Buenos Aires, Uruguay and Iguazu Falls

Itinerary: 

  • Days 1-9: Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Days 10-11: Montevideo, Uruguay
  • Days 12-18: Punta del Este, Uruguay
  • Days 19-21: Iguazu Falls, Argentina

RTW Trip 2014: Peru → Chile → Argentina → Antarctica → Argentina → Uruguay → Chile → England → Morocco → Spain → France → Belgium → Netherlands → Germany → Czech Republic → Austria → Hungary → Croatia → Italy → Thailand → United States → Thailand → Laos → Vietnam → Cambodia → Australia → Taiwan

Dates: March 12-31, 2014

Our Odyssey: 

After over 2 months in South America, it’s hard to believe our time here is coming to an end- we are currently on a bus from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, and in just one week we fly to London and begin the next major leg of our journey!

The past few weeks have been a healthy mix of excitement and relaxation. After our cruise to Antarctica, we flew up to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, for a week and a half. We rented an apartment there, which offered us simple luxuries, like a kitchen and a fridge, and a private bathroom, that we’d gone without for nearly 2 months. Nearly each night we enjoyed our own home cooked meals and cheap bottles of wine from the grocery store down the street. It felt like a nice “break” in our travels.

That said, we weren’t entirely lazy and did get out and enjoy a lot of what Buenos Aires offers. Like many other South American cities we’ve spent time in, there are free walking tours (or tours for tips) available to introduce tourists to aspects of the culture and history of the city. During our free walking tour of Buenos Aires, we learned about some of the more turbulent political history of Argentina. Like Chile, Argentina was also recently under a dictatorship, and in fact is currently in its longest period of democracy- only 30 years.

While I’m no history expert, I’ll do my best to briefly recap the highlights of what we learned, starting with the first Peron presidency in 1946. This president was generally beloved by the people, as was his wife Eva, or Evita, as she is popularly called. This is the same Evita of the musical. She is celebrated still for having triumphed women’s rights in Argentina and for her political and social accomplishments during her brief life (she died in her early 30s from cancer). When she died, plans were made to construct a memorial where her embalmed body was to be stored and displayed for the public. Before the monument was completed, president Peron was overthrown in a military coup in 1955. The new authorities removed Evita’s body from display, and made it illegal to even speak of her and her husband. In 1971, the military revealed that Evita’s body was buried in Italy, with the name “María Maggi.” Her body eventually came to Recoleta cemetery where it lays today.

Her husband, the former president, eventually remarried to an exotic dancer he met in Panama, but when it was time for elections, the people encouraged him to run again for president. He ran again, was elected, and appointed his new wife as his vice president. When he died during his term, his wife then became the president and was generally seen as being unfit for the role and the people were not happy with the state of the country. This unrest prompted the military coup that overthrew the government and established the dictatorship. The dictatorship lasted until the mid 1980s and during this time there were a lot of disappearances and deaths. On the plus side, the economy improved. This dictatorship has a bit of a mixed reputation- a lot of people see the good the regime did for the country, but also the extremely bad actions as well.

Today there is still a group of women who meet in a park once a week to remember their lost children who were taken from them and raised by those in the miltary regime or who disappeared altogether. Their goal is for all of the children and grandchildren to be found and reunited with their biological families. Our tour guide said that it is not unheard of for adults now in their 30s to find out that the parents who raised them were part of the dictatorship and sometimes in fact were the ones responsible for the deaths of their biological parents. I can’t imagine being an Argentinian my age and wondering what the truth about my family is- it’s apparent that while Argentina has moved on and is now a democracy, the recent dictatorship still influences their lives today.

Of course, Buenos Aires is known for more than just a complex political history- the city is also renowned for the Recoleta cemetary, the asado dinners (basically grilled meat, especially beef), and its nightlife. We got to experience all of these.

Tim had been to the famous Recoleta cemetary before when he came to Buenos Aires a few years ago, but he hadn’t told me much about it. I knew many famous people were buried there, including Evita, but otherwise imagined a normal grassy cemetary with headstones every few feet. I was surprised to see when we arrived that Recoleta is more like a small city of mausoleums- rows upon rows of what could easily be small houses containing coffins of the family who owned that building. Some were elaborately decorated with statues and engravings, some were still maintained and visited today, and many had fallen into disrepair. The cemetary was fascinating to walk around, with a mix of nostalgia, sadness, and eeriness in the air.

While the dead are resting, the living in Buenos Aires like to pass their evenings partying. Tim signed us up for the Buenos Aires Pub Crawl for a Saturday night, and it coincided with both his birthday weekend and with St. Patricks Day. Decked in green we went to the first bar where I got my face painted and we met another couple traveling for a year who we hung out with for most of the evening. The pub crawl is designed to give attendees a taste of various aspects of nightlife by taking them to different types of bars. This particular night over 400 people had signed up, so the coordination of the pub crawl was rather disorganized, but we still had a fun night.

On our last day in Buenos Aires we went on a day trip to the pampas, or countryside, and toured a small town known for its maintenance of the traditional Argentinian country lifestyle. We then went to an estancia, or a ranch, where we got to ride horses and eat a huge asado lunch of steak, chicken, blood sausage (they actually call it black pudding here, which is a much nicer name), chorizo, and more. Our guide then prepared mate for us to share. Mate is a very traditional and surprisingly common tea that is drank communally from a carved out gourd with a metal straw to drink through. Walking anywhere in Argentina you’ll see people carrying out mate. This was our first time trying it, and in my opinion it tastes like burnt green tea- bitter and earthy. I personally wouldn’t go out of my way to drink it again. While drinking the mate, a gaucho, or cowboy, of the ranch performed a show with his horse, demonstrating the mutual trust between a gaucho and his horse.

Although our time in Buenos Aires was very relaxed, I was quite excited for our next destination and the lazy days ahead- first the capital city and then the beaches of Uruguay.

Our first stop in Uruguay was the capital city of Montevideo. Our general impression is that Montevideo is quieter than Buenos Aires and much more relaxed. We walked around the city during our day there and headed to Parque Rodo, a large park with lakes, playgrounds and a small amusement park. We had a fun time just goofing around and enjoying the sunny weather. The highlight for Tim was playing on the teeter totter with me and some local kids! The next day we took a bus to Punta del Este, South America’s most famous beach resort town, known for being where the rich and famous of South America vacation. We were there during late summer/early fall so the crowds had left, making for a very leisurely and relaxing beach week. We stayed at a nice hotel a block from the beach, and spent our week alternating between laying on the beach, swimming, doing yoga on the beach and going for runs. We also went for a bike ride around the peninsula. Our last night in town we went out to one of the local bars and split a bottle of wine and enjoyed the cover band playing until 2:30am. After several beach days, we headed back to Montevideo for one more night before returning to Argentina.

Our next destination has made its way to our third favorite stop on the trip so far (the first being Antarctica and the second the Atacama desert)- Iguazu Falls. These falls, situated on the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, are taller and wider than Niagara Falls in the United States and is considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. Since I traveled so much at my previous job, I had earned enough Starwood Preferred Guest points to book us two nights at the Sheraton Resort and Spa located inside the national park itself. This is the only hotel within the park and is conveniently located at the start of both the upper and lower circuit trails. Upon check-in, we were even upgraded to a room with a view of the falls, as well as free wi-fi and breakfast buffet. This was by far our most luxurious hotel stay- rooms cost $400 + per night, but thanks to my points, we had it entirely free.

After dropping our bags off in our room, we headed out to check out the upper circuit trail of the falls. This gave us great views of many of the waterfalls, as well the wildlife of the area- South American raccoons, crocodiles, and exotic looking birds. That night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. I should preface this by saying that I don’t typically eat beef, but in Argentina, I certainly enjoyed a lot of meat. For dinner this night I had a steak covered in blood sausage/black pudding.

The next morning we got up early and hiked the lower circuit trail, which gives you views from below the falls. Since we were staying in the park, we were able to do this walk before the park even formally opened for visitors- being the only ones in the park and enjoying the views without the crowds was absolutely worth it. It was a peaceful, awe-inspiring morning. Afterwards we came back to the hotel for breakfast and a quick break, then went back down the lower circuit for the “Great Adventure” tour- a speedboat tour that takes you underneath the waterfalls. This was a very cool experience and so fun to get the water-level view of the falls.

Afterwards we took the free train up to the Devil’s Throat, one of the wider expanses of falls forming a semi-circle. Once you get off the train you walk across a very long bridge across the river to the viewpoint. This was our most spectacular view yet- accompanied with the intense sound of crashing water all around. To add to the beauty, there was also a rainbow spanning up the falls. It could not have been a more perfect scene and was the best possible way to end our time in Iguazu.

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