Saturday, March 31, 2007

Wooo Hoo we´re in Brasil!!!!

So wow, there went Argentina. An amazing two months that we´ll never forget and no doubt will be boring people with our stories for a long time.

Our last port of call on the Argentine side was Iguazu, where we stayed at Hostel Inn - a sort of resort type place a little out of the town. It was really nice there with a pool, a bar, cool people and a really nice room - so a good way to finish Argentina! We took the compulsorary tour to the amazing Iguazu falls...see photos.
From Iguazu

After a couple of days of meeting cool people and hanging out by the pool it was time to cross into Brasil, which we did in a taxi. Kinda made it easy really - you hop out once to show your passport and get a stamp and that´s it; you´re in!

So here we are, Brasil. The first thing we did was go and see the falls from this side, which we actually enjoyed more although there´s less to see. The difference is that you feel right in the midst of the ´Devils Throat´which is an awesome water fall. We´re staying in a really nice chilled out Hostel called Hostel Bambu before we head east to the sea....woo hooo!

Bus ride from Belén to Santa Maria

Check the music and the bumpy road that we went algon for hours to gat to Santa Maria before heading on to Cafayate. Some chump tried to pass our bags out of the window of the bus, but we caught them!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Man, it´s hot in this town! This is one of the oldest colonial cities in Argentina and it´s littered with really cool old buildings. But boy is it hot. This internet cafe is even hotter. Anyway, I managed to post a load more photos and have added them below - plus follow the Photo link if you want to see more....

One more stop in Argentina; Iguazu. And from there....Brasil!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cafayate and on to Salta

Surrounded by vinyards which reach to the mountain foothills Cafayate is a wonderfully peaceful little town. On Wednesday we hired bikes and rode the six kilometers (uphill) to Rio Colorado. From there we hired a guide to take us up the mountain trail that leads to a series of waterfalls.
From Cafayate

In true Lee and Leah style we had set off at the hottest time of the day and with little shade the baking sun made the walking very hard work. By the time we made the first waterfall we were more than ready to jump into the refreshing mountain water. The first pool I jumped into wasn't as deep as I'd hoped and I landed with a bump on the pebble stream bed. There were three pools in total- one under the cascading water, the second a bubbling jacuzzi and the third where I miss judged the depth. Like goldielocks I tried all three, and while equally cool each had it's charm. We decided to have our lunch by the falls and the guide went on with the rest of our small party. After eating we made our way back up the precarious rock face and found our way back down the valley to our bikes. After pauses to fix the two punctures I managed to pick up we rolled back into town tired and happy.

The following day we went on a tour to what's known as the Quebrada, which as far as I could make out means river valley. The rock formations are incredible due to the oxidisation of mineral deposits in the rocks. There are brands of vivid colour; reds from iron, yellows from sulphur and greens from copper.
From Cafayate

From Cafayate we have come to Salta and it's odd to be back in a big city! We've met a cool couple who live in Milton Keynes who we've been out to dinner with and will be hanging out with later; Richard and Ayah. Their only experience of Buenos Aires was in a tattoo parlour where Richard got an enormous dragon tattooes onto is arm...a little bigger than he expected by all accounts! Last night we met up with Jimena's brother Gustavo and got drunk on Mojitos, so today we're feeling a little lame....

Sunday, March 18, 2007

La Rioja and Belén

In truth we only stopped at Rioja en route to Belen, but we found the town agreeable enough. Belen is a lovely little town, and apparently the birthplace of the poncho. After checking in to our budget-butique hotel we took a stroll into town and ended up at the new handicraft marquee which was, needless to say, full of poncho stalls. After chatting with the friendly stall holders we found out that there was to be some kind of cultural show that evening and decided we would return later. After wandering around some more we returned to the hotel to freshen up in preparation for the evenings entertainment. When we got back to the marquee things we in full swing. A fair number of people were sitting in front of the low stage, and there were tables where we ate some local delicacies- some kind of stew and some mini pasties called empanandas. While the food was pretty nice the loud open mic style music drove us away in the end.The next day we were hoping to climb up to the statue of the Virgin with Child that over looks the town, but with a late start and the hot sun wed decided to leave it till the evening. Instead we explored the streets some more and ended up back at the crafts marquee looking for food. It turned out they were having a meal to celebrate 'day of the handicraft', and recognising us from the night before invited us to join them. It was great to sit and chat with these two firey women of indigenous decent about their trade, their hopes and fears, the nearby foreign owned mines, the country, the government and everything else. After lunch we chilled for a bit and then made the acsent up to the statue from where we had fantastic views of the town, the surrounding mountains and the flat lands beyond.
From Belén and Qui...

From Belen we had hoped to make it straight to Cafayate, our next port of call. Unfortunately the rumbling, shuddering bus that wound it's way to Santa Maria was too slow so there was no connection. Furthermore some guy at the back of the bus tried to rob our bags by passing them out the window to his acomplice! Thankfully we caught himin the act and we still have our clothes! Our night in Santa Maria wasmarred by this and our dissapointment at not making it to Cafayate, and we weren't sad to be on our way early the following day.

We took a taxi from SM to Cafayate so that we could stop off at the 1000 year old ruins of Quilmes, which were the stronghold of an indigenous tribe until the Spanish came along and shiped them off to Buenos Aires. Nestled in the hills it consisted of a number of small walls, which we were to asume as rooms, kitchens etc. We followed the paths that led up behind the settlement to what appeared to bewatchtowers, and from there the layout of the town was much more clear to see.
From Belén and Qui...

After a couple of hourse we headed off to Cafayate.

San Juan and Barreal

From Mendoza we headed up to San Juan en route to Barreal. We originally wanted to go straight to Barreal from Mendoza but there didn´t seem to be a way without hiring a car, which was too expensive, thankfully in the end San Juan turned out to be cool so it worked out for the best. We arrived some time in the afternoon, which is annoying in Argentina since everything closes between about 1pm and 5 for a siesta! However, we wandered out in search of lunch and ended up at the 'Syrian Lebanese' social club; a real touch of the middle east with mosaic tiled walls, high ceilings supported by arched columns and the best coffee we've had in Argentina! The waiters were decendents of Syrian or Lebanese immigrants, and the clientele looked not unlike the guys you see sitting around in the kebab houses along the Edgware road smoking on Hookers.

After lunch we continued our stroll through the town to a park on the far side, but there wasn't a whole lot to see and the dinosaur museum was closed. That evening we sat and watched 'Snakes on a Plane', which is very silly but kept us ammused none the less.

The following morning we had to get up early to catch the 8am bus to Barreal, which took us on a five hour journey along winding roads into the valleys of the Andes. According to the lonely planet Barreal offered the 'most beautiful town in Argentina'and 'dreamy laziness' as we were to stroll along the backstreets, so we had high hopes. Thankfully it didn't let us down in the slightest, being indeed beautiful and wonderfully relaxed. We had a small cabin all of our own to stay in with pear and apple trees on the front porch, and being a little out of the town it was very peaceful. Now we wished we had a little more time here.
From Barreal

Other than dreamy laziness the other things Barreal is known for is stargazing and land yachting, the latter of which I was very keen to have a go at. To this aim we got in touch with Don Toro and after a second morning of laziness found ourselves in a beaten up old Jeep heading out in search of wind with two land yachts on the trailer behind. He took us to a vast dried up lake of cracked white earth, too poisonous for anything to grow. When we came to a halt about halfway along it´s 12km length there wasn´t a breath of wind, but Don Toro had been doing this for 30 years, and, pointing to some gathering dust in the distance, ensured us that it was indeed going to be windy. No sooner had we taken one of the buggies of the trailer and started to assemble the mast than the wind began to lift, and continued to do so until you had to brace yourself against it to stand firm. By this point we were enjoying the exhilaration of flying over the land with nothing but the wind and the humming of the wheels filling the air. Woo hoooooo.
From Barreal

Upon returning to the Jeep I found Leah talking to a couple from Buenos Aires who who had been to see the nearby observatory and had come down to see what we were up to. There names were Josefina and Guido. We got chatting and, seeing there enthusiasm, offered them a ride with Don Toro on his crazy wind-car! Later, back at the Cabins, we came across them again and it turned out they were to be staying in one also. Furthermore they invited us to dinner with them and we spent the evening outside their cabin eating, you guessed it, a barbecue and drinking local wine which I bought cheaply from the charming and slightly eccentric manager of the cabin complex, Leonor.

That night we had to catch the 4am bus back to San Juan and then the 10:30 bus up to La Rioja. The first bus was hot and smelly, making the five hour journey pretty arduous. We tried to sleep but the windy roads and seemingly never ending stops to pick up passengers (at which point all the lights would come on) made it pretty difficult. I tried to keep the dreamy laziness of Barreal in my head.....After a brief stop in San Juan, in which we consumed the now customary coffee and Croissants, we got on the second bus to La Rioja and at about 5pm alighted stiff, smelly and hungry to the run down bus terminal.

Monday, March 12, 2007


We've been in Mendoza for a few days now. Staying at Lao hostel, which has the best breakfast of all the hostels we've stayed in so far. I'm writing this from the back of the mini van that has just taken us on the 'Alta Montanya' tour up to Punta del Inca on the border with Chile once again. We drove up the old mountain pass that used to link the two countries to a military base at about 4000m. From there I climbed up a bit further to improve the view and escape the crouds hanging around the statue of San Cristobal. From there I had a wonderful view of the mountain valleys; Argentina on one side and the road we had come along, and Chile on the other. The sky was clear and blue once again, but the mountains are a myriad of colours due to different minerals and deposits in the rocks. A long time ago it was all under the sea...
From Mendoza and P...

I must confess that the mini bus style of trip isn't my favourite, but maybe tomorrow we'll get out for a walk. It's not as easy here as the mountains are further away and seem to require guides.

The day before yesterday we went on a tour of some of the Vineyards and wineries near Mendoza. We managed to find a tandem to hire once again and set off, map in hand, to see what we could find to taste. The first bodega we came to was a modern winery called Tempus Alba with large stainless steel vats, computer controlled temperatures and such like. While not being particularly romantic, it did serve to enlighten us to the ways of modern wine production. I have to say that the 7 peso glass ofCaberbet Sauvignon that we tried wasn't really much to write home about. The next place was far more interesting, being one of the oldest bodegas in the area. It originally belonged to the Guevarra family (no relation to El Famoso Rebelde), then it passed to a Basque wine company called Euskadi before being partly bought back by the Tomaso family. This had rows of vast round brick vats of two stories; the top for fermentation and the bottom for storage. The original owner had bricks shipped from the UK, cement from Germany and builders from Spain to create the vats, which withstood a terrible earthquake which levelled the rest ofMendoza. Nowadays these are used for storing wine bottles since the fermentation takes place offsite. Our tour, which cost 10 pesos each, finished with a tasting of five of the famliy wines, including the desert wine made to the grandmother's secret recipe! Yum. We ended up buying a bottle of their Malbec wine, which we consumed later with our dinner. We had time to visit one more bodega before merrily riding back to the hire place, depositing the trusty tandem and jumping on a bus back to Mendoza.
From Mendoza and P...

On wine making:
Just in case you were wondering, or indeed thinking of setting up you rown bodega or vinyard, this is what I learned about wine making. First you harvest the grapes (no shit Sherlock) and remove them from the stalks (by ´aaand), taking time to remove the damaged or rotten ones. Then you put them in a big vat with yeast where the skin and seeds separate out from the juice and pulp. This has to be at a carefully controlled temperature depending on the grape variatal for it to work. The seeds and the skin are what give the body and the tannin to the wine so you leave it to circulate and gather itself. Then you drain off the juice and leave it for a time to mature. In good wines this is in Oak barrels, with French oak being preferred to American. The newer the barrel the more oaky flavour and body you get. If a bottle says 'Roble' on it then it's been in a brand new barrel. The barrels are used for up to four years before being recycled into Parque flooring, furniture or for making Whiskey (yum). The wine is transferred into bottles and left for another year before being sold. The reason you see 'crianza' on some wines is because it is the second use of the barrel, and as the barrel ages it needs constant attention to stop cracks and thus air getting into the wine. The word crianza is spanish for a young baby, hence somethingthat required a lot of care."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bariloche Horse Riding

After a couple of very lazy days coinciding with rather cold and windyweather, we went on a horse riding trip out on an Estancia (farm) on the opposite side of the Nauel Huapi lake to Bariloche. The weather turned out fine and it was another cloudless day of infinite blue sky, I was happy for my sun hat. After we arrived our two guides, Alicia and Manuel, set about bringing in the horses. This entailed some incredible high speed bare-back riding that we watched in awe from the shade of the rickerty old wooden farm building where they had left us.
From Bariloche Hor...
Soon enough they were saddled and we moumted our steeds and set off into the surrounding hills. The pace was very relaxed and I spent my time chatting with Alicia about the 'Gaucho' life and enjoying being out in the country again. Manu didn't speak much, but tended to ride on ahead singing loudly to himself. He had the manner of an old hand, though he was only 17! We climbed up and over a hill (much easier onhorseback) and descended into a plain where we stopped to have lunch. Inevitably a barbeque was made and we hade huge slabs of beef to get through, as well as some chorizo sausage. The ride back was equally slow paced, despite the eager horses who wanted to be set free again and knew that the sooner we got back the sooner this would happen.
From Bariloche Hor...
The next day we were both very saddle sore and walked around like apair of worn out old donkeys. It was to be another lazy day inBariloche...

Our final excursion around lake Nauel Huapi took us out to the Llao Llao peninsula. We walked away from the golf courses and imposing hotel and into the national park. It was a beautiful afternoon and we could hear nothing but our footsteps and the calls of the various birds flitting around in the trees. We tried to stop for a picnic in a clearing, but wasps and flies drove us away. Then we were rewarded bythe site of a male woodpecker, just off the path, tap-tapping a tree to dig out his lunch. We stood and watched as he flew low over ourheads and landed on a tree even closer. His body was dark but he had abright red head and crest- which is the male plumage I think. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a great photo for not wanting tomake any sudden movements.

Back at the Hostel I got chatting to a couple of Argentinian brothers from Buenos Aires. The older was more chatty and is studying to be a theatre producer- apparently there are hundreds of theatres inBA, though it's hard to make it big as ever. He was a nice guy and it was good to be conversing in spanish rather than just booking rooms or ordering food!

The following day we took a touristy bus up the seven lakes with a tour guide who had a bad case of verbal diahorrea...

This bought us to San Martin de los Andes, and it was really relaxed after the tourism of Bariloche. It is also located by a lake, but is surrounded by much closer hills. We went for an easy bike ride up into the hills but that was about all. After two nights it was time to move on, this time a big journey north to Mendoza and the wine district.