaps go as far as聽El聽Bols贸n now, then near the end of my three-year journey, return to Patagonia or southern Chile, to experienced what I’ve missed. This new plan would allow me to get back to Buenos Aires, cross by ferry to Uruguay and get to Brazil in time for carnival.

I had planned to be back in Santiago, Chile, anyway by 2013, on my way from Easter Islands, so it makes good sense to get to the rest of Argentina and Chile then. And hopefully then, there won’t be any forest fires or erupting volcanoes. Hopefully.

After 22 hours in a car together from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, still friends! 馃檪 From left to right, me, Alex of Toronto, Canada, Massi of Austria and Italy, and our fearless driver, Juan of Buenos Aires, Argentina

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