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South America & Iguassu Falls

Vantage Deluxe World Travel

November 1 - 16, 2010

This trip to South America is a reunion trip with my good friends the Gerszewski's and Jayaram's of California.  We have traveled together several time previously and it is always a enjoyable experience. 

I left from Birmingham on the morning on the 1st of November.  My travel route took me to Atlanta and then to Miami.  I met up with Connie & Fred Gerszewski and Jay & Susan Jayram at the Miami airport.  The Jayaram's were also hosting Sue's niece Cheryl and her husband Bill for this trip.  We flew from Miami to Santiago on LAM Chile Airlines.  It was an overnight flight leaving Miami at 8:55 pm.  We arrived at Santiago at 6:20 am.  I just love these overnight flight, NOT! 

For our visit to Santiago we stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel.  It is a top rated hotel in every way!  It's location is close to local restaurants and shops.

By the time we got to the hotel we had a breakfast buffet available and then our rooms were ready and we were able to rest before our first trip activity.  I should note that I had to pay a $140.00 entry fee at the airport before we could enter Chile.  Just another  fun part of travel!

Late in the afternoon, we bussed to San Cristobal Hill.

We rode to the top of the hill in a funicular. Above is the top station and power house of the funicular.  Local vendors were out in force at the both the top and bottom of the hill.

At the peak, there is a church with an amphitheater, and a 22 meter statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary donated by France in the 1920s. 

The hill provided great late afternoon views of the city.

This is the local restaurant where we had our welcome dinner.  The owner described the local dishes we were enjoying.  The menu included two Chilean favorites: empanadas, a meat filled, turnover-like pastries and pisco sours, a tasty cocktail with fruit juice.

The next day we had a tour of the city Valparaiso and nearby suburbs.  Above is a local lighthouse on the Pacific Ocean shore that we stopped at on our way to Valparaiso.

Valparaiso's City Hall.  With summer coming they are setting up the stage for concerts to be presented in the square.

The city's court building.

We rode the city's funicular top to the hilltop to see the various vistas of the city.

After our funicular ride we visited the oldest bar in Valparaiso.  No drinks just a potty break.

This is the restaurant where we enjoyed lunch.  A local souvenir seller was outside selling Chilean baseball hats for $5.00.  Many of our group sported new hats as we left for our afternoon stops.

We were driven up the to a nearby town called Vina del to visit the Fonck Museum.  Originally the home of the wealthy Délano family in the early 20th century, this impressive building was acquired by the local Municipal Authorities in 1985, and converted into a museum. Focus in two principal collections is a natural history department dedicated to Chile's native fauna and flora; and an archaeological department offering a permanent display related to the indigenous peoples of Northern Chile, the Aconcagua region and the Mapuche in the south of the country. The museum also houses one of the most important collections in the world related to Easter Island, including the only genuine Moai statue in the whole of continental Chile, outside in the museum garden, the Garden City.   Above is the Fonck Museum. 

During our next morning tour we visited the Plaza de Armas.  Above is the Palacio de Moneda or Presidential Palace.
This neoclassical building serves as the President's office and seat of the Federal Government. 

Never one to pass up a chance to have my picture taken with a pretty lady, I asked this attractive soldier if she would mind if we posed together, she said yes.  We are standing in the door way to Palacio de Moneda.

Justice Ministry

In the Plaza de Armas is this unique sculpture, the Monument to the Indigenous People. It celebrates Chile's Indian culture and people.

Colonial era Cathedral located on Plaza de Armas.

Visiting tourists chatting with the local advertising guy in the Plaza.  He was driving a two wheeled cart like vehicle and was answering questions for the tourists.

The Centro Artesanal Los Dominicos is a little souvenir shopping village. It has a pleasant  atmosphere and is laid out nicely for tourists to wander about. There are a few restaurants so you can eat Empanadas (a local dish) and sometimes that have entertainment in the "square".

We had lunch on our own at this little village.  We were able to visit the many small stores where local artists sold their products.

After lunch, we boarded our bus for a drive through the Chilean countryside to Santa Cruz.  Above is the Hotel  Santa Cruz Plaza where we stayed at for two nights.  It was better than it looks but not one of the higher class hotels Vantage usually has its travel group stay at. 

There was an end of the school year festival being held in the square in front of the hotel.  This shot shows a group of students putting on a production for the audience.

This is one of the displays set up by the students in the Plaza.  The festival lasted for several days and there were musical activities each evening designed to keep the gringo visitors awake in the hotel.  The student displays and performance I saw were very well done.

 

A group of primary uniformed student arriving to view the displays.

This is the main street of Santa Cruz.  Not much of an attraction with very few eating places available.  The hotel had a casino and museum attached to the property.

A building located across from the Plaza.  This building shows that to second floor has been removed because of the quake.   A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit central Chile Saturday, Feb. 27, causing damage throughout this South American country and triggering tsunami warnings in the Pacific basin. As of mid-afternoon Sunday, the death toll stood at 708 in Chile though is did rise by time government workers could get a true casualty listing.

More earthquake damage.

Entering the Museum of Colchagua near our hotel.  It was a very good regional museum.  We were not allowed to take photos inside.

We were allowed to take photos of the machinery on display in the museum courtyard.  They has several different types of early machines on display.  This locomotive was the largest display.

A steam driven farm tractor.

Santa Cruz police headquarters.  The group had a tour of the facility.  All escaped unharmed!

A view of the Chilean countryside as we bus to our lunch at a nearby ranch. 

Our group was divided in half and each half went to a different ranch for our Home Hosted lunch. We enjoyed a delicious meal and friendly conversation with the ranch owners.    My group was hosted by the owners of the La Pradera, Casa de Campo.  Native dishes were served to the group.  The above ranch building did not fair well in the earthquake, it adobe walls collapsed.  The roof and its supports held up but the walls crumbled.

After our lunch we visited the Santa Cruz Winery.  We had a tour and wine tasting experience while at the winery. 

 

There were many large fields of grape plants all round the winery. 

 

There were many casks of wines ageing for future sale.

The winery had a gondola ski lift so visitors could enjoy the scenery around the winery.

This was a small museum that had Easter Island artifacts on display.

There was a small observatory on the hill where telescopes were used to view the stars.

Once we arrived back in Santa Cruz we were told that the airline we were to fly to Buenos Aires on had canceled our flight.  Marta Muller our tour manager had been able on short notice to secure seats for our group on an earlier flight.  Sounds good!!!  The new schedule meant we had to leave Santa Cruz at 2:00 am and drive back to Santiago Airport.  It was a very short night and we all seemed to take the change in stride.

Our hotel in Buenos Aires.  It was very good but several blocks from downtown and the shopping.  We checked in early because of our flight schedule change.  The Vantage tour company arranged for us to have a very nice lunch while we waited for our rooms to be ready.

I would like to note that Argentina socked each of our group with a $140.00 entrance fee at the airport!  Nail the American tourists while they come here to spend their dollars!

The first stop on our city tour was at Plaza de Mayo, in the background is the famous Casa de Rosada'

Built in 1580 by Garay, this was the city's first fort. In 1882 after many modifications, an archway was constructed to unite twin structures. Today it is home to the administrative and government seats. The primary entrance is found on Avenida de Mayo. And the pink color paint, ordered by President Sarmiento in 1813, only remains on one side of the building. This building is truly an emblem of the Argentine aristocracies, including those of Peron and his famous wife, Evita.  Madonna sang from one of the balconies during the filming of the movie Evita.


 

Buenos Aires la Cathédral Metropolitana, Plaza de Mayode de style roman.

Next we visited the San Telmo District.  There were many colorful stores like this one which was a very large gift shop.

Connie & Fred posing as Tango Dancers!

  This is the famous Cafe Tortoni restaurant.  Our lunch stop included Tango lessons.

Tango demonstration before the lessons and lunch.  Many of our group participated in the Tango lessons.  It would be unfair to comment on the groups success rate at learning the Tango.

After leaving the restaurant, we stopped at a Fredo Ice Cream Parlor for a treat of delicious Carmel ice cream.

  La Recoleta Cemetery is a famous cemetery located in the exclusive Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It contains the graves of some of the most important Argentines, including Eva Perón, Raúl Alfonsín, and several presidents of Argentina.

One of the many ornate mausoleums in the cemetery.

This is the Duarte family Mausoleum where Eva de Peron is entombed.  It is a very popular spot to visit in the cemetery.

On the eight day, we had an optional trip of boating tour with lunch on the famous Tigre Delta.  This is the entrance way to the river boat docks.  Unfortunately it is raining so our trip will be slightly damp as we sail along.

The boat in the upper middle of this photo is the craft for our tour.   The Delta water is always muddy.

This building is the headquarters of the Italian Rowing Club.  There are many rowing club s located along the river of the Delta.

The supply boat that sails around the Delta meeting the supply need of the camp owners.

Many of the camps and houses are built on stilts because the river water level varies with the winds and rain levels.

The Delta's Police Station.

The restaurant where we had a delicious lunch.

One of the original camps that is preserved in a glass shelter at the Delta Museum.

The next morning we passed this large flower sculpture on our way out of the city.

Donated by Eduardo Catalo this massive metal flower is a nice place to visit…for ten minutes. Well, since it opens and closes with the sun via hydraulic machinery you might be able to spend a few more minutes if you time your evening or morning correctly. The “show” is more impressive at night because the lights around the base of the sculpture have more effect.

The University Law School building is just across the street from the large flower.

At the next stop we enjoyed an visit to an authentic estancia (ranch), complete with a welcome reception of local wine and empanadas.  We were greeted by the Gauchos of the estancia.  Their performed many feats of horseback riding during our visit. 

The youngest gaucho!

This gaucho is demonstrating how to ride fast and spear the brass ring which is given to a pretty girl, if he is successful.

The gaucho is the fellow on the horse.  The others are yours truly and Marti our tour manager.

Lunch consisted of a salad bar and delicious meats cooked slowly over an open fire.  Tasted great!

Several local dancers performed native Argentine dances after lunch.

Even hard riding little gaucho's deserve a helping of dessert!

It is six o'clock in the morning and we are off to the airport for our flight to Iguassu Falls.  We drive pass Buenos Aires Obelisk on our way out of downtown.

We have arrived at Iguassu Falls!  Off to the Falls !!!  I am very excited to see this wonder of the natural world!  Above is the entrance to Argentine's Iguassu Falls National Park.

After lunch we boarded a train like this one to go to the trail leading to the falls observation points.

The Falls!!!

Taller than Niagara Falls, twice as wide with 275 cascades spread in a horseshoe shape over nearly two miles of the Iguassu River, Iguassu Falls are the result of a volcanic eruption which left yet another large crack in the earth. During the rainy season of November - March, the rate of flow of water going over the falls may reach 450,000 cubic feet (12,750 cubic m) per second.

These matter of fact details do nothing to describe the grandeur of the falls, the tremendous amount of water (an average of 553 cubic feet per second) thundering down 269 feet, the tropical location and the sheer beauty that led Eleanor Roosevelt to say Poor Niagara.

The next few photos do not need a narrative.  Enjoy their beauty.

 

 

 

The Iguassu River.  We will be in boats like those in the photo tomorrow.

The Bourbon Cataratas Hotel at Iguassu Falls, Brazil.  It was a very good hotel and our stay of two nights was perfect.

First thing the next morning we toured a local bird sanctuary near the falls.

I could not resist taking a photo of these love birds.

These birds were so colorful I wanted top take several shot of them.

Iguassu Falls from the Brazilian side of the river.  Enjoy the next few photos.  I took over a hundred photos from both sided of the falls.  This was truly a once in a life time event for me.  I have seen Victoria Falls, the upper & lower Falls of the Yellowstone Canyon and Niagara Falls.  Each has its own beauty and unique setting!

This shot is of the up river edge of the falls, the mist is generated by the current and the wind blowing up stream.

We took a river ride in a boat like this one.  We got soaked to the skin.  Part of the ride was up under the falls mist and spray. 

The next morning we had another early departure for our flight to Rio de Janeiro.  This is our last stop of the trip.  Once again Vantage let our tour group down.  The day before we left Iguassu Falls we were told that there as no reservations for us at the Rio Sheraton Hotel as planned earlier.  Several weeks before we departed for our trip we got a letter from Vantage tell us that the contract with Marriott was cancel and that we would be staying at the Rio Sheraton Hotel & Resort.  Then the Sheraton Hotel called Vantage's local office in Rio and told them that due to a large convention they did not have rooms available for our group. The Vantage staff in Rio found rooms for us at the Caesar Business Hotel.  We got the business alright!  The hotel was in a commercial part of the city.  The businesses were small, the area was crowded with cars & people. The streets were generally dirty and noisy.   No where near any of Rio's famous beaches.  The accommodations were spartan at best.   The hotel restaurant was not up to Vantages standards.  It was a lousy way to end a trip that had been some what successful.

We had a very nice lunch at Estrela do Sul restaurant before going to our hotel for check in. 

This is one of Rio's better-known churrascarias, that is, restaurants specializing in churrasco or Brazilian Barbecue. Estrela do Sul is festive place to bring a group for a celebration and gorge on the traditional staple.

After check in, we left the hotel at 4:30 pm to ride the cable cars up to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain.

All aboard for the top of the mountain.  We rode in two cable cars to reach the top.

The view of one of Rio's beautiful beaches from the mountain top.

Another mountain top view of Rio!

Cable car gondola's go up and down all day long.

It is Saturday morning and we are boarding the cog railway to the top of Corcovado Mountain where we will be at the base of the Statue of Christ the Redeemer.  This is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

One of the Swiss made cog railway cars.

This is a tree in the Tijuca Forest along the cog railway way to the top of the mountain.  The fruit pods that you can see in this photo are fruits that taste like banana's and watermelon together.  The fruit can be harvested in November to January.

Christ the Redeemer

Cristo Redentor (English: lit. Christ the Redeemer, Portuguese: Cristo Redentor, standard Brazilian Portuguese: [ˈkɾistu ɦedẽˈtoʁ], local dialect: [ˈkɾiʃtu ɦedẽjˈtoɦ]) is a statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; considered the largest Art Deco statue in the world and the 5th largest statue of Jesus in the world. It is 39.6 metres (130 ft) tall, including its 9.5 metres (31 ft) pedestal, and 30 metres (98 ft) wide. It weighs 635 tonnes (625 long,700 short tons), and is located at the peak of the 700-metre (2,300 ft) Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city. A symbol of Brazilian Christianity, the statue has become an icon for Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.[1] It is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone, and was constructed between 1922 and 1931.

Looking back up at Christ the Redeemer from below.

On Saturday evening, we had the optional tour "Rio by Night."  The evening started with a delicious Brazilian dinner at the Oasis Restaurant where the assorted Brazilian  meats were excellent.

Then it was off to the "Plataforma" night club folklore and Carnival stage show!

This spectacular evening performance includes costumes from the famous Rio Carnival. Carnival reflects the spirit of Rio — it’s a passionate, colorful, glitzy attraction that never fails to entertain.  Show. This show captures the essence of Carnival with a lively extravaganza of wonderful costumes, skilled dancers, more than 100 performers, and the hot beat of the Brazilian samba. The pinnacle of the evening comes toward the end of the night with a memorable display of the dazzling costumes used in the Carnival Parade.

The show started with costumed dancers who performed the dances of Brazil.  The dancing and music were very toe tapping.

The costumes worn during the performance were spectular.

Toward the end of the evening, the show had a pause for costume changing.  The audience was invited on stage to dance to a tune of their individual county.  Connie Gerszewski jump up on stage to represent the good old USA!  Here she is dancing with the shows MC.  It was a great finale to a wonderful evening!

A last look at dancers wearing Carnival costumes.

 

On Sunday, we had a tour to Petropolis, Brazil.  It was a ride of about an hour and half from Rio.  It was a rainy day but the group worked valiantly to make the day successful.  We had a nice lunch and toured.  Petrópolis, also known as The Imperial City of Brazil, is a town in the state of Rio de Janeiro, about 65 km from the city of Rio de Janeiro.

The Imperial Museum (Museu Imperial) in Petrópolis is one of the most attractive cultural points of interest near Rio de Janeiro. Located in the town's historic center, the museum was once Emperor Pedro II's favorite residence.

The museum's appeal can be attributed to the palace itself, the furniture and art objects which belonged to the emperor's family, including the Imperial Crown and jewels, and the archives consisting of 250,000 original documents ranging from the 13th to the early 20th century.  No photographs allow in the museum and we had to wear foot pad when touring the exhibits.

Monday morning, before leaving for the airport and home we had a Guanabara Tour.  This tour was a cruise along Rio's coastline on the above pictured schooner.  We sailed by Rio's famous beaches and various sights in the harbor. We had views of Sugarloaf, Fiscal Island, Rio-Niteroi Bridge and other scenes.

Sao Joao Fort guards the harbor.

Santa Cruz Fortress guard the oppose side of the harbor.

Rio Art Museum

Just an interesting photo from the harbor!

One of our last stops before going to the airport was at the Carnival store.  Above are some of my new traveling modeling Carnival costumes.  Quite a group!

Rio's modern Cathedral.

The newly renovated Opera House. 

On our way to the Airport, we drove by the 200,000 seat soccer stadium where the finals of the World Cup of Soccer will be played in 2014.

Thus ended an interesting trip to South America.  I do not feel that I got "good value" for the money I paid Vantage Travel for the trip.  They are clearly cutting corners.  Almost all provided meals we were limited to one bottle of water or soda.  No complimentary wine as in past trips!  That being Cheap!  Maybe the word "Deluxe" does not apply anymore!  Housing and flight arrangements were all too often messed up.  One of the tour busses we rode on was older and not very comfortable.  It is like not one is monitoring our trip from the front office.  I guess out of sight and sound means all is well.  The use of a trip manager and local guides add an increase outlay on the part of the travelers when it comes to tipping.  Print materials were to often zerox copies rather printed in a booklet for the traveling customer.

I would like to commend Marti Muller for doing a great job of holding the various aspects of the trip together.  Without her efforts we would have had a very unsatisfactory travel experience.

The bottom line for me is that I probably will not chose to travel with Vantage Deluxe World Travel!

Happy Travels to all my friends!