Tag Archives: photography

Life is like a box of chocolates…

Utility is when you have one telephone,
luxury is when you have two, opulence is when you have three
….and paradise is when you have none.
Doug Larson

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Got a few millions to spare? Then why not buy a super yacht and waterfront mansion to park it next to! Unfortunately we don’t, but it’s always fun to sit on the Water Taxis that transport tourists up and down the Intracoastal Waterways in between Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood. It’s a great way to travel around the area where you can hop on & hop off, but the Captain also gives you snippets of information on who lives in the properties and own these luxury yachts. We saw Amphitrite the $22 million yacht previously owned by Johnny Depp and recently purchased by JK Rowling, Harry Potter definitely is a girl’s best friend for JK. Sleek and luxurious the Azteca is owned by the Mexican Salinas Piego family, we know the department store Elektra well from our time in Mexico and this $83 million super yacht certainly sparkles in the water.

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One of the fun stories is about US business man Wayne Huizenga a multi – billionaire. He was having trouble with his neighbours complaining about his helicopter landing, so he bought their house, knocked it down and built a designated landing pad – problem solved! Then there is the story of the house now owned by 2 former High School teachers who decided to open a chicken wing restaurant. Their well endowed waitresses in tight vests and short shorts proved to be a big hit, Hooters restaurant chain has ensured the teachers now live that luxe lifestyle we all dream of. Back in the heyday Sonny & Cher, Lucille Ball and Jonny Weismuller all owned properties in this stretch of prime island lands.

After a day on the water it was time to wave Liz and Derek off from our two weeks in Florida together. They were driving upwards to visit St Augustine and Savannah before flying home. It was a fun time and even nicer to be able to say to them “We’ll see you in two weeks!”

For the last part of our Florida trip, we were staying in Fort Lauderdale in preparation to board The Independence of The Seas. After 18 months away our travels were coming to an end and it was time to head home to the UK.
Now I’ve mentioned a few times in my blog posts what a genius Mr E is at finding travel bargains and once more he surpassed himself! . When he knew last year we’d be travelling home in May, he booked a two week repositioning cruise with Royal Caribbean, get this – It was the same cost as 2 economy seats with British Airways. From the window of the Courtyard Marriott we could see the ship in Port Everglades ready for 3500 people who would all be travelling to Southampton.

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But before we tried out cruising, we had a couple of days to make the most of the Florida sunshine.We rode the water taxi down to Hollywood Beach from Fort Lauderdale. Along the way we passed Port Everglades home to south Florida’s thriving cruise ship industry and port of call to thousands of merchant ships from around the world.

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It’s a busy port and provides thousands of jobs for the region. We disembarked at the mammoth hotel resort of Margaritaville and wandered along the Hollywood Broadwalk.

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There are 2.5 miles of pristine white sandy beach, restaurants and nightlife, old style beach front motels and it’s a popular destination for sunbathing. Back at the  Margaritaville water taxi stop we hummed the lines ‘Wasted away again in Margaritaville’ and was glad I hadn’t ‘blew out my flip flop’

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For some old time charm we took the free trolly north to Lauderdale-by-the Sea. This cute beachside town is located on a barrier island just north east of Fort Lauderdale. We had stayed in a motel here back in 2002 it’s now been replaced by a large swanky condo building, the fishing pier remains and of course we had an ice cream sat on the beach for old times sake.

For our last night in America, we didn’t go far and ate dinner in Bubba Gump’s next to the hotel.
Forrest Gump “My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get”

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In all our 18 months away we certainly didn’t know what we were going to get, but I can honestly say it’s been far sweeter than we ever would have hoped for!

And now it was time to cross the pond…home was calling.

Beachlife..

Life is better at the beach..

Beachlife is joyous; walking on sunbaked grainy sand, feeling hot sunshine from bright blue skies beat down on your shoulders, getting your hair blown about in hairdryer heated winds, drinking cold beers in coozies, relaxing on loungers watching families laugh and play at the waters edges, eating super fresh delicious seafood and sipping  from cold green coconuts.  Life at the beach is happiness!

We’re already thinking about our return to the UK, moving back into our little Corsham house and getting back into work mode. It’s exciting to return (my daily mantra as I click my heels and cry is “I’m happy to go home, I’m happy to go home”..) how could I not be sad to be leaving fabulous Mexico? So this blog post is totally selfish and just for me! I can look back on sunny photographs and relive those beach moments in a heartbeat.

Let me take you on a trip..to the beaches of Oaxaca

Situated on the Pacific Ocean, Oaxaca is a southern state in Mexico with a coast that has long sandy beaches framed by palm trees, lagoons and where chunky rocks have jutted outwards and upwards over time to form lush turquoise bays.
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Throughout our travels we haven’t yet found another place with such a gorgeous selection of beaches as in Puerto Escondido.
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The long stretches of Zicatela and La Punta are home to the famous surfers paradise of the mighty ‘MexPipe.’ World class surfers take the pilgrimage to Puerto whenever a big swell is predicted. Watching these fearless surfers drop and come through huge barrel waves is ridiculously scary and awesome at the same time.
We like to watch sunset and enjoy a cocktail from one of the many bars and restaurants on fabulous Zicatela where horses trot by and surfers bob on the waves.
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The town beaches of Playa Marinero and Playa Principal are more sheltered, fishing boats drop anchor here and boats whizz up onto the beach over laid out palm tree logs to deliver their daily catch to market. Families and boogie boarders play in the waters edges with much hilarity.
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Further north around the cliffs are the friendly bays of Playa Manzanillo and Puerto Angelito. Coaches unload holiday makers to the many beach bars here where its safe to snorkel and swim. On a good clear day underwater there’s a great selection of fish to view swimming around the rocks. We like to hang out under a shady palapa on the loungers covered with bright Mexican throws, order guacamole and drink cervezas here. It is heavenly.

If you’re feeling energetic you can skip down the concrete steps to the gorgeous cove of Playa Carrizalillo, swim in the deep waters and sunbathe in the glimmering sunlight. You feel a tad out of breath getting back up to the top but it’s so worth it!

Playa Bachoco is one of the more deserted beaches is Puerto, you can walk along the long expanse of sandy ridges while waves crash down next to you. Baby Turtles are released here to battle through the foam and hopefully onto their new sealife.
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A fun day trip to Playa Roca Blanca is just a 30 minute drive north out of Puerto. There are beachside palapa restaurants where the catch of the day was swimming around that morning. The seafood is as fresh as fresh can be! Swimming can be a challenge as waves can be rough and I’ve yet to visit here when someone hasn’t been knocked over unaware by a rogue salty seawater smack in the face. You can walk here for miles and miles and it’s stunning.
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South of Puerto there are plenty of beaches to visit, starting with Tierra Blanca and El Tomatal which are very unspoilt and pretty much deserted. Us Brits love to take a picnic, chairs and a sunshade umbrella. It’s a lovely lazy day and we have smugly said to ourselves “There are worst places to be on a Thursday afternoon..!”
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A short 30 minute drive from Puerto takes you to Playa Agua Blanca, this is definitely one of my favourite beaches. When we first visited Puerto back in 1998 this stretch of beach was totally deserted and offered no shade. You couldn’t buy sunshades then so we sat sweltering on towels sharing beers from a coolbox, but now there is a hotel right on the beach offering basic accommodation and plenty of palapa restaurants to spend the day in. When the tide goes out after scoffing a delicious seafood lunch, it’s fun to play in the shallow rock pools spotting tiny bright blue and orange fish, collecting shells and digging for sand dollars.
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Further south are the hippie relaxed beaches towns of Mazunte, San Agustinillo and Zipolite.
There are lots of cabana beachfront rooms to rent and community style campsites are available right on the beach for free and easy backpackers who travel with their guitars and drums. At the far end of Zipolite you can strip off and tan all your birthday suit on the only dedicated nudist beach on the coast, it’s an eye opener as a variety of bits swing by!
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For my birthday we stayed just around the bay from Mazunte looking over windswept Playa Mermejita. Our hotel OceanoMar had a splendid rustic feel with lovely boutique amenities and decorations. It was a wonderful stay and one of my happiest birthdays spent with our lovely friends Keith and Sue.
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A ninety minute drive south from Puerto takes you to the main planned resort for Oaxaca. Manicured Huatulco with beautiful tarmac roads has 9 bays with a cute palm roofed International Airport that bring in package holiday makers, to one of their plush all inclusive hotels.
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There are plenty of smaller hotels and bargains to be had though. It’s a very different town in comparison to Puerto and a fun diversion for a few days away.  At Quinta Bella Hotel each room has a spacious terrace and dip pool that looks out to the beach. We have also stayed on a couple of occasions at Binniguenda All Inclusive Hotel, which is a smaller resort hotel just a few minutes walk away from the beach, with a lovely family run feel and plenty of drinks on offer to sip by the pool.
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We have totally loved living in Puerto Escondido with healthy outdoor living and happy beachlife. Leaving here is going to be tough,  but we have many great memories that will last long after the tan on our toes has faded.

“At the beach, life is different.
Time doesn’t move hour to hour, but mood to moment.
We live by the currents, plan by the tides and follow the Sun.”
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Illuminating Lake Titicaca

Huffing and puffing were the sounds of our trip to Lake Titicaca, at 12,500ft we certainly felt the altitude! Even just walking up the stairs took our breath away. But we sure are glad we made the trip to visit, as it was a really interesting experience learning about the Aymara, Quechua and Uros people who uphold their traditional customs here. In Puno, I longed to take photographs of the old ladies in their tradition dress of bowler hats, big skirts that represents the mountains and layers of colourful wool throws wrapped around their shoulders. The lines on their faces could easily tell the stories of their lives.

Lake Titicaca is huge, about 60% of the lake is in Peru and the southeastern 40% is in Bolivia. It’s the highest navigable lake in the world and an Incan spiritual and sacred place.
This high up in the Andes Mountains, I’m thinking these Incas were super fit – they took massive rocks uphill, determined – they built giant cities and superbly led to be able to create such an amazing empire.

The legends of the Inca start here, their God Viracocha emerged from the cold blue waters of the lake to create the sun, stars and humans in his image. The first Inca King – Manco Capac was born on Lake Titicaca to found the Inca Empire, the name Titi Kaka means Rock of the Puma.

Our first example of creative Incan architecture was at Sillustani. A half hour drive from Puno took us to beautiful Umayo Lagoon and there on the Sillustani hill we saw these huge flower-pot shape towers.

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These Chullpa burial tombs were for Inca kings and important rulers. These perfectly formed cylindrical towers are huge and are a marvel of construction.

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Of course the treasures buried with the dead have been looted over time, however archaeologists uncovered the skeleton remains giving valuable insight into these mysterious towers. The sun setting over the strange flat island out on Lake Umayo was luminous.

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While in Puno we took a trip out to visit one of the 40 man-made Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca. Originally built as a defensive system by the Uros Indians who had retreated from the mainland, some of these floating reed islands now receive boatloads of tourists in rotation so each colorful community can sell their handmade goods.

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Although it was quite touristy, it was very special to see this remote way of life and we wondered how long it can survive with the younger people moving to the mainland.
The President gave us a demonstration of how the island is built on large floating peaty bases, then dried reeds are laid on top in alternate layers. The island will last for about 15 – 20 years and needs constant maintenance as it has to be topped up with more reed layers each month.

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The island was certainly soft and squidgy to walk on, our guide told us that we would be able to spot the Uros people by the way they walk with a gait when visiting the markets in Puno. The ladies sang songs for us, invited us into their homes and of course gave us opportunity to buy tapestries, sweet little reed mobiles and colourful bracelets.

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The cute tiny tots were a joy and cleared us out of sweeties. These little kids have wind chapped leathery hands and faces with tons of smiles.

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On solid Taquile Island our tour boat docked and we took a slow walk uphill, panting like knackered racehorses to spend some time with the Taquileno people. Mr E found this experience very interesting but felt uncomfortable watching the family being paraded for us tourists. But the way I see it, the family makes money, tourists get to take photos and it was fascinating overview of the traditions that have been carried out for centuries. The tourist money of course helps to maintain this self-governed community.

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We learnt the men have to be able to knit before they can marry and will carry on knitting throughout their lives. Father of the intended bride will test the suitors worth by pouring water into his tight knitted hat. If it holds water he can marry his daughter, if not he can knit another hat and try again in six months!! The style of knitted cap is used to identify the marital status of the men. Along with farming on the Incan terraces there seems to be a reasonable distribution of duties, women weave and the men prepare natural herbs that are used as a detergent for washing wool and clothes.

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The family cooked us a delicious lunch of quinoa soup, fresh lake trout and gave us a digestive muna tea to wash it down with.

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The walk down to the boat across the island was stunning, fluffy white clouds reflected on the blue lake and it did indeed feel very peaceful on this heavenly island.

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Next up: Heart of the Incan Empire – Cusco

Rapa Nui Rocks..!

Let me take you on a trip..around Easter Island, here are our highlights:

Rano Kau
This magnificent volcanic crater is filled with fresh water and a huge amount of native trees and plants grow on the steep sides. From the top you can see the whole island that is just 15 miles long by 8 miles wide.
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Next to the crater is the ORongo ceremonial village which has been reconstructed to show how islanders lived on of this windy outcrop in slate round huts.
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At this site the spring Birdman ritual was celebrated. Brave strong men would be chosen by the tribal chiefs to climb down the cliffs, swim to the nearby rocky islet to retrieve the first seabirds laid egg. They strapped the egg to their heads, swam back on surfboard style rafts, climbed back up the cliffs and bestowed the Birdman honour to his chief. Extreme Olympics!

Tahia
This ceremonial complex was just a five-minute walk from our B&B and had a wonderful mystical feel to it. We hoped for a fabulous sunset behind the three Moai altars but unfortunately we had too many clouds. The Ahu platforms the Moai stand on are ceremonial shrines, it’s forbidden or tapu to walk on them.
It’s a great place to sit and enjoy the view. The large statue of Ko Te Riku is the only restored Moai on the island with white coral eyes and red scoria pupils. He has a grand red topknot to complete his majestic look. All of the statues on the island before the tribal wars would have looked like this.
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Ahu A kivi
These seven Moai are located towards the centre on the island and have a view out towards the sea. They were reconstructed by archeologists but have astronomical positioning. As they are all in symmetry they look pretty cool from the side, one becomes seven as you walk around them.
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Vinapu
At this platform the rock has been carved to form a smooth flat wall where the pieces fit perfectly together. This is similar to how the Inca built the city of Cusco, adding more mystery to who actually travelled to this remote island. Many islanders were forced into slavery by travelling sailors from Peru. All the Maui here have been toppled and remain face down.
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Rano Raraku
This is the place you see in all the National Geographic magazine cover shots and it’s completely fantastic, I loved it here. In this volcano cone-shaped quarry, the soft compacted volcanic ash was used to carve all the 900 statues on the island.
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Each statue was carved using only other handstones from one piece of rock and then they were moved to various platforms around the island. They estimate it took a year for each Moai to be carved.
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At Rano Raraku there are some 400 heads in various stages of creation. It’s here that archeologists uncovered that the heads have bodies buried in the hillside, some are up to 10 meters long. The mystery of how these huge statues were actually moved can only be speculated. But once the trees were all chopped down, there were no more truncks to maneuver the statues on and no more rope could be made to lever the statues into position.
All around the ‘workshop’ there are abandoned Moai that never made it to their final destination.
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Tongariki
This is one of the most impressive array of Moai on the island. There are 15 statues standing on the largest platform on the island.
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Tsunami and earthquakes  scattered the statues over time but the figures were reconstructed with help and money from the Japanese after an exposition in Osaka and are affectionately called the ‘Japanese Moai’. At this site you can walk behind the Moai and see the cut markings on the round backs of the statues and from behind it’s incredible to view these
ceremonial figures looking inwards. These Moai ancestors would be worshipped and are thought to generate mana – a prestige, power or a kind of mystical force over the land and its people.
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This site gave me a feeling of peace as if entering a beautiful Cathedral. It’s incredible that humankind around the world no matter how remote they are, all have their own God’s, their own religions and different ways of worshipping.

Anakena
Most of the island has dramatic cliffs with aqua colour foamy waves bashing up over the rocks and rocky fields but then you arrive at Anakena and you’re transported onto a Polynesian stunning beach!
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It’s like a different place entirely. The beach has soft white coral sand, turquoise warm waters lap gently and the platform of the funky smaller size Nau Nau statues back to the sea facing the sun.
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Mysterious, magical and dramatic, Rapa Nui certainly made its mark on me. I loved our trip.

In the land of Sun and Wine

The view of square acres of olive trees and row after row of grapevines was a beautiful sight as we dropped out of the grey clouds that had caused our turbulent, flight and into Mendoza. From the plane I could just make out a massive wall of mountains in the distance – The Andes! We’ll be traveling over this vast range of snow-covered peaks later in the week and I’m looking forward to a scenic journey.

We had arrived in famed Malbec land, where the dry fertile soil is fed Andean mountain spring waters, the vines face south to north to bathe in the bright sunshine, the higher altitude maintains cool nights and the Andes barrier between Argentina and Chile protects the landscape from the Pacific rains. But mother nature doesn’t get her own way, as this year El Nino bought in cold wet winter weather that has delayed grape development. But now the Mendoza region is flooded with the spring sun, the Malbec vines are full of small hard green berries that will ripen over the next few months ready for harvest in February and March.
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The first part of our week we stayed in a cute informal B&B away from Mendoza city out in the Maipu region. Tikaykilla in the Inca Quechua language means ‘Spring’ and with the garden courtyard fragrant with lavender and jasmine perfumes we were certainly in blooming springtime. We wanted a countryside place to stay for a few nights within the wine route with options to visit a few of the many wineries. Although we didn’t rate the outlying local Coquimbito area, with its array of exceptionally old rusty Ford Cortinas being driven around – it’s still relatively new to tourism, but we did visit a few pleasant wineries with gorgeous rows of picturesque vines to sample Malbec.
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Argentina’s signature wine is Malbec, this grape is known in the region as ‘The Black Wine’ with a rich purple colour, flavours that are spicy and peppery with tobacco aromas from the French oak barrels the wine is aged in. Malbec has a smooth, rich, dark cherry finish that pairs just perfectly with Argentinian juicy steaks cooked on the asado grill.
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Our first tour was to winery Domiciano De Barrancas. Their distinctive wine label design is one with the night sky and twinkling stars. They harvest their grapes at night when temperatures are lower so as to stop wild fermentation of the grapes. We tasted a dry white with pineapple green flavours. A strong red, very dry Syrah where the grapes are grown nearer the mountains and  rocks warmed by the sun in the day retain warmer night temperatures. Their Malbec was typical of the region but didn’t excite us too much. However the tour of the bodega with Sandra was really informative explaining about the fermentation and conservation cycle of the wine.
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We moved down to visit one of the larger wineries in the region of Trapiche. We enjoyed the tour with Andres of the stunning renovated 1912 buildings complete with old train tracks that once went directly to Buenos Aires. There we tried Fond de Cave, a white Sauvignon Blanc, which was light in colour and taste. A dry red blend cellar selection, aged in older barrels, which would pair well with lamb. Then bingo! we find of course we love one of  more expensive 2011 Malbecs. Trapiche buy in grapes from the higher altitude of the Uco Valley, where the Malbec vines grow in rugged soil and has thicker grapeskin and seeds that produce a deep purple, heavier red wine that is aged in new oak barrels. The wine grower Orellana gets his name on the label and it was delicious. We also tasted a crisp Rose Vino Espumante which at 100 pesos each was a bargain for drinking on a sunny afternoon.
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The following day we took a self tour of La Rural wine museum. The Rutini family has collected many artifacts from the last 150 years of wine making in Mendoza including the horse drawn carriages used before the railway was built that would transport wine to Buenos Aires.
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We had been searching for a classy winery with views of the vineyards backing out to The Andes, with a comfy place to sit and enjoy a bottle of wine – thank goodness we found it at Tempus Alba. While Trapiche was a grand old winery with huge concrete wine storing tanks, at Tempus Alba it was all shiny state of the art vats and slate floors. They are using new wine making methods with all the old wine experience. We enjoyed a Malbec Rose on the sunny patio terrace with an afternoon lunch.
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Although the ‘authentic’ (grubby) countryside of Maipu wasn’t quite what we had in mind – we probably needed to take a tour to the Uco Valley or Luján de Cuyo regions for Italian looking landscape and older style properties, but we did enjoy a couple of days in the intense sunshine.

We move into Mendoza City centre later for tree-lined avenues, pretty squares and hopefully another fabulous steak dinner before we leave Argentina and enter Chile across The Andes.

Buenos Aires, where the Portenos live.

Looking upwards to see cherubs and ornate towers on the Parisian style buildings is a tricky business when walking through the leafy neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. You need to dodge the dog poop, avoid tripping on the upturned broken paving and try not to get in the way of one of the busy local Portenos hurrying to work. This week we have happily wandered about, admiring the different and beautiful barrios in this interesting vibrant capital city.

We stayed in a great AirBnB apartment in Barrio Norte, located between the popular neighbourhoods of fashionable Palermo and ritzy Recoleta. The area was great, full of Italian restaurants, deli’s and cafés. When it rained really hard one day, to avoid the regularly flooded streets (I love that the fashionable women wear wellington boots on the commute to work!) we enjoyed just hanging out in the airy comfortable apartment doing washing, nipping out to the cute cafe on the corner and giving our feet a day off pounding the streets.
We eventually sussed out which buses go where on the intensely complicated but cheap system, to move around the city and managed to cover quite a lot of the sights. Spring in Buenos Aires gave us a mixed bag of weather, we got super lucky with some gorgeous sunny days where the colours of La Boca popped against the blue skies. But there were a few very cloudy days that made the city scenes grey and the wall graffiti a bit grim in places. Here’s a taste of where we ambled to.

Pretty Palermo is full of parks, cafes and elegant apartment buildings. Walking through the tree-lined avenues is just like wandering around the trendy arrondissement of Paris. Buenos Aires was an extremely wealthy city from the 1880’s to the 1930’s and much of the new city was built to replicate the fashionable Belle Epoch Parisian architecture. Italian renaissance style mansions complete with angelic statues and gargoyles were built for wealthy families. A fine example of this style of building was at the Evita Museum, where we learnt about this legendary Argentinian First Lady. Although the museum was small in content, I enjoyed seeing a selection of her 1940’s clothing and watching a short movie about her state funeral after her untimely death at 33 while a fabulous piece of dramatic Tango music is played in the background.
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On the way to Recoleta behind the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, we admired the dynamic shiny sculpture Floralis Genérica. Following the sun the hydraulic petals open gradually from morning until they close again by sunset.
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In the famous Cementerio de la Recoleta we got lost walking through the maze of corridors in this fascinating but slightly spooky city of the dead. 20ft walls enclose the cemetery where the elite and historical city figures are buried in elaborate mausoleums.
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These crumbling splendid family sarcophagi, house stacks of multiple coffins while cobwebbed marble angels watch over them. The Duarte family are buried here along with the body of Eva Duarte Peron which finally made its way here 13 years after her death and kidnap by the military government.
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Next to the craft markets in Recoleta, we watched tango dancers effortlessly strutting their slinky moves for tourist tips. Of course when you think of Buenos Aires you think of Tango.
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Its history goes back to the influx of European immigrants arriving in the city, the number of working class men vastly outnumbered women. These homesick Italian boys of the ghettos craving female attention, competed by taking part in this enticing courtship dance for one of the ladies of the night. Those offering the most sensuous dance moves to hopefully match their proposed lovemaking, would win the affection and inevitable emptying of their hard-earned pesos. Just like Buenos Aires tango is elegant, passionate and exciting.
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On Sunday we visited the crumbling Belle Epoch villas in the barrio of San Telmo for the eclectic craft and antique market. Great graffiti street art covers the walls and makes the neighbourhood look very hip.
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At Cafe Dorrego punters sat drinking beer, snacking on plates of peanuts in their shells, tango dancers embraced to the sounds of the accordion and people milled about looking at the all market stalls.
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From there we jumped on a bus to the colourful old port area of La Boca. This area was once a ghetto of Genovese poor blue-collar workers and where the Conventillo tenement community lived in cheap corrugated iron houses.
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These historic homes are now brightly painted and walls display frescos depicting the history of the port area. The cobbled Caminito is totally touristy with local artists selling paintings, souvenir stores sell Maradona key rings and popular Argentinian papier-mache figurines hang from balconies luring the tourists into the restaurants. In the sunshine La Boca was striking and fun.
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On a much cloudier day, we took a stroll along the waterfront through Puerto Madero. This historic docklands area has been renovated, expensive brick lofts and glass fronted apartments are built over trendy restaurants. It’s a bit like Canary Wharf with lots of modern business tower blocks, this is where the hip & trendy with new money of the city live and work. The city has 3 ports and this is where the name Portenos comes from, far more elegant than Buenos Aireans!
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To get to know the city in more depth we took part in the English-speaking Buenos Aires Free Walking Tours.The first central city tour was with Gaston, where we learnt about some of the politics of the city, the blue dollar, what the local Portenos are like and how Italian hand gestures are used in everyday conversations. We started out at the building of Congreso, ending at Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada.
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This main square is the focal point of the city and it has seen many political & social demonstrations over the years. Evita stood on the balcony here next to her President husband, her speeches delivered directly into the hearts and minds of Argentina.
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Gaston told us about The Mothers of May Square who protest against social injustices. Since 1977 they have met there every Thursday in their white head scarves to remember their children who disappeared. From 1976 to 1983 a Military Junta ran the country, those who protested or opposed were forcibly arrested and killed. It is believed up to 30,000 were murdered including many pregnant women. The Grandmothers of May Square now try to reunite those babies illegally placed into adoption by the military, during this dirty war with their actual birth families. It was an interesting tour where you could tip based on your travel budget.
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As we enjoyed the tour so much, the following day we took part in their other city tour with Victoria around the aristocratic area of Buenos Aires visiting fancy palacios and monuments. We started at Plaza San Martin and finished at the Recoleta Cemetery.
Vicki was very passionate about her home city was super entertaining and explained really well about some of the city history, about the Malvinas/Falklands war, what happened to Eva Peron’s body after her death, how quirky Portenos love to visit the psychotherapist and how you can get free plastic surgery on their private healthcare insurance. We also found out about the Big Mac index and learnt about some of the macro economics of Argentina. An example would be if Ferrari wanted to import a car to sell, they have to export from Argentina the same value of goods. This explained why there are very few luxury brands for sale. It was great 2 hour tour and a highlight of our time in Buenos Aires.

For a cheap day trip out, we took a 3 peso train north of Buenos Aires. 50 minutes later and after an entertaining journey where people sell a variety of goods up and down the train at various stops, we arrived in the City of Tigre train station complete with tiger motif on all the signs.
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It was like taking a trip to Windsor or the Norfolk Broads with rowing clubs and where all the buildings looked like a scene from 1930’s England. The Delta surrounds the city and is a popular weekend destination for the Portenos to escape to.
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We took a catamaran tour on the Delta past cute little cottages perched on stilts, I especially liked the house with the tree growing right through the balcony. The area looked very flooded with the iron rich brown water lapping over the cute rose gardens and through the white picket fences. It was a lovely sunny day out, but unfortunately an accident on the line meant we had to get a packed bus back to town and saw 2 hours more of the burbs than we had wanted!

So after a fun week in the busy capital city of Argentina we say ciao to you.
Our next destination is to the quiet Malbec wine countryside of Maipu and then Mendoza.
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Where it was Heavenly

“The best view the whole world affords” – Mark Twain

See he pops us everywhere! I found out more about Mark Twain in Calaveras County than I ever knew, then at 9123ft on Malcolm’s observation deck looking out over glorious Lake Tahoe, we see a plaque displaying another of his affable quotes that is oh so appropriate.

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Hugging the 72 miles of pristine lakeshore are sandy beaches, cabin style accommodations, outdoor activities, watersports galore and plenty of hiking paths.

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We visited spectacular South Lake Tahoe on our recent trip, staying in Stateline just on the edge of the California/Nevada border where you can gamble while sipping $1 tequila’s.

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We stayed at Montbleu, which is small casino reminiscent of an old town Vegas Freemont Street hotel but with much nicer rooms.

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Mr E was celebrating his birthday when we took the Heavenly gondola to the top of the mountain. If you halve him he’s still in his twenties… but one Mr E is quite sufficient!

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During the winter months Lake Tahoe is a very popular skiing destination, where there are plenty of organised ski lifts, that will take you up to pure mountain air at 9580ft.

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It felt great up there, I’m sure if we had gone off hiking though, we would have definitely been out of breath. We didn’t take our trainers with us and Birks aren’t really made for wandering on tops of mountains!

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Lake Tahoe is simply gorgeous with emanating colours of aqua, turquoise and emerald blue waters.

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The lake is fed fresh, healthy waters from mountain streams, which keep the lake so clear and clean. With northern California experiencing horrendous wildfires, the skyline from the west was tinged with hazy smoke.

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Even in winter months the lake never freezes due to water movement from bottom to top. At its deepest point the lake is 1645ft to give you some context (as so nicely displayed in the information centre!) Chicago Sears Tower is 1450ft – so yes that’s deep!

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But just to bend your mind the deepest part of the lake is actually lower in elevation than nearby Carson City at 4802ft.

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No wonder the air is so fresh, the ponderosa pines are so green and the cocktails taste so good…