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Sandy and Wes in South America

a travel blog by yungwesl

Trouncing around Chile, Easter Island and Argentina
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Day 10 - Santiago - Cerro Santa Cristobal

Santiago, Chile

We spent the day touring around the lovely hill that is Santa Cristobal. This place is a little like stanley park only with many more activities for young and old alike. The hill is marked on two opposite ends by a gondola on one side and a Funicular on the other. You can pick up some tickets to ride up the gondola, tour the park and then ride down the funicular into the trendy neighborhood of Bellavista.

The gondola makes one stop in the middle of the park where there is a swimming pool (outdoor and gorgeous) as well as multiple picnic areas and a wonderful area for kids to play in. We were very pleasantly surprised to see the number of playgrounds throughout the city and found them to be far superior to the ones we have back at home.

We continued onwards to the end of the gondola run where the lovely virgin mary sits atop the highest peak and gazes lovingly to the people below. It would probably make for a pretty humbling experience if it weren't for the 3-4 giant cell towers behind her. Nice touch.

We rode the funicular down the steep hill and meandered around Bellavista below. The area is much like Main Street with it's funky shops and little restaurants. There was also a little tourist trap called "Patio Bellavista" hawking all sorts of wares. Down the street from there we found a more "real" market with stuff going for around 30 to 40% less money.

We ended our little escapade at a place called La Mia Papa which was recommended by the Lonely Planet. The dinner was buffet style and went for about $25CDN. Sounds steep but it's ALL YOU CAN DRINK AND EAT. Drinks included hard and soft liquor and pretty much as many Pisco Sours as you can handle. The food was pretty good and there was a very wide range of sides on top of very tender well done steaks and chicken. I believe they also had blood sausage which we avoided. I went a little overboard and managed render myself unable to eat much while I was dazed from merely two drinks. So sad. Anyone with a decent tolerance would get their money's worth! Lucky that Sandy had an appetite and made our trip worthwhile :)

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 16, 2009 from Santiago, Chile
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Day 11 - Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Say goodbye to the Sheraton and its free 10 minutes per day internet. Hello Buenos Aires with its free internet. We rented a condo in Recolata in an old school building. The type with the elevator that had the manual close doors (outside and inside). Our unit has air conditioning and internet, two necessities in this 35C weather. With it came 4 sets of keys - the door has two, the safe in the room has one and the main door outside has one. You can't leave the building (nor enter) without a key.

The neighborhood is definitely posh with McDonalds even looking pretty fancy. There is also an ice cream shop here which is done up like a fancy coffee shop complete with uniformed waiters. Totally insane. The main street here Santa Fe is brimming with clothes shops and even a MacStation store. We noticed people "shopping" for shoes through he metal grated doors of a closed shop. You can really see the priorities here differ from what we saw in Santiago.

So tonight was meat night and we decided to go to a place recommended by the rental agency - Siga la Vaca (follow the cow). It's in the trendy Puerto Madero district. We tried to take a subway but had trouble finding one. When we asked people where the station was they gave us a spiel about theft and keeping our backpacks on our front. So....we took a taxi instead.

Siga la Vaca is an all-you-can eat buffet of meat and sides. They have two or three grill areas where they have slabs of cow, pig, and chicken on burning embers and you just point and choose. What was so magical about the place was how specific you could be on your choice. "I wan't that piece but slice off that part of the fat, keep THAT fat and cut it at this angle so I get the crispy bits. Then I want that sausage and I want THIS (he points to under his armpit) part of the cow".

Meat heaven. The chorizo (sausage) was very good and I had the grill master make up up some hanger steak (Entrana). He was more than happy to do so. Sandy fought with some ladies for some shish kebab skewers and won. The meal came with unlimited sides, a drink and dessert. This place was insanity.

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 17, 2009 from Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Day 12 - Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Now that we have an apartment we also have some limited facilities so we can dine at home for breakfast and not have to go hunting around town for food. This works out well and lets be just a tad more lazy. This ended up being a blessing since it's Sunday and, seriously, nothing is open on Sunday!

We headed north today to Recolata's famous Cemetery. We're not really for graves and gravestones but this one was apparently not to be missed. We arrived in the morning amid a bustle of vendors setting up a little Sunday market. We headed into the Recolata Cemetery and immediately noticed why it was such a "site to behold".

This was no ordinary graveyard. It was more like a collection of very nice Mausoleums. Every "gravesite" contained a building ranging from 1 to 3 stories high. The wealthy families of B.A. reside here along with several famous military figures.

The "highlight", if you wan to call it that, of the cemetery was Duarte family site where "Evita" rests in peace. Regardless the place is creepy and we left pretty quickly.

We headed south from there looking for some famous old school cafes (which were all closed of course). Our main goal was to take the subway down to San Telmo where every sunday there's an antique fair. On the way we decided to check out Plaza de Mayo and the gorgeous European style buildings there. This city really is like a European city plucked and dropped into Latin America, it's rather uncanny.

After more muddling through the subway system (1.10 pesos per ride = about 25 cents) we ended up on the 9th of July Avenue (they have several streets named after dates). This is one ridiculous street. There are 8 lanes going each direction and some kind of collector lane on each side. Total number of lanes? 18! This is NOT a highway, it's a main city street.

We bought some pastries on our way to the main street and followed the crowds. There was live music everywhere from didgeridoos (yah weird) to guitars, to bongos to live tango dancing. Quite a show and a great spot to be at for the day. Lot's of vendors selling junk (antiques I think they call it).

We ended up at La Vieja Rotisseria which was recommended by our book and ordered some parrilla. Yep, more meat! Sandy had the "little steak" and I ordered "Vacio" which roughly translates to somewhere in the spectrum of porterhouse and sirloin with fat on both ends. The meat was tender, medium rare and oh my god SO flavourful. These Argentinians know how to farm cows. The fat on both sides was almost rendered off from slow heat on burning charcoal embers. The smokey flavour was through and through and the meat's own flavour stood out amongst all else. Vacio how I love thee.

We continued onwards after shedding off some meat sweats and moved down the street with the crowds. We picked up some souvenirs and I picked up a matte cup. Matte is an institution here with all the vendors drinking through metal straws into these hallowed out gourds made of wood or ceramic or metal. The cups are always full of matte tea which is like green tea but more earthy and they always have a thermos of hot water with them. I tested mine out when I got home and to top off the flavour of the tea, the gourd imparts an almost leathery flavour. Most interesting and strangely tasty. Oh yeah we stopped off at a McCafe to see what it was like. Man talk about FANCY. I ordered an Espresso and got nice dishes, a cup of mineral water and a chocolate biscotti all served very European style. This is McDonalds?

Tonight we went to the famous Cabanas Los Lilas and enjoyed their steaks. This place is highly overpriced for Argentinian standards but quite reasonable for North American standards. A slab of meat costs around $30 which is comparable to Gothams or Morton's at home. We took a brief stroll around the Puerto Madero which reminds me of false creek. Essentially reclaimed port land used for chic restaurants and a fancy promenade. This area just screams gentrification.

We went back to the restaurant and dropped our names to put ourselves on the 40 minute wait. We were given a pager and spent the time watching the chefs at work on the grills. Things we noticed:

1. The grills are fed by coal heat and constantly running at burning red ember temperatures.

2. The chefs were efficient and kept their stations clean and orderly. Well oiled machine for sure.

3. The raw steaks came in on trays and came in volumes. This is a T-Bone. It was hard not to feel excited.

4. They have pictures of prize winning cows on their walls. These guys love their beef.

We finally sat down and were presented with a ridiculous array of appy's which we didn't order. There was this platter of chicken, fish, oven roasted tomatoes, Boconcini, Roasted red pepper. In addition to this we were presented with 10 different types of bread and various sauces to accompany them. Nice way to start the meal.

The moment of truth. I ordered the Ribeye steak RARE and Sandy ordered some ribs MEDIUM. We also added some mushrooms as a side dish as well as Papas Souffle. This being a serious steak house, when you order a piece of meat you get just that - the meat. Nothing comes with the dish. When our meals arrived the meat looked wonderful. There was a very nice even crust to both dishes and the ribeye was - indeed - rare. Nicely seared on the outside, still red on the inside.

The ribs were flavourful and rich with just a little crunch on the surface. The ribeye had a very rich strong flavour which was marvellous. Neither hunks of meat were squirting juices onto the plate - this meant they were properly turned and rested before service. The other really interesting touch were the papas souffle. This translates to potato souffle. So how do you do this? Well I was impressed. The potatoes were served puffed out with nothing inside. Further research indicated that the potatoes were thinly sliced and then placed in very hot oil. The moisture in the potato slice boiled in the heat and caused the slice of potato to puff - souffle. This was culinary magic and I was impressed.

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 18, 2009 from Buenos Aires, Argentina
from the travel blog: Sandy and Wes in South America
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Day 13 - Buenos Aires - Palmero

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Today we decided to head out to the Palmero district with its funky shops and restaurants.

We ended up in the very chic Bar Uriarte which is two stories with the restaurant below and an art gallery above. The food was first class and the price was fitting for the quality. All in all this was a great spot for lunch - it even had an outdoor fireplace and patio area.

We also noted a law court with incredible architecture!

We checked out the botanical gardens and the parks area in Palmero which are supposedly where all the yuppies hang out :) The Botanical garden is pretty nice and definitely a refuge from all the traffic.

On the way out we dropped by a Japanese Garden in the parks area of Palmero and snapped some shots. This was a pretty Nice Spot in town - very peaceful and serene which is quite different from Buenos Aires as a whole.

We decided to turn in early today in preparation for our flight to Iguazu so we dined at Cubana in Recoleta. This is a hot spot in town with Pizza, Empanadas, Calzones and some kind of cheese stew. Prices were reasonable which explained the large number of locals and the service was good. They even had crayons and paper table cloths for the young at heart.

All in all today was not very picture worthy so this update has few. Don't worry the next post has many many many!

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 19, 2009 from Buenos Aires, Argentina
from the travel blog: Sandy and Wes in South America
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Day 14 - Iguazu Falls

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

What can I say....we woke up super early, packed a day pack full of stuff and headed for the local airport (this one is a short cab from downtown and right on the water). The driver actually had no idea how to get there. We kept saying Aeropuerto LOCAL and he kept saying "Aeroparque?" and we kept saying "no no Aeropeurto LOCAL!" Eventually we realized we were saying the same damn thing.

A short 1.5 hour flight later we land in Iguazu and take a shuttle to our hotel "Hotel Cataratas *****". Yes the hotel name has 5 stars next to it. No, it is NOT a 5 star hotel [shrug>. Actually the hotel is VERY nice and does not live up to the lower expectations we had from reading TripAdvisor. Perhaps they did a remodeling since the last reviews.

We dropped our bags off in our lovely room overlooking the pool complete with cascading waterfalls and waterslides. Nice. We wanted to hit the park right away so we didn't spend much time at the hotel and were soon on our 5 peso bus to the park. Local transit kicks ass. I believe the taxi's were charging 70 pesos.

The park was magnificent. There are no words to describe it. Perhaps just dumping a few pictures might suffice. Sandy was sad that they wouldn't allow pregnant women to ride the "Grand Adventure" which roughly translates to "we take you in a speedboat up to the falls and you get soaked".

We toured the park as fully as we had time for end landed back at the hotel around 8pm. We stopped by the Sheraton which is the only hotel INSIDE the park with rooms overlooking the falls. Pretty cool but not worth the cash, the falls are way cooler up close and the hotel isn't all that close (which is a good thing).

There was an incident of the bus NOT stopping by the hotel on the way back and we had to hike it backwards to the place but it wasn't as bad as it initially seemed. Regardless none of that made the day less amazing.

The view from the Sheraton in the park

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 20, 2009 from Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
from the travel blog: Sandy and Wes in South America
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Day 15 - Iguazu and back to Buenos Aires

Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

We decided that we saw what we came to see on Day 14 and wanted to spend the day enjoying the hotel itself (and its pools and waterslide). So that's what we did. A day at the pool and a tour of the downtown area (it's a small town). We had lunch in town, bought some knick knacks, swam in the pool, slide down the slide, enjoyed the ridiculously hot sun.

Got back on the plane and flew back to Buenos Aires where we enjoyed a meal at a place not unlike Cubana's which we ate at before we left for Iguazu.

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 21, 2009 from Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
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Day 16 - Buenos Aires - Caminito, Av Florida, Senor Tango

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We spent the day touring two major tourist spots - El Caminito and Av Florida. Caminito is located in the Boca district which is the working-class area of Buenos Aires. All the guide books mention that you should watch where you walk and keep to the touristed spots. Even the subway doesn't run to this area so we decided to take the subway as far as San Telmo and cab it from there. The taxi was about 12 pesos and worth some peace of mind.

The small area that is El Caminito is quite pretty with the corrugated metal walls painted vibrant colours. The area is cute. This would make for a beautiful place to hang out if it weren't for the following:
- the huge number of stalls
- souvenir stores every 2 feet
- waiters on the street trying to pull you into their restaurants
- tango dancers grabbing people off the street for pictures then trying to charge them 20 pesos (we got suckered and got away with 10 pesos and a quick dash in a random direction)
- random people trying to open doors for you for change

Yeah so anyways we had lunch there about 2 blocks from the zoo mentioned above and found a little spot serving empanadas, sandwiches and Lomo (meat sandwiches). I ordered their sandwich and got thin sliced beef deep fried. The food here was good and affordable. The highlight was the Chimichurro sauce they served. My gawd this stuff is good. Spicy, tangy, herbaly. Need to pick up a bottle before we come home.

Next stop, av Florida which is what they call "the shopping area". Yeah. That's what it is. Every store you can imagine packed into both sides of this narrow street than runs for quite a distance. This place was packed with people, on a weekday no less. If you like shopping this is the place for you. This is also an area where you can really see the class divide between the uber rich Europeans and the poor poor locals. Case and point there was a lady nursing a child on the street and she was pointing to her pregnant belly asking for change. Truly truly sad. There was yet another street kid wandering in the same area asking for change. Then as you enter this doorway to this mall...you see this!

We continued on av Florida and noticed it was raining. Well considering it was 31C out I was kind of happy for some rain finally. But wait, where are the clouds?? Looking up we see...

On our way home we noted something that Argentinians had figured out about advertising that puts them way ahead of us silly Canadians. Why have cars drive by your billboard advertisement when the billboard can go to the cars? Brilliant!

Oh yeah and James this pic is for you!

permalink written by  yungwesl on January 22, 2009 from Buenos Aires, Argentina
from the travel blog: Sandy and Wes in South America
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