Meerkat Travel Gang

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Iguazu Falls – Chororo Yguasu aka the big waters

On our last day in Puerto Iguazu we finally got to see Iguazu Falls! After days of rain, and afternoons of getting tipsy and munchy, we finally got a nice, sunny day, climbed on the bus and spent most of the day at the falls. We talked about the Brazilian side of the falls, but I think about 80% of the falls are on the Argentinian side so we might as well stay there even though we were told in advance the Devil’s Throat was closed. Continue reading “Iguazu Falls – Chororo Yguasu aka the big waters”


Iguazu Falls – A Rainy week in Puerto Iguazu

The next stop on our journey was one that all four of us traveling vagabonds and two Peace Corps additions were looking forward to! Since we had parted ways with Richard & Andrea before entering Argentina, this was suggested as a great meetup point. We got a promotion with a bus line called Tigre Iguazu for 652 pesos, packed a snack and did an overnight. Upon arrival we realized, not only is it a tiny city, therefore easy to find missed friends, it is also a 10 minute bus-ride away from one of the most beautiful natural sights in the world! Continue reading “Iguazu Falls – A Rainy week in Puerto Iguazu”

Basking in Buenos Aires part Dos

By the grace of the travel bum gods, we actually found a CouchSurfing host that was interested in hosting all four of us. We met 50 year old Mario across town in the early afternoon outside his house. He led us down a narrow alley towards his cozy house, passing through his grilling patio, through a side door into a dining room. Continue reading “Basking in Buenos Aires part Dos”

Basking in Buenos Aires part Uno

As much as we loved western Argentina and busking around, it was time for the main event, BUENOS AIRES! We’d been hearing so much about it and were really excited to get to know the city. To be honest travelling so much and not having a kitchen meant a large part of our diet was almost exclusively sponsored by empanadas, so we were looking forward to using a proper kitchen. The fact remains that they’re quick, not greasy like fast food, taste different almost every time, and honestly were still going down easy. But I digress, we grabbed a bus from Cordoba to the Retiro station in Buenos Aires for 395 Argentinian pesos dreading our 5:00 am arrival time.

We had arranged to first try out a little place called Garden House Hostel near San Jose metro station for 70 pesos a bunk, quite affordable. The metro lines were quite easy to navigate and use, each pass was about 5 pesos one way, or 4.50 with a card. Unfortunately we got to the hostel extremely early, but they were nice enough to let us lounge around until the bunks were ready. It’s a nice hostel, tall with a few computers, lounges, activities for tourists, and a nice outdoor patio. I don’t remember much except that we were spread over the couches and one of the employee’s 5-year-old kept coming up to us as we were about to fall asleep and would grab our foot or smack us. This was not a good start to our stay, and it was infuriating that even when I went downstairs to try to nap on the floor in the library nook he came down to bother us. I mean I understand that lonely kids need playmates but smacking adults or poking them with darts is a little much.

After our power naps revived us somewhat we consulted the almighty travel book for Buenos Aires and decided to head downtown as it was the weekend. After a quick free breakfast of bread, jam, and dulce de leche, we hopped off the Independencia metro stop and headed towards the Plaza de Mayo. It was a sunny crowded day, and we were geared for a stroll. First we checked out the “Casa Rosada” aka the Pink house which is more of an executive mansion, used by the President I believe, as an office of sorts. All of the architecture around there is interesting – it’s very reminiscent of old Italian or French buildings. If you ‘forgot’ for a second you are in Latin America, your eyes would tell you that you’re undoubtedly in some European mix of Italian architecture, French terrace caf茅s and speaking Spanish! It was beautiful and surreal. We found an anthropology museum in the book that Tom was keen on checking out but alas it was closed. In a twist of fate we randomly heard a small group of Aussies heading down the street; they were as “fresh off the boat” as us, but told us they were checking out the huge Belgrano weekend street market, and that it was a sight worth seeing!

Man it was a party, 15 blocks of people milling around different stalls, stands, galleries and offerings. It was packed elbow to elbow as we examined different crafts, goodies, edibles, and stuff in general. We saw horrible ice cream cones filled with nothing but dulce de leche; to each their own I suppose. I had a Columbian arepa sold out of a Styrofoam icebox which was delicious, and we even stumbled upon a courtyard with an asado or grill station set up. Tom and I figured any grill with a 20 person line must be good and man it was a mouth-watering asado sandwich which I’ll never forget. The sheer choice of snacks in Buenos Aires is amazing: from savory pies, pastries and little mouthfuls, to sweet frosted cupcakes, chocolate covered breads & sweets and the ever-present caramel which is spread over and scooped onto anything and everything. One of the most famous candies in BA is a small rice cake sandwich with slathers of caramel in the middle. It must be some kind of speciality, because on arriving in Brazil people wanted to know whether we tried them. Anyway, Ryan when on a stone hunting spree finding beautiful specimens and doing some gift shopping at the same time. We watched Tom drum with some rastas, and even saw a bad-ass teen Peruvian flute band which was fluting up a storm. With that and other other guitar players’ music in the background, we enjoyed a sedate stroll through the river of creativity evident at the market: paintings of all types, carvings and figurines, and jewellry in all shapes and sizes too. And so many colours! Almost at the end we saw a couple doing amazing tango dancing routines, for which Argentina is famous of course.

There were a couple of interesting, intriguing, beautiful art stands at the market, too. This is just one of them.
There were a couple of interesting, intriguing, beautiful art stands at the market, too. This is just one of them.

Overall it was a nice chill, exploratory kind of day and we slowly made out way back to the hostel. After a typical paste dinner, Ryan and I grabbed our guitars and we joined a group of the resident students playing music, listening to theirs, all while passing around fetid concoctions of fernet and coke. It was very festive! 馃檪 And the festivities didn’t stop when we turned in for the night… Tom was inelegantly rocked to sleep by the vigorous couple sleeping on the bunk bed beneath him 馃槈

The second half of our Buenos Aires trip involved some couch surfers, and an amazing night out…

Villa General Belgrano – The only Hinterland in Argentina

This is a tiny little story about a German community in Argentina, nothing crazy happened but I think it’s worth writing about visiting an actual german town in Argentina, so…

In addition to a map of the city, the guys at Baluch backpackers also gave us a basic area map of towns and points of interest around C贸rdoba. A couple of interesting places sprang out at us, but one had the added benefit of recommendations from other travelers at the hostel… On more than one occassion we were told of a little “Germantown” spot just southwest of C贸rdoba, where they have great German beer (naturally) and a deutsch experience with a south american twist. Again, naturally this place called to us 馃槈 The four of us hiked down to the bus terminal early one morning, intent on a leisurely day trip. The bus tickets came out to ARS80 there & back per person (inexplicably, it’s ARS50 there and somewhat less back o.O) and the 1-hour journey was unexpectedly beautiful! We wound up mountains via switchbacks, which (beyond making some of us a bit motion sick), gave us great alternating views of high mountain ranges and low-lying lakes. Gorgeous… The atmosphere was complete with mist blanketing the vista.

That guy's eyes are already at half-mast.
That guy’s eyes are already at half-mast.

Before the bus stopped at the terminal in Villa General Belgrano I could see wooden storefronts, and souvenir shops lining the road. The main road through town was definitely also the main tourist spot, because buildings and decorations were very conspiciously different and more reminiscent of a sterotypical german countryside postcard than of a large community of German descendants having settled there. Oh well, it certainly gave the place a festive, unique feeling. Walking down the town’s main axis, we passed lots of restaurants with intricately carved doorposts or wall decorations; shops selling figurines wearing lederhosen and carrying golden, sloshing tankards; and of course a tourist office. They were really helpful and pointed us to another attraction in the area – the Pozo Verde Nature Reserve (awesome!). But first, a snack! Most restaurants were thoroughly overpriced for our what we’d intended to pay. Looking back it wasn’t any more ‘overpriced’ than fancy schmancy places in a trendy part of a city, which I have no problem with; our budgets and upcoming travel plans just made us more careful. We found a great lunch place, though; they were just opening up and drew us in with their Entish doorpost carvings and advertisements of craft beer. It was cozily warm inside, the music was a very interesting (but strangely appropriate) mix of dance hall and pop-y reggae music. 馃檪 While the guys had beer, I ordered a coco and chocolate monstrosity, with milk and chocolate bars melting into a rich, sugary mixture (sooo delicious). The food was decidedly not German, but also positively mouthwatering! The pizza was satisfyingly cheesy, with great toppings; Ryan had a hearty bean stew kind of thing and Kiernan had a fresh, colourful salad.

We left the restaurant so stuffed, it took us longer than it probably needed to to walk to the Nature Reserve, but I think not one of us had regrets. It turns out the ‘nature reserve/bird sanctuary’ is really just a fenced-off stretch of hills – there were signs where you turn off the road to get to the reserve’s cabanas, but not much else. This suits us just fine: there was no-one else there besides us until just before we left and there weren’t really any signs that the place is visited frequently (the walking path is narrow and weaves over and around a bubbling stream, and there’s no trash or discarded bits and pieces of human origin). The further away we got from the main roads, the more we were enveloped by nature all around: there were flocks of tiny birds screeching and wailing (really, that’s what it sounds like) from a couple of trees, hills cutting off sight of Villa General Belgrano and the stream we followed bubbled happily downhill. When Tom and Ryan outpaced us up the path to a lookout hill (actually we just stopped halfway down to bond with our books;), Tom even found a huge, edible mushroom! This was definitely one of the most peaceful spots we’ve found since coming to South America. 馃檪

With something of a ‘nature fix’ taken care of for the moment, we walked back to the bus terminal and bought our tickets back just as it was getting dark. We couldn’t enjoy the scenery this time around, but I’m pretty sure none of us even succeeded in staying awake.

Chilling in C贸rdoba, Argentina

As with most bus rides in Argentina, we hopped aboard early evening in Mendoza to arrive in C贸rdoba early the next morning. From the temperature outside it was clear immediately that we had moved away considerably from the mountains – the biting chill was out of the air, no longer stinging our rosy cheeks.

Where we stayed: It was only about 2km from the bus terminal on Boulevard Peron to Baluch Backpackers Hostel, an easy, level 20 minute walk. The hostel itself is quite nice – there is a rooftop BBQ and hang out area with amazing wall art, and an open and friendly lounge area with a balcony overlooking the street. We were pleasantly surprised to find that for breakfast they not only provide the usual of bread, jam, juice and cereal, they also set out a basket of eggs that guests can prepare. The current owners have only been managing the hostel for a couple of months, and they had a really great line-up of weekly social events like language exchange and pub crawls among other things. Beds and bathrooms were clean, and the four of us got a room all to ourselves!

The hostel we stayed at in C贸rdoba.
The hostel we stayed at in C贸rdoba.

Our explorations: In C贸rdoba we spent a lot of time walking around, exploring and just hanging around outdoors; there wasn’t anything specific we went there to see or do, so we were open to anything interesting that tourist maps offered up, or locals recommended. Our first exploration took us to a glittering decorated Manzana Jesuitica de C贸rdoba (jesuit church), an outdoor market with everything from precious stones, pipes, socks and an anti-Monsanto advocate; the imposing Iglesia Catedral with the expected iconography, exquisitely carved out of marble and wood. However, outside the cathedral the pastoral atmosphere was rudely broken into by a sound like a cat being strangled slowly and very painfully… turns out the guy walking around the San Mart铆n Plaza selling cheap candy (or something) was making this inhuman sound to attract attention to his wares o.O We also stopped by the Capuchin Church which had really beautiful architecture, and seemed like a popular hangout place. The only odd bits were the grotesque mini gargoyles, scattered-around statues of men in tortured ecstasy.

The creepy, weird cathedral with twisted gargoyles and tortured men.
The creepy, weird cathedral with twisted gargoyles and tortured men.

Satisfying Appetites: We looped around our hostel and went to the Mercado Municipal just north of downtown (also called Mercado Norte) – an indoor market for really fresh, beautiful produce, meat (picture a whole pig hanging from the ceiling next to the walking areas, being carved as per the customers’ particular desire), dried and candied fruit. surprisingly it had a bit of a rustic European feel with a South American twist. The oranges and pears we bought were so sweet and juicy! There were also vendors selling chocolate, candy, spirits and wine (this is Argentina after all, wine is everywhere) as well as lunch eateries selling sandwiches, pizza slices and the ever-present empanadas. This is where we had some of the most delicious empanadas of the whole trip; they call it Empanada Arabe, a triangular pastry that contains ground beef, tomato, lemon and an array of different spices. That last bit of lemon juice they squeeze over the top is the tangy cherry on the cake! The owner also insisted we try soda water with the table wine – a first for me.

With so many options we took a small picnic back up to the roof at the hostel and had a feast of fruits, dried sausages, olives, wine, empanadas, and then had an impromptu jam session.

After Mendoza Tom and Ryan had kept in touch with the Aussies Todd and Billie and it just so happened that they were in Cordoba that night. After an afternoon nap Tom, Ryan and I headed out to meet up with them and Marelise had a night in. They were staying at more of a party hostel called Le Grand only 15 blocks away. We had a great night hanging out, having a few drinks, sharing stories, and playing a bit of pool and table tennis. Afterwards they took us to a small, odd nightclub called Black Sheep. The night is a little fuzzy after this but it seemed an interesting enough place, a decent crowd, but we weren’t very fond of the stale techno music. So after a bit we went for a walk, eventually heading back to the hostel in high spirits.

Strange techno club close to our Aussie friends' hostel.
Strange techno club close to our Aussie friends’ hostel.

The entire second day was spent outside C贸rdoba in a town called General Belgrano. It is famous in the area for being a “German-town”, which means they had a lot of German expats there some years ago (a little German colony). In the present day it has translated into a tourist town of wooden carvings with very stereotypical blond German figurines in ‘lederhosen’ and brandishing a beer tankard… Photos and more in our next post. 馃槈

Moving on: After two days in C贸rdoba we were planning on heading to Buenos Aires, but somewhere in the recesses of the deep, dark Inter-web we heard the rumor of train travel through Argentina… As true as this turned out to be, we were not destined to depart from our bus-traveling ways – the train system in Argentina is not very extensive (there are a couple of lines between Buenos Aires and Cordoba, Rosario and one other southern city); the website is not updated at all and they don’t answer the phone at the train terminal. Therefore the only way to buy a ticket is to go to the terminal in person. This is great, except that tickets are so much cheaper than bussing around, that all tickets are bought up weeks in advance by the knowing locals. Oh well. 馃檪

A Methuselah of Meritage and Malbecs in the Masserias of Maip煤

I honestly just felt like stringing along as many wine related terms that start with M as I could.  Masserias is the Italian word for vineyards, as many Italians settled in Argentina and around Mendoza, and I remember from my university buying a Magnum of wine which was a 1.5 liter bottle,  and just once a Methuselah which is 6 liters of wine.

However, this is simply a story chronicling the day we spent biking around Argentina’s famous wine region Maip煤, a gentle suburb southish of Mendoza. We had heard that it was the most famous tourist activity in western Argentina, and some Aussie guys staying at Campo Base Hostel had a great time there.

The autumn vineyard of the Tempus Alba wine estate. We didn't see any grapes, but the golden russet leaves were beautiful.
The autumn vineyard of the Tempus Alba wine estate. We didn’t see any grapes, but the golden russet leaves were beautiful.

How to get there: You can look it up on Google Maps, or from Plaza de Indepencia take #10 subroute 171, 172, or 173. Remember to stop by a kiosk and buy a bus card and charge it for 4 pesos each way because that’s about all they take on the bus. If you’d rather not spend extra on a card, you can always jump on the bus and offer other passengers cash if they swipe their card, which is was we did the first day. It takes about 25-30 minutes to get there from the centro. You can ask the driver to let you off at Urquiza street, they’re usually pleasant enough. If not, you’ll recognize bike and wine country because it’s the only area with paved bike paths on the side of the road.

Rent a bike: Don’t go to the cheapest place like we did! At Coco’s bike rentals you get shoddy bikes with missing brakes, worn tires, and duct-tape-repaired seats that promise the sorest biking bum ever. We found out later that along a 1km stretch heading south on Urquiza there are numerous bike rental shops, and most of them are around 30 pesos, including a basic map of the nearby vineyards and attractions. We were told afterwards that Mister Hugo’s is a good bet.

So after haggling with a lovely abuela, we headed out armed with a map and bikes from the 60’s, with Marelise and I on a tandem bike (because I thought it would be fun). How wrong I was, man; the steering jerked at the slightest touch, and it was definitely a heavy bike. There are about 12-15 vineyards in the area along a 12km stretch of Urquiza street. Traffic wasn’t too bad heading out, and the roads were manageable, a little hilly but we made good progress.

The first place we pulled up to was Tempus Alba Vineyard. It’s a gorgeous micro vineyard and a beautifully built and decorated building that I believe is meant to look like a traditional Italian villa. It’s a quick self-guided tour on the grounds, and heading indoor you can take a look at and learn about the varieties they grow, their fermentation and storage processes, and so on. We headed upstairs to the roof where they have comfortable terrace overlooking their vines. We ordered several samples each and traded sips of their reserve wine, Malbec, Malbec rose, and their Shiraz. None of us are sommeliers of course, but we really enjoyed the wine, and had a relaxing time. With a couple of glasses of the different wine to hand, it was interesting and delicious tasting the subtle differences between them. (Kiernan didn’t like the Rose too much, but I thought it was pleasantly light).

We next headed out to Vi帽a el Cerno Vineyard. This place looked a lot more simple, with more farm equipment out front, and evidence of hard work going on. They have a simple farm-house style building where we tasted several of their Malbec’s from different years and had a blasty blast. Four glasses were passed around the table, sips of Malbec melted like creamy chocolate in our mouths and while we couldn’t tell you what we tasted in the wine, we can assure you they all tasted gooood. 馃檪

And here, the barrels

Originally we were headed to another Vineyard but as it was closed and we were getting a little parched (and increasingly unstable on our bikes), we headed to the nearby Cerveza Artesana or the craft beer bodega. It was actually really decent beer, they had a Blond and Pilsen on tap, and some excellent, fresh empanadas. They were filled with spiced ground beef, hot out of the oven; the first bite of golden flaked crust and steaming juice gave us all blisters, but that didn’t stop us taking an instant second bite… The rest of the place was pretty packed for a beer hangout in wine country and we had a good time chatting with some Kiwi’s we met there.

By this time as we weren’t feeling much pain and didn’t want to risk biking off the road on the way back, so we checked out one last place. Alas the vineyard was closed (probably because it was off-season) so we decided to stop by a tasting bodega called Club del Olivos. Possibly because of all the wine we had sampled in the name of being good tourists, this was possibly our favorite spot. For around 30 pesos you are walked through a 20 minute tasting course in three sections. On the first table they had several types of fine olive oil (plus infused olive oil), balsamic vinegar, tapenade (one with garlic), and a basket of bread wedges to sample everything. The second table had marmalade, jams, preserves, organic honey, chilli peppers, and a chardonnay honey which blew my mind. At the bar you are offered two shots from their selection of homemade liquors and cordials like Irish Cream, Chocolate, Dulce de Leche, Porto, Rose, Limonchello, Absinthe, Sangria, something with chilli’s, herbs, peach, strawberry, vanilla possibly and a couple of others. With your drink they also offer a small plate of several types of sweet chocolates but I unlike everything else the chocolate is actually from Brazil.

The last stop on our bike tour around Maip煤 - tasting of olive products (olive oil, olive past, tapenade), balsamic vinaigrette & honey at one 'station'; liquers and chocolate at another 'station'.
The last stop on our bike tour around Maip煤 – tasting of olive products (olive oil, olive past, tapenade), balsamic vinaigrette & honey at one ‘station’; liquers and chocolate at another ‘station’.

After several minutes of appreciative moans of enjoyment which probably scared the employees, we got onto our bikes, and made the painful & grudgingly slow trek back to Coco’s where we dropped off our bikes that had miraculously not collapsed under us, and grabbed the bus back towards central Mendoza.

Mendoza – the first stop in Argentina

Heading south from Asunci贸n we took a 20 hour El Rapido bus, at Argentine pesos 327 each, knowledgeably prepared with bags full of fruit and empanadas. Empanadas were slowly becoming one of our food pyramid building blocks in South America, some of our favorites or the ones we had repeatedly were: carne (meat), pollo (chicken), jamon y queso (ham & cheese), choclo (sweet corn), Chilena (steak with raisin & green olives) and Napolitana (tomato sauce, kind of like pizza). One or several of these were usually found at most snack shops or cafe’s and I’m pretty sure we ate our body weight in these baked, doughy meat pockets… At least they were gooood 馃檪 Anyway, on the bus we were handed another 3 complimentary empanadas, and a box of wafery (read dusty) marshmallow candy bars. Not bad, considering we didn’t expect any refreshments!

Most long-distance buses look like this. The seats go back a bit - enough to fall asleep, but not necessarily enough to stay blissfully asleep. Especially Ryan, who is probably as tall as all of us together, had to contort himself somewhat.
Most long-distance buses look like this. The seats go back a bit – enough to fall asleep, but not necessarily enough to stay blissfully asleep. Especially Ryan, who is probably as tall as all of us together, had to contort himself somewhat.

On the border between Paraguay and Argentina they did scan and security-check our luggage (an interesting experience on a bus), but promptly had all our belongings back on to get on with the rest of the journey. Tom and Kiernan were really lucky they got their visas beforehand because at this border there is no way to buy one without a computer and an internet connection.

Continue reading “Mendoza – the first stop in Argentina”

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