Tag Archives: Argentina

Coffee in Latin America

After writing about the food in Argentina and Chile, I would like to devote a separate chapter to Argentinean and Chilean coffee. I love coffee, but only in particular preparations. Of course nothing on Earth is better than coffee in Italy. In Peru and Bolivia the coffee is rather disgusting. However once I arrived in Argentina, the land of Italian descendants, the coffee shares started going up! I discovered a coffee chain Havanna offering a truly endless variety of preparations and sampled every article with gusto!

I must say in general that the coffee terminology is turned upside down in every new Latin American country. Sometimes the same term has the opposite meaning within just one country. For example in Puerto Iguazu I described in detail to a lady in the coffee shop that I want the coffee that in Europe is called caffe latte. Finally she got my request and said: well that’s lastima! Lastima worked quite well in Buenos Aires, although produced some hesitation at times. However ordering a lastima in Mendoza resulted in a mini-espresso (very tasty)!!!

(This is true for everything though, not just for coffee. Particularly in Chile and Argentina they have invented an argo vocabulary for everything under the sun, and the Chilean vocabulary has nothing to do with the Argentinean one. In Chile in particular the pronunciation is terrible, the words are not finished, every sentence is interlaced with jargon. With some of my interlocutors, I had to ask them to repeat every sentence. Perhaps though they simply enjoyed exercising their linguistic superiority over a hapless gringo. In Argentina they have invented a whole separate grammar, they decline verbs in a different way. But at the end of the day this is wonderful. Adds a local feeling.)

So in order to avoid linguistic debacles, I often use the old trick “I’ll have what she’s having”. Sometimes I even unobtrusively photograph the item and then point to it on the screen of the iPhone. Otherwise explaining the particular coffee variety you want may take days.

This is what they call capuccino in Argentina. A little cup. Next to it packed in gold is an alfajor, see below. In Argentina they always bring a glass of sparkling water with the coffee – a ­wonderful habit, in my opinion.

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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!

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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:

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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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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, http://www.bootsnall.com/, 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
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Iguazu falls: Argentinean side

On the evening of the same day of visiting the Brazilian Iguaçu falls, I moved over the border to Argentina. A bus takes there, leaves you at the border to go through immigration, but issues a special ticket. With this ticket you board the next bus. The next morning I went to the National park on the Argentine side.

This is how the Devil’s Throat looks out of Argentina:

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