Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



From Foz de Iguacu, where I wrote the last newsletter I crossed into Argentina which was as simple as getting on a couple of local buses and going through immigration formalities. Then from Puerto Iguacu, the Argentinean side, I had a flight booked direct to Buenos Aires. Due to the collapsing economy here and the currency with it, the prices have more than halved in the last few months making internal flights extremely reasonable. The flight of about two hours was not particularly exciting except for the woman in the seat behind me who when we entered some turbulence became quite hysterical shaking my seat and screaming. Why is it I always have the luck of being the recipient of abuse from people that should rightly be in straightjackets, being administered shock therapy and major sedatives. Anyway, despite this I arrived safely and at the airport met my good friend Mauro who I met in China nearly two years ago, and who has been telling me I should visit him for quite some time. It was really good to see him again as I hadn’t seen him in a long time, although we had maintained contact through e-mail.

In Buenos Aires I went and saw some of the wealth of old colonial architecture, including the Casa Rosada (Pink House, pink as it was a combination of the opposing factions colours, red and white), the presidential residence which is also famous for the balcony from where Madonna sang the resignation bit in Evita to adoring crowds and Tony Banderas, although in actuality this speech was done elsewhere. I also visited the not too interesting Presidential museum beneath it.

The Plaza Mayo in front of the Casa Rosada has been the scene of a number of fierce protests against the governments mismanagement of the economy which has left many with their savings halved, costs of loans doubled, escalating unemployment, inflation and a rapidly devaluing currency. When I was in Buenos Aires I only saw some pretty small protesting outside some banks, where clients are not allowed to withdraw much of their money.

A nice park area and plaza is Plaza San Martin, at the bottom end of which is a monument and eternal flame to the fallen Argentinean servicemen of the Falklands / Las Malvinas conflict, with an honour guard and wall inscribed with all the names. Opposite this is a nice Victorian clock tower given by the British over a century ago, hence the square was called Plaza Britanico until 1982, when the Falklands / Las Malvinas war happened and they changed the name.

One day Mauro took me to the port area of La Boca which is also home to one of the two main football teams, the other being River. La Boca has some attractive colourful houses, in various colours as the paint left over from painting the boats. So there are houses in a patchwork of colourful shades. It is also where Quintella, a famous and favourite Argentine artist lived and set most of his work. In the cultural centre in La Boca they have a good collection of his paintings as well as other prominent Argentinean artists. The story of how the football team decided on the colours for its kit is a nice little one. Undecided as to what colours they should choose and being a maritime area they decided that they would have the colours of the flag of the next boat to come into port. As it was a Swedish boat they have a blue and gold strip, simple.

I had heard when in Brazil that Roger Waters, former lead and main writer for Pink Floyd was to have a concert in Buenos Aires, Mauro and I being fans, we decided to go and see him perform at Velez stadium and it was really excellent. The band were phenomenal and the sound system was crystal clear, a very good evening.

For my last full day in Buenos Aires I went to Recoleta, a nice suburb where there is a very exclusive, expensive and interesting cemetery. The tombs are of almost every conceivable style with some being incredibly grandiose. Amongst the interred are presidents, soldiers, politicians and celebrities. The most notable of these is the Duarte family tomb where Eva Duarte Peron is interred. Also known as Evita or sometimes Santa Evita to some of her supporters she reached a point of near deification. There are flowers by her family mausoleum and several brass plaques on it, lauding the woman inside. Several people on passing the tomb rub Eva´s likeness on the plaques and then bless themselves, going a bit too far maybe. Whilst watching this an old woman came to place flowers at the tomb and then proceeded to play some music on her harpsichord to the deceased former first lady. I’m sure Andrew Lloyd Webber would be pleased to hear she started this medley with “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”.

After the peculiar goings on in the cemetery I went to the Basilica de Pilar next door. A very nice old church with an interesting museum in its former cloisters. Then I went to the Cultural centre which had some very good art displays, featuring mostly Argentinean artists.

That evening Mauro made an Alsado, or what most of us know as a barbecue, this is the most typical of Argentinean meals and he felt it was a necessary part of my learning about Argentina. I was happy enough with this as it meant got another good meal from him, as he is a surprisingly good cook.

Unfortunately as my time on this trip is limited it meant I had to move on from Mauro and Buenos Aires. Once again taking advantage of the collapsing currency I took a flight to Puerto Madryn. The flight over the Pampas is interesting only insofar as that there is very little to see apart from a lot of flat land, just endlessly rolling into the distance. At least one gets across Holland in no time and there are windmills and canals to break the monotony, here it is unrelentingly flat for thousands of kilometres.

In Puerto Madryn I booked onto a trip to Peninsula Valdez, which is where the Welsh settlers first landed. This was not however the reason for my wanting to go there, but as it is all a wildlife reserve. During the time there we saw sealions, seals (you can tell the difference most simply as sealions have external ears, seals don’t), elephant seals (ugly with a big proboscis nose that makes them cute, although being very big, sometimes as much as a tonne), Magellan penguins, Hares, Guanaco (a Llama-like animal with a red coat), Foxes and Armadillos. The armadillos are not too shy and at times try to scavenge. I quite like them, I think they are cute in a funny way. When one came close to me I decided to test its shell by knocking on it with my knuckles to see what it was like (hard in a solid, not hollow way). This I think confused the little blighter, but didn’t seem to bother him too much.

What we did not see unfortunately were Orcas (Killer Whales), although it being the season. This was mainly as we got to Punta Norte, the best viewing spot too late in the day. So, most of us on the tour decided to pool together to rent a minibus to get us to Punta Norte earlier, which meant a very early morning the next day.

We were rewarded though as we not only saw Orcas, but saw them riding the surf onto the beach to snatch and eat seals. It was very impressive to see such a big beautiful, powerful animal beach itself intentionally in order to grab the seals.

I saw two seals being killed, one turned the water all around red and the other was left for a group of Petrels (aquatic birds) to feed on. There were three Orcas a calf, practicing killing, guided by its mother and further away a bloody huge male. It was also the first time I had seen Orcas, a really beautiful animal, so all in all a special day. Despite the fact that it meant getting up at a little after five o’clock.

Just a little side note, Orcas aren’t actually whales but are in fact the largest members of the dolphin family. Also the term Killer whale is unfair as they are not aggressive to humans and there are no recorded attacks of Orcas against humans.

The day after most of the same group reconvened for another tour this time to Punta Tombo where there is the largest Magellen penguin colony in the world. These penguins which are usually about sixty centimetres tall can dig their holes in which to nest up to three kilometres from the beach. In this colony there are between three hundred thousand and one and a half million (depending on the source) of the aquatic birds spread over a huge area. They do not congregate in particularly big groups, but you can see them dotted all over the land. We also saw some vole-like rodents, more guanacos and a few more sealions.

As this is the centre of the Welsh migration in Argentina, where they planned on making “A Wales beyond Wales”. There are Welsh place names, confusing enough in the native tongue, let alone when done in a Spanish accent. There are also buildings and gardens very reminiscent in style of the UK. After an unexciting visit to Trelew Paleontological Museum we went for a “Welsh Tea”, that was not particularly Welsh and would probably only serve to dissuade people from visiting the country as the tea wasn’t good, the cakes were too sweet and the scones crumbled to nothing with the first bite. Oh well, what do you expect on the other side of the world?

From Puerto Madryn I went to Trelew, just to get a plane down to Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world. It is on the island of Tierra del Fuego. Also known as the end of the world, it is not very far from Antarctica. When I arrived the weather was clear and the unrelentingly pancake flat Pampas gave way to mountains rising from the sea to give quite dramatic views as the plane came into land. Ushuaia is not a massive town, but has everything one needs, except warm weather. It is the tail end of summer here but the temperature has peaked at about eight degrees Celsius.

Walking around town even the views of the peaks around Ushuaia are very picturesque and across the bay and Beagle channel (named after Darwin’s boat) one can see even bigger mountains on the Chilean side. The next day I decided to go on a full day boat trip along the channel and we got to see Cormorants and their odd conical nests that look like rock formations (actually mostly made of crap), Magellan and Gentoo penguins, Sealions, Turkey vultures and various other birds including Albatross (does any one know if it was named after a bloke called Albert Ross) which are quite amusing as they take off from the water, running along the surface flapping their wings, looking more like a cartoon bird taking off than real life. Towards the end of the trip we went to the Estancia (Ranch) Harberton. This is the oldest Estancia on Tierra del Fuego set up by an Anglican missionaries adopted son and still run by his descendants. The tour around the estancia was interesting showing how things worked then and now and the history of the indigenous people and colonizers. There is also an interesting museum where there are displays about the whales and dolphins found in the area, as the current owners wife is an internationally recognised expert on whales and dolphins. The views along the channel were phenomenal as it was a crystal clear day and one could see great distances to dramatic peaks. Apparently some of the scenery resembles the Fjords of Norway, having never been to Norway though I can’t say, except to say it was lovely.

When we arrived back in port I went and spoke to the captain of one of the Russian research boats in port to see if I could get a ride to Antarctica, bribing if necessary (after all they are Russian), but I was informed that the season for Antarctica was over and there would be no more boats heading south until November, bugger! Oh well more to see anyway.

The following day was a bit overcast so I went for a walk in the national park. Which was pleasant and afforded some nice views across lakes, lagoons and bays. As it was not very clear, it meant that the peaks in the park remained out of sight behind the clouds. There were some nice spots though and some attractive dead trees dripping with “old mans beard” a type of lichen. I also visited "The Museum at the end of the world" which had a small but interesting exhibition on the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego. The Presidio museum was much more interesting though with more
information about the indigenous people, as well as about the maritime history of the area. The most interesting parts for me though were about Antarctica and some of the expeditions and bases there. Housed in the old prison, there is also information about the prison and prisoners, whose history was very much intertwined with that of Argentinean Tierra del Fuego as the prisoners were used as the labour to build many of the original buildings, the railroad and to generally work the land. Amongst the inmates was Carlos Gardel, Argentina’s most famous Tango singer - apparently not averse to a bit of petty larceny in his younger days.

As the weather did not look like it was going to improve in the next days I decided to head straight to Chile. So I got an early bus for the twelve hour journey to Punta Arenas. On arrival I discovered there wasn't much to justify my staying there so I got another bus to Puerto Natales where there are various things to do. I'll tell you about them in the next newsletter as I think you'd agree I've probably written too much already.



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