The Coasts of Argentina and Uruguay

In a break from our usual kind of travel, we took a two-week cruise from Buenos Aires around Cape Horn and up to Santiago, Chile.  We covered the eastern coast of South America by going a little northward to Uruguay before heading southward to other cities in Argentina and the Falkland Islands (which I’ll talk about in a separate post).

Sailing away from Buenos Aires, a tug in the BA port, arriving in Montevideo

Our first stop was Montevideo, Uruguay, just a few hours across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. I’ve never been so quickly enchanted by a city as I was here. It has about a million and a half people people compared to BA’s 13 million and feels a lot homier. We walked through the touristy market and souvenir vendors next to the cruise dock to the more local areas of town. Part of the city lies on a peninsula ringed by a wide boardwalk which we followed right to one of the most popular beaches.

Montevideo street art and market

I don’t know if it was due to the summer weekend (large swaths of South America close for Saturday and Sunday) or because we had just been living in the center of a much larger city, but Montevideo’s streets felt remarkable quiet. The main shopping district and plazas were full of activity, but just a few blocks over it was peaceful. We came across a farmer’s market on a tree-lined street not too far away from the house we will be renting in another couple months. It even had a cheese truck, so I’ll be set. We spent the rest of the hot afternoon drinking light local beers at a parilla, envying the order of grilled meats the table next to us was devouring.

Ship graveyard in Montevideo, the hand in Punta del Este, PdE’s hotel- and boat-filled waterfront

A bit further up Uruguay’s coast is Punta del Este, the country’s main ocean-front resort.  This might have been where everyone from the capital was at – there are hundreds of hotels and sandy beaches forested by umbrellas, and all seemed filled to capacity. We were only there for a few hours and that was probably enough.  Once you’ve window shopped, eaten gelato (Freddo’s!), hung out at the beach, and seen the giant hand, there isn’t much else to do. Since it is built for tourists, prices tend to be higher as well. I will say that their Disco grocery caters to more diverse/tourist tastes than most, meaning that they had peanut butter and Nutella, and even some spicy sauces. Sadly, since Chile is strict about bringing food into the country, I didn’t even bother to stock up.

Puerto Madryn’s tideflats, light & clouds at sea

Now turning southward, we skipped all the way down the seaboard to Puerto Madryn, Argentina. This was the first opportunity to see penguins, though we didn’t pay for any of the tours that went to the colony.  There are a few hotels and a new shopping center near pier and some tour sales, but off the main street it felt like a small town. We stumbled onto La Abuela Dorotea, a shop offering wine and chocolate at cheap prices. Naturally we bought both. Aside from this little bit of purchasing, we walked along the tide flats. The beach here has a very shallow incline and low tide makes it grow hundreds of meters wider. The space gets turned into impromptu sports fields and a running track. It also means that the pier has to be more than a kilometer long to reach deep enough water for the cruise ship to dock.

Ushuaia claims the end of the world and the Malvinas, view from the top of town

At the very bottom of Argentina is Ushuaia, the traditional jumping-off point for Antarctic expeditions. The main pier was full of other cruises, most heading south at very high prices. Right outside the port and along the waterfront are signs asserting Argentina’s claim to the Falklands, here called the Islas Malvinas.  A memorial to the 1982 war features a map of the islands in cutout, as though missing from their map. Despite these claims, we heard the Falklands described as more English than England, a claim that certainly held up while we were there. 

The town is surrounded by the Martial Mountains, a welcome relief after months of flat terrain. A couple subdivisions even splash up the nearest slopes.  We worked our way up a maze of staircases until our path upward was blocked by an large, angry looking dog and we decided our current view was good enough. Clouds and fog are pretty much the daily standard, so only the closest mountains occasionally popped into view, their summits white with relatively fresh snow. Another good vista is from the waterfront near the Aeroclub.  Our landscape-looking options pretty much complete, and since ship drinking is expensive, we searched out a local bar and thankfully ended up at Klobber. Turned out they weren’t technically open yet, meaning the kitchen was closed, but they were more than willing to pour us their beers. The father and son running the pub were also the brewers, working out of Rio Grande. Their stout is excellent – the best we’ve had in Latin America. With some alcohol behind us, we made our way back to the ship so we could head into Chile. 

Boat art, Falklands War memorial, Klobber Beer, it’s a long way from where we’d been

Buenos Artes

Of all the places we’ve visited so far, Buenos Aires might have the most visible and vibrant arts scene. There are dozens of theatres, cultural centers, and art museums all across the city, and each features a constant rotation of performances and exhibits. Weekends bring craft fairs where local artisans can showcase their work and music and dancing (the ubiquitous tango) in some of the parks. We’ve seen a lot since we arrived, but, alas, I’m a little sad we didn’t get seats for the performance of El Principito at the symphony orchestra. For now I’ll have to settle for the Spanish-language version of the book we bought.

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Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Latin American Art Museum, Fortabat Coleccion

We’ve visited several of the local art museums (especially those that have free or discounted admission days). The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes might be our favorite, in part because it is free every day, and in part because it has a wide-ranging collection. Argentina has strong ties to Europe, and the Bellas Artes Museum has many works by European artists like Degas and Rodin. Of course, Argentinian artists like Antonio Berni also play a big part in their modern collections. A special exhibit gathering the works by Norberto Gomez, including current sculptures, reminded us a lot of video game art and old flash internet videos.

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Pieces from the Bellas Artes Museum

In San Telmo, the Museo de Arte Moderno is free on Tuesdays (guess which day we went). It is in a pretty inconspicuous brick building, but the supporting beams on their central staircase look like the track of a roller coaster. Even if it wasn’t the designer’s intention, it made me happy to discover it once we got inside. Temporary displays of pieces by Antonio Berni (perennially popular here), Picasso, and Hernan Soriano took up much of the museum. Soriano’s exhibit of reworked illustrations and maps are mind-bending; by finely cutting, layering, and painting over older images, he creates something entirely new. Sadly, no photos inside this museum, but thankfully the internet can help compensate.

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Works from MALBA and Bellas Artes – cut out map and paintings by Antonio Berni

MALBA, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano, is the most Central and South America focused. As you might guess, it focuses on more local issues and peoples. We clearly missed some of the messages behind the works since our knowledge of past conflicts and corruptions is sketchy, but I can at least appreciate that those situations led to beautiful art.

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More from Bellas Artes. The cat makes the portrait in the top left.

The Fortabat Coleccion started as the personal collection of Argentina’s richest woman. It was interesting to me to go through what an individual found pretty or worthy of attention. I agreed with a lot of her taste – especially some of the mountainous Argentinian landscapes (more so because we are looking forward to seeing Tierra del Fuego in a couple weeks). There are now rotating exhibits as well, and those featured less  generically pretty but more current dioramas making some pointed political commentary about women in power in Argentina (at least that was what I took away) and the concepts of beauty that are so pervasive in many cultures. I don’t think I’ll ever have a personal collection that can afford Bruegels and Bernis (yup, here too) but it is nice to dream. I like the airplane-hangar-shaped building as well, which is newly built in Puerto Madero, one of BA’s newest, and richest, neighborhoods.

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Floralis Generica and a statue holding up part of a tree

Naturally, Buenos Aires itself also acts as a gallery. The 75-foot tall Floralis Generica sculpture is centered inside its own park. The petals are supposed to open and close each day like a real flower, but currently the mechanisms are a bit broken, so it wasn’t fully open during our visit.

San Telmo is a good neighborhood for mural-hunting, but there are monuments in parks all over the city. In another European callback, there are a fair number of statues of men looking important while on horses scattered around the city.

And if a person has any interest in Spanish-language literature, there are more bookstores here than any place I’ve ever been. In some areas of Recoleta, every third shop will be a bookstore. Even the sidewalk stands often have classic tomes for sale, not just pulp romances or thrillers. Today I walked past one selling copies of Horace and Tacitus next to the latest fashion magazines. I don’t know how much of it translates to more reading, but it makes me happy to find books almost everywhere.

Another reason to keep learning Spanish…

Useful Websites

Here is a handy compendium of the websites and apps we use most frequently in our travels:

Airbnb – Indispensable. Use it wisely! There are so many options, and most of our experiences have been good. The more reviews, the more photos, the more information, the better.

Rome2Rio – Possibly the best get-from-point-A-to-point-B website out there. It will find you a route by car, on foot, or on transit. In our experience it is relatively accurate, especially in places where local transit runs predictably. And it even gives you pricing and a time estimate so you can judge for yourself whether a taxi will be worth it.

Skyscanner – So many flight search combinations! Often points to the cheapest tickets, and can give an idea of when is cheapest to fly across a month or a continent. Their open-ended “Everywhere” search opens up all sorts of possibilities for where to go next.

Uber – Better and safer than taxis, if you can get a connection. A few times in Cancun and Penang the app left us or our driver high and dry. And in Estonia, be forewarned that no drivers are going to be out for that early 5 a.m. flight.

Google Maps – Goes without saying that streetview and links to transit and business/museum/restaurant websites make everything easier. That is, until you are wandering around Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and the iPhone it is running on has no clue where you are.

FlightAware – Find the route your flight will take, check delays, see what is over your head right now. It is really just fun to play around on and take inspiration from.

Generic drug search – Useful if you run out of any medication. It provides alternatives and the countries where each is available (in theory). It is a good starting point to check before heading to a pharmacy.

SIM Card Wiki – This will get you a working phone almost anywhere on earth. We check it before landing in a new country and find the provider with a store closest to our apartment. Make sure you phone is unlocked and capable of using the different signals around the world.

Duolingo – It’s not going to replace practice with real people, but until the Hitchhiker’s Babel fish is available, Duolingo is a good start. It is light on providing grammar rules and regular v. irregular words, but you can start stumbling through local conversations after a few levels. Spanish and German are the easiest new languages I’ve tried, but Hungarian and Polish both left my brain in a hopeless mire.

Google Translate – The app is incredible. Point it at text and it live translates on the screen. We download the language packs for every country we visit and it comes in handy everywhere from mystery food labels to telling the woman in the apartment above that she might have a water leak, judging by the drips coming through our ceiling.

Hangouts Dialer and Google Voice – Our permanent phone numbers live here now. Since we live in the future, the call now gets routed through the internet and then to my phone, no matter what the SIM card’s number is. I have some issues with delays between actual calls and text messages and when Hangouts decides it wants to tell me I received a call, but I usually get it in a few hours. Plus, I can call the US for free from basically anywhere with a stable internet connection. Miracles!

WhatsApp – Though this isn’t our preferred method of communication, it is for many around the world, especially Airbnb hosts. We’ve used it on many occasions to get in touch with them when, say, the ceiling is leaking.

XE Currency Exchange – On a daily basis, what our money is actually worth is some of the most important information to have. Should we go to the ATM today or try to wait out the weekend anticipating a swing in our favor on Monday? And if you think you are circumventing the exchange rate by paying in US dollars or on your credit card in other countries, chances are you are forking over at least 30% more than you should be. Prices listed in local currency are always cheaper, and it only takes 2 minutes to find an ATM. Learn some quick ballpark conversions ($1, $5, $20), and shop happier.

Expatistan – Cost of living analysis to make you feel bad about how expensive where we lived was. Compare your current location to oh, say, Bucharest. Long term travel looks a lot cheaper after playing around with this for half an hour.

Meetup – Practice language skills, take a hike, play board games, meet new friends. Between this and Facebook groups, we try to attend things in every city we are in. Language groups are the perfect way to practice up while getting local recommendations.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive and iCloud – I’d be freaking out without OneDrive. It holds photos, lists, journals, notes on books I’ve read or plan to read. Everything uploads itself when my phone connects to wi-fi. If I lose my phone or it gets stolen, I can buy another, but I can’t go back and re-take the thousands of pictures. Kevin uses OneDrive for documents and iCloud for photos since that is what his iPhone plays nicer with it. The nominal monthly fees are absolutely worth it and make these apps one of the few we’ve ever paid to use.

TripAdvisor – I both love and hate this website. Too many popups and it is easy to miss more interesting and unique things. But previous travelers sometimes leave detailed and advice-filled posts that can make exploring much simpler and less surprise-laden. Bonus if they mention the free/discount days for museums!

Atlas Obscura – Pair this with a more mainstream site to get a better picture of the area you are staying in or your neighborhood at home.

REI – Currently missing REI shopping. Physical stores are only located in the US. We’ve found their store-brand items to be as good or better than pricier alternatives both during this trip and before on our many hiking adventures in Washington.

Sky Guide – Night skies differ depending on your position on the globe. This lets us explore new Southern constellations and get alerts when satellites or the ISS flies over. If only stars were more visible inside city limits.

Voyager: Grand Tour and BuildDown – Games are great for distraction during airport waits and flights since no internet connection is required. Rumor Games is Kevin’s company, and he has just updated Voyager to include even more content. So check it out, play it often, and add the expansions! I’m still working through the new lander levels and may not be the rocket scientist I thought I was.

Pokemon Go! – Ok, so it turns out to be a good way to learn about a new city. Many of the stops point out statues, murals, or historical buildings that we might not have noticed otherwise. Plus, if you need some a way to bond with people that speak different languages, this can work pretty well. Just ask for the local spot for Dragonites.