Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Wine Ice Cream

We had a very chilled out day today after hiking around in blistering heat yesterday. The locals recommened we try the 'helado de vino' which comes in both red and white (cabernet y torrontés) wine flavour (more like a sorbet) and is pretty damn good. That set the tone for the rest of the day as we went on to visit a couple more bodegas and sampled some really good 2003 cabernet sauvignon) at Domingo Hermanas winery and brought a few bottles back to hostel
for further research. Tomorrow we continue on to Angastaco and will need to hitch a ride north to Cachi as there is no public transport but the scenery is supposed to be out of this world.

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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Cafayate

Cafayate is a pleasant small town where I would strongly recommend the extremely laid back Hosteria Rustik, where the super friendly owner Walter can take up for 4 people on a 5 hour afternoon tour of the surrounding region 'Quebrada de Cafayate' for 35 pesos. This trip has spectacular photo opportunities (similar but surpassing Bryce Canyon in the States) and from a scenery perspective, the highlight of the trip so far.
As luck would have it, there are also numerous wineries (bodegas) in this part of the country, as the altitude and climate are ideal especially for the malbec grape. Pietri Marini malbec 2004 was particularly good with the local speciality of roast goat (cabrito) and the first day in ages I didn't eat steak. The wife of the current president Cristina Kirchner has just been announced as the new president so not much likely to change on the political front.

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Monday, 29 October 2007

Quilmes

We hopped off the bus in Amaicha and by a stroke of luck we were approached by a local called Sebastian Pastrana (www. sumajpacha.com Tel 54 (03892) 421433 who runs a native tour of the Quilmes ruins. You can do the tacky touristy tour from other outfits but it was extremely interesting getting the local insight into what continues to be a tragic situation.
The 'Machu Pichu-esk' ruins (much of which have been restored) date from the 9th century A.D. but the inhabitants were brutally conquered and then scattered by the Spanish in the 17th century, after resisting capture for 130 years and only a fraction of the original population of 5000 were able to remain and settle in the area.
Most of the artifacts including mummies were pilfered and sold to private collections during the military dictatorship in the 1970's.
Worse was to come however as the gangster X-president Menem privatized the ruins (making himself and his cronies a nice tidy profit as usual) with the result that the local descendants get nothing from what is actually their land. A court case to retrieve their land is ongoing but with most of the judicial system in the pockets of the politicains, the outlook is far from positive.

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Sunday, 28 October 2007

Cerca Tafí del Valle

Tafí del Valle is a small (touristy) town nestled in a valley and has several interesting day trips close by (see below).
Last nights highlight certainly wasn't the food but as we sat out for a beer at dusk and saw a gaucho in full tradional garb, meander down the main street on his horse, completely ossified drunk and swaying back n' forth in the saddle. How he did'nt end up arse backways on the street is still a mystery.
We visited Esatncia Las Carerras which is reknowned for its cheese production and El Mollar where you find Los Menhires (ancient standing stones). Quilmes (no, not the beer) the pre-Incan ruins are next on the itinery. Speaking of beer, they have some impressive local beers here (cervezas arteseñales) like the microbrewries in the States which are really good and a welcome respite from the otherwise bland popular brands like Norte.

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Saturday, 27 October 2007

Tucumán

After an overnight bus, we arrived at Tucamán at 9am and after the double espresso kick started my brain into gear we went exploring. Due to several bad hair days, brought on by sleeping on buses and extreme heat, I decided to get my hair chopped and the hairdresser went full throttle with the scissors, so I don't think I'll have any styling probs with the bit that's left.
Tucaman is where they signed the declaration of independence from Spain in 1916 and there are several interesting buildings around the main square (Plaza Indepedencia) including Casa de Gobierno (Government House) where no less than the Governers own interpretor gave us a personal guided tour in English. She recounted being mocked by a barman in Dublin for drinking Coke at the bar (proper order too!) Since everything closes from 1 to 4pm for siesta we headed on to the small town of Tafí del Valle (105 kms north) where we'll spend the next few days and more importantly, finally take a shower!

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Friday, 26 October 2007

Parque Ischigualasto & Talampaya

Both of these national parks are impressive in their own right and within a few hours of each other. Parque Ischigualasto (a.k.a. Valley of the moon) has unusual non earth-like landscapes and is renowned for dinasaur fossils - best light/photos in the p.m.
Parque Talampaya which was privatised by the gangster X - president Memem (who and makes Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern look like Mother Teresa) has massive sheer red cliffs & strange rock formations & rock drawings thousands of years old. - best light/photos in the a.m.
Based on the quotes we'd been given for entrance fees etc, we calculated we had just about enough for lunch and would probably find an atm or pay the entrance or lunch by credit card. We thought WRONG! After entrance fees, we ended up with 5 pesos to spare and no way to get lunch or more importantly, to the next destination, Villa Union, 70kms north, so we had to plead with the park rangers to give us a freebie lift, which thankfully (although against reglations, blah, blah, blah!) they did. As I write this, we are on route to Rioja city and then on to the Province of Tucaman (400kms north).

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Thursday, 25 October 2007

San Juan & Around

There isn't too much going on San Juan to be honest (ok - it's a dead loss really). The only positive spin I can put on it is we did sample some champagne in a pretty cool winery in Zonda (15kms south west) which is built into a cave apparently for optimal storage temperatures and one of only three in the world of this type.
4 hours north we reached Ville Fertíl where we stayed in a great place called Hostería Ville Fertíl (they are renowned for roast kid in the resaturant) on top of a hill overlooking town and a lake. The only downside was some school kids tour camping below doing some kind of really bad Argie karaoke at full pitch. If I had a grenade, I would've been seriously tempted to lob one. Where is Simon Cowell when you need him?!!!

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Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Termas Cacheuta and S.A. Syndrome

We arrived in Mendoza at 6am and there's a route north of Mendoza to Calingasta & Iglesia which is supposed to have spectacular scenery but despite asking around and internet research, I've been unable to find either public transport or a rental car to get us there. We're getting to the more remote parts of Argentina which means less facilities & less transport options but hopefully rewarding if we keep at it.
One of the problems with travelling is adapting to changes in diet which can often have negative side effects and this appears to have been the case after Chile. Without being too graphic, 'Squirt Alert' a.k.a.'Delhi Belly' hit hard so we decided to take it easy and chill out at the public hot springs in the isolated but scenic Cacheuta (mentioned in a previous post & 30kms south west) and make our way north back to touristy Mendoza in the evening when bowel stability had returned which was a good excuse for another big steak and a bottle of Malbec a.k.a. normal food.
Today we head to San Juan for the day and San Agustin de Ville Fertíl this evening which is the base for exploring two major national parks which many a guide book and local peeps rave about.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Valparaíso and the Pacific Ocean

We heard good things about Valparaíso so continued west another 140kms. It's a picturesque city embedded in the side of hills on the coast and sort of remined me of southern Italy with colourful houses stacked on a series of ridges.
Not to start a theme to this blog but the first thing you notice is stray malnourished dogs wandering around everywhere or just laying in the shade lifeless and dejected but thankfully no 'poo' problem a la Buenos Aires. The second thing you notice is anything on the map not near the coast is a serious uphill hike but luckily they have funiculars or taxis if your feeling lazy.
We hadn't eaten that well for a few days so were asking locals to recommend restaurants but they kept directing us to american diner style places that looked really awful. A lot of people were tucking into massive plates of french fries covered with fried onions, covered with fried eggs, crowned with fried meat (These peeps need to watch 'Supersize Me'). Luckily (thanks to frommers.com) we eventually found a gem of a place called 'Pasta e Vino' on Templeman Street in the historic district and it was superb.
The famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda used to live here and they've converted his house (which is beautifully decorated) into a really cool museum called 'La Sebastiana' where you can get a good insight into his life and which is one of the most visited attractions here.
The following day we visited the coastal town of Viña del Mar which has a nice beach and is 9kms north of Valparaíso. There's not much interest in rugby in Chile and we missed the Pumas impressively beat France (for the second time) to secure third place but we found an obliging bar tender who set us up to watch South Africa beat England in the world cup final. He recounted the tale of two Irish lads that drank the bar dry three years earlier so I put his mind at rest, I wouldn't be attempting a repeat at least not pre-meditated.
Sunset on the beach with a beer & then some fresh fish, capped off a pretty good day before we jumped on a 10pm bus for the 8 hour trip back to Mendoza.

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Monday, 22 October 2007

West to Chile

The route west from Mendoza is called Alta Montaña and the scenery is right up there on the 'WOW' factor. We stayed at the rather pricey thermal spa hotel in Cacheuta for some 'R n R' and pampering last year but you can get a day pass to the public 'termas' just down the road for 15 pesos and get some Asado (Argie BBQ) for lunch.
Further west Puente del Inca is a natural stone bridge stained bright yellow by the sulphur in the water and is a good photo / snack stop off point. The locals sulphurise everything from the virgin Mary to coke cans to sell as soveniers
Among the many Andean mountains you'll see is Aconcagua which is the tallest (6959m) in both south & west hemispheres. You cross into Chile thru a tunnel under the Andes and weather permitting will see a six meter statue of Christ (Cristo Rendator) on a elevated spot.
The border crossing is a long drawn out affair with sniffer dogs roaming solo as you submit immigration forms (4 carbon copies) and another separate custom form. The dog stopped and sat beside a guy in the queue and waited until he had the attention of his trainer. Then he raised his paw and tapped the guy on the knee twice as if to say 'this bloke is a dodgy geeza!'. Quite amazing to watch! The guy was then quietly ushered off to the side, most likely for the ol' rubber glove treatment - yikes!
About 90 minutes after clearing customs (which took over an hour) we reached the small city of Los Andes where we stayed the night (not much here). This morning we're trying to figure out whether to continue to the west coast of Chile or head back east. The weather is great, sunny and 30 celcius.

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Sunday, 21 October 2007

Mendoza & the Vino

We visited Mendoza a few years back so won't be stopping over there this time but if you like the ol' vino then this area is a must see. There are hundreds of wineries (called bodegas here) where you can sample the vino and I'd recommend rather than an organised tour of many bodegas that you hire a car (or a driver if you're planning to over indulge) and take your time to focus on one large winery like Norton and just a few small ones. The larger bodegas are well organized (some require you to book) but you get shuffled along like sheep whereas the smaller bodegas offer a more relaxing personalised experience and the quality is often better.
There's no better reward to a days tasting than uncorking that special malbec you discovered as you watch the sunset against the panoramic snow peaks in the distance.... ah tis' a hard life but someones got to live it!

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Saturday, 20 October 2007

Ach -You can`nie defy the laws of physics cap`in !

Currently having technical problems with the mobile phone not being able to get a signal so have a bit of a back-blog of updates but should be back online within 24 hours fingers crossed :=))

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Thursday, 18 October 2007

The Punilla Valley

19Kms North of La Falda (famous for its cuckoo clock) is the small town of La Cumbre where you can take a short wee hike to a statue of Christ where you have an impressive view for miles around. There's also a lavendar plantation and parapunting and hang gliding if you're feeling adventurous.
A little further north is Los Cocos where you can take a chair lift to the summit for another panoramic view and for 3 pesos more you can descend half the way on a sled via a winding concrete track which definitely worth it. Another highlight here is the maze/labyrinth which almost seems impossible but is do-able.
Last night we did an over nighter from La Falda to San Juan but unfortunately we made a slight miscalculation about the route to Chile as the crossing we wanted to take west of San Jose de Jáchal (note to self - buy a better guide book) is closed due to ice except in summer. Now we're heading to a more southern crossing via Mendoza to Los Andes..

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Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Ché Guevara

We almost missed Alta Gracia altogether as the bus was just stopping where people either flagged it down or rang the bell. Its a nice small town and is a is most renowned as the birth place of Ché Guevara where he lived for 13 years and you can visit one of the houses he lived in as a child which has now been turned into a museum.
There is also a Jesuit compound (now a museum) which is one of the largest in the province of Cordoba and definitely worth a look.
We made our base in La Falda for the night which is ideal for exploring numerous nearby scenic attractions. We've just decided on a whim to make a detour to Chile in the next few days as I need to leave the country (briefly) to get my tourist visa renewed (hopefully!)

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Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Onwards and Upwards North

The beerfest finished up last night so today we're leaving our hangovers and Villa General Belgrano behind and heading north by bus approx 50kms to Alta Gracia. Everyone has to bring their bags onboard as the luggage bay is full which is making it a bit of a tight squeeze but for 8 pesos its hard to complain

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Monday, 15 October 2007

Rained Out

The torrential downpour of rain did its best, but beer won out at the end of the day as people drowned their sorrows over the PUMAS loss or just accepted they were going to get 'drowned' by the rain anyways. Over all, very impressive festival & highly recommened.

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Sunday, 14 October 2007

Live from the Beerfest!

So the last few posts (and the next few) may be a bit rough round the edges as they're live via phone on the move. We figured out why the peeps last night were so blotto - this fiesta kicks off early - yeah baby! They have a multi-cultural gathering here with entertainers from Greece, Russia, Germany' & descedants from all over the world. It's German with a latino / multicultural flav'a

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Beerfest Ahoy!







Arrived last night to a most unusual sight. Argentinans are not typically known for being big drinkers and can sip on a beer until it becomes soup. Last night however we were the only sober people among horde of drunks. The Beerfest ala Argentinian style with salsa & cumbia music was in full swing. It did'nt take us long to catch up however!

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Go PUMAS!!!




Big night last night and likely to be a big day also with the Argentina V South Africa in the rugby world cup. Just watched England beat France so sort of throws it wide open. Had a beer for breakfast (well ok more like brunch) followed by a kebab and a beer for desert - yummy!

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Friday, 12 October 2007

On The Road Again

Now that we're getting off the beaten path, keeping up with emails / facebook / blog will be a bit of a challenge. However I've kitted out my Treo phone with GPS and email so fingers crossed it all works ok!!! This time

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Thursday, 11 October 2007

Digging up the past

I’ve often wondered what happened to old friends and work colleagues so I did some digging on the net last week (ok I've got more free time than most) and there was a pretty good site called ‘friendsreunited’ (http://www.friendsreunited.com ) where I got back in touch with a few people I hadn’t heard from for 13 or more years. This casual research turned into something of an obsession over the last week when I signed up on facebook ( http://www.facebook.com ). It’s got an extremely user friendly interface and you can configure the privacy settings to be as open or closed as you like. I am always afraid of spam from things like this but happy to report no issue. I wish I’d got in on this earlier as I think its going to be huge. There are others out there like Bebo and MySpace but there just doesn’t seem to be the same buzz about those as facebook. There's a good chance you've already got or will get an email inviting you to join so go on, why not give it a whirl? You'll be surprised to see how many of your friends are already on there.

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The Lingo / Language Barrier

I went to enrol in Spanish class yesterday and had to do a written & oral exam. The government sponsors free language classes and you can find details here http://www.lenguasvivasjrf.edu.ar/shop/index.asp.

I learned Spanish in school or should I say, I attended class (in body but not spirit) but languages were never my forte. I hated ‘learning’ French even more than Spanish and only paid slightly more attention to Spanish due to Miss Rodriguez, ‘the hottie’ temp teacher from Madrid who taught us for a few months. Little did I know back then that I would desperately need to understand the grammar, irregular verbs and general comprehension but no turning back the clock now.

Some poor young fella’ got in the lift with me the other day and having got in before him, I did the good citizen approach of asking which floor he wanted to go to ‘Que piso?’ to which he replied ‘quinto’. This completely threw me for a loop but rather than let it get the better of me I took a wild guess and hit ‘4’. He made some comment about ‘cuatro’ to which I replied ‘Si, quinto’. We arrive at the fourth floor and he didn’t budge so I opened the doors (their manual here) and usher him out (what a nice guy I am) although he didn’t seem so appreciative. It’s only later I discover ‘quinto’ = fifth and the poor bloke must have thought I was a demented gringo.

I’ve done a bit of travel in Spain and South America and it’s strange that if you’re hungry enough your lingo improves leaps n’ bounds as it’s either speak or go without. I also noticed a couple of beers seem to improve the fluency as the inhibitions and fear of making a mistake disappear but since drinking in class probably isn’t an option I’m just going to have to knuckle down to it. I got evaluated as pre-intermediate which ain’t too bad. I have a wee conflict with start of classes however as the last weekend of Oktoberfest in Cordoba in the north is this weekend and the plan is to do some more travel towards Bolivia also. Maybe I can use the time brush up on my 'lumfardo' which is local porteño slang phrases.

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Tuesday, 9 October 2007

La Boca

I finally got around to visiting this colourful neighbourhood in the south east of the city at the weekend. It’s near the old port and famous for its houses painted in bright colours and it’s also home to Boca Juniors football club which has a devout following here. There was a River Plate VS Boca Juniors game on Sunday which is classic rivalry similar to the ‘old firm’ (Celtic V Rangers) games back home only much much more intense. The tv stations who don’t have the rights to show the game still have commentators and a camera panning around showing just the crowd in the stadium and the score which is still entertaining if slightly bizarre.


The government organises free tours of ‘La Boca’ and you can find information on this and other free tours here http://www.bue.gov.ar The area has a bit of a ‘dodgy’ reputation for crime and there is a heavy police presence especially at weekends so its advisable to stick to the main streets. There are plenty of restaurants with a bit of a ‘hard sell’ approach to get you to eat and most have entertainment, tango musicians / dancers, albeit somewhat tacky touristy. There was a Maradona look alike offering a photo taken with him for 20-30 pesos a snap which for here is a tad extortionate so I decided to 'leave him on the bench'.

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