Monday, April 22, 2013

Argentina-Chile border crossing at Paso Los Libertadores

Two days ago, we made our third South American border crossing. We spent two hours going through border controls at Paso Los Libertadores where Argentinian and Chilean Immigration and Customs share a building. Our bus had to queue which took quite a while. We weren't even allowed to get off the bus until it was our turn.

As soon as our bus was given the go, we were asked to line-up with our documents and follow the conductor to the building. We first lined-up at the Argentinian Immigration window for our exit stamps. Then we lined-up at the next counter for our entry stamps into Chile. We kind of delayed the line since the officer was surprised to see Philippine passports. And she had to inquire with her colleagues how to process our visas since we are required to have them for entry into Chile.

With that settled, passengers were asked to board the bus and wait for our turn at Chilean Aduana (Customs). When our turn came up, everyone on the bus was asked to get off again, this time with all our belongings. We were then asked to line-up (firing squad style) in front of a long table where we placed our hand-carried items. They then collected our forms (Chile has a list of things to declare and make sure you do if you have something that's on the list or ask if you're not sure). At the same time, our luggage was unloaded from the bus and sent through the x-ray. If they find something in the luggage, they ask who the owner is and ask questions as soon as the owner approaches them. Once the luggage scan is done, passengers are then asked to pass their hand-carried items through the x-ray. When cleared, we were finally asked to board the bus again. It took a several more minutes before the bus was cleared to pass.

The travel time from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile is approximately seven hours. There was an accident along the way plus road construction that added three hours to our trip, bringing our total travel time from Córdoba via Mendoza to Santiago de Chile to over 21 hours! 

Good thing the vineyards of Mendoza and the drive through the Andes Mountains, especially the Aconcagua Provincial Park, made the trip very interesting.
Our first two border crossings were less eventful. We had made a land trip from Brazil to Uruguay two weeks ago. The bus company had our passports and they were stamped in Brazil while we were sleeping. In Uruguay, it would have also been the same. But since we had visas, the bus attendant had to wake us up to fill in information the officer needed.

The river crossing last week from Uruguay to Argentina was even simpler. It was the first time I saw Immigration officers from two countries seated beside each other. First was the Uruguay exit stamp. Then they Uruguayan officer passes your passport to the Argentinian officer for your entry stamp, and it's done. So technically, you've entered Argentina while still in Uruguay. When we arrived in Buenos Aires, we went through customs and we were done.

Since I'm constantly on the road, it will be difficult to update the blog regularly. But you're sure to get daily updates from my Instagram and Twitter accounts. So do follow @ivanhenares on both.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Porto Alegre

Hello from South America! I began my trip in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil a week ago. As soon as we checked-in at our hostel, we went straight to the foot of Corcovado. But we had to abort our trip up the Cristo Redentor since it was really cloudy and the tram ride isn't cheap. We didn't want to waste funds and see nothing up there.

Copacabana Beach
So we ended up spending the afternoon in Copacobana Beach, and later enjoying the view of Sugarloaf Mountain in Botafogo Beach. The Mouth of Guanabara Bay, Sugar Loaf Natural Monument and Copacabana Seafront are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea. Here are photos of the first day: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (April 7, 2013).

Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)
For our second day, we gave Corcovado another try. And we were in luck! Obviously, everyone wants to see the Cristo Redentor! We had to wait two hours for a slot on the tram up Corcovado, the peak where the statue of Christ the Redeemer is located. And since the area up the peak is quite small, you'll have to deal with the crowds. And yes, everyone wants a photo too! But your trip to Rio is never complete without it.

Ipanema Beach
We spent the afternoon at the beach again. We first stopped by Leblon Beach before proceeding to Ipanema Beach. Carioca Mountain Range - Tijuca National Park (and Cristo Redentor) is also part of the UNESCO inscription of Rio de Janeiro. Here are photos of the second day: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (April 8, 2013).

Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro
Arcos da Lapa, Rio de Janeiro
For our last day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we walked around the Centro. It's an intelligent mix of old and modern architecture. Plus there's an abundance of public open spaces. Here are photos from our third day: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (April 9, 2013).

Patio do Colegio, Sao Paulo
That evening, we took a bus to São Paulo, a six-hour trip. We arrived early the next morning and spent half a day in São Paulo. Good thing they have a reliable Metro, we got around the downtown area very easily. Here are photos from São Paulo, Brazil (April 10, 2013).

Museu de Arte do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre
By lunch, we left for Porto Alegre, the capital and largest city in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. It was a good eighteen hours to get there! And we arrived the next morning. One of its main attractions is the Mercado Publico where we spent a considerable amount of time exploring its various stalls. I was particularly intrigued by the Gaucho stalls. We also walked to the Metropolitan Cathedral and explored buildings in the vicinity. Here are photos from Porto Alegre, Brazil (April 11, 2013).

Since I'm constantly on the road, it will be difficult to update the blog regularly. But you're sure to get daily updates from my Instagram and Twitter accounts. So do follow @ivanhenares on both.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Virginia, USA: George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate

Mount Vernon near Alexandria, Virginia, was the plantation home of George Washington, first president of the United States. The estate was owned by the Washington family (beginning with George's great-grandfather John Washington) since 1674. It was inherited by Washington when his half-brother died in 1752.

The highlights of any visit to the estate are the wooden mansion built in the Palladian style, its construction personally overseen by Washington between 1757 and 1778; and the family crypt where George and Martha Washington are buried.

When you purchase your ticket, whether online or at the ticket counter, a time to enter the mansion line will be printed. Make sure to be in line at your designated time. During spring, summer and holidays, you might have to wait for two hours before you can enter the line (so best to purchase online and arrive a few minutes before your line up time). It's also best to visit in the afternoon since most school tours happen in the morning.

Unfortunately, taking photos is not allowed inside the mansion. The house had been restored to how it would have looked in 1799, the year Washington died. But everywhere else, it is encouraged. Among the interesting items inside the house are the key to the Bastille given to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette, and the chair used by Washington during his presidency. Make sure to see the spectacular view of the Potomac River behind the house.

Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year. Depending on the season, it opens at 8 or 9 a.m. and closes at 4 or 5 p.m. Tickets cost US$17 for adults, US$8 for ages 6-12, US$16 for 62+ and free for children 5 and under.

How to get to Mount Vernon
Take the Metro Yellow Line to Huntington Station. Exit at Huntington Avenue and take Fairfax Connector Bus No. 101 (Fort Hunt Line) at Huntington Station. It's a 20-minute ride to the gate of Mount Vernon.

Driving directions to Mount Vernon are available in their website. You may also opt to join the Grayline Bus Tours from Washington, DC which includes other DC attractions.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

USA: Around Washington, D.C.

Since I'm in Washington, DC, I might as well write my long overdue post on America's capital city. Washington, DC, is a city with so much history, so many activities and things to see, do and eat, it would take several days to explore even just the highlights. On top of the list would be the memorials and iconic landmarks that the city is most known for.

You can opt to tour on your own. My family did that when we first visited in 1993. And we got to see many off the beaten track attractions including Ford's Theatre were Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the US Mint and a tour of the White House (which unfortunately is not available at this time). In fact, we arrived just in time for the famous DC cherry blossoms which I'm waiting for as we speak.

But there are convenient tours that take you to all the major sights. And I got to try one during my last visit two years ago courtesy of a family friend who worked at a local hotel. If you book with your hotel, the tour company can pick you up there which is very convenient and brings you to the Old Post Office Pavilion where the tour starts. Our first stop was at the US Capitol for a photo. From the Capitol, we walked through some of DC's landmark buildings such as the US Treasury Department and parks and squares on the way to the White House. Security was tight that day because of the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister.

Part of the tour was a cruise along the Potomac River where we got to see more of DC. It also serves as a lunch and snack stop since they sell sandwiches and drinks on board.

After the cruise, we visited the various memorials beginning with the National World War II Memorial. It was opened quite recently in 2004. The frontage actually offers a really nice view of the Washington Monument across the street.

The World War II Memorial is one of several memorials which honors the role of the Philippines in US history. It features 56 granite pillars each with the names of the 48 states and 8 territories of the US during the war. Major battles in the Philippines are also memorialized including Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf, Luzon and Manila.

While walking around, I got to see Senator Bob Dole chatting with veterans.

We then proceeded to the Jefferson Memorial built on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin. An elegant neoclassical building, it ranked fourth in the American Institute of Architect's list of America's Favorite Architecture. The White House ranked second and the Washington National Cathedral was third. Other DC buildings also in the list are the US Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington Monument, the US Supreme Court, Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art and Daniel Burnham's Union Station among many others (six of the top ten and 17 of the total 150) making Washington DC a truly iconic city.

Another relatively recent memorial is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. At the time I visited in 2011, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was being constructed nearby Roosevelt's and was opened a few months later. So that's one memorial I plan to visit during this trip.

We then visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial (the Philippines is also listed among the countries that sent troops during the war). We then proceeded to the famous Lincoln Memorial. And yes, expect the crowds!

Our next stop was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the main feature of which is a wall containing names of US service members who were killed in action (KIA) or missing in action (MIA) in the Vietnam War. Relatives and friends of those who died often visit the memorial to get name etchings as a memento.

We then visited Marine Corps War Memorial, more popularly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. It honors members of the US Marine Corps who died in defense of the US since 1775. This is why among the campaigns listed is the Philippine Insurrection (notice the corner). But I do hope they change that to Philippine-American War. The memorial is just outside the walls of the Arlington National Cemetery. And you can opt to proceed there after.

So many things to do in DC, and this is just one of them. Another thing you can do is explore the National Mall (no its not a shopping mall but a vast public open space) and the museums of the Smithsonian. But that's for another post.
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