Tuesday, October 31, 2006

To Salta


A night of a few wines, a few beers and a few more with an Aussie couple, a former Nuclear Reactor Engineer and an Israeli ex soldier had us a little worse for wear for our shared taxi ride (cheaper than bus) North to Salta.
The scenery was again beautiful through the desert. I love it, and you always feel purified after leaving the town and venturing into a place where people just don´t do well - the heat certainly puts paid to any feelings of superiority!

Quebrada de Cafayate


Outside of Cafayate and it´s wineries is desert, desert and more desert. Huge ravines and mountains are in view every way you turn. Cacti, brush and red sand cover the landscape with a backdrop of multicoluored cliff faces. A trek around several of the sites around Cafayate was found to be pretty much a sunday trot for a couple of kiwis used to the outdoors, so harder trials were in order.
Now most of you know that in my practice I work with a lot of cyclists and adventure racers...and in spite of that I probably hadn´t been on a bike for near on 20 years!..until Cafayate...
Uphill in the desert heat and overthinking the workings of gear ratios had me complaining like a little girl to Em, I think she was about to led me off a cliff but thankfully we reached our detsination - the mouth of a canyon, where we left our bikes cahined to a tree and strode off up the Rio Colorado in search of a 10m waterfalll and swimming hole.
2 hours of hard slog later, and thoroughly deserving a swim we reached the hole and plunged in, quickly realising that it was pretty fresh snow melt from the Andes...and bloody cold! So plunging and then re-heating were more the order of the day than swimming!
The downhill trek and downhill ride were much easier too, Em´s sanity was thankful of that and finally getting used to the bike we even had a few jumps on the way back. Over a few beers they´ll grown into 10m airs and I think I´ll just leave it at that...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cafayate



Cafayate is a completely different kettle of fish to Tucuma, with ´Mendozaesque´ boulevards and Plaza and the nicest town we have seen thus far. Cheap digs too make a change, especially when it includes a balcony, charming interior and plenty of space. Cafayate is practically engulfed by vineyards. No need for a wine tour, simply walk a few hundred metres and you can taste good malbecs and cab-savs. We really splashed out at a restaurant and bought an excellent Cab for about $15 but most are in the $1-$5 region!

As with anywhere riding a tourism boom there are scama and huxsters. We were arriucing late and so for the first time on tour, booked a room in advance, only to turn up and be told ´´Sorry we have no record of your booking......BUT our friends down the road would be happy to help you out....´´ Bullshit...I think they purposely overbook and when people show up they disavow all knowledge and ship the weary travellers off to their associates, all in the name of being helpful!
SO DO NOT STAY IN ´El Hospedaje´ (even though it is the most highly recommended in The Lonely Planet....yet another cross for that publication!) But as mentioned a blessing in disguise with our great little balconied nest!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On from Mendoza

I think if I had flown business class I would equate the trip on the bus from Mendoza to Tucuman with it...Em assures me it´s not but the extra leg room, seats that lie almost flat and airline style meal make the extra NZ$5 or so well worth it!
Tucuman was a kick in the head after the relative tranquility of Mendoza.
As in every town, the area around the bus is desperately impoverished and decrepit, leaving you slightly on edge as you walk into town, although in all honesty and in broad daylight it is probably no less dangerous than walking through the less well heeled suburbs of Auckland. The biggest annoyance could be the interest (male and female) generated by Em - blonde, tall by Sth American standards and of course stunningly beautiful (brownie points? Hopefully I can get off the couch tonight!)
The Sth American men in particular have made an art out of looking a woman up and down, up and down again and then giving a hard stare until it becomes biomechanically impossible or imprudent (because they would fall off their bike!)
Thankfully a disapproving glance from me tends to divert most of them, and again thankfully even little ol´me is much bigger on average than your Argentinian guys - particularly the indigenous Andeans in the North.
Tucuman itself is enigmatic, and not in a good way. She is a scratchy whore by day and a seductive lover at night.
Steaming, bustling, crowded and chaotic she transforms into a tranquil and quite beautiful place at night. A beautiful plaza with wonderfully lit colonial buildings, hundreds of young lovers in the park and great dining could almost convince you to stay...until awoken by the cacaphony of morning....
Our accomodation was highly recommended by the Lonely Planet and it became the nail in the coffin of our respect for that publication. I felt like the sweat of hundreds before was soaking through the threadbare mattress into my very dreams and it was a torrid nights sleep. Hotel Petit will not on our recommended list!
`El Portal´ howevere was a great place to eat and we finally managed to get away from the standard Argie fare of bread and pizza and try Andean fare - Humitas, Tamales (cheese, corn, meat raisins etc all cooked in a corn leaf) and ´locro´ (pork and bean stew in a loaf of crusty bread). Bueno...que rico!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Em´s thoughts on Mendoza!

Well Im sorry to have to tell you I do not yet have any exciting stories of trekking Inca Trails or wrestling anacondas in the Amazon but Im having just as good a time here in Mendoza, Argentina (A gorgeous city supposedly a 12 hour bus ride west of Buenos Aires, or if you take the cheaper option as we found out, 19 hours – wont make that mistake again!) living once again as a poor student.

Ahhhh those were the days huh? Well they are again for me and that means waking up around 10am in the hotel (which in Argentina are very cheap but very cool digs) breakfast of sweet patries and strong coffee, then meandering into the city centre for 2 hours of intensive Spanish taught by a very lovely Argentian called Carolina, alter which is siesta time in the nearby Plaza Independencia (a beautiful lively little park with plenty of people chilling and passing time) and then the evening is filled with daily tasks and study before a late dinner of anything meaty and cheap!
The meat here is as expected – in abundance – although you do have to be fairly precise on how you like it as if you dont order your steak/bife “rare” it is customery, and the local delicacy, to bring you out something of which you dont know whether you are to eat it or wear it.

So why the need for Spanish Lessons? No need really, just keen to learn the language and what better place. We were also humbled by a traveller we met and his ability to converse with the locals without having to play a very complicated game of Charades! While we may not become as proficient in Spanish to be able to actually blend in here, we will at least be able to know what it is in fact we are eating.
Now despite the obvious hair and eye colour differentiation, fitting in is not an option as I didnt pack the correct attire i.e. I brought my jeans that fit. Hindsight, I should have packed the jeans I wore when I was eight. Cliff so elequently describes the experience as a walking anatomy lesson and I can assure you that its not always a pleasant one. (so fellas, please retract your tongues) This dress code is fortunately not endorsed by the men…unless you happen to be a greasy, long haired (also greasy) tight-white-pant-wearing latin american dancing extraodinaire…we are still considering therapy from this visual nightmare.

So far the best part is the obsession here with ice-cream – a country after my own Heart. Puts Movenpick to shame and you can find as many ice-cream cafes along one street as wankers in Auckland Viaduct´s “Soul Bar” on a Thursday night, or any night really. Yep, they are a plentiful.

Thats it for the first two weeks in Sud America and can say its all good times! We will be posting pics soon.....!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mendoza


We have now found ourselves holed up in the heart of Argentinian wine country in a city of 1 million people - Mendoza. It is a place of wide shady boulevards and beautiful plazas and parks....we have even found our own outdoor gym with chin up bars, dip stations and other equipment. Em has been great at kicking my sorry butt out of bed in the morning to get out and have a train!
The trip from BA to Mendoza was stunning. Wide open plains and an unbroken skyline leave you in no doubt as to why the Argentinians have some of the best beef in the world. The scenery changes markedly as you swing North into the rain shadow of Ancongacua and the broad grasslands are replaced by sagebrush, scrub and dessert, eventually blending into olive fields and vineyards. The contrast is amazing.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Argentina - Buenos Aires



A hustling and bustling metropolis of 14 million people, BA like most cities it´s size is at first intimidating in it´s enormity and the menace seemingly inherent in the ramshackle buildings and swarming crowds. Stuck between Europe and South America, and between the first and third worlds, BA is at once threatening and welcoming, but in a short time you become more and more comfortable.

After long delays with our flight and a terrible first night in a hostel room we found slighly nicer but altogether more comfortable and most importantly private digs across the other side of the Avenida De Mayo in the prestigiously named `Gran Hotel Espana´. Think of a laid back ´Fawlty Towers´ with a Basil like owner for whom every request is both an enormous burden and no problem at all, an almost simple, diminutive offsider with an open face and a ready smile and a ´gordita´ (endearingly large!) cleaning lady with a fast tongue and even faster smile.
With a shower, double bed and not much else we were set to explore the ´Paris of the South´. You can be forgiven for thinking this name has been misappropriated by an overly zealous tour operator, with broken down buildings in crowded barrios more reminiscent of Sth Saigon than Paris. But take a stroll through the colonial center of the city of slightly crumbling marble buildings and monuments and head north to ritzy Recoletta (the one place in BA where white Gucci suits are Gucci....and stay white) with it´s cemetario of mausoleums to the great, the rich and the powerful, fine shopping and designer pooches and you will forgive the turn of phrase in a breath.

FOOD!
The stereotype of Sth American food as ´´beans and rice, beans and rice...´´ certainly doesn´t hold true for in Argentina. With agriculture firmly based around the dairy plains of the pampas, meat and cheese are the mainstays of the diet in Arg.
Breakfasts of ham, cheese and bread and croissant and the obiquitous ´cafe con leche´ (latte) and dinners of parrilla meats (grilled) along with a surprising amount of pasta and pizza, washed down with satisfactory lager and cheap wine and accompanied by loads of rolls and breads fill the ample bellies of BA´s profecionales!