November 12, 2016


E doesn't express many strong opinions about our sabbatical year.  I know his preferences fairly well, and I do my best to propose itineraries that I think we both will enjoy.  I do most of the pre-travel research, propose some options, and we agree on what to do.  Occasionally, E pops up with a request (like going to South Dakota to see the Minuteman missile site) and we almost always modify our plans to do what he asks, because I tend to want to see everything, and he is much more selective.

Baked Empanadas for dinner?  Don't mind if we do!

When we were planning the South American leg of our trip, E had two things he absolutely wanted to do -- See the Panama canal, and go back to Argentina.  I was a little surprised that he wanted to go back to Argentina so badly -- I tend to want to see and do new things, and if left to my own devices, I'm not sure Argentina would have ended up on the plan.

E was so right.

The Rosario Riverfront
I had completely forgotten how wonderful Argentina is.  We'd loved our first visit to Argentina so very much.  And we got to know it so much better this trip.  It is firmly on the countries-I-will-always-want-to-return-to list, now, up there with France and Italy.

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.
After Rosario, we flew to Cordoba.  At the Rosario airport we had to abandon our wine and half our food at the airport cafe because they called last call 50 minutes before the boarding time on our boarding passes.  Apparently, our flight had decided to take off 25 minutes early -- our early arrival in Cordoba was shocking after several weeks of South American delays, but we quickly readjusted back into what we've come to expect when our luggage didn't make it off the plane and we had to file a complaint with the airline to get them to send someone to grab it before the plane continued on to Bariloche.

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.
For example, one of the realities of driving in Argentina is that you have to have your lights on at all times.  I got a lecture at one of the many police stops for forgetting to turn them on.  Police stops are another reality -- E wondered if it's a full employment act, because every day we'd pass through several police stops, sometimes no one was there, sometimes the cop was sitting in the shade and no one stopped, sometime they stood in the middle of the road, but waved you through, and sometimes they stopped you and asked to see all the documentation for the vehicle and your diver's license.

Speaking of stops -- wow are the cultural norms around this one difficult.  Sometimes, you just ignore the stop signs.  Sometimes, if there is no traffic, you run the red lights, and you will get beeped at if you do not.  Sometimes, a stop sign means slow down and look, but no need to stop unless there's someone there.  And sometimes they are real.  The police watched people engaging in all of these observances of the signs/signals and never once did I see any reaction, even though there are actually signs on the roadside telling you to respect the directions on the signs.

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.
From Salta to Cafayate we enjoyed another beautiful drive on the Salta wine route and stopped at a roadside restaurant for a delicious stereotypical Argentinian lunch of cheese, fiambres (preserved meats), olives, bread, and salad.

Hike up/Tram down: View of Salta from the top of Cerro San Bernadino.
Cafayate was wacky.  It's the heart of the Salta wine region, but also a bit of a backpacker destination.  The combination was a bit odd with resort lodging up to $300/night and $10 hostels bringing in two very distinct groups.  Also, we heard quite a bit of French (both from backpackers and wine tourists), which was nice.

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).
In the north of Argentina, they take siesta *very* seriously.  Entire towns shut down from 2ish to 7/8ish.  This means that occasionally we had to get very creative with our mid-day meals -- if we didn't encounter a city by 2 on our drive, we may not be able to eat anything other than ice cream for lunch when we finally encountered one.  For some reason, ice cream doesn't respect siesta, and all of South America *loves* ice cream.  Seriously.  I've seen more people eating ice cream in public in the last 9 weeks than I've seen in the previous 5 years.  

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.
From Belen, we went to the even smaller town of Saint Augustin del Valle Fertil.  We rolled up to a lovely hotel that I'd read about and booked a room on the spot.  It was quaint and comfortable and had a nice small lake surrounded by cacti that I ran to in the morning before we left.

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.
And then, we did a very stereotypically Argentinian thing (we learned form our guide that most Mendozans do this several times a year) and took the bus to Santiago de Chile.


Jen said...

The part about ice cream eating made me laugh. My jealousy of your sabbatical hit an all-time high this week with the election. I wished that I was a quarter of the way around the world...

Biting Tongue said...

@jen -- It has been very nice to have some distance, for sure. BUT, as soon as anyone finds out you are American, they start asking questions about the election. I'd hoped it would stop after the results, but no, as you might imagine, now instead of being asked who we plan to vote for, they ask us if we were surprised by the result and what we think of it and Trump and the future, etc. At least we can pretend not to understand if we want to opt out.

Jen said...

Ah, I hadn't considered that! It must get a little tiresome after a while.

Arvay said...

I want some of what you're eating. That and that. And that, too. And several of those, please!