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Islander Columnist Tours South America – Part Two

By Staff | May 22, 2009

The Tango, awesome water falls and preparations for the annual Mardi gras were the highlights of the second phase of our recent South America adventure. Buenos Aires, Iguau Falls and Rio de Janeiro were the locales.

From the air you get the immediate sense that Buenos Aires is a sprawling cosmopolitan center with defining architecture and monuments. It’s the third largest metropolitan area in South American after Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. It’s located on the southern shore of the Rio de la Plata, on the southeastern coast of the South American continent.

The city of Buenos Aires isn’t part of Buenos Aires Province, nor is it its capital; rather, it’s an autonomous federal district with a population of around 13 million. Buenos Aires means fair winds or good air and the natives are called portenos people of the port.

Our tour guide had warned us in advance not to wear expensive jewelry or watches. My wife and I and almost all the members of the group heeded this advice. But one of our tour members didn’t.

One afternoon while strolling the boulevards alone during some free time she was accosted by a thief who ripped a very expensive Rolex watch right off her wrist. The incident took place so quickly that the poor woman never even had a chance to react. The thief disappeared just as quickly as he arrived. Fortunately, the woman wasn’t harmed. The “Rolex thieves” have their acts down pat and carry out their wrist snatching so quickly that rarely does anyone get hurt.

The poor lady had to go to a local police station and had a difficult time communicating because she didn’t speak the language. She told the police that her Rolex was worth $10,000. She learned a very hard lesson.

I received an email from her recently letting me know that she now wears ten-dollar watches on her vacation trips.

Not to be deterred, our group enjoyed visiting the many fabulous tourist sites in Buenos Aires La Recoleta Cemetery with its magnificent display of monuments and the ostentatious tombs of Argentina’s rich and famous. One of the more modest but by far the most celebrated is the grave of Eva Peron. Every day thousands of visitors come to leave flowers at the door of the Duarte family mausoleum, where she is buried.

An absolute must for culture vultures is a trip to the Palermo Viejo district, with its charming cobblestones streets, bookstores, bars and boutiques. Or an afternoon exploring the Caminito pedestrian street’s arts and crafts in La Boca.

We enjoyed watching the tango dancers on the cobblestone streets as well as at various restaurants where tango demonstrations are the norm. The tango originated in Argentina during the latter part of the 19th century. At first it was considered obscene but later became a national treasure, which it is today.

We flew from Buenos Aires to Iguau Falls, the awesome sight I referred to earlier. Upon seeing Iguau for the first time, the U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, reportedly exclaimed “Poor Niagara.”

Iguacu currently has the greatest average annual flow of any water fall in the world. At one point, a person can stand and be surrounded by 260 degrees of waterfalls. The “Devil’s Throat” has water pouring into it from three sides. Because Iguacu is split into many relatively small falls, one can view many of them at one time. You can view the spectacular cascades from three bordering countries — Argentina, Brazil or Paraguay. The movie “The Mission” starring Robert de Niro was filmed in Iguacu Falls about twenty years ago and offers some breathtaking views.

The highlight of our four days in Rio was a tour of a Samba school. Samba schools compete for the honor of playing an integral part in the annual social event in Rio the Carnival. Each of the dozen or so Samba schools in Rio spend the entire year before each Carnival constructing giant floats, orchestrating dances and creating stunning costumes for the participants.

My wife and I took a tour of one such Samba school and posed for photos within a number of the floats under construction. We were also treated to a samba performance by the troupe who will represent this school in the next Carnival.

We also did the obligatory other sites in Rio: the Statue of the Christ, Sugar Loaf Mountain and strolls on Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

All in all, we found South America to be a wondrous continent with something for everyone. From the Chilean rain forests and lakes to the water falls of Iguacu; from the Argentinean tango to the Brazilian samba, we enjoyed the culture, music, folklore and stunning sights of three great countries. It’s definitely worth the trip.