Saturday, January 14, 2006
Saturday, January 07, 2006
On Christmas Day Eli, Mary Beth, Maya, Ryan Lora and I left for Argentina. It was the first trip for any of us to South America, and I think, except for Ed, for any of the Northen family, so I thought it might be interesting to describe our travels a bit. We hit three places in Argentina: Buenos Aires, Iguazú Falls and Mendoza. It was all arranged by Maya through her company, Chimera Travel.
Buenos Aires is said to be the most European of all South American cities, and it is certainly true that if one suddenly found themselves in the city without knowing where they were, aside from the signs in Spanish, they would probably feel that they were still in the United States. One thing we found out quickly, though, is that without knowing a little Spanish, you sometimes find yourself in an awkward situation even in restaurants or hotels since you can not assume that the staff will understand any more English than we did Spanish.
Buenos Aires is a huge, busy city. It is filled with parks, plazas and subtropical vegetation, but I doubt that any street in North America is busier or more crowded than Florida Street, a pedestrian walkway about six blocks long, that angled up to our hotel. Buenos Aires also contains the widest street in South America, Avenida 9 de Julio. We counted about 18 lanes across with three medians. We stayed at the Marriott Plaza, a grand, old hotel that overlooks San Martin Park. Even more than Philadelphia, Buenos Aires is a city of neighborhoods and we explored a number of them. Our hotel was located in Micocentro, the downtown, but we also ventured out to Palermo, San Telmo, Puerto Madero and Recoleta – all areas with their own particular color or character. Buenos Aires is a city of restaurants and they are basically of two kinds – parillas and pasta. Argentina is a country of beef and the parillas are the restaurants that serve up meat in Argentine style. Because of its huge Italian population, there are many pasta places as well. If you are vegetarian in Argentina, you’d better like pasta because that is about all you’ll find to eat.
Naturally we did some very touristy things such as visit Eva Perón’s (“Evita’s”) grave at the huge graveyard in Recoleta and spend an evening watching tango in San Telmo. In Palermo we hung out at the plaza’s where artists sell their works, and, of course, we sampled Quilmes, the local Bud lite. But mostly we walked. Our New Year’s Eve was spent at a wonderful restaurant named Marcelo’s in the Puerto Madero section of the city which is renovated warehouses built up along a canal. At midnight there were fireworks in the air over the water and people dancing to Spanish beats on the walkways next to the canals.
Sandwiched between our arrival and New Years we spent two days up at Iguazú Falls near the Brazilian border. Picture an elaborate resort for hunters in the African Serengeti and you’ll have a fair idea of what the Sheraton Hotel (the only hotel on the Argentine side of the falls) was like. The falls themselves have to be seen to be believed. Though technically pouring out less water than Niagara Falls, they indescribably more beautiful. One day I hiked with Eli and Mary Beth up to Devil’s throat which gives the most magnificent, spray-filled views. We saw monkeys, lizards and dozens of varieties of butterflies along the way. The next morning Maya, Ryan and I hiked to a bit more remote spot at the base of one of the falls which was truly elegant in its beauty.
After New Years, Eli and Mary Beth departed for the states, but the rest of headed on to Mendoza, the center of the wine country, which is located in the western part of Argentina almost to the Chilean border. Mendoza is not a small city (the population is a million), but it is a bit like stepping back in time. Surrounded by desert, it is supported by the snow from the Andes mountains which runs down into a maze of small irrigation canals throughout the city. Full of plazas, the vegetation is much like southern California – eucalyptus, palm trees, oleander and sycamore trees all over. We went on a wine tour sampling the local wines, principally malbec, for which the region is famous. Our hotel, the Park Hyatt, was the most impressive I have ever been in. Looking colonial on the outside, it was sleek and modern on the inside – a marvel of aesthetics.
These few words cannot do justice to the whole trip, but they give you an idea. By the way, if you do go to Argentina, don’t miss the ubiquitous taxi rides. They are more fun than Disneyland. Lora rode in one where the driver was playing a harmonica while steering with his knees and weaving in and out of traffic. Que bueno!