Monday, December 26, 2011
Although only 260 miles, we were late leaving VGB so it took us two days to get to Rosario. We spent the first night at a gas station in Villa Maria. It was quiet with a large grassy area to exercise Winston and it had Wi-Fi. Then it was on to Rosario. Also located on the Parana River in the province of Santa Fe, Rosario is a beautiful city and the third largest in Argentina with a population of over 1 million people. Our destination in the city is the Monumento Nacional a la Bandera (National Flag Monument). This 10,000 sq. meter complex built using stone from the Andes consists of the tower, civic courtyard and the Propileo Triunfal. The 70 meter (210ft) tower which has the crypt of Manuel Belgrano at the base provides fantastic views of the rest of the complex, the nearby Cathedral and the city and river. From there, the walk across the courtyard is filled with stone statues by sculptors Jose Fioravanti and Alfredo Bigatti until you enter the Propleo Triunfal. The huge stone pillars reminiscent of ancient Roman and Greek architecture has the Honor Room which displays all the flags of the Americas and holds the Eternal Flame at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Guarded by the military it is a tribute to the wars fought and soldiers who died for their country. Very Arlington Cemetery like. Across the street, National Flag Park has plenty of riverside parking and was perfect for our overnight stay. After dark, the monument and nearby Cathedral is lit with a fabulous display of lights and because of Christmas, plenty of decorations and Christmas trees. A little after dark a monstrous storm came through so in addition to all the other lights we were treated to a super display of lightening as it flashed across the sky and lit up the river. The only downside was there was no internet and we were unable to meet up with Luis and Sylvina. However time allowing we will come back to visit them but we are committed to being in Buenos Aires tomorrow to meet with Anne and Jon.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Our stay at the campground extended to almost 3 weeks. We are in a holding pattern, waiting for the refrigerator to arrive from the States. It will ship from New York on December 16th and is due to arrive in Buenos Aires, January 10th. We expect the earliest we can pick it up will be the 11th and that is only if the planets and stars are aligned correctly and the world says a collective prayer! The reality is we can only hope that it is not too delayed. We are very aware that after February, the weather in Patagonia will start to get colder and we only have a small window of opportunity to get down there before their winter. That being the case, we decided to stay in VGB as the campground is quite nice with hot showers, power, water and internet and it is very accommodating for Winston with plenty of places to walk him. It is close to town with all the amenities of supermarkets, smaller grocery and specialty stores, lavanderia etc. Also, people that we had met in Arapey started to arrive. Besides Michael, Wolf came with his wife Ilona. In Arapey, Ilona had been visiting back in Germany, so we had not met her. Another German couple also arrived that had been in Arapey briefly. Wolf and Ilona have been travelling South America for 12 years now. They have been through Central America and up to Alaska twice and visit Patagonia every few years. Michael has been travelling for 2 years. They gave us many tips on travelling and we may meet up with Wolf and Ilona in Patagonia as they are also driving down there this year. We are also keeping in contact with Anne and Jon. Biologists, we met them in Costa Rica last year and they travelled the west coast, whilst we went on the east. They have already been to Patagonia and are now headed north. The plan is to try to hook up in Buenos Aires and exchange information. We settled in to the easy life of camp. Besides small routine tasks around the motor home, we read, walked to town, walked Winston and explored the countryside. We tried a few different restaurants and were not disappointed at the food and cost. Argentina is substantially less expensive than Brazil, with beef and wine being the best deals. On our first visit to a restaurant, Tom ordered a beer and I red wine. I chose a mid priced wine from the list about $7.00 so imagine our surprise when we realized that that was for a whole bottle, not a glass! That night, Toms 2 beers cost more than the very good wine. I looked at Tom, eyes gleaming – “I think I’m going to like Argentine…a lot!” On our last Sunday at camp, Bettina and her husband Rolf hosted an Assada. An Argentinean barbeque that is similar to the Brazilian churrascarias. Rolf began the cooking around 1:30 in the afternoon and at 5:30 we were all still eating. It starts with a variety of sausages, 5 or 6 different types then pork in the form of spare ribs and pork loin and then huge porterhouse steaks in addition to a variety of veggies - corn, red bell peppers, mushrooms, different squashes and bread. All slowly roasted over hot coals. There were 12 people to dinner, all German with the exception of Tom and myself. The conversation was fast, rapid German and fortunately Wolf and Ilona were able to translate most of it for us. If you are ever at Camping La Florida join in on Sundays. It was tremendous fun and a fabulous last night for us. Before leaving Bettina had us write in her journal and she took our photo with Winston in front of the RV. She has 4 books now, filled with photos and writings of people who have stayed with them. We were tempted to stay longer but we need to head south to Rosario to visit with Luis and Sylvinia who we met in Uruguay and then to Buenos Aires on Wednesday night to hook up with Anne and Jon. So much going on and it is so exciting.
Monday, December 19, 2011
The campground is situated on the main road into town. Owned by Rolf and Bettina, Camping La Florida is nestled amongst pines and firs and has electricity hookup for the RV. They keep a myriad of goats, sheep, horses and dogs on the property so we decided to keep Winston on his long tether in camp and take him for walks in the surrounding countryside. One of the Germans we met at Arapey Michael is here and he said we had just missed another couple. After taking a couple of days to settle in at the camp ground, we were ready to explore the town. Named after Manuel Belgrano, a famous general and the creator of the Argentinean flag, Villa General Belgrano or VGB is located in the Calamuchita Valley. Founded in 1930 by two German prospectors interested in agriculture, the Alpine-like area continued to attract German and Swiss immigrants through the 30’s. In 1940, when German seamen sank their battle ship off the coast of Montevideo, some of the surviving sailors arrived and continued to build in the Bavarian style. Now the village is known for its typical Alpine architecture with red roofed, wood framed and exposed beams homes. Restaurants offer traditional German delicacies including goulash and spatzle, fondue, sausages, sauerkraut and apple strudel. There is a profusion of pastry and gourmet chocolate shops as well as microbreweries offering hand crafted German style pilsners and dark beers. In fact Oktoberfest here is considered the third most important site after Munich, Germany and Blumenau, Brazil. The village survives on a steady stream of tourists and you can’t miss the souvenir stores with their windows filled with beer steins in various sizes. Kitschy but charming and we enjoyed it. In true Bavarian tradition we ate dinner at a nearby restaurant specializing in fondue. Served with a variety of breads and sausages it was delicious. There were photographs on the wall showing the restaurant in winter (July and August), with a lot of snow on the ground. As we walked back to the campgrounds, the sky was clear and filled with stars and the surrounding hills were studded with lights from houses and small hotels, many now decorated for Christmas. We contemplated briefly that snow would be fun but spring days are nice too.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
The 470 mile drive will take us two days travelling through the provinces of Entre Rios, Santa Fe and into Córdoba. The border crossing was very routine and quick. After crossing the Puente Internacional at Salto, there is one small building with two counters. One for Uruguay and one for Argentina. After getting our passports stamped and the auto permit released for exit, we moved to the Argentina counter. They stamped our passports and copied the temporary auto permit directly from the Uruguayan paperwork. We were then directed to a group of officials outside. A lady from customs checked our RV permit but did not request to look inside the vehicle. Another man asked for Winston’s rabies certificate and looked at that and his USDA permit which is now almost 2 years old. After only about 30 minutes total, we were on our way. We had planned on our overnight stop to be in Parana the capital of Entre Rios province. Situated on the eastern side Parana River – the same river which feeds the Itaipu Dam by the way – Parana is a fairly large town with a very pretty river walk area. They also had a Wal-Mart! Although we later discovered that there is one in most of the larger towns. Tom went to see if he could find some of the products he likes from the US and I walked Winston. We ate and had dinner in their parking lot but had to park overnight at a Shell gas station. It was dark but had we driven a little further, we would have found the river walk which had plenty of places for overnight parking and even Wi-Fi zoned sections. Oh well, live and learn. On the west side of the Parana River is Santa Fe, capital of the province of Santa Fe. Since 1969, the two cities are connected by the The Raul Uranga – Carlos Silvestre Begnis Sub fluvial Tunnel, named in honor of the two governors who initiated the project. The 3 kilometer (about 2 mile) tunnel runs under the Parana River and at its deepest point is about 32 meters (100 feet) under water. It made me a little claustrophobic and Tom contemplating about their seeming lack of accident preparedness did not help my anxiety level. Santa Fe seemed a little seedier than Parana and not as well taken care of so we did not stop. As we entered Córdoba province and began climbing the first of the three mountain ranges which combined make up the Sierras de Córdoba, the scenery changed from industrial to agricultural and the weather got noticeably cooler. Our destination is Villa General Belgrano, about 60 miles from Córdoba in the Sierras de Córdoba. A German owned campground “Camping La Florida” is reputed to be set up for RV’s and it had in fact been recommended by a German couple in Grapey. As night approached, we looked forward to finding the campground and settling in.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
As always on our last night in a country, I think about what we have seen, the people we have met and the places we visited. To really understand Uruguay and the Uruguayans you have to take into account their history. Until 1829 it was simply “the Eastern Territory”, in a constant battle between the Spanish and the Portuguese and many Uruguayans still refer to themselves as Orientales (Easterners) as in east of Argentina. However, long referred to as the Switzerland of South America, over the years it has been in the forefront of social reform. When Jose Batlle (Ba-zhay) y Ordonez began his second term of his presidency in 1915 he legalized divorce, abolished the death penalty and established an 8 hour work day. He also guaranteed complete freedom of the press. After his death in 1929 the reforms he had put in place continued and in 1942 the government established universal health care, accident and unemployment insurance. Due to these reforms, the middle class is well established here. We have seen less poverty and more of a distribution of wealth. The roads are well maintained and the countryside and beaches are clean. They live for the weekend to go to parks and beaches. They love to camp and barbeque. They recycle. In 2006, Uruguay was the first South American country to ban smoking in public places. Travelling, we have been treated with respect by all officials and never experienced any intimidation to try and manufacture infractions to incur bribes. We have been treated with friendliness and kindness by the people we met. But, for all that, they are definitely more reserved than the Venezuelans and Brazilians towards foreigners. Perhaps because they do not rely on tourism and it is not a huge part of the economy, the country is more insulated against the throngs of visitors that the neighboring countries experience. But, if a visit to a capital city that is a throwback to the 1950’s is what entices you or, if clean, beautiful, mostly empty, white sand beaches with a side visit to a geo-thermal park thrown in, all encapsulated in 5 star hotel/spa treatments is what you yearn for or, if dining on world class beef and red wines in first class restaurants would serve as your gastronomic delight, all (by the way) at bargain basement prices then Uruguay should definitely be on your “bucket list”.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
What to do? We have slowed our journey south for two reasons. First our refrigerator won’t arrive in Buenos Aires until January 7th and due to the weather, we need to wait until then to head to Patagonia. January and February here is the same as July and August in the north. Termas Del Arapey has the most decent facilities for a motor home and we decide to go back there for a couple of weeks. We want to be in Buenos Aires for Christmas. No particular reason, it just sounds nice. However, Arapey is the perfect fill-in for the interim with full hook up, internet, thermal spa pools and stores for groceries. It takes us two days to get back there and the first thing we notice is all but 3 of the German vehicles have left. The remaining Germans welcome us back, admire our new window and we settle back into the lazy lifestyle of the campground. Besides cleaning the RV, basic chores and laundry our days are spent relaxing, reading, swimming and getting to know our neighbors. There is a tree beside our campsite which, during the day is host to flocks of green and blue parrots. They are some of the most raucous birds we have heard and spend their day chattering and shrieking to one another. If they weren’t so beautiful and darned cute, it would be annoying but we love it. Winston loves his walks along the river where we can let him loose. Unfortunately we need to keep him on his long tether in camp as there are just too many other campers. Being a beagle there are just a plethora of opportunities to snag, beg or otherwise obtain food from other people and we need him to maintain his boyish figure! The downside to Arapey is Saturday nights. During the week it is quiet and peaceful. Friday night there is a small build up of people which rise to a crescendo by Saturday. These are for the most part, young and we mean young, maybe 14 to 26 year olds. They arrive “en masse” complete with trucks containing monstrous speakers that play music, loudly until 4 and 5 in the morning. It is so completely obnoxious and there appear to be no rules regarding noise observance, even the parrots are driven away. Weekenders come from all over. Arapey is close to both the Brazilian and Argentinean borders and to several of the larger Uruguayan cities so there are many people within driving distances. It makes for a colorful Saturday night. Then by Sunday afternoon, they have all left and the site belongs to the sane again. And the parrots return. Speaking with Nobert and Wolf, two of our German friends, we learn of an RV campsite in Argentina, close to Cordoba. This is only a two day drive from here and after talking it over we decide to try it. We still have a couple of weeks to hang around and seeing a new place, especially one with a campground for RV’s, sounds appealing. Our new plan is to leave here Friday, spend the weekend at another thermal campground in Dayman, which is even closer to the border and then cross on Monday
Friday, December 2, 2011
Uruguay is reckoned to have one of the most attractive coastlines in South America and virtually all the country’s major tourist destinations are on the coast. Linked by the Interbalnearia, most of the beaches are easily accessible and so we planned to spend a week or so getting acquainted with some of them. After passing the eastern most beach of Carrasco where the very run-down Montevideo Casino and Hotel was closed due to massive renovations we left metropolitan Montevideo and had an easy 45km (28 mile) drive to Atlántida. Surrounded by a windbreak of cypress and eucalyptus, this is a small upscale community. We parked and camped on the beach access road which is separated from the ocean by massive sand dunes but there are plenty of wooden walkways to get to the sand and sea. Except for some surf fisherman we had the beach to ourselves and Winston ran free. We also found a great supermarket “Tienda Inglesia” which had a high quality delicatessen, meat and seafood dept. and some hard to find products like sesame seed oil for when we cook Asian. Seeing the sand dunes did forewarn us, the wind here is quite fierce at times. From Atlántida, we passed through Piriapolis, a beautiful town with a curving bay and old fashioned promenade. The largest building is the huge Argentino Hotel built in the 1920’s complete with stained glass windows. Absolutely stunning. But we are headed to the most famous beach on the Uruguayan coast, Punte Del Este. Located on a peninsula where the Rio de la Plata empties into the Atlantic Ocean, it has two long, beautiful beaches. The tranquil bay side and the more windswept ocean side. Popular with richer Uruguayans, Argentineans and Europeans, Punta is visited by the proverbial “jet-set” and make it more expensive than beaches to the north and south of it. Since it is still the off-season it is quiet and less expensive and the beaches are indeed gorgeous. Before going to our campsite, we stop off at the point in Punta Ballena just outside of Punta Del Este, to see the “casa blanca”, the white adobe style home of painter Paez Vilaro. Built into the sea cliffs above the ocean it is very reminiscent of ocean homes in Greece or Italy both in architecture with the rounded, flowing structure complete with turrets and in style with lots of windows opening to ocean views. Quite unique and stunning. The campsite turned out to be disappointing. Far inland from the ocean, it was open but undergoing renovation for the summer. We decided to spend only two days and then head further north. Before leaving town there was one other famous site for us to see. Built into the sand at Punta Brava on the north end of Punta Del Este is Los Dedos (The Fingers). Designed to resemble a giant hand reaching out of the sand, it ranges in size from about four feet (thumb and little finger) to about 16 feet (middle finger) with a span of about 25 feet. Grey in color, the joints and finger nails are clearly visible in amazing detail. We agreed that this was one of the most strange, bizarre sculptures we have ever seen. It was also a great photo op! Our final beach spot was just a little further north at La Paloma. A small old colonial town with a pretty lighthouse. We spent two nights camping at the port where Winston could run free and we had nice picturesque views of the ocean and lighthouse.