Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Argentina, Walking The Streets Of Buenos Aires



IMG_0581At Hotel Alpino I have a light breakfast then with a late evening flight back home I once again have some time to explore this beautiful city.




It is such a nice day that I decide to do it all by foot instead of taking the “Yellow Bus” tour as suggested by the front desk clerk at my hotel.

Through a quaint neighborhood with a map in hand I make my way to Av Gra Las Heras. Lined with all kinds of shops and restaurants I make a few stops for some window shopping and to purchase water, cookies and fresh fruit.

At one intersection as I stop to orientate myself I am approached by a local gentlemen. We spend a few minutes talking as he helps me lay out a good walking tour of the city. Following his suggestions I make a left turn and head for Av Del Libertador.



IMG_0585Evita Peron



Av Del Libertador is a main and popular street in the city and it is filled with many monuments that reflect the country's history. One of the first ones I come across is that of Argentina most famous lady, Evita.


IMG_0586Although the street is buzzing with morning traffic many others like myself are just strolling along enjoying the relaxing views.




A right turn and up a slight hill where next I am touring the cemetery were many of the city's former well known residents are now entombed. I am told some of the sites here are more expensive than Buenos Aires apartments.



IMG_0591Found here is the burial site of Evita Peron.

Down Av. Alvear an area once occupied by the British I am passed by a “Yellow Bus” before I make a turn  onto Av 9 De Julio the  widest avenue in the world that honors  Argentina's Independence Day.



Cambio, cambio, cambio …. Change, change, change echos from various spots along LaValle street one of the busiest area along my walk.



2014-12-05 19.02.56LaValle



This is a shopping street and with the Argentina's pesos in such turmoil there is a striving business to get the best exchange rate for it with the green backs and I guess other foreign currencies. While the official exchange rate is about 8 pesos to the dollar, on the black market you can get almost double that. In one store I got 14 pesos to the dollar.



IMG_0595My next stop is at one of the many Basilicas around the city before I make my way to the pink Casa de Gobierno.




Unfortunately, it is closed to normal visitors during the week. However, Argentina's most famous cathedral is open every day to the general public. Catedral Metropolitana is the former home of Pope Francis, the reigning Pope of the Catholic Church.




IMG_0599Casa de Gobierno



From Catedral Metropolitana my ultimate destination in the city is within easy reach and I am excited as I once again check my map to see if I am on the right track. On the go I make another stop for a warm empanada, more cookies and another bottle of water.



IMG_0612After passing though a market established in the 1800's I arrive at Plaza Dorrego but my hopes getting here are crushed.





Although the square is filled with patrons enjoying outside dining there  are no street tango dancers that San Telmo is renowned for. Their presence here is mostly on the weekends when local fairs are held in the square.



Picture 925 (2)Doing The Tango, Yeah Babe Yeah


Like I tried to do in 2004, my dreams of becoming a world famous tango dancer in one easy lesson is once again shattered. However, I still have about five years left on my Argentina visa. San Telmo, I will be back!

Somewhat retracing my steps I am back at Hotel Alpino around 5pm where a per-arranged taxi is waiting to take me to EZE airport for 350 pesos. Although my flight is not until 9:30pm, I soon see why the front desk clerk suggested that I leave the hotel before 5:30pm.

Buenos Aires afternoon traffic is about the worst I have seen in any major city. I barely arrive at the airport before the recommended two hour check in time. Nonetheless, I hope I get to do it all over again sometime in the next five years.



Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Glimpse Of Paraguay, Itaipu Dam



After a fulfilling lunch at Rafain a Brazilian restaurant we are back in our mini-van this time headed for Paraguay. Somewhere along the way we our good-byes to our Brazilian guide and head for the open border that requires no stopping to cross over.  

Our first stop in Paraguay is for one hour in a commercial shopping area that not too many of us really seemed interested in. Apparently this is the premium spot for electronics and other cheap imported goods.


IMG_0568I am surprised when I am solicited to buy a pair of “brass knuckles” then a stun gun.






A few minutes of walking around and I feel trapped. The time to get back on the road cannot come soon enough. After about fifteen minutes of driving we pull into the Visitor Center for Itaipu Dam.

On a weekday afternoon we practically have the place to ourselves. There are a few locals selling “customized” goods and souvenirs. For me, an impressive showing is a craftsman making goods from thin strips of wood while using a manual jig saw.

Soon a round up is made of our now dispersed group and we board a large bus for a tour of Itaipu Dam. Built at the equivalent rate of building a 20 story building every 55 minutes using enough iron and steel to build 380 Eiffel Towers, Itaipu Dam produces enough energy to save Brazil from burning 434,000 barrels of oil a day.




IMG_0573Itaipu Dam



Although our tour is primarily by bus we do make a stop at an observation area to see and get a better idea of the size of Itaipu. Back on the bus we drive by huge turbine discharge pipes then through an area of the dam before driving on top of it.

The tour is less than 30 minutes but the price is right as seeing Itaipu Dam is free if you do it while in Paraguay.



Friday, December 19, 2014

Brazil, Touring Iguazu Falls



IMG_0392By 7:30am I have checked out of my room at the Marcopolo Inn and I am waiting in the lobby area when a local gentleman walks in and tries to correctly pronounce my name.




After arranging a tour last night for US$40, I am being picked up for a visit to the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls and a trip to Paraguay.

Fortunately for me I do not need a visa for Brazil and the trip to Paraguay I can make without a visa since we will be visiting a “Commercial Shopping Zone”. I am excited about this because otherwise a visa for Paraguay would cost me US$160. For US$40, this tour which includes lunch is already a bargain.

A few stops to round up more passengers and soon our mini-van is crossing the Parana River into Brazil. With all of our passports in hand our driver leaves us waiting in the van as he goes to take care of the border crossing formalities.

Once inside Brazil we are joined by a guide who speaks about seven different languages. I mumble a feeble “Ola” and I am slightly embarrassed that I only speak one.

At the entrance to the park our guide leads us in the right direction to pay our park entrance fee of about US$21. Here many forms of payment and currencies are accepted for the admission fee unlike in Argentina.


IMG_0513On a “Double-Decker” bus we are driven to the starting point of our tour although the bus makes a few brief stops before getting there. At these stops for additional fees there are many activities you can do on your own including kayaking and a ten minute helicopter ride for US$120.



Although you won't get drenched on the Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls you will get an encompassing view of their spectacular beauty.


IMG_0523Following a nicely laid out trail laced with dense green foliage, the views are simply amazing.

At some points you can look below and see cool rainbows, minus pots of gold, hanging above the crashing waters.






IMG_0541Iguazu Falls



Further along I venture out to Devils Throat where with a whipping wind you will definitely get wet but not drenched.


IMG_0544From this vantage point, being so close to the pounding crest of the falls belies the tranquility of the waters just above it.





Looking in the distance I wonder how long of a journey this water will make before it again becomes just a gentle stream.






Near Devil’s Throat you have the opportunity to see the falls from a different vantage point if you have the patience to wait for an elevator to take you to an observation platform. I take the stairs to meet up with the rest of my group then we take a walk to meet a gentleman who immediately impresses me.



IMG_0549Falls At Devil’s Throat





IMG_0551Born in 1873, Alberto Santos-Dumont the “Father Of Flight” in Brazilian aviation is considered here in the same light as the Wright Brothers are in the United States.




Santos-Dumont is also famous here for his role in the establishment of this Brazilian National treasure. My new found hero on two counts.


IMG_0554Back on the road it is time for lunch at a 5-Star Brazilian restaurant.

Here we enjoy a buffet filled with local favorites. 





It takes me at least three plates plus a few scoops of passion fruit and toasted coconut ice cream to get a good scientific sampling of all the offerings.



IMG_0557Plate1… Carpaccio and Octopus Ceviche








IMG_0560Plate 2.. Dog Fish with Beans and Ground Cassava







IMG_0563Plate 3 … Grilled Meats and Fried Yucca







IMG_0565Passion Fruit and Toasted Coconut Ice Cream





Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Argentina, Exploring Iguazu Falls


2014-12-03 10.27.08Still wet from being drenched, I practically stand in one spot to allow the sun and mother nature to begin their drying magic.





I am in the lower area of the falls and get more chances to be awed by them and the thundering sounds of the water crashing from hundreds of feet above me.  



2014-12-03 10.49.45



With most of the morning clouds gone the skies are now a mesmerizing blue and the day is becoming truly beautiful. I take out my dry camera and begin clicking away. I know the pictures I capture will never do the scenery here justice. I just hope that looking at them in the future will help me relive if only a small portions of my memories here.

From the lower area of the falls it is a hike to the upper portions and there are signs posted everywhere that this offering may not be for everyone. Nonetheless, I think the trail is broken down into manageable stages for most to be able to enjoy.


IMG_0453Progressing along the trail I stop in an area so close to one of the falls that it is totally wet from the falling mist.To my surprise there are birds which are difficult to see that live on the cliffs behind the cascading water.




There are also plants and trees that have adapted to the high humidity of the falling water and add to the beauty of the falls.

There are numerous falls here throughout the park and the well managed trails makes its easy to enjoy all of them.



IMG_0469Dos Hermanos


There are a few restaurants around the park with reasonable prices although you have to be careful to not unwilling share your meal with one of the park residents.

Making my way to the upper area of the falls I come across one of the reasons you might not want to swim in what seems like a relaxing stream.


IMG_0498Relaxing with you might just be a few crocodiles.






Unfortunately due to recent heavy rainfall a popular area of the upper falls to “Garganta del Diablo” is closed along with access to San Martin Island. Although disappointing this does not spoil the experience of being here. On the upper portion there are still many areas where you can almost touch the water just before it plunges hundreds of feet below you.




IMG_0480Edge Of Despair


At one point you can get a panoramic postcard view of most of the falls here that is simply superb. Again my photo taking ability does not do the scenery here much justice.

Back at Central Train Station I wait with others for a free train ride out of the park. Nothing much different to see on the train ride but for me it is an opportunity to reflect on my experience here as I sway in motion with the train.


2014-12-03 12.20.43Given the opportunity you must come and enjoy Iguazu Falls for yourself.

From Buenos Aires (AEP) or Sao Paulo (GRU) there are convenient less than two hour flights.




If you are a bit more adventurous you can take a 15-18 hour comfortable bus ride from either city for about US$200 round trip.




Argentina, A Pollinating Mariposa


Being in the rainforest it is difficult to see many of the animals here that camouflage so well against the dense green vegetation.


IMG_0463However, with hundreds of species of butterflies I do get to witness two unique experiences with these often colorful insects.





My first experience watching a pair of them mating then seeing some pollinating done by a solo flier. I know this may not be exciting for some but I am often easily enthralled by the simple things of nature.



IMG_0466Mating Mariposas




Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Argentina, Getting Drench At Iguazu Falls


From our drop point it is about a hundred feet or so to descend to Iguazu River. Created million of years ago, Iguazu River begins its life about 1300 kilometers from here. Others from my group are quick to make the descent but old knees and a hip replacement allow me once again to see and enjoy the beauty around me with my ears.

I know this is going to be a fun and dousing adventure as along the way I am handed a large water proof bag to secure my items that I do not want to get wet. Sensing what lies ahead some have began to dawn ponchos prior to putting on our mandatory life vest. The clear plastic investment is just not for me because I came here to get wet.

A few safety announcements and soon we are moving along the Igauzu River at no less than 20 miles per hour. A crisp and cool Argentina breeze is whipping through my hair and I am full of “pearly whites” as this time I enjoy with my eyes the spectacular scenery around us.


2014-12-03 10.00.37Jagged brown and green cliffs surround us with an occasional waterfall thundering from their sides.






Crossing the sometimes viciously swirling brown waters of the river occasionally gives us a white arching spray of refreshingly cool water from along the side of our boat.



2014-12-03 10.03.23About ten to fifteen minutes of excitement and soon the majestic Iguazu Falls comes into view.

Our speed drops almost to idle and we are given the chance to awe at the sight before us. Smiles are wide as cameras roll and click away.




We are then given fair warning before our speed comes above idle and our boat is maneuvered with precision even closer to the falls. Within minutes I am being hit in the face with falling water darts and then I grasp for breathe as I get drenched. Squeals of adventurous fear and excitement can be heard as we all get our monies worth.

After what seems like an eternity my breathing returns to normal and I can safely open my eyes. I can again feel a warm sun on my face but my legs are heavy and shaking from being drenched with what seems like buckets of ice cold water.

Back up to speed we visit another area of the falls where the drenching process is again repeated. Our adventure comes to an end with a round of applause as we approach our disembarkation point.

More of the sun's warmness is filling the air as morning clouds are beginning to disappear. My wet body can appreciate this and the beautiful day that lies ahead.



Monday, December 8, 2014

Argentina To Iguazu Falls, No Time To Tango


This is my third trip to Argentina and I am a bit embarrassed to say that am sure that I still cannot “Tango” without hurting myself or someone else.

After about a ten hour flight it is a quick and friendly welcome through Immigration and Customs before I am again trying to figure out the best (most economical) way to get myself to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery Airport (AEP).

Meeting up with a fellow passenger also headed to AEP we turn down taxi offers (US$53) and opt for an hour and a half bus ride for US$17 per person. After sharing smiles and waves with a bus full of school kids while stuck in Buenos Aires morning traffic we arrived at AEP as promised one hour and thirty minutes after leaving EZE.

A few hours later I am airborne for a less than two hour flight this time headed for Puerto Iguazu (IGR) airport gateway to the Argentina side of Iguazu Falls.

A short stop a “Tourist Information” booth and I also miss a once every four hour shuttle into town that fills up very quick. Much more slumbering around and my trip into town would have been about US$25 for a taxi instead of only US$7 for the shuttle.

Without any hotel plans as of yet I opt to be dropped off at the central bus station to start my hotel search for the next two nights. Turns out there are numerous hotel options within easy walking distance of the central bus station.


IMG_0392I opt for “Marcopolo Inn” just across the street.

In less than twenty minutes I have accommodations for the next two nights for about US$30 per night.





IMG_0401A walk around town, a US$10 dinner at an excellent restaurant then I wait for my “Great Adventure” at Iguazu Falls to begin at 7:15am tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Zambia, A Five Hour Tour, A Five Hour Tour


Although this was my second trip to Zambia it is the first time that I have explored Livingstone by bike. Through Cowboy Bicycle Safari we have arranged a tour across the city for just $25 per person.


IMG_0222On a beautiful early morning we meet our guides at Jolly Boys Hostel and set off for what turns out to be a wonderful adventure.





Our first stop is at one of the more popular local markets which is big part of many Zambians daily lives. It is a hub of activity where you may hear up to seventy two different languages spoken. Locals come from all across the city to purchase fresh fruits, clothing and other goods including fresh made peanut butter.


IMG_0214In one area I sample a handful of miniature salted dry fish and make small talk with some of the mostly female vendors.

Interestingly, pregnant women come to the market to purchase soil from terminate mounds which is eaten as a good source of iron.


As we walk around the market a young boy passes us pulling a busted out car speaker which I at first thought was just child play. However, I discover it is his home made metal detector. He is walking the market hoping to attract loose coins. Ingenious!


IMG_0218A cool purchase. Coming soon to a Saks 5th Ave near you.







Sunday, July 13, 2014

Zambia, A Scenic Arrival


From Nairobi we board Kenya Airways for a non-stop flight to Livingstone, Zambia.


2005-01-01 13.23.00Besides distant views of the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro, we get a close up and personal view of Victoria Falls on our arrival into Livingstone, Zambia.

This was all made possible by an awesome Kenya Airways Captain.





Monday, July 7, 2014

Kenya, A Brief Visit



Despite warnings to avoid travel to Kenya, we decide to “YOLO” and make a brief visit to Nairobi as a part of our African vacation.

A friendly welcome from an Immigration official and sixty dollars later we have three transit visas for 72 hours. Before long we are driving the streets of Kenya and making our way to a local hotel with the help of an employee from our rental car company riding shotgun.


IMG_0139Checked into our hotel we are soon off to an elephant orphanage.

A lunch break at a mall that has airport type security and military soldiers walking around with guns then it is back to the streets of Nairobi.



Missing unmarked speed bumps turns out to be fun as every now and then we go airborne as I fail to see them in time to slow down. A few stops for what seems like misguided direction and we end up at the Giraffe Center.


IMG_0151Here we learn about our long necked friends and I don't miss the opportunity for a “Giraffe Kiss”.






A somewhat personal tour of the property and we get to spend sometime with a few race winners. Seeing their top speeds I just don’t know how they win every time against the hare.



IMG_0159African Leopard Tortoise



IMG_0003Back in our hotel neighborhood it is time for dinner.

At a local restaurant we have uagli (a cornmeal staple), roasted goat leg and cold beers as we join a few locals to cheer on Ivory Coast in their World Cup match against Greece.




IMG_0013Although our visit was brief we look forward to returning to Kenya and hope its internal turmoil will only get better.








Sunday, July 6, 2014

United Arab Emirates, Some Desert Fun


On an early June afternoon it is still over 300 degrees when we are picked up from our hotel in a Toyota Landcruiser.

A drive across a landscape almost void of meaningful contrast and about forty five minutes later we are watching a caged camel enjoy a refreshing drink of bottled water.


2004-12-31 19.14.26For three dirhams I attempt to quench my thirst but I do not think I have as much fun or get as much satisfaction from my bottled water as my new humpback friend.



After a short break we are back in the Landcruiser this time with seat belts on and slightly deflated tires. In less than half a mile we begin one of the reasons we are back in Dubai and that is to share the “Dune Bashing” experience with our son.



2014-06-23 18.49.41



Driving up then sometimes sliding down mounds and mounds of sands the excitement reaches levels of screaming and “OMG" that is so much fun. At one point it all comes to a stop as we watch a Dubai desert sunset.

As night falls we make an almost normal drive across the desert to sort of a camp. Here we make a failed attempt at “Sand Boarding” then it is a free camel ride before dinner and some local entertainment.

If I could have gotten my belly dancing moves perfected this experience would have been worth a lot more than the bargain price of just US$50 per person.



Monday, May 26, 2014

Belarus, Off To Minsk


2014-05-20 17.02.39After a planned stay over in Vilnius, Lithuania, we board an afternoon train for Minsk. At 15:03 we are on track to hopefully see the USA Hockey Team play in the Quarter Finals tomorrow afternoon.




At Gudogai Station we make our official crossing into Belarus and for us it is an interesting one. Our train comes to a stop and a swarm of Customs, Immigration and Police officials board the train. Some of them have on very cool hats but I am afraid to take pictures as for the most part they seem very stern.


2014-05-21 08.54.06We wait somewhat nervously for them to check our documents especially when my passport is taken for a closer examination.

After about 15-20 minutes we are back on track.




Around 5:45pm we arrive at Minsk Central and a $9 cab ride later we are somewhere on the outskirts of the city in a neighborhood apartment. In a few minutes we will be ready to let our Minsk experience begin.




2014-05-21 11.30.41Minsk, Belarus