Don’t cry for me Argentina (or Uruguay)

1 – 14 February 2012

After crossing the Andes into Argentina, our first port of call was Mendoza, a pretty city with shady tree-lined avenues in the heart of wine country. Not surprisingly, soon after arriving, we went to visit some of the vineyards, located in nearby Maipu. We hired bikes from a friendly chap called Mr Hugo who fixed us up with our first glass of wine of the day (it was only 10am) before sending us on our way. We visited three separate boutique wineries, as well as an olive oil producer and the local wine museum. At each we were given a tour of the site, learning about the production of the wines and of course sampling their wares. The majority of the wine produced in the region is Malbec, though we sampled different maturities and were able to taste the difference between the new wines and those matured in different oaks. After touring the vineyards (our cycling deteriorating as we went), we returned to Mr Hugo’s place, where our host kept our glasses topped up for a couple more hours. I think it’s fair to say that our return to Mendoza that evening was a little wobbly!

Once we had recovered from the wine tasting (it took us at least a day), we took off on another trip out of town to try our hands at white water rafting. Neither of us had tried it before, but we ended up at the front of the raft where, along with getting wetter than everyone else, I’m pretty sure we ended up doing most of the work. It was great fun, especially as we hit the rapids and had to cling on tight so as not to fall in.

After a few days in Mendoza, we caught our next overnight bus on to Cordoba. We were lucky in our timing visiting Cordoba as, just a week earlier, the city had been hit by violent storms which toppled many trees and caused damage across the city. By the time we arrived though, it was baking hot (quite possibly the warmest place on our trip) although the signs of damage and debris were still visible across the city. Our host, Ger, took us on a huge walking tour of the city pointing out all the sights of the historical centre as well as showing us the university campus which attracts hoards of students from across the country.

The following day we caught a bus to Altagracia, a small town whose claim to fame is being the town where Che Guevara spent most of his childhood. We spent a couple of interesting hours at the museum, housed in one of his family’s former homes before visiting the Virgin of Lourdes grotto on the hill above town.

Then, it was on to the country’s capital, Buenos Aires. We spent five days in the city, but there is so much going on, it simply wasn’t enough time for us to do everything we had hoped to.  Our first day or two was spent exploring the city, thanks to a couple of free walking tours that took us round many of the sights as well some of the most affluent parts of the city.  There is a great deal of European influence in B.A. with many buildings having been imported, piece by piece from Europe during its heyday. We took a trip to the Boca neighbourhood, which is home to the famous Boca Juniors football stadium but which also boasts streets of beautiful brightly painted houses (originally painted by its poor residents using left over boat paint) and displays of street tango.

One of the most interesting attractions in town is the Recoleta cemetery, the final resting place for a number of key Argentinian personalities, including the legendary Evita. The cemetery resembles a small city, with streets of ornate tombs and it was fascinating to explore.

We also made sure to stop by the Plaza de Mayo, next to the presidential palace, at 3:30pm on the Thursday to see the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in their weekly procession. These ladies have been demonstrating at the square for decades since their children went missing during Argentina’s dirty war. Their children are among thousands who “disappeared” at the hands of the military regime and their weekly meeting ensures that they are not forgotten.

Having sampled the local wine, earlier in our trip and given the country’s reputation for great steak, we were desperate to try the local cuisine. We found a restaurant in the city’s Palermo neighbourhood which was so popular that we had to wait outside for a table despite it being very early by Argentinian standards. It was well worth the wait; Neal opted for the sirloin while I chose the tenderloin. It was incredible, really melt-in-the mouth stuff (makes me salivate just thinking about it) and just maybe the best steak I’ve ever had. We washed it down with a lovely bottle of cabernet sauvignon and followed it by a delicious chocolate mousse – a lovely early Valentine’s treat, made even better given that we had been living off mainly pasta and other cheap eats for the past three months!

In the middle of our stay in Buenos Aires, we decided to make the quick hop over to Uruguay, a three hour boat ride away. We visited the town of Colonia, a quaint and rather sleepy old town with a strong Portuguese influence. We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon strolling around and taking in the sights before we had to return to Argentina – a brief but worthwhile excursion.

On our final day in B.A, we visited the presidential palace, known as the Casa Rosada for its pink walls. We were given the grand tour and were able to step out onto the balcony where Eva Peron gave many of her famous speeches to the crowds gathered outside. We learnt more about Evita and her life (and wardrobe) at the Eva Peron museum that afternoon before we made our way to the Racing Club football stadium to watch them in action against Tigre FC. The atmosphere in the stadium was incredible, with passionate fans dressed in blue and white chanting, singing and jumping in support of their team. When the crowd was in action, you could feel the stadium moving as the 50,000 odd fans jumped together. Unfortunately, the action on pitch wasn’t as memorable, resulting in a 0-0 draw – but that aside, it was a real spectacle.

Our stay in Argentina was nearly up, but we had one last stop –Puerto Iguazu, an 18 hour bus ride away (I didn’t realise when we are planning our trip that Argentina is as big as India!). Soon after arriving, we set off to the town’s world-famous attraction, the waterfalls. The Iguazu Falls are so large they span across Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. On the Argentinian side, you have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the falls, like at the Devil’s Throat, where the sound of the water was deafening and we got completely soaked. We explored many of the falls, following upper and lower circuits. The site was breath-taking and a league above other waterfalls I’ve seen, including Niagara. Another highlight for me was the wildlife we came across in the reserve: coatis, monkeys, brightly coloured butterflies and even a toucan.  Besides the falls, there wasn’t much on offer in Puerto Iguazu and so the next day it was off to Brazil to catch a glimpse of them from a different angle.