South America

09 Jun 2012

The Best of Argentina and Brazil in 8 days!

polo_argentina.jpgSaturday 9th June 2012 - Departed Sydney at 11.00am on Qantas flight 27 bound for Santiago and was lucky enough to be upgraded to premium economy class. The service was good; food was nice and good amount of legroom. Didn't get a lot of sleep, I think I was over excited so watched close to five movies. Landed in Santiago at 10.05am and connected onto Lan Chile flight 4643 heading to Buenos Aires and landed at almost 2pm.

Prior to departing I had arranged my transfer with Intrepid but to my horror, no one was there to meet me. I jumped in a cab, the airport is approximately one hour from the city, and it cost me around 60 Argentinian Pesos. I arrived at my hotel in downtown Buenos Aires close to 5pm.

My hotel for the next two nights was Hotel San Antonio, great location. It was small, quaint, a family run property. Clean and comfortable 3 star property. I was super excited I was now here but I was exhausted!!!

Sunday 10th June 2012 - Today I was starting my Intrepid tour 8 days Best of Argentina & Brazil. Our group was meeting at 12noon, so after breakfast I went out to do some exploring of my own.

Mix together a beautiful European-like city with attractive residents (call them porte?os), gourmet cuisine, awesome shopping, a frenzied nightlife and top-drawer activities, and you get Buenos Aires, a cosmopolitan metropolis with both slick neighbourhoods and equally downtrodden areas - but that's part of the appeal. It's an elegant, seductive place with a ragged edge, laced with old-world languor and yet full of contemporary attitude. Buenos Aires is somehow strangely familiar, but unlike any other city in the world.

Meeting my group for the first time was great, 12 of us in total and a mix of Aussies, Brits and Americans of varying ages, which made for a great dynamic and we all got on so well from day one!

After our tour guide Fede gave us a very in depth brief on what to expect over the next 8 days we were off on an afternoon orientation walk of some of Buenos Aires' major sights such as Casa Rosada (pink house), home to the Argentinian presidential offices. Plaza de Mayo, founded in 1580 as the city's first central plaza. Plaza de Mayo is the symbolic and physical center of Argentina's rocky history. Even to this day the "Madres" still march as protest the disappearance of their sons. These are just to name a few of the major attractions we encountered. That night we headed out for an included dinner.

Monday 11th June - Today was free to continue exploring the city or take up one of the optional activities. I chose to head out to a polo game (US$175).

Is it possible to learn how to play polo in Argentina in only one day? Yes, it is. And it turned into a memorable experience for me. Fourty-five minutes away from Buenos Aires, we start the day with an explanation about the sport and the polo horses. While tasting empanadas and wine, a horse trainer explained how the polo horses are chosen for the sport, their bloodlines, and how they are trained. We got the chance to also watch practice drills and learn what it takes to train a great polo horse. Afterwards, professional players play a real polo match. With more than 30 horses used and a fast-paced game.

Around lunchtime, an unforgettable BBQ was served. With selected argentine sausages, asado and beef accompanied by argentine wine, visitors will have the chance to taste exquisite local food. After lunch we get to ride the horses and attempt to play polo, it is a lot harder than it seems. The professionals go at break neck speed of 70km/hr, I couldn't even muster 5km/hr.

Tonight I opt to purchase another optional activity, Tango show (US$120). This 3 1/2 hour evening tour allows us to mingle with the locals at the best "milongas" in town! At these Buenos Aires dance halls, we experience a traditional Tango show; enjoy complimentary drinks, a delicious dinner and fun Tango lessons!

Tuesday 12th June - Today we fly with Lan Chile to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina, our gateway to the mighty Iguassu Falls. We get the opportunity this afternoon to visit the Brazilian side on our first day here. I am speechless, OMG wow what a great natural wonder I am privileged to see. I start out this unforgettable adventure at Iguassu with a helicopter ride (optional activity US$110) over these mighty falls.


The first thing that one notices from the helicopter is a huge expanse of white foaming water surrounded by rainforest. Flying over the Falls, one can understand why Eleanor Roosevelt remarked, "Poor Niagara" when she first saw the Iguassu Falls! Higher than the Niagara with falls of up to 82 metres and twice as wide with 240 cascades, the Iguassu Falls have continued to captivate. With breathtaking views of the Iguassu Falls, the Iguassu National Park and the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, this helicopter tour is truly a unique experience I will remember for life.

Once my jaw returns back to normal position, we get to walk close-up to the falls, meandering through the park's subtropical forest. Chance now for a close up view of Devil?s Throat, which is best seen from the Brazilian side. Watch as 14 falls drop 350 feet (107 meters) with such force that a 100-foot (30-meter) tall cloud of mist stays permanently suspended overhead. This area is famous for its rainbow which I get to witness many times over, and more great photo opportunities abound!

Wednesday 13th June - The following day we visit the Argentinean side of the falls. We spend the whole day walking along the many walking tracks around the park. Legend has it that a serpent God intended to marry a beautiful girl called Naipi. She escaped in a canoe with her mortal lover Caroba and in a jealous rage the god chased them, collapsing the river before them so that Naipi plunged over the falls to become a rock, while Caroba became a tree, forever unable to touch his love. A more scientific explanation is that the Rio Iguazu flows over a riverbed of basalt that ends where the lava cooled, leaving the water to fall. The falls were 'discovered' in the modern day by the Spaniard Juan Alvar Nunez, who named them Saltos de Santa Maria. The name we know them by today means 'Great Waters' in the Tupi-Guarani tongue.

At over 2 km (6 miles) long the falls are a series of cataracts. There are 275 falls in all, and with some reaching up to 80 m in height, they are wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara. The Argentinean side is equipped with boardwalks that get so close to the thundering waters we are almost able to touch them.

We had a real treat this night for dinner, to top off a magical day, Fede our tour leader cooked us a traditional Argentinean asado plus I had the opportunity to learn how to make Pisco Sours. Ended our night at a Karaoke bar, must have been the Pisco's that gave me the courage to get up and belt some songs out. What a great night ended in Iguassu!!!

Thursday 14th June - Today is a long travel day by plane and bus to Paraty. A mid-morning flight with GOL (approx. 90 minutes) takes us to Sao Paulo, where we take a minivan for about 6 hours to Paraty.

Sitting between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Paraty is a great place to 'get away from it all'. This is one of the world's best preserved Portuguese colonial towns and is now World Heritage listed. The town was originally settled in 1531 on the opposite side of the river, but in the 17th century the Indians who lived on the current site were driven away and the town moved. The patron saint of the town is Our Lady of the Medicines. Three hundred years ago a wealthy benefactor donated land for a church in her honour, in return she asked only for an annual mass. Now, every year a wooden effigy of the virgin adorned with silver is carried in a procession through the town during the Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Remedios. Paraty later became a booming port town, famous for its sugar cane liquor, but after the abolition of slavery it was slowly forgotten. With the opening of new roads, the town was 'rediscovered' and declared a national monument.

Friday 15th June - The following day we wake up early in the morning as we have a couple of hours free to explore the cobblestone pedestrian-only streets; at high tide, some are partly covered in sea water, adding to the rustic, colonial charm. We then take a boat trip (simple lunch included) around some of the most beautiful islands that the Bay of Paraty has to offer. Time for swimming, snorkeling or exploring the beaches is on the agenda today.

Saturday 16th June - After breakfast we travel by minivan to Rio, this is another long day which takes around 5hours. It was well worth it as we got the opportunity to head to the top of Sugar Loaf by cable car, optional activity (BRL44 = AU$22), for some incredible views. Another view not to be missed is from the feet of Christ the Redeemer, standing atop Corcovado with arms open wide. An emotional and moving piece of art.

Considered the largest Art Deco statue in the world, and the 5th largest statue of Jesus in the world. It is 39.6 metres (130 ft) tall.

On this day we also get to visit the Steps of Selaron or Escadaria Selar?n, they are a set of world-famous steps in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selar?n who claims it as "my tribute to the Brazilian people". Running from Rua Joaquim Silva and Rua Pinto Martins, officially known as Rua Manuel Carneiro, the steps straddle both the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro. There are 250 steps measuring 125 metres long which are covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world

Our last night as a group and Fede takes us to an "all you can eat" restaurant, where the food is abundant and lots of local dishes to try. After this it's time to sadly say goodbye to some of the group as they are heading off early in the morning. The night is however not over for some of us as we head off to the suburbs to watch Carnaval rehearsals, an optional extra cost is BRL80 = AU$40. What a night of bumping & grinding, shaking your bits to music that would move anybody to dance.

Sunday 17th June - Our Intrepid adventure comes to an end in the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvellous City). The locals like to say that 'God made the world in six days, the seventh he devoted to Rio'. I can see why.

In this heaving metropolis, set against the luminescent green of Guanabara Bay and surround by the slopes of Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado, it's hard not to be caught up in the Carioca's (residents) passion.

The French were the first to settle here as they logged wood along the Brazilian coast, but they were soon driven out by the Portuguese who built a fortified town, naming it Sao Sebastiao do Rio de janeiro and quickly amassed wealth in the gold rush of Minas Gerais. In the 19th century, the Portuguese monarchy fled from the threat of Napoleon in Europe to Rio where they built grand buildings, still in existence today.

These days Rio is known best for its contrasting images of favelas (shanty towns) and the glitz and glamour of Carnaval.

This morning I get the opportunity to travel to the northern zone in the steep hillsides to where most of the favelas reside, optional activity (BRL75 = AU$38) while the southern zone is for the middle classes and the rich.


Luckily for me my time in Rio is not yet over, I extended for another 2 nights and am now about to check into paradise, Copacabana Palace. I think I have died and gone to heaven. I was made to feel like royalty or a celebrity. What a way to end a magical trip that will stay in my heart forever.

That night I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to once again have dinner with Tim & Lisa, a brother and sister from US, before they departed the next day and to show off my ocean view suite.

Monday 18th June - Today was my day to spend on Copacabana Beach to soak up some rays and reminisce on the past 8 days about a wonderful group of friends I have made, some special memories and the best tour guide in the world.

Later that afternoon it's time for some seriously eye-popping people watching, time to head down to the white sand beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.


Tuesday 19th June - Sadly this is my last day in Rio; my transfer will pick me up at 2pm. Need to make the most of the day. Spend some more time on Copacabana Beach brushing up on my tan before I return to cold Sydney. I then decide to explore some more, so hire a bike and ride around to Impanema and Leblon. It is the Rio +20 summit so security is everywhere. I feel really safe and who doesn't like a man in uniform.

Farewell Rio De Janeiro and see you soon South America, my flight home was long. From Rio to Santiago on Lan Chile (5hrs), and then Lan Chile Santiago to Auckland (13hrs 30mins), and Lan Chile Auckland to Sydney (3hrs 10mins). Lan Chile were okay to travel with internationally, however I found the seats quite thin in the padding compartment compared to other airline seats. Service was average, quite rude cabin staff Santiago to Auckland leg much better on Auckland to Sydney leg. Food was okay, nothing special.

Transfer in Auckland was easy, we were able to leave personal belongings on aircraft and we were just asked to proceed through security screening before going back to gate for the onward flight.

Thursday 21st June - Arrived home today, exhausted but so glad I did this trip and am now planning to go back again next year with Intrepid.