Evita’s “Permanent” Home: The Recoleta Cemetery

In my visit to Buenos Aires last year, our hotel was directly across one of BB.AA.’s most famous sites:  the Recoleta Cemetery.  Why is it famous?  Well, that crazy woman, Evita, is buried there.  Hence, tons of tourists and Evita lovers (domestic or international) flock to the cemetery to see her tomb.  I am one of those tourists.  (Admitting one has a problem is the first step to recovery…)  In any case, I first visited that cemetery as a young pup in 1991 and returned last year, not because I had to see it, but because, well, it was there… right across my hotel room window!

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The Recoleta Cemetery with the church to the right

The Recoleta Cemetery is next to the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and its history is tied to the church back when it had a convent associated with it.  The church dates from 1732 but the cemetery is a century younger.  Evita is not the only notable buried there but, likely, the most famous of them; others include Presidents, poets, Nobel laureates, etc.  Now, if you want to look for Evita’s tomb in the cemetery ‘guide,’ do not look under Perón (her married last name) – look for Duarte, her maiden name…

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SPOILER ALERT:  The family mausoleum where Evita’s remains rest

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I’d recommend walking around aimlessly and absorbing the different mausoleum styles.  It is artwork for sure.

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Typical scene at the Recoleta cemetery

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One thing I will say is that staying so close to it allowed me to see the area at different times and what seemed just like a cemetery with star power became a part of town with a healthy dose of local life.  Of course, I may be swayed by the Freddo‘s located a few storefronts down from my hotel but their gelato is just so good that I can’t have just one (my fellow trekkers quickly realized how crazy I was about Freddo’s gelato!).

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Freddo’s – I could not wait to take a bite…

 

Images of La Boca: A Colorful Barrio in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is composed of many “barrios“, or neighborhoods.  Few are as colorful or as well-known as La Boca, on the southeast corner of the city, close to the Riachuelo which feeds the Rio de la Plata.  La Boca started very much as an Italian immigrant neighborhood, working class and fairly poor.  It remains mostly so except that its center has become not only quite colorful but also a magnet for tourism with its famous street “Caminito” and the tango dancers all around. La Boca hosts the Boca Junior football (soccer) team at a stadium whose real name does not matter much.  Its nickname is what counts:  La Bombonera!  (bonbon box).

Though it seems a little over-done these days (code words for “tourist trappish”), it nevertheless conveys a sense of part of Buenos Aires’ history and charm.  Tourist souvenir shops, cafés, street performers, colorful buildings, tango performers, and some historical markers all form part of this area of town.  Oh, and don’t miss the colorful figures that are perched on balconies, streetwalk, or windows – you may recognize Evita, Pope Francis, and Maradona (druggie, druggie!)/

Here are, as promised, the images of this barrio.  Check it out if you go to Buenos Aires!

Click on the image for full-size viewing.

Fitz Roy and Glacier National Park: Nature at Its Best

My recent trek with Trekking for Kids in Patagonia, the southern part of the continental Americas, had two components:

  1. A day hike and a glacier visit in the Argentinian side of Patagonia, and
  2. A 5-day hike in the Chilean side of Patagonia, including a glacier hike.

Here, I will cover the day hike in Argentina.  A later post will cover the glacier visit to Perito Moreno glacier and further posts will cover the 5-hike along the W circuit in the Torres del Paine Park in Chile.

Hiking in Argentina:  Fitz Roy and its siblings

The day hike in Argentina took us to a beautiful setting north of the town of El Calafate in the large southern provide of Santa Cruz:  the National Glaciers Park and Reserve (Parque y Reserva Nacional Los Glaciares).  After landing in El Calafate from Buenos Aires (about 3 hour+ flight time), we headed to the small town of El Chaltén (established in 1985 mainly to serve as a border town and entry point to the area we were going to hike in).  From El Chaltén we would start our day hike anchored on the majestic Fitz Roy peak.  What makes this area magnificent is not just Fitz Roy (which used to be called El Chaltén) but the series of peaks that go with it along the glaciers that sit in the spaces in between.

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The peaks and the town of El Chaltén as we approached at the end of a day

Approaching Fitz Roy taking Senda El Pilar

We left our hotel, El Barranco, on a vehicle to take us to the entry point for our hike.  It was not the typical entry point as we had to cut through a small hotel (Hostería El Pilar) that sits right by one of the entrances to the park (we had permission to do so!).  We reached the trail we were looking for, Senda El Pilar, which we took and followed the Río Blanco facing first Torre Eléctrica and its glacier, then moving on to see the Marconi glacier.Fitz Roy, Chaltén, glacier national park, Senda el Pilar, Patagonia, Argentina, hiking, trekking, photo, travel, Olympus,

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Torre Eléctrica initially blocks full view of Fitz Roy upon starting the hike

There are quite a few spots to stop for great pictures but Fitz Roy and its siblings are ever-present.  In no time, we got to a point with a great view of Fitz Roy and the Piedras Blancas (“white rocks”) glacier:

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One of the great views from Senda El Pilar

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Gotta play with the camera’s features sometime…

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Headed to Poincenot camp

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Enjoying a break and the view (Fitz Roy is the tallest and Poincenot peak second tallest)

Soon after that, at Poincenot camp, Senda El Pilar would end and we would then turn to take Senda Fitz Roy to return to El Chaltén.  Poincenot has camping grounds that have latrines if people prefer using those.  From Poincenot, trekkers can go up to Laguna de los Tres but we did not do that portion.

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Markers were strategically placed along the route

We proceed to take Senda Fitz Roy for the second and longer part of our hike.  On that trail, we hit the Capri Lake where some enjoyed cooling off their feet – or even a quick dip!

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Lake Capri and the peaks behind it

This was one of the last great vantage points for admiring the peaks and glaciers.  We entered different terrain as we proceeded to the last part of our hike.

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Along Senda Fitz Roy

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Along Senda Fitz Roy

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Along Senda Fitz Roy:  these rocks are much taller than they appear – we saw rock climbers on it

Once we finished the trail, we just walked right into town!

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Senda Fitz Roy leads us back to El Chaltén!

Our hike had been around 15 kms and it took us around 7 hours with a few nice stops along the way.  I highly recommend this hike – not strenuous but moderate and with the amazing views I have shown you here (and others I did not!).

Buenos Aires Re-Visited (Again)

When I sat down to write this post, my first thought was:  “What can I possibly write about Buenos Aires that has not been written before?”  Good question.

My visit there was triggered by its being the location of two children’s homes we were going to help via a trek to Patagonia with Trekking for Kids.  I was not disappointed in that being the location as my prior visits to Buenos Aires, even the overnight trip one, were always good:  good city, good vibe, good food, and good wine.

I decided to go two days ahead of the official start of the group trip so that I would have some time to tool around some.  Tooling around soon turned out to include a day trip to nearby Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, across the river from Buenos Aires.

So, I turned my attention to determining where to stay.  I had already paid a good bit to be able to trek in Patagonia after the time in Buenos Aires so I was looking for a good alternative to just paying a hotel room.  Two others from the trek decided to come early too so, immediately, I decided that an apartment rental was the best option.  Using FlipKey, I found a great 2 bedroom apartment in Palermo on a high floor and with some good views.  Mercifully, it had A/C as it was summer in Buenos Aires.  (FlipKey did a great job of showing me apartments based on my criteria which included not only location and price point but availability of A/C and wifi!)

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My room at the apartment: nice corner and a balcony!

The landlord was very friendly and flexible but was spot on on restaurant recommendations – bonus!  And when I looked out of the balcony, I recognized the small square by the building as one I had seen on HGTV’s House Hunters International a couple of years ago.

After the couple of days on our own, we moved to the hotel were the group was going to stay while we worked with the children’s homes outside of Buenos Aires in Moreno.  The hotel was located in Recoleta, another nice neighborhood in Buenos Aires.  The hotel was located across from the Recoleta cemetery where Evita is buried.  I lucked out with the room assignment and had a great view of the cemetery and could even see the ocean, er, the river.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta, cemetery, Argentina, photo, travel, South America, church, architecture, history, Evita, Olympus

The Recoleta Cemetery

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Typical scene at the Recoleta cemetery

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Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar right at the cemetery’s entrance

I had visited the cemetery in 1991 but still went back in to look for Evita.  Of course, there is a sign indicating where the famous’ tombs are but if you look for Evita under “P” for Perón, you will not find her.  You must look under Duarte, her maiden name.

Evita, Eva, Peron, Argentina, Buenos Aires, Duarte, Recoleta, cemetery, travel, photo, Olympus

The family mausoleum where Evita’s remains rest

Eva looms large in the Argentine psyche – and on the side of buildings too…

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That’s Evita up there

The other plus for the hotel -and another thing that loomed large for me- is that it was a few storefronts down from my favorite ice cream place in Argentina: Freddos, first discovered by me in 1991!

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I could not even wait to snap a photo before taking a bite (or 3)

Oh, the food in Buenos Aires…

Maybe the city should be renamed “Buena Comida”, instead of “Buenos Aires”…  In my time in Buenos Aires, I probably gained weight.  The likely contributors certainly included my almost daily Freddo’s ice cream cup but it also included the incredible beef, pastries, desserts, and wines enjoyed at places like Cabaña Las Lilas (which serves some of the highest quality of beef I have ever had as well as an incredible appetizer plate), Campo Bravo (where we enjoyed a highly diverse plate of cow components…), El Trapiche (a locals place with not only great beef but amazing pasta), and even Biking Buenos Aires (a bike tour that provided delicious pastries during our break)!

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The appetizer plate at Cabaña Las Lilas was a home run!

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The parrillada at Campo Bravo:  name that part

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Butternut squash stuffed pasta with an outstanding blue cheese sauce

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Pastries served as a snack during the bike ride

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Mate cups

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Don’t forget dessert: this beauty courtesy of Cabaña Las Lilas

A place to stroll around – and bike around!

Buenos Aires is such a walkable city.  Trees and parks everywhere and, as I shared before, PLENTY-O monuments in this South American metropolis.  Walking down Ave. Libertador, which is bordered by a park between it and the river, is a good way to stretch the legs after an overnight flight – or after a massive lunch on beef and wine…  #justsayin

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Ave. Libertador is good for walking, jogging or riding!

One thing I had not contemplated to do is in Buenos Aires is to ride bicycles.  I mean, ride a bicycle in a large metropolis in Latin America?  Nuts, right??  Well, let me tell you, it was so much fun and, actually, safe!  I did not realize it but Buenos Aires has built bike lanes in some parts of town which meant that about 80% of the bike tour I did with Biking Buenos Aires was on bike lanes.  For about 13 of us, we had the main guide who shared a lot of great information about the sights, and two additional guides who supported the group, handled crossing intersections, and were just great guys.

I had never visited La Boca (more on it later) and got to re-visit the Plaza de Mayo and ride around the Casa Rosada.  We rode around Puerto Madero were we had a snack.  And then we hung out at the bike tour office to eat delicious empanadas that we had bought.  Enjoy these final pictures of what we saw during my bike tour and don’t forget to eat and explore to your hearts’ content in incredible Buenos Aires!

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The Buenos Aires Cathedral in the back and the old Cabildo on the left

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The Women’s Bridge by Calatrava in Puerto Madero

 

On My Way Back to Trek in Patagonia

Soon, I will be headed on another travel adventure.  This one will be another trekking adventure with Trekking for Kids (TFK) with whom I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the Transylvanian Alps in Romania, and “pilgrimaged” on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  I am thrilled because I get to return to a part of the world that is remote, pristine, and with which I fell in love the first time I went in 2010:  Patagonia.  No, not the store but the southern part of the continent of South America.

The trip begins in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  OK, it really begins at the Atlanta airport but that’s just a technicality.  We will spend a few days in the Argentine capital working with a local orphanage that is benefiting from our trek.  If you would like to donate to the work TFK is sponsoring, please visit my fundraising page; all donations go STRAIGHT to the orphanage, not my costs and are 100% tax-deductible in the U.S.  In any case, I have gotten to visit Buenos Aires a couple of times and it is truly a great city!

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ilivetotravel in Buenos Aires MANY moons ago!

But I decided to take advantage of having some flexibility and will arrive a couple of days early to head over to a lesser-known jewel in neighboring Uruguay:  a colonial charming town appropriately and simply named “Colonia,” mentioned in the book 1,000 Places to See before You Die.  Not planning on dying anytime soon but better safe than sorry, no? 🙂

After the orphanage work, we will fly down to the town of El Calafate on the Argentine side of Patagonia.  From there we will hike around the iconic Fitz Roy peak and its siblings,  and visit the famous and imposing Perito Moreno glacier.

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Note the size of the glacier when compared to the boat in the red circle on the upper right

After visiting the glacier park, we will transfer the next day to Puerto Natales, the Chilean town that is the real gateway to the wildness and beauty of Patagonia (I like the Chilean side better!).

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At the waterfront in Puerto Natales, gateway to glacier boat tours

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Example of the local architecture in Puerto Natales

I stayed in Puerto Natales when I visited in 2010 and there is something about its remoteness, its simplicity that was charming to me.  From there, we will launch our trek to the impressive Torres del Paine, surrounded by lakes and glaciers.  Our route is the typical route to trek there – it is called the “W” route.  Take a look at the map (with the route in red) and you will see where the name comes from!

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The W circuit

I am thrilled at this upcoming adventure and have tons to do to prepare.  I also wonder if I am physically ready enough as I will be needing to carry about 30 lbs on my back – a first for me in any of my hikes.  Wish me luck and stay tuned for future write-ups on the experience!

 

Buenos Aires: A Monument-al City

While on a three-month assignment in Chile many years ago, I visited Buenos Aires, Argentina for the first time to spend the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday there.  Besides locals, my co-workers included a fellow American colleague and folks from Buenos Aires (abbreviated in Spanish “B.B.A.A.”; leave me a comment if anyone is curious why not “B.A.”).  We all had great fun in Santiago and exploring Chile together.  So when the time came to book our tickets home for Thanksgiving, the other American and I thought to ourselves:  why not go to BB.AA. and get to know it with our friends from work?  We thought for a moment about our families and about missing the turkey, and decided (smartly) that this was our chance to see monumental BB.AA., all travel expenses paid.

Seeing some of the key sights

BB.AA. is monumental.  Period.  Not only because of its size but also because of its architecture too, reminiscent of Paris and Madrid, just rolled into one.  Of course, it is not Paris but it gets as close as I have seen any other city outside of France to look like it.

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The very-classical Cathedral of Buenos Aires.

No visit to BB.AA. at that time could skip seeing the Plaza de Mayo, where the mothers of the people who disappeared during military dictatorship had been protesting for years (and, at the time of my visit, maybe for other reasons, according to my local friends).  The plaza is in front of the Casa Rosada, the Argentine president’s residence and offices.

Buenos Aires, Argentina, city, monuments, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel, Casa Rosada, presidential palace, Evita

The “Casa Rosada” (Pink House; any similarity or apparent relationship between it, its current resident and the Pink Panther are purely coincidental).  Evita made its rear balcony famous in her Broadway musical.

BB.AA. has evolved since those days, as all places do.  For example, Puerto Madero has become a great area to visit, dine, etc.  But in this first of my three visits to Argentina, that area was nothing like it is today; it was a blighted area.

We walked tons, visiting the cemetery where the aforementioned Evita is buried, walking down the sprawling Ave. Libertador with its many lanes that behave as one, shopping in Calle Florida, and all that good stuff.  It is, like many great cities, a city one can enjoy best by roaming aimlessly.

Food.  Oh, the food.

Food, oh, food.  The Argentine capital is a veritable source of good food.  Nothing complicated.  We had Thanksgiving dinner at an Italian restaurant near Ave. Callao.  Being that Argentina has tons of Italian blood for many immigrants, the meal was top notch.  It wasn’t turkey but it was outstanding.

One of our co-workers invited us to an “asado” – BBQ Argentina-style.  It was at his parents’ place and they grilled EVERY part of the beast.  We were teased into trying a “weird” part so I opted for the kidney which seemed the “safer” thing.  Not a fan of the texture though the flavor wasn’t bad…

My favorite meal was at the Costanera.  I don’t know if it exists in the same format as it did so many years ago but, boy, the piece of steak was OUTSTANDING and it was buried under a PILE of REAL French fries.  I ordered half a steak and it covered the entire plate – a normal size plate!  A meal to remember – if you don’t drink too much wine with it.

Finally, my absolute favorite thing was Fredo‘s ice cream – really, gelato.  There were many locations and every time we ran into one, we had to go in… My favorite flavor:  wine cream.  Out of this world or, what Argentines would say with great fervor:  ¡¡¡ES-PEC-TA-CU-LAR!!!!

Monuments ‘R Us

There are many ways to describe BB.AA. but one that sticks with me is that it is just a massive collection of monuments. Wow. Every place you turn, a statue (with or without a fountain)! Incredible. Here is a series of photos showing what I am talking about…

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In front of the Cabildo (or town hall).  A great place to catch some shade.

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In the Palermo area (as I pulled this photo out of the album to scan it, I realized this square and those buildings had been in an episode of House Hunters International not long ago!)

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The fountain to Urquiza, an Argentine general and politician with the Ave. Libertador in the background (that speck at the top edge of the fountain is me)

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Monument to the Argentine nation

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National Congress and its own monument

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Statue and yours truly

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To close it up:  a double.  The Thinker (left) and Plaza de Mayo (right) with me as the common factor (with my stylishly rolled up jeans)

Do you agree that Buenos Aires is a monument-al city?? 🙂

Photo of the Week – The Grandiose Andes

The Himalayas sound remote and far away?  Well, the Andes are ALMOST as tall and with spectacular views too.

The Andes viewed from the plane on a trip from Mendoza, Argentina to Santiago, Chile

I dream of the Andes

You can take a VERY short flight from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina (for peanuts if you buy the ticket in Chile) and you get this impressive view.  I fell in love with the view in 1991 and it took 19 yrs to see it again.  But I did.  God’s wonderful work on display!

A Long Trip to Get to a Glacier

The first time I heard about the Perito Moreno glacier was back in 1991 when an Argentinian friend mentioned having gone there and it being “espectacular!” as Argentines are prone to say when they like something enough.  I finally got to visit it but, in doing my research, I was surprised at its location, well inland in Argentina – I had expected it to be near the ocean closer to Tierra del Fuego.

Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina's Patagonia near El Calafate

I had to get to the glacier from Chilean Patagonia which meant a long bus ride from Puerto Natales to El Calafate, the main town right outside the ice fields that give rise to the glacier.  It took about  4 hrs or so to get to El Calafate and that included a stop at Argentinian immigrations/customs; faithful to expectations, a slow process and rather rudimentary baggage check with some luggage opened on the road and a sniffing dog walking ON (not around) the open luggage.  At that border point, we entered the Santa Cruz province which many say is the personal fiefdom of the presidential couple (now just the wife since he passed away).  I am not sure if that is the case or not but the place is certainly vast.

Map of the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina with El Calafate and Perito Moreno

The more one gets away from the border with Chile, the flatter the land becomes.  The scenery is impressive but then you get a few hours of that same landscape and I quickly dozed off to make up for the early pickup time (around 7AM).

The bus was full of passengers.  Most of them were just getting off in El Calafate which seems to serve as a base for backpackers and other travelers but a few of us stayed on to be taken to the glacier, another 1.5 hrs away.  Oh and the bus had its share of people who stank but, mercifully, they were towards the front of the bus and I, being the last one picked up on the road from Puerto Natales, got to sit all the way in the back.  I guess the Northern Hemisphere folks in the front of the bus thought that being on vacation meant skipping on those showers for a couple of days.  Joy.

So, the bus ride was long and tedious.  But what about the main attraction, the glacier?  Well, one quickly realizes one is facing a monumental piece of ice!  The glacier is almost kissing the peninsula directly across from it.  When the “kiss” is “deep”, the glacier splits the water body in front of it in two.  I hear this is the only place in the world where that happens.  After a few years of the deep kiss, the water level rises on one of the sides of the glacier and pressure builds up such that the kiss is broken up.  When I went, there was a very small bridge left between the glacier and the peninsula.

The kiss of Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina's Patagonia near El Calafate

The kiss

The glacier’s front walls are monumentally high.  Nothing helps one get this than seeing large boats come close to the glacier for a close-up.  The glacier is constantly making noises as it moves and shifts and, every 15 minutes or so, a piece of ice (usually small) would break off and fall in the water making a good deal of noise.

Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia near El Calafate, Argentina

The park has been very nicely prepared for the tourists with recently built walkways meandering down the peninsula’s face.  There used to be a concrete path but one clearly sees the difference of being in a nicely built walkway vs. the more rudimentary concrete path that one can still see from the walkway.  There are different paths to follow and one can go as far as one wants or stay as close to the carpark as one wants.  One can see both “faces” of the glacier from most of the walkways so one doesn’t have to risk missing that falling piece of ice!

Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia near El Calafate, Argentina

Great walkways (& lots of stairs!) allow getting close up to the glacier – espectacular, ché!

Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia near El Calafate, Argentina

I feel like something is sneaking up behind me… – portrait of the blogger as a young man

El Calafate was not much of a town but one could do some shopping down the main street.  We hear that in winter there is nothing much to do.  Our guide told us she read a lot and went ice skating on the part of the lake/bay that freezes.  Unfortunately, my time there was limited so I could not discover any hidden gems.  I had not budgeted staying a night there (which was probably a good thing) so I hopped back on the bus to ride all the way back to Puerto Natales.  But I am happy to report that the bus was mostly empty, and most importantly, free of funny smells 🙂

I have no better way of describing how the vastness and general flatness of the land (it wasn’t 100% flat) that in this image I have of the Patagonian sky:  sky in 3-D.  Somehow, one gets a sense of multiple layers of clouds as one stares out and scans the sky.  Perhaps it is the same anywhere else but I have never noticed this until this trip.  I felt validated when later a fellow traveler made the same observation (minus the “3-D” part)…

Patagonia landscape at sunset in Argentina

The long flat road ahead

Patagonia landscape at sunset in Argentina

The vastness of Patagonia

Certainly, the trip from Puerto Natales was way too long for a day trip and, while El Calafate didn’t seem interesting enough for me, spending the night there would have been better for my body.  However, I will say get to see Perito Moreno however you have to as it will be worth your while!

 

Mendoza Wine Tour

As I said in my previous entry about Mendoza, wines are the other good reason to go to Mendoza – the capital of wine in Argentina.

Wine tasting in Mendoza

I had Saturday to play around so I opted for a tour of several wineries as I didn’t feel like renting a car and driving around solo in unfamiliar territory.  It was a great choice.  The wine tour I chose was offered with Trout and Wine.  The tour cost about $135 lasted from 9AM until 5PM and covered 4 different wineries.  At one of the wineries we were to have a 5 course lunch paired with different wines.  The tour was a great idea as the wineries were guaranteed to be open and ready to receive you (though I sensed that would not have been a problem in this season).

Land around a winery in Mendoza, Argentina

At one of the wineries

All the wineries offered us a tour of the facilities as well as a tasting either by sitting down at a pre-set table or by standing around a bar or table (except for the lunch one where we sampled wines paired with the various lunch courses).

Wine barrels in Mendoza wineries in Argentina

Heaven

Wine tanks in Mendoza wineries in Argentina

Heaven, part dos!

We visited Terrazas which sat us down at a table and where we felt we were just having a chat with a knowledgeable friend about wines.

At Belasco de Baquedano, we were treated to the aroma room where you can walk around and try smelling different scents to train your nose.  I actually tried to do the smelling blind to see if I could detect the aromas.  I didn’t do too well, I must admit…  But the concept was phenomenal.

Aroma Room at Belasco de Baquedano winery in Mendoza, Argentina

Aroma Room at Belasco de Baquedano

Our tour guide, Cecilia, had worked at one of the wineries in the past and knew a lot about wine.  That, combined with the on-purpose small size of the tour group, made for a great day.  Along with me were a Danish father and son, and a California couple.  We enjoyed talking throughout the day and exchanging travel stories.

I had asked Cecilia about a good parrillada place for dinner (meaning, a good local place) and she recommended Estancia La Florencia on Ave. Sarmiento which was really a building away from my hotel.  The California couple and I decided to go together for dinner and we had a fabulous dinner in a mostly-locals only restaurant with great atmosphere.  It was the perfect place for a piece of Argentine steak!

Wine tour ends – Cross back the Andes!

As I flew back Sunday, I got to see Mt. Aconcagua (tallest mountain in the Americas, north of 22,000 feet).  Unfortunately, it was on the opposite side of the plane so I could not get a good picture of it but I did manage to get a few good pictures from my side of the plane.  Enjoy!

Crossing the Andes by plane - view of the mountains!

The awesome Andes

 

 

Crossing the Andes by plane - view of the mountains!

 

 

A Weekend in Mendoza, Argentina

My current business trip to Santiago is for 2 weeks so I had a weekend in between to either:  walk around Santiago and re-discover parts of it, opt to go and visit southern Chile (Puerto Montt or Pucón, for example; both of which I had visited in 1991), or go to nearby Mendoza, Argentina (capital of Argentine wine country).  Because it is peak season in the south (high airfares, no rental cars available, and only 2 days) and due to a colleague strongly recommending Mendoza, I chose the quick trip over the mountains to Mendoza, Argentina, a place I have been wanting to visit because of its wines.

Mendoza, as the eagle flies, is pretty darn close to Santiago.  However, the magnificent Andes sit in between.  So the drive takes 6-7 hours over spectacular landscape from what I hear.  However, I also hear customs on either side of the border can be quite bad so for a 2-day weekend visit, I had to fly.  Luckily, LAN had an $82 fare (taxes included) and a 30-40 min flight time so it all became a no-brainer for me.   My colleague suggested a moderately priced hotel ($60/night) in a great location so that eliminated guesswork and research time which I didn’t have.  She also got me some recommendations for restaurants which was great.  Flying over the Andes brings with it incredible winds and both flights gave me a run for my money in terms of scary moments!

Exploring the town of Mendoza proper

I arrived in Mendoza around 5 PM and had no problem getting a taxi at the airport at the rate I had been told ($23A or $8US).  The Hotel Internacional where I stayed was OK.  The room was not as nice as the pics on the website but the hotel was quite decent for the price.  For the $60/night, it included a good breakfast and wi-fi.  The location was great, surrounded by good eateries and close to the center of town.

I walked the town Friday after I arrived and on Sunday morning.  The contrast couldn’t have been any bigger:  the pedestrian part of Sarmiento (the main street) was a beehive of activity Friday but almost deserted Sunday morning.  It sports cafes and shops and you can see the locals coming out from their homes to enjoy fresh air – and likely “cooler” temperatures than their own homes.

Calle Sarmiento in Mendoza, Argentina

The not yet crowded Calle Sarmiento

Calle Sarmiento in Mendoza, Argentina

Calle Sarmiento begins to pick up customers!

Mendoza is very, very hot this time of the year (90s – but dry) and I doubt everyone has AC at home.  So it is nicer to sit in a plaza and enjoy some breezes under the shade of the many trees that line the streets of Mendoza (an odd thing considering it rarely ever rains here and that it is very arid land; the answer is that snow melt is captured and then released to the city and farms via an ingenious curbside open flow system).

Water collection from snow melt curbside in Mendoza, Argentina

The ingenious way to collect water!

Sunday morning, I got to walk almost in total solitude around town, covering all major squares and parks in the center.  Mendoza struck me as a town that would be probably a great place to live as it is pleasant, clean, and not chaotic as Buenos Aires.  At the same time, the time I spent walking around was probably all that a tourist needs to do in the town itself while visiting (surely, I am omitting some museums or theaters) outside of just chilling (in which case a tourist can do a LOT of that perhaps while enjoying wine, beer or ice cream at a café…).

Bank building in Mendoza, Argentina

Government building in Mendoza, Argentina

Need I say? A government building, of course…

Statue in Mendoza, Argentina

Now, while the city is not a grand collection of sites for tourist interest, there are 2 things that make it quite a good choice destination to see:  1.  the food.  2.  wine country.  Food, I will share here.  Wine

Food

I ate at Mi Tierra on Friday night where I enjoyed empanadas to start and deer raviolis for dinner.  The food was definitely good but I wouldn’t call it spectacular.  The ambience of the restaurant is outstanding.  (Watch out:  the menu offer is only valid if you pay cash!)

Mi Tierra restaurant in Mendoza, Argentina

Mi Tierra

Saturday night, I ate at La Florencia on the corner of Sarmiento and Peru, a few steps away from my hotel.  This is not the same type of fancy restaurant than Mi Tierra (or a couple of the other restaurants recommended by my colleague, like Azafrán).  It feels very local (in fact, most of the customers seemed either local or, at least, Argentinian) and was highly recommended by my wine tour guide.  She was right!  I was wanting just a normal Argentine piece of steak and fries and this place was PERFECT!  The menu was quite broad and everything I saw served looked fantastic.  We sat there for 3 hours and we felt we were at home.  THAT’S the experience I was wanting and I got it!

La Florencia restaurant in Mendoza, Argentina, great for parrillada

 

I definitely think I chose wisely how to spend a weekend.  While another day would have allowed me to go to the base of Aconcagua (I really wanted to do that), I cannot complain because I did get to sample great food and a taste of life in this western town!

Re-visiting Buenos Aires

So, in 1991, I met BB.AA.  Enjoyed exploring it, enjoyed the great food, and enjoyed seeing it with people who lived there.  Fast forward to 2000.  Company offers me an opportunity to go deliver a training class of 3 days.  What to do?  Had I ever taught or even attended the training class before?  No.  But, of course, if they thought I could teach it, who was I to defy corporate wisdom?

Getting there not always half the fun

Back then, there was no direct flight from Atlanta so I was to connect in Miami to a United flight to BB.AA.  Due to an earlier cancelled flight to BB.AA., United decided to bump me off the flight.  Now, I understand how these things work – most of the time – but I had paid full fare in business class so I do not understand how United made such a brilliant decision to bump off a full fare paying passenger of a large international business.  (No wonder U.S. airlines continue to fail miserably in their business model… But that should be a topic for a different blog.)  Suffice it to say that the resolution to this was both good and bad.  Good, I could still leave that night.  Bad, I had to connect now through Sao Paulo to get to BB.AA.  Good, they put me on first class on the way down and the way up.  Good, the never-ending refills of Dom Perignon.  Good, the comfort of the seats.  Bad, international first class back then did not have the fancy “seat-cabins” you see today.  Good, I could use the first class lounge in Miami on the way back which had fantastic shower rooms.  Neutral, the Canadian Airlines flight from Sao Paulo to BB.AA. got sprayed upon landing in BB.AA. as happens in flights between other countries (I assume to kill off any bad germs).  Bad, I am allergic to those sprays which meant within 24 hrs. I was bedridden in my BB.AA. hotel killing my day to prepare to deliver the training…

But the good wins

In between landing and getting bedridden, I re-connected with one of my Argentine friends with whom I had worked in Chile in 1991 (the one who got us to ride in the colectivo during my BB.AA. visit in 1991 and to whom I may owe having survived that ride).  Had dinner in a non-descript local place and then headed over their place to have some mate.   Good to see Hugo and his wife again.

The training class was in a subject I was well acquainted topic so I followed the lead of my co-teacher and was able to add good value to the trainees’ learning experience (or so I think!).  I knew some of them from past work and had a great time in spite of not feeling well.

I did also get to see how much BB.AA. had changed.  Home Depot now had a store there.  The dollar now could be used as currency.  However, they did not accept any bill that was slightly torn or stained.  The irony was that when giving you change, they felt they could give you back torn or stained Argentine bills…  Oh, and I got to re-connect with empanadas.  Empanadas are a gift from God via Argentina [good eats].  And I got to see how the city had undertaken urban renewal, like in the area of Puerto Madero, making it even more enjoyable to visit.

This particular trip was way too short to explore more of the city but it was sure good to see it again and see how it had changed.

What would others recommend people check out these days?  It is 2009, 9 yrs since my last visit which was 9 yrs after my first visit.  I feel I am due again and wonder “what’s new, Buenos Aires!”

Visiting Buenos Aires

I have had the opportunity to visit Buenos Aires, Argentina three times: in 1991, 2000, and 2010 (I don’t like the spacing between visits…).  The first time was a weekend trip when I was living in Santiago, Chile and the second sent do co-deliver a training session for my company’s office there.  The third visit was for a short business trip when I got work -again- in Santiago, Chile (yes, I am blessed!).  I will write here about the trip in 1991.

Exploring Buenos Aires

Though we were entitled to be flown back to the U.S. from Santiago for Thanksgiving in 1991, we made a small “business case” to our manager that it would be way cheaper if they paid for us to go to BB.AA. (airfare, hotel and airport transportation).  We worked with some Argentines in Chile who flew home every weekend (abt a 2 hr flight) so they encouraged us to go and hang out with them.

We booked a hotel in Recoleta which was a nice part of town.  With our friends, we got to explore fantastic food.  The well-known area of La Costanera [good eats] did deliver a fantastic steak meal.  I remember that I wasn’t very hungry so I ordered half a steak.  The steak was as big as the large plate it was served on – of course, to see it I had to work through the pile of French fries on top of the steak.

obelisco-bbaa1BB.AA. is a great city to walk around.  The architecture (reminiscent of Paris) and the diversity of the people provide a lot of things to look at as you make your way between places to visit.  We had to make the ¨obligatory¨visit to the cemetery where Eva Perón is buried, see the Casa Rosada (the president’s house), watch the mothers still marching many years after military left power in front of the Casa Rosada, walk down Calle Florida (a great pedestrian shopping street).  Perhaps the most exciting thing we did was take a local bus to go to a colleague’s house.  The bus (or ¨colectivo¨) never really stops to let you in nor to let you out so with coaching from our local friend, my other American colleague and I managed to be successful in these 2 maneuvers…  A real adventure!

The thing we enjoyed the most though was a gelato chain called Fredo’s [good eats].  The gelato was superb and my personal favorite was the wine cream gelato.  I think we stopped at a Fredo’s whenever we saw one. 

Asado at a Friend’s

We enjoyed going around town with our friends and glad they were doing the driving.  I recall the Ave. Libertador having about 5 to 7 lanes of traffic with no lanes painted on the road surface.  I met chaos that night.  The best part of the trip was the time we were invited to one of our friend’s parents’ house for a traditional Argentine ¨asado¨ (read, BBQ) [good eats].  True Argentine hospitality!  When it came time for the main course, they brought a huge round piece of wood loaded with all the meat that had benn grilled.  All the meat meant all of the cow.  We were asked to choose a non-¨traditional¨piece of meat.  I went for the kidney as I didn’t fancy some of the other crazier parts…  Not impressed with the texture of the kidneys.

I flew Pan Am between Santiago and BB.AA.  Flying over the high peaks of the Andes on my first ride ever on a 747 was exhilarating and unnerving.  It looked as if the mountaintops were going to scrape the underbelly of the airplane.  And yet, looking at the cabin of the airplane, I couldn’t fully comprehend how such an airplane managed to fly.  On a semi-historical note, my flight back to Santiago was the last day Pan Am flew.

BB.AA. is definitely a town made to be explored and enjoyed.  Back in 1991, the country was just enjoying economic stability after the hyperinflationary period and everyone’s mood was great.   BB.AA. has changed tons since that first visit as I discovered in later visits – it has become even more exciting and interesting – an Argentines are still a heck of a lot of fun!

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