Homeward Bound

We had a leisurely morning before our flight back to Buenos Aires and then home.  In Buenos Aires we had about 6 hours before our flight so the hotel opened up the top floor to us so we could get ourselves organized and repack which we did.  Members of our group were traveling home through different U.S. gateway cities and leaving at different times but close enough to each other that Eduardo was able to make just two trips to the airport.

In the process of rebooking all of our flights not only did we did lose our upgrade to comfort seats on the long leg between Buenos Aires and Atlanta but we were assigned to the last row of the plane – the seats did not recline making it an extra long 9 hour flight!

Sunrise in Atlanta

Sunrise in Atlanta

We did make our connection and Atlanta without a hitch and were oh so happy to touch down in Seattle and get back home travel weary but otherwise in good shape.

Iguaçu Falls Brazil & Argentina

This morning we had an early start in order to cross the border into Brazil with the hope of beating the crowds to the falls. A stone path leads through the park to several platforms with excellent views of the falls from many different angles. You can get close enough to the thundering torrents to feel the power and the spray. Walkways take you over the waterways to some impressive falls and a very different view than from the Argentinean side. We spent a leisurely morning walking all the trails and finally getting soaking wet on the last boardwalk when the wind shifted and brought all the spray our direction.

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After lunch we returned to the Argentinean side of the falls where we could approach, view, and feel the falls from a number of angles. It is an awesome sight and photos cannot do it justice but I tried.

 

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We returned to our hotel late afternoon just as  the rain started, how’s that for good timing!   Two brave souls decided to take the boat ride where they traveled  through the Iguaçu River Canyon, passing through a few river rapids, before reaching the calm side of San Martin Island. From there they sailed on for upclose views of two of the park’s waterfalls—first to Tres Mosqueteros for a view of both the Argentinean and Brazilian sides of Iguassu, and then to the largest and most impressive waterfall, the San Martin.

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Meanwhile back at the hotel we were sitting in our room reading when I looked up and the sky was darkening, within minutes the thunder and lightening began, strike after strike; all I could think about were Mary and Mike out in the boat. After about an hour we went down to the bar to wait for their return. It wasn’t long before Mary’s husband joined us, he was worried so we helped distract him until Mary and Mike walked in soaking wet from head to toe leaving puddles as they made their way across the lobby – home safe.

Listening to their description of the ride I am glad that we opted out.

 

Iguaçu Falls

Yet another flight, this time north to Iguaçu Falls on the Argentina/Brazil border, the falls at Iguaçu are among the world’s most impressive sights; we will get to explore both sides, I am very excited.

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After arriving at Iguaçu, we drove to the Argentine side of the falls, it was about 3 p.m. and the park closes at 5 p.m. so we boarded the last train to the Devil’s Throat and then hiked out over a series of grated bridges to the Devil’s Throat, an area where the water rushes over a 262 foot drop into a chasm seeming to have no end. Any bottom that does exist was completely blurred by the dense mist. It was mesmerizing! As we stood and watched the sun would peek out from the clouds and as it did the rainbows appeared.

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Train to the Devil’s Throat

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A series of bridges lead out to the falls

Compared to the Brazilian side, here I was standing right at the mouth of the most powerful fall in Iguaçu. To me, it was incomprehensible how much water could flow through that space in such a short amount of time. The thunderous sounds, the mist, the visual of water breaking into millions of drops and splashing in disparate ways. Yesterday I saw the Devil’s Throat. Today I was feeling it.

The Argentinean side has about 80% of the falls, and many of them can be seen from up close through a series of walkways known as the Upper Circuit and Lower Circuit but this is all for today, the park is closing and we need to get back.

The Devil's Throat

The Devil’s Throat

The Devil's Throat

The Devil’s Throat

Pano of the Devil's Throat

Pano of the Devil’s Throat

Back at the hotel we get settled before dinner and then take a look around the lobby and outside. There is a beautiful pool area that I don’t think we will have to time to take advantage of but that’s okay; it is not the reason we are here.

American Hotel at Iguaçu

Dinner is delicious and we are eager for tomorrow to see the Brazilian side of the falls and the remainder of the Argentinean side. Sleep comes quickly.

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Parana Delta

All of the flights had been changed and we had received our new itinerary last night; it was impossible to get everyone on the same flight so the group was divided, one group leaving on the red eye last night for Buenos Aires and the rest of us flying out this morning via Santiago, Chile  to Buenos Aires.

The flight was delayed 2 hours in Santiago due to a problem with the oxygen . . . that’s a long story and I will post more on Travelpod, it seemed the travel gods were against us.   Eduardo met us at the airport, again long story – short version he did not know our plane would be delayed until he got to the airport – we picked up our luggage and transferred to the hotel.  It had been a long trying day of travel and we were tired so rather than go out for dinner opted to grab a sandwich in the hotel restaurant.

Argenta Tower Hotel

Next morning, feeling rested we reunited with the group and after breakfast traveled about 40 minutes outside the hustle bustle of the city to an area called Tigre, a popular weekend getaway for locals.    Tigre lies on the lush Parana Delta; the island is surrounded by several small streams and rivers and offers a relaxing atmosphere. The area’s name derives from the “tigres” or jaguars that were once hunted here. Europeans settled here to farm the land; a port developed serving the Delta, bringing fruit and wood from the Delta and ports upstream on the Paraná River. Today, antiques shops, riverside restaurants and pubs, a casino and Parque de la Costa, (an amusement park) along with its natural beauty make Tigre a popular weekend and tourist destination throughout the year. It is also the where boat excursions of the Parana Delta begin.

 

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Parque de la Costa

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Tour Boats

Vintage mahogany commuter launches wind their way through a web of inter-connecting rivers and streams. Humble dwellings and elegant mansions from the “Belle Epoque” to small pensions, upscale lodges, restaurants, teahouses and simple picnic sites sit side by side. There are no roads other than the maze of waterways. Everything moves by boat, ambulance service is by boat, groceries are delivered by boat, the school bus is a boat and travel between the small islands is by boat. It is very peaceful existence and many full time residents call it home.

 

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Life on the Delta

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The cruise was just the relaxation everyone needed after a long night/day of travel and to decompress a bit from our frustrations and disappointment, very calming.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/travel/28tigre-overnighter.html?_r=0

One of our best meals in Buenos Aires, next to the steak dinner, was at Broccolino’s Italian restaurant, a short walk from the hotel. Our guide and the owner are good friends so not only did we have a great meal but the owner was quite entertaining, giving a running commentary on the food, we really enjoyed him just as much as the food. Four of us shared a plate of the sautéed calamari then George and I shared a delicious eggplant au gratin and couldn’t finish it all. Susan and the other Nancy had pasta that looked amazing but again huge servings. The house wine was also very good. It is a family restaurant and most of the people in there were locals, it had a very cozy atmosphere and was packed when we left with people waiting for tables. A good tip . . . thank you Eduardo.

Broccolino’s

We had the afternoon on our own and decided to explore more of the Historic plazas and Puerto Modero area – photos posted earlier in the blog under Buenos Aires. Late afternoon we bid farewell to some of our group who were heading home and we repacked for our trip to Iguaçu Falls.

Punta Arenas, Chile

En route to Punta Arenas we pass by a ranch where a group of gauchos were practicing for an upcoming competition of some kind and again, no traffic so the driver just pulled to the side of the road so we could watch these marvelous horsemen.

Just as North America has its cowboys, wranglers and ranch hands handling cattle, sheep and riding at the Rodeo, Argentina has its own particular breed of men called “Gauchos” and they are regarded by ranch owners with great respect and reverence in many cases still being referred to as “Don”.

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Side Stepping

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Typical dress of a gaucho would be a poncho, a great coat for winter and Bombachas, which are baggy trousers. Above the trousers would be worn a Chiripa which is skirt-like. A Rasta is a wide belt embellished with silver coins and completes the authentic gaucho dress. The gauchos weapon is a Facon, a long knife that is considered an extension of his arm. They carry a Retenque (whip), also their lasso made of leather, whereas their America counterparts the cowboy would carry a lasso made of rope.

We watched for quite a while as the gauchos guided their horses with precision and control, sometime making the horses appear to “dance” sideways around the field. Awesome sight as they rode with great poise and grace; the beautiful horses were equally magnificent.

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Located on Isla Riesco, a visit to Estancia Fitz Roy demonstrated the ins and outs of sheep farming.   A small ferry took across the Rio Verde with views out to Tierra del Fuego’s fjords, the end of the impressive Andes mountain range, and the Otway and Skyring Sounds to the family estate of Secundino Fernández, Estancia Fitz Roy, now managed by his three daughters.

The youngest daughter greeted us and offered a brief history of the ranch before we were left to wander through her father’s acres and acres of “collectibles”. An unbelievable number and assortment of ranch memorabilia, machinery, tools and vehicles were displayed on the grounds and inside some of the out buildings. It was a museum of ranch life in Argentina through 19th and 20th centuries.

Sheepdogs skillfully rounded up the flock and we watched as a gaucho, quickly and expertly, hand-sheered a sheep with a young puppy nipping at the wool as he worked, wanting to play all the time the gaucho was sheering.

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The Gaucho

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The Facon

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After all of this it was a little difficult to then sit down to a lamb barbecue. Luckily there were many other food options from which to choose.

We continued on to Punta Arenas, a bustling port overlooking the Straits of Magellan. We couldn’t board the ship until 2 p.m. so used the time for  a short drive around town then to an observation point where we had an overview of the town and could see our ship at the edge of town.   Some braved an orientation walk in the cold, windy, rainy weather but once we were soaked to the bone we retreated to the warm hotel bar for something warm to drink until time to board.

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It didn’t take long before we were able to board the Stella Australis, our home for the next four nights and the beginning of our much anticipated cruise in the legendary waters of the Strait of Magellan around Tierra del Fuego to Cape Horn and finally to Ushuaia.

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Stella Australis on the left

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The Stella Australis is a gorgeous ship, large in comparison to what I am accustomed to, 164 passengers on board with a capacity of 200. Each deck has a large lounge with big wrap around windows with an open bar on the top deck. Our room was very comfortable with a floor to ceiling window to soak in the view although I don’t think I will be spending too much time in my cabin when I can be on deck.

 In the evening we met our ship’s captain and crew and then joined our group for a truly delicious dinner and lively conversation especially after a few glasses of marvelous Chilean wine.   As we dined the captain announced that we would be leaving 3 hours late due to a maintenance issue so 11:30 p.m. instead of 8:30 p.m.  We are all very excited about this portion of the trip for a number of reasons, the first being we can unpack for the next 5 nights, as the ship will be our hotel.

Magdalena Island

As dawn breaks this morning, we thought that we would be entering the Almirantazgo Inlet sailing into Ainsworth Bay, mooring near the 120-foot-high Marinelli Glacier instead; we were still at dock in Puenta Arenas. At 6:30 a.m. an announcement over the shipboard speaker stated that the sailing had been cancelled because of a malfunctioning generator. It all sounded so final, no sailing, no Cape Horn . . . but we have traveled so far.

George had awakened during the night and noted that he could still see the light of Punta Arenas. I on the other hand slept straight through and awoke to the announcement that our voyage to the southern end of South America was “cancelled”.   To say we were disappointed is a colossal understatement. We wandered down to the lounge for coffee and to gather our wits about us.

The rest of our group began to appear; we were all a bit stunned by the news, not yet completely grasping what had happened but slowly it began to sink in; the disappointment was evident on everyone’s face.  There was much conjecture about exactly what went wrong, was this lack of maintenance or was this just an unavoidable mechanical failure it was as though we needed someone to blame for this upsetting turn of events. The discussion and speculation continued at breakfast until Eduardo appeared looking very tired and then the Captain announced that indeed the ship would not sail but that we were welcome to use it as a hotel for the next four days, they would continue to wine, dine and provide all regular serve to those who wished to stay.

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Eduardo talked to each person to see what they would like to do; a couple were so disheartened they just wanted to go home, some of us wanted to continue with the rest of the trip and extension to Iguaçu Falls. He would try to accommodate everyone’s wishes and that meant changing flights for 22 people, moving up hotel reservations, and moving up the flights, hotel and transportation for the Iguaçu extension for 8 of us what a nightmare! It would take time for all of these changes to be made but we definitely wanted to continue on to Iguaçu.

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Later in the morning the Captain announced that the shipping company had arranged for a boat to take all those interested to Isla Magdalena for the afternoon. The island is a nesting site for the Magellanic penguins about 2 hours NE of Punta Arenas in the Straits of Magellan. Sign me up!

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This is a real treat, Magdalena Island is one of Chile’s largest and most important Magellanic penguin breeding sites with a population of up to 65,000 breeding pairs.

As we walk off the ship penguins are everywhere. A path to a lighthouse has been roped off to minimize actual contact with the nesting penguins but they do occasionally cross the path.

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The distinctive white bands that loop over the eye, down the side of the neck and meet at the throat can identify this species of penguin. A thick black band also runs adjacent to the border of the breast and belly, extending down the flanks to the thighs

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Nesting

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The Magellanic penguin produces a loud, mournful call, similar to that of a donkey bray, most commonly used by the males when seeking a mate or territorial disputes.

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Antarctic Terns

Puerto Natales

I really hate to leave the Rio Serrano Hotel, it is such a beautiful setting and waking up to the spectacular, unobstructed view of the mountains in the morning is a dream. The image will remain etched in my mind forever.   So this is the downside of group travel . . . when with a group you move with the group otherwise I could find reasons to linger here a bit longer.

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We continue south toward Puerto Natales, Chile this morning with a few stops along the way, first one not far from the Rio Serrano. We drive alongside a large waterway, not sure of its name as this part of Patagonia is made up of countless lakes and rivers that seemingly all flow into one another but I think it is Lago el Toro. Whatever the name the color of the water is a stunning, so blue and connected to the shore by a pedestrian bridge a small islet upon which sits the Hostería Pehoé, a hotel. Now I wouldn’t mind staying there for a few days either.

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Today those beautiful high mountain peaks are shrouded in clouds making for an eerie, almost dreamlike picture as the clouds swirl around the tops allowing us only brief glimpses.

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We pull off the main road at a waterfall and give those wanting a closer look the opportunity to once again brace against the cold winds and walk to the small cascade – it was really cold, really wet and really windy almost impossible to hold the camera still enough to get a photo but we gave it our best shot. Most stayed in the vehicle and the rest of us kept the visit short.

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A small herd of guanaco were spotted grazing in a field along the main road and the driver stops; there is no traffic so he pulls to the side and we spill out into the field. The guanaco were very tame, a little curious but mostly uninterested in us as we walk among the herd, they are more interested in eating and continue to graze.

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Guanaco

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Our guides Eduardo and Kris

Eduardo takes the opportunity to do a little more filming with his GoPro while Kris soaks in the scenery.

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Rheas next to the road

Arriving in Puerto Natales late in the afternoon we checked into our hotel and in spite of the wind, rain and cold we decided to go out for a short walk around town . . . it is not a large town and we needed a little exercise. Once a modest fishing port on Seno Ùltima Esperanza (Sound of Last Hope), Puerto Natales is the gateway to Patagonia’s Parque Nacional Torres del Paine.  Boutique beer and wine tastings have overtaken teatime and outdoor gear shops abound.  Small corrugated-tin houses are strung shoulder to shoulder along with cozy granny-style lodgings and flowers grow up like weeds through the fences.

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George had lost the wrist strap for his camera and we thought we might find one here. We were told there was no camera shop in town but we thought we might find something that would work. Walking against the wind was a challenge so we hugged the buildings for what little protection they might offer and in a few blocks we found a hardware store and went in. No English spoken so we fumbled around with charades trying to get across what we were looking for.  The proprietor had no idea what we were after but a young man came to our rescue, he didn’t speak English either but understood camera and was able to figure out what we were looking for . . . some kind of camera strap. We understood him to say there was a camera store in the next block. Apparently we still looked confused so he was kind enough to lead us to the shop, come in with us and explain what he thought we wanted. A lot of effort and still no camera straps . . . it looks like the extra bootlaces George packed will be repurposed for the rest of the trip.

Our hotel was very nice, right on the waterfront.  There were a number of smaller, cozy little rooms off the large lobby where one could sit and visit, read, enjoy a drink or light meal from the bar; a map room displayed nautical maps of the area for those interested in orienting themselves or tracing their journey through the waterways.

Our hotel room was a large corner room overlooking the water; we thought it was quite nice until we saw the room of a fellow traveler who was holding an open house of sorts at the other end of the hotel. Their room was in the turreted end of the building, a suite actually complete with a separate living room area, wrap around windows looking to the water and a spiral staircase that led to a second level lookout room; it was quite spectacular.