Apologies for the long delay in continuing our travel blog – but daily life has well and truly taken over after our return to Europe…
Now, as sort of a Christmas present, I have promised Johannes to try and finish our report by the end of this year and thus here is the next instalment – the result of our efforts to include Uruguay in our South American journey.
Monday 24th November 2014
Today we finally travel to Uruguay. The ferry doesn’t leave until 9 o’clock and so we can still enjoy our desayuno promoción (breakfast offer) at the confitería ‘My House’, where the waiter already greets us as regulars. Our heavy luggage we’ve left with our lovely hostess at the Hotel Maipú, and with our daypacks only we leisurely stroll to the port. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is not the best for our excursion – typical, the whole week looks fine apart from the day we have chosen for our mini-cruise…
One day, when we’re rich and famous, we’ll take a more classy boat…
… but for now, one of the Buquebus vessels will do
Bang on time and out of the puerto we sail
The impending rain doesn’t really bother us; we’ve been very lucky with the weather on this trip and won’t start complaining now.
Skyline Buenos Aires – click on the photo for the full-size panaroma
Ok, we won’t then…
For the outbound journey we have chosen the slow ferry that takes three hours to get a feeling of proper travel to a different country.
Finally – Uruguay, ho!
First impression – very nice!
All immigration and customs formalities have already been taken care of on the Argentinean side of the river, so we can walk straight into Uruguay.
¡Usted está aquí! – You are here.
The tourist information office is near the old train station
Mind you, we may have to wait a while for the connecting train…
The ferry is certainly a safer bet nowadays
Pretty quickly we find a nice B&B close to the Barrio histórico (historic district) that accepts credit cards, as we are still contemplating how much Uruguayan cash we actually need.
It’s raining on and off – as you can see in the photos…
On the Plaza de Armas
Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento
Uruguayan Magnolia Tree
On the Plaza Mayor
Portón de Campo – the old City Gate
Well fortified and defended…
… there was a lot to protect
El Faro – the fully functional old lighthouse
Here you get beer colder than the heart of your ‘ex’…
On Calle San Pedro
Paseo San Gabriel
We do like a good map!
Calle de las Flores
Vintage cars are quite a common sight in Colonia
Nicely recycled windmill
All this sightseeing makes us hungry but we still haven’t obtained any local currency that we could spend. Uruguay values the Argentine peso much less than Argentina’s own government, since the official value is hugely inflated. So we would get only half of our money’s worth if we wanted to exchange Argentine pesos for Uruguayan ones –xe.com gives us a middle rate of UYU 2.80 per AR$ 1.00 instead of the UYU 1.40 you see below!
On the other hand, the locals appreciate the US$, and in one shop I get a new decal of Uruguay for my bike that is priced at UYU 30 for US$1! That’s not a bad exchange rate, and so we pay for water and snacks with the few US$ notes we have still left and even get some Uruguayan coins back.
After a long-ish survey of the local gastronomy we find that 1) you pay for the fact that Colonia is a very popular tourist destination, 2) you pay for the location (dependent on your distance to the river), and 3) not every business accepts credit cards. We are slightly reluctant to let anyone fleece us in the culinary prime spots, and so we settle for a sort of posh fast food restaurant…
And then, finally, after dinner the rain has stopped…
And we follow the recommendation of the South America Handbook to enjoy the sunset over the Río de la Plata…
Buenas Noches, everyone…
Sunday 23rd November 2014
In the morning we are still none the wiser what to do: where do we go in Uruguay – Colonia or Montevideo? For how many days? Which ferry company shall we use? Do we just take our luggage with us to the terminal and get on the next available boat? Will there be any sailings at all on a bank holiday Sunday?
Too many decisions on an empty stomach, so let’s get something to eat first (our hotel only offers B but no B).
We find a nice special offer in the Confitería ‘My House’ around the corner on the Avenida Córdoba…
Café con leche, three media lunas and jugo de naranja for AR$ 32 (that’s £2.40 or €3.00…)
What’s there not to like?
And the croissants are so rich that we don’t manage to eat them all – that’s lunch sorted then. Our first decision is to take it easy, spend the day in the Capital Federal, investigate our options of getting to Uruguay, and stay another night in our hotel, as the building, the service and our hostess are just great.
While I am posting, Johannes watches Formula 1…
… and after Lewis Hamilton has won the title, we head for the tourist information where we learn that the downtown offices of the ferry companies are closed on a Sunday (of course, what did we expect?) and that we have to go directly to the terminals of Buquebus, Colonia Express and Seacat to enquire times, availability and prices…
That’ll take some time, so we combine our exploration with some sight-seeing. Interesting trees they have in Buenos Aires…
Ficus Elastica – Rubber Tree
Avenida 9 de Julio
This main traffic artery has four lanes in each direction, a two-lane residential road on either site and two 2-track bus lanes in the middle. We are looking for transport taking us to the Colonia Express terminal near the district of La Boca.
Great customer and information service – and we think we’ve found the number we need!
Unfortunately, the bus that seems to go right through the district, doesn’t stop there. We have to take another line – but in any case, we’d need an electronic, rechargeable card called ‘Sube’, which is difficult to obtain on a Sunday. Mmm, let’s go to the next tourist office to find out how the mere mortal visitor can use public transport on weekends. “Absolutely no way, you can’t go to La Boca on foot or by bus, that’s far too dangerous – even the people who live in the barrio take a taxi!” informs us the young lady in the second tourist information.
Really? That’s hard to believe and we will ask our friends John and Cristina who have lived in Buenos Aires for a while for their assessment. For the time being, we should check times and prices online, is the helpful suggestion. As we don’t have WiFi at the moment, we head for the office of the nearest ferry company. The scenery on the way down isn’t the worst, that must be said.
Plaza de Mayo – the main square of the capital
Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires
Museo Histórico Nacional del Cabildo y la Revolución de Mayo
And look – the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace is open to the public at weekends!
The permanent exhibition on the ground floor shows former and current leaders of Argentina and its neighbouring countries as well as paintings of important events in the history of the continent.
Should we move to Buenos Aires one day, we’d like to live in a place like this…
Here, to be precise
A maisonette in one of these towers would also be acceptable…
Finally we reach the puerto
… where you – naturally – find the ferry terminals. It’s not that easy to obtain the necessary information; there are no brochures or wall displays at Buquebus that would offer an overview of times and prices; it’s all based on demand and availability and calculated on request. So we have to queue to get any idea of our options.
The sailings are convenient but not cheap. It’s ice-cream time, anyway, so let’s find an Heladeria with WiFi and do some more research. The owners of the kiosco we finally settle in couldn’t be more accommodating; they have a bathroom, serve a nice café con leche and they don’t even mind that we eat our breakfast croissants with it. Scrolling through ever so slowly loading websites we discover that Colonia Express, the usually more economic company, adds a huge amount of additional fees and taxes at the end of the booking process and that their time-table would require us to take a taxi the next morning, another extra cost. Seacat is not that much different from Buquebus, so we go with the latter, as their deal is the most convenient and we can walk to the terminal in 15 minutes from our hotel.
Fortunately we have made notes of the earlier quote, as the price for our sailing seems to have miraculously increased in the last hour. We know that spaces are scarce on this bank holiday weekend and may have almost sold out by now but with a certain assertiveness we get the best prices in the end.
That’s one task off the list – but there’s still a blog that needs updating. Thus I head back to the hotel while Johannes goes on a tour of discovery on his own. Slightly disquieted I make him promise not to stray too far from the main roads and then he’s off towards Retiro…
Libertador General José de San Martín is never far away in Argentina
The MOT has probably run out, too
Retiro Railway Station
What you can and cannot do in an Argentinean train station
Yes, Dad, these are exactly the streets that I was worried about…
Just a few metres behind the main train and bus stations…
The size of the Retiro bus terminal is quite impressive
74 coach bays and 248 ticket counters
Some owners truly cherish their vehicles…
Torre Monumental (formerly Torre de los Ingleses – the English tower)
Downtown Buenos Aires
Finally, after several anxious hours Johannes returns to our hotel – in one piece and good spirits, thank God for that! I think I just got a little taste of what my parents must have felt when I was travelling through South America on my own – and that was for four months and not only three hours… Sorry, Dad.
For dinner we head to the food hall of the Galerías Pacífico, where we are spoilt for choice with all the different cuisines on offer. On the way there we marvel at the display of elaborate Christmas trees – and even more at their prices!
This was another great day in an absolutely amazing city, full of impressions, experiences and wonderful people; tiring but quite successful, everything is sorted now: blog and photos are up-to-date, arrangements are made, our day-packs are ready, we can leave the rest of our luggage with the lovely hostess at the Hotel Maipú, and tomorrow we will sail over the Río de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay!
Saturday 22nd November 2014
Typical – when we look out of the window the next morning, the sun shines from a perfectly blue sky. But we have made the decision to go to Buenos Aires today because we still want to visit Uruguay. On the way to the bus stop the heat becomes almost unbearable… ;-)
For some reason we thought that it would only be a short hop from the coast to Buenos Aires but the 376-kilometre journey takes more than five hours, as the coach also serves the other seaside resorts on the way up north.
The countryside is green, agricultural and rather lush – a welcome change after hundreds of miles of steppe…
Welcome to the Capital Federal…
The original plan was to go straight to the tourist information at the bus terminal upon arrival to organise 1) accommodation and 2) our ferry trip to Uruguay but we fail at the first hurdles: due to the coach breaking down, the natural delay in finding a spare bus and then shifting all passengers and their luggage between vehicles, we get to our destination rather late. Then we are informed that the tourist office at Retiro is closed and we’d have to walk seven blocks to find another one. Needless to say that the promised office has also shut its doors – maybe because of the advanced hour, maybe because of the long holiday weekend. I’m getting slightly stressed when all the hotels where we ask for a room are either fully booked or far too expensive (I mean, even if you think: OK, we are in the capital and it’s a long weekend and it’s late in the day). There are many bridges in Buenos Aires…
Just when I think that we don’t have a choice but to eat into our loved ones’ inheritance and spend thousands of pesos in a five-star palace, I get the last room in the Hotel Maipú, right in the micro-centre – just between the Avenida Córdoba and the red-light district in the Calle Viamonte. The house has been built in the 18 somethings, was once owned by wealthy aristocrats and has lots of period features and character. The current owner is in the process of getting the building acknowledged as patrimonial heritage.
The ceilings are almost six metres high
… and our room even has a window to the quiet inner courtyard
The hotel’s location is just fantastic from a tourist point of view – the major terminals are in walking distance and we’re just one street away from the Calle Florída and the Galerías Pacífico – with their famous frescos and, of course, the fabulous Christmas tree.
It’s almost 22.30 hrs when we finally settle down for dinner and we’re still discussing what to do the next day: shall we try to find another tourist office to gather information or go directly to the terminals of the ferries to Uruguay? Shall we just hope that we still get seats on the Sunday of a long holiday weekend and take all our luggage with us? If we don’t, what do we do about accommodation? What if our excursion across the Río de la Plata doesn’t materialise? What do we do about meeting our friends in the city? They may appreciate a bit of an advance warning that we are coming. Lots of decisions to sleep on…
Thursday 20th November 2014
Our plan sounded too good to come true – the bus from Viedma to Villa Gesell is three hours late and we don’t leave until 2.15 hours in the morning. On the plus side, the seats are super comfy and we fall asleep almost immediately.
The sun rises over Bahia Blanca
All along the Ruta 3 we see the aftermath of the recent downpours
Bus change in Mar del Plata – time for a café con leche
The next coach follows the coastline on the Ruta 11
Just after 3 o’clock we arrive at our destination
Villa Gesell is a popular but still laid-back seaside resort, founded in 1931 by the son of a German economist, Carlos Idaho Gesell. It’s very busy during peak season, which just starts the following day with a long holiday weekend in Argentina. This means that many shops, restaurants and hotels have not opened yet and we spend the next two and a half hours looking for accommodation. Well, me that is – Johannes takes care of the luggage so that I don’t have to carry it on top of the responsibility, he claims…
While Johannes is relaxing at the seafront…
… I consult the locals…
… and look at countless houses, their features and rooms…
… until I find suitable lodging for us
The Hotel San Remo Palace ticks all our boxes – apart from WiFi in the room – and they even give us a special deal.
What more can we ask for?
We wind down in a nice little restaurant (yes, my dad makes me drink alcohol again…)
… and look forward to a wonderful day on the beach the following morning.
Friday 21st November 2014
Unfortunately the weather website was right – it’s cold, cloudy and windy today. We still pack our swimming suits, towels and a picnic and head for the beach.
Through the woods at the end of our street
Never ever turn your back to the sea – the wave behind us almost got us!
The flag means that it’s periculoso (dangerous) today, says the lifeguard – but we can still go into the water if we stay within his view
… but we find the temperatures of both air and water not particularly inviting
So we go for a long walk instead
Villa Gesell has 21 kilometres of finest sandy beach and employs 150 lifeguards – in case you were contemplating coming over instead of going to Bournemouth next summer.
Eggs of the Caracol del Mar (sea-snail or conch)
We are not the only ones on the beach – but only just…
After many hours we return to civilisation
Tijereta sabanera – fork-tailed fly-catcher (the Spanish name may seem more poetic but ‘tijereta’ can also mean ‘earwig’)
Rich feeding grounds
… popular with the fishermen
… and for holiday snaps
Time for an ice cream, dad?
On our way into the centre we watch some more birds – Cotorra (monk parakeet)
Pueblo Español – a shopping mall in the style of a Spanish village
If you want to eat a good value-for-money dinner just off the high street, then head for the canteen of the Club Deportivo Español on the Avenida Buenos Aires – big portions, excellent food, friendly service and more than reasonable prices. Highly recommended.
… unless you want to treat yourselves to more luxurious culinary delights
Some Alfajores for dessert? :-)
The Spanish village by night
With the start of the long weekend, Villa Gesell appears a lot livelier tonight and it would be nice to stay a bit longer – especially as the weather forecast promises sun and high temperatures for tomorrow. We are very tempted but we still want to visit Uruguay before we leave South America on Thursday. Mmm, what shall we do? Decisions, decisions…
Monday 17th November 2014
Our next destination are the oldest cities in Patagonia, Viedma and Carmen de Patagones. Not many people seem to go into this direction from Puerto Madryn, as all buses services arrive in the middle of the night or very early in the morning – very inconvenient if you still want to organise your onward travel, find a nice hotel and then be fit enough to make the most of your time.
So we have decided to drive a relatively short distance of 270 kilometres to San Antonio Oeste today, a town that lies on the major traffic routes from south to north and west to east – hoping there will be connections to Viedma during the day. Finding this sort of information on the ground or on the internet is rather complicated and unreliable in South America, in case you were wondering why we just went without researching our options comprehensively.
On the way north the bus stops in Las Grutas, a seaside resort famous for its warm water and very popular, even if the bus terminal doesn’t look like it.
We are glad that we didn’t opt for Las Grutas to get our onward connection – until the moment we arrive in San Antonio Oeste…
Buses to Viedma leave from another terminal, we are told, and so we start walking towards the town centre in the scorching sun.
Johannes is happy – at least the path is trolley-friendly
Mmm – should we have stayed in Las Grutas after all?
We arrive at the train station, get a very comfortable connection to Viedma the next day and a recommendation for one of the two hotels that are currently open in town. Our room and its price are more than acceptable and after settling in we embark on a sight-seeing tour of San Antonio Oeste.
The whole town seems to meet in the evening to run together
For dinner we follow the recommendation for one of the two restaurants that are currently open (you get the idea…)
The food is excellent in the restaurant ‘Olaff’
Tuesday 18th November 2014
We still have some time in the morning before the bus leaves for Viedma and so we explore San Antonio Oeste a bit more.
The sky is one of Patagonia’s main characteristics
House of Guido Jacobacci, general director of the Patagonian railway, 1909
Lawn-mowing Argentinean style
Then it’s time to board the bus
Public transport is frequent and well-coordinated
No need for travel sickness pills
… and the main roads – like the Ruta 3 – are well looked after
Hope it’s just another kind of weeding…
Welcome to Viedma
We head for the river, as I would like to show Johannes one of the main attractions of the city – crossing the Río Negro to Carmen de Patagones by ferry and see the fine colonial buildings in the oldest town in Patagonia by night . Imagine our disappointment when we learn that the service has been abandoned for a week and is not likely to open before we leave again…
We can only admire Carmen de Patagones from our side of the river
Well, Dad, now that you mention it…
When dinner time comes we find an absolute gem of a ‘Tenedor Libre’ (all you can eat) restaurant: El Dragón, where we can enjoy all sorts of delicious food for AR$ 75 per head – that’s €7.11 or £5.62…
Wednesday 19th November 2014
We’ve booked a night-journey to Villa Gesell at 23.00 hrs and thus have still a whole day in Viedma and Carmen de Patagones. The latter is the capital of the Patagones Partido, the only administrative division of Buenos Aires Province that lies within Patagonia, and there it was the first settlement – founded in 1779 by Francisco de Viedma, an explorer leading a Spanish expedition commissioned with colonizing Patagonia’s shore.
With the ferry still out-of-order, we walk to the western bridge where the traffic bypassing the city crosses the Río Negro. On the way we discover a lot of interesting things:
A blackberry tree
A parakeet colony
Doors of Carmen de Patagones
Catedral Nuestra Señora del Carmen
The eastern bridge
The only one of its kind in the world
Coming full circle…
Well-deserved ice cream!
We return to the hotel, fulfill our daily duties such as writing another post, the diary, the balance sheet, pay ‘El Dragón’ a second visit and then take a taxi to the terminal in plenty of time for departure at 23.00 hrs. Little did we know that the bus would be three hours late…
Saturday 15th November 2014
From Trelew it’s a short hop north-west to Puerto Madryn on the Atlantic coast. We find a suite with two rooms and sea view in the lovely Hotel Yanco and spend the rest of the day exploring the town as well as our options to go whale watching on Sunday. We could:
1) Book an all-inclusive tour – most secure and convenient but expensive, early (7.30 hrs – and they only start serving breakfast at 8.00 in our hotel!) and a full and very long day.
2) Take the only public service to Puerto Pirámides and organise the ‘avistaje de ballenas’ ourselves – cheapest and latest option (the bus leaves at 9:45 hours) but highest risk of not getting spaces on the bus or the boat, missing crucial departure times for both, not getting anywhere else on the península and thus not seeing penguins, sea lions, orcas and the terrestrial wildlife.
3) Rent a car and go everywhere on our own – most independent and would also solve our problems with the onward journey (buses to Viedma seem to travel only during the night) but prices and lack of both availability and one-way options put a stop to these thoughts straight away.
After many hours of walking for miles and speaking to many people at tour agencies and the helpful tourist office, we decide that watching the whales is our priority, that we need our beauty sleep and breakfast and that we will therefore use the public transport the next day to get to the Península Valdés – in the hope there will still be spaces on one of the boats…
Panorama of Puerto Madryn
View from our (well, Johannes’s…) hotel room
Sunday 16th November 2014
We get seats on the bus without any problems and arrive in Puerto Pirámides on the Valdés Península in plenty of time to organise a whale watching trip with Whales Argentina, one of the recommended tour operators.
Whales Argentina have their office in a retired catamaran
Maybe we should cut down on the ice cream…
How the boats are launched
And off we go – with 60 other passengers on board
A mother and her calf!
We are getting really close
Almost too close for comfort…
But the Ballena Franca Austral (Southern Right Whale) is a peaceful animal and mum and her offspring just dive under the boat and disappear in the distance.
Talking of distance, we have the privilege of seeing a female whale jumping five (5!) times into the air. Although she is quite far away the sight is still very impressive.
Two happy whale watchers
Far too soon the two-hours trip is over
Whales are everywhere in Puerto Pirámides
In the hours until the only return bus leaves, we explore the Fossil Coast
Fossils wherever you look
No effort spared to get the perfect shot
There is so much to see here…
… that you don’t always pay attention where you put your foot…
In the submarine you can watch the whales underwater
– but it comes at double the price of a normal tour
Occasionally you can take political correctness a bit too far…
Then Puerto Pirámides closes for the day and we return to Puerto Madryn
Men at work seem to be such a rare occurrence in Argentina that they have a special sign for them… ;-)
For dinner we follow a recommendation of the South American Handbook and go to ‘Los Colones’
… a restaurant built into the wooden hull of a ship
… where they serve, of course, excellent fish
Another fantastic day – aren’t we some very lucky people?
Thursday 13th November 2014
From the bus window we watch the sun rising over the Patagonian steppe along the Ruta 3.
Someone enjoying the early warmth
I think until now Johannes didn’t quite believe me when I said that we wouldn’t miss much if we travelled by night…
We arrive at the ‘Town of Lewis’ with a delay of just 20 minutes – not bad over a distance of 1,167 kilometres!
After looking at a few other places we go to the Hotel ‘Touring Club’ where I stayed in 2010.
I like its faded elegance
… and the 1920’s bar
As time goes by
We have a room with a view
The hotel is one of Trelew’s tourist attractions of which there are quite a few –
Welsh Tabernacl Chapel
Kiosco del Centenario – commemorating the centenary of Argentinean independence in 1910
On the Plaza Independencia
Tools and machinery of the Welsh settlers
We go even further back in time and visit the excellent palaeontological museum MEF.
Until 2010 I never realised how many dinosaur bones have been (and still are) found in Patagonia.
A specialty of the MEF is to arrange the skeletons in ‘real life’ situations – here fighting marsupials
As recent as May 2014 a farm worker discovered bones of the largest animal that ever walked the earth on an estancia 260 kilometres west of Trelew – the still unnamed Titanosaurus was 42 metres long and weighed 76 tons!
So that you get an idea of the size
Life under water
Once again we are very impressed by the history of Patagonia and digest the day’s lessons while enjoying a more contemporary cuisine.
Friday 14th November 2014
Before we have breakfast we explore a bit more of our own hotel’s past – it had some famous guests in its time.
The dining hall – still used today for groups and school classes who come here on field days
We take the bus to follow the path of the Welsh settlers in the Chubut valley.
Vista panorámica de Gaiman (click on the photo)
Abandoned railway tunnel
Hope the track is really disused…
… and the Sunburnt Kid taking pictures
Back in town
The first house in Gaiman built the Robert-Jones family in 1874
Today it’s a museum – where I get a guided tour from a very knowledgeable young woman
Johannes thinks he has done his cultural duties for the time being… ;-)
Bridges over the Río Chubut
Obligatory pedestrian bridge
Capilla Bethel – 1913
It’s hot in the Chubut Province…
Another ‘Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Luján’
There are six Welsh tea houses in Gaiman…
… serving – who would have thought? – Welsh Tea
Welsh School – they still speak the language in Gaiman today
Johannes unleashes the dragon…
I could tell you a lot more about the Welsh settlements in Patagonia but I still have a blog to bring up-to-date… ;-) If you are interested in the history and want to read more click here and here.
We return to Trelew
We’ve just finished the leftovers from our Welsh Afternoon Tea in our hotel room when we hear some music from the square. Johannes is downstairs in less than a second.
A local theatre promotes their next show
We think that’s a great conclusion of another wonderful day!