Cabo Polonio

Both at the hostel in Punta del Este and in a lunch restaurant we got a recommendation to go to Cabo Polonio, about four hours from Punta del Este. Cabo Polonio is a little town with out electricity and no roads. A perfect place to relax, away from the civilization. We were a little to late because of a severe case of  hangover to take the direct bus so we had to improvise the route. This ended up needing three stops (waiting time and a Jeep-tour) before we arrived just in time to realize we missed the sunset and it was all dark.

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We had dinner in one of the restaurants in the village, it left us wondering why we ever left civilization, but it was a funny experience. Later in the night we took a walk to the beach and the lighthouse. We heard some sea lions but never saw them in the dark.

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Tim found this little beauty right above his pillow, two decimeter from him. Jon had to do a rescue operation before everybody could sleep. By the way, I have never ever been in a room that dark.

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Jon and I decided that since we missed the sunset we wanted to see the sunrise. After 4 hours of sleep we went back to the beach. It was a bit cloudy and I’m not sure it was worth it in retrospect. This picture shows the hostels backyard. Yes, it might look like a big party tent but no, it is actually some kind of building. The dark is a blessing for the looks of this hostel but the hosts are really great. We just stayed one night – had be great to explore more and maybe stay another night but Millie arrived to Montevideo the same afternoon so we were in a hurry to get back.

Punta del Este

We decided to go to a beach town 2 hours from Montevideo for a few days since we had heard the beaches/water in Montevideo are not so nice. So after 6 hours of buses and waiting we reached Punta del Este and the beach.

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A pretty beautiful evening.

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The day after we went all in for a beach day. And the result? Jon got a little bit burned (again). Tim had sunblock and did fine. But over all it was a nice day.

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Punta del Este is a charming beach town (read: tourist destination), a lot of the tourists are people from Buenos Aires that want a great beach. The season peaks in late December/January and the prices rise from €10 to €60/night at a good hostel (more about that later). So we just missed the peak and enjoyed the beaches. After four days we went on to the next adventure.

From Buenos Aires to Uruguay by SeaCat

After spending some lazy days in Buenos Aires we met up with my younger brother Tim who is joining us for almost one month. We had hamburgers at a really nice place in Palermo called simply “Burger Joint”, great and affordable burgers. After this we set out to get to Uruguay and Colonia.

We had booked one night in Colonia mostly because thats where the boat landed and we wanted to plan a few days to explore Uruguay before going to the apartment in Montevideo we had booked on Airbnb.

It was rather easy to find the Buquebus terminal where most boats seemed to depart from, including the SeaCat one we wanted to go with because of its low price.

The price on the internet were something close to €14 when using the blue rate. After showing our passports and getting registered at the desk we were informed that since we are foreign we are not allowed to pay in pesos cash. We can pay either in pesos by card, getting a lousy rate, or we can pay in dollars, getting an even worse rate, resulting in paying more or less three times what we first anticipated. We paid in pesos, at the lousy rate, a grand total of about €25 each.

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While it was not a huge amount of money, it still made us feel sad that this was not mentioned on the website and felt a bit cheated. A later search on google confirmed what we were told at the desk, it is in fact the Argentine government that has decided this. The rule the decided on is that tourist services rendered outside of Argentina, wholly or in part, must not be paid with pesos in cash by a foreigner. The lesson here is that there are strange laws in place to protect the free fall currency and that you always should do the math when offered to pay in multiple currencies.

Tierra Santa

Tierra Santa is something as uniquely strange as a Religious theme park. It is located close to the water in Buenos Aires and is more or less completely made out of plastic. It was created in the late 90s and focuses around the biblical depictions of everything from the creation to the life of Jesus.

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The park in large is very strange, you walk around in the streets of Bethlehem, and around you are parts of biblical history like the ark of Noah and the last supper. The park focuses not only on Christianity but features a synagogue and a lot of roman culture as well.

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To make it more interesting there are scheduled shows in some of the buildings, created mostly with robotized sculptures and light and sound effects. These are all in Spanish, but still worth it to see, the stories are well known even if you dont know too much about christianity.

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To top everything off there is a 12 meter high statue of Jesus that every hour or so rises out of a mountain, it is said to feature somewhere close to 20 different mechanical movements. Strange, mostly strange.

All in all, this park is well worth a visit, mostly for its strangeness.

Lazy days in Buenos aires

Totally soaked and a little bit tired of rain after the amazing falls we took a 20 hour bus ride to Buenos Aires. Here we spent some lazy days before meeting Jons brother Tim who’s joining us for a few weeks. It was pretty warm and we explored the city by foot.

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One of the ice cream bars. Buenos Aires is known for their amazing Helado, you can easily find ice cream bars almost everywhere, many sporting up to 40 different flavors!

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A cute little horse in the park.

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Amazing roses in the Parks of Palermo.

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We rented a paddle boat for €6 and took a tour around the lake in the park, both fun and relaxing.

Christmas feeling

Suddenly it was everywhere in social media; first of advent. Inspired by that we decided to make saffron buns! We went to the supermercado in Foz do Iguacu. We first started to look for the most critical ingredient: saffron. We found something they called saffron but it really wasn’t, more like some kind of curry powder. We bought ingredients to make “chokladbollar” instead but ended up watching three episodes of Criminal Minds.

In the last minutes of our trip to Paraguay the day after, Jon spotted saffron in a pile of spices brought around by a walking salesman.

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We spent quite some time finding fresh milk in the store, UHT is the standard here, and fresh milk only comes in plastic bags like the one to the far left in the picture.

But we found everything at last – Let’s make it.

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Saffron.

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The result was pretty good and the hostel staff liked it.

Iguazu falls – Argentinean side

We visited the Brazilian side of the falls and were amazed by the size, the power and the beauty of these waterfalls. We also thought that we were very close to the actual falls when standing on a platform on the edge of one of them. But the main opinion seems to be that the Brazilian side gives a good overview, but to really get face to face with the waterfalls you have to go to the Argentinean side.

And here we are!

We tried to get a day with good and clear weather to visit the falls, the sun was out and we took the bus that for some reason is half the distance and twice the price, €7 for a return ticket, to that of the bus to Ciudad del Este. When we arrived at the falls and had just paid the entrance the skies opened up.

Ususally when it is raining it is either very many small drops, or few very large ones. Here there were very many large drops of rain, the amount of rain bordering on being ridiculous. We got seats in the middle of the small train that takes you around the park, as it has no side doors it was the only place that was not completely wet. Who knows, the rain might stop before we have to get off the train. It did not. It increased.

We did not travel here to not see the waterfalls, so we began walking towards Garganta del Diablo – the devils throat. Unsure about whether it is worth it to get completely soaked we got closer.

When we finally arrived at the end of the trail we were completely amazed! This waterfall is huge, and we are more or less inside it! We stood there in the pouring rain for a good while just enjoying the sheer power of massive amounts of water thrusting down creating a cloud of “water smoke”.

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When we were happy with viewing the devils throat we went back to the small train, bought a sandwich in the store, and traveled back towards the station that connects to the upper and lower trail.

It was not too pleasant to be a bit dry and yet again walk out in the rain, but as soon as we saw the first glimpse of the falls again we forgot everything about being wet, cold, tired. The only thing on our mind were amazement.

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It is no joke that you get close and comfy with the falls on the Argentinean side. The following picture was as chaotic as it looks, the wind created by the water tumbling down actually displaced my contact lens so badly it only emerged from under my eyelid minutes later.

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Even though it was raining this was an amazing experience. I think that viewing the Brazilian side first was a good way to do this experience, get the great views and then get close to see how big they really are.

Dollar run – Ciudad del Este

THE DOLAR BLUE NO LONGER EXIST, READ MORE HERE

After exchanging our 265 dollars that we had from before we realized that they would not last until we would get to Uruguay and be able to get more. And we do not want to have to pay 40% extra for everything in Argentina.

When visiting Ciudad del Este two days earlier we found an ATM that gives the choice of withdrawing dollars. It has a 5 dollar fee, but on a US$200 withdrawal this is only 2.5%, a lot less than the official rate for the peso would cost us.

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Said and done, we bought tickets for the bus from the company Rio Uruguay, at €2 one way it was a cheap trip, considering that we would save 30-40% on all the money we could carry when getting back.

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The ATM is on the 11th floor of this building, known as the King Fong mall. It is on the right hand side right after the bridge, we asked the bus driver to stop and he stopped right outside.

As we got there a little bit late everything seemed to be closed, except the VIP entrance on the west side of the building. It leads right in to the elevators. We got in, put in floor 11 and emptied our trusty ATM of dollars. I think we got somewhere around US$700 with us.

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A three hour trip later we had dollars to last us until Uruguay. We exchanged enough for the bus and some food in Puerto Iguazu, as we expect a better rate in Buenos Aires.

Ciudad del Este

This Monday we went to Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, a 20 minutes bus ride from Foz do Iguacu.

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The bus, showing by its interior that we are going to a less developed country. We actually had to choose a seat that was not rusted to pieces in its foundation, the first one we sat down in swayed back and forth in a not too comforting way.

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The bus runs from the bus terminal in Foz do Iguacu to the bus terminal in Ciduad del Este, crossing the friendship bridge connecting Brazil with Paraguay. We had to get off at both ends of the bridge in order to get stamps from both countries. Being EU citizens we do not need a visa of any kind. We got a form on the plane when flying into Brazil, this was necessary to get an exit stamp, and was left with the lady giving us the stamp. The bus waited for us on the Brazilian side, and on the Paraguayan side we said goodbye to our bus driver and continued on foot.  Here we just got our passports scanned and stamped. We were officially in Paraguay!

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Okay, so what are we going to do in this mysterious little city. It is more or less a city filled with people selling cheap stuff to the Brazilian and Argentinean visitors. Cheap and counterfeit stuff, and lots of scams. If this is not a place to check that what you buy is genuine, actually is inside the box, and working then I do not know what is. But you can find almost anything, cheap!

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The interesting thing is that it is not only the street vendors who sell all kinds of junk, the same things fill floor after floor in malls as well!

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After getting fed up with cheap strange things to buy we went to get some lunch. Our choice landed on a restaurant that had a good review on foursquare called Oriental. It was good, nothing out of the ordinary, chinese food. And they had Coca Cola in 1 liter glass bottles.

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All in all, a very strange city. I bought some shisha tobacco for next to nothing and we left on foot. Below is probably on of the best addresses in the city, for some reason it is a pile of sand at the moment.

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We left on foot and walked over the supposedly dangerous bridge. It was not more dangerous than any other sidewalk, maybe safer as it had a fence between us and the cars. We did not see any shady persons on the bridge, but we did see a family or two. Upon entering Brazil we had to get a new stamp, this was given in a small booth similar to the ones you pay a highway fee in. We did not get a form to fill in as we did on our first entry. We were assured by two different immigration officers that this was not necessary. We can also confirm that we were allowed into Argentina without the form.

Dolar Blue in Puerto Iguazu

THE DOLAR BLUE NO LONGER EXIST, READ MORE HERE

If you have ever been to Argentina you might know that they have a very unstable currency, the Peso. It is unstable for many reasons, but this has led the Argentinians to want other currencies to keep their savings in, and most of all US Dollars. The Argentinian government answered to this by putting taxes on Argentinian cards buying foreign currency, so the only solution for someone with money in their Argentinian bank account to convert this to dollar without the hefty tax is to exchange it on the black market. The result of all this is that there are two different exchange rates, the official and the “dolar blue” rate. As of today the official is somewhere between 9 and 10 pesos to the dollar, and the blue rate is 14-15 pesos to the dollar.

So, if I were to buy a steak at a restaurant and pay in peso with my card, I would pay maybe 150 peso, which with an official rate of 10 peso on the dollar leaves me with 15 dollars less in my pocket. If I on the other hand bring US dollars in cash and exchange them on the black market at 15 peso on the dollar the same dinner sets me back just 10 dollars, and this applies to every penny you spend in Argentina!

How does one get the blue rate? Where do you find the black market? Will the police arrest you?

My experience so far is that you can get it everywhere, some restaurants and stores will give you the blue rate if you pay in dollars cash. Our experience so far is from arriving into Puerto Iguazu and feeling a bit lost in all this. We had 265 dollars in cash with us, which we after some investigation found a place at the bus stop in Puerto Iguazu to exchange at 14 peso on the dollar. This rate was OK, compared to the one you probably can get in Buenos Aires of 14,7 according to a guy we met on the bus.

The police will most probably not arrest you, this is as common as jaywalking and is sometimes done very openly, but beware of fake notes and not getting the correct amount.

To find the place that exchanges at the blue rate in Puerto Iguazu bus terminal, look for a number connected with the national board game of india. Then just ask “Dolar Blue?” Otherwise just ask around, most people will know someone doing these exchanges, we only offended an old lady in a store which looked a bit angry about us insinuating that she was a currency broker.

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Money that might change value overnight.