Buenos Aires is the home of Tango. While in Buenos Aires I took the opportunity to take some tango classes as well as go to a Milonga, a tango dance hall with my friend Lesley. Milongas are held on every night of the week, and they start late, some don't really get going until 2am, and they finish at dawn.
One of the coolest thing I saw in Buenos Aires was the Cementario de la Recoleta. It is an amazing 'city of the dead' full of elaborate crypts to the rich and famous of Buenos Aires. Wandering around the lavish marble tombs reminded me of Vanitas paintings (Vanitas are a 17th-century Dutch genre of still-life painting containing symbols of death or change as a reminder of their inevitability for everyone, even the most wealthy and powerful).
The view inside the tombs is just as lavish as the exterior, many of them are adorned with marble and bronze sculptures. Looking into the tombs was often a touching sight, with photos of smiling faces in their happiest days, surrounded by flowers placed there by their loved ones.
From Brazil I headed across the border to Argentina and then down to Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires has a lot of beautiful architecture. I spent a lot of time exploring Buenos Aires by foot.
On my wanderings I saw many market stalls and listened to street musicians.
One of the first buildings I saw was the Casa Rosada, the historic parliament buildings from which Evita Peron gave impassioned speeches to the masses from the balcony.
Across from the Casa Rosasa is a museum called the Cabildo which I popped into.
The displays covered Argentinian military history; invasions, revolutions, notable historic figures.
I also went to the Eva Peron museum which was full of her dresses and details of her ascent to power, Peronist social programmes and her continuing legacy.
I visited the museum of Latin American Art which contained a variety of artworks that dealt with social and political issues of particular importance to Latin America, colonization, political revolutions, inequality and social and technological change.
And the Museo de Bellas Artes which displayed a wide variety of artworks from international and Argentinian artists.
From Paraguay I made the bus ride over the Brazilian border to Foz du Iguaçu the town near Iguaçu falls.
I am staying in an interesting hostel, it is made out of old shipping containers, and it is really well done.
The weather here is really nice and the town is peaceful and leafy.
The next morning I headed off to Ignaçu falls, a short bus ride from where I am staying. There are actually many different falls, and you get to see them by taking a short walk through the jungle.
For the first part of the walk the views of the falls are mostly from afar, but as you walk they get closer and closer. The last part of the walk goes right to a viewing platform that is literally over the falls, and it does involve getting covered in a misty spray of water from the thundering falls. Well worth it though!
From La Paz I headed down to Santa Cruz, Bolivia`s southern city, and then caught a bus to Santa Cruz in the South of Bolivia.
Santa Cruz was warm and tropical, and the trees were covered in lush broad green leaves. I found my way to the bus station and booked my ticket to Ascuncion, the capital of Paraguay. I approached the bus ride with some trepidation. I had read some online reviews where it was frequently referred to as a `bus ride from hell´. One former passenger desribed it as a 28 hour bus journey from hell where the bus stalled in the mud for hours and he nearly broke down crying at times on the way. BOOK A PLANE he urged in all caps. But flights were nearly as expensive as flights to New York, and the bus is a fraction of the price, so the bus it was. I stocked by bag full of drinks and snacks, charged my kobo and I braced myself as I settled in to the bus, an older model that rattled and squeaked as we set off from the bus station.
Before long I drifted off to sleep and woke in the morning for our Bolivian exit border post where we went through the usual formailities and then we were off again. When we go to Paraguayan border the guard looked at my passport like I was someone from another planet, I guess they don`t get many New Zealanders in these parts of the woods. But before long we were off again. The Paraguayan countryside is green and lush. My Lonely Planet informs me that Paraguay has about 675 bird species. I counted about 14 species from my bus window.
I napped and read, and the afternoon rolled around. I was surprised when we parked up and started unloading in Ascuncion at just before 5pm. We were well ahead of time, the journey had taken only 21 hours. I headed to my hostel and settled in. It was lovely, surrounded by tropical plants and it had a pool. The journey to Ascuncion had been perfectly fine.
I spent the next day in leafy Ascuncion getting through some chores. Asuncion has the most lovely climate, it was balmy, and there are lots of lovely trees for shade and cool breezes that stop it ever becoming too hot. In between my errands, I also stopped in at a small museum in the ´casa de la independencia´. This is the building where the fiesty Paraguayans had decided to become the first country on the American continent to declare their independence. There was also a lot of colourful street art in Ascuncion. After getting organised for the day I sorted out my bus ticket for the following day, a shorter trip this time, to Paraguay´s neighbour Brazil!
Amongst the salt flats we reached an Island, a strange rocky oasis full of ancient cactus trees. The oldest of the trees are 1,200 years old. It was amazing to see other signs of life in this arid place, a couple of birds and little white butterflies amongst the desert plants.
In the evening we got to our hotel which was entirely built of blocks of salt.
The desert nights are very cold so it provided good insulation against the cold.
As you can see even the headboard of my bed was made from salt! After spending the night before in the bus I slept very well. Like a log, as we say in New Zealand :)
We headed off into the desert. It was a very high altitude, nearly 5000m in parts, when we stopped we had to make sure we were wearing enough warm clothes. I was amazed to see signs of life even in the driest parts of this harsh landscape.
We stopped at a lake called Laguna colorada, a beautiful bright blue amongst the ochre surrounding hills.
Then we headed on towards a series of natural gysers. It is such a strange environment, almost like taking a tour of another planet.
We headed off to our accomodation for the night, and as night fell we took a trip around the corner to the little store for some bits and pieces. The stars were so clear and we could see the milky way.
The next morning we headed off again and it was not long before we stopped at a lake full of flamingos.
We headed along and stopped again at some interesting rock sculptures in the desert.
Then stopped off again at another lake full of flamingos. I think this one was my favourite.
Then we headed back to Uyuni. It was such a great trip with a lovely group of people. Then I headed back to La Paz on another night bus.
On my last full day in La Paz I went climbing at Aranjuez which is a sport crag with conglomerate rock, just outside of La Paz city. We had a lovely day and the rock was fantastic!
After getting down from Huayna Potosi I had pencilled in some paragliding for the next day. I figured my legs would need a rest and so flying seemed ideal. Adventurous activities are very affordable in Bolivia, and I love how everything can be easily based from La Paz. So bright and early I headed off to the headquarters of AndesXtremo, a small paragliding company run by three brothers.
After more people arrived we headed out to some rural hills just outside of La Paz. We lay in the sun and waited our turn, and before long it was my time to head into the sky. Taking off was not too hard, you pretty much just run as hard as you can and before you know it you are air borne!
Drifting through the sky was peaceful, Mario and I glided around the hills, circling higher in the updrafts. The weather had turned clearer and we got great views of the hills around La Paz. Overall, it was a great way to spend a Sunday!
La Paz is a great place for climbing. It is surrounded by mountains and is situated at 3800m, which makes it great for acclimatizing. A couple of days ago I headed off for a trip to attempt Mt. Huayna Potosi, which is about 25km from La Paz.
We headed off up the winding hills into the mountains. We arrived at our comfortable lodge with plenty of time to spare. After dinner we headed up to the nearest glacier and had some fun ice climbing. There was a tiny dog from the lodge that accompanied us the whole way.
After that we packed up, went back to the lodge and played the first of many games of cards.
The next day we packed up and headed up to the next lodge. As you can see the weather was not the greatest! We were rained on, hailed on and then snowed on. But we kept on going and eventually got to the lodge, and it was very nice to walk through the door. The lodge was well equipped, with even a kitten in residence whose job it was to keep the rat population down.
Our plan for the next day was to get up at 12am, then to set off at 1am. Usually parties get there by 6am, which allows for reaching the summit at sunrise. We packed our bags for the next day, and then settled down to the job of playing a few more hands of cards.
The weather had been pretty bad most of the day, but before settling in for the afternoon, I stepped outside, and the weather had started to clear and there were some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. I hoped that this would continue for our summit day.
At 1am we headed off on our climb. The weather was perfect. There was only the slightest breeze and the sky was clear and full of stars. We climbed upwards, across the big glacier and past crevasses. There was one main steepish section, and then we kept winding along the glacier and up towards the summit ridge. It got colder and colder as we got higher. I had to put more layers on before the ridge. The summit ridge is quite long and thin, but we kept on up, and we got to the summit.
We had arrived a little bit fast, so it was still dark at the top, so we had to wait a little while before the pre-dawn light allowed us to take our summit photos. As the light started to grow we got some beautiful views of the spectacular Cordilliera Real, and the twinkling lights of La Paz, far below.
In my first few days in La Paz I spent my days wandering up and down the high altitude hilly streets getting things organised for my outdoor adventures. La Paz is a colourful place. There are volunteers who direct traffic dressed as Zebras (a very successful idea which has dramatically reduced traffic accidents and increased morning cheer). The skyline has views of neighbouring snowy mountains. There are also colourful murals on walls and the sides of buildings as well. La Paz is kind of shaped like a bowl, so at night the houses on the hill sides kind of look like constellations of stars.