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Published: April 27th 2018
March 27 - The El Calafate airport is one of the prettiest I have seen. The single runway (obviously the dominant howling wind is in one direction) and backs onto the turquoise waters of Lago Argentina. The terminal was lovely with expansive windows looking out onto the runway and lake. The flight to Buenos Aires was only 2 hours and we landed at Aeroparque Jorge Newberry which is more or less right in the city and serves domestic and regional flights. So it was a relatively short taxi ride we were at Patio San Telmo - our home for the next three nights. A great hotel built around courtyards and open walkways, it had an attached restaurant which served up great breakfasts (which were included in the price). Most hotels do come with breakfast included and up to this point there were not any other breakfast options in the places we were staying in. Here it the big city it was a bit different and there were cafes within a couple of blocks but it is nice to be able to just walk a few feet from your room to get fed.
We had a bit of an issue with
our electrical adapter. In Chile the outlets take a plug that has 2 round pins. And so far in Argentina the outlets took two different plugs - the circular pins OR three straight pins. Unfortunately this hotel only took the latter but we were able to borrow an adapter from reception til we could get out and buy one (for $1.50).
It was strange being in the big city once again and it did not take long to realize that cars DO NOT give way to pedestrians. Our first morning we walked into Centro and the historic Plaza de Mayo with its many surrounding stately 19th century buildings - it feels like we have been dropped into Europe somewhere. Then it was back to our neighbourhood of Sal Telmo which is the oldest neighbour in Buenos Aires- lots of cobbled roads and narrow streets and in the 19th century was the main residential neighbourhood of BA. After a lunch of Merzula (which turned out to be fish (hake) with a cream sauce and not at all what we expected) it was up to the leafy Plaza Dorrego where street tango performers entertained us for a while.
area of BA seems relatively compact so it certainly an advantage staying here. Close by our street of Chacabuco is Chile street - known as the gastronomy street due to the number of restaurants. We walked the length of it, perusing menu boards for the deal for dinner and drinks. Returning to the hotel, Juan the receptionist told us about a milonga that was happening later that night a couple of blocks away. A milonga is basically a dance hall/bar where locals come to dance the tango. And to entice tourists there is an hour long tango lesson before the main event. What can I say about the lesson - it was extremely basic with me learning how to walk backwards smoothly while Kelly walked forwards - in time with each other!. Amazingly, we were not the worst ones there! Once the locals started dancing, we focused on watching pairs of feet doing some tricky moves. After about an hour the live music started and it was unbelievable - 3 violins, 2 bass, 3 accordions and a piano player accompanied the tango singer.
Our second day in Buenos Aires started with a visit to La Boca which is a
working class neighbourhood and which is where most of the immigrants (Italians, Spanish and Irish dominated) first settled. It wasn’t that far and we had planned to walk but when we mentioned this to the receptionist we got a vehement “no” because of the bad reputation this area has. So we headed out to Plaza Dorrega again and got a taxi which dropped us off at the entrance to the Caminto - a narrow street with extremely brightly painted buildings. Talk about tourist central with lots of street markets and tango performances on every corner. All very entertaining and colourful. And yes, some of the areas between La Boca and San Telmo, DID look a little sketchy.
The afternoons activity was a walking tour in Recoleta Cemetery. While we were in Puerto Natales a Japanese girl had given me a SUBE card (the transit card for the subway) and it had heaps of money still on it. Bonus! We took the subway to Recoleta which involved three different lines and lots of helpful assistance when we were not really sure where to go. Nice trains and nice platforms and walking passages.
The Recoleta Cemetery covers about 5.5 hectares
and is aptly named “city of the dead” as it is laid out in streets and alleys which are lined with 6400 spectacular mausoleums and tombs. The most recent coffin can often be seen through a grill at the front while the older coffins are stored underground - you can see some of these too. A bit creepy. Probably the most well known figure (to non Argentinians) in the cemetery is Eva Peron - but there are many tombs which have interesting stories - the girl who had catalepsy and was buried alive cos her family thought she was dead, the fellow who wanted to be buried under the Andes so his son brought rocks from the Andes and built his tomb by hand, the couple who hated each other so much they always stood back to back on public - similarly their two statues on their common tomb. A lot of money was spent on these final resting places with very ornate and symbolic statues everywhere.
We had considered going to a tango dinner show but after enjoying the street tango so much, we decided that we did not need to spend a large amount of money on
a tourist event and instead planned on going out for a decent dinner. Once again Juan gave us a great recommendation (and made us a reservation) at Gran Parrilla del Plata - what a wonderful dinner, so much food and fortunately we had planned on sharing. Bread, a dish of marinated white beans and three small bowls of dips were provided before the first course of provolenta which is a thick piece of grilled provolone cheese. Our main course was tenderized pork which more than covered a platter that was about 7” x 10” along with salad and rosemary potatoes.
March 30. While eating breakfast we discussed how so many articles and personal travel stories had made us believe that Buenos Aires was a scary place and that it was highly likely that we would be robbed or taken advantage of at some point. It was not until we took a cab to the airport that we realized that when we had arrived a couple of days before, the taxi driver had taken us on a circuitous route to the hotel and we had paid 20,000 ARS too much. Bastard!
The next destination was Salta in NW Argentina.
The most memorable thing about the flight to Salta? The skinny guy next to me traded seats with a really smelly, fat guy! After checking into our hotel (Casa la Teresita) we walked the three blocks to the 9 de Julio Plaza. A huge leafy square surrounded by restaurants and cafes with most of the seating outdoors. Many of the buildings looked like they would be more at home in Europe. Today was Good Friday and as we drove into town we had noticed many people and food stands in Parque St.Martin so we headed there (along grotty streets) to have Pan Milenesa (a delicious breaded chicken sandwich) for dinner. Back in the main center of town there were many tourist shops which entertained us for a while. The beautiful red and gold Iglesias San Francisco was started in 1572 and completed in 1875. One of its striking features (other than the colour) is the draped curtains which are actually concrete.
The new adventure here was that we were renting a car for a few days. So we reviewed road rules (like always driving with your headlights on, never turning left off a main highway, never turning on a
red light and just generally driving aggressively), picked up our car at noon and after only a few wrong turns were on the road south to Cafayate. The most spectacular part of the 3.5 hour drive was the 83 km through the Quebrada de las Conchas - a deep canyon created by the river of the same name, with red rock walls that have been eroded by wind and water to create interesting shapes. The road was very windy and it was very slow going especially when caught behind slow vehicles. Everyone says “expect to take twice as long as you would think” - and it is true.
Cafayate is a land of vine yards and cactuses and is known for its wines - especially the fruity but dry Torrontes. Our first taste was at Bad Brothers where we had tapas for dinner along with three wine tastings. There are a number of Bodegas (wineries) right in town and on Easter Sunday they were open for tastings from 9am (the perfect time to be drinking wine) til 1pm. We started at Domingo Hermanos where we tried 2 Torrontes and a young and old red. These tastings were accompanied by
delicious goat and cow cheese and it was a very informative session. It really was a bit early to be drinking so after kelly tried some wine at Pietro Marini, we took a break until the evening, choosing instead to head out to the Rio Colorado and it’s waterfalls for a hike and swim.
We were told that we would not be allowed on the trail without a guide and after some discussion, agreed on a price. Suffice to say we would probably not have found our way without the guide - narrow tracks around and over rocks, crossing the river many times using rocks as stepping stones. Beautiful scenery with cactuses and pampas grass. At one point, we were told to stop while the guide killed a snake that was on the pathway - apparently poisonous. Once we reached the first waterfall we kind of went for a swim- knee deep as it was so cold. We took a different path on the way back along a narrow ledge that took us to a view point of the plains (and the rain clouds rolling in) and then a very steep scramble down to the road. The rain had missed us on the hike but when we got back into town, everything was awash.
The best time of day to see most of the red rock of the Quebrada de Los Conchas is the afternoon so we headed out for a bit of a look but unfortunately the rain finally caught up with us. There was one more wine tasting experience at Chatos, a wine bar just down the street from our b&b where the owner was very knowledgeable. All our hotels have been booked using booking.com
and quite often, their rates are a lot cheaper than what the hotel/b&b usually offers. We were beginning to wonder if we were being penalized for this by being given the worst room (usually fronting on the street). The previous night, the noise never stopped and it was a rough nights sleep (or lack of). Chato explained that he had been open til 3am and it was very common on Friday and Saturday nights for the workers in bars/restaurants and hotels to start dinner around 1am. And on top of that, this was the biggest holiday of the year (Easter week) AND Monday was Malvinas day which is a commemoration of the Falkland Island War.
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