Tag Archives: Argentina

¿Vino tinto o blanco?

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Mendoza, Argentina

31 December 2012 – 3 January 2013

8pm New Years Eve - Plaza Independencia, where absolutely zero celebrations are taking place

8pm New Years Eve – Plaza Independencia, where absolutely zero celebrations are taking place

Mendoza was cracked up to be a great destination for vino and adventure. Unfortunately, I visited the city of about 850,000 people at very much the wrong time.

I arrived on New Years Eve, and shortly after arriving, met a friend in the big park in the city centre, Plaza Independencia late in the afternoon.

The place was eerily quiet. There number of people hanging around the city centre were very few. It is almost impossible to describe the bizarre sensation of knowing it was NYE, but not having anything to show for it. No shops were open. Not even the McDonald’s that claimed to be open 24 hours. Or the supermarket. The petrol station had an attendant working the pumps, but the store was strangely not open – it was outrageous that even microwave cheeseburgers were not an option.

Resorting to our own celebrations

Resorting to our own celebrations

Eventually after quite some time walking the deserted streets, we found a string of restaurants. However, none of them would sell what I wanted – all limiting their offerings to outrageously priced set menus for the fin del año.

So we started dining at one of the cheaper ones about 9:40pm. Slightly over an hour later, we got our food; quite ludicrous considering they only had two options that night. And then I started to feel sick.

Of all the ways I had envisaged spending New Years Eve, an option that wasn’t on my short-list was diarrhoea, faintness and low blood sugar. No other time on my trip had I wanted a simple cheeseburger, or a chocolate bar, or a soft drink, yet not had anywhere at all to buy it. Luckily, my hostel sold the latter at least, so by 11:45pm, I was curled up in bed trying to sleep away the illness.

Luckily, it’s not like the city had a celebration I was missing.

Where were the townsfolk? I later found out that the mendocino way is to celebrate profusely on Christmas Eve, leaving New Years as the quiet time with family. However, for those still after a fiesta, many people on acreage host their own parties around the pool in the absence of any organised celebrations courtesy of the municipality.  A lack of local knowledge killed it for us there.

Due to my unfortunate illness, I decided to re-neg on the rafting trip I had planned for New Years Day. So I may never know what it is like to white water raft down a freezing cold river of melted glacier. Alas, more regrets.

That meant that by the time I was up and feeling better in the afternoon, I had more time to enjoy the city. But it was quite boring. Everything was still closed, save for a couple of kioscos, where I stocked up on enough water and junk food to last any apocalypse, without knowledge of when the hundreds of other stores, supermarkets and restaurants would re-open.

Without any alternatives, like any good bum, I found a good park bench in Plaza Independencia, and read a book for a few hours.

Cry me a river

Cry me a river

The next day was better, on January 2, the streets were buzzing, shops were reopening and across the CBD, you could feel life returning. But I wasn’t to spend any time here, because I was on the way to Maipú to ride a bike and drink some wine. It was glorious, a beautiful summers day. Temperature in the low 30’s, very low humidity, and the vista of vineyards and distant snow capped mountains. Perfection.

The Mendoza region is famous for it’s Malbec wine, a variety somewhat stolen from the French that the Argentines have gladly declared their unofficial national grape. But regrettably, I did not partake beyond a small sip as I am not entirely partial to vino tinto – that component of the tour was wasted on me. Luckily, I was always offered a vino blanco or cerveza as an alternative.

Odd one out

Odd one out

The tour entailed visiting three vineyards, at one of which we enjoyed a lunch of very filling empanadas and other pastries, as well as a micro-brewery and a chocolate house that also specialised in liqueurs. Of course, samples were had at each.

Mendoza is actually quite a surprising destination. There is quite a lot in the surrounding area, especially for wine lovers and adventure seekers. But circumstances conspired against me, and all in all, in the end it seems I spent three days in Mendoza to go on a bike ride for a few hours, which seems a bit wasteful.

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Buenos Aires – protest and passion

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

28-31 December 2012

Quiet Sunday afternoon in glorious Plaza del Congreso

Quiet Sunday afternoon in glorious Plaza del Congreso

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. Nowhere I have been so far has matched the vibe, the colour, the nightlife, and the pizazz of the Argentinean capital.

Argentines seem to have developed a reputation for being rude to foreigners, and while you could sense them throwing their hands up in the air every time something seemed slightly too difficult. But as I found, this represented only a minority of Argentines. With the exception of a few merchants, the people I encountered on the street are not like this, they were helpful, patient with my poor español, and most of all, friendly.

I stayed right in the centre of the city, half a block from Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world. The main artery through the city, it is up to 18 lanes wide in parts.

Just another day in the life of a few porteñitas

Just another day in the life of a few porteñitas

The porteños, as the locals are known, have taken a very Mediterranean approach to life. Many restaurants do not open for dinner until 9pm, and really don’t get busy until shortly before midnight. Nightclubs don’t tend to get busy until 2am in the morning, and locals tend to have an evening nap before heading out on the town. I really don’t understand why they operate this way, don’t they value their sleep?

Having said that, being the middle of summer I am enjoying the 8:30pm sunsets and the long days of exploration this permits.

On my first day there, I visited the neighbourhood of Palermo and undertook a Foto Ruta tour, where in groups of a couple of people we went out and got a nudge in the right direction of where to capture some fascinating street scenes. It is also when we discovered that the porteños are not at all camera shy, with most happy to pose for the camera when asked in our broken language. A few examples of the photos that the group took can be seen here.

Buenos Aires, city of contrast

Buenos Aires, city of contrast

To get out to the barrios, I made large use of the local metro, known as the Subte, short for subterranean. One (so far) unique thing about the Subte amongst metros I have travelled upon, is there seems to be a quite literal underground economy on the trains. Every couple of stops, a merchant will walk around placing an item for sale on the lap of all the seated passengers, all with a green sticker marked with the price. After you had a moment to analyse the product on offer, he would walk back down the carriage. If you didn’t want it, you simply returned the item, but if you did, you simply paid the advertised price. I couldn’t work out if this was all sanctioned by the transport authority or not, but there was a scary uniformity in the way this system operated. I was variously offered children’s books, chocolate bars, city maps, reading night lights and little plastic ticket sleeves, among many other products, all dispensed in exactly the same way, with exactly the same little green price stickers.

Larger than life graves

Larger than life graves

I visited the Recoleta Cemetery, a surreal landscape of larger-than-life burial plots. It seems that each wealthy deceased inhabitant has tried to out do every other wealthy deceased inhabitant by constructing an even larger edifice than the last. As a result, you walk around and can’t help but feel overwhelmed by death. One such tomb belongs to Argentina’s favourite woman, Eva Perón. The porteños affectionately prefer to call her Evita, making good use of the Spanish grammatical method of adding -ito (for men) or -ita (for women) to the end of any given noun to make it seem smaller and cuter. Regardless, I still haven’t worked out why she is so popular. Perhaps it is something I will never understand.

Thankfully, the feeling of death ends as soon as you walk out the door, so on the recommendation of a fellow traveller on the previous days photography tour, I went to the zoological gardens. But instead, I found a protest by some vegetablists, complaining about the treatment of zoo animals.

Protesters intimidate, zoo-goers go on

Protesters intimidate, zoo-goers go on

In the dark of night they had vandalised the zoo entrance, ripping down signs and spray painting the walls with various messages. And during the day, they were all outside with placards trying to intimidate prospective zoo-goers into not visiting the zoo. Oh how wrong they were, I was more determined than ever to visit. If it was as bad as they made out, I wanted to be outrage. I want to see this mistreatment for myself, pay 60 pesos ($13) for the privilege  and then join the screaming chorus outside. So I battled my way through the crowds, paid the entrance fee and went in.

Disappointingly (for me, not for the animals), it was much like every other zoo. I found the giraffes, admired them for a bit, walked around the rest, and left.

This meant I got to spend the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and just simply enjoying the atmosphere.  The weather was just beautiful. 28 degrees, low humidity, and on Sunday, not a cloud in the sky. It was muy tranquilo. I just felt my time here was too short, and before long I was on the move again. I will definitely be back.

Evita shines over the world's widest avenue

Evita shines over the world’s widest avenue