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Monthly Archives: November 2009

Escalators, trains and cans of Olive Oil at Christ the Redeemer

We live in an age of convenience and instant gratification. More is done with less and efficiency is one of the prime tenets of a successful business venture. However, when one goes to a world famous tourist attraction but is then greeted by a train, then an elevator and then two escalators, you have to wonder about the romance of tourism being almost dead.

Christ the Redeemer, is the most famous feature in Rio de Janeiro, maybe perhaps in South America and is as iconic as the Eiffel Tower or the CN Tower.

In my travels, I have seen some pretty amazing things, but I think the escalators at Cristo Redentor epitomize the slow death of romantic travel. I’ve known about these escalators for a while, having read the wikis and the guidebooks, but I find this scene a bit surreal. There are the people who will say that this is wonderful, and makes a  tourist attraction accessible for those who are unable to climb a mountain. Really? Then why not put an escalator to the top of Everest or a cable car right to the top of K2?

Of course, the view from the top of Corcovado is completely worth the 36 Reais (22.5$ CDN) to get to the top.  Getting to Corcovado was easy as pie. All one has to do is grab a taxi from downtown or Ipanema and ask to get out at the Corcovado Cogwheel Train Station.

Once you get into the train station, you pay your fare and head on to the train. There is a nice little area with the flags of the world and the train musuem at the back. Naturally, I looked for the “Trini” flag… but I was surprised to actually see it hanging there

Anyway, although this is tourist trap supreme, it is an absolute must do, simply because it is a truly iconic symbol of a magnetic city and like the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building and others, it offer a vantage point that is breathtaking.

 It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t capture the view in all its wonder as it was a bit overcast with high winds and fog.


So after the viewing and going up and down the mountain, then it was  back to the hotel and gear up for dinner. A curious occurence at dinner though, whereever one goes in the world, it is funny that misunderstandings happen because of an expectation that events should follow a script. For instance, if one asks for bread, then you expect some butter with your bread. If one asks for Olive Oil to dip your bread in, you expect a little bottle or vial of Olive Oil…. one does not expect this…

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A pick me up … Tikal in the morning!

Nothing like a reminder of lovely places and sunrises as a pick me up in the morning.

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Going to Colonia or Montevideo from Buenos Aires … here are a couple tips!

One would assume that trying to book a ferry trip from Buenos Aires to Colonia or Montevideo should be a fairly simple process. You look online, find your ticket, purchase and then show up at the Ferry terminal and take your ferry. This is a “Western” assumption on how processes should work. This assumption is highly erroneous in the Latin American context!

Trying to book the right fare online from the Buquebus website is an exercise in utter futility, since the website currently times out, invokes errors and cannot properly process any credit card transactions. In North America, we assume that we can now buy anything online and that the websites will just work magically with out errors. Of course, this requires proper application testing. I assume that Buquebus got a pack of wild monkeys from Indonesia to test their application, because the site performance is terrible. So the lesson here is don’t even try the website for booking, but there are some good packages that are offered on the site.

Of course, since you are going between countries, to take the ferry, you will need your passport and the tourist card you received when you originally entered Argentina. When you leave Uruguay you will have to pay a departure tax. The departure tax was $17 USD as of Nov 2009. Very conveniently, the Uruguayan and Argentinean immigration are placed in the Buquebus departing hall; thus you get both stamps on the same spot.

  • The trip between Buenos Aires and Colonia takes 3 hours on the regular ferry or just 1 hour on the fast ferry. I highly recommend the faster ferry if you are traveling on a day trip. Colonia is very small and can easily be seen in its entirety in one full day; some would even say less.
  • The trip to Montevideo takes 3 hours on the fast ferry.

So a couple tips for using the Buquebus

  • Do not buy your ticket the same day you want to leave Buenos Aires, this can result in frustration and disappointment, unless you show up at the terminal about 4 hours earlier.
  • Tickets for day trips do actually sell out – buy in advance
  • Have your passport ready and ensure that you can actually get to Uruguay legally. The assumption is that the same rules, your country had for Argentina, will apply for Uruguay
  • The first class option is a nicer option as you are guaranteed a better seat on the higher level, complimentary bubbly and a private snack bar. It’s not that much more than “Turista fare”, if you book in advance.
  • Expect tons of traffic into the terminal, if you are taking a taxi. It’s better to get off two streets prior and walk.

Another option would be to use Colonia Express. If you book far enough ahead of time you can get some of the cheapest ferry rates. Which is nothing to scoff at, when during high season you might pay as much as AR$400 for a ticket to Montevideo or Punta del Este. 20 days in advance qualifies you for the lower price. I have heard good things about the service, so there is an alternative to the Buquebus madness.

Milanesas at Kentucky Pizza? Clam bombs on Pizza and Choripan at Retiro train station…

Gotta love the food here! After  a couple day here, I am starting to figure out that BA is a town of many things but the place called Kentucky Pizza is by far a porteno thing. It seems that everyone has a Kentucky Pizza story, it’s like a Rol San story in Toronto, everyone has been there and everyone has an opinion on the place.

The funny thing is that Kentucky and Pizza are not the two words that should every go together in food, unless you are looking for some serious gut rot!

Well they had a gazillion types of pizza, of which none I could have! So instead I ended up with the “Kentucky Special Milanesa”.

This lovely piece of death was basically a fried egg, with fried beef flank in batter, with fried ham and tomatoes and lettuce – who needs a triple Baconator when I have this to eat.

After ingesting said gutbomb, I felt the years drain away from life, like a Harry Potter Death Eater was on me. Was it really good? Well let’s say I won’t have it again, but if I had some alcohol in me again, I also wouldn’t say no to it either.

Later on for dinner prior to meeting Chris and BsAs pub crawl crew, dinner was at this other small restaurant Filo, right around the hotel and the pizza was something out of a Sci-fi convention but so ridiculously good. It was a half Fruitta de mare (Seafood pizza with Claim, shrimp, tomato sauce and garlic) and half Pepperoni pizza.

How awesome is that pizza. The chef basically treated the whole affair like an afterthought. Why bother taking the meat out of the shell, when he could just drop the shells right on to the pizza.

So after the night of drinking with Chris in the Buenos Aires Pub Crawl crew,

then it was off to Retiro train station for early morning Choripan with tons of Chimi. The guys at the train station love me after seeing me wolf down 4 odd of these thing…while they looked in horror and amazement.

Sigh… I will miss this place and the food, ahhhh the lovely food.

Nightshooting in Buenos Aires

Floralis Generica is a beautiful sculpture located in United Nations Park in Buenos Aires.  This Park is right next to the Recoleta district (actually across the street from the Recoleta flea market on weekends) and is next to the Law School.

Floralis Generic is a giant, 23 meter sculpture made of steel and aluminum (its weight is 18 tons). The structure of the flower is made of steel and the shiny panels in the petals are made of aluminum.  The sculpture moves, closing its petals at night and opening them during the day.  It has some lighting for special ocassions too

The law school at night is quite a stunning building

Walking around Recoleta park and walkways around, there are many graffiti style piece of public art all around.

Randomly seeing the nocturnal activity

More memorials….

Taking taxis in Buenos Aires – a general guide.

This should be easy right? You just hold up your hand and a taxi stops. You jump in, taxi takes you to your destination and you pay. End of process and go on with your day.

If you came to Buenos Aires and you believe this, then I have an island to sell you.

Know when to grab a taxi:

If it is raining or it’s the rush hour, forget about that and go out into the street to hail a cab instead. Whilst Buenos Aires is relatively safe by Latin American standards, it is important to remember some basic safety precautions. Wearing flashy jewelry, camcorders etc will get attention anywhere you go, but in neighborhoods like the Once bus station or San Telmo, you’re asking for trouble. Also never take a taxi straight after getting out out an ATM, bank or the like. It’s all about being discreet and not drawing undue attention to yourself.

Remember what I said about rain; well any place where the drainage is suspect or not cleaned regularly, will flood. For instance, today in Buenos Aires, 5cm of rain fell and parts of Avenida Santa Fe and Avenida Alevear flooded! This are posh streets here and yet they flooded, never mind taking the bus in a thunderstorm.

Be smart not paranoid:

99% of the time, your gut will steer you right. If you don’t feel right about a taxi, then polite decline, make an excuse or run back into the shop. That being sad, everyone is not out to rob you or pass you fake money. It is all about being aware and looking the part. Most taxi drivers in Buenos Aires will engage you in a bit of conversation, they will at least ask where you’re from (every taxi I took by myself, invariable ended up with those questions, with the pleased reaction when I say “Trinidad y Tobago”), but of course even if you speak spanish, you probably won’t speak porteno spanish, so they will immediately know that you are a foreigner. I never think it is wise to lie about this, even if you think they will take you around. My experience after many countries of travelling has been to be honest and expect honesty – don’t let the paranoid stories make you afraid of everyone.  The key here is be smart…..

Meter makes it better:

When in doubt do call a radio taxi!  Radio taxi’s are registered taxis and the securest type of taxi in the city. Make sure that the meter is off when you get in and that he resets the meter when you start your journey and make sure that the driver is charging you with the meter (cheaper than a quoted price), unless you are going to the EZE or Aeropuerto or a destination similar whereas then you should have a quote from the person on the phone reserving the taxi.

Taxis in Buenos Aires are cheap:

No matter where you are in Buenos Aires, if you start seeing a taxi ride going above more than 20 pesos, ask him where he is going or confirm with him that he knows where you are going. A couple times here, the taxi driver did not understand “Marriott Plaza” or “Recoleta” or “MALBA” and started either on the wrong route or the bill got a bit much. My approach in every case was to restate where I was going, point to the meter and make the confused face … every single time the taxi driver reduced the rate to something reasonable or expected.

More baggage or pants means more waiting:

Portenos cab drivers are notorious for ignoring guys, foreigners or people with lots of bag or trolleys. I thought it was a joke, until it happened to me over and over and over. Of course, being a big guy with a backpack is not baggage, but why would they pick me instead of the pretty blonde in the short pants. I’m over it now, I just wait extra and move on. I do curse in mind, but I understand, it is what it is :)

Grey power rocks in Buenos Aires:

The best taxi drivers in the city are the one who have been doing it for all their life. The drivers are insane in Buenos Aires and you will see something in cabs that are out of NASCAR or F1. Porteno taxi driver can do any of the following

  • Deliberately cut across other taxi drive
  • Make lane signals with only a hand movement
  • Invent completely new lanes in a two lane road or 8 lane autopista
  • Swear in spanish and english at anything else moving on the road
  • Weave in and out of pedestrian flow
  • Ignore zebra stripes on the road and maneuver themselves through the other traffic
  • Think that taxis can crush trucks

Thankfully, the old taxi drivers, will do all of this but you will feel confident that he knows what he is doing. This is the key, if a taxi driver makes it in Buenos Aires till he has grey hair, this guy will be an awesome taxi driver.

Coming in late at night in the airport :

Book a taxi with the guys inside the airport. Nuff said. You wouldn’t take an unlicensed cab in London, Mumbai, New York or Port of Spain, why would you do in Latin America???? If in doubt, please re-read the post.

Note these are tips not specific to Buenos Aires, but really tips that apply anywhere else in the world, but that I have applied for my time here in Buenos Aires.

What to do in Puerto Iguazu at night??

Someone just asked me what does one do at night in Puerto Iguazu? Like most places that is situated close to the jungle, there isn’t a ton of things to do? Pffffffttt yeah right!! I was amazed at the fact that on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night there were bars that were open to 5 or 6am. It really makes Toronto look damn shameful, well in fact most North American cities are pretty shameful in this respect, with all our liquor laws and zoning regulations. Of course, one can argue that with the insurance rates, drunk driving, alcohol abuse etc blah blah, that we should have all these laws to keep us safe. Of course, the whole safety thing is just an illusion anyway, closing bars at 2am doesn’t stop drunk driving, it encourages binge drinking .. take a look at the UK for examples on binge drinking. I digress, this is a travel post, not a political waste of time.

The first thing about hanging out in Puerto Iguazu at night, is to never stay at the Sheraton! It is a great hotel, and wonderful if you want to see the falls and have all the conveniences of a modern hotel in the jungle. That being said, the food is decent but nothing comparable to the quality of the food that you will have in the town. The Sheraton’s cuisine is catered for the baseline affluent white tourist – of course absolutely nothing is wrong with this. One pays for consistency across the world and the Sheraton delivers consistently! That being said, the prices of food are stupendous in comparison for food in town. Bife de Chorizo is Bife de Chorizo regardless of whether it is at the Sheraton or at La Mujerda or Color Parilla Pizza, and paying 40USD for a steak vs 9 USD for a steak of similar quality is a bit of a rip off, especially in Argentina.

However, if you want to eat fantastic meals at night, with music and good wine for ridiculously cut rate prices, then I would recommend that one stay in Puerto Iguazu. There are a number of great hostels and medium range hotels in town itself. If I did this trip again, and I didn’t have the hotel points from work, then I would surely stay in town.

Places to eat .. well I can only recommend Color Parilla Pizza and La Mujerda, which are decent places by any standard. The food quality and service at these places is definitely high end.

The train station is also a place to grab food in evening, the pastas are all cheap ($5 CDN) for a plate of Spaghetti Bolognese sin Manteca :) and a soda. So a great deal there, or one could go to any nearby empanada place and grab a fist full of empanadas @ 2 pesos each (.60 cents CDN) … for me, 7 plus a soda was a bellyful, regular people should be fine with 3 :)

After eating at one of the local joints, you can have two options for nightlife… you can go drinking in the local bars which are all open till dawn or hit the casinos :)