Monthly Archives: October 2013

Santiago: the city of dancing people

Mark Twain said that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. In my case life is what happens and distracts me from writing this blog. I am in the United States, and the main thing I lack is time.

My initial plan was to stay in Santiago just a couple of days at most, but eventually I spent several weeks there, with short side trips. The spring in Santiago is an exceptionally pleasant time. I broke down the memories of this wonderful place into several short interconnected chapters. The first of them – ­simply the views of Santiago and the first impressions from it.

Probably the prettiest view of Santiago is from Cerro San Cristobal, the peak to the North of the centre that controls the whole place.

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The road of 365 curves

The road from Mendoza to Santiago crosses the Andes from East to West and is poetically christened The Road of 365 Curves. It passes in close proximity of Acongcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia. From Mendoza there are organised road tours that stop in most picturesque places, including close to the foot of Aconcagua. But as I was going to Santiago anyway, I decided to follow other travellers’ advice and to see this road from the windows of a bus. The trick is to buy a seat in the first row on the second floor of the bus, which is perfectly possible on the well-organised Argentinean bus companies’ websites.

The photos from the road:

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Mendoza 5: The city

Mendoza was one of the most pleasant places on my journey. Although the city itself does not have that many tourist attractions, when I visited it was springtime, perhaps the most gracious time. Mendoza reminded me of Turin and of Gran Canaria, two of my favourite places in the world, with its certain alegría, temperance of climate, character and lifestyle. I will later write a post about food and coffee of South America, where Mendoza will play an important role too.

My acquaintance with it started from a bike tour all around the city on the very first day, including Parque San Martín, a huge green space in the West of the city. It has man-made ponds, tennis courts (which made me feel a terrible itch to play) as well as a stadium, named of course after Argentinean Malvinas.

The view of the Andes from the park:

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Mendoza 4: Self-guided wine bike tour

The first thing everybody says in Argentina when you mention Mendoza is wine. Already 100 years ago there was a large production of wine here, but quality wine production started here only recently – perhaps 20-30 years ago. Today however Argentinean wine is a worthy competitor for Chilean and other “new world” wines. Mendoza is at the centre of it all, responsible for 2/3 of Argentinean wine production. The region is particularly suited to wine production, as it has a predictable dry climate without the surprises that can ruin a harvest, such as a sudden rain right before harvesting. In Mendoza, an arid semi-desert at the foot of the Andes, such an occurrence is out of the question.

Tour operators in Mendoza offer all variety of bodega tours (bodega = winery), but when I heard that a self-guided tour is possible using a bike, my mind was set. You arrive to Maipú area by bus and then rent a bike there. I got to Maipú only around 1 pm, so I expected that I would not be able to see all that much. But active biking got me to three bodegas and one olive farm, which yielded tasting 14 wines. The bike was not going all that straight by the end of the day!

Urquiza street – the main street in the wine region of Maipú. On a self-guided tour you bike a lot on this street. At times the tourist police joins you and follows you for a while, to avoid unpleasant surprises! I thought this was a fairytale, but two French girls I met at Di Tommaso winery confirmed that police had indeed followed them – which they found rather unsettling!

Continue reading Mendoza 4: Self-guided wine bike tour

Mendoza 3: Ziplining

The most literally breathtaking experience in Mendoza was ziplining. I had already planned to do ziplining at the end of my Death Road bike ride, but at that time an injury prevented me from doing, and I was pretty bitter about it. Latin America though doesn’t lack in ziplining offer, and the one in Mendoza was particularly thrilling – the experience includes 6 actual cables with a total length of a couple of km. This is the view of the valley over which two longest cables were drawn. You can just make out the cable:

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Mendoza 2: Cabalgata

My second new experience in Mendoza was cabalgata, which in Spanish refers to a horse riding outing.

Strictly speaking, for me this was not a horse riding debut. In 2009 I was travelling around China. In Jiayuguan, the last fortress of the Great Chinese wall, I got out of the fortress gates that opened to the immense Gobi desert. Behind the gates there was a group of locals offering to every traveller to ride a camel or a horse. I had no such plans, but a skilful salesman managed to persuade me in language of gestures no less to mount a horse. This was a beautifully absurd experience, because he just gave me the reins and said: Go! And the horse went! Full speed into the desert. So I had to find ways to communicate with it already on the go. At some point I realised that holding back the reins actually does affect its behaviour, and so we returned to the gates without a hitch, well just a tad anxious perhaps.

It was all more civilised in Mendoza. I bought all my tours from the same company, so again we were taken to Potrerillos and then further to El Salto area, the village of La Cardita. There in a farm a rather taciturn local named Pablo put each of us on a horse and off we went into the mountains.

The view of the Andes from the Mendoza-Potrerillos road:

Continue reading Mendoza 2: Cabalgata

Mendoza 1: Rafting

You can arrive in Mendoza from Buenos Aires by plane or by a comfortable night bus, a cheaper alternative which I chose. It so happened that I arrived there early in the morning, without a hotel reservation and not knowing anything about it, except for a printed out Lonely Planet chapter that I had not even read.

And Mendoza turned out to be one of my favourite places on the whole trip. Everything was easy there, all went well, people were gentle and hospitable, the weather was wonderful, the food delicious. There I easily and pleasantly managed to cross out a number of positions from my “to do” list. This post is about the first one – rafting.

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Portuguese memories in Uruguay

I am writing this on Easter Island. So it goes with this diary that I write a post about a particular place about two weeks after I was there. This is because it takes me some time to process the photos and to upload them to the website (which is often a challenge considering how slow internet is at times in Latin America). But also it is because it is somehow easier to write at some distance, as if being certain that all of the experiences of a place are by now exhausted.

That’s why I write now about Colonia, a small town in Uruguay located right across the bay from Buenos Aires. Still to come are several stories about Mendoza – a city at the foot of the Argentienean Andes, about 2/3 of the way from Buenos Aires and Santiago, as well as a city trip to Santiago itself. And only then I will come to Easter Island.

Going back to Colonia, or very solemnly Colonia del Sacramento, I came there for two days, having decided to take a break in urban exploration of Buenos Aires. It is very easy to do, the ferry only takes an hour and a bit. Last year I already visited Montevideo, which is a pleasant and calm place, deserving several days, and so this time I decided to visit another corner of Uruguay.

Colonia del Sacramento was initially founded by the Portuguese. Their idea was to create a counterweight to Buenos Aires. Brazil was supposed to stretch all the way here, and threaten Buenos Aires with Colonia’s cannons. But this was not to be; the resources of the Portuguese colonial empire turned out to be limited and Brazil never reached Colonia. On the contrary, the Spaniards surrounded it from all sides, creating what is now Uruguay. Nonetheless Colonia remained a thorn in Buenos Aires’s side for a couple of centuries and only after a complex deal between the empires did it move to the Spaniards’ hands, preserving however some administrative privileges – and with them its Portuguese character. Today this character is actively cultivated by the locals, streets have Portuguese names, museums focus on that period, and here and there you can see white and blue azulejos plates.

The overall view of the town as seen from the lighthouse. The centre and the main square of Colonia:

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Buenos Aires, part 2

Second part of my Buenos Aires impressions, consisting of places I visited and saw while walking on the city’s streets and filling in the sightseeing checklist.

One of the main symbols of Buenos Aires is the Obelisco, situated in the middle of the Avenida de 9 Julio. I wonder what’s with this obsession with erecting phallic symbols in the middle of every large world city? This avenue is the broadest in Latin America, the fact that makes Argentineans very proud. 10 lanes.

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My Buenos Aires, part 1

I spent two weeks in Buenos Aires. These two weeks surged past me like the wind, at times the cold kind that makes you shiver, at times warm, as if hugging you. Buenos Aires is not the kind of city where you would carry a huge camera with you all the time. That’s why its story is by necessity eclectic, with photos made by Canon 5D Mark II, by iPhone, and sometimes without any photos all. Who photographs in a nightclub anyway.

My relationship with Buenos Aires
I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with Buenos Aires. I so desperately wanted to fall in love with it that it probably had no other choice but to disappoint me. Like a spoilt beautiful boy, at times it seemed quite indifferent to me and even gave me some tough love. But at other times it gave me totally absolutely incredibly amazing presents.
Buenos Aires is a myth and a reality that came up as a conversation topic with many people. In some way it was a key city of my Latin American trip. Travelling in God-forsaken corners of Peru and Bolivia, I always felt that at the end of the day my ultimate destination was located due South East. Madonna’s refrain from the famous musical was playing in my ears: I wanna be a part of B.A. Buenos Aires, Big Apple!

Many of my correspondents were quite negative about it. I often read blogs to get inspired before going to some place, as it gives a different flavour to it compared to what you get out of guidebooks. For example the blog of Jeremy Halligar, a black gay man from New York, told the story of how he fell in love with BA, sold his New York flat and bought an apartment here, but eventually came to hate it. My boss who has been all around the world was describing porteños as hysterical, just like Italians from whom they are descended. An American solo traveller Jacob, who I met in Peru, was telling how unsafe and insecure he felt in Buenos Aires in contrast to the rest of Argentina.

In some way they were all right.

But for every hater, there was a lover.

In BA I met a gay American lawyer from New York who abandoned his crazy career a couple of years ago, moved to BA and never looked back, teaching English and other things. On another blog that much inspired me,, I read how the couple thought that spending a longer while in a place was the best decision they took on their year-long RTW trip. And their best month was the one they spent in BA renting a flat. I did exactly that.

Here are some eclectic impressions from BA, Buenos Aires, Big Apple
Continue reading My Buenos Aires, part 1