Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Week 3: Buenos Aires & Mendoza

Buenos Aires and Mendoza absolutely lived up to its hype. Both places were so different and full of life that it was contagious. We arrived in Buenos Aires on a Sunday morning and checked into our hostel, America del Sur, which was more like a hotel, due to its size and set-up  Since our room was still being cleaned we stored our bags and got to to know our new surroundings of "San Telmo" at the Sunday street fair. It was packed with tourist and locals shopping for leather, eating empanadas while watching the sleek dressed dancers engage in the art of Tango. Since we had been traveling all night we were of course starving and quickly found and ate the famous and emphatically recommended "Choripan" which is a large slab of chorizo on baguette bread covered in "picadillo criollo" (chopped tomatoes, onions and other herbs) with a substantial glass of wine that was larger and cheaper than a coke. It's not too far off what they say that wine runs in the streets like water in Argentina. After hours of walking up and down the street, taking in the music, and making a mental note of all the unique items we want to decorate our imaginary house with, we retired for a nap to get ready for our first Argentinean meal, in other words a very late meal consisting of meat. That night we had such big and juicy steaks that someone walking by our table exclaimed "holy sh*t look at that steak." True story.

"Mate, the national beverage obsession, with traditional gourds sold on the street" . 

Choripan sandwich in all its glory.

Note the generous pour.
Tango performed on the street.

The next four days we walked to all parts of Buenos Aires. We went to Palmero to see the Japanesse gardens, the Rosada Garden and Parque 3 de Febrero, which were absolutely gorgeously manicured. The rose garden was intoxicating with all the sweet smells. There were so many different types and colors of roses that Nate literally had a love affair smelling rose after rose.

Japanese Garden in Buenos Aires.

Stroll through the rose garden.

We went to Congresso to see all the beautiful architecture, Plaza de Mayo to see "La Casa Rosada" which is the president's office and the balcony where Evita gave her famous last speech. Then we headed to Recoleta to see Evita's grave and eat some amazing food.

Casa Rosada, where Evita gave her final speech.

Evita´s resting place.

We were extremely lucky to get to meet up with our two Peace Corps friends from Guyana, Harmony and Travis, who are currently studying Spanish in Buenos Aires. We met at El Federal Cafe to eat the popular "picada," which consists of breads, cold cuts, cheese, olives and pickled vegetables.

 Reunited with Harmony and Travis at El Federal.

Our friend Becca, who lived in Buenos Aires for 6 months wrote us a wonderful guide of where to eat and see while in Buenos Aires, and now we have named her "impeccable Becca" because every recommendation was just phenomenal- from places to eat (La Fabrica del Taco, where a food show from Belgium was shooting their pilot as we ate), bars to visit (La Gibraltar), and places to see...what an awesome 5 days. Thank you Becca!

La Fabrica del Taco, home of the best tacos we´ve ever had and the Michelada, the Mexican Bloody Mary (beer, lime juice, salt, and salsa).
Despite how cheap Argentina has been for us as a result of the favorable exchange rate for USD in the black market, Argentina seems to be having some difficulty. Their current president has stopped all imports and foreign currency from entering the country, though the only way possible to buy a house or car is to pay in USD. Try and figure that out. While we were there we saw a considerable amount of protests about the current judicial laws, which are trying to be reformed in favor of the president. Buenos Aires was not as clean and polished as we expected, lots of closed businesses, graffiti and abandoned cars and plots. In the more commercial areas it was more what we pictured when thinking Buenos Aires, but you could tell it was more touristy. We were told that the location of our hostel was in the blue collar district, more of the bohemian district. It was great to see the contrast and get a real feel of Buenos Aires. It was much more eclectic and laid back than we expected, and for that reason alone, we loved it.

Street art in San Telmo.

Next we moved onto Mendoza and quickly fell head over heels with the outdoor/wine mecca of Argentina. What a breathtaking and adventurous place! A quick side-note, though. Like Buenos Aires, Mendoza also seemed to be having difficulties especially with their youth, too many that were out of school panhandling the streets. The contrast of the richest people among very poor people, really made the seemingly concerning social issues of unemployment and education stand out. Again very unexpected, however despite these unfortunate issues, Mendoza so far has been our favorite place.

We arrived to our hostel after a 17-hr bus ride just as a bike/wine tour was getting ready to leave. They happened to have a few spots and asked if we would be interested in joining last minute. We dropped our bags, washed our face and hit the road with a few other couples, one couple in particular that would become our Mendoza traveling friends. Our tour was called "Martin's Bike Tour" and though it was a bit more expensive than most wine tours it was worth every last penny. We visited three wineries, one large winery called "Bodega y Cavas Winert" that is one of two wineries that uses casks; a smaller production that does everything manually "Clos de Charcas" where we had a gourmet meal, Nate had a perfectly cooked rib eye and I had the salmon ravioli and three smooth glasses of wine and dessert...mmmm so good. Next we went to one of the most famous wine makers in Argentina, Carmelo Patti, who's operation is just he and his two daughters in a small garage that won best Cabernet Sauvignon in all of Argentina. (Goes to show) He was so charismatic, it felt like we were spending time with an uncle. Following the day of wine, we finished our tour at the the factory "Absinthe" where (you guessed it) we tried a shot of absinthe and washed it down with all sorts of marmalade spreads, sweet olives, and chocolates. The day was beautifully brisk with changing leaves falling around us, great company and wonderful wine. Truly a picture-perfect day.

Nate holding sweet malbec grapes.

Weinert 1977 bottles. 

Primary fermentation process involves empting and mixing the contents of the huge concrete tanks.

At our gourmet lunch (tour guide Martin in the background)

Trying Absinthe (before)

Trying Absinthe (after)

The next day in Mendoza we went paragliding over the Andes. However, since the night before we continued our wine tour with multiple bottles of wines from the wineries together with our new friends, Bregje and Guus from Holland, we slept in and nursed our mini hangovers (mini- because when its that good of wine there is barely a hangover.) We leisurely went to lunch, enjoyed the beautiful weather and got psyched up to run off a mountain.

I was a bit nervous once we got there and thought for sure we would need to sign some sort of waiver but in good'ol South American fashion we got there, paid our money, got in a vintage land rover, and starting heading to the peak of the mountain. Bregje and Guus went first while I stewed over my decision to voluntarily run off a mountain and Nate could barely think straight he was so pumped. Our turn was up and as quickly as they explained what we were about to do, we were strapped in and in the air. It was so fast, I barely had time to grasp what just happened before we were so high you could see everything below and around you, the snow-capped Andes, the city of Mendoza, the tiny people-like figures and other fellow paragliders. A serene feeling washed over me as we were being enveloped by the wind and I felt closer to nature and lighter than I ever thought possible. A truly indescribable feeling. Nate got to do some acrobatics and feel some g-force action, while I got some baby roller coaster action. It was so awesome, we wish it could be a daily tradition.

Preparing to paraglide.

Quick instructions: "When I say, just run off the mountain"

Nate´s canopy in orange and blue, mine in black and gold above. We switched college colors!

Me flying over the Andes.

Our landing pad.

Back on solid ground. 
The next day we took it easy and did what Mendoza folks do, sleep in, take a stroll and have a picnic at Parque Independencia with our friends, eat olives, cheese, bread, salami, chocolate, wine and beer and become supremely relaxed. To follow our supremely relaxing day we opted for yet another brilliantly relaxing day at the natural thermal baths of Cachuete. The view was just magnificent with the Andes in the backdrop, a brisk chill in the air, not a cloud in the sky and warm water bubbling around us. 

Bregje and Guus

View of the thermal baths.

Me in the outside cooler baths.

Nate melting in the hotter inside baths (left corner)

That night we decided since we had been tenderized like meat we should eat a slab of meat at our hostel's "asado" which is what Argentineans call their bbq. We shared this meal with another American staying at the hostel named, Ty, who come to find out had been traveling through Patagonia with two Peace Corps volunteers from our group, Kristin and Lauren. When we started talking we made the connection and to make a small-world story smaller, Kristin and Lauren were arriving at our hostel the next day to meet up with Ty. So crazy! So the next morning Nate walks out of our room to find Kristin and Lauren eating breakfast. They could barely believe their eyes that all Lauren could say was "WHAT!" Really amazing that in a one week span we saw four of our fellow volunteers, three of which lived in our Region, traveling through Argentina. A real nice treat to see such familiar faces especially so unexpectedly.

Kristin and Lauren at Hostel Mora!
Till next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment