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The Last of Argentina, the Beginning of Bolivia

May 20, 2009

Back to BA The next afternoon we hopped on a bus bound for Buenos Aires. Happy to be on the road, we watched several good movies, and eventually fell asleep. In the morning we awoke to the rush hour traffic on the outskirts of BA. It took perhaps another hour and a half to arrive in town, after which we had to walk some blocks to the big train station, and catch a train back up to Marcelo’s neighborhood. Meeting up with Marcelo was nice, and we shared more stories of the trip with him, and relaxed some. Over the following days we didn’t do as much as we had hoped, because Gerad fell slightly ill with a stomach flu of some kind. We watched the news of the Swine Flu and all the panic and hypocritical news from the West, and relaxed knowing that we had nothing to worry about here other than dengue fever. Because both Marcelo and Gerad were feeling under the weather, we mostly hung around near Marcelo’s house. We would sometimes venture out to check out some local areas. Bored a little more quickly this time, we decided to book tickets to Colonia, which is a small town across the river from Buenos Aires in Uruguay. We booked with a tour, so we got a lunch and guided information around the town. The Cutest Town in South America Although the tour included passage with the slower of two ferries offered, the trip to Colonia flew by, as we all slept through most of it. Getting to Colonia about lunchtime the first thing on the agenda was lunch. They dropped us at a restaurant that was once a general store that one of the first inhabitants in Colonia ran. The original walls were still in tact with a rock staircase leading down to what now we think is a festivities hall; it was fun to have lunch in such a place. After lunching the bus picked us up yet again (after being rushed out from lunch), and we headed to the northern part of town. Here we saw an old Bull fighting ring, or the outside of it anyways; from what we could see of the structure it looked like a mini Colleseum. It used to house countrywide bull fights, but was shut down after only a few years due to a law set in place that the animals were not allowed to be killed. It is now (like several things we are seeing) being restored. The brick and cement work that held it up was all crumbling and was now fenced off while the work was in progress. We then passed several old colonial buildings that were used for a power plant and other manufacturing plants. Stopping for about ten minutes at the beach to feel the white sand and take some pictures. Apparently there is no pollution on this side of the river, so people swim here in the summer and they can drink the water without problem. The sand reminded Gerad of the sand in some ash trays in North America. It was so smooth and soft, we wanted to take my boots off and run barefoot in it; unfortunately, we were on a tour and so only had about 10 minutes here. After the beach we were off back to town, where we had a walking tour through the older part of the city. Colonia is a UNESCO Heritage site, so any new buildings they want to build need to get approved by UNESCO first. The tallest building in the city is 12 stories high, and only because it was built before UNESCO claimed the site; now there is a law that prohibits buildings being taller then only a few stories. We walked over a draw bridge still in tact along a stone wall that once surrounded the village. It was designed to encompass the entire town; however, with modern development it now only stands in one area. The streets were all original cobble stone and were sloped out to allow drainage as people would throw water from the windows of their houses into the street. The cobble stone was beautiful with reds, greys, and blacks and was well taken care of. An old lighthouse still stands tall at the edge of the town, and tourists can go to the top; however, we didn’t manage to go up with the time we had. But, you will be able to see the pictures that both Gerad and Laura were able to get from the road below. The rest of the town was so quaint and quiet all three of us fell in love with it. We all wanted to stay longer; however, with the tour it was not possible without losing the return trip price. So again we boarded the vessel that would now return us to Argentina. This time the ride was much longer as none of us wanted to sleep. We discussed getting pizza for dinner and created quite a hunger in all of our bellies. We arrived in Buenos Aires about half an hour later than scheduled, which they apologized for over the speaker phone. We were happy since we didn’t have any luggage to claim, we figured it would be quick to get through customs and to our pizza. Everything went smoothly and quickly for about five minutes…we turned a corner and there was a huge crowd of people who appeared not to be moving at all. We tried to figure out what was happening. Perhaps customs wasn’t open yet, or because we arrived late (at the same time as another vessel) there were simply too many people going through for the staff to handle properly (Like previous Argentine border crossings). Eventually the line moved ahead slightly, then started to crawl forward inch by inch. We heard many different stories of what was happening. As we got closer we could see that there was an escalator down to the first floor, which they were only allowing 4 or 5 people down at a time. We could not see the bottom yet, so now it started a new round of guesses of what they were doing. We waited for about forty five minutes longer than we should have so that they could put us through a thermal scan! Every single person entering Argentina here stood in front of a make shift scanner where they reviewed your temperature. Unfortunately, even though both the boys had been feeling ill, none of us were stopped with a fever. Colonia may the cutest town we have ever visited. The people were kind, the streets cobble stone, the buildings old and full of character and the food was excellent. Highly recommended for anyone visiting South America. Now What? After Colonia, we didn’t feel like there was much more for us to do in or around Buenos Aires. We discussed our next plan of action and decided it would be yet again best to fly. It was quite a bit more expensive this time but would save us about two days travel time as well as backtracking. We booked the tickets to go to Santa Cruz, Bolivia for Friday (it was now Wednesday), so we started to get our stuff together. Things we decided were too expensive or valuable to us to worry about having them stolen in Bolivia we put into a suitcase to be mailed back home before leaving Argentina. We also sorted through clothes and belongings for things we could live without, to cut down weight of not only the bags we would be carrying with us, but also the package being sent home. Those items were left behind for Estella, a woman that comes to clean Marcelo’s apartment once a week and who we truly adore. After everything was organized, we just had to go to Fedex in the morning and ship the parcel and then relax untill noon or so when we would have to head to the Airport. Just shipping the package turned out to be a big ordeal. Apparently the guy that was helping us was not trained properly; we could not claim any of the souvenirs we were sending home as gifts (in order not to pay duty on them), nor could we claim things we purchased in Canada (again not to pay duty on them), so everything we were shipping was to be taxed, even things we had purchased in Canada. It seemed ridiculous to us, but we had no time to dispute it. We also had some souvenir maps that we were intending on shipping; however, due to Argentina printing maps with the Malvinas as Argentina’s instead of the UK’s there are heavy restrictions for shipping maps out of Argentina. So out those came. Free little souvenirs that Laura had picked up along the way were also discarded due to shipping issues and our time. It took us little over two hours to sort all the shipping stuff out and get it mailed off, which left us approximately -15 minutes to catch our cab to the Airport. The cab was waiting for us at Marcelo’s when we returned. First Impressions Luckily the airport in Argentina did not give us any problems and we were checked in in no time. Flying time was about three hours and we were blessed with a beautiful first impression of Bolivia. We flew above the clouds where the sun was shining. From what we could see in the breaks there were three layers of clouds. The bottom the typical looking clouds, one in the middle that was thinner and more streamline (more elegant looking), and the highest which for as far as the eye could see was flat except tiny spots of high pressure which would eject the clouds up further into the atmosphere. These huge figures towered above the rest of the sea of white, and were simply phenomenal. We could see through some of the breaks in the cloud the jungle below us that was uninhabited by any people and great river valleys currently empty of water, this amongst the amazing clouds we were floating through were our first impressions of Bolivia. It was a beautiful welcome party. As we descended to Santa Cruz, we broke through the clouds, coming underneath them, to a surreal scene; spots of rain were visible all around, the cloud cover relatively thick, except with patches of sun shining through, illuminating the rain and patches of green earth. Santa Cruz came into clear view, spread out in a big circle with its ring-roads forming a target for some celestial shooter. We landed in Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Boliva at about 6pm, just as the sun set. The captain shut off the seat belt sign and everyone started to collect their belongings from the overhead bin. We then heard an announcement over the speakers about everyone taking their seats (this was all we could understand). The flight attendants then came around and requested people be seated, as they passed out medical masks to all the passengers. We had not been wearing them the entire flight with eachother, but now they wanted us to wear them. So we donned our masks and left the airplane. Every worker in the Airport and every passenger from our plane wore safety masks…until we got through customs. After we had retrieved our bags and got our passports stamped the masks were allowed to be taken off. Seemed rather ridiculous, since we were still heading into the streets of their people, but I am sure they have their reasons. Now it was time to get a cab and head into the City. It was dark and had been raining, so the first impression of the damp City was a little daunting. The streets were more erratic than the ones in Argentina, with people using every inch of the road possible as long as another vehicle was not already using it. There was quite an absence of cross walks, so pedestrians ventured out into the road to try and quickly weave through the crazy mess of cars and horns were well used. After weaving in and out of other cars, small alleys and streets for about half an hour (it happened to be rush hour, of course), our cab pulled over on a small street that looked fairly abandoned, and let us out. Our hostel was an unassuming hole in the wall across the street from where he stopped. We walked in, and booked ourselves into the small run down hostel. We had a room with a lock on the door; however, it had cracks and holes in it. The beds were springs with what felt like hundred year old mattresses on them; however, this was where we were to stay for two days. We were both hungry so immediately we packed our little backpacks with our cameras and such and headed out to find food. After reading warnings about the (un) safety of tourists of Bolivia, we were both a little nervous about wandering about at night. We were not entirely sure which way the center plaza was, but took a guess and started walking. Everyone we passed seemed to look us up and down fairly judgingly, but we did not have to walk too far before finding a great place to eat, Picadilly (or something like that). Our new favorite The restaurant mostly specialized in Helado (Ice cream); however, served main dishes as well. It was painted bright orange, with a fake waterfall in the middle; the music was live and the service was incredible. The servers had help though…each table had a sophisticated wifi electric box with three buttons that would send a message to the wait counter. One button you would push for the waitress to come to the table, one button you would push to cancel a call, and another button was to call for your check. It was quite splendid actually. I suppose I should mention that a difference between eating out here and eating out at home is the type of service you receive; at home the waitress will periodically come to your table to refill your drink, make sure everything is tasting well, and generally bug you to make sure everything is ok. Here it is not that way at all, the only guaranteed visit by the waitress is when they bring you the menu when you first sit down, after this time if you would like them to come to your table, you must catch their eye and wave them down. So this system of pressing a button was a nice change for us. Then, of course, was the food — not only was it flavorful and well prepared, but it was also very nicely presented on the plate — this place must have a professionally trained chef. When we had completed our meal our waitress dropped off ice cream at our table free of charge. Now one thing I can tell you about Bolivia is they know how to do things with fruit, and they love their ice cream! We had a jug of freshly squeezed strawberry juice (literally blended strawberries mixed with a little bit of water and ice), and the ice cream now provided to us was naturally made with strawberries. Delicious! After a pleasant meal, we wandered further down the road where we found the center plaza. It was very nice with a beautiful brick church all lit up, trees, benches and the usual government buildings surrounding. We walked around the square for a bit, then headed back to the hostel to settle in for the night. The following morning, we figured we would check out the saturday festivities around the square and look for a map of the area. Stopping again for lunch at our new favorite restaurant. We found the square to be busy with people sitting playing chess, boys shining shoes, and couples sitting laughing on the benches. It was sunny and warm and loud with happiness. We wandered around the square a little, before sitting on a bench ourselves talking about what we would like to do in the next couple of days. We had some ideas of what we wanted to do, but for now we figured we would look around the area we were in. We walked through an alley way to a second square where there was festivities happening; there were activities for children and people set up at booths promoting crocs. Yes Crocs the shoes. Nothing here interested us, and we decided it would be best to continue to look for a map. Across the street was a used book store so we thought maybe we would have luck there. They had maps of the area, but for more than we thought we wanted to pay and they were not as detailed as we would have liked, so our search continued. We walked along the road back towards the square, but were distracted by open doors to a large building on the way. It turned out that there was a Photo Expedition showcasing images from September and October of 2008. In Bolivia at the end of last year there was a huge civil uprising against the government (riots, strikes, blockades, etc). This civil unrest still prevails in a lot of the areas and demonstrations are still a very common occurance. The images in the photo exposition portrayed revolution type situations with people fighting against the authorities. People carried sticks with nails sticking out of them, fireworks (which were lit and thrown towards the police barracades). Some of the images were more gruesome; however, most of them did a fantastic job of showing the emotion of the people. Another section showed the acts that Santa Cruz took against Dengue. They showed people doing massive clean ups of the streets and anywhere that garbage had been allowed to pile up stopping a flowing water system. People standing scrubbing the gutters and properly destroying rubbage that could hold water. Yet another section showed the military smashing down shanty homes. These people were on the property long enough to build up brick walls for housing; however, they were all destroyed in a “urbanization” project. At one point a woman started speaking to us (in spanish of course) about the civil unrest and how Santa Cruz is now sadly a bad place to live. Before Evo Morales, she explained, they had 38 years of peace and safety. It had been a tranquil place, but now there was no trust or security anywhere. Tears started to appear in her eyes, and it was clear how much she cared for the place she called home. The photos were hard to view, but very educational. We were both humbled by the turmoil these people have fought through and what they continue to fight for. After we viewed the images, we headed back to the center plaza to sit for a little while. We both started to crave ice cream, so we headed to a small shop we had read that the locals rave about. The ice cream was good, but not as good as the other restaurant we had been to previous. Ice cream certainly is not taken lightly here. It is everywhere and it is good. We discussed the possibility of renting a car, which felt a little scary with the driving we had seen. We wanted to rent a car to go further east to see some Jesuit Missions; however, in the end we decided against it. Renting a car would be expensive and maybe dangerous to drive on our own. The missions would have to wait for the next trip to Bolivia.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Diane permalink
    May 23, 2009 2:11 am

    Glad to hear that you are still having a good time. I was wondering how your travels were going with all the hype about swine flu. You will be happy to know that they have canceled the travel advisory for Mexico. Can’t wait to see you!

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