|Baked Empanadas for dinner? Don't mind if we do!
E was so right.
|The Rosario Riverfront
We spent 4 days in Rosario, a town I'd never heard of, but the third largest city, along the Parana river, with a wonderfully relaxed vibe, but with a functional collection of kiosks, grocery stores, restaurants, and services (read: easier to get stuff done than many of the places we've been). We visited the national flag monument, went for runs along the river, ate wonderful food, did some stress-free laundry in the AirBNB, and I established a good habit of daily Spanish study.
|Rosario skate park.
Cordoba is the 2nd largest city in Argentina, but it doesn't have a nice river like Buenos Aires or Rosario, and E and I found it to be kind of uninspiring. But, of course, the food and wine was still delicious and inexpensive. From Cordoba, we did an 8 day road trip through rural and completely undeveloped portions of Northern Argentina.
You know how we did a road trip through parts of rural Canada and the US? During those drives there were hours of nothing but land. Turns out, Argentina has the same thing going on. Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world geographically, but only has around 41 Million people, most of whom are centered in a few large cities. Nothing like a road trip to help you truly understand a country's reality.
|Typical Parilla Meal -- Shared Salad and Asado de Tira.
|Typical keys of many hotels and AirBNBs in South America.
Our first night was in the resort town of Las Termas de Rio Hondo. It was low season. Almost everything in the resort town was closed and it was deserted, so, other than eating well, we spent most of our time at our cabana property, soaking in the hot springs filled pools for a day before heading out again.
|Hot springs fed pools and restaurant at Marina House Cabanas in Rio Hondo.
From there, we drove to Salta. We based ourselves from the Sheraton in Salta (Starwood points for the win!) and it was very nice to enjoy some US-influenced service for a few days (but even there, South America shone through with an oddly popular barely luke-warm jacuzzi). One day we did the gorgeous 3-hour drive out to the Salinas Grandes and took a guided tour (a local native woman hopped in our car and directed us as we drove around the flats), the drive back was just as gorgeous, if long.
|Protest in Salta against labor discrimination towards native peoples.
|Hike up/Tram down: View of Salta from the top of Cerro San Bernadino.
Upon arrival, we stopped in at the tourist office and asked for a hotel that met our 3 requirements: private parking for the rental car, wifi, and less than $50/day. We were perfectly successful, but we added a 4th preference for future options, if possible -- air conditioning. The hotel charged us 600 Argentinian Pesos, but the tourist office had quoted 560. I tried to argue with the hotel clerk, but it didn't work, so we just sucked it up and paid the extra $2.66 US. When I went back to the tourist office to complain (all while E is thoroughly amused at my cheapness), they shrugged, said their quotes are more like estimates, but as a way to make it up to us, they told us how to walk 1 Km to the locals' parilla, where we had a delicious dinner of for 260 pesos instead of paying 600 on the tourist square.
On average, while Argentina is more expensive than Colombia, the food prices are only *slightly* higher, and the quality of the food is just out of this world. First, there's baked empanadas, which are simply genius. They have absolutely the best beef, and a culture of perfection when it comes to preparing it. In the big cities, they also have non-Argentinianized Italian, Spanish, and Basque food due to the immigrant population, and all of it is delicious. While on this road trip, at least once every other day, and sometimes every day, we hit up a parilla and enjoyed a salad, provoletta, and some amazing beef, plus wine and sparkling water for less than $35 US total (and in the case of the locals' parilla, less than $20).
|Heading towards the salt flats (giant white bit).
The next stop was the sleepy town of Belen. We encountered a few dust storms during the trip, and the most severe one was while we were in Belen. Your sight started to decline a few feet in front of your eyes, and I suspect this (figuratively and literally) colored our perception of the town, which we didn't love. But the hotel was *very* nice and had air conditioning, and our dinner in its restaurant was predictably delicious. I finally got to enjoy Locro, a local native specialty I'd been wanting to try, and E enjoyed one of his favorite meals, mushroom risotto.
|In the salt flats.
Finally, we arrived in Mendoza and I returned the car. We enjoyed a relaxing light dinner in prep for a walking tour with wine tasting the next day and one last final Argentinian parilla dinner extravaganza (we splurged on a $30 bottle of wine and it was AMAZING!). The walking tour was particularly interesting as we were able to ask questions about all of the things we'd noticed in Argentina and get a local's explanation.
|One of many gorgeous views from our road trip.