Posts tagged ‘Argentina’

The backpack diaries – our top ten South American experiences

So this post is a little late – over a year late to be precise – but that’s okay because we still remember every miniscule detail of the trip as if it was yesterday. We’re determined to get back on the blogging horse and we have a few great European posts up our sleeves for you, including (home sweet home) Dublin, so don’t go away yet. To get the ball rolling here is our long overdue Top 10 of South America, it took almost a year of arguing, biting and scratching to compile so you had better enjoy it…

10. Paraty, Brazil
Pretty little Paraty may not make it onto many Top 10 of South America lists but this picturesque gem of a town beat tough competition from Ilha Grande to appear on ours. The reason is its unusual charm, the product of pristine beaches married with a picturesque historical centre. In town you have uneven cobbled streets lined with white-washed cottages, windows and doorframes a flipbook catalogue of bright blues, reds, yellows and greens. Outside of town there are endless perfect beaches backed by rainforest that get quieter and quieter as you trek through the forest, away from parents sipping beers on plastic chairs and kids playing football. Walk far enough and you’re sure to find your own deserted patch of sand.

9. Colca Canyon, Peru
Hidden away from the world by towering canyon walls is a tiny gem of a place. Giant cacti bearing bright red fruit, birds with a three metre wing span, terraced fields, well tended orchards, winding paths sheltered by overhanging fruit trees and little girls chasing stray sheep. This is where the mighty Amazon begins as the gurgling stream we dipped our toes into after the long slide downhill. The only problem? What goes down must come up. It was a hike that for me at least, was more difficult than the three day Lares trek – but we did it in two hours.

8. Wineries in Mendoza, Argentina
Take six wine-loving backpackers, six dodgy bicycles, one hand-drawn map and dozens of world-class vineyards, chocolatiers, olive oil producers and absinthe brewers. Throw in a dash of sunshine, a sprinkling of local characters and you have yourself one hell of a day.

7. Trekking in Tupiza, Bolivia
Who would have thunk it? In the arse end of Bolivia, itself the (lovely) arse end of South America, we found the whirlwind adventure we had been chasing all this time. Our reluctant partners in crime, advertised as Argentinian stallions, turned out to be a bunch of fat, grumpy Bolivian mules. Together we cantered across arid scenes of red-sand cliffs and rocky terrain worthy of John Wayne, we crossed railway tracks, fast-flowing rivers and fields of waist-high grass. When we slept it was metres away from them. When we ate they were tied to the trees under which we sat. We wore cowboy hats, chewed coca leaves and spat a lot. It was breath-takingy beautiful and eventually, bum-numbingly painful and it was our biggest South American adventure.

6. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
You don’t walk in Rio de Janeiro, you dance. You tap your toes as you sit in a restaurant, wiggle your bum on the beach and shake yo’ thang at the Lapa street party. Here salsa is king but caparinhas shaken by large-bottomed women with infectious smiles are a close second. Rio lives up to the hype. We came expecting endless white sand beaches with beautiful people playing volleyball, City of God slum towns where kids wandered alleyways with guns slung over their shoulders, skyscrapers that winked in the sunlight and entire neighbourhoods that spent all night dancing in the streets. It was all of that and more, so why isn’t it better than Buenos Aires? Because we were expecting it.

5. World’s Most Dangerous Road, La Paz, Bolivia
At certain points, if you go over the edge of the World’s Most Dangerous Road you fall 600 metres before there’s anything to grab hold of. So obviously we had to try it. And obviously we were bricking it. The start was a fantastic warm-up – smooth tarmac road, a metal barrier and space enough for everyone – but eventually the road changed into a narrow, gravelly track that wound blindly around corners. Then came the trucks, hurdling towards us at video game speed. They took the inside lane while we spun out to the very edge, our toes teetering over a vast drop where birds circled above a rainforest canopy far below.

4. Iguazu Falls, Argentina
At Devil’s Throat it wouldn’t be hard to convince yourself that the waterfall is actually inside your head. With the way it thunders and pounds, sheet after sheet of white noise, it’s hard to think of anything else really – just the waterfall and those suicidal little sparrows that nose dive into huge clouds of spray. Foz Iguazu is actually 275 waterfalls spread over 2.7km in two countries. At it’s highest point it drops 83m, that’s 29m more than Niagara and at one viewpoint, visitors can enjoy 260 degrees of waterfall – a fact that prompted Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to sigh “Poor Niagara!” on her first visit. Poor Niagara indeed. Surrounded by national park, the Argentina side has a fantastic array of wildlife too, from rainbow coloured butterflies to (reportedly) tigers. And no visitor should miss a chance to take a speedboat into the waterfall either – all those screams you hear are happiness at it’s most hysterical. Just leave your clothes on dry land.

3. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Since we’ve been home people have asked us time and time again where did we like best. Now we don’t like to play favourites but if we were to pick just one place where we could stay suspended in time for ever and ever, it would be Buenos Aires. Maybe it was because we had a reunion with a long-missed friend or maybe it was just because Buenos Aires really is just that good. It has tango dancing in the streets, steak you can cut with a spoon, a nightlife that never seems to stop, real life cowboy markets, a cemetery you could easily build a home in and so much to do that you could never get bored here. Buenos Aires is all that and a bag of chips.

2. Lares Trek, Peru
Okay so there was a little bit of altitude sickness but there was also a team that sprinted ahead of us to cook four course meals three times a day in an oven made from stones, a guide that made us giggle, hours of singing The Sound of Music while we skipped down mountain sides, and eye-opening visit to a Quechun village, beautiful scenery, much coca leaf chewing, a night spent drinking macho tea under the stars and of course, the star of the show, Machu Picchu. I defy anyone not to include this beauty on their top ten of South America list.

1. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
For two days we saw nothing. The sandstorm was so bad it tore the roof off a hostel (the temperature was -20°c), so bad that it blasted all the paint off one side of our jeep, so bad that we couldn’t see to the end of our bonnet. Then we arrived at Salar de Uyuni and it stopped. At first it was just a mirage glimmering on the edge of the desert but as we got closer it sucked all the colour out of the world until all that was left was a bright blue sky and a ground so dazzlingly white, we needed sunglasses. This wonder of nature is one of the few places in the world where you can clearly see the curve of the earth.

 

There are more pictures from South America available in the gallery

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December 21, 2011 at 11:44 am 10 comments

Chasing waterfalls. Iguazu Falls, Argentina

If you have never seen ‘Iguazu face’ you have been sorely missing out. Difficult to describe, it is a little like a cross between pure, wide-eyed, childish glee and the expression that bad actors make when faced with a slimy monster in a low-budget horror film. But under a waterfall. The problem is that the subject is so deliriously giddy that his/her face is about to crack from smiling. He/she wants to drink in the scene but Iguazu Falls is thundering down on top of him/her filling his/her mouth with water and forcing his/her eyes closed. In response he/she uses his/her fingers to prise his/her eyes open but what are four fingers against the might of Iguazu?

Iguazu face is the face you make when you sign up for the speedboat ride that drives you right under the falls. Four times. It is the face you make when you are wringing wet in the only clothes you brought along for the day. The face you make just before you say “Hey guys, remember that time we were IN Iguazu Falls?” Iguazu face is the happiest, most carefree face in the world.

For those that have never seen the mighty giant here are the stats. Iguazu Falls is actually 275 waterfalls spread over a distance of 2.7km. The highest point drops a full 82 metres – 29m more than Niagara at its highest point. At one point, visitors are surrounded by 260 degrees of cataracts. On the Argentina side of the falls there are three different paths which get up close to different sections of the waterfall. It is also possible to visit the island beside the falls from here, kayak, trek and, as I mentioned before, to take a boat trip into the waterfalls.

The biggest, most memorable cataract is Devil’s Throat, a deep U-shape hollow where water thunders over the edge and visitors standing on the viewing platform at the top are deafened by the noise, soaked by the spray and utterly entranced by the power of nature. As it hurls over the precipice, the river looks more like a mountain-top avalance than a waterfall and the resulting spray makes it hard to see anything more than a thick white mist and the occasional fearless sparrow that swoops in and out of the cloud. All in all I think the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt summed it up best when she made her first visit and exclaimed “Poor Niagara!”

Iguazu Falls was full of surprises too. We had expected it to be beautiful, mesmorising and eardrum-bursting. What we hadn’t expected was the themepark excitement, the animals and the extreme drenching. The most surprising thing about our trip though, was that the most memorable part wasn’t even related to falling water.

Foresaking the free train that shuttles tourists from viewpoint to viewpoint we decided to walk out to Devil’s Throat via a narrow little path that is squeezed in beside the river and the train tracks. As it turns out, this wasn’t a popular choice so we had the place to ourselves. Well, kind of. Around 300m into our 2km walk we realised that we had company when a huge yellow cloud fluttered towards us. Hundreds and hundreds of butterflies – mostly yellow but also red, black, orange and blue – formed a thick stream in the air, engulfing us. As they passed they carelessly bumped into us, beating gently against our faces, arms and chest before continuing on their route. For the next 40 minutes we met waves and waves of them and by the time we reached Devil’s Throat we were well and truly tousled – butterflies entwined in our hair, clinging onto our clothes and leaving tiny wet patches between our fingers.

Butterflies weren’t the only wildlife we spotted in Iguazu though. There were also huge iguanas, snakes, monkeys and South American coatis – funny little animals who look like a cross between a racoon, a possum and an anteater with a long nose and an even longer ringed tail. Not in the least bit shy the animals zig-zagged their way across the busy trails, monkeys chattering and coatis fishing half-finished packets of biscuits out of bins before staff members shooed them away. Strange and possibly cruel as it all was, having so much wildlife present reminded us that we were actually in a National Park – a park that is home to Jaguars no less. Best stick to the trails then.

Much like Niagara the Iguazu Falls is on a frontier. In this case it stradles three borders – Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay although the latter’s claim is negligible. To get the best out of a trip it is best to visit both sides. The Brazil side gives the best views of Devil’s Throat because it is far away enough that visitors can see more than mist and white crashing water. Thus it is the Brazil side that appears on all the postcards. That said, the Brazil side is currently just one viewing platform whereas Argentina is so much more. Or so I hear. In truth the day we wanted to do the Brazil side of the falls it was overcast and the admission price felt extortionate after the big day out we had bought for the same price only yesterday so we gave it a miss, a decision we have since regretted. So I guess it will have to be up to you to figure out which you prefer – Brazil or Argentina, who wins? You decide.

There are more pictures from Iguazu Falls available in the gallery

October 22, 2010 at 10:19 pm 3 comments

Raising the steaks. Buenos Aires, Argentina

It’s 2pm on a Sunday afternoon and Buenos Aires is waking up to room-spins and a killer hangover. The kind of hangover that most people only ever dream about. The kind of hangover you get from staying out until 10am in the morning and watching the sunrise from inside the world-famous nightclub Pacha. Upstairs the VIPs tip their diamond-encrusted sunglasses onto their noses and studiously ignore each other as the morning sunlight bounces off their bleached hair. Downstairs there is no room for studied indifference. Hell, there is hardly enough room to raise a glass to your mouth. Barely enough space to dance as if no-one in the world is watching you – although it will take a lot more than an elbow in the ribs to stop the hundreds of patrons from trying.

Or maybe its a quieter sort of hangover. The sort that comes after a long night of moving from one painfully trendy bar in the Palermo neighbourhood to another and another and another. Watching a new indie band perform in a gutted bar and lifting jugs of beer off huge concrete tables.

It was a good night for sure but now there is serious business to be dealt with. After all, what is a night out if you don’t follow it up with breakfast and a long gossip the next day? Cue the hardest part of being a porteňo (person from Buenos Aires) – deciding what to do on a Sunday afternoon.

In Recoleta the cafés are calling. Over tiny coffees in tiny porcelain cups gossiping Argentines will be only vaguely aware of the stream of notes coming from a nearby band who – using a cello, violin and a drum – are giving classical music an entirely new, entirely unclassical face. As the crescendo rises and the violinist starts to sweat profusely from overexertion and the strong afternoon sun, they will drop their cups back in their saucers, leave a generous tip for the waiter and head to Recoleta cemetery.

Recoleta is a pretty exlusive neighbourhood – full of designer boutiques, sculptures, sprawling parks and the most spectacular theatre-cum-bookshop. The area smacks of privelege so why should the cemetery be any different? A casual wander reveals the crypts of Buenos Aires’s most elite families including the much loved Eva (Evita) Peron. Some are old and uncared for – doors squeaking open to reveal cracked tiles, smashed dome windows and stacks of weathered coffins. Some are brand new, built from the finest granite and fitted with heavy steel doors that will never bang in the breeze. The best are a mix of the two – old and cut out of white stone but as grand as any church with their wrought iron doors, stained glass windows and guardian angel statues. Although visitors are in good company it is hard not to be mildly terrified when a door suddenly swings open, a glimpse through a window reveals a morbid pile of boxes or something rustles a little too loudly nearby. Still, the sheer size and unusual nature of the place makes for one of Buenos Aires’s most popular and memorable afternoon strolls.

Across town a much more colourful afternoon is in full swing. Lining a few of La Boca’s cobbled alleys are corrugated iron houses, once home to Argentina’s artists. Stacked in the most precarious manner in the most unusual lines, they are a testament to their owners’ creativity. Each wall is a different shade of aquamarine, ruby, mustard and mango – a colour chart even Dulux wouldn’t touch. How could a place like this not be lively?

Two of the streets meet at a 45 degree angle – one is lined with painters and photographers flogging their wares and the other with restaurants. In front of every coloured restaurant there is a small stage where experienced tango dancers strut their stuff. The crowd gasps appreciatively when the man tilts his partner back dramatically. As her long hair brushes the floor she lifts her leg slowly and deliberately so that it points over his ear, the split in her tight pencil skirt exposing long slim legs. The camera shutters snap and diners look up from their chorripans with critical eyes. The tourists will lap up any half-hearted tango but they have seen a thousand tangos and a thousand smooth legs. Still the right dancers never fail to raise a grudging smile and a twinkle in the men’s eyes. Such incredible elegance, poise and skill. And such strong legs…

Then there are the Sunday markets. San Telmo is home to the weekly antiques market many of whose wares are antiques only in the loosest sense of the word. In a big warehouse dusty records, mottled fur coats, ancient stamps, vintage sunglasses, porcelain dolls with only one leering eye and tarnished antique telephones that once took calls from Bell himself jockey for attention. For any afficionado there is a long day’s work to be done picking through the debris to find unlikely treasures.

For those more interested in a market’s atmosphere than its products, Feria de Mataderos (The Cowboy Market) holds the trump card. And since the sun is shining today the recovering porteňos are out in force. After swallowing down a reviving meal of fresh chicken empanadas and barbequed sausage sandwiches they head for the square where a band are playing some lively traditional tunes. In front of the stage a dozen partners appear to be performing some kind of traditional set dance – stepping in wooden circles around each other, waving coloured hankys (blue for one, white for the other) and laughing gamely. Elderly couples gaze at each other with humour and tenderness while the twenty-somethings beside them feign rigid formality before collapsing in giggles.

And its not just the average folk that are out. It’s not called The Cowboy Market for nothing afterall. In stalls draped with blue tarpaulin real life cowboys display leather lasoos, whips, saddles and handcrafted satchels. They are decked out to the nines in boots, trousers that balloon at the thighs, shirts, red cravats and flat caps. Towards the evening they gather in huddles over a Spanish guitar and croon, at least one person breaking into dance. Nearby, comedians thrill crowds on the grass area as kids run around with candied apples, popcorn, candyfloss and grass-stained knees. Shoppers clambour for the freshly churned artisan cheese and all manner of delicate trinkets. Everyone is smiling, stopping to chat to a neighbour or stranger or bending over to pet a dog. At times like this how could  porteňos not be head-over-heels in love with their city?

The only non-negotiable ingredient of any perfect Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires is the steak. The best steak in the city changes depending on who you are asking. For us, Miranda’s in Palermo Viejo was the hands-down winner. In fact, Miranda’s is so good that it rendered us all speechless for a full ten minutes. At one point I glanced at Alan who was sitting opposite me in complete silence with his eyes closed, a goofy look on his face and his fork hovering dreamily around his mouth.

With as much headspace as floorspace, the small restaurant is a lively, cavernous place at the centre of which ridiculously attractive staff members shake cocktails and decant wine at the bar. All exposed brickwork and chisled jaws, Miranda’s looks almost as good as it tastes.

There are more photos from Buenos Aires available in the gallery

October 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm 2 comments

In search of the perfect town. Cafayate, Argentina

Picture the postcard perfect town. It’s small right? Maybe two main streets with a beautiful central plaza, populated by trees but not so many to obstruct views. The buildings are painted in vibrant colours – mustard yellow, aquamarine blue and ruby red. Polished wooden signs burned with the names of cafés and restaurants swing on their hinges in a gentle afternoon breeze. Around the plaza young South American couples enjoy the last few rays of evening sunshine whilst sipping glasses of wine sourced as locally as 300m down the road. Reds, whites and rosés famed internationally for the unique characteristics their altitude gives them. But it’s not all wines and lazy afternoons in the sun – the perfect town has plenty of daytrip options. A waterfall down the road. A stunning location in the midst of a breathtaking sandstone landscape.

As it turns out, the postcard perfect town is a real place somewhere between Túcuman and Salta in the northwest of Argentina. The exact spot that backpackers and romantics come to South America searching for is dusty little corner of the world called Cafayate where Gary and I had the good fortune to spend a few days.

For the most part we joined intertwined lovers and laughing families on the plaza for hot coffees, delicious milanese (breaded steak) sandwiches and of course, the spectacular mountain backdrop. When we weren’t eating we were exploring nearby wineries, many of which were within a block or two of the town centre. We tried scrumptuous Rosés, famous white Torrontés, peppery Cabernets and of course this being Argentina, the odd Malbec. Our favourite was a Rosé from Nanni which we decided after much deliberation to splash out on. A girl needs a €4.50 bottle of wine every now and then.

All good things must come to an end though and after a few days of pure indulgence we had to bid adieu to the gang of dogs we had collected – dalmations, alsations, terriers and all sorts – and board a bus to Salta where we would be heading back to Chile to visit San Pedro de Atacama, a small town situated in the driest desert in the world. In all fairness it was probably about time that we dried out a little. Life can’t all be red wine and red meat after all…

There are more pictures from Cafayate available in the gallery

July 26, 2010 at 8:55 pm 1 comment

Coffees in Córdoba, Argentina

Córdoba is a great place to sit over a steaming cappucino and watch the world go by. Well-heeled students strut up and down the bustling cobbled streets or lounge in one of the town’s many plazas, oblivious it seems to the imposing churches and cathedrals by which they spend their days gossiping, arguing and making up (but mostly making out). The city’s many churches span the spectrum of European architecture – from simple brick structures rinsed in pink paint to a cavernous temple whose wooden roof resembles an inverted ship’s hull.

In keeping with the mish-mash theme, Córdoba’s primero house of worship is a blend of several different architecture styles that reflect the trends of a dozen different decades. From the Romanesque dome begun in 1577 to the more modern paintings inside, the Iglesia Catedral is something to be witnessed. In fact, if you squint with one eye and close the other, it is possible to mistake Córdoba’s boutiques, cafés and architecture for a little slice of Europe.

Once the Cultural Capital of the Americas, Córdoba is a hive of activity with concerts, art exhibitions and theatrical performances covering every second of every day. Unfortunately for us the only tango lessons running during our time there were for intermediate level dancers and although Paul was pretty confident in his dancing skills (they teach the tango in mechanic school now don’t you know?) we had to conceed that it would be Buenos Aires before we hit the tiles. Still, Córdoba has a lot to offer so once we had drained our coffees and bid adieu to those far-too-perfect boots we couldn’t afford to buy we had to choose a daytrip. Would it be rocking Cosquin, resorty La Falda, pious Jesús María or Villa Carlos Paz, dubbed by Lonely Planet as “The Vegas of the Sierras”?

As it turns out we opted for none of the above. After hearing a little about Alta Gracia it was clearly our only option. A quiet mountain town set around a lake, with a two storey cuckoo clock, founded by the Jesuits and once home to Ché Guevara? Cha-ching!

Our first stop was the town’s central focus – the old Jesuit mission. A quick walk around revealed fully-furnished bedrooms, an ornate living room, old drop toilets, a cattle shed and a flaking white basilica. Still, as charming as it was we were starving so lunch took precedence and we lucked out with a fantastic foodhall where we got… Drum roll please…. Real salad!

With full bellies and happy digestive systems we set out for the main event. The Ernesto “Ché” Guevara museum. Set in the middle of a housing estate in a small one-storey building that once housed the Guevara clan, Alta Gracia’s Ché Guevara museum is said to be miles better than the Cuba version. Displays are focused mostly on the revolutionary’s early life, showcasing baby photos and explaining how as a child, although he was affected with asthma and thus forbidden to swim, Ché and his brother used to sneak into a nearby hotel to learn how to paddle. Onto the teens next and we learned (having never really known a lot about the great legend we were learning a lot) about Ché’s medical training and the many trips around South America that opened his eyes to human suffering. Perhaps the crowning glory of the museum is the actual motorbike he rode on one such journey which sits proudly on display in a bedroom.

Of course no museum could be complete without the full story so there are several rooms dedicated to photos of Ché and Fidel Castro, photos of Ché with various guerilla groups and letters he handwrote to his parents, to Castro and later in life, to his second wife and children urging them to be good citizens. A charming addition to an already comprehensive collection was the original Guevara kitchen in all it’s vintage glory.

There are more photos from Córdoba and Alta Gracia available in the gallery

July 24, 2010 at 2:43 pm Leave a comment

Cycling some and sampling more. Mendoza, Argentina

The Tempus vineyard was a shock at first, so out of place was it among the flaking single storey buildings we had been passing all day. Standing at the end of a pristine gravel drive was a beautiful but unfinished piece of modern architecture cut out of thick glass plate windows and wonderfully textured sandstone. A signposted walkway invited us to follow the brand new decking around to the side of the building where a platform offered views over vast columns of brown and red vines wrapped around each other for protection against the cold winter’s breeze. The feeling of isolation was almost overwhelming and continued once we had passed the oversized oak doors and made our way inside. Peaking into offices and a room full of gleaming metal vats we were unable to locate a single soul but surely there must be someone here….

There definitely was someone there.

We had hardly reached the top of the stairs when a man dressed in a black poloneck jumper and jeans glided towards us, arms outstretched. With his invisible neck, comically downturned lips and bald head he looked a little like a fish. “In Argentina we kiss!” he gushed, pecking a very confused and awkward Paul on the cheeks before moving on to the rest of us, lingering on our new friend Mitch and slipping a bit of tongue to his girlfriend Sharon. Before we knew it we had all been swept outside and were sitting alone, wrapped up in thick blankets, on a balcony overlooking the barren vineyards.

Ten minutes went past and then 15 and with no sign of our new best friend (let’s call him Julio for the sake of ease) we started debating who should go inside to order the wines. Just as Mitch was getting up to go inside a thick hand appeared on his shoulder and started kneading away. Obediently, he melted back into his seat. Strangely enough another hand had somehow found its way onto my shoulder and was working its way knowingly along my muscles. Between all the wine I had drunk that day and the utter warmth of it all, I started to sink into a hypnotic sleep.

The hands were of course attatched to the flambouyant Julio who was not here to take our order so much as to inform us of his decisions. “You will have the Rosé first and then perhaps the Cabernet Sauvignon,” he said. After sipping on what we all agreed to be a ground-breaking Rosé, strangely dark in colour but really light and fruity on the palate (yeah I say things like that now), we were presented with a bottle of red wine. “I was thinking about it and I decided that you should try the Preludio Malbec, not the Cabernet Sauvignon because after that wonderful Rosé a Cabernet Sauvignon would be….. EUGH! Anyway, I should know, I have been drinking wine since I was 10.” As we marvelled over the wonders of his Preludio Malbec Julio pulled up a chair and led a conversation about his beach house in Florianopolis, Brazil where we absolutely MUST stay. “Do you surf then Julio, if you live in Florianopolis?” “No,” he said with a sparkle in his eye, “but I smoke spliffs.”

Mendoza is a lovely city – wide sweeping boulevards and plazas planted with trees and flowers, a great restaurant scene and some really lovely buildings but it’s the world famous vineyards that really draw the crowds. Eager to finally do something with our time in South America, we had rounded up the troops and headed for the wine region by public bus.

We rented bikes for the day from the charasmatic Mr Hugo. Sure we had no brakes, my wheels were dangerously wobbly and we had around five gears between the six of us, but they were red, they had baskets and Mr Hugo had promised us some free wine when we got back. Our first stop had been to Club del Olivo a la Antiqua where we were welcomed by the sight of a beautiful traditional whitewashed building and a sign bearing exactly the word our hungover stomachs wanted to see least – ABSINTHE.

Clutching our protesting bellies we parked our bikes and wandered into the tiny building to meet the staff. In a matter of seconds they had lined up a huge, all organic spread for us. To start we sampled some olive oil and the sweetest most fantastic balsamic vinegar. Next came the savouries – olive paste mixed with garlic, smoked chilli, red peppers or aubergine. Wine blended with mustard was our favourite and we grabbed a jar to coat our many many Argentinian steaks in. Then came the twenty interesting jams – zucchini with date, dolche leche with coconut and of course plenty of strawberry and blueberry blends. Chasers came in the form of flavoured liquors – Irish Cream, Tia Maria, Creme de Menthe – or for a suicidal Mitch, Absinthe.

Warmed in part by the hospitality of our hosts but mostly by the spirits in our bellies, we hopped back on our bikes and made our way towards Museo del Vino. Here we were allowed to wander about a bit, examining antique wine-producing implements and guessing what they were for (“This cow trough is used to test the wine. Everyone knows that Argentinian wine is tested by Argentinian cows who not only taste great but have great taste.”) The wine was more hit than miss but hey, it was free and we got to see the administration office they have built inside a used wine barrel!

The next winery was a bit of a let down in that we never found it. We did find a random field full of lush grass and llamas surrounded in the midst of all the barren vineyards, olive groves filled with golden leaves and one endless vineyard that we managed to cycle around for quite some time before we a) figured out we were lost and b) realised we were getting hostile looks from the workers. Thankfully we did manage to stumble over Tempus in our search so it was with slightly dizzy heads that we freewheeled the 12km back to town. Had we been cycling uphill all that time? I never would have known…

Good to his word Mr Hugo welcomed us with plastic beakers full of wine from a box. Granted it tasted a little like vinegar after the subtle tones of the Preludio Malbec but it was free and to reject free alcohol is against the backpacker code. After several refills we finally slurred at Mr Hugo that we really did have to go and with great regret we zigzagged our way towards the bus stop and Mendoza where a delightful overnight bus was waiting to take us to Cordoba, talking the whole while about how much we wished we were still sitting under the stars with Julio having our necks massaged and our palates tickled…

There are more pictures from Mendoza available in the gallery

July 15, 2010 at 12:20 am 6 comments


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Thanks for coming to visit us – stay tuned to watch us argue, punch, kick, pinch and scream our way around some of the most beautiful parts of the world.

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