The final segment of our Central & S. American adventure was all about Argentina. We indulged in endless chocolate treats in the Bavarian themed resort town of Bariloche, played make-believe gauchos in Esquina, and joined in the most popular tourist activities in Buenos Aires: taking tango classes and tucking in staggering piles of animal protein!
We took the bus from our hotel into town which stopped close to the Bariloche Civic Center and the tourist office. The tourist area is dominated by Alpine architecture with gnomes and wrought iron work galore, reflecting the German heritage of its citizens.
We weren’t sure if that was part of the Christmas decorations, but trees in some streets were bundled up in colorful wraps. Seems like a lot of work as the material would have to be stitched around individual trees and their branches.
Wonderful aromas wafted from this neighborhood shop so we stopped by to check it out. The parrilla (Argentine-speak for the BBQ grill) could be raised and lowered on chains so the coals underneath can be tended to properly.
The picturesque Swiss style chalet with its heavy stone arch echoed the architecture of the Civic Center and stood in stark contrast to the plain commercial building next door.
Bariloche is the chocolate capital of Argentina which means endless sampling from a plethora of chocolatiers. This store stands out with this light projection on its floor.
For a change of scenery, our next stop was an estancia in the Corrientes region. Getting to the Estancia Don Joaquin from Bariloche was no simple feat. We had to fly into Buenos Aires and then catch a sleeper bus from there. Since Buenos Aires was also our next and final destination, we decided to drop off some luggage at our Buenos Hotel hotel on the way to the Retiro bus station. The city’s main bus station is large, chaotic, and notorious for petty thievery. So to manage the tight schedule, I hired a guide for point-to-point service from airport to the bus gate for our 8:30 pm departure.
Everything turned out well, except for the ride. The bus fare included a reclining seat with a privacy curtain, light supper, blanket and pillow so one should expect it to be reasonably comfortable. However, it only took one unruly child to keep the entire bus up for the 8 hour ride.
At least we were promptly met at the Esquina station by the estancia owner’s son. I wanted to catch up on my ZZZs and opted for a late breakfast. After lounging around most of the day, I decided to do some horseback riding since it was included with our stay.
There’s plenty of food for birds of prey on the pampas but I’m still surprised to see the owl perched openly on a fence post when it’s still light! I saw another one the next day, but hard to say if it was the same owl…
Miles of flat grasslands make for particularly beautiful sunsets.
One of the German guests is a great cartoonist. Gusty winds and violent thunderstorms are common in summer here and we experienced it firsthand the next day. During lunch, as the howling storm knocked out power sporadically, Hetmut entertained us with his comic drawings.
All meals are asados with an endless parade of grilled meats – a variety of sausages, steaks and chicken is always on hand. Obviously an Argentine estancia is not a vacation hotspot for vegans…
Here’s a recipe for the chimichurri sauce:
1 cup fresh parsley
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon pepper sauce (such as Frank’s Red Hot®)
Place the parsley, olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, cumin, salt, garlic and hot pepper sauce into the container of a blender or food processor. Blend for about 10 seconds on medium speed, or until ingredients are evenly blended.
Our estancia stay blew by in a flash and it was back to civilization on another sleeper bus. We got into Buenos Aires early and stopped by the hotel to shed our luggage before heading for an hour of Tango class where we managed to shuffle (or sleep-walk) thru the steps…
We just had time to grab a quick bite after the class before heading off to a 4 hour walking tour. Fileteado, a popular art form favored by Buenos Aires locals (who call themselves Porteños), is evident everywhere: walls, signs and even taxies are embellished with filetes (the lines in fileteado style) of stylized colored scrolls, phrases and plants.
The congressional plaza sits immediately in front of the congress building and contains some interesting sculptures. A copy of Rodin’s Thinker is also installed here.
Carlos Gardel, known as the King of Tango, was one of the most famous singers in Argentina. He made hundreds of tango recordings before his untimely death in a plane crash. His songs represented the essence of the tango spirit to many and there were numerous paintings of him throughout Abasto where he once lived.
Ironically Teatro Ciego does not feature tango. It’s an experiential theater where shows are performed in pitch blackness. For the adventurous, it even offers a ‘Ciegas Gourmet’ where the dinner and show both take place in the dark!
Here’s a place to unleash your inner carnivore! The minimum cover charge is $25 per person but you get enough food to feed a village (well almost). We ordered with abandon: grilled sweetbreads, Patagonia lamb, goat and suckling pig. Veggies came in the guise of 4 thick slabs of grilled giant tomato. We couldn’t finish it all and took back a substantial box of leftovers.
I went with Parrilla Tour to sample some more local foods. We started the walk with popular Argentine snacks: choripanes (chorizo sandwiches) and empanadas (meat filled pastries which are baked or fried). After that we visited a Secret Parrilla (think Speakeasy for grilled meats…). As the name implies, the steakhouse does not have any signage, all windows are blacked out and one has to ring the doorbell to be admitted. You can’t get more local than this!
Our last stop was Veikko, Finnish for friend, to savor some sinfully rich artisanal gelato. The shop’s design is surprisingly contemporary and spacious. I wished we had more time to try out the coffee there but it was our last day and there were many more miles to go before we sleep.
Our second tango class was scheduled for the late afternoon so we could head with our instructors straight to a milonga (tango dance hall) afterwards. Suffice to say, we would never make it to Dancing with the Stars. We forgot all the steps learnt from the day before and our instructors valiantly tried to help us but to no avail. It was not pretty… After our session ended, we piled into a taxi to visit the milonga. The goal was to watch salon tango – which is very different from show tango – and get introduced to the customs and etiquette of the dance. The floor was packed and it was impressive to see the Porteños dancing so gracefully in tight quarters!
Back at the hotel, we requisitioned a bottle of Malbec to accompany our stash from La Chacra for a late supper and then rested up for yet another red eye transfer – this time to the airport to wrap up our South American odyssey…