So, here you go (click to enlarge)...
Hey, Vinx! This blog post's for you: We spent the day in San Isidro, a suburb of BsAs, and there were tonnes of flea and antique markets (with super-cheap prices), so much so that even the boys said, "Hey, Mom, Uncle Vinx would LOVE this stuff!"
So, here you go (click to enlarge)...
Alex and Simon woke up at 5 a.m.!!! But we were ready for them...
After reading birthday cards and checking out some new books they got from a friend back home, it was time to find clues and solve the puzzle about where the boys were going to go for their adventure gift.
Simon read the instructions on the map, and then they hunted for and found clues -- Alex read the first clue aloud; this led the boys to the balcony, where they found the second clue.
The second clue led the to the fridge, where they found the final clue, containing the address for the website which outlined the options for the final adventure of this year. Any guesses which option they chose?
Anyone who’s traveled for an extended period of time to Argentina knows the 90-day rule that invariably brings one to Uruguay for an afternoon or a few days. We elected to spend the night in Colonia to renew our travel visas (technically, only the boys and I needed to do it, since Tats was coming and going inside of the 90-day rule, and our friend Brian from PEI was just visiting for a few weeks, but we all decided to make an adventure of visiting this UNESCO heritage site).
Colonia de Sacramento was founded by the Portuguese in 1680, and after more than a hundred years of fighting, eventually came permanently under Spanish rule. Architecturally, Colonia offers an interesting fusion of Portuguese, Spanish and post-colonial styles. After disembarking from the ferry, we wandered on foot through the old town en route to our "hotel" (two simple rooms in an authentic colonial house -- with the caving-in roof and rotting floor boards to prove it -- overlooking the Rio de la Plata, which I had booked online through AirBnB -- the house, not the Rio, obvs.)
Pause now, to click on and enlarge the photos below... worth the slide show... check out the cobble stone roads, especially the REALLY old ones! You'll also see our house, including the deck which Brian quickly adopted as his personal outdoor pub, hehe.
After settling in, we decided to wander about the town for a bit before dinner. First we went to the little rock beach outside our house. The boys enjoyed climbing!
Next we elected to do a little geocaching, which led us to the skeleton of a giant blue whale that had washed up on shore some years ago, and that was now on display for passers-by.
(Carrol, if you are reading this, our friend Brian told the boys about the PEI whale that had been moved to PEI, and they knew all about it, sharing details from the slide show you had sent us earlier this year!!!)
Next we came to a historic lighthouse, and decided to climb to the top (for a small fee, of course!)
From the top, we got a birds'-eye-view of the colonial city, as well as a hint that a spectacular sunset was about to begin...
So we perched ourselves down by the rail, and waited for the show to begin!
It was incredible to watch how the sky changed colour every few seconds....
The minute the sun hit the horizon, we were ushered back downstairs, where we enjoyed some drumming before dinner at a local Parilla.
The next day, we wanted to go to the beach. And it was the perfect day for it -- hot and sunny!
So, after breakfast, we thanked our host, and set out along the road that he and our map assured us would lead to a larger, sandy beach.
Along the way, we stopped at a playground, where Tats and the boys played a round of whack-a-mole in and on top of some giant crawling tubes!
(It helps if you advance the slides below manually, really fast!)
At the playground, we also encountered several dogs.
Street dogs in Colonia seem to be far more social than the street dogs we’ve seen in BsAs. One of the dogs from the playground here decided to come with us to the beach, and led the way past murals and shrubbery, on to the sandy beach, where he played with the boys in the low tide waters -- fetch, splash, chase….
After about an hour in the water, it was time for lunch. We pooled our last few Argentinian pesos, Uruguayan pesos (thanks, Rick, if you are reading this!!) and USD, and bought ourselves a fabulous feast at a little shack overlooking the beach. We stayed for some time before heading back to the ferry docks to catch our ferry back to BsAs.
How lucky we were to have such cooperative weather for our short but fulfilling adventure in Colonia!
The ferry between Argentina and Uruguay is like a cross between a cruise ship and an airplane; a grand entrance welcomes passengers, and invites a variety of options from lounging, shopping, eating or drinking at the bar, or simply taking a load off in one of the rows of airplane-like reclining seats for the hour-long ride from BsAs to Colonia.
The boys had never seen a vessel of this magnitude up close before, and were duly impressed. Since we had nearly missed the ferry due to major traffic downtown (several streets were shut down because of a protest, so rather than take a cab from the subway, we had to run 16 blocks to the ferry docks!), we enjoyed resting and snacking for about 50 minutes before the islands off the coast of Uruguay came into sight and it was time think about disembarking.
(click to enlarge)
Since we were in fact leaving one country and entering another, we did have to go through customs and security. The boys are by now familiar with having their thumbprints scanned; if they ever commit a crime, the Argentinian gov't has several copies!
After October's visit to the falls and rainforest in Iguazu, Simon immediately wanted to return. We determined to send him again, if possible, with one of our future visitors.
As it turns out, one of our visitors is "Uncle Joel", whom the boys have known since they were about 3 years old, and whom they absolutely adore, is here for about a week, visiting from Portugal. He was game to try his hand at parenting for a few days, by taking Simon and Alex with him to Iguazu. (Alex -- who also enjoyed the trip last time, though he was somewhat less enthusiastic than his brother -- insisted on tagging along, because what's more fun than a first class bus trip with Uncle Joel??!!)
After the subway ride to Retiro, we loaded the three boys on the bus with strict instructions about sunscreen, bug spray and handwashing. "And you better email Mommy, Daddy and Tatsy at least once a day every day while you are there!"
The boys waved to us from the bus window -- they love their first class seats (prices have increased RIDICULOUSLY since we took our very affordable trip last fall, but with an 18-hour ride overnight, is there really any other option?!)
Suddenly finding ourselves childless in Buenos Aires, Tats and I decided to embark on a little adventure of our own: We took the train (different than the subte) home!
One line, considerably cheaper than the subway, and only 3 stops, the train is very convenient, except that things are largely unmarked, and even the maps are old, faded and almost unreadable, so you just sort of have to guess which train to get on and hope for the best, lol! Luckily, we picked the right platform, and were soon back home.
Now it will be three days of intensive catch-up with the online course I am taking, as well as the beginning of an exciting online book club which I signed up for through our teacher federation. There will also be opportunity for sleeping!!! :))) And, Tats begins her Spanish course this week. Without kids around, we might just squeeze in one dinner out, too... depending on the blue rate! :-)
Tigre. About 40 minutes by train from our place in BsAs, it seems a world apart. Expanses of green grass, spacious houses and other buildings, a HUGE indoor/outdoor market to rival the biggest in the capital, and a river define this place and differentiate it from the more claustrophobic city we call home this year.
The train ride itself was an interesting experience. Although the distances are considerably greater on the train, it costs far less than the subte! $1.50 (pesos) gets you there, and the shopping and entertainment experience is unlike even the busiest day on the subway here in BsAs: We were entertained by a boy singing (in a beautiful voice, I might add) -- he was with his dad, who was on crutches; allegedly there were no siblings and no mother, just the two of them, as he announced before he began to sing. Then there was an Aboriginal pan flute and indigenous string instrument guy (also very talented), and a fellow blasting some horrible pop music out of a portable CD player (the CDs were for sale... sales, needless to say, were slim).
In addition to the music, the captive train audience was subjected to no fewer than eight sales pitches. Peddlars were selling everything from iPod nano knockoffs to Sube card protectors and make-up kits. There were also several guys selling chocolate of various kinds, an Alfahors peddlar, someone selling chewing gum, and a kid w handwritten bits of paper.
Once in Tigre, we wandered along the scenic route into the market area, where we met our friends and their two daughters at a cafe. After some more meandering, through the market, we stopped at the river to enjoy the view. A street dog had the same idea, and was leaned right up against the fence, watching the water intently.
(Click to enlarge.)
On the way back to the train, we stopped for some waffles. Then it was time to catch the train home to our little corner of Buenos Aires, where the locals were getting ready to celebrate the first night of Carnaval!
A few stray photos from the last night in PM, and the next day, before heading back to the bus station for the 19-hour ride back to BsAs...
Our hosts decided to take a photo on our final afternoon at La Calandria in el Doradillo, before driving us to the bus terminal. They sent us the shot when we arrived back home in Buenos Aires. Dany and Patricia were lovely, gracious hosts; multi-talented, yet very humble people. How nice it would be to go back in May and see the whales!!!
At the suggestion of our host, we forewent the Valdes Peninsula today in favour of Punta Ninfas, an unregulated area along an endless gravel road leading through estancia after estancia.
“If God had an office”, noted our host, “it would be here”.
I agree that this place is definitely a contender: Once we arrived at the cliff in question, we took in a breath-taking, “end of the world” sort of view; the ocean all around us, and in the distance, the peninsula which we did not visit.
Down far, far below was a pebble beach, and on it, we could see some sea creatures. Our driver, a local “NYC” (Spanish for “born and raised” in Puerto Madryn) told us we would indeed be able to get down to the animals and walk near them.
After taking some time to absorb the truly magnificent vista (and make connections between the cliff and what we’d been learning about in Science a few months ago, with rocks and minerals), we got back in the car and drove a little further. Then it was time to head down to the beach.
This was no simple affair: “you just climb over a wall, there is a rope, and a few steps down and you are at the beach” was what our host had told us. “OMG it’s a rock avalanche and you might die on the way down and if you don’t then good luck getting back up” might offer a more apt description!
After the rope section, you've reached sort of a plateau, and then you have to work your way down more rocky dune, to the beach below.
The boys LOVED it! I, meanwhile, made a mental note to self: Birkenstocks are not good for rock climbing!!!
Once we arrived on the beach, we walked for some time and suddenly, there they were: A whole herd of elephant seals!!! Big males disguised as rocks in the water, and smaller males and females strewn about the beach, basking in the sunshine. (Click the photos below to enlarge)
It was interesting to observe the boys processing the experience: Simon talked and talked and talked about it... "Mommy, I've never just seen seals in the wild like this, have YOU seen seals in the wild? This is really rare, right Mommy?" and so on. Alex, meanwhile, was skipping down the beach, singing a little song to himself about how beautiful everything is.
At one point, I looked up the rocky cliff where we had come from. While admiring its rugged beauty, I could not help but wonder how in God's green earth we were ever going to get back up there!!!
After some seal-watching, we walked on. A little further down the beach, we came across the sea lions we had glimpsed from way up high on the cliff. These were a little less casual about our presence, and if we got too close, they dipped into the ocean (they are much faster on land than seals), or opened their mouths wide to growl at us ferociously!
We respected their need for personal space, and -- after a few photos (for which they obligingly posed) -- we moved on.
Before the long climb up the cliff, we stopped for a little snack and some mate with our driver, who happily shared, and explained the tradition to us.
The boys, meanwhile, collected an assorted of rocks and other beach treasures, and put on a little "rock show" for us!
Recharged from our mate break, we began the long and treacherous climb up to the top of the cliff, pausing once or twice, and arriving miraculously at the top all in one piece!
What an incredible outing it was; I highly reccommend it for anyone visiting the Puerto Madryn area.