Category Archives: TRAVELLER'S EYE VIEW

ARGENTINA: GLACIERS & FALLS, A Travel Diary by Subhash Motwani, Argentina Specialist

Argentina is truly an enormous country with great diversity and stunning landscapes. Being the 8th largest country in the world, it was not surprising to note that it takes 6 hours by flight to reach from Buenos Aires to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia – which is the capital of the province of Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia. Those who plan to take the Antarctica cruise can do so from Ushuaia- a hub for Antarctic cruises.

BEYOND BUENOS AIRES

Our next destination after visiting the Paris of the Southern Hemisphere and the capital of Argentina was the city of El Calafate which is half way to Ushuaia. It takes 3 hours by flight to reach El Calafate – the city better known for its spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier, an icefield which was created millions of years ago by a gap formed in the Andes Mountains.

Whilst flying within Argentina it is essential to note that one has to keep sufficient time between connecting flights as the domestic flights tend to get delayed and a 3-hour flight can at times take 3 hours and 30 minutes. Flights within Argentina can be quite expensive and at times if you are lucky you can get some good deals as well. A return flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate can cost you around USD 600 and there are several airlines which fly within Argentina such as Sol, TAM, Aerolineas Argentinas, Andes and LAN to name a few. So a specialist on the destination can definitely help you in getting the best deals provided you plan your trip well in advance.

LEGENDS OF PATAGONIA

The region of Patagonia is truly a delight for the adventure seeker and Cerro Castor which is 26 kilometres from Ushuaia is one of the most exclusive ski resorts in Argentina. It is located on the same latitude in the Southern Hemisphere as Moscow is in the Northern Hemisphere. This region receives the longest snow season in Latin America and one of the reasons being that the southern slopes do not receive direct sunlight. As a result skiing in Cerro Castor is a delight as it enjoys the best snow quality that you will find anywhere in the world.  Areas such as Cerro Chapelco, Bayo, Catedral, Las Leñas, Penitentes, Caviahue and La Hoya are regions where you can enjoy skiing across the region of Patagonia as well as other snow activities such as snowboarding, snow tubing, husky sledge rides and even golf as well.  From the green field and the fertile Rio Negro valley to the Andes Mountain range and the arid Patagonia plateau, the last home of the dinosaurs, to foots of hills and volcanoes, sport fishing and stays in estancias or large cattle ranches, one can spend days experiencing different activities in Patagonia and the 3 major cities worth visiting here are Bariloche, El Calafate and Ushuaia amongst others. The region is home to 13 glaciers including Uppsala – the largest of glacier in Los Glaciares National Park which derives its name from the Uppsala University which sponsored the first glaciological study in the region. Another glacier worth visiting is Spegazzini – one of the highest glaciers reaching a height of 135 metres.  The Patagonian region comprises of 17000 square kilometres of which 2000 square kilometers are in Argentina and the rest belong to Chile.

What we were to witness is the Perito Moreno glacier during our short stay in El Calafate. The Perito Moreno Glacier is located 80 kilometres from El Calafate and is the only glacier which can be viewed from a balcony stretching almost 4 kilometres.  As our flight approached El Calafate we noticed the turquoise colour of Lago Argentino – the biggest freshwater lake of Argentina in the Santa Cruz province of Patagonia. It is from this lake that the Argentinian flag derives it colour. The lake has a surface area of 1600 sq kilometres with a depth of 120 metres.



THE PRESIDENTIAL SUITE

Our hotel Los Sauces which incidentally belongs to the President of Argentina was located 20 kilometres from the airport in one of the most picturesque locations. In fact the entire drive was a perfect post card picture experience. Puerto Natales which is the Chilean border is 300 kilometres away and can be covered in a driving distance of 3.5 to 4 hours. So if you don’t have a Chilean visa but still want to get close to Chile, a day trip from El Calafate is a possibility.

The capital of Santa Cruz province is Rio Gallegos, located 300 kilometres from El Calafate. The town of El Calafate, known as the national capital of the glaciers has over 7000 inhabitants and is on the southern end of Lago Argentino (Lake Argentina) and a minimum 3 days stay is recommended to explore the region.

During our short stay we were highly pampered and taken care by the exceptional staff at Los Sauces – a world class luxury property with exquisite cuisine and suite style accommodation. Each room is tastefully decorated and the rooms are pretty spacious with wide windows and views of Mount Calafate or Lake Argentina. I was in one of the rooms which was roughly 40 square metres and the entire property is located in a traditional ranch estate in an area comprising of 4 acres of immaculate landscape giving you the feel of a country style accommodation. On a cool wintry day you can spend a couple of hours in front of the log fire and soak in some authentic local character with fine furnishings comprising of some striking Argentine paintings and sculptures.

La Comarca restaurant serves some fine gourmet cuisine with the suckling Patagonian lamb being an absolute specialty. The Southern Hake (fish) is another specialty. And after a full day of adventure – be it visiting the Glacier or going on horseback, you can relax in the octagonal designed spa known as Las Piedras which is fully equipped with a state of the art gym, Jacuzzi, sauna and spa.

FOOTHILLS OF THE ANDES

After a sumptuous lunch, we left for an exciting 4×4 adventure to Huyliche, a working ranch which raises cattle and criollo horses and is barely 3 kilometres from El Calafate. We could hear the sound of the wind blowing and it was the end of winter with a temperature around 5˚ C. This was probably the highlight of our entire trip to get some stunning views as we moved up the foothills of the Andean mountains on our 4×4 overlooking valleys, creeks, rivers and as we moved higher in altitude we could see some snow across the horizon.

Not only did we get the opportunity to drive on the snow but also experienced a gentle snowstorm.The amazing landscapes and spectacular views made this experience much beyond the exceptional. The region of El Calafate is known for its tourism and meat produce and is one of the few places to experience some unique Farm Tours, sheep shearing, visits to the Eola and Cristina farms which are highly recommended for the discerning travelers. Whether it is horse riding, trekking or even visiting the 3 major glaciers of the region – Upsala, Spegazzini and Perito Moreno, the Santa Cruz province of Patagonia and the city of El Calafate should be right on top of your must visit excursions when you visit the South American Continent.

The following day we had one of the best and most efficient guides in Patagonia – Paula. Paula Podromos incidentally runs a vegetarian restaurant in Patagonia and given her knowledge and expertise, I do recommend the Indian vegetarian guests to visit Veggies Patagonicos. Incidentally Paula did tell us that Sri Sri Ravishankar is likely to visit Argentina this December and there are satsangs every Friday in El Calafate – surely an Indian connection out there to Argentina.

THE GROWING GLACIER

In winter, the sun rises around 0930 hours and we left for the Perito Moreno Glacier at the break of dawn (around 0900 hours) to see both ends of the Glacier which is located 80 kilometres or a 90-minute drive from El Calafate.  El Calafate is 400 kilometres away from the Atlantic Ocean and most of the drive is alongside Lago Argentino. Our guide Paula shared some interesting facts en route such as the temperature of the water is an average of 3°C all year around.  The Perito Moreno Glacier is part of the southern Patagonian Icefield camp and the average temperature in summer is between 16°C and 18°C. No doubt the period between September and April is the peak tourist season out here. It is remarkable to note that inspite of such high temperatures in summer, the glacier remains intact all year round.

There is just one hotel in Los Glaciares National Park and you need big pockets to spend a night at Los Notros which overlooks the Glacier. The Glacier can be viewed by boat from the southern side and from the balconies in the northern side. To enter the National Park, an entrance fee of 80 ARS (Argentine Pesos) – approx INR 1000 has to be paid by international visitors. This 250-square kilometre ice formation stretches 30 kilometres in length and is shared with Chile and is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water. The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the three Patagonian glaciers which is growing and scientists have to still figure out the mystery behind this.

LUNCH ON ICE

After a boat ride, we had lunch at the restaurant located at the north side of the Glacier. The restaurant known as “Nativos de Patagonia” serves a meal comprising of a starter, a main course and a dessert for 90 Pesos (approx Rs 1080) and for vegetarians there are options like the Cremosa Sopa de Calabaza or the pumpkin soup with red onions and chorizo, Ensalada Tibla de Vegales or warm salads and to finish a meal a chocolate y dulce de leche is the recommended choice and would cost you 18 Pesos.

After a good meal, we descended to go to the balcony comprising of 2000 steps and is 4 kilometres long. If you are lucky, you could see large chunks of ice rupture in front of your eyes, although the ruptures are not as frequent and at times it takes place once every 4 years. The rupture of the natural dam formed over the L-shaped Lago Argentino is a rare phenomena as the water level rises upto 30 metres and the enormous pressure produced by the height breaks the ice barrier creating this unique rupture cycle. These spectacular towering chunks of eroding ice is something you must surely look out for.

GLACIER WALKS


Patagonia comprises of 5 provinces and 70% of the landscape is Patagonian steppes and receives 200 mm of rainfall every year. Incidentally the Chilean border from the Glacier is merely 20 kilometres away but you need to drive almost 400 kilometres from here to go to Chile. Another way to view the Glacier is to undertake a Glacier Walk comprising of 8 hours out of which 90 minutes is walk on the actual glacier. The boat trip is definitely a good option for the less adventurous and is an interesting 60 minutes ride and takes you very close to the glacier. The North side of the Glacier is 2.5 kilometres long, 60 metres high and 180 metres in water. The glacier stretches 30 kilometres into Chile. It was incredible to note that the total ice between Argentina and Chile comprises of 13000 sq.kilometres which is of the size of Belgium of which 80% is in Chile and 20% is in Argentina. The ice was supposedly formed 40 million years ago and is 2000 metres above sea level. There are as many as 200 glaciers in the area and the major part of the Chilean side of the ice formation is in the sea whereas the Argentine side is in fresh water and the Perito Moreno glacier moves 1.50 metres every day and is in balance and this is indeed an incredible phenomenon. The Perito Moreno glacier was named after the explorer scientist Francisco Moreno who incidentally did not see the glacier himself. For the adventure seekers, they can do a glacier walk not only at Perito Moreno but also at El Chalten which belongs to the Fitzroy Mountains and is the trekking capital of Argentina and at an altitude of 3400 metres above sea level.

WILDLIFE SPOTTING


As we head back Paula, our guide told us how El Calafate derived its name. It is from the Calafate plant which is grown on the Patagonian steppes. The Los Glaciares National Park is also home to several birds and quite often you spot the Condor – the biggest bird in South America – 3 metres long, 1 metre high and only eats carcasses of animals. We were lucky to spot a few Condors as we were traversing the balconies on the northern side of the glaciers. Besides Condors, one could also see the Caracara birds and Eagles and as one goes deeper into the National Park, one may be able to spot the Geoffrey’s Cat, South Andean Deer which is nearing extinction and the Mara-Hare or the Patagonian Hare which also is found only in Patagonia and nearing extinction as well. This sub-Antarctic forest is also home to lesser Rhea which looks like an Ostrich, the Guanacos from the Llama family though smaller in size than the Llama. The wool of Guanaco is supposedly the best wool available although quite often you find shops in El Calafate selling you wool of Merino Sheep which incidentally comes from Australia and New Zealand and not from Patagonia.

During our short stay in Patagonia, we got a glimpse of El Calafate, the capital of the Santa Cruz province, although Patagonia has lots to offer – from Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego province to San Martin los Andes in Neuquen, to Puerto Madryn which is well known for penguins, whales and seals in the Chubut province to Bariloche in Rio Negro.

HEADING NORTH


Our flight left at 1918 hours and with a stop at Bariloche, we reached Buenos Aires nearing midnight.  Our next stop was in the Litoral region and the province of Misiones to see the spectacular Iguazú Falls – the widest falls in the world bordering Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. After spending an overnight at Buenos Aires, we flew on LAN the following morning for a 90-minute flight to Iguazú Falls.

At Iguazú we were staying at one of the boutique properties – Loi Suites which is in a beautiful location in the middle of the jungle. The most striking part of the diversity of Argentina is that as we headed up north more towards a sub-tropical climate, the temperature in winter changed dramatically from 5°C in El Calafate to about 10°C in Buenos Aires and eventually to 28°C in Iguazú Falls. The falls are 22 kilometres from the city centre and is in the direction of Paraguay and Brazil. Iguazú receives 2300 mm rainfall per year and incidentally the minimum rainfall is in August. Between December and February it rains 1 hour every day. Iguazú Falls is barely 6 kilometres or an hour’s drive to Brazil. After arrival in Iguazú and checking into our hotel, we left to head to the Iguazú Forest and we were warmly received by Vin Diesel lookalike Jose who ensured that we could get the best of Iguazú during our short stay in this very interesting region offering a combination of rivers and forest. The plains and forests are surrounded by heavy flow rivers of which the Parana and Iguazú river are of great significance as they play an important part in the formation of the magnanimous Iguazú Falls. The Parana river divides Argentina and Paraguay.

ACTION BEFORE THE FALLS

En route to the forest we stopped on the way to see the Guarani Tribe – Guaranis are a group of culturally indigenous people of South America and they speak the Guarani language. They are spread across 4 countries- Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia of which over 1000 Guaranis are in Argentina. It took us 40 minutes from our hotel to reach the Iguazú Forest where we did a 4 hour excursion comprising of 3 adventure activities – Canopy, Rappelling and Hiking. We were asked to get into a heavy duty truck and our first halt was in the Forest where we would rappel down a descent of rocks of 15 metres tied to a harness and the experience was indeed very invigorating after which we hiked across the narrow paths within the forest and arrived at a waterfall. The last of the activities was the most exhilarating – the Canopy.  After climbing a treetop through a stairway, we slided from one tree to another fastened by a harness which was attached to a steel cable enjoying the views of the forest from a height and zipped passed a distance of over a kilometer in no time.

We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and if one has more time in hand, one could easily add an ATV ride experience to the four hour excursion comprising of 3 adventure activities. Later in the evening we visited Aqva – a restaurant which specializes in sea food and when in Iguazú it is recommended to try the Suruvy fish which is a local river fish. The restaurant itself is one of the best restaurants in the region and I would highly recommend a meal for anyone who plans visiting the Argentina side of the Iguazú falls.

THE ROAR OF IGUAZÚ


Next morning we were accompanied by our guide Miriam who quite resembled the President of Argentina and she took us to the Iguazú National Park where we spent the entire day to see what is undoubtedly the most spectacular falls in the world which borders 3 countries. Known as the Aguas Gerantes or Big Water by the Guaranis, the Iguazú Falls has over 275 falls and the border between Argentina and Brazil is marked by the most spectacular of them all – the Garganta del Diablo or the Devil’s Throat. The water from the falls plunges to 70 metres in the abyss below and the park besides the falls is also home to over 2000 species of plants and 400 species of birds as well. Iguazú Falls, which is one of the natural wonders of the world, has 2100 metres of the falls on the Argentina side and 600 metres on the Brazilian side. The Brazilian side is known as Foz de Iguazú and has a population of 350000 whereas the Argentina side known as the Puerto Iguazú has a population comprising of 50000 people. Paraguay, the Ciudad de l’Este which is located on the other side of the Parana River  from Argentina has 200000 inhabitants, a majority of them from the Guarani Tribe.

NAVIGATING THE DEVIL’S THROAT

The amazing part of the falls is that it changes every day as the rainfall in the area determines the falls. It was Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca from Spain who discovered the falls for the first time in 1542 and initially called it Santa Maria. Later in 1934, it was named the Iguazú National Park – one of the 32 National Parks in Argentina.  Today Iguazú receives almost 3000 to 4000 visitors a day and over a million tourists every year. To reach the falls one has to take a train which leaves every 30 minutes and takes you to the Devil’s Throat. Thereafter you have to walk over 1.3 kilometres on a walking trail known as the cat walk. En route, one can see lot of birds like we spotted the plush crested jay birds at various points along the way. Almost 80% of the falls are on the Argentine side and comprises of 3 horseshoe shaped valleys. It is a good idea to take Mate – the local drink made of herbs – along with you and the herbs, which act as anti-oxidants and has vitamin C, is a good thirst quencher especially as you are in sub-tropical climate and the average temperature is around 25 degrees Celsius with a very high humidity. It takes easily a couple of hours to see the 270 odd cataracts from various panoramic views and you have to spend almost the entire day to see the falls.  En route we also saw coaties which are type of raccoons and seem to be pretty friendly animals though it is best advised not to get very close to them.

Another activity which is worth doing is a boat trip on the gentle Iguazú river where you can view the falls and go in close proximity with the risk of getting fully drenched inspite of having a raincoat on. The boat trip in a large rubber-raft is worth it provided you carry a change of clothes or else you will come out soaking wet at the end of the trip. If you do have a Brazilian visa you can view the falls from the Brazilian side or else you can explore other exciting cities of Argentina.

SAY NAMASTE TO ARGENTINA

Argentina is truly a country of six continents and in my short trip of 7 days I got a glimpse of three unique experiences from the glaciers to the vibrant capital city and eventually the most majestic falls – truly the eight wonder of the world. I carried back pleasant memories of the land of Tango, Football, Wine, Adventure, Glaciers, Falls and much more.  From the Andes Mountains and Cuyo in the north to Patagonia in the south, Argentina truly attracts the discerning traveller. So pack your bags and get ready to say Namaste Argentina and explore a land full of varied experiences in one unique destination.

Plan Your Holidays  with the Argentina Specialists

Your Indian Connection to Argentina

http://www.namasteargentina.com

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How To Explore Places Like Never Before: Buenos Aires

My first major exposure to Argentina was when the President of Argentina, H.E. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner,  lead a high level delegation to India in October last year. I was assigned to do a special feature on Argentina to coincide with the State-visit of the President. It was at this time I discovered that Argentina, the eighth largest nation in the world, has lots to offer in terms of tourism opportunities.

This August I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of this wonderful country and truly Argentina has all that it takes to get a complete holiday experience in one destination.

South African Airways – a member of Star Alliance – offers the shortest connection to Argentina via Johannesburg and I had the opportunity to experience the exceptional service in Business Class with their award-winning lie flat bed and excellent hospitality. We were well taken care of by Molefi Molefe, a Steward who ensured that we were well looked after on this Airbus 340-200 series flight.

On my arrival, I had to change the dollars into Argentine Pesos and the best place to do that is the Banco de la Nacion Argentina at the airport.  It took us one hour to reach the Panamericano Hotel from the airport which is located on Avenue 9 de Julio and has the famous Obelisk which dominates the avenue.

The Obelisk, which is 67 metres high, divides the Corrientes Avenue and is surrounded by a small green park – Plaza de la Republica which represents the progressive spirit of the people of Argentina.  The Plaza is a vast square and dissects the three arterial roads – Ninth of July Avenue, Corrientes Avenue and Diagonal Avenue and is located in the San Nicolas quarter.

It is a rare sight to see a 12-lane street in the middle of the city centre, six lanes each for either direction of vehicular traffic. The Plaza was inaugurated in 1937 and is also known as the most important porteño or meeting point when the country celebrates major sporting triumphs. The Plaza which was originally a circular esplanade was enlarged to its current dimensions in 1962 and the Corrientes Avenue was rerouted through the plaza later in 1971. It is around the Obelisk that you will find the vehicular traffic heading into the city’s financial district.

Buenos Aires, along with its suburbs known as Greater Buenos Aires, makes up almost a third of the total population of Argentina which stands at around 39 million. Buenos Aires is truly a year round destination and one can easily spend days exploring this city which is also South America’s second largest city only after Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Located on the western shore of Rio de la Plata estuary, Buenos Aires is considered as an Alpha World city and the people are referred to as porteños or people of the port.  During the great immigration wave in 1880s, people of Italian, Spanish and French descent migrated to Buenos Aires and therefore the city has a great European influence and is indeed one of the most beautiful metropolises of the Southern Hemisphere.

On our arrival, I had the opportunity to stroll along Lavalle Street which was adjoining my hotel. This shopping street leads into the Florida Street near San Martin Square where you will find a wide variety of shopping – from leather goods to jewellery, books and souvenirs as well as some fine boutique shops.

The San Martin Square which is walking distance from San Telmo, one of the oldest districts of Buenos Aires and which is a must-visit for its cafes, tango parlours and antique shops in the cobblestone streets which offers unique entertainment with artists and dance performances. If you are in Buenos Aires on a Sunday, you must visit the San Telmo market known for its bohemian charms.  This quaint and funky neighbourhood comes to life every Sunday with its Antique Fair in Plaza Dorrego stretching down the cobblestone Calle Defensa or Defense Street.  From musicians to artists, from full-scale Tango orchestras to solitary singers, San Telmo is the place to spend your Sunday in Buenos Aires and be entertained – be it by human statues painted in gold or a frozen man and woman caught in a storm with blowing jacket or inverted umbrella which makes it a thoroughly entertaining experience.

Here are 10 other must-do activities for visitors in Buenos  Aires:

1.  Visit Plaza de Mayo:

Plaza de Mayo

The main square in downtown Buenos Aires, a focal point of political life of Buenos  Aires and Argentina. On one side you will find the  public administration office from early 20th Century. The Casa Rosado located on the eastern side of the square is the Presidential Office of Colonial Times. Go back in time and visualize President Peron saluting the people from the balcony of Casa Rosada. Close to Casa Rosado is the monument of Manuel Belgrano on horseback. Manuel Belgrano took part in the Argentine Wars of Independence and also created the Flag of Argentina and is regarded as one of the Liberatodores  or Principal Leader of the Latin American War of Independence from Spain.

Casa Rosada

On the northern side of the square is the Metropolitan Cathedral, to the west is the Cabildo – an imperial colonial building and a town hall of earlier times. Nearby is one of the oldest subways of South America –Peru which still has the original look which dates back  to the beginning of the 20th Century with wooden  wagons. A ride from Peru station is an experience. This subway  was inaugurated in 1913 as the first in Latin America.

Metropolitan Cathedral

2.            Visit Recoleta –

also known as “little France” or la Pequeña Francia. This traditional upscale district combines Parisian architecture with trendy high rise elegant buildings and a variety of cultural venues. Visit the Loisuites hotel and you get a bird’s-eye-view of the Recoleta Cemetery from the higher floors of this wonderful boutique property.

Recoleta Cemetery

A visit to the Recoleta    Cemetery is definitely recommended as it is the most    relevant historical and artistic monument in the country and was created in 1822. It contains the graves of some of the important Argentineans including Eva Peron and some of the past Presidents of Argentina. The cemetery contains many elaborate marble mausoleums    decorated with statues and various architectural styles.  A walk around Recoleta will take you to some fine cafés and restaurants and maybe on a cold day you could even sip a Mate – a drink prepared from dried    leaves of yerba mate along with hot water which can be      sipped with a bombilla or a metal straw from a shared    hollow calabash gourd which is similar to a bowl  made of dried pumpkin. You can pick up a calabash gourd with a bombilla as an important Argentine souvenir.

Grave of Eva Peron

3.            Living la vida Boca –


Spend an afternoon at the Boca district and visit the most important football stadium in     Buenos Aires – La Bombonera, the home of the Boca Juniors including the famous iconic Diego Maradona. The   old port district of Boca still retains its 19th Century ambience and a strong European flavour thanks to the early Italian settlers from the city of Genoa. Colourful houses, pedestrian streets – especially the Caminito where tango artists perform on the streets – is an excellent outing to also pick up a few tango-related memorabilia.

4.            Sip a coffee and try Alfajores or Dulce de Leche at the Havanna –


Havanna is to Argentineans what Starbucks is to the U.S.  Your trip to Buenos Aires is incomplete without visiting Havanna especially in the district of Puerto Madero – the old port now converted into a famous restaurant district and somewhat reminiscent of Hamburg.  This 1880 era dockland is now converted as the newest neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. Havanna, besides serving some fine coffee is one of the most popular alfajor vendors in Argentina. Alfajores are light, round cookies filled with dulce de leche – milk caramel in Spanish and the traditional local sweet made of thick jam and caramel candy. Indulge in dulce de leche without worrying about the calories along with a cappuccino con dulce de leche and a few alfajores to go. There are over 50 Havanna stores and cafés across the city and you have no reason not to spend a couple of hours for a coffee, a light meal or over indulgence of fine tempting desserts.

5.            Tango and Theatre –


The Teatro Colón or Colombus   Theatre located close to the Obelisk is amongst the top  5 opera houses in the world and a must-visit attraction.  The theatre which opened in 1908 was closed for refurbishment from October 2006 to May 2010 and is    recently reopened and should be on your agenda whilst visiting Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires is the birth place of Tango and Piazzolla is one of the fine places in the Guemes Gallery where  you can experience the vibrancy of soulful music combined with modern tango and feel the spirit of the city created by the famous Astor Piazzolla. A dinner followed by an exhilarating 90-minute Tango song and dance presentation is a wonderful way to spend an evening in Buenos Aires. Other options would be to visit one of the Parrillas or charcoal grill places to try out a barbecue. La Estancia Del Gaucho on Lavalle street or Las Cabritas at Soldado de la Independencia     is a good place to order a Parillada or Asado, grilled meats or grilled beef which can be shared by two or more along with a glass of Trapiche – one of Argentine’s fine Malbec wines with produce from Altamira, Uco Valley, the premium area where Malbec is grown in Argentina.

6.            Shop at Avenida Santa Fe or the Galerías Pacífico –

Avenida Santa Fe

Avenida Santa Fe is indeed one of the well known places for shopping in Buenos Aires and stretches from Plaza San Martin to Belgrano offering a corridor of hustle, bustle and retail therapy with well known  boutique brands in one of the most important shopping districts of the city.

Galerias Pacifico

There is also Galerias Pacifico or the Pacific Gallery located at the intersection of Florida Street and Cordoba Avenue. This is one of the most elegant shopping malls with concreted domes, renovated in 1990, and houses with a shopping mall, the Jorge Luis  Borges Cultural Centre and Julia Boca Dance school. The dome is decorated with murals by famous Argentine painters and the large central cupola was   constructed and decorated with 12 frescos by artists including Manuel Colmeiro, Antonio Berni , Demetrio Urruchúa and others. These frescos are some of the most important in Buenos Aires.

7.            Flowering Art –


Floralis Genérica is a unique sculpture    made of metal and is the gift to the city by the architect Eduardo Catalano. The Arte en Flor or Flowering Art is located in the centre of a park surrounded by wooden boundaries and represents a large flower with an aluminum skeleton of reinforced concrete and is supposedly 20 metres high. The flower which opens to the sky has six petals and is located at the United Nations Plaza and weighs 18 tons.

8.            Night out in Palermo or a visit to the Cathedral of Polo –


Palermo is a trendy neighborhood filled with restaurants, shops and clubs called boliches. Located in the northeast part of the city, Palermo borders other important districts such as Belgrano, Recoleta, Rio del Plata river and is the largest neighbourhood in Buenos    Aires. It is further subdivided into Alto Palermo – the  main shopping area and transport hub around Santa Fe Avenue, Villa Freud – a residential area, Palermo Viejo or old Palermo which reflects an old Spanish style architecture and where well known figures such as   Jorge Luis Borges and Che Guevara once lived.

Bars around Plaza Serrano

Then there is the Palermo Soho area or Plaza Serrano  which is a chic fashion district with plenty of bars and street culture and has a bohemian feel to the region. Palermo Hollywood as well has a high concentration of restaurants, clubs, cafes and active night life and finally Palermo Chico which is an up-market area and houses the National Museum of Decorative Arts. The Barrio Parque area in Palermo is home to the rich and famous    and MALBA – the Museum of Latin America Art is located in the vicinity. Las Cañitas is an up-market area too and is located next to Campo Argentino de Polo – the Cathedral of Polo, a multi-purpose stadium used for polo, field hockey and has also hosted the World Hockey Cup in 1978. The stadium which holds 30000 spectators is also home to the Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo – the most important polo event in the world, a venue for the 1950 Olympic Games and at      times is also used for concerts performed by Shakira, Carlos Santana and for public events too.

The Cathedral of Polo

National Museum of Decorative Arts

9.            Browse through at El Ateneo Grand Splendid –

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

This amazing building on Santa Fe Avenue was designed by well known architects Peró and Torres and originally opened as a theatre during the 20th Century  with a seating capacity for over a 1000 spectators. This theatre was later converted into a cinema and the first sound films were presented in Argentina here in 1929. Subsequently in the 21st Century, this iconic building was converted into a 2000-square metre book and music shop and over 700000 books were sold in 2007. The cinema seating was replaced by massive book  shelves and over a million people walk through this amazing book store every year. An English newspaper,  the Guardian, placed El Ateneo as number two in the list of world’s top ten best bookshops and is a must-visit attraction for reading enthusiasts.

10.          Take an open bus or underground walking tour to explore more –

Open Air Bus

For those who are short on time, you can take an open bus tour covering the highlights of the city of Buenos Aires in less than 3 hours. A 2-day pass can take you through the major districts which can be further explored on foot. From La Manzana de las Luces you can walk through tunnels which were built in the 17th and 18th Centuries and formed a network linking churches and public buildings. This historic block is surrounded by Bolivar Street, Moreno, Avenida Julia de Roca and the subway of Peru from where you could take these walking tours which take you through the Cabildo, the Cathedral with the Church of San Ignacio, Santo Domingo, San Juan, old Irish convents and neighbouring buildings.

You need more than one visit to experience the various dimensions of Buenos Aires – be it culture, art, tango, football, night life, shopping, notable streets, neighbourhoods, parks or landmarks.  It was impossible for me to cover most of these experiences during my 2-day stay in Buenos Aires. However, those   who plan to visit the country of glaciers, deserts, waterfalls and more will need little encouragement to take a short stop in Buenos Aires – truly a city with varied and diverse experiences.

Interested in planning a holiday to Argentina?

Email a Destination Expert at info@opportunitiestoday.co.in and read about what more Argentina has to offer in a forthcoming issue.

Australia Famil, by Yazneen Rana

When people ask me about my job and are told that I am in the Tourism Industry, their first remark is usually, “So you must travel a lot!”  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  But we do get some rare opportunities for visiting far off lands with Incentive groups or on Familiarization trips.

I completed the Aussie Specialist programme in February 2008 which qualified me as an Australia tourism specialist and also gave me a chance to be eligible for a Familiarization tour to Australia. Twenty eligible agents including myself were chosen by Tourism Australia to participate in this tour.  These Famils, as they are called, are organized each year by the Australian Tourism Board and Aussie Specialist agents are selected to visit the country.  This includes a lot of touring and site inspections.  We are also introduced to new tourism products which they wish to promote.

Our 10-day adventure included Brisbane and Gold Coast in Queensland and Sydney in New South Wales.

Queensland is known as the Sunshine State – “Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next.”  We arrived at the Brisbane Airport where we were met by our lively, mischievous and lovable Tourism Queensland Representative – Ms. Anne Miller. I have never met a lady like her who makes you feel so comfortable and at home right from the first meeting. She was with us throughout the tours of Brisbane and Gold Coast.  She also went out of her way to arrange some site inspections and touring that we wished to do but was not mentioned in our schedule.

Our first city was Brisbane.  Young and vibrant, Brisbane lies at the heart of one of the most diverse and popular holiday regions in Australia and enjoys an enviable climate of warm, bright summers and clear, mild winters – making Brisbane an ideal place to visit all year round.

The city lies on the banks of the serpentine Brisbane River, a colourful waterway for high-speed ferries, paddle-wheelers and pleasure boats. Just over the bridge from the Central Business District, the South Bank area has all the fun, festivity, art and culture on the south bank of the Brisbane River.  There you will find the Queensland Performing Arts Complex, State Library, Queensland Art Gallery and Museum. Not to miss out is the Brisbane Eye, which is 61 metres tall and gives you a great view of the city as it moves. The entry charge is around AUD 15 for a ride. South Bank Parklands on the Brisbane River is home to restaurants, cafes, the Maritime Museum and a real sandy beach and lagoon – all with a city backdrop.

Certain Must Do’s in Brisbane are taking a quick trip on the City Cat cruise, visiting the Botanical Gardens in front of the Parliament building, shopping for souvenirs at Queen Street Mall which has a variety of small restaurants, pubs, grub corners, coffee shops, a movie theatre and a cell phone store. Brisbane has a number of bridges with the most popular being Kangaroo Bridge and Story Bridge. A popular recreational activity is the Story Bridge Adventure Climb.  For shoppers with a budget, Brunswick Street is amazing with a China Town and Flea Market open on Saturdays and Sundays.

The first night we stayed at the Sofitel Brisbane – located in the City Centre and linked directly to the train station.  Our first day started with a short city tour of Brisbane and then we headed to the Holt Street Warf to take a 1 hour and 15 minutes ferry ride to reach Tangalooma.  Chad Croft from Tangalooma was there to receive us and update us about his property, the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort. It is on Moreton Island and surrounded by crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and untouched national parks. With over 75 tours and activities on offer, the resort is a perfect destination for guests seeking an action packed, educational, nature based or relaxing experience. In fact it is the only resort where all guests get the opportunity to feed the wild Bottlenose Dolphins. This activity takes place each day in the evening.

After an amazing Indian meal, we headed to enjoy our Quad Bike ride from the beach up to the top of Moreton Island – a sand island – and coming down another way. It costs approximately AUD 40 but is definitely a must do here. Later in the evening we walked towards the well lit Jetty to participate in the dolphin-feeding activity where these wild dolphins come really close to the shore, giving the visitors a chance to feed them.  From Tangalooma, we continued our travels to reach Gold Coast.

Gold Coast is a fantastic place not just for those who want to relax and wander around but also for those who wish to have an action packed holiday full of fun activities. With miles of surf beach, lush green rainforest, world-class golfing greens, world-famous theme parks and with every kind of accommodation from exclusive 5-star hotels to sunny beachside apartments – that’s the Gold Coast. The most iconic building there is the Q1 which is the tallest residential tower in the world and ideally located right on Surfers Paradise.  It is 322.5 metres high with 80 levels. Inspirational, breathtaking and stunning, it offers luxury one, two and three bedroom apartment accommodation with unique glass balconies. The Q Deck, which is the observatory, is on level 77 from where one gets a panoramic view of Gold Coast. Level 78 features the Skylight Room, which available for unique functions and events. Some of the important areas in Gold Coast are the Broadbeach area and Surfers Paradise. Broadbeach is more relaxed, with the famous casino-hotel Conrad Jupiters. Surfers Paradise, on the other hand, is very lively with many shops, a wide range of accommodation, a beach which is great for surfing and countless entertainment options such as a Reverse Bungee Arena, a -50 Bar and Dracula’s Cabaret Restaurant.

We spent our night at Palazzo Versace – the first Versace hotel in Australia designed by Donatella Versace.  This is a fantastic 5-star luxury hotel including its own artificial beach besides the other trademark 5-star facilities. The next morning we headed to Dreamworld – home to The Big 6 Thrill Rides including the brand new Mick Doohan Motocoaster. We enjoyed ourselves at the Nickelodeon Central, Wiggles World, Tiger Island, the Australian Wildlife Experience (where you can get yourself picture with a koala bear) and Australia’s first and only stationary wave, FlowRider.

After lunch at Dreamworld, it was time for some shopping at the Harbour Town, located just 15 kilometres north of Surfers Paradise. Harbour Town is an award winning shopping destination with more than 95 brand-direct outlet stores selling over 300 brands of the world’s top name fashions and home wares direct to shoppers with savings of up to 60 percent below normal retail prices, every day.  This is a great shopping place which I will definitely recommend all my clients.

Tonight we were at Sofitel Gold Coast on Broadbeach with all our rooms having a fantastic view of the beach. Like the Sofitel Brisbane this hotel too had a direct exit to the Monorail station which connects it directly to the Conrad Jupiters hotel.

Our Indian travel agent group was quite enthusiastic and wished to discover the place more that what was shown to us. So each night after dinner we would all go out for a long stroll to discover more of the city.

On the third day, we were supposed to take a hot air balloon flight for which we were ready before dawn, but due to the unsupportive climate our tour got cancelled instead of which we visited the Q1 on Surfers along with a visit to the Qdeck.  A beautiful and an unforgettable experience.

Another activity that we took the same day was the visit to Mt. Tamborine. It is a flora and fauna sanctuary in the Gold Coast hinterland. Situated only 40 minutes from the coast and at an elevation of 550 meters the mountain is renowned for perfect climate, spectacular views, lush farmland, subtropical rainforest and country hospitality. Set amidst this natural beauty are wineries, country arts and crafts, restaurants, antique shops, galleries tearooms and nurseries. Our tour included a visit to the Tambourine Mountain Distillery which is owned by Michael and Alla Ward. This Distillery uses a traditional copper pot still to distil a variety of locally grown fruit and this fruit is used in a variety of handmade liqueurs.  It is Australia’s smallest operating Pot Still Distillery, but of world renown, including in Europe, America, Canada, New Zealand and Asia and has won many awards to its credit. We continued to visit the Witches Chase Cheese Factory to see artisan style cheese and gourmet ice cream in the making. We tried a variety of award winning local cheese including Tamembert and Witches Blue Vein – one of only two Queensland-made blue cheeses. This was followed by a visit to the fudge shop where there were over 40 different kinds of fudge. After a late lunch we head back to the hotel for some rest before we left for Site inspection of Conrad Jupiters followed by Dinner hosted by the Gold Coast Tourism. This was the last night in Queensland before leaving for the very popular city of Sydney.

Next morning we reached Sydney after a 1 hour and 30 minutes flight. We were received at the airport by Nadine Wilson from Tourism New South Whales. She was our cute and patient host throughout our stay in Sydney. Though Canberra is the capital of Australia, it is Sydney that has all the glitz and glamour and quite often is also mistaken to be the capital city. Endowed with a sparkling harbour, dazzling beaches and a sunny Mediterranean climate, its setting alone has guaranteed Sydney a place among the glamorous cities on the planet. The entire layout of the city shows that it has been crafted for Tourists. On arrival we were taken to an Italian restaurant called Casa Di Nico on the Kings Steet Warf. The restaurant captures your heart not just with its outstanding food, wine and passion for Italy but also with the spectacular views of the waterfront.

After lunch we continued to the Sydney Aquarium which is next to the restaurant – a must do in Sydney. It has a large collection of over 11,500 aquatic life, the largest Great Barrier Reef Display in the world and an extensive collection of huge sharks and rays. We dropped our luggage at Metro Hotel, a decent 3* accommodation on Pitt Street close to the majors attractions like the Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay Warf, Star City Casino, Sydney entertainment Centre and the Paddy’s markets. We took an evening harbour cruise with captain Cook cruises which takes you through all the best known landmarks. A great cruise to opt for to orient oneself with the city attractions and their locations. In the evening we took a short 10 minute walk to the Sydney tower for a fantastic dinner at the revolving Sydney Tower Restaurant. A great option for Honeymoons who can dine along with getting 3600 views of Sydney.

The next day we were ready by 7.30 am to reach Jetty no. 06 at the Circular Quay to board a 12 Minute cruise to Taronga Zoo. Taronga is an aboriginal word meaning “Water View” and it is certainly appropriate to the zoo’s location on the north bank of Sydney Harbour with panoramic views across to the Opera House and the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney. There we were met by Arabella Hammond who along with her experienced volunteers took us though the Zoo. It houses a variety of animals and is a real treat to the nature lovers. The attraction I loved the most was the Energy Australia Seal show, a 30 – 45 minute spectacular presentation by the housed seals and their trainers. We had our lunch at the Taronga Food Market. We boarded our ferry by 1pm to take on the Sydney Opera House Guided Tour. A great tour for those into Art and Music. Besides the tours concert shows too can be booked here on prior notice. The Sydney Opera has a Historic tale behind its making. The irony is that the Dannish architect, Jorg Utzon who started building this fabulous structure left it half way and left for home and has not returned since then to see the iconic structure of Sydney in its complete form. The Sydney Opera House is now one of the busiest Performing Arts Centre in the world. Working with a new enriching, interactive audio-visual component, where images are projected onto the fabric of the building – the guides take you on an emotional journey, You will visit one of the major venues where live performances are held each day.  After an enthralling experience at the opera we moved on for something more adventurous. The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is a multi award winning tourist attraction, taking the climbers to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during a 3.5 hour adventure. It was totally a different experience reaching the summit of the bridge and looking on to the City from there. After our 3 hour adventure we rushed to the King Street Warf so as not to miss out on the Sydney Showboat Dinner Cruise departing at 7.30pm. A perfect evening cruise with delicious fusion of style and taste from Sydney’s finest seafood to modern international cuisine. Guests are also treated to an extravagant show featuring gorgeous Australian showgirls who have danced their way from the Moulin Rouge to the Showboat.

Our next day was more relaxed with a full day tour to the Blue Mountains. It is a 2 and a half hour drive from Sydney and a must include tour in any itinerary. It is a captivating world of National parks, Spectacular scenery, awe-inspiring vistas and the grandeur of ancient mountains that have remained unchanged from the Jurassic era. The Blue Mountains derive its name from the fact that the gum trees release oil into the air, which reacts with the sunlight to produce a blue haze. On arrival we experienced the screening of the edge movie which told us one of the greatest stories of humankind – the story of discovery and coming to terms with the ancient, complex world we live in. Later we were met by our Blue Mountain Tourism Representative for a briefing of the days activities and we were divided into four groups for “The Blue Mountain Challenge“. We were given over 50 questions about the places and shops we visit and were to answer it section by section. It was a unique way they used to familiarize us with the place. We started from Leura a beautiful village with lots of Gourmet Shops and bakeries and a Local Clock Tower. A great place to stroll around and browse fashion boutiques, galleries, bookstores and Bric–a–Brac stores. It also has lovely parks and gardens to enjoy. From there we moved on to Echo Point – It is from where one gets a panoramic views of the Southern Blue Mountains, Kanangra – Boyd Wilderness and the Three Sisters rock formation. In the area there are many lookouts and walks including a path to the Three Sisters walk and the Giant Stairway.  We were told that at night the entire place lights up and I could very well imagine ho beautiful it would look. As our challenge continued we had to make way to the Scenic World. The Scenic World includes a Scenic Railway, Scenic Cableway, Scenic Skyway and Scenic Walkway. The Scenic Railway is the Steepest incline passenger railway in the world and is entered in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Cableway glides smoothly between scenic Scenic World and the forest floor 545 Metres below. Once on the valley floor we strolled though the wilderness of longest elevated timber boardwalk. The Skyway cable car took us on a 720 Metre journey above the ancient ravines and dazzling waterfalls. The end of the day also brought us to the end of our challenge. One of the four teams with the maximum correct answers was to be announced as the winner of the challenge. Our team stood fourth but the experience we gathered was something to remember. We were back in Sydney by 5.30 and the balance of the day was for us to explore and enjoy on our own. We were out of Menzies, our centrally located 4-star hotel very close to the Darling harbour and the Sydney Sky tower in 20 mins. We took a stroll on George Street, very popular street for shopping as it has many shops with great discounts. Christmas preparations had already started and the streets and the malls were beautifully lit up and decorated with Christmas decorations.

The next day we took a full day trip to Hunter Valley where we were escorted by Neil Gordon from APT coaches who gave us ideas on itinerary planning for Hunter valley and Port Stephans region. Just 4 hours away from Sydney and with more than 120 wineries, Hunter valley produces some terrific wines, including the Hunter Semillon and Hunter Shiraz. On the way to Hunter Valley we stopped at the Wollombi Village which had a Tavern and a Museum. This stop is included because as a rule all the tourist vehicles need to have a stop after every 2 hours run. After the short break we headed to Hunter Valley and our first stop was at the McWilliams Mount Pleasant Estate where we were taken for some wine tasting. From there we went for site inspection of Grand Mercure hunter Valley gardens Hotel. A 4.5-star boutique property surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. It has apartment style rooms ideally located in Pokolbin close to most of the places to visit in Hunter Valley. After our lunch was hosted in the restaurant called The Steakhouse we explored the 12 Themed garden at the Hunter Valley Garden of which my favorite was the Storybook garden featuring timeless nursery rhyme characters. The Storybook Garden is a delight for all ages taking the visitor along on a journey through childhood dreams, memories and fantasies.

A number of weddings and conferences are held in Hunter valley and we had the good fortune of seeing some locals in their traditional garments going to the wineries to attend a Marriage in a Horse carriage. We then went to the Hunter resort for our orientation on Wines, how they are made, the different variety of wines and the art of wine blending and how they are finally bottled. Of course wine tasting followed thereafter!!

We did not have an overnight stay in the Hunter Valley as we were short on time and also had to visit Port Stephens which is a hour and a half away from Hunter valley. Port Stephens is known as the “Dolphin Capital of Australia”. Its bay is home to around 150 bottlenose dolphins that you get to see all year round. A quite, friendly place and a must include all the tours for water and nature lovers. It is amazing to know how such a small place has so many activity options available for tourism. It’s a unique place which offers you beach and cruise activities and at the same time you can even go on a sand dune safari and enjoy sandboarding. We reached our hotel Salamander Shores for dinner after which we enjoyed in the little pub of the hotel. It is situated on the waters at Soldiers point and each room has a perfect view of the sea in the front. Every morning at 8 they have a bird feeding session where Lorikeets come to feed on the bread crumbs we offer them. Today we met up with Tars Bylhouwer from Port Stephens Tourism. Since the weather was not with us and some activities had to be cut down he arranged some alternate indoor activity for us which was much appreciated by all of us. We had some site inspections for the day at the Oaks Pacific Blue Resort and the Sahara Trails Horse Riding and farmstay after which we head for the Shark and Ray feeding centre with the admission fee of around A$ 25. It was a huge pond with friendly Sharks and Sting who love to be fed by the visitors while they cruise around your feet. We proceeded towards Nelson bay where we had to embark on our Moonshadow Dolphin Cruise. A comfortable 2 hour 15 minute cruise with our captain guiding us to view the dolphins as they sped by.  The unique feature of this cruise was that after some time they released a net in the chilling waters called the Boom net and the passengers could have a dip and if they are lucky some dolphin may even be swimming along with them.  After this unique cruise experience we went for the most diverse activity which was a 4×4 sand dune safari. It was a confused landscape feature with sand dunes that ended into a sea. The Stockton Bight Sand Dunes need to be seen to be believed – covering an area of 2,500 hectares along the 32 km long Stockton beach. The dunes climb up to 30 metres with slopes up to 600 ideal for sandboarding. We did a few rounds of sandboarding but the ease with which we came down the slope it was with equal difficulty that we climbed up again. This was the final activity of our hectic yet memorable tour which was so accurately planned for us agents.

Australia has opened itself to a lot of tourism which reflected in the entire setup of the cities. It looked as if the cities aimed at increasing the desire of the tourists to visit Australia.  Tourism Australia along with the support from the tourism board of each state organized this famil to equip us with enhanced knowledge to sell these destinations to our travelers and I am sure that with this detailed product knowledge Australia will be more effectively sold by us.

Turkey – A Travelogue, by Col. Davis & Geeta Davis

It was with a sense of anticipation and expectation that we planned a trip to Turkey, Austria and Hungary in May 2009 and surely we were not disappointed.

Our visit to Turkey began with Istanbul, the capital city of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The city still ranks as one of the most ancient living cities of the world. The city was founded during the reign of Emperor Constantine. The Roman ruler desired to build a city that would rival Rome on the site of the old Greek colony of Byzantium at the entrance of the Bosphorus. This was dedicated in the early 4th century AD as Constantinople.

After we checked into our hotel, without losing any time we were taken to the Grand Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman Sultans. We were impressed by the palace, especially the sections that displayed jewels, precious stones, crystals, porcelain used by former sultans housed in the highly ornate halls. It is situated on a high ground from where one could have a panoramic view of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara, separating Europe and Asia. Later our visit to the 15th century Grand Bazaar was an unforgettable experience because no where in the world is there such a huge covered market with decorated arches leading to various shopping areas – some 4000 shops full of treasures! After dinner we had an opportunity to see a traditional Turkish show that included belly dancing which was very enjoyable.

The next day included a visit to the old city Sultanahmet where the magnificent structures of St. Sophia and the Blue Mosque are located. We walked through the ancient Hippodrome of the Byzantine period which was the scene of games and races. There are three columns exhibited here – the obelisk, Serpentine Column and the Column of Constantine. Roman ruler Justinian left a majestic landmark – the basilica of St. Sophia, constructed around 535 AD. This is an architectural marvel when one considers the period in which it was constructed. The well-laid garden around was full of tulips and other flowers in full bloom which was a feast to the eyes. Later we visited the 16th century Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque because of the breathtaking intricate designs created with blue Iznik tiles. Of course a visit to Istanbul never ends without a cruise along the shores of the legendary Bosphorus. The waterway is lined with historic mansions and Baroque Palaces and the crowded skyline is dotted with dominating domes and tall minarets.

After Istanbul, we continued our long journey to Gallipoli along the highway overlooking the Sea of Marmara amidst the beautiful landscape. The Gallipoli Peninsula was the scene of the First World War. During the battles, thousands of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand sacrificed their lives. Even today the deployment of AZNAC troops (25th April 1915) is commemorated every year. We were engrossed with the numerous trenches, war cemeteries and a well-maintained museum. This region particularly evoked keen interest in me since my father was part of the Indian Army contingent which participated in the campaign. After ferrying across the Dardanelles straits we had a comfortable stay in a spacious resort by the sea shore at Canakkale.

Our visit to Troy the next morning was also interesting. We were amazed to see the excavations of consecutive civilizations dating back to 3500 BC. It reminded us of the legendary Trojan War – the Trojan horse that was used in the Hollywood movie Troy was displayed there. The siege of Troy took place about 1200BC. After a brief visit to a factory, manufacturing Onix products, semi precious stones and jewellery, we continued to Kusadasi – a quaint charming town skirting the Aegean Sea. From our hotel we could see the busy port right across the boulevard where cruise ships were docking everyday. It is a bustling town with the port handling about 650 ships a year. Hundreds of tourists disembarked and proceeded for the offshore excursion to Ephesus. Seeing the ships to the Greek Islands we longingly wished that we had time to visit these, though we had visas!

We left for Ephesus the next morning and we were literally transported to a bygone era of Roman civilization. Prior to occupation by the Romans, this was an ancient Greek city in the 6th century BC. It revealed to us a highly sophisticated Roman city with huge mansions, pathways, temples and theatres. We also saw the ruins of the temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the pillars which were incorporated in the structures of St. Sophia in Istanbul. We also visited the house of Virgin Mary, supposedly where St. John brought her to spend her final days.

On the way to Pamukkale the next day, we were taken to one of the famous leather garment production centres of the region. Later we visited the ancient Roman city of Hieropolis which is situated near the hot springs called the ‘Cotton Castle’ rising over 400 metres above the fertile Menderes Valley. Hot mineral water gushes out of the earth and cascades over cliffs forming limestone pools and streams – a very picturesque scene indeed. The therapeutic value of the springs was even known to the Romans! The hotel where we stayed had a thermal spa and was one of the best hotels in the region.

The following morning, we proceeded to our last destination – Cappadocia, the moonscape town. We enjoyed the drive from Denzile to Nevsehir in a luxury coach speeding through mountains dotted with villages, orchards, open fields and poplar trees.  We traversed the town of Isparta and a few huge lakes before reaching the plains of Konya in the Central Anatolian region with snow capped peaks at a distance. We were picked up by a travel representative at Nevsehir late in the evening and were taken to a lovely cave hotel in Cappadocia wherein every suite was carved into hillocks. The décor was keeping in touch with the archaic beauty and there was a personal touch and warmth about everything.

Cappadocia is a very unique place with fascinating conical volcanic formations created about 10 million years ago. It is a bizarre landscape with ravines and rock perched pinnacles spread over 400 square kilometres. We visited a number of caves, on the cliff where people lived and worshipped. There were churches built within the caves which still have well preserved Byzantine frescoes. Another amazing place is the Derinkuyu underground city where early Christians lived in hiding from Romans. It was indeed a wonder how they managed to live in such a self-sufficient manner. There were various living quarters, areas for storage of grains, place for cattle, ventilation shafts and much more. There was even a winery! We were taken down to about 25 metres, beyond which is prohibited due to safety concerns. The walk through a beautiful narrow valley along the river was enjoyable though a bit lengthy. The “Rose Walk” on the next day through volcanic formations was fascinating. In the afternoon, we were taken to a factory in Avanos which had a fantastic collection of pottery. Later in the evening, we were picked up for our flight from Kayseri to Istanbul. After a few hours of rest in the hotel we were back at Istanbul airport again for our second leg of tour – Austria!

We had a wonderful tour of Turkey for 10 days and we cherish the memories! The tour was very well organized by Namaste Turkey, Mumbai at a very competitive price!

Along the Garden Route: One Road, Countless Experiences

Taronish (along with Zinnia, who took the stunning photos, and a group of 10 friends and family members) travelled to East Africa and South Africa with Namaste South Africa in May, 2010. She saw lions, elephants and leopards, rode an Ostrich and even witnessed the  largest animal migration on earth during her unforgettable trip! Here, she tells us about her experiences along the Garden Route in South Africa.

She wrote this while she was still in South Africa, not long after she actually visited the Garden Route…

The following represents my personal experiences and the feelings that swept through me during part of my South Africa trip, as vividly and solidly as possible. In a way, this is like my own version of a photo album. It is my interpretation of the imprints in my mind and the events that have touched my heart, impacted me or changed me or made any kind of difference at all… I have not only written about factual or information-based events, but also about my reflections and the emotional and spiritual elements of the trip. For me, these personal reflections are important because they captured the essence and fundamentality of the trip.

We have arrived and been in Cape Town for a full day and as usual it has been a busy one. We arrived yesterday night and therefore could not see or gauge too much, but nonetheless I was impressed with what I saw. From the plane, the city looked quite dense and populated, yet there was something pleasant about the lights; they were almost all bright orange with a few bigger white lights. It was the perfect combination of large orange dots complemented by tiny sparkling ones filling in the gaps to create a lovely seabed of shining city life. There were also no overbearing sky scrapers or extreme mid-city-like-billboards: the ‘busy-ness’ was just enough to make the city appear ideally and pleasantly occupied. I was quite tired and kept falling asleep on the way to our hotel, but one of the things I did wake up to, amazed me. Just there – immediately to the left of this apparently ‘normal’ city were humongous mountains, extending right up into the sky and reflecting the moon-beams with their peaks. It really was the last thing I expected to see so up-close, right inside the bustle of urban city life. The prominent presence of nature brought great relief and satisfaction at the same time. My ‘night impressions’ were already positive and I looked forward to exploring the town upon the morrow.

In the morning, at around 9 AM, we headed off on our bus towards the Table Mountain. On the way, I tried to take in everything I beheld… This made me happy because I liked what I saw. There is such a vast array of architecture, ranging from old-English and renaissance style buildings to modern, beachy-looking apartments with classic white balconies – stark and classy looking. The city seems to have a great ‘Melbourne feel’ to it. It was nothing less than what I expected or imagined it would have been like when I saw it in the dark: considerably dense, but with the perfect balance of city and nature; buildings on one side, mountains on the other. Furthermore, at some point, the city gave way to a beautifully clear bay that spread vastly into the horizon. We were able to view it for the first time at the perfect moment in the morning when the light and gentle sun were being reflected almost magically throughout the water.

Here are some interesting facts about Cape Town:

  • The population of Cape Town is approximately 4.5 million of which there are about 2 million coloured people, 1 million white and the remainder (1.2 million or so) belong to other ethnicities such as Indian, Asian etc.
  • Just like Johannesburg, there were originally no trees in the town: it is in fact reclaimed land, meaning that it used to be the sea once ; in 1945 the harbor was dredged.
  • There were originally two tribes in the area that is now Cape Town, the Bushman or SAN (Stone Aged Neanderthal) and the Khoi people. The Portuguese established the first white settlement here in around 1450.

We had left our hotel room to embrace the cool, crisp weather, with the temperature quite similar to what we experience during winters at home in Australia. Although I like heat and warmth, it was a pleasant change.

Our first brief stop was at a street aligned with several brightly coloured houses. They were incredibly attractive and unique. There was some significance to the colours – the council had requested that the houses be painted pastel, but the people contradictingly painted them with bright colours as an act of rebellion.

The first ‘big’ thing we did was riding a cable car up the Table Mountain, a famous attraction that is under vote for being listed as one of the new seven wonders of the world. The cable car was fantastic because it actually slowly spun around so that no matter where you were standing, you got a full view of everything, including the water leading to the cape. We also got a very close view of the rock face nearby which gave us the sensation of slowly rising amongst it all… When we got to the top, it was exceptionally cold and we were literally in the clouds. 🙂  They were intermittent and came and went but the majority of the time we were surrounded by misty white fog which was exhilarating yet soothing at the same time.

It was exciting to have spectacular views of the town peeping through the beds of clouds every now and then, a sensation you would scarcely get the opportunity to otherwise experience. The top of the mountain was big and flat (hence its title) and I took a good walk in a loop through the paths that cut through the hardy cold-resistant shrubs. What was really good was that there was something different to see and a fresh view from each side! You really can never get tired of views and beautiful scenery…

We finished with some hot chocolate at a delightful little café which was not only delicious, but also the perfect treat to warm our chilled bodies. This completed and perfected the experience!

The rest of the day, we explored the town some more, appreciating the different buildings and common sight-seeing places. We saw the town hall, a beautiful and huge Victorian, renaissance building of yellowy-mustard limestone that was shipped over from Bath and completed in 1905. I love seeing aged buildings like that because we don’t have many of that kind back at home. We then went inside a building called the Cape Town Castle of Good Hope; a really old building dating back to 1666 created from stone from the Table Mountain. It was pentagon shaped and was once a fortress. We gazed at it from the outside as we were explained its history…and so when we went inside it, I was excited. It had chipped pastel-yellow paint with green windows and a pool with a courtyard. There was old regal furniture inside and there were beautiful old paintings everywhere, most of which were portraits of people and scenic pictures of Cape Town. There was this one room that was simply stunning; it had one really long wooden polished table with a hundred and one seating places, fifty on each side and you could actually have functions there even to this day!

I am sure I have written this multiple times but I am completely in love with this continent in every way. The landscape, the buildings, nature, skies, animals, weather, people, food, music, clothing, culture…  just everything! At this point, I don’t know how I won’t be able to come back here, because I have just been so happy with everything and its awakening the best parts of me I never knew existed, AS WELL AS as well as satisfying every component of a perfect holiday. I feel so content recollecting the vivid memories of all the cross-cultural experiences we have had uptill now… Witnessing a new way of life has been fascinating. I feel as if the people here have brought a whole new dimension to my definition of a smile.  And then there are all the things I have seen (that I still cannot believe I have seen!) or done that have made me resonate with happiness! Every single moment has been like the best I could imagine it to be, from the really adventurous things to just casually hanging out with the wonderful company we have. It isn’t just a holiday but a complete life transformation, an opportunity to know life, to really live life and most importantly to love and appreciate every second and breath of life. I thought I knew happiness and fulfillment before this, but that was just a tease compared to the contentment I feel now. This trip has put so much into perspective: myself, the world, people, nature, living, loving, appreciating, giving, embracing, reflecting, laughing, relaxing, growing and being happy and a complete human being…

I will finish writing about what we did yesterday before I go on to today’s adventures. We spent some time at the Victoria and Alfred waterfront, browsing through shops and then had some lunch at an Italian restaurant outdoors with a view of the dock and water. It was a really nice and relaxing place that felt like the combination of Sydney Harbour, the docklands in Melbourne and Hobart in Tasmania. The food was really good too. We had this delicious fruity and white bread, so fresh and tasty! I decided to try an ostrich steak: not only because I am always keen on trying new things, but also because I may as well try it while I am here in South Africa. It was served with a lovely mushroom sauce. It was nice and tender, so much more like red meat than I would have imagined, (they even ask you how you want it cooked, just like steak). What further enhanced our dining experience was a musician playing his guitar and singing classic songs right outside the restaurant on the waterfront, adding to the already perfect views, weather, breeze and delicious food. Music really does have the capability to enhance the ambience so much. It can liven any mood, take moods, create moods and can just make such a difference, for me anyway.

We had a bit of time to relax in the hotel before dinner again, when we went back to the waterfront to a fancy seafood restaurant. Again the food was delectable; it was all presented so professionally and tasted delicious. This was especially lucky for me because I love seafood! I had a calamari starter, grilled fish with prawns and salad and a white chocolate tart with ice-cream for dessert.

Things have been so busy and tiredness is starting to catch up so I missed a day of writing and therefore now have two days to catch up on. It is a good, satisfying kind of tiredness though. Any complaints made here aren’t real complaints because everything in reality is exactly the way it should be and I wouldn’t want anything any different. So here I go…

More facts:

  • Cecil John Rhodes discovered diamonds in South Africa.
  • In 1838, slaves were freed in South Africa.
  • The development of the Afrikaans language: how did it happen? It was created after the Dutch had occupied the land for five generations and realized that they had created their own culture and country here, so they might as well come up with their own language. They created a language for which Dutch is the basis, and they mixed it up with all the local languages of the time. This included Malay from the Indonesian slaves, and French because they were involved with the trading of wine. Then, the British influence anglicized many words. And this was in addition to influences from Hungary, Germany, Sweden and Ireland… Intensely eclectic! A common feature of of all these influences was that the ‘k’ replaceding the ‘c’. Afrikaans developed properly over a 12 year period starting in 1910 and was officialized upon the printing of the first Afrikaans newspaper in 1922.

So well, back to today!

We did quite some driving today and which I’ve always really loved and enjoyed driving. And since this was a drive along the Atlantic coastline, we had some new and fresh invigorating scenic views! It was dominated by seaside images, with the breath-taking views of water and beaches. This, combined with the refreshing smell of the sea made it difficult for me not to have my arm and head out of the bus window most of the time, just so that I could take it all in as much as possible.

We stopped at Camps Bay for a bit of shopping; another waterfront-like area. Colin (our tour guide) said this place was very popular for its sunsets on the horizon over the water, creating a spectacularly romantic view. The houses near the beachside reminded me of places in our northern beaches back home; it really would be an amazing place to live. I have always adored the beach and the seaside and as this trip has further affirmed my love for mountains, this place certainly reflects the best of both words and seems to be an ideal location for inhabitance. The mountains are basically in the lap of the sea face: it is such an unusual contrast, but creates a perfect view of the sun rising up from behind the mountains generating a misty glare spilling over and into the sea. It really does seem to reflect the best of everything all in one single view. The strangeness and complexity of this dense civilization just at the foothills of these massive mountains, occasionally broken up by water is a unique situation that I’m sure is not quite like this anywhere else in the world. I know all places are completely different and have their own qualities, but I can tell that the nature of this town and its unique characteristics really stand alone. You can’t imagine it until you have seen it. It makes civilization and human developments look so insignificant and puny at the hands of nature literally in front of your eyes, due to the enormity of these mountains in contrast to the tiny houses. But on that note, it is nice to see everything fitting together and working in what seems to be apparent harmony -for now anyway. Hopefully the earth will remain happy to share a part of its mountain base with us, as long as we can continue to take only what is needed and live within our means and try not to abuse the land’s generosity. Life is all give and take. I have been lucky enough to experience a wide array of ways of living and environments on this journey from pure untouched nature, semi-occupied rural villages, busy conventional cities like Johannesburg and now Cape Town, the ideal combination of both. I found Zambia fitting the mould of the middle path as well. For me this and Kenya felt like the real Africa I had in my mind, but then the real Africa depends on what kind of experiences one seeks. South Africa is wonderful, but at the same time it has a completely different feel. It might be due to the high proportion of Anglo-saxon occupants that it carries somewhat more of a western atmosphere. These are just differences however, and there is nothing wrong with anything a little different. It’s amazing such different places exist side by side on the same continent. For one thing, it certainly doesn’t take anything away from Africa’s holistic and magnificent beauty.

I have not yet caught up and I am still writing as my time seems to be rapidly slipping away! I will try to stay more focused and get to the point because I seem to get carried away and going off on many tangents with my writing lately.

One of the highlights of our drive was seeing a castle resting high up on a mountain. It wasn’t a queenly estate or anything, but it still was something big and spectacular; a nice deep maroon colour with typical castle-like rooftops. It is worth 40 million rand and has 14 bedrooms. Due to its location you can only access it by helicopter. Sounds inconvenient but I’m sure many wouldn’t complain, it would be a fairytale dream house for the majority of people.

We crossed over the mountain at Constantia Nek and made our way to the Cape of Good Hope, situated within a nature reserve. This particular reserve had a different terrain, colours and textures compared to many of the others we had seen. It was quite dry with small shrubs and trees and many small whitish rocks. Didn’t have any high mountains either. There wasn’t an abundance of wildlife, but we did see some ostriches and baboons. We initially stopped at a place which had the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ wooden sign, indicating the degree of where we were in comparison to the world and also the point where three of the oceans meet. I stood and walked over the rocks, whilst enjoying a view of the waves splashing upwards as they crashed into the rocks on the shore, their white spray creating picture-perfect moments.

The best part of my day which really took my breath away was when we were at the main viewing site at Cape Point. We took a little bus up the hill to a viewing station that had a lighthouse, and… I wish I could encompass the perfect words to describe this place. It was another one of those ‘Where am I?’ I would never have imagined seeing something so beautiful’ moments. I have seen many views of the sea from lookout points with lighthouses before, but this was just so different. I can pinpoint the differences being our extremely high altitude, so we could see a whole lot more of everything, and the concept of the sheer vastness. There’s barely any other way to put it: it was just so marvelously flat and open. The endless seas extended in all directions as far as you could possibly imagine. Into the distance the water was flat and smooth like paper, and closer to where we were you could see slow, calming movements of the subtle waves. With the addition of the magical African skies and clouds, it was more beautiful than any ocean view I had ever seen.

We continued along the False Bay coastline and stopped at another dockside-kind of area for lunch at a seafood restaurant. After filling ourselves, we came out and lay on the grass, enjoying the beautiful weather and browsing through some local stalls selling things.

After that we visited the penguin colony at Boulder’s Beach which was just down the road. A section of the beach is closed off and the penguins are confined there , because at one stage they became overpopulated and were considered invasive to the neighborhood. They have a nice little environment set up there and we saw many African penguins sitting on the sand, on rocks on the water and in bushes and burrows.

Our final stop for the day after that was the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, another world heritage site. It was so peaceful and serene in there: there was an assortment of different flowers, plants and trees everywhere and of course true to the characteristics of the country, mountains setting the scene in the background. A perfect place to wander through, relax and take some beautiful pictures. I especially liked that every last plant was labeled so you knew exactly what you were looking at. In the courtyard shop area, there were many lovely statues of different African ornaments and I took some photographs.

We had a ‘free night’ that night and went to a local place called the Gold Museum for dinner. There was a set menu and live dancing and entertainment which was really great, I quite enjoyed it. They put face paint on the ladies as well and all their dances had a consecutive storyline. The voice of the main singer was especially capturing. Some of the food was similar to Indian food and it was all really tasty. We had spicy tomato soup, rice with salty fish, ostrich kebab skewers and Mozambique prawns. Also different vegetables were cooked in different ways: sweet potato, carrot, spinach, a nice salad, and a chicken dish – and all the food was quite sweet. Finally for dessert there was a delicious sweet Semolina ‘liquidy’ pudding-like dish with vermicelli in it, followed by a fruit platter. Another great night out and what was actually the stimulus for me beginning to write the other night that I was totally in love with this continent. I don’t think I’ve had such lively and enjoyable dining experiences before – the people here just seem to have mastered the art of making everything fun and full of life.

On Thursday, the 27th of May, we partook on the Garden Route tour around Knysna. The drive along the highway and coast was beautiful as always. This time the scenery reminded me of Australian bush lands, of course it was much bigger and extended further away and was maybe not quite as dry, but the layout looked closer to home than all the other settings I have seen. Our destination, Mossel Bay, offered another beautiful body of sun-reflecting water and also had little white houses on display on the grass area, creating wonderful photo opportunities.

We went into the Dias maritime museum, the highlight of that being a big, really old sail ship in the middle of the museum that we could go inside and explore. It was so interesting to see the different parts of the ship and how the crew must have managed on there, from their little kitchen to their small Bunk beds in their cabins. It was in such good shape too – almost in the same state it would have been used. I also liked looking at the framed, olden-day nautical maps. Outside there were some whale bones and that gave us an idea of how massive these creatures are. I could probably just get my arms around their one vertebrae, how incredible. For lunch we went to a popular burger place here called Wimpy’s.

That evening we went on another boat cruise. It had just missed the sunset so was mainly in the dark, but it was still really nice. It wasn’t as much in the wilderness as much as the previous cruise we had in Zambia. The view was mainly of houses on one side and tree-filled hills with a few scarce houses in it on the other. I had a glass of wine whilst enjoying the sea breeze, but the best part was the view of the full moon. It lit up the whole sky and was one of the biggest I have ever seen. I tried to take some photos of it, but obviously they do not reflect anywhere near as big, bright and beautiful as it looked in real life.

We decided to walk from the dock to the hotel and then went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner across the road from where we were staying, the food was actually really good and reminded me of being at home because I hadn’t eaten Asian food like that since we have been here. After that we went back to the dockside and I did some yoga/stretches and then we found this place where they were playing these incredibly smooth Brazilian tunes and we danced away, swinging around the tables and poles of the closed outdoor area of the restaurant, it was so much fun. I love foreign music, especially to dance to.

Yesterday (Friday, 28/05) was a really eventful and exciting day. We engaged in many tourist-like experiences which were quite action-packed, as well as our usual sight-seeing. I did two things in particular that were really amazing that I never thought I would do, but I will get to that as it took place. One of the unknown surprises for me was our visit to the Cango wildlife ranch. I’m not really a big fan of the concept of zoos of late, but this one was quite good and specialized in conserving endangered animals, especially cheetahs. We went on a tour of the place and saw/were explained about meerkats, lemurs, red river hogs (red pigs), crocodiles and vultures. We then saw some big cats; cheetahs, including the young, lions, white tigers and a Bengal tiger.

I love wildlife and nature and hearing about the different and amazing things that each species can do. I did something spontaneous that they were offering as well: I patted the white tigers! What an opportunity it was, and strange it was presented because they have been my absolute favourite animals for a while now, so actually being able to touch them was fabulous, especially because they are big cats and could be considered dangerous. I was just playfully patting them as if they were big, friendly pets. They even just sucked the fingers of the trainers like big babies, they really were incredibly cute. Another real ‘living life’ moment, I’m so glad I did it and got a really great photos to capture the moment reminisce on as well.

When we were driving, I saw endless rows of pine trees and above them there was a tiny patch of illuminated sky amidst the grey where the sun was shining, creating a little mini-patch of rainbow. Once again, so immensely paradisical. There really has been something new to see everyday, even if it is at a quick glance.

We drove past small, beach towns (a lot of the Cape Town areas are beachy because its along the coastline) with houses hoisted up on mountain faces overlooking the water. There were so many beach houses and hotels confined in one area and it seemed like such a nice, relaxed place to live. At one point, I got a side profile of the entire beach as we followed the curvaceous bend of the road. The waves were crashing and the water was moving in complete synchronicity. Shortly following that I saw two people walking over a bank across a river in a forest area holding hands and also viewed a little isolated house situated right in the forest near the water. To the locals or people who live there it may just be their ordinary house, but for me it was an experience in itself because like everything else I hadn’t seen anything like that before. I’m so glad I happened to be looking at these special moments because when they add up together, they are what contribute to the perfection of everyday. The suburbs near the beaches are quite small, just occupying a minute area around the beach. I would love to live somewhere like that; just as much human developments as necessary, blended with just the right ratio of natural components, especially wonders such as the sea or vast mountains. As usual I have said all this before, and am now just rephrasing it in different words.

Speaking of natural wonders, we then set out to the Cango caves, another national heritage site. I haven’t been to proper caves for as long as I can remember, so I didn’t know what to expect and that took me even more by surprise. To think that such caves even exist and that we have actually discovered them is mind-boggling. Our tour guide was telling us about the man that wondered through (well actually I’m sure he was a serious explorer and didn’t just casually ‘stroll’ into them). All he had was a tiny candlelight to discover the whole cave area which was massive. We even had all the lights turned off to demonstrate how dark and desolate it would have been, and it seemed quite scary. The explanations of how certain structures were formed such as growing up from the bottom (I can’t imagine how, seems quite strange) and slowly dripping and solidifying from the top were tremendously intriguing.

We went through a few different chambers and were pointed out shapes of the limestone that looked like different objects. There were some creepy coincidences of the formations. Some specific parts dated back millions of years, it was just unbelieveable. I am amazed that such mysterious, wonderfully detailed and intricate spaces ever had and still exist so far beneath the ground, and that these are also places where people actually inhabited at one stage. Purely fascinating!

Similar to the mines at Gold Reef City in Johannesburg, we had only explored a small portion of the caves and they were actually far more complex than what we had witnessed. They had these ‘cave adventure’ tours up for offer and as adventurous as I am, I am not even sure I would be convinced by that because it involves crawling through tiny tunnels that are only just as wide as your body. There are so many different things people are able to do to be adventurous, we just have to discover what’s out there.

The last tourist stop of our day was our visit to the ostrich farm. We learnt some interesting facts about the ostriches and then went outside to see them where we also got the chance to feed them. Then crazily enough I sat on one and rode it for a short while. I didn’t even know ostriches could be sat on, let alone ridden! It’s only done for leisure, not sport or anything and you can only stay on for less than a minute before losing balance. They put a blindfold over the bird because they will be less stressed if they cannot see what’s happening. I had to step up onto the step and sit on its back with its wings covering my legs. They have the same body temperature as humans so it was really warm. I then had to hold on underneath the wings and lean back. The jockeys were holding onto the back and then we took off – I had no idea they would run so fast! It happened so quickly and I was off the bird in about ten seconds. When they are riding properly, the riders hold onto their necks to turn in different directions. We then got the chance to test the theory about the strength of their eggs which can hold 200kg width wise and up to 300kg upright. The largest member of our group stood on them and they didn’t budge. They commonly use the eggs for decoration here, all painted and lacquered and they look very pretty.

Ostrich facts:

  • Ostrich meat is quite healthy and lean, their feathers can be used for garments and to make feather dusters.
  • One egg can feed about 10 people (and is equivalent to about two dozen chicken eggs).
  • Their leather is very expensive and the second toughest in the world after kangaroo, as the process in order to create the finished product is lengthy and detailed.
  • In the relevant season, the mother ostrich can just keep on laying eggs and can even detect when an egg is fertile or not. When it isn’t, they peck on it and feed on the egg.

We then had a cup of coffee and bought some things from the shop there. Another fun-filled and adventurous day indeed.

On our way home, I admired the views from the bus again and for the millionth time, every single day I am amazed by simply the beauty of the skies and that will be something I will really miss here. I haven’t seen anything like them before; so many different colours, forms and textures – gray, pink, white, orange, blue, purple, rose, red, plum. I wish I could describe it all…I just wish I could describe everything perfectly! All I know is that it is endlessly exciting and there has been an alternate beauty to experience in some form each and every day, and throughout different moments of the day for each time of day has its individual advantage. The grassy mountains were again something new to the eyes. We have viewed many a mountain but this time the green grass looked like a smooth untextured silk from our distance. Our altitude of the mountains varied at different points where we were on the road, from being at the base of them to sometimes being aligned almost at the top – it was great to see the different perspectives through looking up towards the peak and then down towards the base.

I am not a huge advocate for taking lots of photos at a scene because sometimes it takes away from living and taking in the experience, but the amazing thing about them is that sometimes you can see and pick up things that you would never have seen. Or not seen from that perspective or angle anyway, especially when you then revisit the photos. Of course sometimes you can miss things looking through the limitations of a lens, but it can also create a different focus on detail you may not capture in your mind. Saying that, when I have looked over photos of the views I saw, many of them didn’t even compare to the greatness of being there. Apart from the live presence invigorating all your senses, there are certain colours and parts you cannot capture because of your distance from, or the magnitude of the scene (what to focus on capturing?). But it seems to work well with pictures of structures and buildings. I have taken many photos where I can appreciate the structure of a building due to viewing it from a certain standpoint.

Our last night topped the day off perfectly. We went to dinner at the cutest little Italian restaurant called Chatters right near our hotel, it was amazing! The wait-staff there were incredibly lovely, the ambience was perfect and that along with the delicious food made it a great experience. We had pizza, but the highlights for me were the oven-baked lasagna and home-made lemon ice-cream served on a brandy snap. You can tell how much I am loving and appreciating food and eating more each day as the details about the meals that we have eaten increase. I guess I really have lived every facet of the holidaying experience!

My Kenya and Tanzania Experience, by our Cub Editor Saumya Motwani

Saumya is 11 years and studies in Standard VI of J.B.Petit High School, Mumbai and here she shares with us her first hand experience of having visited East Africa during her summer vacations of 2010.


I don’t know how to start writing about my wonderful experience to Kenya and Tanzania. It is such a memorable trip that one can never forget. I never in my wildest dream could think of such a place.

In my family there were my dada, dadi, mom, dad, younger brother and me. We were a group of 25 people. All the people were Parsis excluding my family and two other doctors’ families.

Parsis are very humorous and fun loving people. They cracked many jokes making the trip more fun.  I made friends with 5 youngsters who were in their 20s or early 30s. Urvaksh from Melbourne, 2 girls Zinnie and Taronish from Sydney, Phiroze from Amsterdam, and Rayomand from India.

My dad was the tour consultant for the trip and chose all the places to stay for 9 nights and 10 days. Those places turned out to be fantastic.  Every night we changed places – a bit hectic yet filled with fun, adventure and a wide range of experiences.

The Kenyans  are very friendly and talkative people – especially the cute children. They always wave to us in the jeep and it feels extremely good to wave back at them. We also got a free safari suit and cap to wear for every game drive, thanks to the generosity of Darayes uncle, the leader of the group thanks to whom I wrote down my daily schedule which made it easier for me to go about writing my East African experience.

The day we landed in Kenya, it was  very cool and breezy. We landed in the wee hours of the morning and left the airport at 0800 hours after passing immigration.

Our first halt was at 0945 at the giraffe centre. It was amazing.  We learned plenty of interesting facts about them. Did you know that giraffes sleep with their eyes open for 25-30 minutes? Another interesting thing is that to defend themselves,  they can kick  really hard with their hind legs. Their solid kick can also kill a lion. Giraffes are herbivores and they don’t have any upper jaws to bite. There are three types of giraffes – Masai, Reticulated and Rothschild.

The most amazing thing about the giraffes was that we could feed them. But I was too scared to and everyone except me did it including my 8 year old brother.

It was windy, cloudy and we could feel the fresh air with the nature looking so beautiful. The leaves of the trees were waving at me, and I could hear the whisper of the wind trickling in my ear. Everything was gorgeous and peaceful that for a moment,  I felt like I was in paradise.

After a couple of hours at the Giraffe Centre, we headed to Karai King, an Indian restaurant to have an early lunch. After a scrumptious meal, we headed straight to our first lodge at 1400. On the way we saw a few zebras and impalas, and at 1815 we reached the Ark lodge.

We reached around 1845 hours and after checking in, we went for dinner . We finished our food at 1930 and after that there was a small presentation. I gave it a miss and instead we went in the viewing area to see the water hole which was illuminated. Here the animals come in the evening to drink water. We saw a Cape Buffalo and a couple of huge elephants. I was too tired after a long day and went early to bed.

It was day 2 and we got up at 0730 and after breakfast left for the country club which was an hour away from the Ark Lodge. On our way we saw a water buck, a few wart hogs and plenty of cows in the meadow. I wished that our city was as cool and green as Kenya. The people here too are very calm, without any stress or tension unlike the fast pace of Mumbai.

At 1100 we reached the country club for our luggage as we had just carried one overnight bag with us the previous evening whilst heading to the Ark Lodge. We were greeted warmly with fresh orange juice and a warm towel. Thereafter, we went to Sweetwaters Tented Camp which is in the same area known as the Aberdares National Park. On our way, we saw  beautiful flowers and interesting shapes of trees , making the place look like paradise.

In some places we stayed in tents and in the others were small hotels in the jungle. At 1230 we stopped on  the Equator. It is the line that divides the Earth into the north and the south. On a large poster the word Equator was written and we took plenty of family pictures near it. There were about 14-15 small shops where I bought a bracelet for me and some of my friends. Here we were shown how the water rotates in different directions on either side of the Equator.

We reached Sweetwaters Tented camp at 1415 and after lunch we had a little rest before leaving for an afternoon game drive. Kenya and Tanzania is home to the BIG 5 and we were indeed lucky to see all of them – the lion, the rhino, the leopard, the elephant as well as the wild buffalo.

As we left our camp, we  saw baboons , impalas and zebras. We also visited a Chimpanzee sanctuary where we met Poco – a chimpanzee who is believed to have been captured and caged for 9 long years. Did you know that the Chimpanzee is the animal specie which comes closest to a human being in its appearance and intelligence too? Poco seemed to be ill at ease seeing such a large group and started running from one end to the other, jumping and clapping his hand. We thought he was entertaining us until the ranger told us that he was disturbed as he was imprisoned for several years before being  rescued by a lady. Chimpanzees are always kept behind barbed wire fence as they could be dangerous for humans and a strike from a chimpanzee can be fatal.

Did you know that animals live  longer when caged or rather captured, because they are fed at the right time and sometimes cared for, though they lose their freedom. They only live for 25-30 years in the wild and much more in captivity. I wonder why the caged animals in India do not live long enough.

An interesting fact about elephant’s ear is that they have very big ones to cool themselves. So at 1645 we headed back to our game drive and saw a few water bucks, impalas, warthogs and a crown crane. The crown crane is the national bird of Uganda. We also saw giraffes, a jackal and many pretty, bright and colourful birds. It all was just beautiful. We also saw animals called Thomson’s gazelle and grant gazelles. At 1725 we reached the rhino sanctuary. Out there we saw this poor rhino that was blind. He was given plenty of grass and he kept on eating it because though it was blind it could feel the grass. Its grey skin was patched in some places and it looked like a very old rhino. There were so many  mosquitoes on it, but it stayed calm, eating the grass. I still have pity on the poor blind animal. Anyway, at 1805 we left from the sanctuary and we reached Sweetwaters Tented Camp. One unusual thing of this trip was that we used to sleep very early every night as we either had morning game drives or morning departures.

It was day 3 and next morning after breakfast we left Sweetwaters. It was a clear morning and we could see Mount Kenya with its snow capped peak. Also further down we spotted a Rhino and a giraffe as well. As we were having breakfast, my brother Shaurya was busy chasing a few storks in the garden. The storks collect around meal time and flap their large wings. We left for lake Nakuru and within 2 hours from Sweetwaters we halted at the Kiawara foothills of the Aberdares Mountain.

At 0810 we departed from sweet waters to the Nakuru Lake to see the flamingos.  At 1010 we reached the Kiawara foothills of the Aberdares Mountain Range. We had a short stop to see the majestic Thomson falls and here is where my 8 year old brother upset me. He held a chameleon which creeped up his hand and he approached in my direction and I was quite upset as I like seeing animals and reptiles at a distance and not being too close to them. There were a few tribal people with whom we danced for a while and also clicked a few pictures. As we headed down from Thomson Falls towards Lake Nakuru, we saw a lot of Kenyans jogging alongside the road and our guide informed us that they were professional marathoners. My dad added that the world champion marathoners originate from this region known as the Rift Valley. I sure believed him as my dad does participate in the Half Marathon in Mumbai.

We reached Lake Nakuru around 1250 hours.  We saw the Napier grass grown for dairy farming cattle.

We entered the Nakuru Park and within 40 minutes from the gate we arrived at Sarova Lion Hill game lodge. After lunch, we got a break and I took the opportunity to play some table tennis with my dad. After which we explored the property which was spread at different levels and assembled for a group picture. We then departed for a game drive. The site of the baboons with their little babies clinging on them was a great sight. Also we saw a few gazelles, waterbucks and impalas too. As we were approaching the lake we saw two big rhinos very close to our vehicle and then we got one of the most amazing sights of the pink flamingoes all lined up in the lake.

It looked like a pink ribbon running across the lake – amazing beautiful. There could be over a few thousand birds stretching as far as the eye could see.

As we were driving along the lake side we saw a few Ostriches and our driver guide informed us how to identify a female ostrich from a male ostrich by its colour. The female is lightish brown and the male isn’t. They can run for 35 kilometres continuously, and last but not the least, to protect themselves they either kick or scratch their enemy.

It was a satisfying evening and the picture of the pink flamingoes was still in my mind. I was however disappointed not to see either lions or leopards. However, as we were approaching our lodge we happened to spot a lioness and that really pleased me a lot. We returned to the lodge at 1900 hours and then participated in a tribal dance. It was fun and entertaining to dance with the local tribal people who were very friendly and encouraged us to learn their style of dancing.

Next morning we had to get up earlier and leave the lodge at 7 am as we had a long drive first to the Masai Village and then to Masai Mara. We reached the village in 4 hours where we saw the Masai dance and we were thoroughly entertained. We participated in some of the dance steps and also saw the Masai village and the way they live in the houses made of soft mud. As we were approaching the park, we saw a herd of Ostriches and Giraffe, followed by herd of Elephants and antelopes. We also happened to see a few lions, including a few cubs too. Very close to our vehicle was a cheetah and then we saw a few lions feasting on a wild buffalo. We drove to a side of the park where there were several jeeps collected as they could see a kill of a leopard on a tree, although the leopard was missing. The most amazing sight for me besides the wide variety of wild life we could see in a few hours was the beautiful sunset. I have never seen the sky so beautiful coloured with shades of pinks, yellows and oranges. And to add to that we could see a rainbow as well. As we were closer to the Sarova Camp, our driver guide informed us that one of the vans was stuck near a herd of lions who were feasting on a buffalo and we had to head back to rescue them. I was scared for a moment as the lions did look hungry and angry. However, one of the jeeps pushed the van out of the area where the wheel was stuck and we were on our way to the Sarova camp.

The next morning was an early wake up call for us as we left the camp for a game drive on our way to the Serena Lodge. As we were leaving our camp, I saw a few Dik Diks – the smallest of the antelope family as if they were waiting to say goodbye to us and they were the smallest of animals that I have ever seen.

As we were driving towards Mara Serena Lodge, we saw a few wildebeests and giraffes as well. A little further were baboons, impalas and elephants too. I was having the time of my life as it was cool, breezy and the landscape was picture perfect. We also crossed the river known as the Mara river where we saw a few hippos and crocodiles too. One of the crocodiles was sitting with his mouth open as if waiting for an animal to straight walk in. We also reached a point where there was a large stone – and we took group photos as this was the point where on one side is Masai Mara, Kenya and on the other side is Serengeti, Tanzania.  We reached our lodge in the evening and it was one of the very interesting lodges as we could see the park from the lodge and could see a few elephants very close to our lodge. There were many colorful lizards and chameleons too around the lodge area and I was careful to get into my room without any wild companion.

Like every morning, the colorful chirping of the birds woke us up and we left Masai Mara early enough to reach the border of Kenya and Tanzania. It had rained heavily the previous night and we drove on one of the most difficult roads and the wheel of one our vehicles got stuck in the soft mud on the way.

Some of my friends got off the vehicle and helped the driver guide to get the vehicle on track. The ride was bumpy and we all had fun with the natural jumps and bumps we experienced as the vehicles were going in and out of several pot holes on the way. I must say that the friends I made were very nice and were carrying cameras with large lenses and they showed me a trick or too on how to click good pictures. I did manage to click quite a few and I may want a camera of my own one day to click pictures and write about interesting places too.

The drive to Serengeti was pretty long and after 5 hours of driving we reached the border of Kenya and Tanzania where we filled a few forms to cross over to Tanzania. We had packed lunches with us and stopped for a meal on the way and reached Serengeti around 1700 hours. We were greeted by several baboons at the entrance of the Serengeti National Park which is believed to be one of the largest parks in Africa. Serengeti is bigger than Ireland and although we entered the park at around 1700 hours, we reached our lodge at 2200 hours. So from the entrance it was a long five hours drive. On the way we saw herds and herds of zebras, wildebeests and giraffes too. We saw a leopard right in front of us on the road and I realized that we had seen the Big 5 by now. As we were approaching the lodge and a few metres after seeing the leopard, it was pitch dark and one of the vehicles had a flat tyre and the driver guide took all steps to change the tyre very carefully as we could see nothing at all except the spotlights of the vehicle. This was the longest drive of our trip but it was the day when we probably saw the most animals in a single day. Next morning we left the Sopa Lodge in Serengeti at 0700 hours and for a game drive. We saw a few vultures perched on a tree, followed by a jackal and then we saw some warthogs, followed by baby impalas, a hippo grazing on land and then we saw wildebeests, more wildebeests and even more wildebeests. They were all following each other for the migration which is supposed to be when all the wildebeests and zebras move from one park to the other. One of the most incredible sights was the 4 lionesses who were resting on branches of the same tree as if eyeing the wildebeests. A little further we saw an elephant so close to the tree and my father joked that the elephant was born out of the tree and this is an Elephant Tree. We saw some amazingly colourful birds, one in striking blue known as Superb Starling. I would say it was a Superb Blue bird indeed. We had a full day game drive but we were not at all tired as we saw a lion and lioness on a rock. We also crossed an area where it is believed that the Lion King movie was pictured. We saw a few lions herds of zebra and wildebeests, plenty of birds including crown cranes . That evening as we were having dinner in the lodge, the stewards and chefs sang and danced on songs including Jambo and Hakuna Matata. Yet another interesting day came to an end.

Next morning we left for Ngorongoro Crater and on the way we saw a lion and lioness sitting on a rock and as we went we were told they started to mate and a few other jeeps captured a few interesting pictures. A little further we saw some more lionesses sitting on a rock, this time on a hill, a few zebras , giraffes and elephants too. We also saw lots of wild buffaloes and it was interesting to see several birds resting on one of the buffaloes. We drove across the most amazing area of Ngorongoro before arriving at our lodge. We saw these yellow flowers for as far as the eye could see and between these yellow flowers, the black and white zebras were simply looking amazing. The yellow flowers reminded me of a famous movie I had seen – Dilwale Dulhaniya Leh Jayenge. We also saw a lion very close to our vehicle and we soon reached the Ngorongoro Lodge which had an amazing view of the Ngorongoro Crater. This was one of the best lodges we stayed both in terms of size and location too. I brought a few key chains, bracelets and necklaces for my friends and we then had dinner where again we had some waiters dancing and singing which seemed a tradition at the lodges especially in Tanzania.

Next morning as we were leaving the lodge, we were blocked by a herd of lions as if telling us not to go away as it was our last day before we were heading to Nairobi. Our vehicles had to wait for a while before we could pass through for a long drive to Arusha where we had lunch and then crossed the border to enter Kenya. After the border, we all got off from the 4 vehicles and we drove in one bus up to Intercontinental Hotel. It was great fun to be with the whole group in one bus and we played many games on the way. I forgot to mention that the Parsis were leaving the same night for Victoria Falls and South Africa whereas our family along with the doctors’ family were heading back home. We could not go as my dad had to be back in Mumbai as he had to plan holidays for many other people travelling thru his company.

Lastly, I must say that every new day was better than the previous one because we experienced a lot and the last day was one of the saddest days for me as my dear friends were leaving. As we had a flight the next afternoon, we visited the Masai market in the morning, went to a mall and had an Indian meal with friends of my dad who had organized the trip in East Africa for the entire group. We boarded our flight and reached Mumbai the following morning at 0545 hours and I must say that this trip to Kenya and Tanzania was one of the most memorable trips with a wonderful group and lots of wildlife and natural beauty which I always will cherish.

Although I was sad, I was glad to know that I would be meeting many members of the Parsi families after they would return from their trip from South Africa as some of them were staying back in Mumbai before returning to Australia and I would get a chance of living my trip once again with them by sharing the pictures taken during the trip.

An Indian Student’s Perspective of Argentina

“I have been living as an exchange student in Buenos Aires for about two months now. I realized on my first day that I had made a great decision. The first conversation I had with my host mother set the tone for my visit: it was spent discussing Indian politics as she wanted to talk to me about Indira Gandhi and draw comparisons between her and other women leaders, such as Eva Perón. I was impressed, to say the least.

People here are fascinated to meet an Indian, and more often than not, I will be the first Indian they have ever met. I have received nothing but positive reactions from every Argentine I have met here. They all want to talk about the Indian economy, Indian films, Indian food, Indian politics, and of course, issues like poverty and education. I had studied Spanish for four years before coming here, but never had the opportunity to speak it in a native environment, so at first it was hard trying to answer a barrage of questions about India in Spanish. However, I have now realized that people initially ask me the same kinds of questions, and my answers are so rehearsed that they think my Spanish is better than it really is!

I haven’t had the chance to travel around Argentina yet, but I did visit the Iguazú Falls (where I saw some other Indian tourists!). As for Buenos Aires, I am completely in love with the city. Being from Mumbai, I feel very much at home and comfortable in another big city. The arts are especially valued here, and there is no dearth of theatres, ballets, operas, music concerts or art shows to visit, and most are affordable to an average student. Museums, tango lessons, wonderful restaurants, street fairs, libraries and bookstores – the city is exploding with things to do and see. For a tourist, and as a newly arrived student, it is an exhilarating experience.

Living with a family here also made me realize how similarly Indians and Argentines value family and friends, and how warmly I have been received by my host mother’s relatives and friends just by association with her. Socially, I do find that Argentines are more outgoing than Indians, although both cultures are known for their warmth and friendliness. It is easy to meet people and make friends, even of different age groups, as the social norms here are very different and, in my opinion, more relaxed.

The visa process in order to get to Argentina was somewhat exasperating. I can only hope that with more awareness of Argentina, increased study of Spanish, and steadily improving relations between the two countries, more students will be encouraged to discover this wonderful country, resulting in a much easier visa process!  However, despite being newly opened, the Argentine Consulate in Mumbai was amazing – they made a complicated situation much easier by helping me with my paperwork, sharing advice about Argentina and just calming me down when I got too upset.

For an Indian, Argentina is incredibly welcoming. I felt right at home not only because I was in a big city again, but also because people are genuinely excited to meet me and talk with me about India and ask me questions about my family and friends at home. I can only hope that increasing numbers of Indians decide to make the trip here – despite the incredible length and expense of the journey, it is truly worth every second!”