A Visit to Argentina (2014-07-15/08-11)
to Argentina, and all the linked pictures, by Andy
Pepperdine is made available under Creative
Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
After a quiet overnight flight from London via Frankfurt to Buenos Aires, I
arrived early in the morning of 16 July, not as tired as I had expected. The
sky was clear, blue, cool and very pleasant. According to the guidebook
money could be changed at one of the terminals, and so it proved, after I
had found my way through a labyrinth of temporary constructions around
building works. I found a taxi easily and soon was on my way to the centre
of the city, while the driver was talking to his office to find out where my
hotel was. Later I realised that was perhaps no too surprising as it was
situated above a cinema with a modest
At reception I was informed that they did not have my reservation, but
after e-mails and telephone calls from both him and me to various people
around the globe, just as I received confirmation from the organisers of my
trip, the hotel managed to find it. So panic over I set out to look at the
town for the next day and a half.
My first impression of Buenos Aires was one of wide streets, green spaces,
well-ordered traffic and interesting public artworks.
It is said that the main
boulevard Avenida de 9. Julio is the widest street in the world, but I
cannot confirm that.
In the middle of it stands an obelisk, on each side of which are inscriptions to remind the reader of some
important event in the history of the town. The eastern side shows that the town was founded
in 1536, so only 44 years after Columbus set sail.
de San Martin is very pleasant with a lot of trees and shade,
including a spectacular old rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) called
"gomero", whose branches are so heavy that some of them are now supported
The Plaza de
Mayo is at the heart of the political life in the town. Sometimes
there are demonstrations,
and ideas begin and spread form there. However, when I was there there was
nothing of interest happening, apart from the usual protests about the
disappeared. On one side of the square is the Casa Rosada, or more strictly
Casa de Gobierno, from the balcony of which all the main historical figures
have addressed the people. From the back one can better appreciate its size and
grandeur, and also the camera does not shoot into the sun.
The square also has several fountains, and on another side is the cathedral with its Greek appearance. Opposite
the Casa Rosada stands the Cabildo
showing the Spanish influence. This was used during colonial times as the
seat of government.
The artworks in the public spaces are varied and original. For example,
Spain donated a monument of Don
Quixote to Argentina in 1980 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the
founding of the city of Buenos Aires. Made by the Spanish sculptor Aurelio
Teno, it has ever since its erection attracted criticism and praise in equal
measure, both for its relevance, appearance and position. Personally I think
it adds interest to the townscape.
The park in front of the Congreso
de la Nación contains some statues. One is the only copy in the
Americas of Rodin's Thinker,
and another pays homage to Alfredo
Palacios a well-liked and eccentric senator.
In other places between traffic lanes along the Av. 9-a Julio green spaces
are used for flowers and trees, e.g. bottle
trees (Ceiba speciosa and other Ceiba sp.) here newly planted, which
give the town centre a sense of space and air.
The old docks at Puerte Madero are now four large artificial lakes where now new regions for
the rich are springing up. Along the three kilometres of path by the
waterside are found coffee bars, and old
cranes remind one of its history.
Close by are a number of monument on various subjects, such as tango, or Juan Fangio. The district is unusual in another
way. When it was proposed to develop the area, it was decided that all the
streets would have the names of women, and Argentina had many strong women
during its history, the clearest example of course being Evita Perón. So
footbridge was constructed across one of the ponds, it was called La
Puente de la Mujer (Bridge of the Woman). Also in the picture you can see
one of the two ships now used as small museums.
I joined a group of people to take an excursion, first to the town of Salta
in the north west of the country. We met at my hotel and made an easy
transfer to the airport for the direct flight. However, the guide told us
that there had been a change of hotel, and the new one was further out of
twon, so we would see the town centre first.
Because almost all of us wanted to take the Trajno al la Nuboj (Train to the
Clouds) they had to buy tickets today, and surprisingly it took two whole
hours to do. The following day was to be a very long day sitting in a train,
so I decided not to go. In any case I had seen the high Andes in Peru.
Salta is the capital of the province of Salta. When the country of Argentina
was founded, it was made clear that Salta had to be part of it, since Salta
contained the industry and mineral resources the new country needed. The
town sits in the foothills of the Andes, and in the centre is the usual square, but when I was there the green
part was being renovated. It was a town of multi-coloured churches – pink cathedral,
red and yellow San
Francisco, and blue and red Templo de la Candalaria.
Around the square were several museums. One shows the history of the
mountains, particularly Llullaillaco a nearby volcano. According to the
notices in the archaeological museum, when the first men reached the top of
the mountain, they found remains and graves there. (Eh? They could not have
been first, then, could they?) Even so, the museum is very interesting,
because they have examples of bodies and possessions that had mummified in
the dry cold air.
Another museum on the square, the Museo Histórico del Norte (Historical
Museum of the North) shows several items from the last three centuries – not
very long from a European viewpoint, but I was surprised that the town grew
so fast, and soon reached the same level as Spain. Inside it is an
attractive courtyard with flowers, even in winter. From the upper
storey the whole
square behind the fencing.
The church of San Francisco contains the usual catholic very ornamental altar etc. , under
a light cupola.
is even more ornate.
of the entrance reminded me of the Dutch artist M. C. Escher.
On Saturday instead of the train journey, I climbed the hill of San Bernardo
behind the hotel wher we were staying. It was an easy 40 minute walk mostly
up steps. From the top the whole town
was visible and one could see how it has spread around the local hills along the
valleys. At the base of the hill was a large monument to General Martín de Güemes
one of important soldiers fighting against the Spanish rulers in the 1800s.
Between the hotel and the centre I passed another bottle tree with fruit. In the picture you can also see thorns
growing along the branches. Also in the central square was the Muzeo de
Moderna Arto, which was showing work from local artists, e.g. mural collage with at its base a trompe l'œil mouse, which rather amused me.
While I was walking around the square, I noticed some flamboyant gauchos were gathering with their horses. I
sat down for a cup of coffee, but soon they left. Unfortunately, I did not
know that they were to put on a show, which I just missed.
Afterwards, while randomly wandering about, I discovered the most colourful
church in the town, the Templo
Iglesia de la Candelaria. It was not referred to in my guidebook, and very
little seems to be available on the net, except for the Spanish Wikipedia.
However, one of the plaques on the wall gives the name Noe Macchi as the
architect and the date 1894. In the late sun, the building appeared showy, with bright blue walls.
In the evening the other returned from their visit to the heights with tales
of an accident. The train came off the rails in a tunnel at 4000 metres and
apparently it took 7 hours to rescue them and bring them down in a variety
of vehicles. Our local guide worked hard and successfully to recover all the
money paid to everyone's gratitude. Later we heard that local authorities
had retracted the company's license, and that trip would be the last for the
The following day, Sunday, we set off by bus for a trip to Salinas Grandes,
or in other words great salt flats high in the mountains. We began by going
through a multi-coloured gorge, the Quebrada de Humahuaca, and stopped to
get a good view of the rocks,
which are rich in iron, copper, lead, silve and manganese, and which
provided the raw materials over a long period for industry in Salta. Also on
the way we noticed the strange
shapes, which the rocks form.
Bot surprisingly the salt flats are wide long flat dry and white. During the
dry season the surface crystals are swept up into small heaps, which can be
used industrially. But there are also trenches full of dense water. As the water
slowly evaporates, clean white crystals form on the surface until they are
too heavy, when they sink to the bottom, from where the pure salt is
obtained; that is the way they use to clean it for cooking purposes.
The salt can be hacked into blocks
for sale to tourists, or to construct
tables. It never rains on the salt, but only on the surrounding hills
during the rainy season, when the water runs onto the falts creating a lake
a few centimetres deep, but it also carries silt there too.
To get there and return, we had to go over a pass at 4170 metres where we
could see the road winding
down the hillside.
We spent the night at Huacalera in a hotel that can be recommended. In the
morning the sky was clear. Just outside the main entrance were tall cacti and on the grass pets, a few with young.
Getting on the bus again we went further up the painted valley to Humahuaca,
the furthest north we went, where we looked round the small local market. Outside in the street were brightly
coloured Andean knitted
wares for sale. But the architecture
is almost entirely Spanish. On the edge of the village on a small hill
stands a monument
to national independence. It is impressive, but I do not understand why they
put it there.
Returning south under continual blue skies, we paused for lunch at the Tropic of Capricorn, where we ate what the guide
had bought in the village, including a local cider.
After another short pause at Maimará, the town of the dead, we came to San
Salvador de Jujuy the centre of the district, with a large market. The major
sight there is the four statues by Lola Mora, Argentina's most famous
sculptor. These four represent Justice,
Peace, and Liberty, and had been intended for the new
National Congress building in Buenos Aires in 1906, but at that time, they
thought them too risqué. (I will not comment, but let you decide for
yourself.) They remained hidden until the province of Jujuy accepted them to
be placed around the town hall. Jujuy also commissioned one about Labour and
put it elsewhere in the town; I did not see that one. The life of Lola Mora
was somewhat tragic and controversial, dying in poverty only a few months
after the government finally started to give her a pension.
We went back to Salta for the night.
Before our flight to Iguazu the next day we took a detour to the small town
of Cafayate. The first stop was small farm which made and sold goat's cheese, and also had a small cafe for passing
The second pause was more interesting, the so called Amphitheatre, a large crack through
the rockface into a big
cave with excellent acoustic
properties (avi, 54MB), and where concerts are sometimes held, even
though it is far from any town.
Cafayate is the chief town among the vineyards, which usually cultivate
Malbec and Cabernet varieties. Of course it has a church and a park with bottle trees, one of which shows
very well. After a wine tasting at one of the wineries, we looked around
their small museum.
Then back towards Salta through the valley where some rock formations have
been given names, e.g. The
The evening flight from high Salta to the less high Iguazu passed off with a
hitch, so we arrived at the hotel on time.
Iguazu - Argentine
The great waterfalls lie on the river Iguazu, which in the Guarani language
means "big water", which at their peak carry more water per second than
Niagara, but during a year the total flow is less. Our introduction in the
morning at the hotel looked as though we under a waterfall due to the heavy rain. However afterwards it eased off
and we set off to the falls. There is a small train to take tourists to the falls, but
when we were there, only first stop was in operation; the track to the
second further on had been damaged by a landslide during the rainy season,
so we cold not reach the main horseshoe cliff known as the Devil's Throat.
From the Argentine side, one looks at the falls
from the top, from where almost the whole 2,7
kilometres (video, avi, 39MB) can be seen. There is a path going
around the area and some wild animals can be seen, like an agouti. But the substantial number of coatis can be dangerous, because they bite and steal
food from one's hand through threats and force.
I don't recognise this bird,
so if you do, please let me know. A butterfly found the hand of our guide and
remained there for quite a long time.
I wandered about the paths for views towards the falls and into the spray and mist.
Iguazu - Brazile
On Thursday we visited the Brazilian side of the river, from where you can
see all the falls, because you are looking upstream towards them, and you
can appreciate them even
better (also video,
avi, 36MB). Many footpaths have been built, and some over the stream
at the Devil's
Throat, where the spray is so thick (and wet!) that that it is
impossible to see the water falling into the deep horseshoe trough.
On Friday we stayed in Argentina to look at some animals which are being
protected in a refuge called Güiráoga,
which means the house of birds in Guarani. We were taken by tractor and trailer along
good paths into the centre of the small forest, where we got out and walked
to another stop to be collected for the trip back to the entrance.
The birds are in big cages,
and there was the only place I saw them at close quarters. Apart from
parrots, we saw toucans
and again. Photography was
difficult due to the distance to the birds, the wire netting between them
and me, and their quick movements, so I apologise for the less than optimal
quality. Many of them I do not recognise, like these, which squawked loudly.
In other cages there were monkeys,
or tayra, and elsewhere peccary.
Later, we went to Aripuca whose entrance
impressed with its great tree trunks. The name means animal trap; the
indigenous people used such a trap
to catch animals alive. The pyramid was supported on one side by a short
stick, and a small creature would make it fall when it's weight would pull a
string. In the small park there sat a house constructed in a similar manner to
the trap, but with much larger sticks. Names of the trees from which each of the
branches was taken, were glued onto them.
Naturally in such a tourist location chairs and tables etc. were for sale, but
how many could carry one home? Certainly not me as we flew back to Buenos
Aires for the conference.
After I registered for the conference on Saturday, I wandered around the
town a bit more. The Argentinians are great readers, as attested by the
number of bookshops in the streets. One of them is the world famous El Ateneo built inside an old cinema where the stage
has become a cafe. Even the outside
After the opening ceremony the following morning, I decided to get a
photograph of a well-known monument in Buenos Aires. I did not manage it,
because on my way there through my simple stupidity, my backpack was stolen.
That meant I spent two pleasant hours at a police station, explaining how it
happened, and they gave me a certificate so I could claim against my
insurance. Luckily I lost nothing important. The worst was that I lost the
conference papers including tickets for excursions, etc. But even those did
cause any problems as my name ws on the relevant lists. Unfortunately I
missed the first talk about Argentina.
One afternoon, we took an excursion to look round the town, starting with
the Plaza de Mayo, which I had already seen; however, this time, some of the
barriers had been removed giving me a better view of the central monument,
and the cathedral.
Also, there was a demonstration
about the veterans of the South Atlantic war.
More interesting was the later visit to the old quarter of San Telmo with
its busy streets,
and colourful buildings.
The final stop was at the cemetery at Ricoleta, where the mausolea are
placed in streets
like houses and the rich attempt to outdo one another. We of course saw the
Evita Duarte – that is obligatory for tourists.
On Wednesday I took a full day excursion to Colonia del Sacramento in
Uruguay directly across the river Plate about an hours journey by a
The town of 25,000 inhabitants has a long history during which Spain and
Portugal were continually exchanging it between themselves, usually
violently. Nowadays several people from Buenos Aires live and work there, as
it is cheaper and the internet connection is good enough.
After a brief pause on the beach by the river, we saw the old bullring, which is now too dangerous
for foreigners to be allowed in (or so they say).
Much of the town has been renovated; for instance the old wall is really a modern reconstruction.
In part of the central
park can be found the ruined foundations of a watch tower. Elsewhere
one can compare the Spanish and Portuguese methods of building streets. The
street has a convex surface, gutters on each side, and footpaths; whereas
used only a concave surface and a central drain channel.
After the conference, I joined a group to see something of Patagonia, so on
Sunday – at 5:30 in the morning – we took the bus to the airport. But the
flight was delayed. On arrival El Calafate greeted us with snow on the ground
and temperatures just above zero.
sits in the foothills of the Andes and used to survive on sheep until about
ten years ago. But now the population has swelled from 7,000 to 22,000 and
the harvest consists of tourists coming to look at the glaciers. Our warm
comfortable hotel stood away from the town with a regular bus service
dedicated to the guests.
In the town is a small park as a reminder of the creation of the region as a
National Park. Inside it are a couple of remarkably lifelike statues about days gone by and of the fossil finds and scientific discoveries made
by Francisco Moreno, usually known as Perito Moreno, after whom the famous
glacier is named. (Perito means Expert).
of Glaciers is a modern building several kilometres away from the
centre of town. The displays are well presented and worth visiting.
The reason for the tourists are the glaciers that flow down into Lake
Argentina, The largest lake in the country. On our first good glimpse of it we noticed the thin layer of
ice covering pat of the surface. The terrain
reminded me of northern Scandinavia.
In the picture the glacier
Perito Moreno is the white finger pointing downwards. Sometimes it reaches
the opposite shore. When that happens, the water on the left of the picture
slowly rises, until the glacier starts to float and eventually breaks up,
often spectacularly. However, when I was there, clear water was seen between
of the glacier and the lake shore. The ice was many shades of blue.
Everywhere on the hillside metal footpaths
were there to protect the ground from the innumerable feet which now tramp
there. The birds
apparently are tame.
Many of the trees in the forest support the false or feathery mistletoe (Misodendrum
punctulatum), which is a true parasite on the southern beech.
On Tuesday we set off by ship on the lake to the Glacier Spegazzini, and we
soon found ourselves amid
the mist and ice. Some of the icebergs were larger than the ship, and we slowly manoeuvred
among them. At other times we had a good view of the strata in the rock, and their distorted forms.
In the town, I looked around, but there is little to see apart from the
monument to the heroes
of the Malvinas.
On Wednesday we flew out of a strangely empty airport to Ushuaia on the southern
coast of the island of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego.
They call Ushuaia The End of the World, but to me it seems to be a small
with many recognisable shops in the streets. It feels like more than a
tourist town, although tourism is an important part of the economy and no
factories are obviously visible. Whether it is the most southern port
depends on whether you consider the Chilean village of Puerte Williams
(population: 2,000) across the Beagle Channel is a real port in the
commercial sense. The mountains one sees looking across the Channel are in Chile.
The food speciality in the region is the southern king-crab, whose body may contain up to 300 grams
of meat, and which some restaurants put in their windows.
Like many remote places in the world, its modern history started when a
distant government wanted to acquire sovereignty over the area, and so set
up an artificial activity in order that they could say the land was theirs.
Here Argentina decided in 1896 to open a prison, which provided jobs for the
few locals until 1910, when the prison was expanded. However, due to reports
of abuse, in 1947 Juan Perón transferred the prisoners further north and the
building became part of the naval base.
The prisoners worked on building a railway into the forest, which now
tourists ride from the modern station.
Inside it has a festive
feel. The trains
also are recently built.
The indigenous Yamana a hundred years ago lived by hunting seals and other
marine animals with harpoons having a separable tip – just like the northern
Inuits, except that trees are found in the south. Sadly the Yamana have
totally died out, and now we have only a dictionary of 30,000 words written
by the missionary Thomas Bridges during the 1870-s.
The next day we went to Lago
Roca, which spans the boundary between Chile and Argentina. There is a
visitor centre nearby with a small museum, but I liked the birds and animals
outside. Soon afterwards we stopped at the end of Ruta Nacional 3, or the
Panamerican Highway, at Lapataia
near to the seaside.
In the afternoon we again boarded a ship and left Ushuaia for a short trip along the
Beagle Channel. We stopped close to islands where we could look at cormorants, seals, sealions,
and a lighthouse,
before returning to the town.
Friday started with a lot of rain after a very windy night, and the bus was
waiting to take us to Lago Fagnano by way of the Garibaldi Pass, where one
can sometimes see the Lago
Escondido or Hidden Lake, perhaps so named due to the common fog at
The wind was blowing waves up on Lago
Fagnano and the beach was deserted,
apart from us of course. The old nearby trees were covered in lichen, which
the locals call Old
Man's Beard and feathery
On the way back over the Garibaldi pass, the hidden lake had been uncovered.
Later I looked around the principal museum in town. Near the main door a
statue greeted me glumly,
but in the building, which is the old prison, the displays shone under good
lights. There were lots of model
ships carefully crafted of each real ship that explored and sailed in
the southern ocean. Generally, I think that the museum gives a good
explanation of the history and exploration across the whole region including
Antarctica and the islands.
are useful for displays, but where else would one find a prison with a sign to the exit? One of the wings has been left
in the state,
it was in before the museum was renovated.
We flew out of Ushuaia after some fresh
snow to Buenos Aires, and after one more night there, home.
A Visit to
Argentina, and all the linked pictures, by Andy Pepperdine
is made available under Creative
Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.