Archive for the ‘Argentina’ Category

Colonia del Sacramento   4 comments

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

 

Obviously…

 

 

Vintage cars are quite a common sight in Colonia

 

Nicely recycled windmill

 

The Marina

 

Calle Rivadavia

 

 

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…

Posted 22 December 2015 by Pumpy in Argentina, The 2014 Rucksack Trip, Uruguay

Río Grande to Río Gallegos   Leave a comment

Tuesday 11th November 2014

My little sister and I are notorious for giving our loved ones more or less exotic nicknames, but when Johannes and I are coming around a corner in Río Grande we spot the following sign:

It’s official!

 

Soon after leaving the town we are alone with the sheep again…

The way Chile and Argentina have divided Tierra del Fuego between themselves means that we have to go through Chile and lengthy border formalities again – leaving Argentina: immigration form, exit stamp in passport, unloading board luggage and x-raying of board and hand luggage; entering Chile: immigration form, entry stamp, import declaration, x-raying of hand luggage, sniffer dogs checking the board luggage, which can stay in the hold this time. Similar efforts are taken when we re-enter Argentina after crossing the Magellan Straits.

Why they don’t seal the bus, put a big sign ‘Transit’ on and just wave us through is beyond me – what a waste of time, paperwork and labour! We enter ‘3 horas‘ in the field for ‘estimated stay’ to make a small point of what we think of this swollen bureaucracy.

Guanacos

And sheep…

Occasional hills

Storm clouds over Cerro Sombrero

Fortunately the sun is still shining when we reach the Estrecho de Magallanes

 

This time we are confined to the ferry’s belly, from where the waves look really impressive. What must the conditions around Cape Horne be like when the navigators prefer the Strait of Magellan?

Quite depressing when we think of all the rubbish we’ve seen littering the countryside…

Back on the main land

For the last time we see construction works that unite the Chileans

 

After another border crossing and two more stamps in our passports we are in Argentina again.

We meet the iconic Ruta 40 again that ends further east at the Atlantic near Cabo Virgenes

After ten hours we arrive at our destination

 

The last time I stayed in Río Gallegos I didn’t really like it – the weather was horrible, the people were not very friendly and I didn’t see anything remarkable in town. This time it is different: the sun is shining, the wind is strong but warm, we meet smiling locals, find a nice room in the excellent Hotel Croacia and get a good deal.

 

After walking out of some rather exclusive restaurants again when we see the prices on their menu, we find a great place to have dinner – Pizza Express in the Avenida San Martín 650.

 

A bit more sight-seeing and off to bed.

Parroquia Catedral Nuestra Señora de Luján

 

Wednesday 12th November 2014

For this evening we have planned a long distance-trip to Trelew, 1,167 kilometres further up north on the Ruta 3. The bus leaves at 20.00 hours and we have still some time to explore Río Gallegos.

The coal mined in Río Turbio gets shipped from here

Gigantic equipment

Coat of arms of Río Gallegos

It’s green to amber when we pass – of course, we have sun lotion with us…

Upland Goose

Fence-eating bush

Oficina de Turismo

Eye to eye with the condor

Cathedral by day

… and from behind

 

We visit the Museum of the Pioneers

 

In the 19th century the Argentine government wanted to establish settlements in Patagonia and offered land and sheep to the people willing to move south. But the Argentinians didn’t take the offer. Living conditions were harsh and dangerous, the weather is cold and windy, there was nothing attractive here. So word was sent to Europe and immigrants came from the British Isles, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Croacia and also Chile and they started a new life here – facing the elements in this part of the country, living of the river in the beginning, building farms, breeding sheep, growing fruit and vegetables. These pioneers showed truly amazing spirit, determination and persistence.

 

There was nearly nothing here apart from freshwater and guanacos – furniture, clothes, food and even coal had to be shipped over from Europe.

People had to be resourceful

We are very impressed

 

Then it’s time to return to the hotel, write another post and collect our belongings before heading for the bus terminal.

Even as a backpacker, Johannes takes great care of his appearance

The coach leaves Río Gallegos at 20.00 hrs

 

… and will drop us 15 hours later in the Welsh colony of Trelew – the town of Lewis – in the Chubut province.

 

Posted 18 November 2014 by Pumpy in Argentina, Chile, The 2014 Rucksack Trip

From Argentina to Paraguay through a tiny bit of Brazil   Leave a comment

Before I set off on my epic journey, I didn’t know a great deal about Paraguay – apart from: the country is sparsely populated (6.3 million inhabitants in an area of 406,752 km² / 157,048 sq miles – as a comparison: the UK has 62 million in 243,610 km / 94,060 sq miles), 30-50% of the population live in poverty, and it is more likely that the people you meet speak Guaraní than Spanish. West of the capital Asunción towards Bolivia spreads the hot and semi-arid Gran Chaco which is rather remote and potentially dangerous but also home to a number of German-speaking Mennonite communities. Well, I travel to learn, so bring it on.

To be on the safe side, I stock up on vitamins before leaving Argentina by devouring embarrassingly vast quantities of fresh fruit at the breakfast buffet – you never know when you get the next opportunity. Then I enquire about the border controls that lie ahead, as you have to cross a corner of Brazil if you want to go from Puerto Iguazú in Argentina to Paraguay.

I am a bit nervous because I don’t speak Portuguese. No se preocupe, señora, don’t worry, say the nice people at the campsite, it’s all very straightforward. While packing my stuff on the DRZ, I chat to Javier, gardener, 24 years old and soon father-to-be of a little daughter. Motorbikes are such a great opportunity to start a conversation – wherever you are. I love it.

The Argentinean border crossing is busy and efficient: I hand over passport, bike registration and temporary import documents – buen viaje, have a good trip, and through. Of course, I must stop on the bridge over the Río Iguazú and a nice elderly señor takes pictures of me with one foot/wheel in Argentina and one in Brazil.

Welcome to Brazil

 

At the Brazilian border post I just say that I want to go straight to Paraguay and get a simple transit stamp in my passport – without any further questions or fuss; it’s usual practice here. Shame really, as the rather handsome officer I’m dealing with is an absolute pleasure to look at (I hope Possu doesn’t read this too carefully…  ).

Then I am in Foz do Iguaçu, the 4th largest city in the Paraná region and a rather hectic place. Mmm, there is no time limit on the transit, no one has explicitly told me that I have to go straight and immediately to Paraguay – and I would really like to see the Marco das tres fronteiras, the landmark where the three countries and the rivers Paraná and Iguazú meet. No one is looking, so I quickly turn left and ride down to the Triple Frontier:

Zoom into Argentina

Paraguay

and Brazil

Then I’m battling my way through the heavy traffic towards the Paraguayan border. Many people try to stop me but they don’t look official enough to get me hesitating. Hundreds of motos are whizzing past, I just follow the herd and then suddenly the lanes split and I find myself in a 20cm wide groove that leads the motorcycles through the border installations. There is no opportunity to stop and ask how this all works, if and where I have to show any documents and so I keep drifting along. We reach the bridge over the Río Paraná where the two-wheeled and the four-wheeled vehicles meet again and I instantly become a mobile chicane – with my panniers I can’t just filter through and a massive queue of beeping bikes forms behind me. Fortunately the cars are moving a bit forward and I can slip into a gap to let the other motos pass. Phew.

Right, are we there yet? This looks like we are already in Ciudad del Este (City of the East) in Paraguay.

But I surely need an entry stamp in my passport and temporary import papers for the DRZ? Ok, in Germany we have a saying: the police, your friend and helper, and so I head straight for the next officer who’s trying to install some law & order into the traffic chaos. Although busy, he takes the time to welcome me to Paraguay and point me to an inconspicuous white office block on the other side of the road – in the meantime, the local motorcycle taxi drivers will look after my bike and luggage.

An impressive female officer governs over the crew in the immigration office; we chat about my trip, she stamps my passport and sends me off – enjoy your stay in Paraguay. What about customs and the temporary import of a foreign motorbike? Not necessary in Paraguay, even though I ask several times because I find it hard to believe. When I come back to the DRZ, there are even more moto taxis and their owners, we chat and laugh and I have to answer many questions about the bike and my journey. Oh, and I need money but as it is Saturday, all the exchanges are closed. No problem, my favourite police officer speaks to a few locals and introduces me to a money-changer who gives me a very fair rate for my US Dolares. 

But then the culture shock of this giant shopping centre called Ciudad del Este becomes too much – I want to get out of this hectic place and into the countryside as fast as possible. It is hot and again, a lot of people try to stop me and shout their latest offers at me. I’m sure, if I was after cheap electronic goods I could grab some bargains here, however, I only have a small bike with limited luggage space – so which part of no gracias don’t you understand?

Finally I reach the city limit and join the Ruta 7 which leads to Asunción. The land is plain, grassy and pretty flat. For a long time the only hills around here are the termite mounds along the road.

Occasionally I pass a toll booth, but motorcycles are exempt and even have their extra lane to go round the barrier. 

After a few hours of uneventful riding, I spot green hills in the distance and decide to turn off the main road, heading south-west towards Villarrica. Immediately the journey gets more interesting when I run into the Paraguayan rush-hour…

That’s more like I expected the roads to be…

Arriving in Villarrica, I first do my usual sight-seeing tour and look for accommodation. The capital of the Guairá department is pretty big, boasts some beautiful architecture, plenty of parks and a university and is considered to be the second most important city in Paraguay from the cultural point of view. I stop at the Hotel Rowil which I instantly like – not only for the colour scheme…

I think there are only two other guests in the house and I get a lovely en-suite room in the attic…

… with a nice view over the garden – including breakfast for £9.50.

It’s a Saturday night and the whole town is in party mood. Cars are promenading up and down the high street with huge booming stereos in the boot; drivers and passengers are laughing and cheering at the people in the streets. Everyone is friendly and greeting me; I haven’t seen any other gringos here so far. I walk around until midnight, savouring the atmosphere and the balmy air, chatting to the locals – and just enjoy being here in Paraguay. What a charming country; I can’t wait to explore more of it!

Posted 25 February 2011 by Pumpy in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay

A day at the Iguazú Falls   Leave a comment

The famous Falls of the River Iguazú define the border between Argentina and Brazil and can be visited from both countries. Two thirds of the waterfalls lie in Argentine territory where a well-developed infrastructure gives access to the majority of the 275 falls.

The previous day I had already ridden to the entrance of the national park to see if I could catch a glimpse of the waterfalls, but the only road available took me to a big gate where I was told that the entrance fee was AR$ 85.00 (at that time approx. £15.00), they would only be open for another hour and I should rather come back in the morning, preferably by public transport, as they couldn’t guarantee the safety of my bike in their car park. I agreed, it would also be much nicer to walk about in civilian clothes than in motorcycle boots and my relatively heavy suit.

So after a delicious breakfast in the campsite’s restaurant, I just stepped outside to the bus stop and caught one of the colectivos that run every 30 minutes between Puerto Iguazú and the national park for AR$ 5.00 (£0.90). The park is open daily from 8.00 to 18.00 (8.00 to 19.00 hrs from 1 Apr to 31 Aug) and the South American Handbook 2010 stated that the entrance fee can be paid either in Argentinean pesos, Brazilian reais or US$. Relying on this information, I had already reduced the amount of Argentinean cash to just a few pesos, as I was leaving Argentina the next day and could pay campsite and food with my credit card.

But – when I finally reached the top of the queue, the guy at the ticket counter told me that they would only accept Argentinean pesos – no US Dollars, no plastic, which was all I had. Mmm, what can I do? There was a cash point inside the park and the rangers even let me in. Unfortunately the machine was out-of-order… Arrrgh, I had made such an effort to get up early and be here at 8.00 but now it meant that I had to go back to either the campsite to change money there or even to Puerto Iguazú to find another ATM. Hang on, didn’t I see a MasterCard sign on the door of a souvenir shop? Could I buy something and have some cash back? No problem, señora, but you have to spend at least AR$ 40.00. Mumble, mumble, mumble, alright then. So I bought postcards for AR$ 40.00 (which I had to do anyway at some point…) and received my AR$ 85.00 for the entrance ticket. Phew. In.

Due to my little mishap the previous day and all the limping around at speed, my foot had started to hurt again, and so I went into the visitor centre to enquire about the best routes through the park that were accessible for the handicapped. I was expecting some rough directions or scribbling in my map from the friendly advisor but no – he made a phone call and two minutes later a sort of electro mobile stood in front of the building, ready to chauffeur me to the station from which the train leaves for the waterfalls. Not that I really felt that bad but what a superb service! I chatted with my driver about self-inflicted injuries, our beloved hobbies – in his case it was football that had given him a damaged knee – and what a wonderful workplace he had.

The ecological forest train took us to the Estación Cataratas first, from where the Upper and the Lower Circuits start, but I wanted to see the largest of the falls, the Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat, before it got too crowded. From the Garganta station a one-kilometre catwalk leads to the park’s centre piece – you can already spot the spray in the distance.

The national park is home to an abundance of wildlife – which can easily be watched from the walk-way

Plush-crested jay

Getting closer…

Of course, everyone who was on the train had overtaken me by now – but there it must be:

The Devil’s Throat – La Garganta del Diablo!

The mandatory tourist shot…

And then I was just standing there, looking at the overwhelming power and beauty of the waterfalls and the tears were running down my face. How lucky was I to be here and see this wonder of nature with my own eyes…

A heron on the way back to the train station.

I have to say that the park’s infrastructure is well-developed – each train is used to its full capacity (and they run every 30 minutes), access to the facilities like bathrooms and restaurants is nicely organised and sign-posted, but you also pay for it. Not only the hefty entrance fee, but for some strange reason I had forgotten to take water with me and had to hand over AR$ 12.00 (US$ 3.50) for a half-litre bottle! So if you go to the Iguazú Falls yourself, bring your own supplies…

After returning to the Estación Cataratas I first walked the Upper Circuit (Circuito Superior) which takes you along the top of the waterfalls.

Just see the tiny people at the bottom to get a sense of the scale.

And the wildlife…

The flora isn’t bad either.

The butterflies seem to be used to humans around here.

On the way to the Lower Circuit (Circuito Inferior) I came across these little fellows – Coaties:

They are not shy…

… and for the protection of both visitors and animals, feeding the latter is strictly forbidden (as you can see in the third pictogram).

Then the stairs went down, down, down…

Along more waterfalls…

From the bottom you can spot the Garganta del Diablo in the distance – and the walk-way on the Brazilian side…

The crowd had spread out by now and I had the place almost to myself.

… and the butterflies, of course.

Then I reached the platform that you have seen earlier from the Upper Circuit.

I carried on to the riverbank and the jetty for the boats that take you to the Isla San Martín, an island that lies right in the middle of the action.

Unfortunately and due to the low water level, the recommended tours were suspended for the day but I’m not sure if I had met all the criteria anyway…

It was nearing closing time when I made my way uphill to the train station again. I had been limping about for at least seven kilometres and ten hours that day but the pain was only a small price to pay for this awesome experience.

If you ever get the chance to visit the Cataratas del Iguazú then go. If you don’t – well, then you will have to make it happen one day…

Posted 17 February 2011 by Pumpy in Argentina

A couple of falls…   1 comment

The next morning Claudia invited me into their cabaña for a coffee. So I went to one of the little kioscos on the corner that sell (almost) everything to buy bread, butter and cheese for breakfast. We talked a lot about the current economic climate in Argentina, the education system and her career perspectives as an academic with two young children, and then I suddenly realised that I was late for another appointment –

Arriving at the campsite the previous evening I had arranged for my clothes to be washed and dried overnight by Carola, a lovely local lady who runs her business ‘La Lavandería Suave’ a few blocks away from the main road. She had asked me to be at her place for 9.00 am and when I remembered it was already 9.20. So much for German punctuality…

And right, Carola already waited for me on her doorstep and asked if I could give her a lift into the town centre on my bike, as she was late now due to my delay.

No problem at all, just that the road was slightly curved and muddy and of course, the inevitable happened: Carola didn’t swing her leg over the seat, as I was expecting, but used the footpeg to mount the bike, putting all her weight onto the left-hand side of the DRZ where I had only a still weakened limp to hold the load. Well, after a fruitless attempt to save the situation, my foot gave way, all three of us went over and Carola, not wearing any protective gear, was buried under the bike – oh my God! 

Fortunately, she was unharmed and just laughing about our stunt – but I wished the ground would open up and swallow me… And my foot hurt like hell again! Anyway, after dusting us off, I pushed the DRZ to the bank, asked Carola’s boys to hold the bike upright while she was getting on and off we went into San Ignacio. You bet that I used all the kerbs and stones I could get hold of every time we stopped on Carola’s round. She was obviously proud to be seen on such a ‘big’ moto and still laughed when we reached her final customer. She even gave me a pair of nice earrings as a token of our new – yet already tested – friendship.

Still utterly embarrassed I returned to the campsite, packed my stuff, said goodbye to Claudia and the chicos and hit the road.

I have to confess now that – as it was already late, very hot and still 260 kilometres to the Iguazú Falls – I gave the famous Jesuit ruins a miss. Even though it meant that I didn’t see Matías again who was already at his stall offering artesania to the visitors of the World Heritage Site. If you want to have a look at some images , please click here – otherwise you will have to go there yourself or wait until I return to Argentina one day…

Heading north on the Ruta 12 I saw a lot of trucks carrying the main ingredient of the Argentine national drink – Yerba Maté

Stopping at a filling station near El Dorado, I met the third motorcycle traveller on my trip: Hans from Chile on his 650 V-Strom. He was roaming for four months as well and invited me to visit him in Viña del Mar when I would be passing by in a few weeks’ time. We exchanged tips about accommodation, services and sight-seeing and then headed off into opposite directions. I didn’t meet Hans again, as he was still on the road when I finally came to Chile.

Mid afternoon I arrived at Puerto Iguazú and did the usual city-tour for orientation purposes and to find somewhere to stay. The South America Handbook had recommended the campsite ‘El Viejo Americano‘ (the old American) on the road to the waterfalls but I found that the camping fee was no longer US$ 3.00 as stated in the travel guide but a whopping US$ 15.00!

However, the facilities were great and in immaculate condition: clean and spacious bathrooms, hot water all day, swimming pool, supermarket, restaurant, internet, tourist information and a safe at the reception, the bus stop right at the front door, and the people working there were all very friendly and helpful.

In good spirits and full of excitement that I was going to see one of the most amazing natural wonders in the world the next day, I started to pitch my tent. Oh no, how could that have happened?

In the morning all had been fine still! No problem, I thought, for situations like this I brought the right tools:

But for some strange reason, things didn’t work out as they were supposed to – maybe because I had never used ‘Chemical Metal’ before or completely misunderstood the term ‘plastic padding’ or just didn’t get the proportions of the two components right or maybe the temperatures were just too tropical for the chemicals to bond properly. The result looked like this:  

In the end I had to take drastic measures and smash the piece that was broken off the line, thereby shortening the pole considerably, and bandage the rest with duct tape…

Apologies to John for such an abuse of his generous present. Still, the tent was holding up well – if a little asymmetrical – for the rest of the journey.

That evening I broke the rules of my vegetarian regiment of 30 years for the first time of the trip: starved after having missed dinner the previous evenings, I went to the campsite’s restaurant and ordered the Menú turístico with all the trimmings. I think the only dish that didn’t have meat in it was the dessert… No photographic evidence though, as I still felt a bit guilty at that point and didn’t want to tell Possu…

Despite my cardinal sin the sun set beautifully over the land…

… and full of anticipation I slipped into my sleeping bag – tomorrow I would spend the whole day at the Iguazú Falls… 

Posted 9 February 2011 by Pumpy in Argentina

On a mission   4 comments

In the 16th century, priests of different religious orders set out to evangelize the Americas, bringing Christianity to indigenous communities. The colonial governments and missionaries agreed on the strategy of gathering the often nomadic indigenous populations in larger communities called reductions in order to more effectively govern, tax, and Christianize them. Reductions generally were also construed as an instrument to make the Indians adopt European lifestyles and values, which was not the case in the Jesuit reductions, where the Jesuits allowed the Indians to retain many of their pre-colonial cultural practices.

San Ignacio Miní (minor in Guaraní to distinguish it from its bigger homonym San Ignacio Guazú – great) was one of the many missions founded in 1632 by the Jesuits near present-day San Ignacio valley, some 60 kilometres south of Posadas, Misiones, Argentina.

In the 18th century the mission had a population of around 3000 people, and a rich cultural and handicraft activity, which was commercialized through the nearby Río Paraná. Nevertheless, after the Suppression of the Society of Jesus of 1767, the Jesuits left the mission a year later. The ruins are one of the best preserved among the several built in a territory today belonging to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and one of the most visited due to its accessibility.

*****

San Ignacio Miní was my destination that day, some 250 miles / 400 kilometres away, but first I had to find my way out of Paso de los Libres. The bigger towns in South America have a sophisticated one-way system, i.e. in one street you can go west and in the next, one block further, you can ride east. The same applies to north and south, with some roads being two-ways thrown in for good measure. This concept helps to avoid congestion, makes it easier for vehicles to stop and for people to cross but doesn’t necessarily support the navigation for the foreigner. After several unvoluntary sight-seeing tours round the centre of Paso de los Libres, I finally pulled over and asked an official looking Señor in uniform for directions.

He sent me a completely different but more straight forward way which led me to the Río Uruguay again, from where I could see the cityof Uruguaiana in Brazil on the other side of the river.

Uruguaiana in Brazil

The Argentinean-Brazilian border post ahead...

… but Brazil would have to wait until the Iguazú Falls – today I wanted to go to Misiones. On the Ruta 14 I passed the town of Santo Tomé…

Entrance to Santo Tomé

… and then the start of the notorious Ruta 40, which runs along the Andes through the whole of Argentina from the La Quiaca on the Bolivian border in the north down to the Atlantic near Rio Gallegos in Patagonia.

Ruta 40, Corrientes

Of course, here in Corrientes we were too far east and the Ruta 40 was only a provincial road. The real thing will have to wait until I cross the Andes from Chile into Argentina again…

By the roadside you can see many richly decorated shrines, most of them dedicated to Gauchito Gil, a legendary character of Argentina’s popular culture.

Shrine of Gauchito Gil by the roadside

Inside the shrine

As John had warned me in advance, the landscape within a radius of 500 miles / 800 km around Buenos Aires is mainly flat Pampa but once I had passed that mark, the countryside became hilly and more colourful.

 

On the Ruta 14

At some point I turned off the main road to have a closer look at the Tierra colorada.

Tierra colorada

Near San José I finally entered the province of Misiones and left the Ruta 14, joining the Ruta 105 north towards Posadas.

Only 325 kilometres left to the Iguazú Falls

San Ignacio Miní lies 60 kilometres north-east of Posadas on the Ruta 12. I soon found the campsite ‘La Familia’ and pitched my fabulous tent (a present from John as well as my MSR fuel stove).

 

Camping 'La Familia' in San Ignacio Miní

My activities were closely watched by two little kids, Matí and Dante, who were asking lots of questions about my moto, the tent and why I was doing what in that particular way.

Matí and Dante

The two are the sons of Claudia, a Historian, and her husband Matías, an artist who makes  jewellery and objects out of natural products such as seeds, potter’s clay and semi-precious stones and sells them to the tourists visiting the Jesuit ruins. The family lives half of the year in the province of Buenos Aires and the other half in a cabaña – a cabin on the campsite in San Ignacio Miní.

Some of Matías's work

They invited me to drink some Mate with them and I learnt a lot about the Guaraní culture, environmentalism in Argentina and the living conditions of the rather underprivileged people in the country.

At some point I had to leave for the centre of San Ignacio to get some dinner and visit the Internet Café. Unfortunately I found the latter before the restaurant and when I had finished all the usual updates (Route-log, SPOT message, photos, emails to the loved ones, etc) I realised that the village had closed down in the meantime and it was hungry to bed again – doh!  At least I got a photo of the Jesuit ruins on my way back to the campsite.

Jesuit ruins by night

Tomorrow – at the Iguazú Falls – I would eat a whole piglet on toast, I promised my growling stomach…

Disclaimer: All the historical and geographical stuff in this post is shamelessly nicked from Wikipedia.

Posted 18 September 2010 by Pumpy in Argentina

From Uruguay to Argentina   3 comments

The following morning the nice landlady at the Hostal Canela served breakfast in my room – did I mention my fabulous room? 😉 – with fresh media lunas (croissants), café con leche and zumo de naranja natural (freshly pressed orange juice) – hmm!

Breakfast in bed...

I thanked her very much, promised I would recommend the place to everyone I know (done!) and everyone I would meet on the road, and set off towards Argentina. But no, I couldn’t leave this lovely country without a Uruguay sticker for my moto! So I stopped at the next filling station in Salto. The guys were really friendly, offered me a sticker of their fuel company but unfortunately they couldn’t help me further. But the shopping mall three blocks further down the road would certainly sell the object of desire.

When I pulled into the car park, I was immediately approached by a security guard – of course, I had done a U-turn and was going into the wrong direction of a one-way system… No, the reason he approached me was to point out that it would be much safer for me to park in the underground garage. Muchas gracias, officer, and off I went into the underworld. Again, the security guard there came over straight away, reassured me that he and his colleagues would have a close eye on my DRZ and then he accompanied me through the whole shopping centre on the hunt for a Uruguay sticker. Unfortunately no tienda was stocking such a thing. I tried the motorcycle shop across the street, another filling station, the supermercado but nothing. My security friend was really sorry and sent me into the city centre. We parted shaking hands:  suerte y buen viaje – good luck and a safe trip.

Great, I wasn’t even aware that I had missed the actual centre of Salto the evening before. So a brief sight-seeing tour was on the menu.

Salto Centro

I stopped at the Oficina del Turismo, the most obvious place you’d think, but they didn’t have any stickers – a kiosco would probably be a better bet. So I looked for a space for my bike – over here, Señora, and three young man busied themselves lifting and moving lots of motorcycles that were already stacked in a tight row by the side of the road. But, oh wonder, soon there was space for my fully loaded DRZ. One of them, Nelson, offered to accompany me on my quest and together we roamed the shops of Salto. Well, I should have come during the World Cup, then I would have been spoilt for choice but now? Lo siento, no hay – sorry, we don’t have it.

Then, I had almost given up hope, we found a little and pretty unlikely shop that sold stickers of Uruguay – hooray! Nelson was obviously proud of his success and back at the bike I gave him one of my London pens as a thank you. You know, the ones where a tourist walks over the Tower Bridge when you move it. Nelson was really pleased and again, we shook hands like old friends.

Nelson and his friends in Salto

Then it was off to the Salto Grande Reservoir and the dam that connects Uruguay and Argentina.

Reservoir Salto Grande Dam between Uruguay and Argentina

The officials at the border didn’t seem to know what they were supposed to do with me and the temporary import of a motorcycle but after half an hour I was on my way again – not without asking this driver if I could take a picture of his peculiar truck.

At the border to Argentina

Back on the Ruta 14 the ride was pretty uneventful. The countryside was still flat, the corrupt police at kilometre 341 (who even have a dedicated thread in the South America Forum on Horizons Unlimited) had taken a day off and waved me through and so I turned to the Ruta 129 towards Monte Caseros searching for more excitement. The road was straight as well but now I could feel a strong side wind, which made the riding a bit more ‘interesting’. Shortly before I reached the town I noticed a pista branching off to the north (my ultimate direction).

In Monte Caseros the tarmac disappeared and I ended up in front of some military barracks – probably not the best point to stop and look at the map. As I couldn’t park the loaded bike safely without risking to fall over, I didn’t consult the map then, otherwise I would have known that I should have searched for the Ruta 47 towards Paso de los Libres… But so I turned to the gravel road that I had spotted earlier, the Ruta 25.

Ruta 25 between Monte Caseros and Ruta 14

There I had my excitement – ruts, gravel, sand and corrugations… But the countryside was nice and everyone greeted each other when meeting on the road, which I liked very much.

Nice views by the side of the road though...

After 25 kilometres I joined the Ruta 14 again and decided to stay in Paso de los Libres that night. As it would become a habit, I did a little sight-seeing tour of the town for orientation purposes and for finding a hotel. I asked a nice lady with her tiny daughter on a quad at the traffic lights and she pointed me to the Hotel Alejandro. Mmm, this looks pretty expensive – and so it was: 180 Argentinean Pesos, which is roughly 30 GBP. Are there any cheaper hotels around? Yes, Hotel Imperial it is then; only 80 Pesos (13.30 GBP) and aparcamiento seguro – safe parking as well. I have to admit that I rode to the locked car park without helmet and on the wrong side of the road (well, the place was on the left!) and of course, at that particular moment in time a police car came the other way. Fortunately, they didn’t even bother to give me a reproachful look…

After turning into a civilised human being, i.e. showered and changed, I went looking for an internet café in order to upload photos, write an email to my one and only Possu and catch up with my blog, where I was still in Buenos Aires. Just before midnight I left the place, realised that I had forgotten to eat dinner, that the streets were deserted and that I had lost my sense of direction. Funnily enough I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all in this friendly town. On a corner I saw two men standing who I asked for my hotel. They were very helpful and pointed me into the right direction. Tired and hungry I arrived at the Hotel Imperial, hoping that next morning’s breakfast would be plentiful…

Posted 10 September 2010 by Pumpy in Argentina, Uruguay