South America

At World’s End

Ushuaia (Argentina) boasts of being the southernmost city on the planet and it’s the most convenient launching pad to visit the continent of Antarctica. We had made reservations well in advance on the “Ocean Endeavor” with Quark Expeditions. (Not to make an ad of this post but they truly are the best at this kind of travel. In case you’re wondering: wholehearted recommendation from us.) We were lucky to get on the last expedition of the season before they shut down operations for their winter when ice becomes so thick and sunlight so scarce that it is impossible to visit Antarctica.


We should have had half a day to visit Ushuaia but flying there, our small charter plane had to land to refuel mid-trip because the wind currents over the Patagonia were so strong we were burning more fuel than anticipated. This meant that we had only one hour to walk around Ushuaia before boarding.


Ushuaia is a cute town and while we would have loved to spend some time there, we didn’t feel shortchanged. Maybe we were simply too excited about the upcoming journey and eager to set out.


The Ocean Endeavor has a reinforced hull to be able to withstand the ice we would be traveling among. It has capacity for 199 guests plus crew which we thought would be way too big but turned out to be the perfect size for our 10 day adventure. I’ll make a parenthesis here to say that our boat was not at full capacity and my impression was that this is common; so for anyone with some time to spare it wouldn’t be a far-fetched idea to arrive in Ushuaia without a reservation and find a spot in a departing tour probably at a discount. We had a very specific window of time we could travel during so this was not an option for us but for any solo travelers out there my advice would be to take a chance.




The crew hails from every corner of the planet and while all speak different languages, they have in common their solicitousness which made our time aboard truly enjoyable.


Getting to Antarctica means having to cross the infamous Drake Passage.


The Drake Passage is the bane of visitors to Antarctica because it is one of the roughest stretches of sea anywhere. It connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans carrying 600 times more water than the Amazon River. We were lucky even in this as during our navigation, the Drake Passage was as calm as a lake and we were able to make quick time getting to the South Shetland Islands. We even got to watch a pod of Orcas swim by.


Several nations have laid claim to wedges of Antarctica, among them Argentina which maintains several outposts only occupied during the summer months. We visited Camara Station in Half Moon Island which had just been vacated for the season.


Why would nations keep deserted outposts? Well, the Antarctic Treaty says, among other things, that any nation wanting to claim a bit of the Antarctic continent must operate a research station there. Hence, several countries keep stations here which they visit only during a few days every year technically complying with this requirement. Antarctica is the only continent without an indigenous human population and is governed under the Antarctic Treaty which is scheduled to expire in 2048, not too long now. For a quick read on the precarious military situation Antarctica is in, please visit this well-written article from the World Economic Forum.

Half Moon Island is home to Fur Seal


and  Chinstrap Penguin colonies


which happily coexist.


As well as some Gentoo Penguins.


At this time of the season, penguins are almost done molting which they do to get rid of old, damaged feathers. The new feathers will be pristine and protect them through the harsh winter. They do look miserable while it’s taking place though.


We made the surprisingly fatiguing trek to the island’s peak to visit the rookery


where our guides were eager to introduce us to Kevin, a confused Macaroni Penguin who has taken residence with the Chinstraps.


While we were here they made a stunning discovery: Kevin engaging in a mating dance with a Chinstrap. Why is this stunning? Because different kinds of penguins don’t mate with each other!


Of course more observation is required before coming to any conclusions and as our guides excitedly planned for it, we enjoyed having been lucky witnesses to the event. We were quite tired from the  trek and couldn’t help wonder how the penguins make it to the top all the way from the waters’ edge:

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No wonder they sometimes break for a quick nap.


There are many other creatures living on the island. Look closely at the water in this picture, those aren’t penguins swimming in.


They are Antarctic Shags.


Like penguins, they feed on fish and are excellent swimmers but they have a leg up in that they can also fly.

While in Antarctica waters, we made off-boat excursions twice a day. We were all assigned a group and then called down to the common room when we were to disembark. All our winter gear stayed in this room where everyone was assigned a locker. Once geared up, we stood in line awaiting our turn out the “door”.



Excursions were always an adventure.

Among the weird creatures in the water are these guys:

They form long columns by latching onto each other and float around pushed by the currents until somebody eats them. They’ve got the consistency of week-old Jello and seem just as appetizing but apparently are as yummy as dessert for Antarctica inhabitants.


Being in a zodiac surrounded by ice can get extremely cold but there’s no other way to experience sights such as these:


On every excursion, we would land for a few hours to observe the local wildlife.

Antarctic Gull:




Wedell Seal:


South American Fur Seal:


Chilean Skua:


Crabeater Seal:


Penguins were always a big hit. These are part of a Gentoo rookery:


with a random Chinstrap among them.


Upon returning to the boat,

we were required to scrub ourselves thoroughly to avoid carrying any organism (plant, bacteria, moss, spores, poop, etc) from one landing to the next.


Even the soles of our boots were exhaustively inspected before being barcode-checked back on board. Many a passenger was sent back for a second scrubbing during these checks.


With world temperatures climbing, invasive species are beginning to cause major damage in  Antarctica. While Polar Bears (in the northern regions of the globe) get most of the press, Antarctic species are also suffering. For instance, an interesting fact is that there are no mosquitoes in Antarctica so far which means no mosquito-transmitted diseases. However, with temperatures rising and tourism increasing, house flies are being introduced and this means indigenous species will soon come into contact with diseases they have no defenses against. Tourism in Antarctica is governed by IAATO but this is an entirely optional association. Tourists can help keep Antarctica safe by making sure their tour operator belongs to IAATO and by following all guidelines, such as thoroughly cleaning all their gear, camera cases included.

Back on board, meals were fantastic! Imagine dining al fresco

surrounded by this scenery:


while these guys provide the entertainment:


Most of our guides were scientists or naturalists with incredibly interesting lives. Lectures were given every day on different topics, from marine life to the history of polar expeditions. Lectures were so well attended that we had to get to the audiovisual room early in order to get a seat, that’s how engrossing they were. One of our guides was a Glaciologist, specializing in the study of ice on Mars. I know what you’re thinking: “How interesting can ice actually be?” Before this trip, I would have asked the same question. Well, let me tell you it was the most interesting lecture of them all! We were lucky to get him as our zodiac guide the next day where he continued to amaze us with his expertise. Here he is explaining how scientists can figure out the concentrations of elements which existed in Earth’s atmosphere millions of years ago by analyzing the air bubbles trapped in the Antarctic ice.


Another awesome guide was Jimmy, whom we all baptized as the “whale whisperer”.


I kid you not, whenever we were lucky enough to get him for our zodiac guide, whales would invariably come calling, both Humpback

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and Minke Whales.


And of course you know what these guys eat, don’t you?

Antarctic Krill.



Fernando says it tastes like shrimp and yes, he swallowed it raw, eyes and all.

There were lots of other creatures to look at as well.


On these excursions, some guests opted for kayaking


or even paddle-boarding.


It looks awesome doesn’t it? To be honest, I think it’s one of those things that look great but maybe aren’t so much. Why am I pooh-poohing it? Most of the people who came back from those excursions didn’t look too happy. See, unless you’re super good at it already, you’ll probably fall off a few times and well, the water is a bit colder than fresh. I imagine having to continue with the group when you’re soaking wet and possibly beginning to frost all over might be just a tad inconvenient but I’m open to changing my mind so go try it and let me know how much you enjoyed it.

We landed at some historic sites where remains of early expeditions could be seen. History buffs will have to forgive me though, I didn’t pay much attention to those. I just was in it for the penguins.



This is Primavera Station (Argentinian) in Ciervo Cove which at this time of the year seems to be run by penguins.


Turns out penguins are super nosy!


As soon as we landed, they would come over immediately to investigate us.




Observing them in the water was astonishing:

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but very difficult since they are such fast swimmers. Observing them on land was much easier.


Skuas and penguins, although coexist in the same areas, are enemies.

Skuas will steal food away from the penguins


which isn’t taken lightly. A chase ensues which the skua often wins since it can simply fly away.


Skuas will also steal penguin eggs and even new chicks if their parents are careless. They don’t turn their noses up at old bits either.

While penguins seem cuddly, they’re actually kind of vicious. This youngster


relentlessly bullied this younger penguin for a full 10 minutes while we all powerlessly watched it go on.


Some of the tourists were quite upset about it but intervening is huge no-no. As always with nature, there are some other upsetting sights


as well as absorbing ones:


Penguins are simply fascinating.




Then again, in Antarctica, everything is!






Leopard Seals are some of the fiercest predators in these waters. Like every other Antarctic inhabitant, they will feed on fish and krill but much prefer penguin if it can be had. We saw a Leopard seal take a penguin right from the shore while we all stood with mouths agape. We saw another one catch a gull in flight.


Can you see the curiosity in its eyes as it looks at us?


We didn’t dare come any closer. You can tell Leopard Seals apart from all the others because their faces are more elongated, the better to hunt with.

We crossed the Lemaire Channel which is knows as the “Kodak Gap” for its stunning scenery featuring enormous icebergs.

On our last day in Antarctic waters the crew decided a “Polar Plunge” would be the perfect way to end our trip. Fernando and Alejandro were insane brave enough to go for it.


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We then began our journey back and our luck ran out.



The Drake Passage which had welcomed us so gently, woke up and attacked us. And yes, attacked is the word I’ll describe it with. The boat rocked from side to side with such force that we were thrown out of bed along with anything else that was not tied down. We could see the ocean come up to meet us through the porthole in our room and then disappear from sight until the next tilt. I was convinced we were going to capsize. None of the seasickness remedies I had carried with me worked and I spent the next two days struggling to hold down a sip of water. The boys fared just a tad better but not by much.  However, Fernando was entirely unaffected and able to enjoy the gourmet meals the crew was dishing out and attend lectures by those scientists aboard who weren’t likewise indisposed. The nerve of him!

Once we made it through the Drake Passage, we found ourselves rounding Cape Horn. This is allegedly one of the most hazardous shipping routes in the world, even known as a “sailors graveyard”, but by the time we got here, after the ordeal that the Drake Passage had been, we simply enjoyed the view. We were able to take a peek at the lighthouse for a moment before the fog descended and covered it again.


And just like that, a few short hours later, we were back in Ushuaia.


Visiting Antarctica was an incredible experience and one we would gladly embark on again, seasickness and all. If there is one thing to take away from this trip it is that Antarctica is a magical, albeit horribly fragile place and we’re doing our children’s children irreparable harm by not taking better care of it. We need to begin by taking care of our little corners of the world and making every consumption decision fully conscious, remembering that everything that we use had to come from somewhere and that the health of every place, no matter how far away, ultimately effects all of us.

“We don’t have four years to sit around and wait for better management” Robert Swan,  the first man to walk to both the North and South Poles and founder of the 2041 Foundation, admonished us. Robert and his IAE16 group (over 50 people) were on the boat with us. His group, which included Mr. Jonathan Shackleton (descendant of the famous explorer Sir Ernest H. Shackleton), came from all corners of the world and were both female and male, of all possible ages and professions, but the one thing they all had in common was the focus of the work they do in their own communities towards fostering a better planet for all. I invite you to learn more about this admirable man and his foundation, and to do what we can from wherever we are. Let’s make our great-grand kids proud!



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Colonia del Sacramento

Day trips to Uruguay are a common offering in Buenos Aires. You’ve got two options: Montevideo, which is the capital of Uruguay; or Colonia, a small town of about 30,000 people and a lot nearer (1hr). You can buy tickets for the Buquebus yourself or do as we did and simply walk into any of the many travel agencies located on Avenida Córdoba near Galerías Pacífico. Trying to drum up tourism, they offer packages designed exclusively for foreigners which end up being cheaper than buying tickets at the station; plus they give you a guided walking tour of Colonia’s historic downtown, a bus tour around the outskirts, and they even throw in a sandwich, not a good one but hey: free food.

Some tips about the ferry. Once you arrive at the Buquebus station, get thru security and into the waiting area immediately. Don’t be fooled by how few people are milling around pre-security. By the time we got in, the line to get on the ferry snaked around the station 3 times already. Why does this matter? Seats aren’t numbered, you simply get the one you can and it is a free-for-all once those doors open. Best is by the windows. Aisle rows are directly below the A/C vents and made us long for the heavy jackets we had left back at the hotel in Buenos Aires. A curious fact is that since this is an international trip, they’ve got duty-free shopping aboard the ferry. We wandered into the store and were shocked by what people were willing to pay for products they can’t get back home.

That’s US Dollars!

Items were flying off the shelves nevertheless.

Arriving in Colonia offers a pretty view of the lighthouse and the Uruguayan flag.


Colonia del Sacramento was founded in 1680 by Portuguese settlers who built a fort around the city. Today you can still visit some vestiges of the old city wall

as well as the drawbridge.

On the outside of the drawbridge you will find a plaque commemorating José Gervasio Artigas who led Uruguay’s struggle for independence from the four nations which claimed it for themselves: Spain, Portugal, Brazil & Argentina, and the men who courageously followed him back in 1811.


Downtown’s tallest building is the lighthouse. Buy tickets at the base and then climb the very narrow stairs all the way up to the lens.


From this height you get unobstructed views of Colonia’s water treatment plant on one side,


as well as the Rio de la Plata on the other. This is the widest river in the world and was named so for the silver the Guaraní tribes along its coast traded with the early European explorers.


Sit a while and take it all in.

Colonia’s Historic Downtown Quarter has preserved the fusion of Spanish and Portuguese architectures and for this reason UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site in 1995 .

It’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean is never forgotten as evidenced by the exhibits in its tiny museum.

Once our walking tour ended, we rented a golf cart to drive out from the old downtown to visit one of Colonia’s most famous landmarks: the Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos. It is famous for its Moorish architecture which came about simply because the Argentinian entrepreneur who built it, liked the style. The bullring was opened in 1910 and shut down just 2 years later when Uruguay banned bullfighting as cruel to animals.

The ring sits abandoned and could be visited up to a few years ago when a small earthquake caused some wall crumbling. The authorities fenced it in and closed it to the public for their own safety. It’s nice to look at but…

More interesting is the long road leading up to it which borders the river and has access to several beach spots. Although the water is a bit smelly, it is warm and people do swim here.

You will see a few people fishing from shore but actually Uruguay is an increasingly known destination for deep-water fishing for much bigger catch: the hyper-aggressive Dorado, or Mahi-Mahi. This is due to the country’s safety and relative affordability. I do say relative because we found things in Colonia to be shockingly expensive. One could go broke on ice cream here.

While cannabis is legal in Uruguay, don’t get any ideas as it is legal ONLY to citizens and they have to register with the government for it.

We spent the entire day in Colonia and to be honest it was half a day too long. Of course you could always just sit at one of their many, many downtown cafes and pass the time, food was pretty good every place we tried.

Or stroll through their beautiful old colonial streets. Just make sure you watch your step. Colonia takes its animal love to the extreme: dozens of dogs wander the city unaccompanied leaving their mark literally everywhere.


I bet the humongous insects don’t mind.

This post concludes my interlude and now we get to the really awesome part. Why were we all the way here at the oddest time of the year? You see, the destination we were headed to can only be visited now because the ice engulfs and isolates it later. Have you guessed yet? Antarctica!! Which was absolutely incredible but you’ll have to wait until next time to read about it.

Categories: South America, UNESCO site, Uruguay | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Art in BA

Argentina has given the world several renowned artists such as Antonio Berni who is one of the creators of the impressive frescoes at Galerías Pacífico.

Berni also collaborated with Siqueiros on that cellar we talked about in the previous post. When a mall contains treasures such as these, it is well worth visiting. Don’t miss out on the extravagantly flavored ice cream (bottom level, next to the food court). You will find many other works from Berni at the Museum of Latin American Art such as “The Grand Illusion”:This work is a criticism of Capitalism and the illusions of beauty and wealth it promotes to the detriment of peace. It is certainly not meant to be pleasing to the eye. The Museum of Latin American Art was a highlight of our visit to Buenos Aires and I can’t recommend it enough. Although the museum is one of the few places in BA that charges admission, the guided tour itself is free and very much worth sticking around for. Among its many treasures is one by the most well-known Latin American artist ever: Frida Kahlo.A peculiar Argentinan artist is Xul Solar. His name means ‘light of the sun’ and he picked it himself. His former house has now been converted to a museum dedicated to his work. Solar was eccentric, believed in astrology and numerology, and was certain that flying cities were the answer to the problem of overpopulation. He wasn’t only a painter though, he invented games and musical instruments as well.He even went as far as to invent a new language: “Pan-Lingua”, even though he already had mastered 10 different ones! He believed that Pan Lingua, which is based on Mathematics and Music, would eventually become our universal language. Xul Solar was a dreamer. He was also best friends with Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina’s greatest author, and a very vocal critic of the Peróns.

A somewhat odd relationship considering that Borges was a conservative and Solar could easily be described as kooky.

And since we’re on the subject of writers, Buenos Aires is home to the second most spectacular bookstore in the world: El Ateneo. (number one is in The Netherlands in case you wondered) This bookstore is housed in the former building of the Teatro Gran Splendid which was opened in 1919. Today, the seats have been replaced with shelves, the stage has been converted to a café with occasional music acts, and the theater balconies have become reading rooms. I could easily have spent the entire day here.

Best thing was our hotel was just a few blocks away which after a long day of walking, believe me, matters.

No visit to Buenos Aires would be complete without a stroll through “El Caminito”, the iconic BA postcard.

El Caminito is situated in the Boca neighborhood and although it is very touristic and hence quite safe, take a cab here. We were told the Subte station wasn’t safe even at midday. Here you can find Maradona,

Evita and Perón,

even the Pope!

as well as the Boca Juniors stadium.

Boca Juniors is the most successful Argentinian fútbol team, although that is debatable according to our taxi driver who didn’t hesitate to make his deeply held contrary opinion known.

If you happen to be in Buenos Aires on a Sunday, you must visit the enormous open air San Telmo market. All sorts of original wares are sold here and the food is fantastic. Try the empanadas, they are cheap, fast and oh so good, particularly the Margarita ones. Stop by the plaza where you can watch couples practicing their Tango moves.

At the far end of San Telmo you will find Mafalda and her friends.

Mafalda: “her neighborhood is San Telmo, her home the world.”

Mafalda is the creation of Argentinian cartoonist Quino and as well known throughout Latin America as Snoopy is in the USA. While Mafalda is only 6 years old, she is prematurely worried about the world and concerned with politics. Mafalda taught me to be an environmentalist before I even knew the word existed. She was also the only girl I knew growing up for whom speaking her mind didn’t seem to be a problem and thus a role model, as silly as that may seem. The boys were horrified at how giddy I got when I found her sitting on a bench. Can you fault me for loving her?

“My hair is not uncombed, it has freedom of expression”

I don’t want to end this post on Buenos Aires without recommending you visit Parrilla Peña, a restaurant whose specialty is “bife de chorizo”, the best steak you’ll ever have. The portions are huge, one meal can easily feed two grown men, and very reasonably priced (cash only). Not to mention that they will serve you empanadas as an appetizer, they’ve got inexpensive house wine, and their freshly-squeezed orange juice is to die for. They’re off the tourist track and most of their patrons are locals, that’s how you know it’s good. Get there early because it fills up but if you can’t, just walk up to the owner and he’ll get you on the waiting list. It is worth the wait and that’s coming from someone who never ever waits. Don’t despair if you can’t get to Parrilla Peña though, we found food in Buenos Aires to be good every place we tried. You can not go wrong simply sitting down at one of the many corner cafés for a bit of rest and people-watching.

I’ve got one more place to show you before I let you know why we came all the way here but it will have to wait for the next time. A bit more patience, it’ll be worth it.

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Buenos Aires

We are very lucky to have summers off and thus all our travels are usually then but this time we were forced (you just feel sorry for us, don’t you?) to take an early break in Spring. I am going to keep you wondering why for just a bit though. For now, let me tell you that we found ourselves in Buenos Aires, Argentina in early March, the end of their summer.

The weather was pleasant, people nice, food yummy and the city beautiful: highly recommend it.

Our first stop was the Recoleta Cemetery which is one of the most famous and beautiful cemeteries in the world.

Why was this our first stop? They have free tours Tues-Fri at 11am & Sat-Sun at 11am and 3pm. This being Sunday, we didn’t want to miss it or else we wouldn’t be able to make it up since we wouldn’t be in BA for long. The cemetery was founded by the “Recoleto” friars (from where the neighborhood takes its name) in 1732 when they built a church here. Back then the cemetery was for Catholics only but was opened to the general public in 1822. As the wealthy people fleeing the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1870 settled in the Recoleta neighborhood, the cemetery came to harbor some of the most illustrious citizens of BA, among them politicians and athletes as well as artists, writers and actors; 15 presidents and 2 Nobel prizes are buried here. However, the cemetery’s most famous resident is without any doubt Eva Perón.

Eva Perón was the second wife of Juan Domingo Perón, Argentina’s first democratically elected president and the only one to be so elected on three different occasions.

Evita was instrumental in getting her husband to the presidency the first two times. She wasn’t around for the third as she died of cervical cancer just a few months after his reelection. In a curious coincidence, Perón’s first wife had also died of cervical cancer years before he met Evita. (PSA: HPV, do your kids a favor and get them vaccinated.) Evita came from poverty and was born out of wedlock, both circumstances earning her discrimination throughout her life. Add the disability of being a woman at that time and you gain an understanding of where her policies to help the poor, particularly women and children, came from. Were it not for her female condition, Evita would surely have held elected office herself. As it were, she had tremendous influence on her husband: Argentinian women owe her the right to vote (1947) and the right to hold shared custody of their children (1949). Evita remains even today the most beloved first lady in the entire world. She died at only 33 years old, an event which her enemies, of which she had many among the upper classes who hated her policies, celebrated with graffiti thanking Cancer and a campaign to malign her by calling her “ambitious”. Those poor souls probably had an apoplexy when her funeral lasted 16 days and more than 2 million people stood in the rain for days just for a chance to say good bye. Evita’s wake was held at Argentina’s National Congress, an honor bestowed on no other first lady. I could talk for days about Evita but instead I will encourage you to learn for yourself about this admirable woman who dared to desire an equal place in a man’s world.

The Recoleta Cemetery is the definition of a City of the Dead: it is over 5 blocks wide, divided into segments with streets and alleyways. To find any particular tomb, you must consult the map.

Visit Evita early to avoid the crowds (quick tip: she is buried in her father’s crypt among the family who despised her)

and then simply get lost while you enjoy the amazing architecture of the mausoleums.

Navigating Buenos Aires is pretty simple, the subway (called Subte) lines run on schedule and hailing a cab from the sidewalk is safe and inexpensive. Nevertheless, we ended up walking the entire city! We simply went from one attraction to the next thinking that each was too near the previous one to take transportation. At the end of the day, our feet hated us but we had seen even some attractions which don’t figure in the guide books such as this whimsical tree support in a nearby park.

Buenos Aires was founded in the 16th century by Spanish traders, the architecture of the city is a dead giveaway to its colonial past. BA is full of statues and old colonial buildings everywhere you turn to. One such monument is the one erected to remember General José de San Martín, along with Simón Bolivar, one of the liberators of South America from Spanish rule and a national hero in Argentina.

Teatro Colón is a must-see attraction.

It is the main opera house in Argentina and a beautiful building full of gorgeous details.

However, what gives it world renown are the acoustics. They are so perfect that even Luciano Pavarotti considered it to be among the top 5 concert halls in the world.

What is even cooler is that they not only hold performances for adults but also some especially designed for children to enjoy. We weren’t in BA long enough to get tickets but we were lucky that the day we were touring it, the philharmonic was practicing and we got to watch them for a bit.

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and thus is the site of the houses of government, most of them arranged around the Plaza de Mayo which makes it easy to visit them all in one day. You could begin by visiting the “Congreso de la Nacion” or National Congress at the start of Avenida de Mayo and then follow this avenue to its end at the Plaza. The National Congress has free guided tours every Mon, Tues, Thurs & Fri at 12:30 & 17 hrs.

Get here early because you must sign in & show official ID to obtain tickets (they’re free); it will take a while to get in and the guide won’t wait for stragglers. We began our visit backwards and were dead tired by the time we got here but considered ourselves lucky to have gotten in to the last tour. This is the House of Representatives; there are 257 of them but only 72 senators.

We were surprised by how exhaustive the visit was. We even got to see the Library of Congress with its beautiful Walnut wood panels covering every last bit,

as well as the Eva Perón Hall which was decorated in pink by the woman herself as a reminder to the congressmen that women should also be given a place at the table.

A gold bust of Evita (left-hand corner) as well as her funeral shroud are now exhibited here.

Following the avenue, on the west side of the Plaza de Mayo lies the “Cabildo” which is where Buenos Aires government was first established by the Spanish settlers to represent them before the Crown. It is now a museum narrating the history of Buenos Aires. The old well still stands in the patio.

From its balcony you can see the Metropolitan Cathedral to the left.

The remains of General José de San Martín are kept here.

Directly across the Plaza stands the “Casa Rosada” which is pink because President Sarmiento decided to paint it so in 1868 and this tradition has been followed since.

The Casa Rosada is the workplace of the president, vice-president and their cabinets. Free guided tours are offered Sat & Sun but you must sign up online early enough (up to 15 days ahead) to get a spot. As expected of a place of such importance, the inside is a work of art although understandably pictures aren’t allowed in most rooms. This is the White Hall or “Salón Blanco” where the most important events take place, such as the transfer of power from the outgoing president to the incoming one and the signing of international treaties.

Once again, we were surprised at how comprehensive the visit was since we were taken to see even the offices of the president and vice-president, no pictures allowed of course. The only hall we weren’t shown was the one dedicated to Eva Perón from where she ran her foundation for the poor when she was alive. From her hall, the balcony on which she famously addressed the populace is accessed. I would have loved to have been able to step out unto it.

The Honor Hall is populated with the busts of Argentina’s constitutionally elected presidents (not all of them have been so). The bust of Néstor Kirchner (prez from 2003-2007) stands out because of the band-aid on his forehead. The bust was commissioned by his widow Cristina (also a former president of Argentina 2007-2015) after his death. She insisted on the band-aid to commemorate the one he had to wear at his swearing-in ceremony after an accidental run-in with a photographer’s camera when he approached the crowds gathered to take a peek at the new president.

Behind the Casa Rosada stands the Casa Rosada Museum. The museum is underground, at the site of the first fort established here in the eighteenth century.

It covers Argentinian history from its beginnings to the present day with several movies as well as artifacts, furniture and paintings. It is a well-designed and very informative museum, an absolute must-see to understand Argentina’s violent and complicated history. And its free!

It also houses an incredible piece by David Alfaro Siqueiros,

Mexican muralist who designed an entire underground alcove for his patron Natalio Botana.

Siqueiros’ murals tended to speak of the injustices suffered by the poor in being exploited by the rich and thus he was an uncomfortable guest. He was exiled in 1929 to Uruguay where he met and married his muse, Blanca Luz Brum, a writer. He was then invited to L.A. where his mural “Tropical America” caused the U.S. authorities to suggest he leave the country. At this time, Victoria Ocampo (Argentinian writer) asked him to travel to Buenos Aires for a series of lectures; he gladly accepted her invitation. During his first lecture, he exhorted Argentinian artists to let their art break free from tradition and instead mirror back to society its ills. His incendiary lecture caused the military government of Argentina to detain him for a few days (he wouldn’t be allowed to give any more lectures) after which Siqueiros found himself unable to leave the country. Botana offered him a home and asked him to decorate his wine cellar in return. The entire story is sordid…and terribly interesting! See, Siqueiros came to Argentina with his wife and he held the firm conviction that art should be free and accessible to everyone. Botana asking him to paint an underground and private cellar was jarring to him. On top of it, his wife becomes Botana’s lover and when Siqueiros finally leaves for New York City, she stays behind. Now, Botana was a married man himself but his wife was in a sanatorium in Germany addicted to ether. Turns out that when she had confessed to her then 17 year old firstborn that Botana was not his father, the son shot himself in front of his two younger brothers. The mother couldn’t take it and became addicted to opium. Ether was supposed to cure her addiction to opium but didn’t. She lived to the ripe old age of 80 outliving them all.

For the cellar, Siqueiros decided to paint a completely apolitical mural devoid of all ideology. He imagined a glass box under the sea and painted naked women swimming around the box staring at us who are standing inside this box. It is very different from every other of his murals but no less stunning. Who do you imagine served as the model for this work? His wife of course. His mural was “lost” for a time as Botana died in a car accident and his heirs lost the estate. The new owners were scandalized by the nudity in the mural and ordered it destroyed with acid and painted over. In 2001, the Argentinian government declared it a national treasure, cut it up into 7 pieces and transferred it to the museum where it can now be visited by all, just as Siqueiros would have wanted. Pictures aren’t allowed of course but here’s a link where you can take a peek at this work of art being visited by then prez Cristina Fernandez Kirchner.

Not only is Buenos Aires rich in history but also art, and I haven’t even begun telling you about the food but let’s take a pause and leave something for another day.






Categories: Argentina, South America | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Tips for Fellow Travelers

Now that we’re back home, there are a few things I wish I had known about South America beforehand so here’s a short list. Continue reading

Categories: Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, North America, Peru, South America, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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