We began our “honeymoon” in a slightly unusual manner….sharing our room with two other backpackers.
There was not a car, nor a honking horn, nor a hint of pollution anywhere in the air. The sense of excitement that we felt arriving in THE Iguazu Falls after spending a few months in the city was palpable. Finally, some time to breathe freely without pollution and walk without everything in my surroundings being made of concrete. There were even trees…I was already in heaven. Read more
It had finally stopped raining but that didn’t stop the relentless icy wind that whipped around my face turning my nose a sexy rudolf red. My stomach churned again. Why, oh why, did everything in my life have to involve a boat in some way? Boats and I have a tumultuous relationship – literally. As we travelled on the plane from Buenos Aires to El Calafate in Patagonia I knew I was going to be in for a rocky ride. Read more
Beaches, bikinis, the girl from Ipanema and…marriage? Read more
This weekend I decided that I wanted to go and try a new restaurant and so headed into town to one of the local eateries. Now, imagine my surprise when I was handed a menu in English. Interesting, I thought to myself as all of the other patrons of the restaurant seemed to have a different menu and on that menu? Yes, you guessed it, the prices were much much lower. While I was accustomed to this in China and I am now becoming accustomed to this once again in South America I have to ask myself: Is this discrimination? Read more
Have you been neglecting your teeth? Or looking to have some dental work in another country? Well, after a year of living in Australia where dental care is absolutely ridiculously priced I had been. However, now it seemed the time had come to finally find a dentist and do something about it. I had never been to a dentist in a foreign country and after one year of neglect I wasn’t looking forward to it.
I typed “English speaking dentist” into google and the first entry was DAS clinic in the relatively upmarket area in Recoleta. They specialise in cosmetic dentistry but also have appointments for regular check ups and maintenance. I managed to book an appointment online for a dental check with x-ray for 120 Argentine pesos. The dental clinic was relatively difficult to find as there were no markings on the door outside. With a little trepidation I headed up in the elevator to the third floor. The reception was well presented and I was relieved to find that when I went into the actual dental surgery was very modern and up to date. After a few minutes the charismatic Dr Gustavo Telo came in to expect my teeth. After efficiently inspecting each of my teeth he told me that a 360 degree x-ray would be needed to acertain if any cavities had occurred underneath my fillings. The x-ray machine was perhaps one of the most modern I had seen and I had to restrain a chuckle as the sound of elevator music filled my ears as the machine whirred around. Clearly the manufacturers thought that people could not live without some kind of entertainment, even for the thirty seconds it took for the machine to do it’s job. I was asked to take a seat in the waiting room while they assessed what treatment was needed.
As I sat in the waiting room watching Anthony Bourdain eat his way through every delight Hong Kong had to offer, I felt in secure hands. Now I was worried about what the damage to wallet would be. As I headed through in Dr Gustavo Telo’s office I was met with more high tech gadgetry as he used his mac to show me on the big screen exactly what needed to be done to my teeth. I’m pretty sure that anyone who has ever seen their teeth blown up onto a forty-two inch screen will agree with me that it is a disturbing experience. I needed to have six filling done done (yes-ouch) and on top of that he suggested that perhaps my wisdom teeth needed to be removed. I agreed to have the basic work done first and then I would assess if I wanted to do the rest later.
So, a few days later I returned for my next appointment. No waiting times here. I was a little surprised to find that It wasn’t Dr Gustavo who would be doing my fillings but rather another lovely female dentist Dr Marisol Telo, whose English was a little patchier but understandable and we had no problem communicating with a mixture of her English and my Spanish, which was certainly much much worse! As I settled down into the chair I was reassured when I didn’t feel any pain and the procedure was relatively painless. In fact, her work was very gentle and proficient and I soon relaxed. It turned out, however, to be the biggest filling of my life and I spent over six hours in the chair. At the end of the session both the dentist and I were feeling somewhat frazzled.
I returned another three times over the course of the next few weeks and only once did I have a problem when I got lockjaw from having my mouth open for so long. I was in agony and couldn’t eat anything more than soup for around 6 days. I returned to Dr Gustavo as I was worried that there was something seriously wrong. He saw me for free and he checked everything and prescribed some anti-inflammatories and everything was dealt with in a very proficient and professional manner. The result of the five fillings was, I have to say beautiful, and compared with the fillings I had done in the UK were works of art. On one of the fillings, which was very deep, I also had a porcelain overlay and this too is looking beautiful. I can’t comment on the longevity of the work as I have only had them for around a month but so far there have been no problems.
All in all I had a pleasant experience at DAS dental I found them to be professional and efficient. The final result was beautiful looking teeth and I would trust them in the future and recommend them to anyone looking to have either cosmetic dentistry in Buenos Aires or someone who is looking for a regular dentist.
Have you had any experiences of Dentists abroad? I’d love to hear them.
Welcome to the Blue mountains near Sydney. The clear crisp lines of the rock face contrast with the misty cover over the trees in the background making this photo my choice for near and far. I like the way that the perspective enhances the idea of the size of the place – and size is something that Australia has in an abundance! Distances, spiders and personalities are all big in the land down under.
D and I spent a weekend in the Blue Mountains during our time in Sydney and it makes a nice change if you want to get away from the big city and spend some time in a quieter location. We booked a room in Katoomba which is the biggest of the little villages that surround this amazing national park.
During the day Katoomba is a hub of tourists. Most people stay just one day and so you will find that the most popular trails and spots are crowded of people trying to take that perfect snap. You can buy tickets for the Blue Mountains explorer bus and if you are short on time this is an excellent way to get quick access to all of the main sites in the Blue Mountains. You can also buy a special “lyrebird pass” which also gives you access to some of the other tourist activities in the scenic park such as the skyway, railway and cableway. Unless you get to these activities early expect them to be packed out with tourists. Later in the day we saw very long queues, especially for the cableway.
The scenic railway proved to be less of the slow meandering train I had imagined it was more like a roller coaster! The term “scenic railway” actually comes from the late nineteenth century english amusement rides at funfairs which were, by todays standards, very tame roller coasters. The scenic railway in The Blue Moutains is the steepest incline railway in the world and is made from the original mining trackways which were constructed between 1878 and 1900. Without the modern shrubbery and plants you can see exactly how steep the incline is in this photo (on the left) It was actually pretty scary!
One of the main sites to go and view is the Echo Point at Katoomba, where you’ll see the famous Three Sisters. These haggard pinnacles of rock were once part of the cliff at Echo Point. Over time, the cliff was undermined and great blocks of it broke off, falling away into the valley. The Three Sisters were left standing. There is a possibility to climb down onto one of the three sisters and a set of steep steps that go from top to bottom. However, a word of working to the unwise….this is not a walk for the fainthearted. In fact we only realised that the steps go down…to well nothing….after we got to the bottom. So, without water, without proper fitness and (about halfway up) without the will to go on we realised we had made a mistake.
Staying overnight is the perfect opportunity to spend time in the Blue Mountains national park without having a misdirected tourist permanently appearing in the back of your photos like a spectre. We stayed at the Kurrara historic guest house which was built as the second guest house in Katoomba, and run by Mrs. Wilkins, proprietress, as a ‘first class establishment’. We had a warm welcome by the current proprietress walked us to our double room was clean and warm (very important in winter) and very quaint. It really did feel as if we had stepped back in time. Imagine Kirsty’s home made home gone wild and you have a bit of an idea as to the atmosphere of the hotel.
The vibrant social life that existed in 1902 Katoomba when the first tourists headed to the mountains is somewhat diminished and when you go to the blue mountains you can expect to have a pretty quiet time if you stay during the night. Be prepared to find that everything closes at around ten o clock – including the restaurants. It was perfect for us as we wanted some quiet time together but for others they might find it too quiet. It is well worth the stay, however, as it gives you time to get up in the morning before the tourist loads of trains arrive and have the park almost to yourself. Bliss!
One might be forgiven for thinking that you had stepped back in time as you duck through the doorway of the sixteenth century building that houses El Buen suspiro; a restaurant which we discovered has a reputation for being one of the best restaurants in Colonia and for good reason.
Although during the day this restaurant is actually a small shop selling local Uruguayan gourmet cheese, Uruguayan wine and condiments at night it transforms into an intimate and romantic venue for couples on a short trip to Colonia. Tables are hard to come by in this tiny restaurant which only has enough room for around four couples inside next to the burning traditional wood fire and another two outside where you can enjoy the clear starry sky while you eat. Advance bookings are taken and I would recommend booking a table if you are only staying for a night. You can find their number on the website. We were lucky that it was warm enough to sit outside and were shown to our seat in the romantic backyard of the small restaurant. Promtly, we were handed an extensive menu by our young and attentive waiter. The speciality of this restaurant is “picada” which is essentially a collection of cheeses, meats and other morsels which you can sample along with your wine. I was hesitant at first because often picadas here in South America cost an arm and a leg but often fail to fill you up. We opted for the “picada suspiros” which contained the following: Four different types of cheese:
- Queso Colonia Nicant, Nueva Helvecia- Santa Frida
- Queso Colonia saborizado (orégano / ajo y perejil) – Villa Celina – San Pedro
- Queso tipo Parmesano Rino Laudato, Tres Esquinas
- Queso tipo Sbrinz La Cumbre, Nueva Helvecia
The cheeses come with a condiment called Salsa Agridulce which was a delicious blend of sweet and savoury red onion and eggplant. Almost even more moreish than the selection of cheeses were the Tartas de Verdura You can select two from a variety of tarts on offer – we had the cheese and onion and spinach. Finally, if you aren’t saluting enough yet, the picada is topped off with a Salamí and a chorizo and I have to say that the chorizo was the most unique and appetising taste I have ever had the fortune to experience in my mouth.
The whole thing cost 280 uruguayan pesos and when it was arrived I was happy with the size and couldn’t wait to get started. However, before we could start our waiter had a warning and advised us that it was better to eat our way from the milder cheeses to the stronger ones and which cheeses and meats went best the conserve.
We also had one of Buen Suspiro’s wine desgustations. This is a fantastic chance to try some of the locally produced wines of the region. You are given a choice of five locally produced wines from the menu and are given a half glass of each throughout your meal. Half glass is a bit of an understatement as actually we were given nearly a full glass of each. All of the wines were absolutely fantastic and even better when you consider that each bottle of wine costs around seven dollars. An absolute bargain when you compare to the cheap supermarket slosh! Our favourites were the Chardonay Cuna Cerros San Juan which was a medium dry white with pear notes and the house wine Tinto Tannat which was a light red wine with a hint of strawberry. Very very yummy indeed. The waiters were more than happy to assist with wine choices and pairings although you will need to speak a little bit of Spanish to get the best out of the experience.
All in all the evening was fantastic and I would recommend the restaurant to anyone who is planning to spend some time in Colonia. The selection of wines, cheeses and meats on offer are an amazing way to enjoy some of the best that Uruguay has to offer. Now I just have to hope that my local supermarket starts importing these fantastic wines!
In 2006 Barabara Bush, daughter of George Bush had her valuables stolen while she was eating in a cafe in San Telmo, one of the popular touristic spots in Buenos Aires. This happened while she was being watched by the secret police…I wonder what hope this leaves for normal people living daily life here in Buenos Aires? Before I came to this city I read mixed reports about crime in the city: on one hand Buenos Aires is one of the safest cities in South America while on the other hand I have heard many reports from neighbours and friends about their experiences of the crime in the city? So, what is the truth? Lets investigate….
Sadly, I am writing this article because I myself have had my first experience of being a victim of crime here in Buenos Aires. There have been many incidents in my life where I have been forced to think about the finite nature of it including my appendicitis in China, however, none of these incidents have changed my relationship with other humans quite so much as the one that I experienced last Sunday. While we often imagine what it is like to be a victim of crime I think that often people from developed countries do not have the same acceptance or experience of crime that those who live in less developed areas do. I now know that life can be short and in less than twenty seconds it could be ended over nothing more than a camera. I hope that by recounting my experience here I can be of some help to there who are victims of crime in other countries and help them to cope in a situation where perhaps not too much help is available.
My experience began last Sunday while D and I were on the way to go and do the “tourist” thing here in Buenos Aires. We had packed our camera, some snacks and prepared to go on our way. However, as we were waiting for the bus an old woman walked past us unusually slowly and whispered to us in Spanish to “watch our cards.” We looked at each other somewhat confused by her words but didn’t even have time to react when Little more than twenty seconds later we were jumped by two dirty looking young men, wearing white tracksuits and brandishing a gun inside of the jacket. “Everything, everything” they shouted at us. I had never seen a gun except on T.V and I watched helplessly as they patted down D with the efficiency of customs officers and took the contents of his pockets and then snatched my bag. I felt completely and utterly helpless. There was nothing I could do, no one we could call on despite the street being full of people walking around. An old couple, who had witnessed the incident came to sympathise with us and even offered us money to get home. It was only after that I started shaking in complete and utter shock. How could something like happen in broad daylight? Of course the answer was simple. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
However, after siting in the police office for one hour and being attended by a police officer who didn’t even blink an eye when we recounted our story and then going home only to speak with our kind landlady to listen to her recount her own horror stories about the robberies and crimes I became certain of one thing. Buenos Aires was not the safe city that it claimed to be. Now, I can only assume through listening to the stories people here have told me in exchange for mine that the reason the crime statistics here are so low are because no one reports them. In my research on crime in Buenos Aires I discovered a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and crime which links economic problems with an increase in crime. As we all know Buenos Aires has had and is still having huge problems with their economy, inflation and immigration and all of these things seem to be increasing the amount of crime that occurs here in the city. People here seem to feel a sharp increase in the number of crimes being committed and, perhaps more impotently, the number of violent crimes being committed in the city. In a survey on the levels of crime in Buenos Aires expats states that around 50% of the people who had participated in the poll were a victim of some kind of crime and while where and how you live is obviously a factor, it seems that you are likely to be a victim of crime in any of the barrios of Buenos Aires, even those that are deemed particularly tourist friendly.
In any case I would like to put forward some information for those who are visiting or planning to live in Buenos Aires about the potentially dangerous places to visit and the potential dangers in Buenos Aires. There have been many great articles written about petty crime in Buenos Aires like this one from BA landing pad and so I won’t to add to them but I would like to say something about more serious crimes which are underplayed and yet occur on a frequent basis. Although we were robbed by two men on foot this is actually relatively uncommon. I can only suppose it is because of the area where we lived. It was near enough to a villa, a kind of Buenos Aires slum, for the perpetrators to try some opportunistic robberies nearby. (See my article about them here) However, around 50% of the robberies in Buenos Aires are committed by criminals on motorcycles. They are commonly referred to as “Motochorros.” In the past, these “Motochorros” operated exclusively in the microcenter of the city and focused on potential victims leaving banks or ATM machines, however, now it appears they are branching out and victims have been reported in Palermo, Recoleta and Belgrano. Generally, the Motochorros travel on a motorcycle with two riders; one with a helmet and the other without a helmet. They often use motorcycles with larger engines and original license plates and registration cards to avoid suspicion and to avoid being detained by police at the various checkpoints.
Some basic tips to protect yourself and your property:
1.If you are a woman, one trick I have learned is to keep all my valuables secured in a travel wallet and only carry things of no value in my bag. If someone is going to rob you they will most likely just grab your bag and then run, especially if the crime is committed in daylight.
2. Avoid financial or bank transactions in cash in plain view on the street or in other public areas. Put money away prior to leaving the banking institution.
3. Don’t use taxis in front of banks. It is better to walk a few blocks first, then get a taxi.
4. Watch for motorcycles going the wrong way down a one-way street or on sidewalks.
5. You should never leave the house with anything more than you need. Never take more than a couple of hundred pesos, don’t carry your credit cards with you unless you are taking a trip to the ATM, and don’t bring your passport unless you know you will need it.
6. One place that I would urge people to be very careful is La Boca. I know more than one person who was robbed in Broad daylight in the middle of the touristic part “caminito.” The advice states to be careful, stick to the tourist parts and take a taxi to go and return. I would add to that to not take anything of value with you at all. Having myself been a victim of actual “daylight robbery” in the middle of a busy street I know the rise is all too real.
7. Most importantly remember if someone attacks you just give them what they want. Your camera is not worth your life.
One of things I found most difficult after my experience of robbery in Buenos Aires was the complete lack of support in dealing with my feelings and the actual event of the crime. While I was momentarily heartened by the neighbours kindness after this incident I have to thanks my lucky stars that I was travelling with D. Otherwise, I’m not sure how I would have coped until now. Even until this moment I am suffering from the psychological and physical effects of the crime and I would like to write about them just to let others know that it is totally normal to have these feelings. I would never have guessed that an experience like this would have such a profoundly physical effect on me.
Apart from having mood swings that go from intense sadness and guilt to anger I have been suffering from ongoing flashbacks & nightmares: I find myself reliving the nightmare again and again in my sleep and also while I am awake. Even while I am writing this article my heart is thumping and I am feeling a sense of panic. I still feel completely numb: Although this was worst in the first day when I couldn’t even comprehend what was happening to me. I felt like I was in a daze or a weird actor in some movie. I couldn’t even talk about it. I feel like I have to be on guard all the time: I have been suffering from “hyper vigilance.” I find it hard to sleep and I am jumpy and irritable. Worst of all when I am walking down the street I can’t stop examining every corner for potential criminals. Anyone dressed like the offenders or who even look remotely similar make me feel uneasy. I even jump at unexpected noises. And just to add the insult to injury I have also been surprised that I am suffering from Physical symptoms: I have muscle aches and pains; irregular heartbeats; headaches; depression; constant crying and a feeling of impending doom much like anxiety.
In my first few days I searched online for stories from other victims of crime and for advice about how I could help myself overcome these feelings and I came across an article by the Royal College of Psychiatrists which helped me a lot to understand the feelings and emotions I was (and still am to a lesser extent) experiencing. On their website they provide an explanation for some of the most common symptoms. Due to the fact that everyone here has been so blasé about crime and not really treating it as if anything serious has happened It really helped me to realise that my feelings and reactions to the situation were normal. If you are having problems coping with being a victim of crime I would recommend visiting their website for advice.
Sadly, I don’t think this is an experience that I will ever forget and although I hope in time these strong feelings will pass there are some lessons that I hope I will never forget. The kindness of the complete strangers who met afterwards will hopefully be one thing that will stay with me long after the dreadful memories of the crime have faded and I have certainly learned a bit more about myself along the way….saying that I hope that I don’t have this kind of adventure again anytime soon!
Street life is a huge part of life here in Buenos Aires. This picture was taken in San Telmo one of the older and more traditional parts of the city. It was a Wednesday morning and the couple were practising for a show in the same place during the weekend. During the week mornings there aren’t too many tourists in this part of town and the couple had a perfect opportunity to do practise and maybe even make a bit of money in the process. In fact, other than to go to the sunday market there most people avoid the area altogether, which is a shame really as I’d say that San Telmo is actually one of the most interesting places in Buenos Aires in Terms of architecture and history. To see some more pictures of this fantastic area of the city then check out the Facebookpage. I came across this couple when I was walking around San Telmo doing some pictures about a local newspaper The Sol de San Telmo, which is a voluntary project in Buenos Aires producing a fantastic paper about the local area. In fact, one of the things that I like most about the city as it is coming into spring is the plethora of people who flock into the streets and parks to chat, drink mate and generally convalesce. One of my new habits acquired in Buenos Aires is the taking of Mate which is a herbal green tea that tastes a bit like a stronger version of green tea….But more of that in a later post.