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  Getting to South America
Written by: Coen

With this travel diary we continue our travels. I will start with an excuse for letting you wait that long for this continuation.
In May we decided fairly abruptly to drive straight home, because Dorrits grandmother turned 95, my sister was getting married and because a lot of formal papers lost their validity. Also, the planned 2 ½ years had passed.
The months July and August we alternately spent in Holland and Germany with family and friends. It was good to be at home again, to be spoilt by and catch up with most of our family and friends. At the same time we had a lot of paperwork to do for the continuation of our trip to the American continent, starting with South America.
At the time of writing we are in Uruguay, have already spent some time in Argentina and just came back from Brazil.
I will describe you what happened in between.

As mentioned earlier we decided not to travel to Southeast Asia and China from Nepal but instead to embark on another journey. From the many possible destinations we eventually chose the American continent. Because we wanted to travel by camper van we had to find a possibility to ship our car to South America. This turned out to be possible with Grimaldi lines, an Italian freighter company that takes passengers. I was to join the car on the ship and Dorrit would fly with the dogs because dogs are not allowed on the ship.

The MS Grande Francia On September 12th 2004 I drove to the harbor of Antwerp with Marcel, a Dutch guy who had put an advertisement on the internet that he was looking for somebody to share a cabin with. Sharing a cabin lowers the price by no less than EUR 400 per person.
Our cars seemed little spots compared to the huge ship "Grande Francia" in front of which they were parked. Together we checked out the ship and our communal cabin where we would spent the following 5 weeks together. I was waved goodbye by my family, Dorrit's family and of course Dorrit with whom I had spend nearly every minute of the last three years. Now we would be separated for 5 weeks.

The first night, Marcel and I celebrated with a bottle of champagne Roos and Roel gave us. We also found some wine in the fridge and drove the first officer mad because playing table soccer at half past two in the night really made too much noise.
The first days passed by quickly. The food was a highlight and broke the day. At 8 in the morning breakfast, at noon a fantastic 4 course supper (Italian cook, hurray!) and in the evening another fantastic meal with meat and fish. Once a week there was a bbq on deck for the whole crew.
The first harbour was Le Havre, the second Bilbao in Spain. Here we were allowed to go on shore. In the harbours it was interesting to see what a huge company such a ship actually is. Loading and disembarking containers, cars, etc.
Bbq on deck The evenings passed with reading, watching dvd's and drinking "snuitjes".
During the day we sat outside on deck chairs, drank coffee, chatted, read and played guitar or just watched things like huge schools of dolphins that swam up with the ship. For three days the ship had to wait outside the harbour of Casablanca before we could finally enter and Marcel and I went ashore. After having a Moroccan mint tea we strolled down the bazaar and enjoyed a little bit of Morocco. At night several persons tried to enter the ship illegally. The police tried to avoid this by hitting them with big sticks.
These poor people probably thought we were going to Europe. Unfortunately for them, the next harbour was Dakar in Senegal.
It took us a long time to leave the port... Here too we were allowed to go ashore for a few hours and it was interesting to get a little taste of West Africa. This applied for the next harbour, Banjul in Gambia as well. The people here are pretty, tall and graceful. Women with coloured dresses and wrapped headwear filled the streets that in their liveliness reminded me a bit of India.
Here I would love to come back some time… colorful boat

From Banjul we crossed the ocean in seven days. Time flew with of course eating, listening to music, take some exercise in the fitness room and learning Spanish. Before going to sleep I always went to the bridge to check speed, position and planned destination in the next harbour. Passing the equator we celebrated with some good whisky. Two days later we finally saw land again: Brazil.

Looking at the coastline with its white sandy beaches, the harbour, behind it the deep green jungle and in the background grey-blue hills was so impressive that it made me shiver. This image was brought to perfection by the tens of whales we saw in front of the Brazilian shore.
In Vitoria we went on shore to go to the centre of the city. After sending some emails we walked to the beach and had a beer under the palm trees and a clear starry night. It was 25°C.. South America here we come!
Tudo bem! The following night we arrived at Rio the Janeiro and the day after we went ashore in Santos. With Marcel's Brazilian friend Werner and his girlfriend Chris we spent a wonderful day.
The last mile is the longest but after 34 days we finally saw the sky scrapers of Buenos Aires. Unfortunately the water level of the Rio de la Plata was too low so we had to wait another 1 ½ very long days before we could enter the harbour.
But then finally, there was the reunion with Dorrit and the dogs who were already waiting for me at the quay. None of us had changed a bit, had we?



..in the mean time...

Written by: Dorrit

Since Coen's ship was two weeks late and I could not reschedule my flight without having to pay another time, I had to book a hotel in Buenos Aires for those two weeks. The Garden House in San Telmo (one of the most colourful parts of Buenos Aires) accepted the dogs, so it was there that I booked a room.
From other travellers we had heard that European airlines charge EUR 1000 or more per dog for intercontinental flights and made a lot of trouble otherwise too. American companies though, have a lot more experience with that sort of thing and United Airlines took the dogs from Amsterdam via Washington to Buenos Aires without fuss, and for a mere EUR 180 each (and me for EUR 780).

The family came to a rainy Schiphol to say goodbye and off I went. As the weather improved, I had some fine views from up above. Greenland especially was extremely beautiful; the coastline consisting of dark brown mountains partly covered in snow, behind it vast snowy fields. Ice rocks were floating in front of the coast and there were birds everywhere. I also got a good view of Canada before the clouds came in again: endless dark green forests, marine rivers and lakes and every now and then a bit of bright orange deciduous forest. After all, it was autumn.

It was quite stressful at Washington airport, since I was not allowed to take the dogs out of their boxes at first. They had been in these boxes for 13 hours on end by then though, without food, drink or being able to take a pee. Also, they had another 13 hours before them. I explained this to the custom officer and he saw the point. I was allowed out onto the only square metre of grass they have and walked there with the dogs, up and down, up and down.
During the flight to Buenos Aires I enjoyed a spectacular sunrise above the clouds (that seemed to be on fire) and a great view of the highest peaks of the Andes, that stuck their heads out above the thick layer of clouds.
My first impression of Buenos Aires was that it looked like a mixture of Athens and Bucurest; a little bit past its glory days, beautiful 19th century buildings that need some maintainance and a never ending flow of traffic through the narrow side streets of the city. Especially the bus drivers all seem to think they are Michael Shumacher.
The hostel was clean and had a nice atmosphere, nice guests and friendly staff. Every Saturday night there is a BBQ with a lot of Argentine beef and wine that is attended by everyone and lasts all night:o)
Most of my time is spent walking around the city with the dogs and seeing every sight that is worth seeing. I made the mistake of walking to La Boca, which is portrayed as "one of the most colourful neighbourhoods in town" in the travel guide. On the photo's you see well kept little houses painted in bright colours, people dancing tango in the streets, restaurants and stalls selling the usual tourist stuff. This proves to be true for only two of the many streets of La Boca. All the rest are slums. Houses are very run down, some no more than a front with iron huts behind it. Meagre, decrepit women are hanging ragged blankets and dito clothes out to dry on rusty balconies. Drunks are staggering around the streets, among garbage and scabby stray dogs. This is not at all what I had expected from Buenos Aires or Argentina!
An entirely different thing is the Sunday market at Plaza Dorrega and La Defensa, where antiques are sold and people are dancing tango in the streets. I walked on to the congress building and tried to read the slogans painted on the monument in front of it. Most of them are against the military regime of Jorge Videla and the "disappearing" of loads of people. Even now, people demonstrate in the city on an almost daily basis. I saw a group of pensioned people (!) that was spraying slogans in bright red paint on the walls of a bank building and was shouting things. Police were standing by and watching, the people in the street did not even stop to look. As the old people moved on to the next bank, this bank reopened as if nothing had happened and staff started cleaning the slogans from the walls. I asked someone what the demo had been about and was told that the pensions had just been cut to half.

Noemi I spent a lot of time with Noemi, a friend of Marcel's from Brazil who married an Argentine (Sergio) and now lives here. We had a great time together and walked many miles through town. I also enjoyed the BBQ at Sergio's family. It was interesting to see the video that was made of his niece's 15th birthday. Here in South-America this is being celebrated like a wedding, complete with wedding dress, galadinner and party for at least 100 guests. It is an old tradition, in the past a girl "came out in society" when she turned 15 and had to be presented to the elegible men as attractive as possible of course.
With Corine and Anne-Jeroen from Amsterdam I went out regularly in San Telmo for dinner and drinks and thus the two weeks went by quicker than I had expected. After having had to wait a full day in the harbour, we were glad to see Coen again.

Let the journey begin!


  Links to shipping companies:  Language 
  Grimaldi UK - Main Page
  Wm H. Müller & Co.

Taking your car as handluggage at Grimaldi's will cost you:
  • EUR 1200 (p.p.)
  • EUR 1100 (car)

    You can book at:
  • Hamburg Sued
  • Hamish Jamieson
        (New Zealand)

    Jamieson Marketing Ltd, Napier, NZ is EUR 400 cheaper than Hamburg Sued.

  • FLY

    United Airlines charges EUR 180 for medium to large dogs.

    Lufthansa, KLM and Swiss Air charge overcharge, which can add up to EUR 1000 per dog, as box weight is included.


    A good hostel in BA:

    Garden House Hostel
    Av. San Juan 1271
    San Telmo
    Buenos Aires