Browsing Date

May 2009

Destinations, South America

An American in Buenos Aires

May 28, 2009 • By

I enjoy being a tourist in Buenos Aires but sometimes it leads to some interesting dilemmas.  When my friend Maria came to visit, we took a city bus tour with audio and historical context included.  Me being me, I felt like I could do it better so when my friend Pam landed in Buenos Aires, I decided Kelly knows best.  For the most part, that worked to my advantage until I panicked we missed our stop and jumped the gun on getting off the bus.  We were trying to get to La Caminito once a bustling port and home to the tango.  Today, La Caminito is a colorful street filled with local artist displays and restaurants and cafes in an otherwise run down neighborhood of La Boca.

After walking for about 15 minutes through La Boa, we finally arrived to the river and I decided it was now safe to check my map.  It seemed like maybe 30 seconds until two officers opened up their window yelling peligroso and pulling on their eyes.  Ahhh!  Whatever! I waved them off.  Next, a man came up to us tugging on Pam’s purse yelling, “robo” and speaking frantically in Spanish.  I had no idea what he was saying and started thinking maybe this guy wanted to rob us.  Luckily, Pam seemed to understand his Spanish or his body language(please note Pam speaks no Spanish) and realized he was trying to help us.  This nice man walked us behind a security gate where the officers explained we were about to be robbed by those adorable looking children playing in the street.  They looked harmless enough to me.  The officers explained (in Spanish I understood it a bit more now) this was not a safe area and we needed to use caution.  Caution is a word and a symbol used quite often in Buenos Aires.  When a local pulls on his eyes with his index finger it means dangerous:  use caution.  Having lived in a few big cities they might be overreacting a little but I was thankful for the assistance and Pam and I arrived safely at our cute little tourist destination.

This past week Pam and I spent a few days in Mendoza, otherwise known as wine country in Argentina.  We arrived early on Monday and started our wine tour straight away.  The wineries (bodegas in Spanish) aren’t to the glam level of Napa Valley or even Stellenbosch (South Africa) but they have their own unique blend of Argentinean culture and beauty.  A proper wine tour begins with a walk through the bodega where the host explains everything from the barrels used (mostly French, some American) to the length of the fermenting process.  I’ve taken one or two tours in my day but I found it interesting that in Mendoza you must take a tour of the bodega before you taste the wine.  That could very well be an attempt to slow the drinking process but I think it has more to do with the pride they take in their product.  We tasted at Carmelo Patti, a cute old-fashioned winery where the owner greets you and shares his stories.  He definitely had a flare for the dramatic, which I can totally appreciate.  From there, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch and wine pairing at Ruca Malen.  Set amidst the rows of fall colored vines with the snow covered Andes Mountains in the foreground, the bodega did not disappoint.  The people, food, wine and service were outstanding.

Mendoza bodegas produce incredible wines and the restaurants deliver savory meats and sweet desserts.  Your taste buds think they’ve gone to heaven and beyond.  The grounds are beautifully maintained but the bodegas let the wines sell themselves.  This is not about grand palaces and acres and acres of vines.  It’s more or less about the serenity of the mountains and the divine flavors of the wine.  Mendoza takes the simple approach and it works.

To immerse ourselves in the culture that is Mendoza, we tried horseback riding in the Andes.  I haven’t been on a horse in years but “Gaucho” and I had a conversation right off the bat where I basically asked the horse not to kill me.  We kept at a steady pace and winded along the foothills of the Andes where just 3 hours away lies Santiago.  Since the crisp air screams fall and winter is fast approaching, snow covered many of the mountaintops.  It’s also worth mentioning that Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas and the highest mountain outside Asia resides in Mendoza.  The peak reaches (6,962 meters) 22,841 feet and is considered one of the 7 summits.  Aconcagua looked harmless from a distance but I’ve learned the hard way that is never the case.  After a few hours on the horses, our guide Fancu cooked us an amazing steak and vegetable lunch complete with Mendozan red wine.  What gets better than sun, mountains, horses, a freshly cooked meal (by a cute local I might add) and wine?

The answer is…1884.

Later that night, yes I’m nearing the part of the story where I become a vegetarian, Pam and I headed to our big fancy dinner.  With economic hardships reaching Mendoza, the restaurant’s prices took a dip that worked in our favor.  We each ordered a different cut of steak (AMAZING), a bottle of wine and after several courses of salads, breads and “on the house” nibbles, we settled on skipping dessert.  Of course, we didn’t anticipate the smoldering waif of chocolate floating by our table at the same point the waiter handed over the postres menu.  Alas, we only live once and death by chocolate or chocolate is death (I forget but either way you get the point) landed on our table moments later.  It was worth every bite.

With our stomachs still full from the previous night’s endeavor, we embarked on another journey through Mendoza.  I say journey because for me it’s not a place I often find myself …the KITCHEN.  The chef sized me up pretty quickly when I couldn’t even figure out how to kneed the bread dough.  Thankfully, she couldn’t speak English so we listened to an interpreter but her scornful facial expressions said it all.  Pam seemed to be doing just fine since the chef never once took her dough away from her.  I felt like I was 6-years-old again helping my mom make cookies and having her shoo me away.  After bread, we made what is becoming like my biggest addiction EMPANADAS.  This time we stuffed the specialty of the house with onions, meat, and my favorite condiment, cheese.  The chef took the uncooked displays from us and we patiently waited with wine in hand next to a gorgeous fireplace.  It seemed like hours passed until piping hot empanadas finally greeted our mouths.  I’m not sure if it’s because my hard work went into preparing these empanadas but they were simply delicious.  We sat back and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.  Just when I thought we were done for the day, we were treated to a wine tasting and a 5-course sampling of meat.  No I wasn’t hungry, no I definitely did not need any more food but I persevered eating a few bites of the rib eye, the sausage, the chicken and lamb and pork.  It got to be ridiculous.  I knew we should have taken the bicycle ride over the cooking class.

Back in Buenos Aires, we said good-bye to Daniel, our salsa friend from Holland.  He was armed with his trendy shirt and shoes and ready for dance.  Unfortunately, we ended up at a Samba bar and chuckled over how many different dances we would need to master before truly becoming “local” in Argentina.  The night moved along before we found a local favorite in where else?  Palermo Viejo.  This salsa bar even had professional dancers perform during music breaks.  If only my dance moves were as perfected as my shopping moves.

Pam and I tackled our last day of sightseeing by visiting Casa Rosada.   The Pink House or the Presidential Palace is the official seat of the Executive Branch of the Argentinean Government.  It’s famous balcony, which faces the Plaza de Mayo square has served as a podium for many historical figures through the years.  This is where Evita gave her speech rallying the working class of Argentina and even Pope John Paul and Madonna have stood on this great foundation of change.  We entered Casa Rosada from the front and toured a few rooms before landing on the side porch.  It was a beautiful sunny day with the Argentinean flag flying high.  As I stared down Plaza de Mayo Avenue from the May 25 Revolutionary statue to the Obelisk, I couldn’t help feel the sense of shared history.  I turned back to catch a glimpse of the sun radiating on Casa Rosada and thought to myself one day Argentineans will triumph over their loss.

Later that evening, I returned to La Cabrera for Pam’s last Argentinean supper.  This time armed with information from my previous visit with Landra and William.  I told Pam emphatically “no appetizers.”  She ordered the Kobe beef and I chose the beef tenderloin.  An hour later wishing my jeans were made of elastic I realized my beef eating days must come to an end SOON.  I mean I cannot continue to devour portions of cow like this.  It clearly doesn’t help that I insist on ordering panqueque with dulce de leche and ice cream for dessert but still.  While I was convincing the Israeli American at the table next to me to order the beef tenderloin and the superb bottle of wine we were drinking we somehow engaged another man who considers himself Palestinian(unclear where he lives now).  I moderated for a bit and decided we should move beyond politics and back to what we were all here for….the beef and of course the wine.  I don’t know how I find myself in these situations but I do.  Always.  Anyway, Pam and I walked away with a free bottle of wine—a gift the waiter explained.  I’m not sure how a restaurant makes money giving away free bottles of wine but it has now happened to me twice.  Hey you business people out there, where do you put that in your expenditure report?

I want to conclude by telling you what an American does in Buenos Aires in the winter.  On Saturday, Pam, Landra and I rented bikes.  We were a little rusty at first but once we realized using breaks and power steering were completely unnecessary, we got along just fine.  We pedaled through many of the city’s parks, gardens and after an hour of intensive exercise we lounged on the side of a pond slurping up popsicles.  I can deal with 80 degrees in winter.  After a walk through the rose garden and a cab ride to another neighborhood, we devoured some well-earned pasta and by now it goes without saying, a picture perfect dulce de leche panqueque con helado.  You simply must visit to try one.

I’m off to Patagonia tomorrow to climb a very famous glacier with my friend Landra.  When I went to buy gloves today (yes this is my second purchase in 6 months), the store manager informed me it’s very cold.  Most normal people visit Patagonia in the summer but in January and February I was busy falling down mountains and chasing pyramids.  I have a few more stories to share and I will try to download those by the weekend.

Destinations, South America

My Vacation from My Vacation

May 27, 2009 • By

It’s worth mentioning that finally –after 3 months—I downloaded my photos.  If you haven’t received some of my Kodak emails and you are desperate to see way too many photos shoot me your email and I’m happy to oblige.

Let me catch you up on my last 25 days of South American fun.  It probably goes without saying that I’ve experienced a few hiccups in the road but for the most part I’ve survived fairly unscathed.  Although I’m holding my breath tonight because I’m either about to have an appendicitis or the Pilates class I took today was a killer.

Now that I have your attention…


My first vacation from my vacation came on May 1 when my classmates Landra, William and I (all from the US) decided it would be a good idea to head to Montevideo.  Several people were going away for the long weekend and we were excited to test out a new city.  Little did we know that May 1 is Labor Day in every country BUT Canada, the US and South Africa (of course why didn’t I think of SA).  To our surprise and to our disappointment, none of the stores were open.  I mean Montevideo = ghost town on May 1.  What to do?  Well after talking to the hotel managers, we learned there were a few restaurants open by the port and off we went.  After some amazing seafood (not easy to find in Buenos Aires) and hmmm two bottles of Don Pascual vino blanco, we didn’t mind so much that the city was deserted.  We did manage to check out some fabulous freedom statues and capture beautiful photos of the blue sea and empty alleyways.  The highlight of the overnighter might have been the shower.  We were all pretty excited about the water pressure at the Sheraton Four Points.  I definitely gave it 2 thumbs and maybe an entire hand up.

In Montevideo, the shit brown river meets the Atlantic Ocean, which explains the desirable seafood and the loads of fisherman along the coastline.  People compare Montevideo to Buenos Aires but I would say Montevideo is a calmer more ethnically diverse version of Buenos Aires.  Uruguay is considered to be the most economically stable of all South American countries but the jobs are hard to come by and taxes are very high.  Again, most single people live with their families until late 20s or 30s.  There seems to be a little less European influence in Uruguay than in Argentina at least in the major cities.  From Montevideo, we traveled to Colonia and since this was my second visit I played tour guide.  It was a gorgeous Fall day and we enjoyed a magnificent sunset before heading back to Argentina.

Chao William

My crazy friend from school William decided he hated Argentina and wanted to move on to Santiago early.  William is a dear but I am pretty sure he is insane. He somehow convinced my entire Spanish class that the world will end in 2012; that the US would divide up into 50 States; that the US single handedly crashed the economy in order to secure one North American currency (Georgie Porgie wasn’t that smart), I adored him.  I found him mildly entertaining.  To celebrate his birthday and his last night in Argentina, Landra and I decided to take him to La Cabrera, a famous steak place in Palermo Viejo.  We had an hour wait ahead of us and meandered down the street to find a bar.  It seemed like only a few minutes before we met the owner of the bar who informed us he hated the United States and that he was a Communist. Of course, he added he didn’t mind us because we traveled outside of the US and didn’t’ seem like idiots.  Thanks! I wonder what he thought after William unloaded on him.  When the nice owner said something about the US robbing the Argentineans, William went on the attack.  Landra and I just sat back and wondered what the hell they were even talking about. It started with the banking crisis and went right into Marxism.  Please…I left the US to avoid this nonsense.  I just wanted my juicy cow.  Back at La Cabrera, we each ordered our own version of mouth watering steak and split it three ways.  Let’s say it must have been a good night since I got acid reflux, Landra puked and William ate all our leftovers and that was before they brought out 3 glasses of Champagne and a free bottle of wine. (Update on William: he is now in Santiago and hates it. Next up?  Lima but I did convince him to get a haircut)

Futbol is VIOLENT

Is it a good or a bad thing when 300 police surround a futbol stadium and the fans are holding signs that say, “Stop the Violence.”  It’s an interesting question right?  Most of the significant futbol games are held on Sunday’s here and attending a game is pricey for locals but considered a must do.  Landra and I attended the San Lorenzo v. La Boca game with our friend Ollie from school.  Along with Anna from Germany, Ollie is a very mature, adorable 19-year-old who hails from London.  We all purchased tickets through school and went on a bus with other tourists to get to the game.  This is not like American or Canadian sports.  Before we exited the bus, the guide gave us some warnings:

“You are in San Lorenzo territory.  When San Lorenzo scores, you cheer.  When La Boca scores even though you love them, you keep quiet and cheer at home.  When San Lorenzo does something bad, you feel bad.  You don’t wear La Boca colors.  You only wear San Lorenzo.”  So I guess I’m definitely not purchasing my La Boca shirt at this stadium.

The fans are either neurotic or passionate.  I’m still trying to figure out what word is more appropriate.  There are fireworks, flags (small and entire section size), signs cursing the other team, waves, singing, shouting, confetti, and lots of something like cash register paper floating on the field.  San Lorenzo won and we all enjoyed a fabulous night of futbol in Argentina.  That is after the police finally let us leave an hour after I am fairly certain every single La Boca’s fan returned safely to his or her home.

Salsa Anybody

I haven’t given up on the tango.  I am simply taking a short reprieve.  My Spanish class ended for two weeks and it was time to say good-bye to darling Anna and youngling Ollie.  We also met a new student Daniel who is from Holland.  Landra, Ollie, Daniel and I headed to dinner in our favorite neighborhood Palermo Viejo.  We tasted home cooking at a local favorite, which consisted of none other than an Argentinean specialty EMPANADAS.  Ollie was meeting a friend of his at a Salsa bar.  We were all trying to figure out if that sounded fun when Daniel blurted, “oh but I don’t have my shoes.”  We giggled a bit thinking it was a joke.  We became extremely suspect when no less than 3 minutes after arriving at the Salsa bar, Daniel grabbed a local chick and had her twisting about like he was a professional.  Later, we learned Daniel’s expertise derived from 5 years of Salsa lessons in Holland and not only does he own Salsa shoes but he also has matching shirts too.  Who knew the Dutch were so into Latino Culture?

I was determined to dance the Salsa and tried to master a step or two until a local asked me to dance.  After explaining in Spanish I only knew two steps, he spent the next hour teaching me four more so now I’m not such a klutz.  I firmly believe you have to start somewhere but after Juan informed me his brother married an American, lives in NYC and now has a green card, I became a bit suspicious.  Chao Juan.  Lo Siento.

To be continued tomorrow…Mendoza and horseback riding up next.  Don’t miss it.