Stars and soccer balls (Buenos Aires, AR)

Most of our time in BA we’ve been walking around, exploring the neighborhoods and eating.  Sounds like my typical city visits.  We visited the Recoleta Cemetery, where all the rich and famous (including Evita) are buried in elaborate tombs…it’s a park unto itself.  We saw the artesan street fair in Recoleta and the antiques market in San Telmo (lots of silverware and art).  We visited the Observatory in Palermo and for just over $1, we got to see a show about comets and constellations, which was fun.  I didn’t get the whole show, as I was exhausted and my ability to understand lectures in Spanish decreases when I am tired…but it was still fun.  We walked by the phallyc Obelisk that everyone is proud of and saw the Pink House where Evita gave her speeches.  We wandered upon a major street fair where everyone was spraying soap foam at each other and there was a live band (mostly drums and whistles)…we still don’t know why the celebration was happening, it was a Saturday during Lent, so who knows.

We had an opportunity to see a local soccer game.  River Plate vs. Americana (Mexico).  It was a fun game, mostly men singing songs the whole time and the boo-ing here is loud whistles.  River won within the last few minutes of the game, followed by much cheering and hugging and kissing among the men, which we haven’t witnessed in other countries.  Just a 1 cheek kiss, but it’s sweet.

I finall tasted the Yerba Mate here and I’m sorry to say that it tastes like a dirty ashtray.  I like green tea and bitter herbs, but this stuff I won’t seek out again.  Perhaps because about 9 of 10 people in this city smoke nonstop, they enjoy the taste of an ashtray or have no palate left, I dunno.  It’s definitely an acquired taste.

Muy Bueno, Buenos Aires

We are loving this city. We don’t feel like such outsiders and are not stared at constantly by children. There is so much culture and so much to do, we’re spending more time here than we planned on and that’s fine with me. Our first night we stayed at Hostel Cambalache in the Microcenter and I think we were the only non-Israelis staying there. The signs were in Hebrew and people spoke to us in Hebrew. Are we in Argentina? I guess there’s an Israeli circuit that most of the kids out of the army do, and this city is on the list. We only stayed one night there because in our dorm, Matt and I were the only ones to go to bed before 5am. We ended up finding a place that was practically our own apartment in San Telmo for only a few dollars more a night.

The city has a subway system that is good, but not air conditioned and it’s sweltering at times. It’s a little humid here, but it’s basically the end of the summer and really sunny and beautiful. There’s plenty of parks and trees and shade (and movie theaters with a/c when we need a break). We went and saw a tango show that included live music (guitar and bandoneon) tango, folkloric dancing/gaucho (which was really cool and was sort of eastern European feeling, dancing in a circle with arms wide open and boot stomping. The focus on the guy/girl dance was the guy, which was unique. At one point he had heavy leather balls on strings and slapped them on the ground, while stomping his feet to keep a beat with the music).

We also saw an aerial cirque show called Nocturna, which was wonderful and made me miss doing circus and being in the air. They had a flying trapeze, a swinging trapeze, a triple trap, silks, hoop, aerial doubles and acrobatics. They were all so strong and gutsy and did moves that made me dizzy. The hoop routine included every painful and scary move that I’ve unsucessfully attempted. My favorite was the guy/girl doubles routine done on the platform of the flying trapeze. It was kind of like a double trapeze, except the guy was in a fixed position and upside down the whole time. How he didn’t pass out, I don’t know. But he did really really great catches with the girl and the pace was quick and beautiful.

We’ve been eating well, too. Mostly Italian food (homemade raviolis, cannellonis, gnocchi, pizza) but we did find a raw foods restaurant that made my belly SO happy. I had a wheatgrass blueberry orange drink and a greens salad with seaweed, sprouts and veggies. The guy trained in NYC with Jubb and the food was beautiful and I left feeling satisfied (not just carbed-out, like most of our meals in South America). Learning more about raw cuisine is definitely on my list for when we return.

Maipú, land of wine!

Yesterday we decided to hop on a bus and head to Maipú, about 30 minutes from Mendoza to do some wine hopping. We woke up later than we thought (apparently Argentina is an hour ahead of Chile, a fact we didn’t know for a few days), but ended up at Bikes and Wines, a bicycle rental outfit where we got a discount for joining South American Explorers. So far we have saved $10 with them, although most of the hostels don’t know what we’re talking about and have to ask their boss.

Anyways, we rented the bikes for a half a day and started down the road. The main wine area is south of town and the bus dropped us off right in front of the place (convenient!). There’s a 40km circuit but I think we did the 12 km circuit instead. The town itself was a bit of a letdown (dusty bumpy roads, not much of a bike lane, the usual litter) but part of the road was tree-lined and shady with less traffic. I’m surprised the town hasn’t thought to install a bike lane or a path through the vineyards to make it more tranquil…perhaps one day.

The first winery was La Rural, where we had a free taste of their Malbec and neither of us liked it. We opted not to do the tour and biked to the next stop, Historia y Sabores, which was really neat. We had a free tour and saw all the different kinds of liquors and wines and chocolates they make. It’s a cool concept, perhaps I’ll steal it. We also got a free shot and free piece of chocolate (the chocolate was good, but it wasn’t a dark choclate, mine was coffee and Matt’s was mint). Matt chose the chocolate banana liquor, which was delicious and tasted like a thick chocolate syrup with banana, but boozy. As usual, I chose the weirdest thing: Green Pepper liquor, which was about 30% alcohol (the chocolates are about 20%) and it was spicy! It was fun and I drank it all down with watery eyes. They make absinthe and have a really long list of fruit and chocolate drinks I can’t even remember.

Our next stop was the Almacén del Sur for lunch. Our map had it labeled as a Deli but it was anything but that. Fancy locked gate, orchards and gardens and a set menu (5 courses for $100AR). They offered us the special cyclist deal for $35AR (about $12 US) which was a soda, some bread, a pretty rolled pasta and spinach dish, and dessert (flan). A large tourist group of old white people showed up while we were eating and we were promptly forgotten by our waiter, but eventually we got our check and were able to hop back on our bikes. They have a nice concept using seasonal, local produce and giving you a “tour” of the food, except they do not treat all their guests the same. We were told we couldn’t have a tour because the large group arrived and no one could tend to us. Oh, well, there’s more wine to taste!

Next stop: Viña al Cerno. We showed up and planned to do a tour and a tasting but our guide didn’t show up for the tour and the other couple that was waiting with us left. We were tired of waiting as well so we went and just paid for the tasting. We tried their 2002 (Matt’s favorite) and 2005 Malbec, a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Tempranillo (my favorite). Our tour guide found us in the bar eventually and asked about the tour and we explained we didn’t want to wait all day to take a walk…he didn’t seem to get it. Impatience and expected efficiency is definitely a Western standard and we are still in South America. But no worries, we had fun tasting the wine (and they were large pours).

Next stop: Familia di Tomasso. I’d like to believe that these people are related to FE’s family. A family run operation, all small batch, small vineyards. They put a lot of love and time and care into their winery and it shows. The granddaughter gave us the tour and her English was great. The winery was cool, too. The big vats were made of brick (brought over from France) and the building itself was really old (1800′s). We had 4 tastes (Malbec 2002, 2004, Cab. Sauv 2004, Dessert Wine). I liked the older Malbec the best. The dessert wine was really caramelly and sweet, but not bad. It’s won a bunch of awards and the place felt really homey. It was nice to visit a family place after seeing the commercialized Concha y Toro in Chile.

By now, perhaps you have noticed we were late for returning the bikes. We hoped they would be understanding and let us pay for a full day when we finally returned. We were having too much fun…and with all the waiting time visiting one winery could be over an hour, easy. We finished up at Laur, an olive oil farm/factory/? We joined up with a tour group and had a quick tour of the orchards, the press room and some samples. It didn’t taste like the thick, strong olive oil I remember in Spain, but it’s nice to see some olive oil around (it was hard to come by in Peru). After that tour, we hopped on our bikes and hustled it back to the bike rental place before they closed (we just made it). Parts of the ride were really pretty and scenic and we both had sore butts from the crappy bike seats at the end of the day, but veins full of local, yummy wine.

Mendoza, Argentina: Happy trees

Upon entering Mendoza at dawn, Matt and I were in shock. This town is truly beautiful. The streets are wide and tree-lined, the parks are filled with benches and trees and lots of shade (which is good because it’s hot and a little muggy). We ate (beans! finally) falafel and mexican food and found an all you can eat vegetarian buffet that rocked (Green Apple). I definitely ate my $6′s worth.

One of the reasons this town is so pretty is because it was destroyed by a major earthquake in 1861 and the authorities decided to plan AHEAD for the next earthquake. Hence wide streets and big, beautiful plazas. Something else I thought was pretty neat was the irrigation system. All the water is directed into ditches that run between the sidewalks and the streets and it looks like a river, chugging along and watering all the leafy big sycamores.

We visited Parque General San Martín and saw even more of the irrigation canals, with each intersection having a gate to control the water flow. We didn’t see any sprinklers at all, just controlled watering of areas with this green carbon-free ancient irrigation system. The park was beautiful, too. It’s 420 acres of paths, trees, benches, a reservoir, observatory, playgrounds and a hill to climb to with a viewpoint. We definitely overused the stamina of our feet that day.

The town has a lot of Italian food and outdoor stores and we’ve just enjoyed walking around (in the shade) this fine town. It’s a nice change after all that coastal desert to find a city with urban planning that we appreciate. Oh, and it’s in the middle of olive oil and wine country, too.

Entering Argentina: Cha-cha-cha-changes

We took a night bus from Valparaíso, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina with Tur Bus. We slept pretty well except the middle of the night border crossing that lasted forever! Since it was dark we missed the mountain pass and are still looking for Aconcagua in the distance to no avail. It’s amazing how just crossing a border you notice lots of changes, such as:

  • Everyone seems to own a gourd and is drinking Yerba Mate with a metal bombilla at all hours.
  • Stuff’s a little cheaper than Chile, but still more than Peru
  • The people give detailed accurate directions that are correct
  • The Chilean hot dog obsession is non-existent, it’s more about the steak here
  • Lots of Italian food, not so much Chinese food, rice or potatoes (like in Peru). In the supermarket there was a whole refrigerated section devoted to raviolis, gnocchis and tortellinis.
  • Most restaurants don’t open until 8 or 9pm (hard on my tummy!)
  • Much fewer PDA’s than Chile. I swear, on almost every public park bench in Chile people of all ages were sucking face like they would never see each other again. This was observed in every town we visited in Chile. I don’t get it.
  • A lot of guys in Argentina are tall, fit and have long curly hair. Chile and Peru were filled with guys ranging from short to average height with a short haircut…and curly hair was quite rare.
  • Not as much fresh juice like in Peru, where every fruit was turned into juice.  It was rare in Chile, but we’re finding a few places in Buenos Aires (kiwi juice, anyone?)

Keep in mind they are overexaggerated generalizations after a few days in each country.