Wow! This place blew us both away. Super relaxing, full of life, incredibly nice people…it was wonderful. Just on the ride over there on a long dirt road (3.5 hours) we saw at least 20 different species of bird including a Jabiru – the largest stork in the Americas, very rare to see here supposedly. We also saw tons of capybaras (called carpincho in Argentina). It was heaven for me of course. All the rodent type animals here are guinea pig like it’s really funny. There’s the Vizcacha (looks like a cross between a chinchilla and a carpincho) that lives in underground tunnel systems and has a sympatric relationship with the burrowing owl. the owl eats the other rodents that try to steal the vizcachas food and the vizcacha keeps the burrow system clean. We also saw burrowing owls but not very close up. Then there’s the capybara of course, super cute, babies everywhere. On the boat trip through the lagunas and the floating marshlands we got to get out and walk around on the floating land masses. When you jumped up and down the land would ripple mirroring the water beneath it. We came within a foot of a large male capybara wallowing in the mud! They are very tolerant of people now that hunting is not allowed. We also saw tons of cayman (small alligators). They were all sitting with their mouths open regulating their temperatures. The first caiman that we saw happened to be one of the older ones (they live up to 80 years in the wild) and he was huge! I started trying to write up a list of all the animals we saw but I stopped when I hit 30, it was too much to keep track of. So many birds too. Giant toads (the size of small salad plates) roamed the streets at night. The people also let their horses loose in the streets watched over by young girls. One of the horses had a foal with her who would prance around and try to play with the stallions. At one point he got so excited running around that he lost his balance and fell on his side. He quickly got back up and hid behind his mother for a short period of time. It was really cute. Oh and they have real cavies! Marsh cavies. They’re genuine wild guinea pigs and they come out to eat the grasses in the morning and afternoon. If you sit fairly still they’ll come out even with you really close to them. We ate every meal except breakfast at one of the three or so restaurants in town – Don Marcos. Everything there was homemade, even the ravioli (which happened to be overcooked however). For breakfast our hotel baked scones in the morning and served it with butter and home-made marmalade. This seems to be a staple throughout the Northern regions. We took two tours here, the boat tour and a night 4×4 tour. The boat tour was run by Emilio an employee of our hotel (Ypa Sapukai). Really great. He knew tons about the animals and where to find them. The tour lasted at least 3 hours (when most of them only last 1-2 hours) and he didn’t just bullshit the information either. When he didn’t know something he just told me so, I really appreciated that. He also served us maté on the boat. It was so quiet and so peaceful, we never wanted to leave. After the boat tour we took a quick siesta and then headed out to see the local troup of howler monkeys. Luckily we arrived 10 minutes before the park closed and were able to go in. We found a small troup of monkeys, mostly juveniles, playing in the trees. They made the weirdest noises, kind of pig-like sounds. That evening after eating at Don Marcos during some torrential rains that came down we decided to go on the night tour anyways, adn it was worth it. We did not see the elusive maned wolf (which is neither wolf nor fox, but a separate canid), but we did see a pair of foxes, a single fox, an armadillo and the vizcacha (that only come out at night). The vizcacha came right up to the car. They like to collect random objects and all well known for stealing articles of clothing and shoes and such. (kind of reminds me of a chinchilla I know who at least used to have a fetish for credit cards). The next morning we headed back to Mercedes with two Danish guys who live in B.A. and were kind enough to give us a ride back to town in their car. On the way back we encountered a mother Rhea and her brood. The mother quickly ducked into the grass on the side of the road, but the babies were all confused and continued to run alongside the car for quite some time until they realized that stopping would be much more effective. Even the little ones can run really fast, let me tell you. We were laughing so hard, it was straight out of a cartoon. Their little legs looked like they were spinning in circles. : )
Well the blog is almost caught up with us and soon you will hear of the new drama (an incredibly adorable one, that has an incredibly impressive set of lungs on her)…
A quaint town. Pretty small with the requisite large plaza that you find all over Argentina. We waited there for four hours until the comvi (a large minivan type car) departed for the Esteros. The most amazing thing about the town were the gauchos. There are real gauchos here. One was so bow-legged that I have no idea how he managed to walk around. Gauchos are Argentine cowboys who tend to work on ranches riding horses and herding cows. They wear baggy pants with cowboy boots, giant leather belts with even bigger metal buckles, baggy white shirts and sometimes small black scarves around their necks. They also wear a flat wide-brimmed hat that they don’t seem to take off for any reason. The gaucho in the comvi with us wore his hat the whole time. They are very hard to understand and tend to have incredibly impressive large, white teeth. One of the first things I noticed in Mercedes was the change in the accent. The people there speak more like Mexicans. The music also has a strong mexican sound; we heard both regetton (sp?) and mariachi like music from almost every kiosk (small snack and candy stand) and cd seller. Since we weren’t there for very long there isn’t much else that I have to say about it. It was very pleasant though and relaxing.
We headed out in the evening from Buenos Aires on our first overnight trip with a company called flechabus. They had a nice flat screen and techno pumping from the office where we bought the tickets leading us to believe that they may be pretty good. Not too long after the bus had departed we pulled over to the side of the road (half way through the crappy movie we were watching by the way, which is annoying when it’s some of the only entertainment for the night) because the electrical system was malfunctioning. Ahead of us on the side of the road was another bus from the same company that had a broken alternator. The guys on the bus were very nice though and 2-3 hours later we were switched to a new bus and on the road yet again. Most of this didn’t matter to us anyways because all it meant was that we would arrive at a more reasonable hour in Mercedes our destination en route to the Esteros del Iberá. (Corrientes province, North of B.A.)
I woke up the first morning of our trip excited to relish my first maté in Argentina when I found out that my parents are bad Argentines and don’t keep a working maté at the apt. I quickly improvised maté by using a largish coffee mug which I wouldn’t recommend however, because you then have to eyeball the right amount of yerba and will invariably get it wrong (like I think I did). [For those of you who are new to maté: It is a tea-like drink typical in Argentina and some of the surrounding countries. You first fill a receptacle, often a hollow dried gourd with yerba, the dried ground leaves of the Ilex paraguariensis plant. Then you place a bombilla, a metal straw with a tea strainer at one end, in the yerba and heat up some water, without boiling it. The water is poured into the yerba until it reaches the top of the receptacle and each person drinks the water until it is done and passes it back to the water pourer who passes it on to the next person. It can be served with water alone, suagr and water, or milk and sugar – usually for children.] I have since remedied the situation by purchasing a maté, yerba, and a bombilla in order to disfrutar (enjoy) maté throughout the trip.
So a couple rants and raves and a couple extras about the city:
The salads are awesome. Cheap (5-7 US), filling, and include all sorts of items – carrots, green beans, eggs, cheese, tomatoes, potato, beets, olives and so much more. They’re great!
Ice cream also pretty good, although the prices are comparable to those in the states. Which considering prices for other foods makes it quite expensive here. However, porteños (as argentines from buenos aires are called) take their ice cream very seriously. There are at least 1-2 ice cream parlors per block in the less residential areas.
A new non-smoking law was just passes in B.A. (In October of this year). It’s great! No one smokes in restaurants any more and even in bars. You can allow indoor smoking only if the establishment is large enoughwhich most places aren’t. Supposedly people are pretty pissed about it and businesses have taken a 30% loss in business since the start of the law. People claim that it won’t last long, but so far it seems to be doing well.
The day before we took off on our trip up North we decided to indulge in a little R&R by getting massages. We found a lovely place that charged for both of us to have 45 minute massages less than the taxi ride into the city from the international ariport (EZE – which was about 27$ US).
ATMs run out of money!!! Not to mention that because of this issue they never let you take out very much in the first place. We had to search at at least 4 different banks one day in order to get some cash. It was so annoying. On top of it, people are always in long lines at banks which fortunately we have not had to deal with yet.
Locutorios – the places wher eon can make long distance calls and use the internet- SUCK! We’ve gone to 5-6 in the city and all of them have problems. Either gmail doesn’t work or only works sometimes (you log out and then try to log back in and it has a page error). They crash a lot, and the connetions in general are just slow. When your computer crashes the guy just comes over and resets it as if that alone will solve the problem. At least the one in our hotel right now is really nice.
A funny thing about B.A. and Argentina in general is that they name streets, towns, cities, plazas, for special dates so that a lot of the names one ends up using can get to be quite long such something at the corner of two of these kinds of streets (e.g. 10 de Octubre and 4 de Mayo) it can get to be quite a mouthful. And half the time no one even know what the date is commemorating. Although in B.A. I think most of them are fairly well known – but where we are now I don’t think that’s the case.
And for thos of you who mightbe interested in coming to Argentina someday, we found two wonderful places a Jazz bar (incidentally one of the best local jazz clubs in the city right near my parents apt.) and a fully veggie restaurant. The Jazz club was impressive. Argentina isn’t known for it’s jazz but this place had a great local band playing. The club is called Thelonius and the band appropriately played a couple of the monks songs. We had a fun time and the place was packed. They looked like they had some good drinks too, but we’d forgotten to bring enough money so we had to settle for quilmes. The restaurant was named Krishna and it had a distinct Indian vibe although there were all sorts of random religious relics strewn about the place. It was quite small and half of the seating was tiny wooden benches which not too surprisingly were not the most comfortable, but all in all it was wholesome and veggie and fun to see the hippy-types of the city. The city in general seems to be on a bit of health kick with yoga, pilates, reiki massage (energy transfer stuff) and fruit jiuce places everywhere. Hopefully it’ll stick.
Ok, enough for now since I’m hogging one of the only two computers at the hotel.
So we made it to B.A. (Buenos Aires) unharmed and in true Argentine fashion — inefficiently. Our initial flight plan should have tipped us off: SF – LA – Miami – BA. Even the guy checking us in at the SF airport asked us why we hadn’t been booked on the direct SF – Miami flight. I guess you get what you pay for. Then in LA we hear a low rumble as we’re sitting waiting for the plane to load up with people. Soon after the captain comes on the speakers to tell us that the machine for loading the baggage crashed into the side of the plane and that now we have to wait for someone to come out and x-ray the side of the plane to make sure that it is still ok to fly and that of course this may take a couple (up to 4) hours. He goes on to tell us that he’d love to let us off the plane but that the machine to check the tickets has broken and so it would take too long to get everyone back on the plane once they’ve de-planed and therefore we will remain in our seats until things are taken care of. So an hour or so later the captain comes back on to tell us that the x-ray is done and everything is ok, but that now they have to complete the paperwork and that will take another while. Once we’re ok to go we have to wait yet another while for a plane to take off and another plane to taxi through then we’re finally clear to take off. (yes, it did take that long…)
Luckily enough this is one of those planes equipped for long distance travel with personal TVs for each seat. oh yeah and they gave us all free travel packs (toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, etc.) for our troubles. How nice. So due to the delay in take off, and despite the captain’s best efforts to make up the time by pumping up the power (he told us that he did) and taking “shortcuts” (huh – aren’t we flying through the air?), we still arrived in Miami international airport (MIA) 50 minutes late. This was just late enough to have missed our third flight by 5 minutes. We were promptly shoved off onto the next flight (with no recompense) which was not taking off for another 3 hours. Being the optimists that you all know and love, we realized that this would give us ample time to pay for an overpriced meal at the MIA. In the next 3 hours we kept ourselves awake by eating at the only open cafe (a pre-packaged, day old, sandwhich – which incidentally tasted wonderful to our chex mix filled bellies), walking between the only two terminals we had access to like caged animals, and discussing the quality of the various paintings by 3rd – 12th graders on display in the long hallway between the terminals. When we finally got back to the gate to board the plane we were greeted by someone who knew our names and wanted us to board the plane rapidly since we happened to be some of the last remaining passengers. (oops!)
The Final Saga
Due to the change in flights we were not served our veggie dinner and had to satisfy ourselves with picking chicken out of a pasta dish. (We were tempted to eat it since it looked suspiciously like tofu, but it wasn’t. Maybe that was just delerium.) My TV didn’t work (not too surprising) so we were forced to share entertainment options. Other than that and a few bumpy spots, the flight went well. Of course, when we landed, the airport had had a recent influx of tourists and we waited close to and hour in line to have someone stamp our passports (as an aside – Laura Linney – actress in “The Squid and the Whale” was in line with us – I know I’m so cool, and I totally over-use dashes.) After all this we waited a while on the freeway in traffic into the city. Lesson – one must be very patient while travelling. Finally we arrived home, ate, showered, and slept – the best sleep I’ve had in a long time. : )
After our nap we decided to head out onto the streets to enjoy the nice weather. We meandered through the streets, admiring the lush greenery that one finds all over the city, not just in parks, of which there are many. We stopped at one of the hundreds of cafes in the city to partake of the typical afternoon snack: medialunas and coffee. Medialunas are like croissants but sweeter and a little less flaky. They come in two types: de grasa and de manteca. De grasa is made with oil and tend to be saltier, smaller, and harder. De manteca are sweeter, fluffier and are made with butter. Both go very well with un cafe. The decaf espresso was delicious not bitter like what you get in the states. We meandered some more to work off our little snack and then headed home to make some gnocchi (potato dumpling pasta) with canned filetto sauce and milanesas de soja (breaded soy patties). Downed with a bottle of Quilmes (the local beer whose name comes from some of the most impressive ruins in Argentina which we will hopefully have time to visit later in our trip that no Argentine seems to know about.)