Indulgent Argentina

Trip Start Jan 03, 2004
Trip End Dec 2004

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, October 29, 2004

Ah, excuse us. We just finished polishing off a plate of juicy steak at Alberto´s here in Bariloche before we walked across the street to the internet cafe. As we carved into our bife de chorizo, we reminisced about our days in Asia when we ate healthy stir frys and had nice toned, tanned bodies. After nearly a month here in Argentina, we´ve noticed our clothes are much tighter after too many meals of steaks, empanadas, and milanesa (a thin cut of beef that´s breaded, fried and often covered in cheese). At least the cold weather has given us a reason to wear bulky sweaters and pants. The steak in Argentina deserves all the praise it´s given. We did plenty of research to make sure the first steak we had in Buenos Aires wasn´t just a fluke but that indeed great steak can be found throughout the country. But we could fill pages about the food here in Argentina. So before we get carried away, we´ll take you back to the beginning.

Our port of entry into Argentina was the bustling city of Buenos Aires. The first thing we noticed was how European everything (and everyone for that matter) looked. Buenos Aires could be any city in Europe. The exception is that one can travel in Argentina at a fraction of the cost. For many years, the value of the Argentine peso was pegged to the U.S. dollar. The artificial rate was sustained until the end of 2001 when a severe economic crisis caused the peso to plunge. Argentina had been off-limits to budget travelers before this, but suddenly everything including food, transportation and accommodation became quite affordable -- and even downright cheap. Of course, Argentinians are the ones bearing the heavy burden from the economic collapse, but one positive side effect has been the country has opened to tourism like never before.

We only spent three days in Buenos Aires, but it was enough to get a sample of the rich culture of this vibrant South American city. On our first day, we explored the Recoleta Cemetery where many of the country´s elite lie in ornate tombs. Perhaps the most visited tomb by foreigners and Argentines alike is that of Evita Peron, a president´s wife and champion of the country´s poor working class. Andrew Lloyd Weber told her story on Broadway. Madonna crooned her story in the film. Thanks to both of them, Jill hummed ¨Don´t Cry for Me, Argentina¨ repeatedly in her head. Later that day, we toured the ornate Colon Theatre, which hosts concerts, ballets and operas. We were so taken by the beautiful theater that we went straight from the tour to the box office and bought tickets to that evening´s performance of the city´s symphony orchestra (for less than $20 total). We felt a bit self-conscious with only tired-looking travel gear to wear, but we didn´t stand out too much sitting way up in the rafters.

The next day, we walked around the colorful neighborhood of Boca. Once home to Buenos Aires´ European immigrant population that had come to work in the ports, it´s now home to mostly tourist-oriented restaurants and shops. We browsed through tacky Tango T-shirts and magnets but walked away empty-handed. That night, we went out to see Tango dancing for ourselves at a club close to our hostel in San Telmo. The first few acts were Tango singers with no dancers, and we couldn´t stay up late enough to see if dancing would come later. In Argentina, dinnertime doesn´t start until 9 p.m. or later, and going home before 3 a.m. on the weekends is considered early.

The highlight of our last day in Buenos Aires was seeing the Argentina versus Uruguay futbol game in a World Cup 2006 qualifying match. Andy loves to see soccer games in foreign countries and soccer is like religion in South America. On this day, God was on Argentina´s side and the home team´s fans went home happy. The crowd was relatively sedate, but the police were there in riot gear just in case. We went straight from the stadium to the bus station for our 17-hour bus ride southwest to Bariloche.

We traveled in comfort on a Via Bariloche coche cama. It was like riding first-class on an airplane -- the seats reclined almost all the way back and a steward came by every few hours with food and drinks. Except for showing a bad Ben Affleck movie (which one, might you ask), they had excellent service.

Andy´s long-time friend Randy picked us up at the Bariloche bus station. Randy, a nice boy from Iowa, has been living in Bariloche for over 3 years. His self-employed slacker lifestyle (by his own definition, not ours) meant plenty of time for him to take us on drives through the surrounding mountains and on a tour of the city´s eateries and chocolate shops.

Bariloche is surrounded by beautiful lakes and the beginnings of the Patagonia mountains. It´s a popular tourist destination with plenty of hiking, fishing, skiing, etc. It also has a curious reputation for being the place to go for young adolescent Argentines. For old farts like us, the town seemed like a good place to settle in for awhile, so we were glad that we had signed up for a couple weeks of Spanish classes. The school, La Montana, arranged a homestay for us, which is how we came to live for three weeks with Mara and her two teenagers, Martin and Paola.

Each day, we´d wake up around 8 a.m. and eat breakfast with Mara. Mara was so much like a mother to us that she even woke us up on two occasions when we had overslept. Argentina´s answer to peanut butter is dulce de leche, a spreadable caramel concoction that is eaten on almost everything. Jill became addicted to her morning dose of dulce de leche on toast. We´d then attend class for three to four hours in the morning. School would be followed by lunch in a local eatery and a hike in the mountains or a walk around town weather permitting. Dinner at Mara´s would be around 9:30 p.m. At first, our stomachs weren´t used to waiting so late to eat dinner. Now we just use it as an excuse to eat a bigger lunch!

We´d like to say ¨Muchas Gracias!¨ to the entire town of Bariloche for suffering through our horrendous (but progressively less horrendous) Spanish, especially our teachers Gloria, Nadina and Irupe; Mara; Randy; and all of Randy´s friends. Jill´s peak of Spanish-speaking ability was being able to explain to Irupe the rules of American football and the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Andy has had conversations with Mara about everything from political apathy in Argentina to Monday Night Football (we were very embarrassed that her first exposure to the Denver Broncos was a defeat to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals).

Having Randy, our own local adviser, driver and tour guide, has been invaluable. Everyone should have a Randy when they travel. He introduced us to the Milanesa at La Fonda del Tio, the chocolate cake at Casa de Paola, and friends that have cooked us delicious meals of trout and pasta. Randy has also driven us to see cascades, a forest of sculptured trees, and beautiful National Geographic-worthy vistas. He´s generously shared his homemade beer and helped us find thermal underwear for our travels further south. The only downside to our three-week stay in Bariloche has been the many days of cold, rainy and windy weather.

On Sunday, we fly to Calafate, which is near the Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America. We´ll be there on election night where we might watch the end of the world from the end of the world. From there, we´ll have two more weeks of cold weather before we fly to Santiago and then Brazil, where we´ll struggle with a new language and struggle to fit into our swimsuits again. Doh!

Ciao, chicos!!!!
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