Thursday, January 31, 2013

Salta to Cafayete via Route 40

Dale has long wanted to visit Salta and Cafayate in northern Argentina. A Seattle lawyer friend told us not to miss the side trip to Cachi en route to Cafayate. He enthusiastically described the diverse climates and ecological types, from lush semi-tropical jungle, through a mountain pass, high cloudy mountain plateau to blue skies and arid desert. Sounded good. He provided the name of his travel agency and itinerary. So, we contacted them and booked a similar trip. But somehow we missed the fact that it would be a ten plus hour tour on a rocky dirt road most of the way. Our guide spoke pretty good English and drove a pickup. Gail sat in the back seat with another young couple from Buenos Aires. Dale made endless small talk with our tour guide up front.We left Salta at 7 am to begin the arduous journey up a rather primitive road.
We first passsed through rain forest vegetation outside Salta

The green hills and red earth were a gorgeous contrast in color. 

After an hour`s drive or so the views began to change little by little.

We continued our drive following the dirt switchbacks that curl and bend up the Cuesta del Obispo (Bishop´s Slope). 

We continued to gain altitude until we came to Pedro del Molino the viewpoint at 3,457 meters above sea level. The views were fantastic but the air very thin. (Mt Rainier in Washington is 4,027 meters high)  
Our travel companions from Buenos Aires posing in the clouds.

After we drove through the high mountain pass we reached  this vast mountain plateau. Our driver pointed out several boarding schools for the children who live in these empty hills. They board there during the week and return home by horse or donkey to see their families on the weekend. We passed a bus stop that had a built in fire pit. There is one daily bus that passes by this remote area but sometimes there are land slides or floods washout the road and people have to wait for hours. In the winter months it is bitter cold so they build a fire inside the mud walled bus stop.

These giant cardon cacti can grow up to 50 feet high and live as long as 400 years.

The Los Cardones National Parque with endless fields of cacti, from afar they look like an army on the march. 

We stopped for a delicious roasted lamb lunch outside the colonial village of Cachi that was first settled in 1673 as a Spanish outpost. The town had narrow cobbled streets and a simple ancient church with mud brick walls. At this point we realized we were not even half way through our journey....sigh.

Refreshed we climbed into the truck to drive for another five hours. The road was rough and of course we had a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere!
The tree where we waited place to sit!

After 20 minutes waiting in the hot sun for our driver to change our tire, we pressed on until we reached the unique geography of the Quebrada de las Flechas. This place looked like a scene from Star Wars. This surreal landscape was formed 15 or 20 million years ago. The etchings in the pointed rocks were formed by rain and wind over time. We got out and walked down the dusty road to experience the eery stillness and desolation. It is impossible for our camera to capture the vast size of this place. These rock formations went on for over 20 miles.
Route 40 (notice the small sign to the left of the road....puts the landscape in perspective)

The amazing thing about this National Route 40, is certain stretches of the road are passable only during the dry season because it crosses so many riverbeds. This road runs parallel to the Andes mountain range. It begins in the north at the Bolivian border and goes through Cachi, Cafayate, Mendoza ending in the south at Punta Loola making it one of the longest routes in the world (along with the US route 66). It is the main road through Argentina and it is unpaved much of the way...unbelievable.

 Quebrada de las Flechas

Finally, after our ten hour drive a vineyard appeared roadside and we smiled. At 6 pm our driver dropped us at the gorgeous Cafayate Wine Resort set in the middle of a beautiful vineyard. We knew we had earned the complimentary cold, crisp glass of Torrontes that a waiter served us after we checked into our room. This trip was interesting but would have been much more enjoyable had we arranged stay in Cachi or Molinos to break up the long journey. Gorgeous, diverse landscape but be will be in a truck, car or van for many hours. Oh yes, don´t forget your water bottle and make sure your driver has a spare tire or two. Gail

Cafayate Wine Resort

Monday, January 28, 2013

KKala Boutique Hotel in Salta

Handmade Bed Throw at Hotel KKala in Salta

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Yesterday we arrived at our boutique Hotel Kkala in Salta. The lobby is filled with local arts and crafts. Our room has an unique animal skin light fixture. A colorful hand made throw was carefully arranged at the foot of our king size bed.  We took time to settle in as we plan to stay in this hotel for six nights. In the evening we walked the two miles to the central square and observed a bee hive of activity on a Saturday night. Music, families walking in the central park and lovers strolling arm in arm. The colonial architecture of grand adobe buildings around the Ninth of July Plaza were painted a pleasing salmon or yellow color with white trim.  The 19th century Cathedral de Salta was filled with people praying and in confession, this community exhibits a strong tradition of the Catholic faith. The church had several altars gleaming with artifacts and candles shimmering with silver and gold. We sat for a long time to enjoy the majesty of this place.

Today we enjoyed the comforts of our hotel.The view from the breakfast room overlooks the city. What a delightful spot for our morning cafe con leche. After reading by the pool, we took a taxi to visit the Church of San. Francisco near the central square. The Franciscans began this church in 1606 but the embellished neo-classical facade we viewed today was rebuilt in 1868. After our photo shoot and a quick bite of lunch, we walked to the craft fair where local artisans display their crafts each Saturday and Sunday. I know there are many more things to discover in Salta that will simply have to wait for another day. Dale is reading the Bonhoffer book and also the Paul Johnson book, Intellectuals, so he will be happy to sit and read for hours. Sunday is the day of rest and we plan to do just that! Gail
Main Cathedral of Salta

Young girls hanging out in the Ninth of July Plaza with iphones
The Church of San Francisco

Crafts displayed at the Hotel KKala

                         The 2012 Trip Advisor winning Boutique Hotel KKala

Best Waterfall Ever!

At 7am we were awakened by tropical rain pounding the roof, running down gutters and bouncing off the balcony.  It was our one full day at Iguazu Falls, we groaned and rolled out of bed.  The jungle was green, wet and every leaf dripping into pools of water flowing into muddy rivulets.  The whole world was soaked.  We had no raincoats, one umbrella and were a little concerned.
The day before we checked the weather forecast and it said 50 percent chance of showers.  So we decided to have breakfast and wait an hour to see if the rain would stop.  By 10 it was better so we called a taxi driver to pick us up and drive the 15 miles to the National Park on the Argentina side of the falls.  When we arrived he gave us some suggestions and said he would come back in four hours and pick us up.  The rain stopped.  The sun came out.  We paid the 130 peso entry fee, got a map and walked into the greatest waterfalls ever. (at the unofficial Blue Dollar exchange rate of 7.2 to 1, it cost less than $20 each to get into the most amazing park and that included all the train rides once inside.)
There is a train that takes you first to the Catarata Station.  The ride takes about ten minutes and you see coatis, monkeys, birds and butterflies galore.  We also saw frogs and bugs.  Lots of bugs. You can choose to get off and begin the Upper or Lower trails here, or get onto a second train and ride another twenty minutes to the Devils Throat, Gargantua del Diablo.  We went onwards and it was getting warm, the sun shining hot, all thought of rain gone.  We were rolling slowly through dense jungle, birds and bugs crying out, piercing the air with their calls.  When we arrived we were greeted by a welcoming committee of coatis, dozens of them, begging, crawling all over the ground, nosing backpacks, looking for a treat.  We walked a mile across the huge river on manmade suspension bridges, gigantic fish swam just below our feet.  Coatis ran alongside of us hugging the hand railing.  The Red Cross had several stations to check your blood pressure and provide liquids for tourists who could not handle the hike in the scorching heat and 100 percent humidity.
At last we got close enough to see the spray, rising hundreds of feet above the raging falls.  We went from the burning sun into a shower of spray and everyone was smiling, dripping from the water vapor and the cooling water of the river.  We got to the end of the trail, suspended by steel and concrete piers, looking down hundreds of feet into the mouth of the Devil.  It was unforgettable.
Our photos are pretty good but cannot do justice to a place so unique that only being there can translate into understanding.
We took the train back to the Cataratas Station, got off and began hiking the Upper Trail. A mile through the jungle, along the rim of the falls, looking down a dozen gigantic cascades. The panorama of the Brazilian side, the inflatable rafts cruising under the spray at the bottom of the falls, the sandy beach full of sunbathers And the sounds of falling water everywhere.  We finished the hike, smiling at our good fortune.  It was a truly marvelous day.  Iguazu Falls is like Disneyland for adults, but the jungle tour is real.  We saw large monkeys swinging in the trees just a few feet above our heads.  Giant catfish swimming a few inches below our feet.  And the rain did not start up again for hours.  We met up with the taxi driver, went home, tired but happy and spent the late afternoon reading by the pool.  One guidebook quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, an old New Yorker proud of her own waterfall, on her first impression on seeing Iguazu.  She is reported to have said:  "oh!  Poor Niagra."
She was right.  Ah, life is grand.  Our one regret, we should have stayed a second day and seen the falls from the Brazil side.  Perhaps we will come back someday. Dale

Relaxing at the gorgeous Loi Suites Hotel after an exhausting but fun adventure filled day at Iguazu Falls.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Meat or fish?

The meat in Argentina is delicious. The portions are gargantuan! It did not take long for us to figure out that one beef tenderloin steak would feed both of us if accompanied by a salad and maybe an empanada as a starter. One night while in Buenos Aires the waiter brought us our sizzling tenderloin (lomo) steak on a wood plank and proceeded to cut it into two pieces with a spoon. Yes, grass fed beef is that tender. So while dining at the gorgeous Loi Suites in iguazu falls, I decided to take the waiter's advice and order "Pacu" the local river fish instead of beef. This particular fish variety lives  in the Amazon river and some are fished downstream in the Rio Iguacu but nowhere else in Argentina. It was delicious and such a nice change of pace from beef. Little did I know that this fish was related to the pirana. So glad I did not see a picture of this jungle critter before I ate it. This is one meal I will not soon forget! Gail
"Pacu" with it's human like teeth. They can weigh up to 55 pounds.

The presentation of "Pacu" served with saffron risotto at the Loi Suites restaurant at Iguazu Falls

The pear strudel with coconut and pineapple granita was a delicious way to end our meal!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Recoleta revisited

Today we went to the Recoleta cemetery for our fourth visit. And you might ask, why would anyone want to visit a cemetery on their vacation? Answer: the history of this place is fascinating. There are 4,691 above ground vaults arranged on 14 acres. It is an outdoor museum full of sculpture, stained glass and imported marble decorated mausoleums. This is where the rich and famous families of Argentina have been laid to rest. Each family is required to maintain their plot.  Beginning in 1930 Argentina experienced several economic downturns. As a consequence, some families no longer can afford this expensive real estate. Several vaults have fallen in disrepair and are littered with trash. It is a bit unsettling to see a door ajar, broken windows and coffins stacked inside in plain view. Today we decided to pass by the famous tombs of Eva Peron (Evita), the Hispanic heavy weight boxer (Firpo) and the many past presidents and other famous people buried here. Instead, we leisurely walked through the aisles to appreciate the beautiful sculpture and ornate crypts. It certainly is a photographer's paradise. Today we discovered stories about Luz Maria Garcia Velloso, the Jose Fabian Ledesmo family and Dr. Pedro Anchorena. These names may have been forgotten but their stories live on. Gail

The founders of the Anchorena family owned large tracts of land in the 19th century. One of the heirs was governor of Buenos Aires and other family members had major political and social roles and were famous for their sophisticated and elegant lifestyle. There are a bunch of family members buried in this crypt stacked inside.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A beautiful stained glass window and tomb in disrepair with visible coffin.

Dr. José Fabián Ledesma (1805-1886) was a politician, lawyer, judge and the first man from Tucaman providence to earn a Juris Doctorate from the University of Buenos Aires in 1828.

Luz Maria Garcia Velloso died at age 15 of leukemia. Her grief stricken mother got permission to sleep every night next to the grave of her daughter.  Her head rests on a bed of roses carved in the marble.

Favorites, Old and New

We are In a new neighborhood, Alto Palermo.  It is midway between Recoleta and Palermo.  We have visited a local mini grocery store several times to get water, milk and staples.  We went to the local laundry and the pizza place, a nice cafe, the Starbucks and the moneychanger. Yesterday we walked for an hour to a travel agency, Say Hueque, to book our flights to Iguazu Falls, Salta and Mendoza.  While the agent, Augustin, was making the arrangements for hotels, flights and a tour of the Cafeyate region, he suggested we have lunch at La Cabrera.  What a great idea.  We walked another ten blocks to get there and had a good appetite.  Trip Advisor rates this place number 23 out of 1325 restaurants in Buenos Aires.  It was at least that good. We have been here a week and it was our first beef.  Gail had Lomo (tenderloin), I ordered Bife de Chorizo (sirloin).  But I ended up eating all of mine and half of hers.  It was the finest beef we have ever eaten.  Great service from Armondo and a beautiful day to sit outside and enjoy all the steak sauces and interesting condiments they serve here.  The photos will not do it justice but if you look below your mouth may water.  You should come here and find out for yourself.

La Cabrera is our new favorite restaurant. Today we visited an old favorite, Ligure.  We had to go to the LAN airlines office to trade in our vouchers for free tickets from Mendoza to Santiago de Chile.  You may recall from an earlier blog,that we were bumped from our Business Class seats after arriving in Santiago on the 787.  The LAN office is far away from our apartment, near the Obelisk, so we took a cab and waited while the lady did the paperwork and issued us our "free" tickets that only cost $320 as we still had to pay the taxes.  No problem, our government works like that too.  Then we walked the other direction, and ended up at Ligure where we saw our same waiter (4 times in five years we have seen him. He recognized us warmly and when we left shook ours hands and said:  " Hasta la proxima.")  Yes, we will be back.

  We went to the National Museum of Bellas Artes and saw the wonderful collection:  Renoirs, Degas, Manet, Corot, Picassos, and great Spanish and Italian works from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  After two hours, we were exhausted from so much culture and walked across the park for a cool drink at La Biela.  We sat in front of the allegedly 1000 year old rubber tree, again, and enjoyed the sunshine.  But today, we had another new favorite thing happen there.  Gail checked her email on her IPad mini and got a video from Annie of Daniel, Katherine, Johnny and Alice playing and saying "hi" to us so far away.  We are on the other side of the world, seeing old and new places and just a click away from the ones we love the most.  How perfect is that.  Dale
Dale enjoyed a Bife de Chorizo (sirloin steak) with chimichurri 
Gail ordered a Bife de Lomo (tenderloin steak) 
Armondo serves us condiments for the Kobe Beef at La Cabrera Restaurant in Palermo 

The Cafe La Biela Terrace in the shade of a giant gomero (rubber) tree opposite the Recoleta Cemetery.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Our Day Trip to Tigre

Today we visited Tigre, a riverside town located on the Parana river. This is a favorite weekend spot where portenos (people from Buenos Aires) go for family picnics or weekend get aways. It is often called the Venice of South America because of the unique maze of waterways and river channels that make up the river delta. The town sits on an island created by several small streams and rivers. The only way to get from Tigre to the various islands on the opposite shore is by boat. The Parana River originates in Brazil and is 2,300 miles long. The water is brown almost latte colored because it is rich in iron from the jungle streams that feed it. (It is also polluted) 

We went on a 60 minute boat trip around the Delta and saw stilted houses, colonial mansions, river channels and canals. There were boats and people vacationing everywhere...kayaks, motor boats and sculls. The geography was interesting but was far from a water paradise in my mind. Of course, my idea of a river get away is to drive along the pristine waters of the mighty Columbia River in Washington State. The Columbia originates in the Rocky Mountains in Canada but flows right through my home town. Let's just say that I was not interested in swimming the Parana's murky waters today. 

After our six hour day trip, we were reading in our apartment when the phone rang. A woman asked for our landlord and was clearly upset. She explained that her bag with money, keys and passport was stolen at the craft market in San Telmo in broad daylight. She and her friend were stranded and had no way of getting back into their rented apartment across the street from where we are staying. Evidently, someone threw water on them both at the market and then pretended to help them while absconding with both their bags. We were able to give her the phone number of Miguel the same young man who helped us solve our kitchen flood problem two days ago. Tomorrow we meet with a travel agent to book our travels to Iguazu Falls and Salta. You can bet we will be wearing our money belts with an extra set of keys as we walk to Palermo! Gail

A Parana River Tour on a Catamaran

View from our boat....the Tigre Amusement Park

The Tigre Delta does not empty into the ocean but empties into the Rio de la Plata river which separates Argentina and Uruguay after the Rio Parana river splits into several smaller rivers and canals. It forms a multitude of islands which is why some people call the Tigre the Venice of South America.

All kinds of boats everywhere all along the river!

The Buenos Aires Colonial Style Rowing Club

Swimming in the Parana River's murky thanks!

The Museo de Arte Tigre first opened as a social club 100 years ago. It was reopened in 2006 as a museum newly refurbished to its former glory. It is a stunning belle époque building on the Tigre Delta. A place where rich porteneos would come to escape Buenos Aires a century ago. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Some things don't change much, even though forty years pass by.  In 1972-73 we lived above a Greek restaurant at 2016 Mass. Ave in Cambridge, Mass. That apartment was over 100 years old, had seen better days but is still standing. Now we are staying above a pizzeria at 1787 Billinghurst, just above one of the main streets, Santa Fe, in Buenos Aires. The two apartments have alot in common. The noise of the city never stops, buses, taxis, horns and screeching brakes.  The smells of food cooking, diesel and the heat of mid summer in a humid, sea level city with millions of people moving fast at all hours.  We hear conversations from the street below, shouts and laughter.
Most of the Argentines came from Europe, with a huge percentage from southern Italy.  The same people who populated Boston, the North End, Cambridge and Somerville, had cousins who fled to Argentina in 1890-1914, looking for prosperity and a better life.
The building we are living in today was built during that turbulent time.  It was beautiful then and still is very attractive now.  But if these walls could talk?  What a lot of trouble the people of this city have seen over the past 100 years.
I am reading an excellent book, Buenos Aires, A Cultural History, by Jason Wilson.  He writes that between 1895 and 1912 the population of the country doubled (3,954,911 to 7,570,400).  Fifteen different steamship companies sailed into this port, bringing immigrant workers and taking back full loads of frozen beef, wheat and soybeans to feed Europe.  The people who built this six story apartment building were rich, they owned vast ranches in the Pampas.  They rented living quarters to the new middle class.  The poor lived south, near Boca in squalid slums, block after block of flats with no running water or electricity.  This was where the anarchists, the socialists and the communists gathered, rabble rousing a following to take away the property of the landed gentry, the ones Evita Peron later called "the oligarchs."  In 1909 one of the anarchists assasinated the Chief of Police.  By 1919 the struggle between capital and labor reached the breaking point, the police came down hard in raids in "la semana tragica" to root them out, killing thousands, deporting some of the leaders back to Russia or Italy.  But up near Santa Fe street there were fewer radicals. This was where the small merchants, with enough income to live a clean middle class life, but not enough to own a factory or a ranch, would stake their claim to the future.  Then the world wars, one and two, followed by a great depression and social upheaval again. Depression helped the populists regain power and in 1946 Juan Peron was elected and the balance shifted in favor of labor, the capitalists were under siege for a decade. During the 1960's and 70's presidents came and went and policies raced from one extreme to the other. Peron returned from exile in Spain, died shortly thereafter and then the military took over and conservatives began to arrest the radicals and perhaps 30 thousand of them "disappeared." The pendulum swung once more.  Then in the late 1980s and 90s democracy bloomed, the economy boomed, followed by a huge collapse in 2000 hyperinflation and depression.  25 percent unemployment and hunger for many of the people.  A commodities driven boom in the period 2002-2011 but then inflation hit 26 percent and the economy turned sour. Today our taxi driver, Hector, told us he had been a supervisor in a pharmaceutical business for twenty years but in 2002 lost his job, lost his home, lost everything and is now surviving as a cab driver. The city is beautiful.  The apartment building we are staying in is grand.  The facades ornate. But change forced out one family after another.  Political and economic instability has rocked their lives for five generations. The people of Argentina will survive.  But how many stories of sleepless nights, fear and sorrow could be told by these walls.  Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.  Dale

1787 Billinghurst Street