4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “Argentina”

My South America Favorites + Returning “Home” (by Carmen)

17th century map of South America

Our South America trip was better than I could have ever expected.  I loved practicing my Spanish, scouting out local cuisine, imbibing lots of caipirinhas and red wine, and observing the mix of old world and new world traditions.  One thing I hadn’t quite expected was the jaw dropping natural beauty, from jungles and beaches to arid, bushy plains; from huge cacti growing out of red rocks to stark Andean mountainscapes.  It was a collection of unforgettable experiences.

With that in mind, I thought I would get through some FAQs.  These generally begin with “what was your favorite…”.  So here are a selection of my favorites from my fifteen weeks down south.

Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires

Nathan grilling up some lomito

Sifones used to store soda water

Fútbol fanáticos

Favorite City: Buenos Aires.  The city has a special lived in elegance to it.  I enjoyed the cafe culture, the pretty parks, and the slightly rough around the edges feel to it.  And the Argentinian accent, which uses a lot of soft “j” sounds, was incredibly endearing.

Cafayate View

Last rays of sun in the Cafayate canyons

Favorite Town: Cafayate. Good wine, yummy empanadas, an alfajores factory, a spacious main plaza, beautiful scenery and wine flavored ice cream…Cafayate instantly welcomed us.

Pasta, wine, yum…at Pierinos

Quinoa salad at Market in Rio de Janeiro

Artemisia in Buenos Aires

Favorite Restaurant: Pierinos.  I love pasta.  This is the third time I’ve mentioned it in this blog but the slow cooked sauces Pierinos slathers on its homemade pasta steal my heart.  Other favorite eats include Artemesia‘s mostly vegetarian fare, the fresh salads and smoothies at Market, any buffet in Brazil, and fresh ceviche in Peru.

Delicious fried trucha

Chicharron sandwich stand in Arequipa

Favorite Hole in the Wall: Trucha stands on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. So simple but so good with the fresh caught trout fried to perfection in garlic and oil. El Cuartito served my favorite pizza in Buenos Aires.  The lomito sandwich in cordoba wasn’t much to look at but was delicious and big enough for the both of us.  And then there was the chicharron sandwich Arequipa. Fried pork with spicy coleslaw is always a winner.

The spectacular Salar de Uyuni trip

Nathan and me enjoying Bolivian scenery

Nathan the mountaineer on Salkantay

Favorite Sight Salar de Uyuni and Salkantay Mountain. We saw so many beautiful sights but it is the people you share it with that make it even better.  Therefore it’s a tie between the non-stop excitement of the salar de uyuni trip and the first view of Salkantay with old friends from San Francisco. Oh and Iguazu Falls too!

Wine and Cheese in Tafí del Valle

Schwarzwald beer hall in Curitiba, Brazil – I loved the mini stein in the big stein!

Favorite Drinking Experience: Wine and cheese in Tafí del Valle.  We brought a wonderful Malbec from Mendoza, sliced up some local cheese and sat on the porch of the historic villa we stayed at. Heaven.  I also loved collecting mini beer steins at the convivial German beer hall Schwarzwald.  And the most delicious caipirinhas I tasted were made by a Peruvian at Pepe’s Bar in Foz de Iguazu.

Bossa Nova in Rio de Janeiro

Marching band in Copacabana

Favorite Live Music: Los Tabaleros performing at the hidden restaurant. The chef and his friends played the show at the secret restaurant my classmate’s roommates hosted.  I’m still happy I won the cd! Also enjoyed the classic bossa nova in Ipanema and the parade music at Copacabana’s festival.

Church roof in Potosí

Potato peddlers in Sucre

Best Place to Go If You’ve Only Got a Couple Weeks: Bolivia.  The variety of the sights here is incredible!  You can enjoy lush jungles or cold windy mountains.  The people are friendly and helpful.  They keep the traditional culture alive and well.  And, importanly, it’s inexpensive to get around.

Chandelier in Argentina’s congress building

All the places we went and sights we saw, and there is still more to see.  I was sad to leave South America when there is so much more to explore. On the other hand, adventures in other parts of the world beckoned.

Dewy rose in Tafí del Valle

From Peru we returned “home” to California but that’s a tricky word for me.  If home is where the heart is, mine is rather split up. Immediate family in Southern California, close friends in San Francisco, extended family in Chicago.  And then there’s the part of my heart passionate about travel, which creates an itch to make a home in new places.

So the final and most popular FAQ, “What’s next?” Should we travel for the entire year? You’ll have to read the next post to find out.

Where oh where will we go from here?

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Northern Migration (by Nathan)

Recoleta Cemetary

In January I began my southern migration. I escaped the constant 60 degrees of San Francisco for the sun and summertime of South America. I was excited to begin work on improving my Spanish and I was ready to live and travel through countries and cultures of which I had only a cursory knowledge.  The plan was to roam from city to city with an open mind, a loose pocket book and a constant curiosity to explore and enjoy the differences in these countries.  After four months of adventure, Carmen and I would return to California ready to embark on another journey.

Fugazza and Faina Pizza

Açai breakfast

Our trip began in Buenos Aires with food, activities and cultures that stood up to any great city. The fugazza pizza was deliciously unique with thick doughy crust, creamy cheese and heaps of oven caramelized onions.  El Cuartito was the best, and I think Rick agreed. I would return for the pizza and empanadas and all the beautiful streets that BsAs has to offer.

Sunset on Ipanema Beach, Rio

Carmen and the sands of Rio

We traveled through Uruguay and into Brazil. Rio de Janiero was everything that I love in a travel destination. Beaches stretched endlessly with the urban landscape pressed right up against the sand.  The culture is vibrant with dance, music and tropical foods.  The açai and fresh fruit drinks stand out as an epitome of fresh summertime delights. The country is a mix of indigenous, Europeans, Africans and Asians, a familiar mix to the United States so we felt welcomed as foreigners.  We could swim, climb a mountain and go dancing all in one day.  I enjoyed gaining a better understanding of the favelas as well as peering down into the city from the many vistas.

Fun at Lapa steps

Iguazú Waterfalls

We worked our way through Brazil’s vast landscape.  We visited the breathtaking waterfalls in Iguazú that roared unbelievably over the cliffs edge. We baked in in the sun on Ihla do Mel on coastal Brazil and we jointed friends in Santiago Chile.  We bussed our way over the Andes into Mendoza for a day or two (or three) of wineries, biking and empanadas. We explored German settled villages and the bigger cities of Córdoba and Salta. It was the canyons that really captured my heart.

Fun light fixture at our hostel

El castillo en Quebrada de Cafayate

Another one of my favorite cities was the charming Cafayate in Argentina.  We sipped wine at several walk able bodegas. We hiked through beautiful canyons and cliff formations.  And most often, we enjoyed strolling through the cozy town.  With a simple town square and food market our time here was relaxing and satisfying.

Jumping off rocks at valle de rocas

Fun on the salt flats

Another bus brought us into Bolivia. The country is poor with struggle, but thriving with cheap delicious food, unforgettable sights and nice helpful people.  One of my favorite experiences of the entire trip was the four day trek into the Salar De Uyuni.We visited brightly colored lagoons, spectacular volcanic rocks and salt flats that made us act silly with our new friends. The home-cooked Bolivian food was excellent and every day I wanted to take the little woman home with me to teach me everything she knows in the kitchen.

Painted desert in Bolivia

Salt harvesting

We continued high into the mountains. The cities of Potosí and Sucre were wonderful places to learn about Bolivia, South America and the indigenous people that lived here for thousands of years.  La Paz contained the best market that we experienced in South America.  This was because the stalls could not be contained by any building and instead flowed out on the streets in every direction.  It was mayhem and delight simultaneously. I loved it!

The best market streets is in La Paz

We biked down mountains in La Paz and hiked islands of Lake Titicaca. A festival in Copacabana engaged our feet and sent us running for cover from fireworks.  Bolivia has a rustic, untamed, and raw quality to it that flaunts colorful traditions with people that are genuine and kind.

Street in Arequipa

When we had finally made our way into Peru our bellies began being stuffed to the brim with constant feasts of amazing food.  Arequipa was the best food city we went to in South America.  There was ceviche, alpaca, rocoto rellenos, chicharrones and fresh fruit smoothies. We found something delicious everywhere we went.  The city had beautiful architecture and the nearby Colca Canyon was great for hiking.

Arequipa food market

Our history lesson continued when we finally arrived in Cusco.  The city is packed with nearby ruins and a brutal history where the mighty Incas were decimated by the Spanish. One downfall of Cusco and Peru is that very few sights have accessible tourist information.  There are an abundance of guides, that costs, entry fees are high and there are many sights to see which makes Peru a challenge for tourists on a budget.  But with friends it is all worth it.

Machu Picchu

On our Machu Picchu trek we went all out with excellent cooks, porters, equipment and a guide.  I think I liked the walking and hiking just as much as the ruins.  We walked for six days climbing snow covered passes, jungles and high altitude wetlands.  We stuffed ourselves on Peruvian favorites and we laughed until we hurt playing card games into the night.  We wondered around countless ruins out doing one another in jumping photos and we caravanned up and down the mountainsides. Machu Picchu in itself is a spectacular piece of history and archeology.  We combined it with Salkantay, the Inca Trail and friends for an unforgettable adventure.

Carmen patiently waiting for me to finish the photo

Our final city in Peru was LimaThe time spent there was brief, but the amounts of ceviche consumed copious.  Ponte de Azul ceviche stands out as one of my favorite meals.  The fish was firm and fresh and the juice sour and spicy.  In the blink of an eye Lima was over and we were boarding a plane saying goodbye to this Lima, Peru and South America.

Every vacation involves exploring new places, having adventures and creating memories.  The challenge and fun of any vacation for Carmen and me is that we leave with a longer list of places to see and immerse ourselves into next time.  Our next trip to South America would focus on exploring the natural side of this continent.  Patagonia tops our list of “must sees.”  We did not want to lug around our carpas and sacos de dormir (tents and sleeping bags) this trip.  So next time we plan on several weeks of hiking and back-country camping.  We want to see the coasts of Peru and Colombia known for beautiful beaches.  And finally we want to see more of Brazil- Belem is supposedly vibrant and bountiful with Amazonian foods and culture.  In no way did we calm our enjoyment of Brazilian rhythms and dance; we want more samba!

Outside the airport, our last minutes in Peru

There are so many places to visit; each city or village opens new possibilities of adventure.  We walk everywhere and we eat everything; that is what 4feet2mouths is all about.  Our love for travel has taken us to the other side of the world.  And as fall sets on South America we land in Los Angeles ready for new adventures, more exotic countries, more tiring hikes and street food that will leave our mouths searing and tingling.  Traveling is too much fun to stop now.  Do you want to join us?

One of my favorite photos: Congresso reflection, BsAs

Hop, Skip and a Jump through Salta and Humahuaca (by Carmen)

Historic Cabildo building

We had two more towns scheduled for Argentina before arriving in Bolivia.  First we hopped to Salta. I’ll admit I had high expectations for Salta and for this I blame House Hunters International.  This is one of my favorite TV shows though I only catch it occasionally on my parents’ cable. The basic formula is this: a person/couple/family is moving abroad, they walk through 3 homes each with advantages with disadvantages, and then there is the suspense of guessing which one they choose!  I just love seeing how people live in other countries. Before the trip I caught an episode on Salta. The family moving there had been traveling for a year looking for a new place to call home and this is where they moved.

Colorful Church

I stepped off the bus expecting to be charmed.  Instead, on our walk to the hostel we encountered stagnant rain puddles and constant cars shoving their way through intersections without signals or stop signs. Overall, we were not too impressed. We eventually found the pleasant bits: a café lined central square, ornate churches, a bustling market where we drank beer while watching a futbol game.   The city started to grown on me but nothing enticed us to stay too long so we skipped on to Humahuaca.

Street in Humahuaca

Humahuaca is a tiny town in a huge canyon of the same name.  The town is cute but a little tourist ready so we spent our afternoon there exploring the surrounding nature.

Striped Humuhuaca hillside

Just 30 minutes from town and we were on a cliff overlook observing the striations of red and white.

Tortilla española de C&N

Back at the hostel we cooked up an easy traveler’s dish – tortilla española.  Basically, this is an omelet with thinly sliced fried potatoes and onions. We topped it with avocado, paired it with wine and were good to go!  While cooking our meal it was fun to rub elbows (literally) with other travelers in the tiny kitchen.  We swapped stories of where we’ve been and where we plan to go.

Landscape of Humahuaca Canyon from bus

The next morning we crawled out of our warm beds to catch an early bus to the Bolivian border.  Salta and Humahuaca proved to be enjoyable pit stops before we jumped out of Argentina.

The Colorful Quebrada de Cafayate (by Nathan)

Layered red cliffs

Entering into Cafayate we experienced a drastic change of scenery.  Grass covered hills transitioned to brilliantly red cliffs and cactus filled valleys.  I could not help but be reminded of the drive from Las Vegas to Zion National Park.  The beauty was similar, but exciting and special in its own way.

Las Ventanas

El Fraile

The quebrada (canyon) extends almost 110mi (180km) between Cafayate and Salta.  Every two to three miles and new rock formation emerges from the earth. A series of arches in one area is called las ventanas (the windows).  Another formation resembles a monk in robes and is called fraile (the friar).

Colorful Striations

Desert flowers

The colors and textures of the rock make a feast for the eyes. Striations of copper, sulfur, iron and zinc create rainbows of layered rock along the cliffs.  The desert is home to many spiny plants and animals.  The canyon has a unique microclimate where it only rains a few days a year even though it rained everyday in January and February in Cafayate.

Feeding a llama

Further on we stopped for drinks and a chance to feed llamas.

El Sapo

One of my favorite formations was el sapo (the toad).

El Locomotivo

Another formation is perched on a cliff, el locomotivo (the train).

El Amfiteatro

The grand scale of the canyon is not fully felt or realized until we enter el anfiteatro (the amphitheater). Huge rivers flowed down the mountain side and created this 400ft deep bowl at the base of the waterfall. Plate tectonics have now shifted the mountains and diverged the flow of the river so that the rock formation remains dry.  The cliffs are gorgeous, striped with colors and golden in the sun engulfing us as we stood, taking it all in. The name of this formation comes from the high quality of sound retention.

El Gargantua del Diablo

The next major attraction to the quebrada is gargantua del diablo (devil’s throat). I think it’s funny how names are reused. There has been at least five “mountain of seven colors” and Carmen described another gargantua in Iguazú. This formation is enormous!  Its natural origins are similar to the anfiteatro but contain many levels of red rock and contrasted with perfectly green little trees. We had to do quite a bit of scrambling to get to the main bowl but it was well worth it.

Layered rocks

Two weeks ago, we were entering Mendoza and the bus felt so small in its attempt to cross through the Andes.  The highway to Salta has been a different experience of vibrant colors and imaginative land formations. Goodbye to the Grand Canyon of Argentina.

Cozy Cafayate (by Carmen)

Cafayate enamored us from the beginning. Even on the bus ride into town we were admiring the neat streets and cozy feel of the place.  Like many Argentine towns Cafayate is organized in colonial Spanish grid system with a central square.

Alfajores factory by night

Just off the square was a sweet alfajores factory with traditional flavors such as coconut and chocolate dipped, as well as some unusual ones like lime.

A dozen delicious empanadas

Wood-fired empanada oven

But we could not survive on sweets alone. Across the street from our hostel we were enticed by iron wood-burning ovens puffing smoke.  Inside were trays upon trays of salteñas (empanadas filled with meat, onions, olives and hard-boiled eggs).  We ordered a dozen along with wine and soda water to make a spritzer (very popular in these parts).

Red cliffs and cactus

The next day was Sunday, which in small town Argentina means everything shuts down.  So we decided to go on a hike.  Based on the guidebook and information from the hostel we chose a 4 hour trek to a waterfall deep in a canyon.  We were expecting a moderately difficult but fairly straightforward hike. Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Canyon and creek

Cafayate waterfall

The “trail” was often difficult to find and involved a lot of scrambling up cliffs. The path kept disappearing into the river that carved the canyon.  These were no simple crossings but some of the most difficult I’ve ever encountered.  They stressed me out but Nathan happily skipped from boulder to rock like a pro. (Though he was less happy when I accidently knocked him into the water as he tried to help me cross.  Twice!)  The invisible path, the river crossings, and the lack of any other hikers started to get to me. But with tired muscles and soggy boots we survived the hike, happy to have enjoyed the spectacular scenery.  The waterfall was beautiful, gushing 10 meters into the red rocks below.

Recently bottled torrontés wine

Ok, time for the real reason we went to Cafayate – wine!  We learned in Mendoza that the white torrontés wine was from here.  But all the northern wineries also produced malbecs and cabernet sauvignons that were more tannic than those in the south. Our favorite winery of Cafayate, Nanni, is actually in the town itself.  It produced crisp torrontés that straddled the balance between sweet and dry.

Bodega de Esteco

Another great bodega was Esteco.  Beautiful setting, delicious wine, wide selection.  But they lost points for offering wines by the glass instead of a tasting.

Crazy llama building

There were many more: Finca Las Nubes for its excellent torrontés, El Transito for its rich cab, Domingo Hermanos for its goat cheese.

Cafayate typical street

Although we came here primarily to check out the wine scene, we ended up making many new friends.  An Aussie couple we met at a winery, a Swedish pair at an empanada lunch, and an English couple we shared wine and dinner with at the hostel.  Cafayate is just that kind of place.

Tafí del Valle (by Carmen)

Mountains with clouds and shadows

Lonely Planet is both a blessing and a burden.  Their South America on a Shoestring guide is basically the travel bible for the continent.  It is packed with information you need from bus times and costs to great places to pick up empanadas.  Some people don’t “do” Lonely Planet to make themselves feel like more original travelers.  Nathan and I still find it valuable to check out their recommendations but keep our eyes open for serendipitous discoveries as well. At the same time, depending on a single text means that you end up where all the other gringos go.

Estancia Los Cuartos

But just when you think you are going to chuck the heavy book from your backpack, along comes an “our pick.”  These are supposed to signify an extra special find. Not all cities have such an accolade; they are actually few and far between.  So I took note when the small mountain town of Tafí del Valle had an “our pick” hotel called Estancia Los Cuartos.

Our historic suite

It was wonderful. The estancia was an old ranch house from the 1700’s.  Our room came with thick walls, a stone floor, dark wood book cases, a thatched roof and warm blankets.  I love history and it felt like I had stepped back in time a bit.  There were a few key modern amenities, such as a heater.  A nice touch since it rained heavily for part of our stay.

Breakfast with Tafí cheese

Another highlight of the estancia was breakfast.  The dining room overlooked the beautiful mountain scenery.  We enjoyed the typical courses of coffee, bread and jam but the best part was the homemade cheeses.  Tafí is known for its cheeses, which are modeled after a Spanish-style manchego (one of my favorites!).  Each year, the town hosts the national cheese festival.  We missed the festival but did indulge in a large block of cheese, which we enjoyed with a rosé we brought from Mendoza.

Barbecued goat and potatoes

In addition to good cheese, the main strip of Tafí has a few good parrillas.  We stopped into one that had a nice fire built in the front with meat roasting above it.  Their specialty was chivito (goat).   We ordered a grill plate for two which came heaped with chunks of juicy meat and delicious, crispy slices of potato.  Truly some of the best potatoes I’ve ever had.

Wild horses on mountain

We needed to work off all these heavy meals so we did a nice hike to the cerro de la cruz (peak of the cross).  From here we could look over the town and the nearby lake.  Herds of free roaming horses grazed nearby.  Seriously, how much more idyllic can you get? At least for me, it was a blissful weekend.

On the overlook

Higher Learning in Condoritos (by Nathan)

Another name for this post might be “The Best And Worst Day In Condoritos.” Vacation is not all about relaxation, but frequently a memorable experience is about a little pain, fantastic views and numerous lessons learned. Visiting the Parque Nacional Quebrada de Condoritos was one of these adventures.

Park entrance...finally

Park entrance…finally

Our trip to the canyon containing the Andean condor breeding grounds was another two hour bus ride from Córdoba. We travelled high into the mountains and high into a thick cloud that we did not expect. Our driver was supposed to drop us off at the unmarked dirt road entrance, but he forgot. He pulled over on the side of the highway and informed us it was “really close” and that we just had to “walk around the corner.” An hour and a half later we arrived at the visitor center, time to “begin” the hike.

Windswept pathway

Windswept pathway

We checked our return bus schedule to Córdoba and we were off. We planned on a five hour hike that would give us plenty of time to get the 6:30 bus.

Cliffs of the quebrada de los condoritos

Cliffs of the quebrada de los condoritos

The canyon of condors was magically sensational for the eyes. We saw huge boulders, green grass and an occasional field of wispy golden grains that danced in the breeze. We sat on the cliff edge hypnotized by the souring condors gliding effortlessly into the thermal columns of the canyon. We quickly ate down our lunch of carrots, cheese and apples then cooked in the sun like two lizards on a rock.

Breathtaking valley

Breathtaking valley

Our return hike was even more fantastic. The clouds dispersed and everything sparkled in the golden sun. The trail glistened with huge crystals of quartz and flakey mica. We climbed and descended over the hills and repeated this cycle several times on our way to the highway.

Andes Condor souring above

Andes Condor souring above

Huge condors flew overhead.  This bird has a wingspan of up to ten feet and a body the size of my thigh (it´s a big thigh). In the last dirt section of our trail a condor soured over us to better investigate. His huge wings fully spread with its white finger-like tips barely moved and his huge body hovered fifteen feet above out heads. With a gentle tilt of his wings he quickly maneuvered into the valley.

We were tired from 30km (19mi) of hiking and we plopped our throbbing bodies on the side of the road in anticipation for our bus.  An hour and a half passes and we realize that the bus is not coming. Another couple arrives loaded with camping gear and plans to hitchhike to Córdoba. Every half hour a microbus similar to the one we took to the park would fly by. We wave our hands eagerly, but we faintly remember the driver telling us that only the collectivo (big bus) would stop for us.

The sun began to set, the winds pick up and the temperature drops. Carmen and I huddle for warmth, but this does little to stop the shivering. Carmen screams out at the bus that never came, tears dropping as the freezing temperatures take their toll.

Then Carmen got a little warmer and there was hope. The back-packing group lent Carmen a hooded sweatshirt and thirty minutes later they saw my violent shivering and passed me the warmest pullover of my life that was soft and light with llama wool.

Another hour on the roadside shielding ourselves behind a concrete barrier and a third couple arrives from the dark. Jumping up and down and waving frantically the 7:30 bus does not stop for us. We attempt to hitchhike as well, but no one hesitates for six hikers and no car stops for us. There is only one more bus, one more chance. Carmen and I make plans to break into the visitor center for shelter.

The third couple fed us cookies to keep up our spirits. Then there is an idea: FIRE. Frantically we scramble to assemble the dried reeds. I was the craziest of all. I built a blazer and nearly threw myself into it to take in the heat. Our hysterical actions blinded the fact theat we could start the whole national park ablaze. Carmen pointed out that the three foot sideways windblown flames were inching their way to the dray brush.

We create a fire ring and restart the fire. Across the valley we notice a red glow, our last hope- the 8:30 bus. Our jumps and waving is even more frantic. We are desperate to get to Córdoba. It stops! Our boots stomp out the fire and we douse it with a liter of juice. Magically the bus pulls over onto the dirt shoulder and we sprint to the open doors excited to suck in the mixture of dust and exhaust. We stumble onto the dull bus and we find seats on the warm hard aisle floor. I refused to remove my layers because I enjoyed the tingle of sweat on my face that is so much better than frost in the nostrils. After three hours of waiting, we were finally warm and on our way to Córdoba.

This is not meant to scare, but more so to point out that this is traveling. The insatiable craving to explore brings about experiences good and bad. In every city there is joy and pain, frustration and delight and most of all knowledge and understanding of a culture and a place that only happens when we say “we have been there!”

Endless fields along our trail

Endless fields along our trail

Now, what are these lessons learned:

  1. Appropriate clothing: We had prepared for a cold day, but with three hours of waiting, we were not ready for a freezing night.
  2. Make friends: It was so much easier to endure this pain alongside our circumstantial friends. Their kindness was genuine and sincere.
  3. Know more about the transit: We headed out on a brief recommendation without full understanding of how to get back. We so rarely wing it, but in the future it is better to over plan.

Culture Clash Argentina – Villa General Belgrano & Cumbrecita (by Nathan)

Argentina is a big country and getting out of it means a long bus ride.  Lucky for us we were able to hop over to little Germany with a recommendation from our friend Jenny.

Trees at Veilchental campground

Trees at Veilchental campground

We had this great idea to volunteer at an organic farm working every day for our food and lodging.  When we arrived we found a campground, no farm, no food and a freezing cold night.  The only work was chopping wood; I did not want to spend the week recreating the piles of wood from my childhood so we moved our packs to the nearby town of Villa General Belgrano (VGB).

View of Villa General Belgrano from Cerro de la Virgen

View of Villa General Belgrano from Cerro de la Virgen

VGB was settled in the forested mountains about two hours south-west of Córdoba.  Germans fled from Europe after WWII and there was no better place than the sierras of Argentina that so closely resembled their homeland.

Hiking Carmen

Hiking Carmen

There is a steep and rewarding hike to overlook the city.  From our perch in the sky we looked down on the cute log buildings, gentle crystal blue creek and the hundreds of Argentinean tourists that also wanted to be here on the semana santa (Easter week).

Pasta and rosé

Pasta and rosé

At night we cooked some awesome meals out of the outdoor hostel kitchen.  We grilled eggplants, peppers, onions, and garlic and tossed it with pasta, yogurt and lemon for a flavorful meal.

Cumbrecita German buildings

Cumbrecita German buildings

Forty-five minutes on a small bus from VGB is another adorable town: Cumbrecita.  The main street is lined with curios shops and stone and wood clad buildings, but the main reason we came was for the hikes.  In town we meandered around cobblestone streets that led to rocky trails to waterfalls and ponds tucked away in tree-lined cliffs.

Horse worn trail on rocky hillside

Horse worn trail on rocky hillside

We found another rigorous hike to the summit overlooking the town.  Over an hour of switchbacks and we reached the summit and a view of expansive rolling hills that were forested as far as we could see.  In the other direction a canyon of boulders and a warn pathway from the gauchos on horseback that also trek this region.

Forested mountains

Forested mountains

Visiting these German villages was a delightful treat for our travels.  Better beer, bockwurst and sauerkraut and we even had apfelstreudel for breakfast.  Tucked into the mountains we could hike in the trees and just for a few days feel like we were in Europe, not South America.

The Cobbled Streets of Córdoba (by Carmen)

Cathedral in the golden sun

Cathedral in the golden sun

Having lived in Berkeley for so long I’m very comfortable in university towns.  Therefore, I was looking forward to visiting Córdoba. The city has been a center of learning in Argentina for centuries.  It is also Argentina’s second largest city, although it only has 10% of the population of Buenos Aires.

Cobbled historic street

Cobbled historic street

Lovely gothic style church not far from our hostel

Lovely gothic style church not far from our hostel

What we found was a very European feeling city with quaint plazas and grand churches, connected by cobbled streets in the center.

University courtyard

University courtyard

One of our favorite buildings was the university.  Amazingly, university education is free for anyone in Argentina, including foreigners!  We went on a tour which included a visit to the original Jesuit church that founded the town, built in the 1600s.  The guide was very passionate, particularly regarding the African slaves that were integral to building the town.  The Argentines are known for believing that they come from almost exclusively European descent.  But our guide informed us that slaves made up over half the Córdoba population even into the early 1800s.  Then they stopped being counted.  It was interesting to hear from someone trying to fight the “European Myth” that many Argentines still resolutely believe.

Saber-toothed tiger

Saber-toothed tiger

We furthered our education, but in a very different way, at the Museo de Historia Natural.  Ok, it was free museum Wednesday and backpackers can be cheap : )  But who can resist free saber tooth tiger viewings?

Crunchy gooey pizza from mercado norte

Crunchy gooey pizza from mercado norte

Finally, the food.  We enjoyed the crispy crust at a pizzeria in the market.

Locro and empanadas from La Candela

Locro and empanadas from La Candela

But we were finally able to enjoy more regional specialties unique to northwest Argentina. For example, locro, a meaty corn based stew.  It’s definitely comforting, especially when accompanied by a plate of fresh baked empanadas.  We tried two great places, Vieja Esquina and La Candela.

Córdoba street and trick half-building

Córdoba street and trick half-building

Córdoba was a great experience, especially since we met up with a friend of a friend.  Andres showed us around to see how the locals live.  We had a great time, but the small towns beckoned us northward, closer and closer to Bolivia.

Hermosa Mendoza (by Nathan)

Picturesque parque gerneral San Martín

Picturesque parque gerneral San Martín

It is exciting to be back in Argentina.  After three weeks of beautiful Brazil we were doing pretty well with the Portuguese.  Santiago spanish was incomprehensible to me.  They dropped all hard consonants, slurred the end of every word and spoke at rapid speed.  Although the Spanish is not the purest in Argentina, it was nice to descend from the majestic Andes into a place more familiar.  ¡Bienvenidos a Mendoza!

Ripe malbec grapes

Ripe malbec grapes

Our welcoming to Mendoza could not have been better.  Our first steps were met with a glass of malbec and an invitation to a homemade Italian dinner at our awesome accomodation, Hostal Lao.  Mmm licking my lips.

Harvesting grapes

Harvesting grapes

The malbec wine of the world is grown in Argentina and the bulk of it comes out of Mendoza.  Our timing was perfect and we arrived during the two weeks of harvest.  We tasted at several places and at each there was a flurry of work and the deliciously pungent smell of freshly crushed grape juice beginning fermentation.

Historic concrete vats

Historic concrete vats

The style of wine making is significantly different from what we see in northern and central California.  First of all, the vineyards are hundreds of years old and each cellar houses enormous concrete tanks.  At each vineyard we learned that they fermented, filtered and blended almost all of their wine entirely from these vats.  They also had their premium wines that they put in oak for three to six months.

Carmen biking to the next winery

Carmen biking to the next winery

The place to go for tasting wine is the Lujan De Cuyo area.  There are about fifty boutique wineries all with their own blends, cabernet, torrontes and of course malbec.  We rented a bike from Bacchus Bikes for $6USD and the owner gave us a map with his recommendations.  He even called ahead so that the wineries could expect us.  Each winery had an extensive walking tour through their facilities describing why their winemaking is superior.  Tours were mostly in English, but at times we would break into Spanish for clarity.

CarinaE vineyard

CarinaE vineyard

After the tour we would be led to a table overlooking the vineyard, or a pair of glasses tucked between rows of barrels in the cellar.  They would pour a delicious variety of wine and even the freshly pressed grape juice.

Our favorite winery was CarinaE which was actually in Maipu Valley.  We tasted an extensive variety of 14 different wines.  They were so good that we lugged two bottles around for two weeks afterwards.  The second best wines were at Alta, a bigger winery with an informative staff and generous pours.  We also tasted at Filosofos and Pulmony and at each place we learned a little bit more about wine and Argentina.

Mendoza bus and huge sidewalk trench

Mendoza bus and huge sidewalk trench

Back in town we had to be careful after our wine tastings.  The gutters of Mendoza are uncovered, meaning a nasty fall if you don’t pay attention!

Plate of food assembled at Govinda

Plate of food assembled at Govinda

Bife de chorizo at Don Mario

Bife de chorizo at Don Mario

We ate delicious food and we met new friends in Mendoza as well.  It was nice to get some satisfying veggies at the vegetarian per kilo restaurant Govinda.  Our new friends Nick and Caroline invited us to Don Mario for the biggest juiciest steak I have ever attempted to eat.  I learned that Argentinians can cook their meat, really good meat…just not in BsAs.

 Termas Cacheuta

Termas Cacheuta

We had an extra day so we decided to splurge and go to the Termas Cacheuta.  It was a spa tucked away inside a jagged and majestic canyon.  The pools varied from burn your back to freeze your ass.  We would bounce between the pools enjoying the various bubble jets and the time to relax.

Buffet lunch at  Termas Cacheuta

Buffet lunch at Termas Cacheuta

Lunch time meant that the pools cleared out and everyone rushed the buffet.  The choices were a large variety of veggies for a make-your-own salad and, of course, an asado of Argentinian meats.

Mini canyon and creek close to the termas

Mini canyon and creek close to the termas

Mendoza had some tantalizing tastes and beautiful views.  I was happy that we had the time to savor them both.

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