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Simplifying travel and costs in the Galapagos Islands: a WoWasis travel review

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 18•14

Galapagos land iguana

Galapagos land iguana

Veteran WoWasis readers know that when we travel, we try to make life simple. Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands aren’t that simple to plan  because there are so many of them, and so many ways to see them as well. There are some 125 islands and rocks, and by our count, seventeen of them are visitable either via land tours or scuba. There are two major airports serving the mainland, in Isla Baltra (serving Isla Santa Cruz) and Isla San Cristobal.

What are my touring options?

Land tours: You can elect to take day tours originating in Isla San Cristobal or Isla Santa Cruz. Off-island tours are by boat, and typically return you to your home base at night.  Isla Santa Cruz, to the west of San Cristobal, is closer to most preferred land destinations. Plan on about $200 for a one-day land tour of an island, which typically includes lunch, boat passage both ways, and a guide. Another option is a two-day tour, which gives you a night in a hotel on the island (this option is popular for both Isabela and Floreana islands).

Sea tours: You may live aboard a boat and take a “grand tour” of several islands, depending on the package. Plan on spending at least $200 USD a day for a boat tour. There are several classes of boats, and there are also options for Last Minute tours if you’re trying to save some money.

Scuba tours: You can scuba dive either from land-based operations for day trips or make your dives from a live-aboard boat. Our favorite dive was Devil’s Crown, just off the island of Floreana, which we booked as a one day, two dive boat tour from Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz.

Sea or land? It’s up to you. Boat tours will be more expensive and you are obviously confined to a boat and accept the accommodations. You’ll also see more. Land tours give you the option of choosing your own itinerary.

Which islands should I prioritize?

Veteran Galapagos guides typically list four on the can’t-miss list. They are San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Seymour Norte. In our own experience, we’d add scuba and snorkeling in Isla Floreana to the list, too. Scuba was spectacular there. We wish we had known about this “hot list” when we planned our trip, but there’s nothing like getting there and getting information from the guides. So now we give it to you.

DreamAd-Wowasia_1-1I’m going to do my own itinerary, how do I start?

Let’s start with the premise that you’re going to visit the four island “hot list” of San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Isabela, and dive or snorkel Floreana. Start with San Cristobal. You can land there from mainland Ecuador and tour the island. When you’re done, boat over to Santa Cruz, west of San Cristobal. Eventually, you will fly back to the mainland from Isla Santa Cruz (technically, it’s Isla Baltra, over the channel). You can see Isla Santa Cruz in a day or so (don’t miss the Charles Darwin Research Station, our favorite spot on the island, located right in Puerto Ayora). Puerto Ayora, the main city of Isla Santa Cruz, is a nice town with good food and nice places to stay.

From Isla Santa Cruz, you can take a one-day trip to Isla Seymour Norte, where you’ll see magnificent bird life, including the well-known red-breasted male frigate birds. You can also go to Isabela Island (two hours each way) to snorkel Los Tuneles and climb the Sierra Negra volcano. We do not  recommend snorkeling in Tintoreras, which we and others have found to be often murky, probably ue to its location near the harbor. Pay the extra and go to Los Tuneles instead. You might find it advantageous to stay in the tiny port town of Puerto Villamil. We paid $230 for a tour of Isabela which included a round trip boat, snorkeling in Tintoreras (again, not recommended), and a guide-led climb to the Sierra Negro volcano.

Back in Santa Cruz, you can book a day tour for scuba or snorkeling in Isla Floreana.  We elected to dive two spots in Isla Floreana, Punta Cormorant and Islote Champion. Both were wonderful. We saw an unbelievable amount of sea life: hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, astoundingly colorful starfish, and scorpion fish, to name just a few. Sea lions put on a show for divers, frolicking in a chain of three, gently nuzzling scuba folks and engaging in an amazing array of aquatic agility. Plan on approximately $200 for a two-dive day, including lunch, dive equipment, a roundtrip boat ride.

How do I get to and from the airport in Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz?

Arriving, you will land at the airport on Isla Baltra. You must first take a free bus to the ferry landing, at one of two locations. If you’re traveling independently, ask for the bus going to “canal” (channel).  If you’re on an organized tour, you’ll ask to the bus to “el muelle” (pier). Your bus will unload at one of those two places. Ferry fare is $2, and you will land on Isla Santa Cruz, in front to a number of buses and taxis. Taxis to Puerta Ayora are $18. The bus is $2, and its final stop is at the Terminal Terrestre Indefatigable bus station, about one and a half kilometers from the port area of Puerto Ayora. Since many hotels are located near the port, you can ask the bus driver to stop near the dock (muelle), and he’ll drop you a block away. If instead you arrive at the bus station, taxi fare to anywhere in town is one dollar.

Departing from Puerto Ayora, Isla Santa Cruz,  is a little more tricky until you take an $18 taxi to the ferry station>bus>airport. The last $2 bus departing for the airport leaves at 8 am, daily. Depending on the day, there could be three or five buses, but the last one always leaves at 8 am. Miss it, and you’ll pay the $18 taxi fare.

A note regarding air fares in South America

If you’re going beyond Ecuador immediately after you’re heading back to the mainland (e.g. Peru or Colombia), it may be worth it to visit your local LAN airlines office, because your post-Quito or Guayaquil flight to your ultimate destination may not cost much more. For example, we were flying from Guayaquil to Isla Santa Cruz, then returning to Quito. Both Travelocity and LAN quoted around $500 for the round trip. Since we were going immediately to Bogota, Colombia, we asked about adding on to our fare. It was only $20 more (that’s right, twenty dollars).

So if you’re hopping around the continent, our suggestion here at WoWasis is if you happen to walk by an airline office before you book your next leg, it might be worth an inquiry, and the result could be less expensive than Travelocity, Orbitz, or any other internet-based discounter.

Planning on taking a “Last Minute” Galapagos cruise to save money? Here’s how.

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 17•14

IsabelaHarbor1cAre you planning on taking a “Last Minute” Galapagos cruise to save money? If so, here are some things you should know about finding and securing a Last Minute Cruise in the Galapagos Islands. Buying a Last Minute Cruise is a great way to save money on your Galapagos cruise. Unfortunately, many people think if they wait until the very last moment they are going to save hundreds of dollars on their Galapagos cruise. This is somewhat of a myth.

Can you save money by buying a Last Minute cruise?

The answer is YES, but you do need to have a plan of action of your own to be prepared to secure and make this purchase. Walking into a travel agency and wanting to leave the next day is more likely to be impossible and possibly more expensive. You may actually be buying a cruise that nobody else wanted due to a poor itinerary or the general conditions and accommodations of the ship. The Cheapest Price is not necessarily in your best interest. There is a reason why the price is cheap.  Let me explain:

1.      What is a Last Minute Cruise?
About 2 weeks or fewer before a ship begins it cruise, the Last Minute prices become available. In an effort to sell any spaces aboard the ship that may be available the ship’s owners will discount the price. These last minute prices are announced directly to the travel agencies in Ecuador.

2.      Does this mean you don’t have to plan out a cruise in advance?
DreamAd-WowasisBoatIslandPromoCode_1NO. Planning is essential! It would be very beneficial for you to have some planning of what you expect from your cruise, even if it is just a week away from when you want to go. Here are six things to consider:

a.       The reason you want to plan is because you will never know when it is going to be busy or slow in the Galapagos. Often in what is considered Low Season it very busy due to the large number of other bargain hunters traveling to the Galapagos during time of the year. Ships often become fully booked 1 or 2 weeks in advance during this time of the year.


b.      Consequently, waiting until the very last moment in hopes that prices will drop even lower is a very bad plan. While you are waiting and hoping for something that hasn’t happened and is not likely to occur, somebody else will see the same good deal and act on it. Then the spaces you wanted became sold to someone else.


c.       All cruise ships and itineraries are not the same. It is true that all the ships will be visiting only locations designated by Galapagos National Park and ships of all classes will be visiting these locations. Many of the destinations, however, are not the same in the quality of the experience, sights, and activities. Some itineraries will include several locations which you could visit on your own or are not the more highly desired locations to visit in the Galapagos Islands.


                                                              i.      The Galapagos Islands are 97% National Park. You certainly don’t want to spend your time visiting the other 3%. Another thing to consider is your ship. You will be spending a lot of your time on the ship. This means you need to think about how important space, accommodations, and services on the ship are to you. For example: the tourist level ships are small, older, and very basic. I would not recommend that someone planning a special event in the Galapagos, such as a honeymoon, buy a cruise at the tourist level.


d.      If you are looking for a cruise for more than 1 person this can sometimes more difficult. Often a ship will only have 1 space available. The closer it gets the departure date; the fewer and fewer opportunities are going to be available.


e.       Picking up scraps. The best cruise itineraries will not be available for long. The longer you wait in securing your cruise the fewer options will be available. All the best deals, best itineraries, and the best ships will be taken by other people first. These remaining choices may be the least desirable itineraries in the Galapagos.


f.       Be careful of wasting your time. It might be that you spend too much time and energy trying to find something that doesn’t exist or isn’t going to get cheaper. The worst scenario is you go to the islands without a purchased cruise and you end up spending all your time there running around looking for something. During the high seasons, this would be especially a bad idea. Most likely you will find out there are no cruises available that you can afford and now you are in the Galapagos with no cruise options. This can become a disaster if you have a small window of days in which you can stay in the Galapagos.


3.      Do buy your cruise from an Ecuadorian Travel agency. You will definitely get better prices from a travel agency in Ecuador than in your home country.  Any one of the following issues can affect how efficiently you are able to quickly purchase a last minute cruise.


a.       Usually when buying a cruise in Ecuador the only option is to buy in cash. This can create a whole new obstacle because you will need to pay for your cruise before it leaves and you may find yourself in a situation of not having enough time to get the money. This would be due to limitations on daily withdraw amounts and the number of days before the cruise begins. When wanting to save money and buy last minute it is easier to buy with cash. A starting point for cruises with flights is around $1200 for a four day cruise on a tourist level ship. This is a lot of cash to have on hand or to obtain in less than 24 hours.


b.      If it is the weekend and you want to leave the next day, it will be extremely difficult. Especially, if you do not have the cash on your person and you need flights. Many travel agencies are not going to be open on Saturday or Sunday. It is difficult to check on availability both on the ship and flight tickets. It will be to your advantage if you are flexible with your travel dates to the Galapagos.


c.       Here in Ecuador, some banks have larger maximum amounts which can be withdraw from the ATM. Also, depending on your bank at home and your daily withdrawal amount, you may be able to have several withdraws from the ATM in one day. Some banks in Ecuador will allow you to take a cash advance on credit card (not debit). It is always best to communicate with your bank about withdrawing larger than normal amounts of money here in Ecuador for purchasing a Galapagos cruise.


d.      Banks in Ecuador are not usually open on Saturday or Sundays. Only the ATMs will be available for getting money. So if you are showing up on Saturday or Sunday and hoping to leave the next day without a cruise organized with a travel agency, it is most likely not going to happen.


In conclusion

You need to think about how much time you have to spend in the Galapagos and plan accordingly. A good Travel Agency can save you hours of research on the internet and the headache of running around trying to save a dollar. You certainly do not want to fly to the islands hoping to find something great and ending up with a not-so-special Galapagos trip. The agent should be able to explain the differences between itineraries, ships, and included services. He or she should also ask what is right for you and your needs. I would advise speaking with someone provides tours on a number of different branded vessles, rather than same-company vessels exclusively.

Too often, people think they can just go to the Galapagos and speak directly with the captain of the ship and get a great deal. The reality is the captain or crew members do not have the authority to sell cruises and could lose their jobs for doing such a thing. Only the owners, management companies, or travel agencies can sell tours to you.

The Galapagos is a very special place. With this said, there are costs associated with going there; it cannot truly be done on a shoe-string. As stated before, the islands are 97% national park. What this means is that you cannot just go anywhere you like, and the places you can go on your own are limited. In order to preserve the Galapagos the national park and the government has implemented a system which controls the access to the islands in way that minimizes the human impact on these unique islands.  A cruise is the best way to truly appreciate the Galapagos Islands and going to places where nobody lives and the animal experiences are unbelievable. This is what you want from the Galapagos. You will not find these places and experiences just going out there on your own. Day tours only go to the most visited places and do not go to the majority of the locations a cruise will take you. I highly encourage you to seek out the Last Minute Deals to save money. But do it wisely, perhaps most importantly, be prepared to act immediately when you see the deal you want, and buy it before someone else does.

Enjoy the Galapagos!

- E. E. “Doc”: Boswell  (WoWasis correspondent Doc Boswell’s beat includes tourism in general and Ecuador in particular).

WoWasis visits Ecuador’s largest medical museum, in the city of Cuenca

Written By: admin - Jun• 12•14

FacadeMedMuseum1cVeteran WoWasis readers know we love medical museums (read our review of Bangkok’s grisly Siriraj Medical Museum). In South America, we stumbled on a terrific one in the colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador. After Quito and the Galapagos, Cuenca is the most visited spot in Ecuador, but if you’re looking to enjoy a medical museum in Cuenca, you won’t find it in your Lonely Planet Guide. It’s not listed.

That’s too bad, because after a couple of days of looking at cultural museums and old churches in Cuenca, you may want something different. You’ll find it here at the Cuenca Medical Museum. To visit, cross the Rio Tomebamba from the old town, over the Benigno Malo street bridge. Turn left (east) and look for the sign that says “Museo Historia De La Medicina Guillermo Aguilar M.” You’ll be entering a courtyard of the old San Vicente de Paulo Hospital, built in 1876. Covering two stories, the collection is a ramshackle display of medical devices dating from 1895 to about 1970. There’s even an early Atari 130 XE Computer.

A vintage Emerson iron lung

A vintage Emerson iron lung

The place is loaded with mystique. There’s an old, decaying iron lung (pulmundiacero) just sitting there outside a window, a birthing chair for expectant mothers that looks like an inquisition device, and an instant anesthesia device that’s a hybrid of two devices, among hundreds of the items displayed. You’ll even find a mummified 5 year-old girl who died of an intestinal ailment and what’s left of an 8 week old. It’s a wild way to spend a couple of hours. The museum was founded in 1982 and restoration on the old hospital was begun in 1984 to house the eventual collection. It was opened to the public in 1996. There are approximately 10,000 items in the collection and exhibitions change every two months.

A few of the hundreds of jars in the Cuenca Medical Museum apothecary

A few of the hundreds of jars in the Cuenca Medical Museum apothecary

Presiding over it all is Sra. Cecilia Castro, who takes your one dollar admission from a little office at the top of the stairs (by now you’ve already passed the iron lung) and is willing to tell you everything she knows about the history of the museum and its collection. In Spanish, of course. But she’s ingratiating in any language, and is delighted to greet visitors. Her favorites pieces are the wood-burning Ecogit autoclave from 1985 and the phenomenal Radiguet & Massiot wood and marble x-ray machine that dates from the same era. Señora Castro told us that Quito had a medical museum as well, but it’s smaller. And sure enough it does, the Museo Nacional de Medicina “Eduardo Estrella.” Judging by the map, it’s not in Quito’s tourist area, which would seem to make Cuenca’s museum more accessible to the western visitor.

You’ll spend more time here than you think. Just reading the instructions of how to operate the iron lung gave us shivers (they’re in English, on an affixed metal plate). It’s sobering, fascinating, and not to be missed.

Museo de Historia de la Medicina Guillermo Aguilar Maldonado
Corner of Avenida 12 de Abril and Avenida. Solano, just south of the river, near the Benigno Malo bridge
Cuenca, Ecuador
Open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.

WoWasis book review: 22 Fascinating Walks in Bangkok by Kenneth Barrett

Written By: herbrunbridge - May• 03•14

Barrett22WalksBangkok is one of the world’s most fascinating cities, particularly when you can get into her inner essence. It’s tough to do, though. The Skytrain floats above it, traffic is usually a mess, and then there’s the heat. We here at WoWasis have always found walking to be a pleasure in Bangkok, especially if you have a destination and have your eyes open along the way to see many of the fascinating buildings, people, shops, and temples that grace the city. That’s why Kenneth Barrett’s 22 Walks in Bangkok: Exploring the City’s Historic Back Lanes and Byways (2013, ISBN 978-0-8048-4343-0) is so necessary and welcome.

There’s plenty of history and culture in this 319 page book. The author, a journalist who’s written on travel, food, and industry, among a number of subjects, revels in the stories surrounding many of these places, providing fascinating details that will please old hands and newcomers alike. Who knew anything about Lek Nana, whose surname lords over the Sukhumvit Soi 4 intersection? And what was the story behind Nai Lert and the penis shrine on his property off Wireless road? Barrett doesn’t miss much, and takes the reader to arcane and interesting spots such as the Siriraj Hospital forensic museum, long a favorite place of ours.

This book will prove especially interesting to visitors staying along the Chao Phraya river in high-end hotels. If you’re one of these folks, you’re pretty removed from much of the action in the center of town, but you’re very close to most of the walks in this book, and you won’t need transportation to get to many of them. Travelers on a budget will love this book as well, as no money is required to see most of what’s in the book.

ThailandPromoBannerThe one fault we found with the book is that there are no blank note pages at the end. We started scribbling all sorts of notes on places we wanted to see, but soon found there was no place to put them all. Tuttle, the publisher, tends to keep its books in print for decades, and it is hoped that a subsequent edition will have those blank note pages. They’re needed.

This book ought to do well, as it will have appeal to every ambulatory visitor to Bangkok. It’s a big city to get one’s arms around, but there are fascinating elements around every corner. Barrett’s aim is to ensure that you don’t miss any. Just make sure you take a hat and a notebook so you can notate further things that interest you on these splendid treks through the city. Buy it here at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis book review: Juan Perón and the Enigmas of Argentina

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 29•14

PeronEnigmasThe ascendance, decline, and re-emergence of Juan Perón into the political life of Argentina remains one of the more compelling stories of twentieth century South American politics, and Robert D. Crassweller’s Perón and the Enigmas of Argentina (1987, ISBN 0-393-30543-0) tells it in remarkable detail. Part of the power of this book is that Crassweller is a natural story-teller and the book reads somewhat like a novel. It’s been said that for a biographer to succeed, he or she must, to a certain extent, fall in love with the subject, or failing that, has to at least try to live in the subject’s skin as much as possible. Only then can he or she make educated guesses as to why and how the subject reached decisions, the reasons of which might otherwise be buried in time. The author has done an admirable job of doing that.

Crassweller provides a small yet important history of the Argentina that preceded Perón, the strongmen, the gaucho culture, and the mestizo sensibility that partially explain the popularity of Juan Perón. We here at WoWasis found this 432 page book fascinating. Highlights include discussions of his relationships with union, military, and political leaders, his relationship with his wives Evita and Isabel, and his May-September romance with the teenage Nelly Rivas. His troubled relationship with the Press, political engagement with the Catholic church, and impeachment of the Supreme Court are described in detail and, we thought, with a good deal of objectivity. What results is that, at least twice in the turbulent history of his nation, Perón was the man of the hour. There are delicious anecdotes and quotes, including the report of a brilliant riposte made by Spanish poet Augustín de Foxa to an insult made by Perón, then in exile in the Dominican Republic. Perón, who never made a secret of his dislike for the United States while occasionally having to court it, told the poet “I realize that you don’t like the Americans, but I suppose you like their dollars,” to which de Foxa relied “Yes, true enough, but I also like ham, and that’s no reason for me to go and bring the pigs into my house to live.”

This is a wonderful biography by a terrific writer, a real page-turner for anyone wishing to get an insight into a remarkable individual that, for a few significant years, represented one of the great military and political powers of South America. Buy it here at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis art review: street murals in Buenos Aires

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 28•14

PiazzollaMural1dBuenos Aires is notable for its wall graffiti and subway art, but unless you’re in the San Telmo neighborhood or taking the subte, you may miss the best examples. Not so the street murals, which grace much of the city, in particular the Microcentro area in the heart of the city.

These murals are lovingly painted, and include iconographic Argentine figures. One of the most visible is the massive mural featuring Astor Piazzolla, the late king of the Nuevo Tango, whose mural takes up the entire first floor of a large building on the southeast corner of Avenida 9 Julio and Avenida de Mayo. Here, the concertinist is shown blissfully playing under a gas-lit street lamp, musical notes soaring over the traffic heading north on 9 de Julio, led by a school bus.

EvitaTower1cFurther south on 9 de Julio is a massive metal sculpture, figure of Evita Person with a microphone, twenty stories above the boulevard on a building’s north face.  Nine stories tall, it takes up the entire width of the building.

GhostDancers1cMurals are incorporated into storefronts, decorating rolling doors, or seemingly appearing out of nowhere, embellishing small spaces separating adjoining buildings. Commonly, their themes relate to drinking, dancing, and the tango. Their ubiquitous presence underscores Buenos Aires’ reputation as an art capital, and are constant delights to those seeking surprises where they may least expect to find them.BreoghanBar1c

WoWasis art review: Ceramic murals in Buenos Aires’ subte subway stations

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 26•14

9 de Julio station

9 de Julio station

Buenos Aires is notable for its street murals and wall graffiti art, but some of the finest ceramic art can be found in her subway, or subte (for subterráneo) stations. Begun in 1913, the system comprises 6 lines and 83 stations, and rides cost five pesos (62 cents USD).

While nearly all stations have art, two of the most compelling are the Diagonal Norte and General San Martin stations, both accessible from Line C (the Blue line).

Diagonal Norte

Diagonal Norte

Diagonal Norte features the landscapes of Spain, featuring azulejos and ceramic murals that detail scenes from Burgos, Madrid, Aranjuez, El Escorial, and Madrid on the South platform, and Avila, Toledo, Soria and Segovia on the North Platform. The drafts were made by Martín S. Noel and Manuel Escasany in 1934. The azulejos were designed by J. Ruis de Luna, from Talavera. From Diagonal Norte, you can also make a short underground walk to the 9 de Julio station featuring a mural, created by Alfredo Guido in 1936, depicting the industrialization of Buenos Aires.

SanMartinSubteDetail1cThe outstanding abstract mural in the San Martin station was designed by Felipe Noe in 2006.

The subte stations of Buenos Aires offer a feast for the eyes in terms of their murals, and art lovers will want to take a few extra moments to appreciate them prior to leaving the stations.

WoWasis book review: ‘Evita First Lady: A Biography of Eva Perón’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 20•14

EvitaFirstLady1aTwo iconographic Latina women have remained conversation topics in North America, decades after their deaths. Evita Perón is the one without the mustache. When you visit the Museo Evita, on Buenos Aires’ Calle Latinfur, you get several informative movie clips, an exhibition of her clothing and jewelry, a death mask, and as a finale, a trip you the gift shop where you can buy Evita wine bottles, key chains, and coasters. One film clips describes her foundation, which, among other things, distributed toys to poor children. As expected, there’s nothing negative about Eva Perón in the museum, so one suspects, upon seeing the mask of her desecrated face, that some important information about her life is missing. And in author John Barnes’ Evita First Lady: A Biography of Eva Perón (1978, ISBN 0-394-50289-2) an explanation surfaces. Evita had it in for the rich, whom, as a class, she neither liked nor trusted. And they took their revenge upon her death.

The story of her childhood in a hard-scrabble rural environment is well-known, as is her rise to a degree as social success as a radio and film actress, culminating with her meeting of Colonel Juan Perón and their subsequent relationship and marriage. As Barnes attests, she used her new-found power as the first lady to secure better pay for workers, women’s suffrage, and better living conditions for the poor, backed by the political authority of her husband. Her impatience for social change, fueled by her impoverished background and a sense of evolving her country from rural feudalism, was the driving force, accomplished by virtually any means possible. She was a bully, and never forgot a slight, seeking revenge upon just about anyone that crossed her. She and Perón censored newspapers and controlled radio stations that didn’t adhere to the party line, and disagreement on any level with the Peróns’ approach would guarantee the loss of a favored position or career. Barnes’ book describes what appeared to be a constant flow of disposed intellectuals, oligarchs, and military men from Argentina to new homes across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay.    

The Peróns’ rule had enigmatic facets. Juan Perón was an early supporter of the Nazis and admired Mussolini. Jews were openly threatened, and pro-Perón backers were documented looting Jewish-owned business and beating their owners. And yet, several years later, Evita’s Social Aid Foundation sent shipment of food and clothing to the young state of Israel. The story of the Foundation is a key part of this book.  Evita strong-armed individuals, companies, and union organizations to give to her charity. Books were never kept, and the book offers strong hints that Evita’s considerable wardrobe and jewelry collection were bought by the Foundation. And yet, in the eight pages devoted to it, remarkable things were accomplished, from expanded heath care, to schooling, to food programs. To a very great extent, the workings of the foundation contributed to what was increasingly becoming a strong and viable middle class.

What’s all the more remarkable is that she accomplished so much before her death at the young age of 33.

The book is not without criticism. Barnes sees the Perón era as being led by Evita, and characterizes Juan Perón as little more than a facilitator of his wife’s bidding, which we suspect is a simplification of the relationship and the regime. The author, a veteran journalist, arrived in Argentina in 1955, three years after Evita’s death and a year after Perón was overthrown. He eventually became Newsweek’s Latin-American correspondent and published this book several years after that. It covers the strange twist of the fate of her body, secretly buried in Italy, and later returned to Buenos Aires’ Recoleta cemetery, where today, thousands visit her remains in the Duarte family mausoleum. Her body arrived with a broken nose and a slash across her face, a fact unfortunately not mentioned in the book.

What ultimately fascinates us about this book is the woman herself, flawed, angry, impatient, and vengeful, who marshaled her forces, took the bully-pulpit, offended thousands, and managed to change the course of history in her country. Other books will offer a more comprehensive telling of the Perón era, his overthrow, and return. But this one, we feel, offers a real insight into the passions, human failings, and compelling actions of the woman herself. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis art review: Buenos Aires graffiti wall art

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 19•14

SprayCanLady1cBuenos Aires is notable for its street murals and subway art, and this artistic consciousness has spread to her graffiti-covered walls, especially in the streets of the San Telmo neighborhood, south of Avenida de Mayo. This ad hoc art is not always welcomed, but every blank wall is fodder for artists and amateurs alike. What’s apparent is that building owners don’t bother to remove it anymore. Some of it has morphed into larger murals, while other expressions have taken on additional features as others add on to the original art.

What’s true is that these scratchings have added color and design to the streets of this neighborhood, forcing passerby to re-consider the nature of art in an urban environment. Nothing is sacred, from walls to roll-up doors, to niches as mundane as streetside power meters.

Tanghetto1cWhat is also true is that the art is ephemeral and will be changed, covered over, or replaced, through planning or whim. Each day, though, offers new and exciting art adventures along streets such as La Defensa, where vistas evolve repeatedly through an ever-changing palette of paint and permanent markers on the urban structural canvas of the streets.


WoWasis toilet product review: the Bidematic, an Argentine toilet hose contraption that just doesn’t work

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 19•14

Mounting structure of Argentina's Bidematic

Mounting structure of Argentina’s Bidematic

The Thais, Japanese, and Koreans all have magnificent ways to keep clean after using the toilet. As reported here earlier at WoWasis, Thais typically use toilet hoses, while Japanese and Koreans use electric toilet seats that are essentially high tech bidets. Here at WoWasis, we love them, because we consider toilet paper to be Barbaric, a cut above the Sears catalogue, but not by much. 

In Argentina, we encountered a toilet hose gizmo that looks positively 19th century, one that really has the look and feel of an old dental device. As the picture indicates, the Bidematic’s swivel spigot is bolted onto the toilet through one of the holes that is used to fasten the toilet seat. A hose is attached to the water source. The “business end” of the device contains a water tap and a swiveling spigot that shoots water upward. The swivel allows the spigot to rest inside the edge of the bowl and then later turned into position once cleaning is needed.

The problem?  It just doesn’t work very well.  Furthermore, it’s not exactly hygienic. First of all, you have to manually aim the hose perfectly under your butt by using the lever. On our initial attempt, we screwed up and got water all over the floor. Once we re-aimed, we had to slither all over the toilet seat trying to get the spray just where we liked it, forward, backward, side to side. The Japanese devices operate in a fixed position when extended, and we’ve never had a bad aim with them. The Bidematic is a slave to water pressure, too, so the stream wasn’t effective enough to get a good washing. That’s not a problem with Thai hoses, as you can just direct the stream downward right over the crack of your butt, use the other hand too lather up and wash, more or less the way you’d do it in the shower. The simplicity if the Thai hose is its best quality, while the Argentine devise really requires some degree of operational sense, kind of like driving a caterpillar tractor through a field of mud.

That nozzle gets crusty. Who wants to clean it???

That nozzle gets crusty. Who wants to clean it???

The hygienic problem with the Bidematic is three- fold. If you forget to swivel the device back to its rest position, you will most certainly foul it on your next visit, and we don’t even want to think how we’d ever clean it… a toothbrush and bleach? Not fun. And don’t think this couldn’t happen. Plenty of us mosey over to the toilet at night and don’t bother to turn on the light. Another hygienic issue is that poop sometimes causes splatter, and when it does, you’ve got fecal matter all over your water jets.  Finally, in the toilet in our hotel, flushing caused the waterline to rise above the Bidematic’s spigot. There’s got to be a clan of e coli bacteria living in those jet holes. And not our e coli either.

Bidematic has a website, which lists years of the company’s operation from 1998-2012. We’re not sure they’re in business anymore (we sent an email, with no response), but you find these devices all over the country. We’ll say this, though: we’re sticking with Thai hoses and Japanese toilets in our own homes, and will forget the swivel and tap device we found (and disliked) in Argentina.