Argentina in 2 words: Maté and Parilla

Just a quick explanation of what these two things are. Mate is a hot drink well known in south america and is always argued which country actually started the obsession. A parilla or asado is a BBQ. Simple things done to an art form here in Argy.

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of:


Photo courtesy of: http:

Photo courtesy of: http:

Whilst travelling through Argentina, two things have been a constant in an ever changing scenery. These two constants seem to be a favourite pastime, no scratch that, an obsession with Argentinians wherever we go. Due to constantly seeing people either drinking mate or eating a parilla we have seen some pretty interesting situations where these have occurred, in which we would like to share, we only wish we were able to capture some of these with our camera. But this is the way with spontaneity, it always strikes when you don’t expect it.

So the art of mate drinking is not just a person drinking from a disposable takeaway coffee shop cup. Oh no. This would be far too simple. To drink mate whether you are on the go or not requires a wooden/metal/plastic (individual preference) drinking cup, a metal straw (which always burns my lips no matter how long I wait), a thermos of hot water and a  KG bag of yerba mate. So please bear this in mind when imagining these situations.

  • We first really took notice of people drinking mate constantly was upon our re-entry into Salta when we saw teenagers hanging out in the park passing around a cup of mate. Not smoking or slyly sharing a bottle of cider, but mate. Where else but Argentina, ay?
  • At a market we saw hordes of people carrying around the full mate set whilst browsing the stalls and having their cup topped up from their backpack
  • A women whilst driving. She was also talking on her phone at the same time. Thats real multi-tasking
  • Just walking around the streets on a hot day. As you do.
  • A teacher on a school trip with many, many students
  • German beer festival. Kind of counterintuitive, but each to their own.
  • Players of a local football match drinking in a break
  • Tango dancers drinking in between their dances

The parilla/asado/BBQ to us Brits is a rarity. We love a good barby but can only do it when we have the weather, and when we do have one we nip to the supermarket and pick up cheap burgers, sausages, plastic cheese and some limp salad and put it all on top of a disposable BBQ. If any Argentinian, or South American saw this they would probably give us a well deserved slap. Having a parilla is a way of life, normally done on a Sunday (like our Sunday Roast, I guess) families stock their open air grill with half a cow, the best bits of the pig and whole chickens (plucked of course.)

Now, I did say that most people have them only on a Sunday but we have managed to see them everwhere at all times. For example…

  • Our favourite: Workmen in Rosario laying tar on a new road, half of them were working, the other half were setting up their asado right next to the lovely smell of burning hot tar. Mmmm, can anyone say ´healthy fume inhaling lunch´? But atleast they don´t have to eat soggy sandwhiches.
  • workmen at a car wash starting up their smokey asado next to a nice clean pickup. Hmmm…?
  • in a late night garage with music blaring
  • public parks
  • national parks with built in half drum asados ready to be used
  • oh, and if your balcony or rooftop terrace doesnt have one built in then there is no point moving in (so I hear.)

If anyone else has seen other interesting asado-eating or mate-drinking situations, we would love to hear them. It has been a constant source of amusement wherever we have been trying to spot the weirdest occurance, and for me, I am not too sure which one I like the best.

Living like Porteños, Buenos Aires

When you go to Buenos Aires and google what to do, the most popular things that pop are tango show, Asado, tango show,drink mate,tango show, watch boca, tango show, Evita museum etc etc. what the guide books don’t tell you to do, is rent an apartment in a non touristy part of town where all the locals hang out and live for a short while like the locals do. We did exactly that, we hired ourselves a really nice 6th floor apartment in San Telmo which is sandwiched between the very touristy Centro barrio and La Boca.

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After our first weekend staying in a hostel, so we could orientate ourselves with the city and hopefully meet some people, we checked into our apartment, which happened to be walking distance from our hostel. The street that we stayed on doesn’t immediately jump out at you as ‘luxury’ living, but neither does it as slum living, instead what you get is beautiful old buildings and a mix of tarmac and cobbled streets, which help San Telmo become the historical and bohemian area of Buenos Aires, where all of the arty, student and quirky types hang out. Throw in a few historic local cafes and cozy local bars/pubs and you have quite a nice living environment. As we had been travelling for so long, the novelty of not only being able to fully unpack our bags, but also flush paper down the toilet and have our own space, almost made us house bound for 2 weeks, so we could soak it all up before moving on again and hostel reality kicking back in.

There was a big city to be explored though and it wasn’t going to do it on its own. The first stage to becoming a Porteño (port people and name given to people living in BA) was to adopt the argentine clock, which is eating at 11pm and starting your night out at 12/1am! Or if its a work night, calling it a night at 2am, obviously for us this didn’t really apply, so our nightly schedule involved us eating at 10:30-11pm every day and then going to bed at 3am! This obviously means you can’t get up until at least 10am, at earliest, which means the day really starts at about 11:30am once your fed and ready to go. In terms of exploring such a big city, this obviously doesn’t leave you with much time to explore, without missing meal times, which is obviously as big as breathing to Argentinians as every meal of the day is a big fuss and should be never rushed or missed, friends don’t just say hello and have their sandwich to go, friends order a litre of beer and finish that before their food arrives and then treat themselves to another whilst they wash down the grub, all the while completely engaged in conversation and I know this might sound crazy to modern British society (possibly US too) but this was all done without ever removing their phone from their pocket, checking their friends sitting opposites Facebook or updating everyone else about what their eating! Fascinating! Its also impossible to live this lifestyle without indulging in the practise of ‘cafe y medialunas’ or in English ‘afternoon tea’ every day, which again is a staple diet of the social needs of Argentines, retreating to the local cafe or where you were for lunch 3 hours ago, as obviously your next meal is after 10pm, so you need to curb the hunger somehow.

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The area we stayed in gave us easy access to some of the best free attractions BA has to offer, either accessed by foot or by Subte (BA underground network) this included visiting La Boca area, which is mostly famous for Boca Juniors football club, where some of Argentinas most famous players including Maradona played at, not to mention the best football ground atmosphere in the world. Unfortunately without selling all of your worldly goods and paying somebody off big time, getting tickets to a Boca home match is as easy as getting into Oxford, where money opens the right doors. We just so happen not to be millionaires and do care about every penny, so couldn’t justify the ridiculous fee that was involved to only ‘maybe’ get us a ticket, no guarantees though!!!! Walking around La Boca though is a free affair and although recommended not too by every guide on the planet, we decided to make our own way there and back to Caminito, which is an area famous for painted corrugated iron houses and said to be the birth place of Tango. Now there is a open top tourist bus which takes people from the centre district and drops them right at the bottom of the only policed street in La Boca, Caminito and they can frolic with cameras around their neck, purses open and handbags in plain sight!! Yes, that is a little dig at stupid tourists. We however hid our valuables, took little cash and hid my camera, so as not to draw attention and took in some of the sights of the less seen streets of La Boca and the old transport bridge. Ending up at the Caminito street, where every other person is hassling you to enter their restaurant and German men think its fine to walk around in creme suits and smoke fat cigars!! Each to their own I guess, but this did actually happen as were walking through!

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Within walking distance to our apartment as well, was the Puerto Maderno, Montiserrat and Constitucion barrios, which were really nice to just walk around, take in the general sights, dine in new areas and if we were really, really lucky…….eat Sushi! We were craving asian food since leaving and had heard of the quality of asian food in BA, which unfortunately for us we only had Sushi, but when you have been eating beyond your body weight in Asado, Sushi is the perfect alternative and was actually really good, just do your research before going and there are two great choices in San Telmo called ‘Shokudo’ and ‘Comedor Nikkai’, selling lots of authentic japanese dishes. As well as the local ‘medialuna’ shops selling various pastries and the fruit n veg shop, we also had the delight of having a very uninviting shop on or corner which as well as sold beers and the standard corner shop affairs, also was fully stocked with coffee beans from around Latin America and an in house roasting machine!! So you could pick your favourite beans, how roasted you like them and then have them grinded down or just order a cup with your favourite choice. We stumbled across a gem of a cafe/resteraunt too, which served the best salads and sandwiches, so much so we went there twice for lunch and treat ourselves to a beautiful dinner, accompanied by a fine bottle of wine, which they have a vast selection of. If anybody is ever in Buenos Aires, I recommend trying ‘El Refuerzo’ in SanTelmo, you will not be disappointed. Aside from food and coffee, we also had some really cool quirky bars in our neighbourhood, including ‘Gibraltar’ which was decked out like an old English pub, along with wooden seats, the subtle smell of stale ale and beer on tap, including ales!! Usually we would avoid these places as their full of traveller louts who are simply trying to recreate their local, however Gibraltar blasts out latin tango and salsa music on the speakers and nobody in there is English, as its out of the main stream tourist scene, so for brits, creates quite a weird atmosphere, like the local boozer has been taken over by a Latino landlord.

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As we were in BA for a fortnight, we had agreed that we would ‘try’ and do some much needed fitness, in anyway we could. After searching many gyms and finding out exercising in BA is a costly affair, I managed to find a company called Futbol Amigos Buenos Aires, which organise weekly 5-a-side games for expats and travellers in different areas and it has a very user friendly online system to find info and sign up. We also managed to find a gym on route which was a lot less than all the others we had found, so it all fit in perfectly. I got to meet some great people, which the majority were expats or students from around the world who were now living in BA semi permanent, as well as a few locals thrown in the mix, making a great mix of people and a very funny game of football given the different languages being used. The football games were mainly in the Palermo area, so it gave us a chance to explore that area of the city for the day before heading to the gym/football. This area is classed as the richer side of BA and certain streets can be laced with multimillion pound houses and VIP night clubs, to give an idea of the area, a kind of Kensington/Chelsea of BA if you like. It also is the neighbouring barrio to Retiro, which is home to the ‘Cementerio de Flores’, which people know more widely for the ‘Duarte’ family tomb and where Eva Peron is buried. It sounds strange to walk around a cemetery, but this is like no other you will ever see in your life! The cemetery houses the Argentina once mega elite and their family tombs, which some of them are bigger than a 3 bedroom house and have more marble and roman columns than Tony Montana’s mansion.

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We really enjoyed our time in BA and contrary to popular reports, we weren’t mugged and we didn’t need to stay in our hostel to have fun (mainly because we didn’t have a hostel!), we went where the locals went and did as the locals do, rode the Subte nearly every day and wined and dined like a true Porteño. Partying from 12am onwards and people watching in cafes with medialunas and coffee was a daily affair. If I was to return to BA, my only change would be packing more cash, as (same for all of Argentina) it ain’t cheap and unfortunately aside from the free attractions and walking around, to fully enjoy the city, cash needs to be parted with, to put it in perspective we survived on £60 per day for two of us including rent and we just managed, if we had £60 each per day, we would have left very fat and very hungover!

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Now we are taking a quick ferry ride across the pond and will be arriving in Colonia De Sacramento, Uruguay for yet another new adventure.


Our First Weekend in Buenos Aires

Beunos Aires is a massive city. No, thats an understatement, its a mahooosive city with about 3 million people living just in the city. That stat doesn’t include the suburbs, just the city itself. Now, thats a lot of people tango-ing and drinking mate.

Our first weekend here did not fail to impress. After a Saturday night of eating Asado at midnight and drinking at a local bar with no name (we were only guided by “look for the red door”) we then spent our Sunday wandering around different areas and in the afternoon found ourselves nosing around the San Telmo area. Firstly to find our flat that we will be moving into tomorrow but also just to get a feel for the place.

odds and ends that for some reason I really wanted to buy!

odds and ends that for some reason I really wanted to buy!

beautiful brass pans

beautiful brass pans

And we were not disappointed, from the get go with loved the vibe of the market, the amount of individual and interesting cafes and restaurants and the people practising tango in the Feria San Telmo. But our favourite thing had to be the ska/reggae instrumental band that was playing in the street with a crowd that most bands would be envious of. Because of the size yes, but also because of their main skanker/dancer being an old man way into his 80’s (I can only assume) shuffling away to every song with his zimmer frame. ¡Que fantastico!

I think we are going to like this place!

A Quick Review: Salta – Buenos Aires

I have decided to lump this all together as one, as to be honest we have not really done too much.

We returned to Salta and decided we liked it a lot more the second time round. Possibly because it wasn’t winter anymore, or because we didn’t stay in a dive this time round. Either way we had a much more enjoyable experience going out Argentinan style which includes not going out to gone middnight and not returning until the sunrises. Sadly though, we did get US$360 stolen from our locked backpack from our dorm room. But this is not a reflection upon the hostel who very kindly took us to the tourist police and helped sort everything out. It is just bad luck that we were sharing a room with a robbing b@*!**d who had the time and patience to get into our backpack whilst we were out partying.

Apart from that incident the other major disapointment was that we didn’t get to see the mummies of the incan children (who have been all over the global news) as it was closed due to polling….another strike of bad luck. So we left Salta a bit down hearted and angry. Oh well, on to Cordoba…

Cordoba, we loved! We pretty much got a personal tour of the city as we were the only ones on the free walking tour that day. We learnt about the very recent troubled political history of Argentina and Cordoba in particular and of the ‘baby snatchings’ which was particularly sobering and distressing to hear about. Our lovely tour ended with us having lunch with our fantastic and chatty guide! The rest of our time here we spent milling around, looking in shops and finding good bars to go and drink in.

Oh, one thing in particular that we did was go to Octoberfest, which is about an hour out of Cordoba, and seems to be a pretty big deal around here as they have a massive German community. So we got the bus over and 3/4’s of the way through the drive it felt like we had been magically transported into Germany. All the buildings and houses changed design and style and we saw people walking around in lederhosen. It was a beautiful area surrounded by lots of greenery, and then you drive into the town and its just crazy. Crazy busy with so many people stumbling around in silly hats, fancy dress and steins attached to them. It. Was. Great. Probably not a touch on the actual Octoberfest in Munich, but boy did they give it a good go! We wandered the streets for a bit looking for a good place to buy a stein and then find some food before we entered the festival. Tickets were ARG$100 each (about £10) and the beer was, well, just OK. Not as tasty other German beers we have had before. But it did the trick. To top the day off, when waiting for our bus back we saw an older lady who had just had too much to drink and insisted on vomiting everywhere. This included the seats next to us on bus, which her husband thought was a good idea to put her on. Poor bus driver had to mop it all up and ask them to leave. And society and the media make you believe its only the younger generations who can’t handle their drink…. :s

Our next stop, Rosario. Nice city with some good parks and shopping centres, but with everything pretty spread out. We managed to get on the very confusing bus system one day and went out a bit further. But apart from that, nothing too special occured.

After all the excitment in Peru and Bolivia with all the treks, mountain biking and monkey cuddling (please see previous posts for more), city life seems, well, just that. A city. And another city. Nothing too special, but of course nothing too bad. It is just what it is I guess. I do miss the monkeys though 😦

Next on our stop off of cities, the big capital Buenos Aires. Hopefully having our own apartment and space will make this city just a little bit different.

A little over 1,300 miles in 3 days

Our journey from Mendoza to Bolivia started in absolute luxury with the bus equivalent of a business class seat in a plane. Well, for 18 hours on a bus, you’ve got to try and make it some what enjoyable and after winning a free bottle of wine from a game of bingo and eating a 2 course hot dinner with wine and champers we were ready to bed down on our fully reclining bed/chairs. Ahhhh bliss!

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After being woken up for brekkie we had a few more hours until we arrived in Salta where we were to stay for 1 night before heading for the Bolivian border. In Salta we had enough time to look round a cute little market and buy some basic rations for dinner before an early night as we had to be up at 5am to get our 7am bus. This bus was a few steps down in luxury, only a semi-cama, so it only had a foot stall and reclined some of the way. The journey was OK apart from a few road protests which held us up for an hour or two by pulling cars into the middle of the road and burning tyres. We have no idea what they were protesting about, we can only assume they weren’t environmentalist protestors.

We arrived at the Argentinian border town of La Quicha and wandered aimlessly for a while trying to actually find the border. No signs, no arrows and no one willing to give directions. Only a scary looking cowboy who just stared at us when we asked him a question. We moved quickly away, and luckily it was in the right direction and we quickly got through the border and were officially in Villazon, Bolivia. Next was a 2 hour minivan ride through nothingness to Tupiza.

Now Tupiza was only a stop off for us to buy some warm clothes before moving on. Once our hostel found out we were not buying a tour off them to the Salt Flats they instantly lost interest in us. In their eyes we no longer existed. Asking for anything was like pulling teeth. This was also the place where we got the worst breakfast ever in our 7 months so far. Dry cream crackers, margarine and jam and the worst cup of coffee known to man. Least to say we were not satisfied or filled and were quickly beginning to dislike Tupiza, thats what a hungry belly can do to you! So we quickly moved on and caught a 9 hour night bus to Sucre.

Now this bus was on a whole other level to our previous. Comfy enough but absolutely freezing! We had on every jumper, fleece and coat we owned, gloves, scarf, hat and blankets and this was just enough. Freezing cold air blew in from the gaps in the thin sliding windows and a badly dubbed Charlottes Web video was put on so loudly it scared a baby to tears! So in went the ear plugs to try and get a few hours shut eye. Needless to say we didn’t sleep too much and arrived in Sucre in the darkness at 5am.

We arrived to our hostel and were warmly welcomed and quickly dived into bed. At last, the constant moving around can stop for now. Let the Spanish lessons begin!


Tandem biking and wine drinking

Mendoza, Argentina. Possibly one of the most famous and renound wine regions in the world, and we were fortunate enough to visit.

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We arrived here after a 6 hour bus journey from Santiago going through the Andes with spectacular sceneries and crossed possibly the easiest land border crossing we have ever done. We just got stamped out at one window and then stamped in by the guy sitting next to him. “Is that it…? Are we in Argentina now??” So it was quite a nice, easy first bus journey for us. I worry that things will not progress in the same way throughout SA.

We decided to walk to our hostel from the bus station. It wasn’t the best move as we were led to believe it was a 15 minute walk, actually turned out to be a 30-40 minute walk with our big bags on. But at least it wasn’t hot, just a heavy walk. We arrived and got ourselves settled in and were very happy to find out that the hostel offers LOADS of extras, like free cake every afternoon, all you can eat pancakes full of scrumptious dulche de leche as part of breakfast, free wine tasting course, free empenada making lesson…just to name a few. The day we turned up there was a traditional Asado BBQ happening that night which turned out to be beautiful, medium rare steaks of different varieties and plenty of red wine to wash it down. It was a great start to our trip in Argentina!

We booked ourselves onto a wine tour for an afternoon and enjoyed the wine tasting part and one of the tours around the winery was interesting. The next tour was exactly the same and a bit boring, we just wanted to get round to the wine tasting. The next day we decided to go with some friends on a self guided bike tour around the wineries and we realised just what we had been missing out on.

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We got the bus to the Maipu area of Mendoza and went to rent some bikes from ‘Orange bikes’, we were warmly welcomed, offered coffee and water and we got to pick our bikes (we picked a tandem…possibly our first and last tandem experience) and after been shown where to go and closing times we got on our way. We decided to start at the far end and work our way back, so the first cycle was a good hour long, but we got the company and protection from a stray who decided to assist us on our journey. The ride was enjoyable and picturesque, as you cycle down tree lined roads with the Andes as a backdrop.

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When we arrived we jumped straight into our wine tasting, costing only 40 Argentinian Pesos (4 GBP) we got to try 6 different types of wine and were feeling that lovely warm glow in our stomachs. We went to get on our bikes again and found that our poor tandem had a flat tyre, and to cut a long story short, we managed to get a lift in a police truck all the way to our next winery!

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This vineyard was the most beautiful one we had seen, it mixed old derelict buildings with new ones and had lush gardens with olive trees, goaffers and llamas. Instead of doing wine tasting, we opted to buy 2 bottles of red at 65 pesos a piece (8GBP) and share them. We even got a free bottle of bubbly thanks to our U.S friends coming back for a second day! The red wines were 2 of the most beautiful wines we have tasted, one being my new favourite, a grape variety called Malbec. It’s just like a merlot, but better! So after 2 bottles of wine and the sun warming our backs we decided to head back via the chocolate and olive tapenade tasting place. Here we sampled chocolate and ate olive tapenade from our fingers as the bread ran out too quick. It was obviously that good!

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All in all, we have had a brilliant wine fuelled 4 days in Mendoza, met great people, ate great food and sampled the best of what Mendoza has to offer. What a wonderful place!