A Travellerspoint blog

Argentina

Buenos Aires

sunny 24 °C
View South American Sabbatical on robbotravels's travel map.

We arrived in Buenos Aires on 11 November 2016. Darren's Phantom 4 quadcopter made it through without raising an eyebrow. The next thing was to catch a taxi to San Telmo where we were staying. I'd read that there are official taxies and unofficial ones and that to get an official taxi one should go to the taxi kiosk at the airport, provide a destination address and pay at the counter. No money is exchanged with the driver. When we emerged through the doors after passing through immigration we were confronted with the hire car and taxi kiosks. We asked about the fare to our address and were quoted 45USD. This was about $15 more than we thought it was supposed to be but there seemed to be no other alternative.........until we paid and walked out the next set of doors. There in all its glory stood the little radio taxi kiosk. The one that would have cost us less. What we didn't realise is that there are the normal run-of-the-mio taxies and then there is a more 'exclusive' car service for which you pay a more 'exclusive' fare.
Lesson 1: If you are going to catch a cab from the airport in Buenos Aires, look for the taxi kiosk outside the terminal building.

For our accommodation we stayed in an apartment that we found through Airbnb. the main features of this for us were the security of the place, the reasonable cost, proximity to the city centre and public transport should you choose to use it, and generally feeling like we were in our own place. To get familiar with the neighbourhood we decided to make walking our transport of choice. Although we've read and been told that Buenos Aires is unsafe and the shutters on shop fronts and barbed wire on the top of balconies and walls give creedance to this, we never once fell unsafe. Nevertheless, situational awareness is a must.

The day after we arrived we made our way to the Teatro Colon to do a free walking tour of the Recoleta district. Free Walks Buenos Aires whom we did this walk with also offer a free tour of the city centre and a tour of the Recoleta Cemetery which costs 150 Argentine pesos per person (about 15 AUD). We did both free walks and saw the city through the perspective of Juan our guide who has a degree in design. As such, we saw most of the major landmarks, were given the associated history and became conscious of the idiosyncrasies of the city's planning codes over the successive regimes that have ruled the nation. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and highly recommend it. Note: Although the walks are free, the guides should be given a tip as they are not paid for this service and rely wholly on tips for their income. At least 100 pesos (10AUD) is recommended.

Entry to the Recoleta Cemetery is free if you don't want to pay for a guided tour. However it covers a large area and has many historical monuments including the mausoleum where Eva Peron is entombed (look for her maiden name Duarte on the legend at the front entrance) so a guided tour can be worthwhile. Otherwise the edifices to the dead are something to behold and are sufficiently interesting without any explanotory notes.

There were a few other things that we experienced and saw in Buenos Aires that we think are noteworthy. The first is to do with accessing money because as travellers that's always important, right? If you are wanting to access money you can either use a teller machine (cajero) or go to a money exchange (casa de cambio). Banks will only offer exchange services to bank clients.
If you choose to go the teller machine path there a couple of thing to be aware of:
They are not the hole-in-the-wall we are used to in Australia! They will usually always be behind a door and mostly found next to the bank they are associated with. Find a bank and peer through the glass! Be aware that some are actually deposit machines.
You can only ever take out a maximum of 2000 pesos at a time. Although this sounds a lot, it isn't. It is only about 200AUD and the price of everything, except maybe cabs, is similar to Australia so it doesn't go far. The sign for pesos is $ so don't let it confuse you!
As well as the international transaction fee charged by your bank, you will be charged around 94 pesos (about 10AUD) for the transaction! This is regardless of how much you withdraw so my advice is to take out the most you can!
Not all cards work in all machines so spread your money around in case one doesn't work. Our QANTAS cash card did the job here.
If you go to a money exchange they will not convert Aussie dollars so make sure you have $US or Euros. You also need to present your passport.
Although we'd been advised that you can use $UD for general transactions in shops we have mostly found that pesos are used and exchange rates for $UD will generally be a 'guesstimate'. It is also worth noting that cash is king here. Smaller bars and eateries don't accept credit cards.

When it comes to food be prepared for an overabundance of pizza and pasta, a legacy of the Italian influence. Empanadas are also the norm. These are a type of pastie (but much better) generally filled with meat (carne) but also with chicken (pollo), ham (jamon - pronounced ha-mon) and cheese (queso - pronounced ke-so). Beef is also high on the list. Asados are kind of like a mixed grill and are popular. Breakfast usually consists of croissants (medias lunas) or some other type of pastry. No bacon and eggs here! Coffee is terrible. Mate is the drink of choice. Tap water is safe to drink. Fill your water bottle directly from the tap.

The other things that impacted us was the graffiti, the rubbish, the dogs and homelessness. Dogs generally seem to be much loved here. There are countless veterinary clinics and pet shops. People are always walking their dogs and it appears dog walking is a profitable business here judging by the number of dog walkers we saw.
Graffiti is everywhere. There is a lot of talented, quirky and clever street art but there are so many more unsightly tags and slogans.
Littering seems to be a national pastime and when rubbish is actually put into the skips that line the streets, there are those who fossic through it to see what can be salvaged. While recycle, reuse, etc. is an admirable thing, it is beyond me why people just leave what they don't want strewn all over the footpath!
But it was the homelessness that saddened us the most. Here the homeless includes families with very young children and young people. Makeshift shelters are erected in the main squares and under overpasses. Despite their situation few were asking for handouts.
Like any other big city, Buenos Aires has its beautiful side and its less glamorous side. To only point out the beauty would be to gloss over the other characteristics that makes the place. We were touched by the trusting nature of Pedro at the quaint El Patio de San Telmo where we had our first breakfast, who offered for us to have breakfast and return with pesos once we had changed our $USD. We were thrilled to witness a live tango show while having lunch in San Telmo and we were heartened when we saw shop owners giving away items of clothing and food to those less fortunate.
Next stop: Iguazu

Posted by robbotravels 11:10 Archived in Argentina Tagged buildings Comments (0)

The Preparation

Leaving family, friends and pets for an extended period can be somewhat daunting. Making the decision to take a break from work on the other hand, wasn't daunting at all! But seriously, booking and buying flights was the easy part. It's all the other factors that need to be considered that made travelling for six months more complicate for us oldies. So many questions and decisions to make.....
Should we rent the house out, get a housitter or lock it up and just go....?
What to do with the dog? What about family? Darren has a 96 year old Pa.
What vaccines and visas are required?
Darren wants to take the Phantom 4! Will he be allowed to take it into the places we want to go to or will it be confiscated at the border?
Just exactly where are we going to visit? Six months sounds like a long time but South America is a big continent and there is a lot to see. "Oh wait", says Darren, "Let's check out Costa Rica and Panama too!"
What bills will fall due while we are away?
And, let's try to be cost neutral and not spend more than we're earning.

So here is how it went for us.
We wanted to viajar lento (slow travel). In other words we didn't want to do set tours that work to a schedule and bustle you in and out of buses, hotels and excursions. We also wanted to make sure local business benefitted directly from our tourist dollar, so we wanted to cut out the middle man where possible. We were also conscious that Christmas and New Year would see us somewhere in South America. Not knowing what impact this might have on transport and accommodation we thought it might be prudent to plan to through this period at least. Hence why only three countries are covered on our Travellerspoint map.

In the end we decided that we defintiely wanted to visit Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina and Bolivia. We decided to give Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela and the Guyanas a miss this time around. The reasons are varied but in the case of Brazil, factors included the visa requirement for Australians and the size of the country (we probably couldn't do it justice with the time we have).

To make sure we weren't breaking any rules with respect to the quadcopter, Darren contacted the embassies of the countries we are planning to visit to find out what is allowed (unlike a chap who took his to Cuba and was promptly jailed). While there are some restrictions about where the aircraft can be flown, (for example he can't fly it over Macchu Pichu, Peru so no aerial shots coming your way. Sorry!), there were no issues with taking it into the countries. More on this as we go along.

The yellow fever vaccine is mandatory - no vaccination, no vas! For the uninitiated, 'vas' is Spanish for 'go'. In Australia only certain health providers are approved to administer this vaccine. Check with your State Health Department. In Queensland the list is published by Queensland Health on-line. Vaccines are not covered by Medicare, however if you have private health cover you may be able to claim the cost back. Check with your provider. We also got vaccinated for tetanus, hepatitis A and diptheria.

The joys of internet banking meant that bill payments were either future dated or set up for direct debit. It turned out that just locking the house up and leaving it vacant was not an option because this would void the house and contents insurance. If you are contemplating extended time away from home, check your policy. Our son Michael agreed to housesit, dogsit and fish-sit (?) for us. Sometime having your adult children bounce back to the nest is useful! Before we left we visited or contacted family knowing it would be some time before we saw them again and told Pa we'd join him for his 97th birthday celebrations.

We decided that we would fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina and make our way from there. Air New Zealand flies to Buenos Aires from Brisbane via Auckland, so since I'm all for making things as simple as possible, they had me. The fares were pretty competitive too! We looked to a mixture of Airbnb, Hostelworld and TripAdvisor for accommodation options. The mere mention of hostels generally conjures up images of dorms, shared bathrooms and backpackers. While they are all of these, they are also great places to meet fellow travellers, often they have private rooms with an ensuite and usually breakfast and wifi is included in the very reasonable prices. We've used them before and have not had any bad experiences. However if you are a 5 star kind of person they probably won't be your cup of tea.

That's enough of the lead-in stuff for now. If you want to know more or want to leave a comment, subscribe to Travellerspoint. We'd love to hear from you. Next time we post it will be about our Argentina experiences!
Hasta luego!

Posted by robbotravels 03:14 Comments (0)

South America

Getting of the treadmill

I’m not sure when it happened. Maybe this hamster started getting wobbly after a trip to Morocco in 2011 and got more and more travel drunk after each trip away. Either way, one evening over dinner and a glass (or two) of wine with our friend Bec in Fethiye, Turkey, we were discussing what seemed to be a growing need to not just wobble occasionally but to take the jump and run away........for an extended period. Bec, who had already taken the plunge, encouraged us to heed our desire.
So approximately 18 months ago we decided that we would take that extended break. Six months in South America held some appeal.
Why? Well, because although we love Australia, there are some things which are becoming tiresome. I could go on about political correctness gone mad or people's growing sensitivities about everything (and I'm not talking about food allergies here), or the tendency towards over-regulation, but that would mar the the sense of excitement we both have about the plan to throw it all in and take off.
Well, we are not totally throwing it all in and disappearing off to the wild blue yonder. Being slightly risk averse, we decided to take long service leave so we still have a safety net in case we decide working 5 days a week is preferable to discovering new things.

But the treadmill wasn't the only factor spurning us on.
The possibility of discovering a sea change or career change helped, and so did.... Ah, who are we kidding?
We just wanted a bloody long holiday in a place we've been wanted to go to for a long time!

So who are we (apart from being grumpy and jaded)?
We are Darren and Janet, two 50 something Australians who live in Brisbane, Queensland.
We have two grown children, a grand daughter and a dog.
We are both public servants........
"Ahhh," I hear you say, "That last point right there is at the root of all your problems."
You know what? You could be right. But that is another story best not told here.
Darren is a mechanic by trade and also has degrees in adult education and in occupational health and safety. He spent over 15 years in the Australian Army, has been a police officer and has worked in the training and vocational education industry. His hobby is making and flying model aircarft and most recently he has invested in a DJ Phantom 4 quadcopter. Yes, an unmanned aerial vehicle, a remotely piloted aircraft, a DRONE.....with a camera. It isn't really as spooky as it sounds. The average mobile phone with a camera is way more stealthy and spooky.
Janet has a degree in environmental health and has recently completed a Graduate Certificate in Education (TESOL). Before working in the public health sphere she was a Jill-of-all-trades and had worked in hopsitality, community pharmacy and even as a creative writer in the marketing department of a well-known natural medicine company. She has Spanish heritage and speaks the language reasonably well.
So armed with these skills, experience and the need for a new direction in our lives we planned (loosely) for a stint in South America.
We'd love you to join us on our trip via this blog. But before we get get to the exotic travel stuff, we will give you an overview of our preparations in the next blog.

Posted by robbotravels 13:15 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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