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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Uberlandia, Brazil

Uberlandia, Brazil, is not much of a tourist destination. I found that out when I was looking for some information on where I would be going after Argentina.

I pulled out the Lonely Planet guidebook and scanned the index for Uberlandia, but there absolutely nothing written about the city. I don't understand how a city of 600,000 people could be overlooked.

So why am I here as opposed to Rio de Janeiro? I am here to visit my Brazilian family.

Lesley, my oldest sister, came to this city as an exchange student in the early 1970s. In addition to her three biological siblings, she suddenly had six more sisters. Later, three of them came to visit in Kansas City in 1976.

Fast forward thirty years later, and now I am in Uberlandia to visit. The Brazilian sisters haven't seen me since I was 6 years old. Actually, Leninha visited my mother for Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. She is pictured at right in the photo. At left is Alicinha.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Scenes from the North West of Argentina

The day the music died

As the sun makes its steady descent behind the mountain peak on which the tiny Andean village of Iruya clings, preparations for that evening’s festival have not begun.

“I don’t know if there’s going to be a festival tonight,” says Gloria Federico, owner of Hostal del Café.” The orchestra hasn’t arrived yet.”

The townsfolk don’t seem too worried. Instead, they are more interested in watching the soccer game on the opposite bank of the dry riverbed. One woman sports a bright red cap and jacket over her traditional skirt. She must be rooting for the team in the red uniform.

Who is winning?” I ask her.

“It’s difficult to say,” she says. “It’s too far away.”

During the rainy season, the other side of the river is truly far off. In January and February, torrential rain sends water of the Iruya River rushing through the wide gorge below the town. Furthermore, frequent mudslides cut off the only connection Iruya has with the outside world—a 50-kilometer-long dirt road which curves like a serpent up and over a steep 4,000-meter pass called Abra del Cóndor.

Before it gets too dark, we start to make our return journey to Tilcara where we will spend the night. There will be no festival for us and perhaps not for the villagers either. At each hairpin turn, we look for a sign of approaching headlights in the distance, but we see nothing but the silhouetted peaks around us.

By now the sun has completely disappeared, yet the sky is still a vivid blue and it shines its shimmery reflection in the tiny streams winding through the dark valley.

Just on the other side of the mountain pass, our headlights catch the light of the reflectors of a vehicle parked on the side of the road—its hood open. Three shadowy figures are bent over the engine.

Our driver, Marcelo Cespedes, offers a ride to one of the men. The least we can do is take him to a telephone booth so he can call a mechanic.

“But how far are we from Iruya?” says the man. “We are suppose to play at a festival tonight.”

Cespedes assures him that we’re closer to Humahuaca than to Iruya, so he hops in our car.

Everyone is quiet. Occasionally, the man checks for a signal on his mobile phone without luck.

Over an hour later, we drop him off at kiosk. Perhaps he’ll find someone to take him back toward Iruya tonight, but it’s already late. I have no idea how the real story concludes.

But as we pull away, I imagine a different ending. I envision piling the entire band and their instruments into our car and heading back to Iruya. We arrive just in time for the party to start amid shrieks of joy from the crowd gathered to welcome us. Then we dance the night away under the stars to traditional Andean music by the group called Banda Joven.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

San Antonio de Areco

San Antonio de Areco is a small town on La Pampa, the plains of Argentina. Along the narrow sidewalks, regional workshops sell silverware, rope and leather crafted using traditional methods originally used by the gauchos. Gauchos are cowboys who roam the plains herding cattle.

Gauchos were romanticized in Argentine literature as symbols of freedom. San Antonio de Areco became famous after resident Ricardo Guiraldes wrote "Don Segundo Sombra," a book set in the area that featured a real-life gaucho named Don Segundo Ramirez.

In reality, gauchos became more and more marginalized as Italian immigrants settled land in the area during the 18th century. The best opportunity to see how gauchos once lived is to visit the town during its November festival which features parades of show horses, creole skills, music and folkloric dances.

Here are a few images from San Antonio de Areco:

Grilling meat over an open flame is considered the gaucho way of doing things. The asado has turned into a national passtime.

The front door of one of the colonial building on the main square of San Antonio de Areco.

The Club River Plate is home to the local soccer team. It also offers camping. Over Easter weekend, I camped here.

The old bridge, El Puente Viejo, leads to the Ricardo Guiraldes museum. The Guiraldes family estancia is separate from the museum and cannot be visited because of a family dispute over the division of the property.

La Boca

La Boca is a colorful neighborhood. Partly because of the brighly painted buildings, but also because it's not a very safe area to wander around by yourself. Most visitors remain within a four block radius of El Caminito, the most famous street in the neighborhood. A carnival-like atmosphere permeates La Boca during the weekend fair. Here are a few pictures from Easter Sunday:

As you can see, I do my best to get to know the locals.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


In the 16th century, Tigre was small port at the mouth of the Parana River delta. Later, it became a summer getaway place for elite Portenos. As Buenos Aires grew, eventually Tigre was swallowed by urban sprawl. As a result, it lies just 20 miles from the center of Buenos Aires and can be reached easily by train or bus. Here are a few more images from Tigre:

Boats and water taxis are the only way to travel through the delta. Rates vary depending on the destination. For leisurely excursions, various companies offer cruises or rowing trips on the Rio Parana.

Captain Andres spent a year living on his boat after he lost his home and savings in the 2001 economic crash in Argentina. He said it was the best thing that could have happened. "There is no bad from which good doesn't come," he said. "I never felt more free." Now he brings goods down the river delta to Tigre to sell to the many tourists who flock to the town on the weekends.

The docks of Tigre were important trading centers for fruits, vegetables and goods. Now the fruit market is a popular tourist destination lined with restaurants, shops and fruit stands.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Why Buenos Aires truly never sleeps

Yerba Mate is a kind of tea served traditionally in a hollowed out gourd called a mate (see photo) and sipped through a straw-like device called a bombilla. Introduced to the world by the Guarani Indians of South America, it is now common to see people in Buenos Aires carry their mate and a thermos of water with them throughout the day.

Like coffee but without the caffeine, yerba mate contains stimulants that keep its drinkers energetic and fights fatigue. While the drink does have health benefits, it has contributed to the fact that Buenos Aires is one of the most sleep-deprived cities in the world.

Considering dinner in Buenos Aires starts at 10pm in most homes and restaurants and nightlife doesn’t get going until 1am, yerba mate is an essential staple of the Porteño diet.

Watch how to make mate at

Instructions for making mate:
1) Pour some yerba mate into the mate cup.

2) Pour warm water onto some of the yerba mate. Do not pour boiling water over the yerba mate because it destroys the nutrients.

3) Allow the yerba mate to steep.

4) Insert straw (bombilla) into yerba mate.

5) Pour some more warm water into the cup and drink.

Even though I haven't had yerba mate myself, I'm suffering from sleep deprivation as a result of other people in the house drinking it and staying up to all hours of the night. In addition, we really don't eat dinner until 10pm which is my usual bed time at home. I guess I'll have to start drinking yerba mate to keep up!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Staying close to home

By air or land, traveling in Argentina this week has had its problems.

Porteños were stranded on Tuesday when subway workers failed to report to work. Forced to find alternative means of transportation, long lines formed at bus stops and 250,000 more cars crowded the city streets.

Meanwhile underground, a battle for workers’ rights raged on until this morning. Yeserday, hundreds of workers congregated in the Plaza Miserere station and erected barricades on the tracks. One worker was injured and another arrested when police blocked others from joining the protest.

According to this morning’s La Nacion, workers have agreed to go back to work today despite not having “received a favorable response” to their claims.

In related news, Aerolineas Argentinas have agreed not to strike over the Easter holiday weekend. Two union groups for technicians and pilots are the midst of a labor conflict for higher wages. It may be good news for the thousands of people traveling this weekend, but union leaders say negotiations are not progressing favorably.


The subway strike has had little effect on my day-to-day activities this week. I live and work in the same place right now. I do plan to fly on April 20 to Salta, Argentina. Hopefully, I'll be able to do that.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Connecting on a cellular level

Have you ever wanted to use your existing mobile phone abroad without racking up all the international charges? I have figured out how to do it—at least in Argentina.

I have a contract with T-Mobile and I received my phone as part of the package. The thing is, most big cell phone companies provide their customers with a locked phone to prevent them from using another service. However, T-Mobile will let you unlock your phone if you’re planning to travel abroad. The unlock code will only work with a foreign SIM card installed.

International SIM cards can be purchased over the internet, but they are expensive. I’ve seen them for around $80. If you wait until you arrive at your destination, it will be a lot cheaper.

Just a couple doors down from the South American Explorers clubhouse in Buenos Aires, I found a mobile phone store. I bought a SIM card for less than $7. I put it in the phone, entered the unlock code that T-Mobile gave me and then waited for 24 hours while my new phone number registered to the local cell phone network called Personal. My number is temporarily 011 (54911) 6461-0640 until my return to the United States when I will reinstate my original SIM card.

The last step in the process was to buy a phone card and charge up the phone with prepaid minutes. Cards can be purchased for 10, 20 or 50 pesos.

The good news is that I can receive calls and text messages for FREE. However, it can be expensive for the caller in the States. If you want to send me a text message, it will cost you about 35 cents, depending on your service.

There is a way around that. On the Personal website, you can send and receive text messages at no cost. Visit to try it out. All instructions are in Spanish, but it’s relatively easy to figure out.

In the boxes with numbers preceding them, type 11 in the first box and 6461-0640 in the second box. Just below that box, type your name. Below that, type your message to me.
When you’re ready to send it to me, click on “ENVIAR.”

Leave the window open, and my response will appear on the left-hand side.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Competing for customers in Colonia

Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay, is a quiet, laid back kind of town with cobblestone streets lined with sidewalk cafes. Located just across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires, visiting Colonia makes for a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city—whether its for the weekend or just for the day.

Founded by the Portuguese in 1680, Colonia is the oldest settlement in Uruguay. For the first 70 years of its existence, the settlement was in a constant tug of war with the Spanish who had settled across the river in what is now Buenos Aires.

These days, the only battle you’ll find is between two neighboring restaurants near the Mother Church. In the race to be known as the most-eccentric eatery in town, The Drugstore and El Viejo Barrio are neck and neck. They only differ in the execution of the goal.

The Drugstore—featured in Condé Nast Traveler magazine in 2003—is a brightly decorated restaurant with polka dot table cloths. But the most interesting features of the restaurant are parked outside. Several vintage cars line the curb and have tables inside for extra seating (see photo).

While The Drugstore attracts customers with its loud décor, El Viejo Barrio has a loud server. When people pass by, he screams, “¡Vamos!” But, this guy has a few extra tricks up his sleeve. When into the restaurant to pick up customer orders, he returns sporting either Santa’s red cap, a jester’s hat, or a large foam blonde wig. He truly wears many hats.

While Chris and I were sitting at The Drugstore, a couple sat down next to us. But when they saw the crazy antics of the server at El Viejo Barrio, they defected to his restaurant. While I can’t vouch for the food, word of mouth literally draws people there.


Ferries depart for Colonia de Sacramento from the Buquebus Terminal in Puerto Madero. The journey across the Rio de la Plata takes one or three hours depending on the type of boat. Slow ferries cost 55 pesos for a one-way trip and fast ferries cost 94 pesos each way. Ferry schedules and rates are available at

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A bustling necropolis

La Recoleta Cemetery is a city of the dead, yet it is teeming with life. Feral four-legged felines wander the labyrinthine passages and sleep in, on or between the mausoleums—the final resting places of presidents, dictators, artists and rich merchants.

Perhaps the most-visited resident is Eva Peron. On any given day, the narrow pathway leading to the Duarte family plot is crowded with camera-carrying tourists. The mausoleum itself is relatively unassuming compared to some of the more extravagant tombs that can cost up to $5 million to construct.

Despite being dead, the people placed inside the tombs reveal their tastes and eccentricities. One mausoleum is a smaller version of the Notre Dame in Paris. One man is buried in a cement yacht. Another rich dead guy had his tomb modeled after the Lincoln Memorial, complete with a seated statue of himself.

During an unfortunate period in history, roving bands of skinheads damaged many of the statues and tombs. Through broken panes of glass, caskets are stacked on shelves just inches away. Photos and flowers sit on small altars underneath beautiful stained-glass windows.

While relatives of the deceased care for many of the mausoleums, others have fallen into disrepair. If the taxes aren’t paid, the mausoleums are reclaimed and sold to new families. There are a few currently for sale for a $250,000.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

By any other name it is still a tourist trap

While Iguazu Falls may be the main event for most visitors to the area, there are other things to do and see in the town of Puerto Iguazu and along Route 12 which leads to the national park. It’s just a question of whether they are worth a visit.

Aripuca, for example, displays more than 30 species and 500 tons of fallen trees from the rainforest. While the Footprint guide to Argentina bills it as “an inspired center for appreciation of the native trees of the forest,”it seems little more than an elaborate effort to get people to buy furniture made from the roots of those trees.

It’s not like I didn’t learn something of interest, though. The two-story tall wooden structure on the property is modeled after a humane animal trap used by the Guarani, the indigenous group in the area. The Guarani call the trap an “aripuca.” When an animal wanders underneath the structure to eat the berries or nuts placed there, the contraption closes over them.

The gigantic version only traps people like me or my husband who are willing to pay 5 pesos to enter (see photo).

Aripuca does produce top-quality furniture. Carved from the roots of giant trees, each piece is unique (see below). One chair will run about $400 including the cost of shipping it home.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


If you think running full speed into a massive waterfall is crazy, then don´t try the Nautical Adventure tour offered by Jungle Explorer.

As you can imagine, we did try it and it puts the Maid of the Mist to shame. Furthermore, those blue rain coats are for sissies!

I knew it was going to be an adventure, when I saw the name of the boat on which we were traveling--Lilian LAURA.

It started out like any other tourist trap activity with an opportunity to have your photo taken in front on the waterfall for only $5. Everyone on the boat opted out of the offer and then we were off.

First we toured up the Iguazu River to the Devil`s Throat, the largest waterfall in Iguazu National Park. We stayed quite a distance away so we wouldn´t be swallowed up by the monster. After several picture-taking opportunities, the captain told us to put everything we owned in the provided water-proof bags.

At first, I thought we were headed down the Devil's Throat. Instead, the boat accidently drifted toward a smaller waterfall on the port side. We were completely drenched, but it was harmless. No big deal.

But then the boat turned completely around and headed into the inlet where the San Martin waterfall is located (see photo). From my vantage point, that waterfall didn´t look much smaller than the Devil's Throat. Full speed ahead, we were engulfed by the cloud of white mist and the spray created from the water thundering down upon us.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. As if we weren´t already wet enough, the boat turned around and rocketed toward the waterfall again.

The whole ordeal lasted 20 minutes, but it was a blast (of cold water).

Aventura Nautica also can be done as part of the Gran Aventura which includes a 4x4 trek through the surrounding rainforest.
NOTE We are heading back to Buenos Aires today. We will be staying in Palermo Viejo at the Casa Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

On the trail of the puma

The early morning hours are the best time to visit Iguazu Falls. Not only because the tour buses haven't arrive, but also because the animals haven't gone into hiding--scared by the people or the drown of the helicopters hovering over the falls (see right).

Even so, many of the noturnal critters, among them jaguars and pumas, have settled in for the day. On this day, evidence of a puma is still apparent, starting with the strong scent of the animal and possibly its doomed prey.

Like a crime-scene investigator, Pilar Marcela Lopez points to a section of the dusty Macuco Trail. "You can see here where the puma had been laying on its side," she said. "By now, he's laying on a branch above us--sleeping."

Lopez, a tour guide in the park, is never off duty. Even on her day off, she's giving a private tour to her mother, Elena, who is visiting from the provinces around Buenos Aires--and now, I might add, to my husband and I who happened down the same path at the same time.

Every few minutes we stop to listen to the forest. We hear the rustling of the bushes as an animal flees. Birds are singing and we hear a woodpecker probing a tree for bugs. The most-common animal sighting is the inch-long Tiger Ant. What a great specimen for Pest Control magazine, I think to myself.

After an hour, we arrive at the Salto Arrechea, a secluded waterfall with a calm pool where we could swim and eat lunch. The water was frigid, but that didn't stop me from taking a shower under the water dropping from a precipice 200 feet above my head.

Lopez and her mother headed back and left us on our own. After a while, we ate and headed back on the trail, stopping to assess our surroundings as Lopez showed us. Unfortunately, the only sound we could hear were the buzzing of the mosquitoes--surrounding their unassuming prey.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Wet and Wild

We have arrived at Iguazu Falls last night. When Eleanor Roosevelt visited, she declared, "Poor Niagara."

Located along the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, the falls are more than a mile wide.

We are headed there today to hike. More later.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

In the Halls of Congress

While tango in Argentina is a year-round event, the months of February and March are like "tango on speed" thanks to the Buenos Aires Tango Festival.

During the festival, tango and milonga music can be heard for free in the city's parks, squares, open spaces and last night, at the Congreso Nacional (see photo at right).

In the Juan Peron Salon, we listened to the Juan de Dios Filiberto Orchestra—directed by the Maestro Atilio Stampone—perform some classic Argentinian tunes along with more modern milongas and tangos.

The program also featured Cecilia Aimé, who sang songs from her latest CD, “Ciudadaña.”

The salon was packed with Porteños (the name given to those who live in Buenos Aires). The room itself was flanked on either side by two 24-foot-wide oil paintings by artist Antonio Alice.

Following the performance, I asked an older woman standing next to me if Cecilia Aimé was famous. She said, “No, she’s from television.”

Then, she also added, “You know, tango music has its origins in the bordellos. This wasn’t classical music at all.”

It seems tango is still a mystery, even to those who have lived in Buenos Aires their entire lives. But, according to the announcer of the program, it “is the perfume that gives Buenos Aires its smell.”