Archive for September, 2009

26 Sep 2009

At The End Of The World There Were Eight Aussies

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Sole survivor!

At the Cruceros office – where we obtain our boarding passes for a four day cruise that takes us down to Cape Horn, through the Beagle Channel, and up through the Magellan Straits – they presented us with a double-sided Disclaimer of Responsibility form to sign and date. Basically they will take responsibility IF we have a good time. If ANYTHING else happens, and the disclaimer contains a long list of possibilities, including drowning, we are on our own.
We board the Mare Australis and are immediately shown to our spacious cabin. It has a queen-sized bed and a large window, much larger than a mere porthole.
The ship is divided into those that speak Spanish and those that don’t. We have one foot in either camp, but for the Safety Demonstration we choose to receive our information in English. Let’s not kid ourselves! Francisco runs through the demonstration, taking care to outline the dangers; the possibly treacherous seas, including the not insignificant fact that more than 10,000 people have drowned and 900 ships have sunk in the Cape Horn area. He pauses to gauge our reaction … and wishes us a pleasant journey.
Early morning view from Cape Horn
We leave Ushuaia in calm seas, dining on excellent food and fine Chilean wines. The service is second to none. Next morning we arrive at Cape Horn at the crack of dawn. Mare Australis drops anchor and we all clamber on board Zodiacs, wearing all our wet-weather gear and bounce along a choppy sea to the Cape Horn outpost, where a lone Chilean soldier, his wife and two daughters, man a tiny lighthouse. This is the end of the world (or is it the beginning?). There is nothing between here and the Antarctic some 1,000 kilometres away. We bring with us supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables; the last fresh supplies they received were in April. A cold wind whips up constantly and fiercely. The Chilean flag hangs high on a mast; the constant winds tear it to shreds such that it has to be replaced every year.Back on the boat we take off our sopping clothing and wait in anticipation to see whether we will be able to ‘round’ Cape Horn. It is so treacherous that the weekly Australis cruise usually only gets to ‘Round the Horn’ three or four times a year – we are in luck. The Captain says the conditions are good … only a little later do we realise what this means! Think 10,000 lives!As we get out past the Horn it appears conditions are not going to be so smooth. The Australis lists violently and dips deep into the troughs of crashing waves. I look around and those of us who are sitting in the forward deck lounge have suddenly become very pale. An Aussie girl rushes to the bar and throws up in the sink – drinks on the house! The lounge starts to thin out, people disappear to the privacy of their rooms. Another Aussie woman is sitting there blankly, her mouth pursed shut, her face white as a sheet. The first Aussie woman’s partner is staring out to sea, looking drained, trying to maintain a constant horizon. Paul rushes off to worship a porcelain bowl. I am beginning to feel queasy, a little woolly around the knees, unsteady on my feet (come to think of it where are my feet?). Gill is stoical and makes her way up to the top deck to take in the view. Naturally she has the deck virtually to herself. We find out later most of the crew have gone down, retired to their cabins. Finally the seas die down and people begin to emerge from their cabins looking a worse for wear.

In the late afternoon we are back out on the Zodiacs again, motoring into Wulaia Bay. We hike up a steep mountain and sit down at the top to witness the sunset and take in the breathtaking views. This is pristine environment, the stuff of history books – Magellan (the journey that ended his life and proved beyond all doubt that the earth was round), Darwin, Cook and Drake among others.
What are you looking at?
After dinner has been served and the last cocktail has been poured and drank, and only when the cabin is not threatening to turn upside down, I retire to my bed to re-read Bruce Chatwin’s beyond excellent, In Patagonia, and step back through the annals of time.
Other than our ship of 69 passengers (including 8 Aussies and approximately 20 crew) and the odd lighthouse keeper, we haven’t seen another soul in four days. Sadly the tour has come to an end and as tempting as it is to shell out the $$$, hop back on board and relive the experience all over again, there is more of Patagonia to explore.
23 Sep 2009

Farewell to Buenos Aires

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Gill and Garcelo atop the Monument Tower,
one of the best viewpoints in Buenos Aires

Bruce Chatwin said Buenos Aires reminded him of Tsarist Russia (and he may be right); everyone else refers to it as the Paris of Latin America. Either way it is a beautiful city, filled with exquisite architecture and friendly helpful people. There is so much we didn’t get to do in BA …. there is always a next time!

After a while we found ourselves doing less and less in the way of cultural activities and spending more time living normal everyday lives – our final day was a typical example.

Sunday morning, BA, we took the Subte (underground, tube, subway, metro) out to Palermo, which is a hip and happening area full of interesting and quirky bars, clubs, cafes and designer shops. The streets are wide and the buildings are low – two or three storeys – with sunny roof terraces.

Our chosen breakfast spot was full, not a table in sight, so we went to plan B. Some of the cafes and bars in Palermo are so cool, they redefine cool. From the outside it looks closed. There is a large mechanical bell hanging beside the door. We ring it and wait…. and wait. Eventually a guy opens the door and ushers us in, “Yes of course we are open!” Seated at a table in the shady courtyard garden, he presents us with a hand written menu, hastily scribbled on ruled notepaper. Every half an hour or so, the bell rings, and we see heads peering through a panel in the gate. Some wander off impatiently thinking it closed. Others ring again and eventually get let in. Cool or stupid? Great breakfast BTW.

Post breakfast, we went to see Julia and Julie, the new Meryl Streep movie about Julia Childs, one of America’s first celebrity chefs. Now if you are a foodie (and we are), and you are living in Buenos Aires, where food – predominantly meat and lots of it – is constantly on everyone’s minds, this is a good movie to go and see. You’ll leave the theatre with a rumble in your tummy.

And we wrapped up the day with ‘the best pizzas in BA’ over glasses of red and cerveza, and drizzling stringy cheese at Cuartito, with Matias and Phoebe.

Next stop Ushuaia – the southernmost city in the world. Stay tuned while we freeze our asses off.

Stolen from a book – The last word on Argentinean Drivers. This is the view you would have from Monument Tower if it was only a few hundred metres further west. Liberator Avenue – count the lanes. The challenge: try and cross Liberator, when behind the wheel of each of those cars is a crazy Argentinean driver whose sole purpose is to get YOU!

20 Sep 2009

Yee Ha Cowboy!

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Molina Campos paints comical scenes of everyday Gaucho life

The fertile Pampas flatlands that stretch from Buenos Aires encompass an area of more than 750,000 square kilometres, and importantly some of the best cattle grazing in South America. Yep, this is where the big steaks come from! It is also Gaucho country, where real mean wear spurs of silver, ornate silver belts and have thick caterpillar moustaches. They ride magnificent horses, which are also dressed up to the hilt in fine hand-made silver jewellery. The Gauchos have a reputation for doing everything on horseback – from washing, to fishing, to going to church. Do they ever sleep?

Areco River – not the muddy side

“Let’s take this path. We’ll be fine.” And we
spent the next hour scraping mud from our shoes.

We went to San Antonio de Areco in search of Gauchos but alas found none … thankfully, our quest for steak was a success!

San Antonio is a pretty town – a little muddy around the edges down by the river perhaps – with a cobblestoned main street, green parks and gardens, and plenty of beautiful architecture. It has a couple of excellent Gaucho museums; including a Museum dedicated entirely to Molina Campos, who spent his life painting comical depictions of real life Gauchos, and another museum where silversmiths still tap and saw away using age old methods.

Church of San Antonio De Padua

A pre-lunchtime stroll – working up an appetite.

13 Sep 2009

Dulce de Leche

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Tigre Delta lunch spot – yes the Dulce de Leche comes later
The Argentineans and Gill are loco over Dulce de Leche. Basically sweetened milk heated over a stove top until it goes all thick and gooey like caramel. It comes in a million forms: in jars as a spreadable paste; as a frozen desert; soft, gooey and chilled like a mousse; Dulce de Leche flavoured icecream; chewable tablets – you name it!
Like football, the Argentineans each have their favourite type and brand and will not settle for anything less.
On a trip out to the Tigre Delta, a 14,000 square kilometre area comprising thousands of tiny islands and inlets, where BAs well-heeled spend their weekends on their pleasure craft, cruising the murky brown waterways, en route to their island hideaways, we had the best post lunch Dulce de Leche pancakes.

It was worth the wait – Dulce de Leche pancakes – delicious!
12 Sep 2009

Four Minutes That Will Change Your Life

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Buenos Aires is fast getting a reputation as the ‘Nip ‘n Tuck’ capital of the Americas. People actually travel to BA (mainly North Americans) to get beautiful bottoms, bigger boobs, amplified appendages, enhanced eyesight and nicer noses. The local papers advertise weekly “two for one” specials and even the packaged travel companies have got in on the act, advertising ‘7 nights in a five-star and new nose.’

Compared to Australia and North America, prices are bargain-basement and the surgeons are top notch.

Unable to resist a bargain, Paul booked himself in on Wednesday evening for Lasik (Corrective Surgery) – to have his eyes sliced and burnt back into shape under the laser. He now claims he has eyes like a hawk and much to the annoyance of Gill and I he is running around reading the fine print.

For the squeamish among you – don’t watch this.

Four minutes that will change your life!