Nature and Culture

Hola dear readers,

welcome back to my blog! Time flies by so fast. This post is already my last one about South America. However, this time I’m taking you to no less than 3 countries. Indeed I’ll tell about: my last days in Argentina, my day trip to Colonia, Uruguay and my short stay in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

As music background for this post, I chose not to pick something clichรฉ like usual Latino music or tango. Instead of that, as I am in a “metal” mood because one of my favorite band, Metallica is going to release a new album very soon, I’ll share with you a song from the Argentinian Nu metal band A.N.I.M.A.L.:

A.N.I.M.A.L Revolucion

From Ushuaia, I take the plane to Trelew, a city still located in Patagonia but on the East coast of Argentina. As my main point of interest in the area is Peninsula Valdes, I choose not to stay in Trelew but to take a shuttle directly after landing to the city of Puerto Madryn, a few kilometers North.
Peninsula Valdes is a famous wildlife protected area (especially marine wildlife) and is for that classified as UNESCO world heritage. To explore it, I join a day tour starting from Puerto Madryn. Luckily for me, although the tour involves a lot of driving, the pick up in the morning is not too early: 08:00am ๐Ÿ™‚ On the way to the peninsula, we make a first stop at a beach called Playa el Doradillo, from where we are supposed to see whales. As we get off from the bus, I am a bit skeptical, as I don’t believe that such big animals would come so close to the land. However, once on the beach, wow, what a nice surprise! I am amazed to see so many whales, especially a lot of females with their babies, playing in the water just a few meters in front of us.

After that, we drive to our next stop on the peninsula, a place called Punta Delgada. There, a couple of small trails take us to lookouts from where we can observe sea elephants. It is funny to see all those big animals sleeping most of the time, the alpha male waking up from times to times to stop some wives in his harem from fighting each other or to protect those same wives from younger males trying to steel them.

The next stop is called Punta Cantor. There, we can observe a small penguins colony and some sea lions sleeping.

The last stop of the tour is called Punta Piramide. There we get on a boat to go meet the whales a bit further away in the sea but the experience is not so successful. Indeed the rule is that the boat is not allowed to get too close to the animals. It can only stop a few meters away from them and they decide if they want to come closer or not. Usually babies are curious but it seems that this time the mothers are keeping them away from the boat.

However on the way back, we witness an interesting scene. A male whale tries to mate with a female. She is not interested at all and resists by putting her genitals on the surface out of the reach of the male. Something unusual for humans then happens. Two other males are trying to help the first one by pushing the female back to the right mating position. The female keeps resisting and comes closer to our boat to limit the males in their swimming maneuvers. As it becomes a bit risky for the boat, the captain decides to leave the scene and starts sailing back to land.

On the next day, I join another tour, this time going to Punta Tombo, South of Puerto Madryn. The group is smaller, we are only 4 in total, with the guide and an Argentinian couple from Buenos Aires. The couple is coming back regularly in the area to try to spot Orcas but unfortunately they never succeeded till now. On the way from Puerto Madryn to Punta Tombo, they also keep drinking Mate. It is a typical Argentinian herb infusion drunk in a special glass that Argentinian drink any time and anywhere. When I say anywhere, it’s really anywhere: not only at home, but also while driving, in the bus, in the park, etc… . I am almost sure that some people even bring their mate glass in the toilet. Ok sorry, I am going too far. Back to my trip. The first stop of the tour is on beach where we can go very close to a male sea elephant and his harem. We witness the same behaviors as on the previous day. The alpha male has mainly 4 activities: sleeping, waking up to separate two females fighting, waking up to protect his females from younger males and waking up to mate. We are lucky to see a tentative of the latter. At one point, the male wants to mate and go lying on a female. The guide explains us that the male tells a female that he wants to mate with her by biting her neck ๐Ÿ™‚ The female keeps grunting to show that she’s not interesting but she doesn’t have so much choice as she’s the only one in the harem without a baby. After a few minutes fighting she succeeds to roll away from the male. The male seems very…disappointed and walks away also grunting.

The next stop is the Punta Tombo beach, which is known for its huge colony of penguins. The population is estimated to more than 1 million individuals!
It is very impressive to walk the 3km observation path and to see penguin everywhere!

Finally, for our last stop, the guide drives us to a village called Gaiman. This village is a former Welsh citadel and some signs of the Welsh presence are still visible. The 2 most obvious are first the street names and road signs written in Spanish and Welsh, and second the numerous tea houses around the historical center. Those tea houses are very popular among the Argentinian and people are ready to pay a lot to enjoy a tea in the Welsh way.

Nothing special to report about my 3rd day in Puerto Madryn. As it is my last day there, I just walk around in the city center before taking a night bus to Buenos Aires. The bus drive is again very long and I took the habit to use this long time to watch TV series. This time, I succeeded to watch the whole first season of the excellent series Stranger Things, which is a very nice ode to the 80s culture.
The program for my first afternoon in Buenos Aires is very light. After having checked in at my hostel, I spend a few hours organizing my coming days and after a very light diner (steak and red wine), I try to fall sleep although my neighbor in the dorm is snoring super loud.
On the next day, I start my exploration of the city after a short breakfast by walking up the big avenue 9 de Julio till the obelisk. After a few minutes, I can’t help having a feeling of “Dรฉja-vรน” and suddenly I understand why Buenos Aires is called the Paris of South America. Indeed a lot of things have a Paris flair, among others the way the streets are organized, the decoration in the subway, the restaurants or the not so friendly people in the street ;). I then walk towards the Plaza de Mayo, but stop at Peru street level to watch a surprise concert of a famous Argentinian singer, Ciro.
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I only have time to watch one song as I have to meet my friend Ariel for lunch. Ariel is a former colleague of mine and when we were working together in Switzerland, he did a very good job promoting the Malbec Wine from Argentina ๐Ÿ˜‰ I meet Ariel not far from his office and we then walk towards Puerto Madero to have a nice sandwich near the ecological reserve.
After lunch, I head back to Plaza Mayo to take a look at the main touristic point of interests: the metropolitan cathedral where the actual pope used to be the bishopย and other government buildings.

I spend day 2 visiting the district of Palermo. This area is known for its green spaces.

I enjoy walking around in the park and particularly the Japanese garden which reminds me of my visit in Japan at the beginning of my trip.

As it starts raining in the afternoon, I take some time to visit the MALBA, the museum of Latino arts of Buenos Aires. The exhibitions are similar to what could be found in a museum of contemporary art. The biggest one at the moment is a collection of art pieces produced by Yoko Ono.

On day 3, I spend the afternoon in the Recoleta district. In one of the park, I find by chance an interesting art fair. After that, I spend several hours walking around the graves at the Recoleta cemetery. This cemetery is very famous as a lot of Argentinian celebrities are buried there, actors, actresses but also political leaders or businessmen. The most photographed burial house is with no doubts the one of the Peron family where Eva Peron aka Evita is resting.

In the evening, I am invited for an Argentinian BBQ called Parilla at my friend Ariel. He picks me up at my hostel and on the way to his house in a township nearby, I get an interesting cultural lesson. A lot of small police stations and policemen are present along the motorway. As I ask Ariel if they are here to control the speed, he tells me that they are actually not here because of that, but to prevent people from the poor areas along the road to throw stones at the cars to make them stop and then attack of hijack them ๐Ÿ™‚ The BBQ is delicious, grilled meat and nice red wine are always a good combination ๐Ÿ™‚

On day 4, I decide to explore two parts of the city next to my hostel, San Telmo and La Boca. San Telmo is a nice artistic area with a lot of cafes and restaurants and some art galleries and museums. I spend the late morning at the San Telmo Sunday street fair located two blocks from my hostel. It is a nice weekend market where local artists gather to sell their creations. The objects are very diverse and range from small paintings to mini sculptures made from recycled material.
After lunch, I jump in a bus to move a few blocks further to the La Boca district. This district is a bit poorer but the main street is famous for its colorful houses. As it is a very touristic area, a lot of western style restaurants with round the clock Tango shows can also be found there, which in my opinion makes the place a bit less authentic. I also take some pictures of the stadium of the famous soccer club Boca Junior.

On day 5, I follow my friend Ariel’s suggestion and make a day trip to the nearby city of Colonia in Uruguay (not the one in Germany ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) to get a new stamp in my passport. The journey starts quite early as the boat crossing the 50km large river departs at 09:00am. Once again the border crossing experience is catastrophic. There are 12 counters open and the Argentinian and Uruguayan offices are just next to each other so it should have gone fast to get our passports stamped. However the immigration officers are working as uncoordinated as at the Chilean/Argentinian border and we are sent from one counter to another without really knowing why. With the other “foreigners”, we are a bit upset at first, but the whole situation is so ridiculous that we finally have a good laugh altogether. One British couple have the record: they were sent to 4 different counters to get 2 stamps ๐Ÿ˜€
The boat crossing takes a little bit more than 1 hour. The exploration of the city is quite fast. Colonia is a very small former colonial city and there’s not so much to do except to take pictures of the old colonial style buildings, watch the fishermen working on the beach and again eat meat with a nice glass of red wine ๐Ÿ™‚

I take the boat back to Buenos Aires at the end of the afternoon. We arrive in town at sunset and it’s very nice to see the sun going down and fading away in the harbor.
I wake up quite early the next morning to take a shuttle to the airport. After 4 amazing weeks in Argentina, I am now flying to Jacarei near Sao Paulo in Brazil to visit my friends Mel&Cedric and their daughter Helena.
The program of the 4 days is quite light. The idea is not to do a lot of touristic activities but to recover a bit and spend quality time with my friends. This involves walking with Helena in parks around Jacarei, eating a lot of light Brazilian food (and particularly grilled meat) and drinking home made beer ๐Ÿ™‚

As October 12th is a bank holiday in Brazil, we take the opportunity to make a day trip to Santo Antonio Do Pinhal. There we go for a hike of a few km that leads us to a very rewarding endpoint: an ice cream shop ๐Ÿ™‚

Saturday October 15th is my last day in Brazil. We spend the late morning and the afternoon in Sao Paulo in the Ibirapuera park. We enjoy the nice weather walking around and spend some time in the museum of contemporary art. One of the exhibition is about the influence of African art on the Brazilian folklore. This is for me a very good introduction to my next destination.

Indeed, at around 15:00, Mel, Cedric and Helena drop me off at the Sao Paulo international airport. After about 3,5 months in South America and after exactly 11 months traveling in total, I am excited to take the plane to Johannesburg, South Africa where I’ll start exploring the African continent!

Hasta Luego South America, you definitely surprised me many times. Africa here I come!

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