Holy Land For Steak Lovers... Argentina


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December 10th 2011
Published: December 10th 2011
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Argentina


An important part of traveling for most people is food. In case you don’t know me, that is the part of traveling I hate most. I HATE trying new foods! I would be perfectly happy eating McDonalds once a day for my entire trip. That is till I came to Argentina. Argentina is famous for one of my three favorite meals, steak. This is my food holy land and I love it! Besides steak, there is another food I had just about everyday, “Uno carne empanadas, por favor.” This is a pastry filled with meat, cheese and spices, I am getting hungry just writing this.





BUENOS AIRES



The adventure started with a week in Buenos Aires. Due to Nicci’s love of taking pictures of graffiti around the world, we booked into a high rated hostel called The Art Factory in the San Telmo area. It had loads of cool graffiti and art all over the walls. As soon as we checked in we were off to a huge market in our area that is only on Sundays. While walking around we just happened to bump into the two British girls we met in Florianopolis, Brazil and arranged to see them again the following night. Since the next few months will be spent in Spanish speaking countries, I took advantage of a free spanish class our hostel was offering. This started to bring back the years of spanish I took in school, which continues to come back each day.



I met up with those British girls again for a concert recommended by several people throughout South America, La Bomba. Two hours of live percussion, funky beats, cheap beer and hot company! Nicci and I also met up with Gonzolas, a fellow traveler we met in Cambodia (I can’t believe how long ago that was, time is going to fast) who lives in Buenos Aires. He was kind enough to show us around, take us out for some drinks and showed us how Argentines eat, all-you-can-eat meat and at around 11:30pm. I thought my stomach was going to explode. Another night Nicci and I decided to take tango lessons. What would a trip to Buenos Aires be without trying to tango. To put it nicely, we SUCKED! To be fair though, the lesson was in Spanish, so by the time we figured a step out, they were already moving on. Good fun though.



Remember when I said Nicci loved taking pictures of graffiti? Buenos Aires has TONS of graffiti on almost every wall, except its so much more artistic then we have at home. Turns out they celebrate it here and you can’t be arrested, which allows artists to work during the day and they can take their time doing huge paintings and such. Somewhere along the way I found a flyer that offered a graffiti tour called GraffitiMundo. I decided to get some bonus points and surprise Nicci by signing us up without her knowing and didn’t tell her till we got there. I couldn’t believe how much I loved this tour though. Our guide took us on a walking tour of several neighborhoods explaining the different styles of graffiti and how they are done and telling us about the artists. We also got to go into different shops that the artists works are displayed and finally got to meet some of the artists that we learned about. My favorites were StencilLand and PomPom and I ended up buying some stickers of PomPom’s work and I plan on getting a tattoo of StencilLands work (hopefully you can read about that in a later post, if I ever decide on the tattoo).



As with any city you spend a week in, we tried to walk around the many neighborhoods, each very different and unique from each other. The first one was Centro, which was a basic shopping area and business area. I met up with those British girls again to see La Boca, a classic area with brightly painted buildings, lots of nice restaurants and tango dancers everywhere. Nicci and I took advantage of some of those face cut-outs for some fun pictures. Another area I walked was an upscale shopping area called Palermo. Tons of fancy boutiques. Another affluent area I walked was Recoleta. More upscale shops and such. Recoleta has a huge cemetery in the center where all the rich and famous are buried. The highlight was Evita’s tomb (Don’t Cry for me Argentina...).



Another bad luck story... As Nicci and I were getting ready to eat at the top steakhouse on our last night, we discovered the hostel had made a big mistake. We bought bus tickets for the following day through them but they accidentally booked them a day early. They discovered this mistake an hour before that bus was scheduled to leave and nobody was answering the phones at the bus station. We had to quickly go to the bus station to sort it out which is not an easy thing to do when they only speak spanish. We had to pay more but after arguing with the hostel they took it off our bill and finally apologized. It all worked out alright and we were off for our date at the famous La Cabara steak house. When we went to look up the address, someone posted on TripAdvisor that they offer a secret happy hour which gives you 50% off everything that started at 7pm, even though they say they don’t open till 8:30pm. Catch is you have to be out by 8:30 and its first come first serve. This actually worked out perfect cause if you don’t have reservations you could be waiting over 3 hours. We were lucky and got in even though we showed up right before 7. I went for the most expensive thing on the menu, a 500g Kobe Beef Wayu and a bottle of red wine to wash it down. It was great, although I hate to admit it, I think I liked Nicci’s sirloin better. I just don’t get the deal why Kobe beef is raved about. Anyways, the place was amazing and at no point did they rush us.



Next stop, Patagonia (southern Argentina). A 16 hour bus ride to Puerto Madryn for four nights.



PATAGONIA



Puerto Madryn is the launching point for several trips in that area of Patagonia. We checked into La Tosca Hostel and right away went for a walk around the city since we had been sitting for 16 hours. We walked around the beach which was loaded with jellyfish and got some food and ice cream.



My first tour to Peninsula Valdes (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) left at 7:30am. I was looking forward to this because there is a chance you might see an orca / killer whale, an animal that always fascinated me. This was booked through the hostel so the people we had been meeting were also on the tour. As the bus drove through the central part of the peninsula we saw a good number of guanacos. Guanacos are very similar looking to a camel or lama. We also saw a few mara which are the fourth largest rodent in the world but look like a hare. The first viewpoint was at a resting ground for Magellanic Penguins on the central east coast. More about them later.



On the way to the next lookout to see sea lions and seals our guide noticed a truck stopped on the side with a photographer on the back. Could this be my lucky day? They say you have roughly a 5-10% chance of seeing a killer whale and only 2% of those see them hunting. Well I didn’t get to see a killer whale, I got to see four of them, and one was only a few years old! Not only did I see them, we followed them along the coast for over an hour and got to watch them hunt. The pod had trapped a seal in the water and were playing with it and teaching the young whale how to hunt. Although we didn’t get to see them actually make the kill since after awhile they kept getting further and further from our viewpoint. It was absolutely amazing and I think I might have wet myself. RIP seal.



Speaking of seals, we did end up going to see the elephant seals and the sea lions at the northern most point called Punta Norte. Most of them looked dead as they were just lying on the beach baking their skin. Two of them did start fighting which was pretty entertaining. Next was whale watching, but since I did this in Australia, I decided not to spend the money on it again and instead chill by the shore and climb some of the hills/mountain for some excellent viewpoints. I made the right choice since the group came back pretty disappointed. They did see some whales, the whales just didn’t do anything. Pretty amazing day. We ended up seeing orcas/killer whales, guanaco, mara, grey fox, magellanic penguin, larger hair armadillo, elephant seals and sea lions.



The last tour we signed up for was to Punta Tombo to see the magellanic penguins. After a two hour bus ride south we reached the nesting place of 500,000-1,000,000 magellanic penguins. They are medium-sized penguins found only in southern South America. They mate with the same partner year after year and find each other through their vocal songs. Each year they continue to develop their nests which they go back to after migrating from Brazil. The area is covered with nests and while one penguin guards the egg and nest, the other will waddle over to the sea and feed. I walked along a boardwalk among the penguins for several hours. The penguins come right up to you, although you are not allowed to touch them. I swear I had to stop Nicci from putting one in my backpack. I will say it though, they were really cute and funny.



Right when we returned to the hostel, we were off to the bus station again to catch another bus. This time we had a 24-hour bus ride back north to Mendoza.



MENDOZA



Mendoza is wine country. They produce something like 80% of the wine in Argentina and are a major producer worldwide. Being that I don’t really drink or like wine, you would be right in guessing this place was more for Nicci. We got in around 8:30pm and checked into La Empedrado Hostel. This was a great hostel, they gave a free glass of wine each day (but they basically kept the glass full for free), free international phone calls, free laundry, 10% off bus tickets (so we spent the money on upgrading to first class), a good breakfast, helpful staff and a great activities that gets everyone talking to one another. By the time we left, everyone staying at the hostel knew who Nicci and I were and we knew everyone.



One night we had an all-you-can-eat BBQ at the hostel and got to really know everyone staying there. The wine kept flowing and flowing and everyone ended up drunk. I continued to drink on the roof with Nicci, a fun American couple, a dutch girl and another British girl. Those British are everywhere. I will say now that I am a little closer to home, I have finally started seeing Americans again that are traveling. The rest of the night and morning we don’t really need to get into, use your imagination. Whatever you were just thinking, believe the reality was much worse then you can write in a blog. Anyway, after everyone started to eventually rise around 1pm the next day, we decided to make some food (actually, I picked up McDonalds along the way) and eat in the park since it was Sunday and just about everything is closed. We just chilled and relaxed before going back and Nicci made me tacos for dinner.



Since we were in Mendoza for the wine, we booked a wine tour which took us to three different wineries or bodegas. All of them explained the process of wine making and showed us the grapes, where they distill the wine in huge containers, the underground cellars where the wine ages in french oak barrels and then a chance to taste the wines. The first was Navarro Correas Bodega, makers of high quality wines in an amazing modern bodega. The guide explained the process of making wine before teaching us the proper way to taste wine. First you look at the color by holding it up against a white background. Next you smell it, then swirl it which gets oxygen in the wine to bring out the flavors and aromas. Then you smell it again and to my surprise, it really does smell completely different from the first time. Next you take a small sip just to get your mouth used to the alcohol before taking a second sip which is when you get the real flavors. He also showed us a trick where you pucker your lips and suck in when the wine is in your mouth which intensifies everything. For you wine enthusiasts out there, I tried my best to record what we tested. A 2010 rosado (rose wine) and a 2009 Malbec Reserve red wine, a region favorite.



The second winery we went to was Vistandes. They make more table wines but depending on the weather conditions that year they can make more premium wines. Vistandes was another modern building built only a few years ago. Here we tested another rose wine, a 2011 Cosecha, Next was a red wine, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve which won many awards, or so they claim. The last bodega we went to was Cavas de Don Arturo. This was more of a family run bodega that was over a hundred years old. Their tour showed us all the old equipment as well as some modern tools, but most of the old ways are still used today. They even had barrels that were the size of a semi or a very large room. All the wines we tasted here were red wines. First a 2004 Malbec. Next a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. Next a 2004 Syrah which was made with Persian grapes. And lastly a special limited edition premium wine which I never got a photo of.



The last part of the tour was a lunch we heard so much about at Cava de Cano. It was a tapa (small dishes) style lunch with MANY bowls of different side items like anti-pasta, lots of lunch meats and cheeses, bread and some hot dishes as well. And of course, unlimited red wine. This was all topped off with my favorite part, a bowl of dulce de leche (a thick, creamy cameral like topping that the entire country is obsessed with) on vanilla ice cream. Surprise surprise, the second we got back to the hostel, we passed out, good day.



Before we checked out we walked around the city one last time and also did some laundry. We said our goodbyes to all the other guests and caught our 18 hour bus ride which really took closer to 20 hours to Salta at 8:30pm. Man am I sick of buses.



SALTA



After arriving in Salta I checked into Hostel 7 Duendes Twin a nice looking hostel but very quiet and a little out of the city. I heard good things about Salta from other travelers and man were they wrong. I didn’t care for it at all and it was a big disappointment. When we got in it was raining, which didn’t help. The next day I wanted to walk around and do some shopping but most stores were closed due to some holiday. Didn’t really matter though cause most stores look like cheap quality stuff and the city itself is pretty dirty with no real charm or feel to it. Steak for dinner then bed. I tried to walk around the city again the next day but much of the same feeling. I did take a cable car up a nearby mountain and got a good view of the city from above, which I guess was the highlight. Despite the hostel offering us a free night, Nicci and I decided enough is enough and spent the day researching the remainder of our trip in South America before catching a 5:30am bus to the boarder of Bolivia. I can’t wait, there are so many sites I want to fit in the next 6 weeks!





WRAP UP



Despite ending in a poor city, I loved Argentina. The food was amazing, the landscape was beautiful as well as the women. It has everything except cheap internal flights. I would definitely come back here anytime if anyone is planning a trip, I feel like there is so much more to see.


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