Nomadism: a way of life // Chile into Argentina
Departing the mechanic in Temuco, Chile the engine was purring like it should, given the time, energy and money we have poured into it.
Not far up the road we stopped at the Saltos de Petrohue. Having just missed the last of the summer rush a week earlier, we enjoyed easy access to the horseshoe falls and surrounding swimming holes. The upstream current is controlled by dam, and the end of summer flow was beautiful, but not worthy of the Niagara Falls comparison we read about.
It would have been very easy to spend the warm afternoon basking in the sun swimming in the pleasant water, but after yet another spell of life at the mechanic we were itching for the open road. We soon took leave of the Saltos, eyes on the coast where a swell was set to hit.
By sundown we reached Iglesia de Piedra, the church of stone, where the coast was coated with a layer of warm orange marmalade lighting, dripping off the cliffs and succulents in a welcoming gesture of subtle sensuality. Lulled by the sounds of lapping waves and awakened by the off key cries of sea birds, we smiled easily in the morning light- we were back on the road and it felt so good. Into the sacred caves of mother earth we went, bundled tight against the wind that pulled so tirelessly. At one of the three entrances to the caves, swallows flitted from their nests, winged guardians of the vaulted cathedral. The national preserve is also a sealion breeding ground- the population has drastically decreased from 15,000 animals in 1982 to an estimated 2,700 in 2011, but with these sad numbers, one questions how well the preservation is going…
Just a bit up the coast, a place with a name that due to the surfer’s code of conduct has been deleted, had a point break that was working. Woohoo- waves! Adam studied the wave, Emily read on the dune, Colette snoozed in the sun-baked sand.
We camped in the desolate lot at the end of a dusty road, and were awakened at dawn by an old man who had come over the hill to sell his farm fresh eggs laid by the chicks and chickens Colette chased the afternoon prior and to collect a small fee for camping on his land.
In the cold Chilean waters, which flow north from Antarctica bringing nutrients for good fishing and frigid temperatures to the region, Adam suited up for a session, paddled out and rode some waves.
A symbol of Chilean heritage, the huaso rides on in his chupaya, a wide brimmed hat made of rice fiber. The contrasting image of both country bumpkin & skilled aristocratic horseman are common themes of these Chilean cowboys.
Tidal lagoons on precious beachfront property are left undisturbed, a nod to the awareness that Chile seems to invest in her natural resources. Elsewhere we have noted development right up to the shoreline, where estuaries and mangroves once were. In Los Angeles, as college students we were witness to the environmental battle over the Balllona Wetlands which have since been transformed into condos and offices, a small parcel of ‘protected’ land remains unsmothered in the invading concrete tide. These Chilean lagoons were alive with a variety of marine birds, both permanent and migratory.
Through the world wide web, we linked up with the Crosbys- a family from Idaho, living in Constitucion for 9 months while Ben is on sabbatical from his university on a Fulbright grant for his geological studies. They are planning to return stateside via their newly purchased VW Westfalia, which unfortunately blew its engine on their first day after purchase- what luck! Ben was in Santiago addressing the engine and getting everything ready for their own overland adventure, which will begin in May. Cana, Dylan and Wells hunted us down (with no cell phones to coordinate you just gotta’ freestyle it with luck & a prayer), where fate led our paths to cross at their first stop. We enjoyed the rest of the day on the beach with a dutch-oven baked meal in the company of their friend Monica, who has a rustic cottage in the area where they were staying.
The next day, we spent the early afternoon at Tia Monica’s where she prepared a delicious stew that we ate in the garden growing wild with roses and rosemary, eye-high weeds and a porcelain clawfoot bathtub that her children did and grandchildren now do use as a swimming pool on hot summer afternoons. We dispelled what pertinent insights we could with the Crosbys about overlanding and vanlife, extended travel with kids, highlighting a few of our favorite spots along their route back stateside.
We rallied in the van and headed to a sandy spit where Adam paddled out to catch some of the pumping waves, while Wells built sandcastles with Colette and us ladies chatted until we could no longer chase the fading rays of amber warmth. We had a great 2 days with you Cana, Dylan, Wells & Tia Monica- journey on!
Since she could first reach out and grab it, Colette has been a fascinated with surf wax- her previous obsession with trying to consume it now replaced with the happy job assisting Papa in the combing and application.
The nearly empty waves of central Chile provide a stark contrast to the people packed waves of SoCal…
This stretch of coast was so magical and entreating it called us to her shores, where a perfectly leveled plot was just the right size for setting up a base camp, with the permission of a local surfer who seemed to oversee the area. We later met the guy who had 15 years prior dug out the space and thanked him!
With everything we need at arms reach in the van, it is places like this that motivate us to really camp. We set up our Poler tent, inflated our sleeping pads, collected fallen firewood from the surrounding forest, turned up the Goal Zero speakers and enjoyed the afternoon celebrating the sheer beauty of nature.
Adam surfed the 2-3 meter swell that had just arrived; the surf Gods once again smiled upon us sending some nice movement to just the area we were heading to. After an earlier session left him purple lipped and brick footed, he added booties to his attire and enjoyed himself much more. His 3/2 Matuse wetsuit held up beautifully, where most others required a 4/3.
Colette showed Emily ‘her garden’… she has adopted that all the earth is her playground, and finds her gardens strewn near and far. When a special place speaks to her, it is ‘her garden’ that she lovingly shows to any interested party, searching for tiny flowers, fallen feathers and insects with wide eyed pride at what wonders grow.
Exhausted from a busy day gardening and her favorite past time- digging in the sand- Colette passed out early, missing the fire that illuminated our small camp. The stars shone bright and clear on the southern night, a side of the cosmos we cannot see from our usual northern station.
Our fire-grilled dinner of baked potatoes, corn-on-the-cob and bell peppers was simple perfection.
Yes, that is the face of a sleeping angel.
The morning marine layer layed like a sheer negligee on the bluff, a subtle flirtation of her turbulent ocean charms, rhythmic waves, sandy shores littered with seashell fragments, and cliffsides dappled with verdant succulents and aromatic pines.
Around the point, a structure perched with a golden view remains half built for nearly 10 years. Story is the owner was not fond of surfers walking the long trodden trail from where the waves end in the bay, along the bottom rungs of the bluff back to the tip of the point to jump in and cycle around again. He would yell and tell them not to trespass, and one day came irately to a group of surfers with a shotgun in tow, threatening to shoot the next person on his property. Turns out the local government and police looked into his building permits, and found none existed and so halted his construction. Furthermore, he now has a standing order that he cannot be within 500 meters of any surfer on penalty of jail…
This Goal Zero Lighthouse 250 lantern can be charged by solar or toddler power.
Beach house, schmeach house… this beachfront abode will do just fine for us and we have the happy feet to prove it! Why work tirelessly for something you won’t have the free time to enjoy (and good on you if you can work it out to have both a beach house & time to enjoy it)? Simplify and enjoy the bounty already at your disposal!
Her love of the ocean is so great, Colette simply ignored the temperature of the water for a short frolick in the perfectly formed pool overlooking the breaking waves.
A gift from Oma Suzie, Colette’s new favorite toy is ‘surfer girl’ who she shakes enthusiastically at any surfer we pass, proud to be part of the illustrious club of water riding magicians. Adam, rocking his signature surf stance “the caveman.”
In reducing the amount of mass-farmed dairy we consume, Emily concocted one of the most deliciously indulgent yogurt substitutes yet born- or so we think… try it and decide for yourself!
Amazing Apricot Coconut ‘Greek Yogurt’:
1 can coconut cream (this was unsweetened)
4 tablespoons chia seeds
2 cups apricot nectar
2/3 cup unsweetened dried apricots, cut into small pieces
* mix all ingredients well in a bowl, cover and let sit overnight in fridge or on counter if cool
* makes 6 servings
Tart & creamy, this pairs perfectly with granola for a morning meal that will put you on the right foot for the whole day. Adam is used to it by now… Emily’s shouting to “stop, backup, turnaround” at any roadside stand selling their farm fresh goods. Beside the fragrant fields of strawberries, we purchased a flat of richly colored and robustly flavored ruby and garnet gems that came in a hand hammered box. We gorged on them happily, the flavors as they should be having never been refrigerated all full of sweet layers including notes of brown sugar, basil, merlot, and mostly pure unadultered strawberry.
Unfortunately, our tale of engine woes did not end with the last replacement motor. (!!!) We begged the technicians to address an area which Adam had pinpointed as dropping cylinders 1 and 3, they reluctantly opened it up, deemed nothing wrong, reinstalled it, charged us for the time and sent us on our way as all was working well… but we knew better… we kept praying the mystery problem would not reoccur, but it did. So Adam pulled the ECU, cursing the mechanics unable or unwilling to really solve the heart of so many of our problems, and tried more McGuyvering of his own, placing a small shim of wood to apply apt pressure to the area where the connections could rattle loose, a solution that got us back on the road holding 4 cylinders. It is in times like this that I (Emily) am infinitely grateful to the dedication and resourcefulness of Adam.
We passed through Constitución, where this massive guano-covered rock marks entrance to a stretch of more beautiful coast and has a tasty left that peels off the tip.
This band of grazing wild horses took our breath away as we rounded a bend in the road. What a moment to witness, what solitary beauty, we give thanks for these glimpses of the divine that we are occasionally lucky enough to capture and share with you all. For us, the adventure of slow travel is about savoring these sweet moments.
Last thing we would have surmised around a bend in this land of rolling hills, farmed trees and jagged Pacific coast would be salt flats, but lo and behold, a flat river valley opened up and many beds bearing their salted treasures were worked. Merken, a national spice of Chile is a blend of smoked aji chili pepper (like a jalapeno to chipotle, but with far less heat) and in this case, salt. Emily bought it on a whim, wishing to support the local craft, but after tasting it an hour down the road wished dearly she had bought all their supply- it is THE best salt! We have since enjoyed it in endless combinations, its ability to transform base ingredients into divine morsels so great all that taste it agree.
In this stretch of Chile, there are endless rows of mono-cropped pine and eucalyptus trees filling great expanses of hill and dale. Commercial agriculture is big business representing 13% of Chile’s GDP, not only supplying Chile’s own need for notebooks, building materials, firewood and toilet paper, but the much of the worlds with 70% of the goods headed to export. Most of these forests are “Forest Stewardship Council” certified. The sweet smell of freshly hewn pine gives away the presence of the many mills that dot the coast long before we ever cross the smokestacks that churn out white clouds of pollution. Peaks of logs ready for shipment are loaded onto big-rigs that have on more that one occasion surprised us as we round a bend, their drivers straddling the narrow roads and lazily steering their cargo to their designated side of the street.
Punta Lobos in Pichilemu is the most famous surf spot in Chile, and deservedly so. Just to access the wave is a feat of skill and daring- first one must suit up for the cold, climb the cliff down to the water, scramble across sharp rocks, swim across a fast moving channel, up another rocky point, around that and then face what may be some of the biggest and coldest waves of ones life.
It wasn’t the biggest or gnarliest Adam has encountered, but crossing it was exhilarating. He caught some solid ones and enjoyed good vibes in the notoriously crowded waters.
Pichilemu, even while seasonally flooded with beach goers and surf enthusiasts, remains a traditional small Chilean town whose roots are agricultural.
With a family of three, one being an adventurous three year old, laundry stacks up quick in our small abode on wheels. Three loads at the laundry cost the same price as this little cabana, where we could wash it ourselves in the tub, hang it outside to dry, have some hot showers and catch up on some internet activities- including catching up with family on skype! Coco took a picture of her Meme while on Skype so she can access the picture any time she wants.
The van continued to drop from 2 to 4 cylinders at random. Adam spent his computer time diligently researching, researching, and researching the damn ECU and harness system, making notes on the electrical system.
With swell in the water, Adam paddled out for some more fun in Pichi.
We set off the next day focused on covering some miles as our 3 month visa in Chile was about up. Emily swapped with Adam to drive for a bit, and he quickly snoozed in the warm afternoon light.
Half an hour later, Emily and Colette noted there was a strange smell like burning hair. It left then came back… Emily looked down and there was unmistakably smoke coming from under her seat!! She hollered to Adam, awakening him from his slumber with rising octaves and quickly pulled the van over. Adam unbuckled Coco, tossed her to Emily and ripped the drivers seat off as he unbuckled himself. Emily placed Coco at the side of a building entreating her not to move as she returned to the van to help Adam, who was trying to remove the bolted cables off the auxiliary battery that was creating the electrical fire and sending a plume of sour smoke in his face. A local ran up with a huge fire extinguisher, as Colette yelled with fear in the background, and Adam got the fire out before needing to douse the van in toxic spray.
All taking a huge deep breath, Adam and some friendly locals pushed the van to a safe location, where he set to work in the mid day heat. We discovered that an L-bracket that was supposed to hold the auxiliary battery in place was not properly reinstalled when the Temuco mechanics put the chair back on (which should never have been removed in the first place to work on the motor). When Emily scooted the chair forward to drive, it was jarred loose and fell upon the solenoid until it shorted and started the electrical fire. WOW! We are so thankful that situation did not ruin us.
Adam separated the burnt bits, cut and labeled wires to be replaced, and in 2 hours we were back on the road with the van systems up, but the auxiliary system (radio, cigarette lighter, interior lights and inverter) still requiring more time to repair.
Shaken, but relatively unscathed, we were quickly to the Pan Americana, making miles towards Santiago, which we skirted around as night fell. In the town of Los Andes, we camped beside long abandoned grain silos, awakened to the sound of horse hooves on cement and the hilarious contrast of a Porsche zooming by.
We tend to use our printed maps more than GPS- it has an analog feel that leaves more to the imagination than the strict ‘turn left in 400 meters’ of the digital mistress. It also requires we engage in our surroundings, looking for cues and clues where to turn and where might be the best café, looking at our intuition and talking to locals to guide. We like the National Geographic maps, as they are waterproof and can take the beatings we deliver. Adam’s sun essentials- hat and sunglasses from Raen.
In the mountainous spine of the Andes, Chile met Argentina. After 89 days in Chile we bid her farewell with 1 day left on our 90 day visa!
At first we were perplexed by these strange looking tunnels, but after surveying our surroundings a bit better, we realized they were avalanche guards! High winds and winding passes, the road was slow going in summer, and surely a torment in winter.
Before officially entering Argentina lies Parke Cerro Aconcagua, the roof of the Americas as it is often called, that beckons with her volcanic peaks reaching higher than any peak outside of the Himalayas at 22,837 feet (6,962 meters).
Laguna Los Horcones was reached on a short and pleasant hike that afforded occasional views of the mighty summit. More windy than cold, we bundled in technical layers that kept us insulated against the forces carried down from the heavens. Once on the sea floor, the rocks reveal fossilized sea shells amongst these wild and high places.Once again, we spotted the elusive Andean Condor- both the national bird of Chile & Argentina. We have deduced they are very picky and only like the most picturesque locations to spread their might wings!
Colette was feeling a bit taxed from the altitude, so Emily returned with her to the van to make lunch, read books and relax. Adam set off to explore a bit higher, promising to return in ‘2 and definitely no more than 3 hours.’
Adam hiked to basecamp #1 -Confluencia- later finding out that was a big no-no without the proper permits, but as he had hiked down to take the above shot of the other hikers on the bridge, he passed right by the sign.After passing base-camp he hiked higher up the mountain as snow flurries dusted him amongst dramatic peaks.
The brown mass on the bottom of this photo is a glacier! And marks as far as Adam went on this hike.
Already being gone 4 hours he knew he must turn back and get down so the fam wouldn’t worry.
For the journey down he traversed a glacial valley off-trail for a different perspective of the majestic landscape. Hiking out on the other side of the valley rewarded a million dollar view of Aconcagua in all her glory.
As the last rays of sunlight fell, Adam returned to the van… 6+ hours later.
The customs office just a bit down the road was inside a massive building that is bunkered up during winter months, and even in the end of summer had howling winds whipping through the passages. A guard would open the gate, where you drive your vehicle inside to hold your place in line, only emerging from your car when it’s your place in line. We paid the $160 visa fee per passport, which is good for 10 years, with a smiling grimace as it is reciprocal first charged by our nation.
We overnighted at Puente del Inca, as it was quite dark after we emerged from customs and wanted to enjoy more of the spectacular high mountain terrain in daylight. Once visited by Charles Darwin on a trip across the Andes, the natural mineral springs have created a dramatic bridge over the river below.
Winding through the high passes, our minds flowed as freely as the bursts of late summer blooms. We read that the film 7 Years in Tibet was filmed in this area, and nodded in agreement is felt like the Himalayas (although none of us have been there yet, except in perhaps a past life).
We arrived in Mendoza and located Camping Suiza, a nice site set just a few km from the surprisingly bustling city. We hung our clothes on line, as the sun had evaded us in Pichilemu, leaving us toting our blue bucket of slightly moist clothes.
With a million plus in population, Mendoza is a metropolis with elm-lined avenues and endless charming locations to spend your money.
We made the awful mistake of eating at a Middle Eastern restaurant that lacked any credible resemblance to the real thing, and so spoiled by flavorful Emily’s versions, this was a wasted meal… in our own defense we were trying to replicate the delicious food we had at a schwarma place in Lima, Peru. We left still wanting and ended up at a parrilla (pah-ree-zjah) meaning steakhouse, where the caller who lived all over the states had a New York accent and caught Emily’s ear with the mention of chocolate molten cake.
So we did just that- had a decadent chocolate volcano cake and Adam set to work on bottle #2 of wine. For $10 at a restaurant you can get a decent bottle of wine; half bottles are occasionally offered and the inquiry on a single glass of wine is met with confusion and a raised eyebrow .
Adam was in need of a trim, so we set up in a park and Emily attempted to tame the beast. Colette, racing excitedly between the swings, teeter-totter and slide, exclaimed she was next and needed her hairs cut.
In Maipu we rented bikes for an excursion around the flat countryside abundant in both wineries and other small batch jarred delicacies that could easily stock the shelves of Dean & Deluca. The English speaking employee at Mr. Hugo’s fit the bike-guy stereotype perfectly: skinny, tattooed, gauged ears and probably vegan. Mr. Hugo himself was a jovial family guy, kneeling down to talk to Colette and taking the utmost time to help her select her special bike helmet.
They explained we had unfortunately arrived on an off day, as the winery workers were on strike over their pay- which the owners of the area had agreed to increase 50% the previous year, but only raised $500 pesos (the sum of $50). Many of the surrounding wineries were closed as a result of this, but we none-the-less enjoyed a full afternoon winding our way amongst the rows of poplars and hedges. We rode to some of the wineries we were told were closed, hoping to encounter the protesting workers and learn more about their plight, but discovered they were not picketing, they had simply refused to come to work. Tours of the wineries included a tasting, tour of the facilities including the bottling center, the wine lab and the vineyards themselves, where we picked sun-warmed grapes.
The lab tests for consistency within the batch.We skipped lunch, preferring to save room for the tasting plates at a few places- pear jam, dulce de leche, olive tapanade, chocolates and for Adam two liquors chocolate coconut and lemon. At others we also tasted olive oils, balsamic vinegar, hot sauces, jams and many other liquors.
Another closed winery…
The past year and a half on the road has been filled with many mysteries, delights and moments of simple pleasure. These two have a great thing going…
As Emily’s belly swells with the growing life inside, we give thanks for our health and look toward the future with hearts open.
At our last stop for the day, we came the a distillery of a Swiss guy who makes some great concoctions. In the back room, plastic 50 gallon drums of juniper berries sit curing for gin, smaller decanters hold perfumes and up front a selection of artisanal liquors were the perfect finish to the day. The rose hip liquor was a totally unique flavor that the owner said pairs well with champagne, so we got a bottle to share with our friends set to arrive in 10 days. On our way out of town the next day, the Cecchin Organic Winery caught our eye, so we pulled over to investigate. Started by two brothers from Italy, the land has always been organic and is also bio-dynamic.
Prices were so great, ranging from $4-$8 (US) per bottle for delicious organic wine that we stocked up on a case to share with the pals… as well as juice, olive oil, and jam- all from the well loved property.
They were especially accommodating, even arranging a juice tasting for Emily & Colette. The muscatel and syrah organic, pressed juice varietals were fantastic, unlike any other grape juice we have had, it made us wonder why other wineries don’t do the same.
Peace out wine country! We hit the road south towards Malargue, the fall afternoon a hot one …
All over the countryside, we kept seeing red alters… upon further investigation we discovered they are shrines to Gauchito Gil! He is the patron saint of gauchos (although not officially recognized by the Catholic Church), a Robin Hood-like character who was killed on a carob tree.
On the iconic Ruta 40 (comparable to the fame of Route 66 in the US), long open expanses unfolded on this strip of pavement that reaches all the way to southern Patagonia.
The pink waters of Salinas del Diamante enchanted us! Another unexpected gem just off the road.
We were shocked as we saw flocks of birds flying across the sky that appeared to be parrots! Adam pulled over and we were delighted when we confirmed that – yes they are parrots- you just never know what you will encounter on the open road. Turns out this species is called the “Burrowing Parrot.”
Camped out in the tall reeds along the Rio Atuel, strong morning light awakened us.
We are happy to have traded the smoggy type of traffic jams Los Angeles is notorious for, for this hoofed variety.
The myth of Laguna de la Niña Encantada says: a beautiful princess loved a boy not of her class, and her father arranged to marry her off to another… she found out and fled, when she saw the freshwater spring she jumped in and a witch sent lightening to capture her there forever (or something like that, hope my mediocre translation isn’t too poor.)
There was freezing winds whipping about the area, which we had bundled up for… others retreated hastily (wearing booty shorts and flip flops!) nodding in approval that we had dressed properly. We try and remember to stand outside for a minute before departing the van, as it can be such a secure little micro-climate.
A riverside dish washing session with a view…
Further up the road Pozo de las Animas, Well of the Spirits, sat like an anomaly- two side by side holes in the earth holding still water.
We past the pricey mega ski resorts of Las Leñas, that in the dry summer months hold little appeal other than access to where we were headed… the valley only accessible in summer.
Gauchos herding cows on the rich summer pasture yip and yew to keep the bovines in order.
We giggled in pure delight at the overlook of Valle Hermoso meaning handsome valley that was aptly named indeed! So many switch backs to get down to the valley floor!
After descending the gnarly switchbacks we set up camp on an epic lake front location. A local sentinal rode up to say howdy. He may or may not have had enough to drink that day..With a knowing nod upon arrival, we agreed we would enjoy a few days posted in this paradise, so Adam set up the Goal Zero Boulder 30 solar panels to charge our systems. As the last rays of sun kissed the jagged mountain peaks setting them aflame, Adam and Colette looked for dinner.
For a vegetarian who usually laughs at the suggestion of eating any animals, Colette was interested in eating a few bites of the rainbow trout that they caught. “Mmmm, that’s yummy. It tastes like eggies.” Adam has been vegetarian for the past 4 months but fell off the wagon for this fresh gift from the universe. Where a stream empties into the small lake, horses stamp about in the green pasture, enjoying themselves as much as we were.
“My babies and toys need some fresh air”… so she packed them up for an afternoon stroll.
One more for the road. Time in the slow place passed quickly. There was much in the area we still wanted to see before we had to cross the vast pampa to meet friends in Buenos Aires, so we set sail away from the magical place.
While refueling with nafta, Argentina’s verbiage for gasoline, the sliding back door fell off. We pulled around the station so Adam could probe deeper, and in less than an hour he had it sorted out. After nearly 25 years of service, a roller bearing had seen its share of use and was fixed for now with a small washer.
Sometimes we feel like perhaps we should trade the van in for a more reliable vehicle…
We arranged in Malargue to join the afternoon hike to the dormant Volcan Malacara. Following the sandy riverbed where lava once flowed, we worked our way towards the interior.
Layers of lava carved dramatically through the slot canyon.
The trail ended and we worked our way up and over a spine to another canyon.
The light was so gorgeous… Emily and Colette just had to have a little dance party!
Even after a 2 hour hike, this one was full of energy, running down the natural path.
We camped that evening at the lot near the Caverna de Las Brujas, Cave of the Witches, that is situated at Cerro Moncol. The nearby Laguna Llancancelo, whose famed beauty and draw for migratory birds we had heard and read about, was almost dried up because of drought and closed to visitors.
Colette was the first to notice some local visitors were drawn over by the smell of cooking trout “Papa, what are thoooose out theyyyare?” and without looking he replied “Oh, those are witches from the cave”…a moment later he looked into the dark and exclaimed “Colette, good eye, those are foxes!”
Fighting for the trout skin and bones Adam was tossing out of the van (before he realized there were foxes about), the slight grey foxes snarled and howled at each other for the prized treat.
Unfortunately, at 7 months pregnant, Emily was not allowed to enter even the first chamber of the caves and Colette at 3, not the required 4 years, was prohibited as well.
Adam entered the cave with the rest of the group, donning helmets and head lamps that illuminated the dazzling caverns.
Descending deeper into the belly of the mountain they went… Stretching for 5km inside the peak, this complex of limestone caves reveal stalagmites, which reach up from the ground and might reach the top as well as stalagtites, which hold tight to the ceiling of the damp caves.
Our nighttime pals also came out in broad daylight, apparently aware of the spelunkers scheduling, to beg for any morsels of empanadas that might be spared from the oohing and awwwing visitors. We thought that we were special, but now we see that these sharp toothed sprites swindled us with their charms in a well rehearsed game.
Outside of San Rafael, we followed idyllic country roads through green pastures, fruit orchards, neat rows of vineyards and gnarled olive trees.
At our camp at Virgen del Valle Grande, the river slowed into a lazy pool, where the trout peered out at Adam’s bait with experienced eyes, laughing at his attempt to lure them in.
The green slowly yielded to the softened palate of muted mineral tones. Cañon de Atuel started at a damn, a cement monster, holding the natural flow of water in against its will.
It is funny how we compare things we have seen with those we have seen before… “this reminds me of this & that, but it’s different because blah blah blah”. The guidebooks and blogs do it too, it seems like our natural human inclination to set a standard to which we can relate; this area was compared to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. We have learned that trading expectation for experience gives us a much more enjoyed adventure… if we had expected the Grand Canyon, this would have seemed meager; we came because it was recommended by Argentine friends and on our route east towards Buenos Aires- because we were open to the reality of the situation to present itself, we basked in the beauty that was around us! I mean- this place is gorgeous! Taking this lesson in stride with everyday events, we have found much less disappointment when things do not unfold according to expectation.
Erosion shows its mighty powers in a dramatic display of balance.
En route, we encountered a roadblock of very friendly donkeys, who were no doubt disappointed that we did not brandish some apples, carrots or at least some hay.
Into the open expanse of pampa, we headed east! Magnificent clouds traveled across the vast thousand-mile swath of grasslands, leaving pools of water as its gift to the endless sea of crops littering the countryside.
A gaucho in his element, as quintessential a figure of Argentine pride and custom as the tango dancer.
Once an international point of pride, the free-range grass fed beef of Argentina is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Over 90% of cattle spend their last 3+ months in a feedlot where they are injected with hormones and antibiotics to battle the unnatural grain based diet that they are fed to fatten them up.
Also sharing their grazing grounds in the mighty Pampa are the vast fields of corn, sorghum and soy that is used to feed these cattle. This triad was repeated in frighteningly long rows of mono-cropped monotony with plastic signs reading Monsanto, Dow Industrial and other GMO producers.
Between fields of yellowing soy leaves and rust topped sorghum, wild expanses still exist as they have for millinea. Off one pond, we spotted a shocking sight- flamingos!
Gradually the vast pampa gave signs of the coming city… multi-storey buildings, more cars on the highway, advertisements on the side of the road, additional lanes, faster drivers, neon signs, more frequent gas stations, luxury cars.
We met our pal Marisa, who arrived 3 days before the rest of the crew, at the airport in Buenos Aires having arrived from Hamburg, Germany where she is currently living, working on an art history research grant through an associate she met through Harvard post grad.
Emily made a delicious brunch, which we enjoyed on the rooftop terrace of the apartment Marisa had rented in the embassy dotted neighborhood of Palermo Chico, the warm Argentine sun a most delightful change from the dreary German winter. Eventually, we gathered the will to venture out and walked over to the Japanese Gardens.
Very well fed giant koi fish lazily gathered their feed from the eager hands of visitors.
As one would expect of Japanese efficiency, the gardens were small and tidy- one of the many nice green spaces that dapple the capital city.
Colette is a big fan of her binoculars (which she prefers to use backwards making everything smaller rather than larger) and was thrilled to discover a huge pair in the garden! “Mawissa, look at dooose biiiiig binoculars!!”
Adam & Marisa enjoyed champagne on the terrace of MALBA (El Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) before we headed in for a further look, all senses properly prepared to absorb the experience. It’s not often that one has the chance to tour museums with a Harvard art history scholar to answer your most pressing questions… (Colette’s questions are always pressing.)
Modern art is fun for kids both big & small!
“In Your Face”, the new exhibition by Peruvian Mario Testino (who has a museum in Lima, called MATE) showed beautifully glossy images of slicked up celebs and models of extreme feature and proportion, all tousled with a dose of heavy make-up, rich styling and some photoshop refinishing.
Museo de Bellas Arte is pronounced with the unique-to-Argentine zhj for the double L. This, coupled with an Italian inflection in nearly every word makes Argentine Spanish a real ear bend from the rest of the nations we have traveled in.
The intensely hued walls were a gorgeous balance to the rich works that hung in the salons.
Weekends for many porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) are spent on the rolling lawns of Plaza Francia (officially called Plaza Intendente Alvear) in the Recoleta neighborhood. Stalls dot the sidewalks, hosting local artisans selling all manner of goods- leather bags inlayed with native patterned fabrics, crocheted sweaters, stamped brass ashtrays and letter openers, hand thrown pottery, every kind of jewelry, jams and fresh squeezed juices. The collection would have made a nice 24 Hour Bazaar, but due to the official exchange rate differing so greatly from the US cash rate (7.5/ 1 bank VS 11/1 cash), the odds were against us (and you). So, if you do come to Argentia, bring some US dollars or Euros to exchange once you land.
Tango is a dance born in Buenos Aires in the 1890’s and still danced in the streets today, a sultry blend of Cuban, African and Argentine music and cultures.
Gilded bones of a saint rest inside one of the many churches.Colette joined kids climbing in an old gnarled tree, we bought delicious whole wheat empanadas- one filled with pumpkin, basil and muzurella, the other with ratatouille. We strolled and perused the wares, then set up on the lawn to watch some live music, sipping freshly squeezed orange juice in the tepid air of an end of an early fall night.
People meandered offering their wares and sevices- churros filled with dulce de leche, small postcards, hot water for refills of yerba mate, cigarettes (which are popular in Argentina in general and Buenos Aires in particular), helium filled balloons, and roughly assembled paintings all crossed our path. Everyone was amiable and the day passed in a general state of pleasure.
Pulling out a ‘termo’ of hot water, traditional gourd cup and metal bombilla, dried herbs of heavily-caffeinated, bitter tea yerba mate, friends share a round of the time honored tradition, passing clockwise until the water runs out. Argentines consume 11 lbs per year per man, woman and child (who often take their mate mixed with lemonade or milk.)
Damaris, Price, Salman & Sarah (not pictured) arrived from Los Angeles to join our quartet. What a treat to have so many loved ones fly so far to be with us! They arrived with gifts to spoil our every sense- Marisa with nutritional yeast and coconut oil, Price & Salman bearing books for us & Colette as well as a selection of frozen seitan, Sarah came laden with her family’s famous coconut macaroon cookies (the usual coconut accompanied with toasted almonds, raisins and chocolate chips), Damaris came bearing the cutest kids clothes for both Colette and forthcoming baby Spider. Thank you all!
Colette knows who her blood family is, but we also use the term Auntie & Uncle for those we love in the Hawaiian sense of the community, as a sign of respect for her elders and term of endearment.
As we strolled the streets of Palermo Soho, the trendy neighborhood where the crew rented an apartment, Colette harassed Uncle Salman to skate with her ALL day, who as the pioneer of switch-stance and ambassador of skateboarding, lovingly agreed.
Price & Salman own the rockin’est pizzeria in Los Angeles, Pizzanista! They have worked diligently, filling a niche for affordable & tasty food in the downtown Arts District, offering everything from salads featuring local produce to their meat-centric Meat Jesus Pizza (bacon, sausage, pepperoni) to vegan cheese & vegan meats. If you are in LA, have a visit & you will thank us.
Buenos Aires is a city to walk in, to stroll down tree-lined streets, bustling with commerce and simply discover the essence of the place. Small corner café’s serve medialunas, literally halfmoons and meaning croissants, that can be ordered dulce or salado alongside really good coffees at any hour of the day or night. The city seems to subsist on pizza (made with super creamy cremoso muzurella cheese), (fresh made) pasta, (famous) steak, (bountiful) wine, and cheese (that actually has flavor, thank the lord). It is clearly a nation influenced by the flavors of Italy. On our travels, Argentina rates #2 for food, behind Mexico (sorry, not sorry Peru). On our travels, we were warned (even by other travelers) high and low that it would be nearly impossible to find anything to eat other than steak and perhaps a roasted onion… we had a little trepidation, but have found it easier than almost all other places to find a vegetarian meal, even outside the city. Wooden crates of fresh fruits and veggies, stock verdulerias on nearly every block; fiambrerias sell delightful assortments of fresh baked breads, rich cheeses, dried fruits and nuts, and jars of pickled bits.
Colette busting a pose in Emily’s new Luci frames by Raen.
This wreckage was begging for a big ‘ol belly…
It just so happened that Lallapalooza coincided with the travel plans of our pals. Our super talented friend Amir Yaghamai is playing with Julian Casablanca and The Voidz (formerly The Strokes), which was set to play day 1 of the concert. He generously arranged for us to get VIP tickets, so we all taxied it out to the polo fields for a long day of rock & roll!
Colette, ear plugs securely in place, watched with eyes wide at pulsing the spectacle of their performance, and 3 songs in she nodded off in Adams arms, seemingly overwhelmed by it all. Dang, this girl can sleep anywhere!
It was great to see Amir up on stage, the thousands of happy faces staring at the stage watching with wide eyes. He met us just after his show & walked us backstage, were able to score the necessary badges to remain there for the rest of the day.
From sidestage we watched Phoenix put on an amazing live performance. Backstage we ran into our old friend Ryan Walker who plays with Imagine Dragons. Nine Inch Nails put on a phenomenal show, each of the musicians being multi-instrumentalists.
The Palacio del Congreso has a stately presence and a nice surrounding plaza where Colette sniffed out a playground & locals snoozed in.
It is easy to see how Buenos Aires is called the Paris of South America…
During the boom years of 1880-1920, Buenos Aires built most of her majestic buildings heavily influenced by French and Italian architecture. A mix of art deco, art nouveau and neoclassical styles dot the grand buildings with cupolas, gargoyles and statues adorning the facades, a city where your neck may cramp from constantly looking up to admire the architecture.
Overlooking the city with her loving and watchful eye is Eva Perón. In 1946, her husband Juan Perón became president of Argentina, where she soon managed the Ministries of Labor and Health, as a champion of trade unions and womens suffrage. At a monumental rally of some 2 million union workers (!), they called for her to run for Vice President, but due to failing health, she declined and died of cervical cancer 10 months later at the age of 33.
Teatro Colón, completed in 1908, is one of the 5 major opera houses of the world, well known for the fantastic acoustics.
This is not an unusual sight in Argentina… parilla (bbq) is an art form where the meat is roasted low and slow.
While us ladies oogled at some of the fantastic shopping options in the city, Adam followed the sound of drums to a mini-parade. It was an advert for Rio2, who shook their best to the beat of the samba…
Adam & Salman enjoyed a day out by themselves, skating around the whole city, watching horse races, eating pizza, drinking beer & enjoying some much needed bro time.
Our time together in the city came to an end, and we headed out towards Monte, where the crew had made reservations at the gorgeous Estancia La Calendaria del Monte.
Sebastian the estancia owner who had overlanded and traveled a lot himself, saw the Westy and walked around it in silent appreciation, then graciously offered us a room. “We happen to have an open room and I am happy to welcome you travelers.” WOW, we were so excited to have such a kind invitation and a fancy-schmancy room to enjoy for our 2 nights!
Damaris says “Whaaaa? Check out this room, dudes!” in the green sitting room in front of the suite she & Sarah shared.
Price & Salman had a sweet suite.
After unloading our luggage & freshening up, we all gathered for high tea in main parlor.
The plum tart made with property-grown fruit was divine!
The mosquitos outside were like an invading tribe of killer hummingbirds, so we all settled into an overstuffed seat and book for a down tempo evening.
The space was decorated in classic rustic country feel, with some a dose of humor.
The floor plan of the space was great… the dining room/ library/ living room (parlor?) were at one end and separated down the long hallway were the various bedrooms, so if one needed a private moment it was actually possible to not hear all of our laughing and gabbing.
On the sprawling 250 acre (100 hectare) ranch, was the organic veggie garden that produced most of the food served. Chard, basil, tomato, lettuce, cabbage, butternut squash, eggplant, artichoke, fennel, mint, and so much more filled the beautiful rows.
This is a place that brings out a heavy sigh, and in a deep slow breath of rejuvenation.
Emily spotted these little guys clinging to the windows of the long hallway… necessity is the mother of invention- and these froggies were posted on the glass because the bugs were drawn to the light of the hall. Smart little guys- and also a great sign of a healthy ecosystem.
Coco the animal-lover…
Celebrating with a (few) bottle(s) of organic wine from Cecchin, we toasted to friends.
Malbec-roasted peaches with whipped cream require no elaboration.
Colette had fallen asleep before dinner and left us adults to have a long evening laughing in the shared pleasure that comes from old friends. Although she is thankfully not one of those early morning risers, Colette was stirring around 9 and hungry by 10 from dinner she skipped so we headed to the dining room for the feast that was laid out for us. This life of luxury is surely a welcome treat for this 7 month pregnant mama!
The jam tray was heavenly… all fresh made from the property dulce de leche, butter, tomato jam, raspberry jam, honey and blackberry preserves.
The ladies bust a pose…
An unfortunate turn of events happened when the doggies were showing off for us humans, chasing the 4 magnificent peacocks… A white pavo royal, literally royal turkey, retreated from the barking pups instead of holding her ground and flapping her wings like the others and when she ran so did the doggies, who bit her neck and killed her in the blink of an eye. It was a deeply upsetting thing to witness. That’s life and death on the estancia.
Almost got the whole crew in this one…
Sebastian, the owner, has traveled by bus, thumb and foot throughout South, Central and North America- so he understands well what we are doing on this crazy journey…
Everybody (save Colette & Emily) headed out for a horseback ride accompanied by a team of big dogs.
Price is from Texas and grew up riding, so she got the wildest horse…
Marisa’s horse was however the slowest and Adam’s was the hungriest, stopping to eat every possible chance.
On the range, the horses opened up to a gallop.
but Marisa’s horse still wanted to chill…
Some of the hives from whence the delicious honey came.
Salman never misses an opportunity to throw up a sticker.
Of our party of 8, 5 were vegetarian, which was greatly confusing to the staff, but they were very accommodating.
Alfajores de maicena are a delightful buttery cornflour cookie that crumbles into your mouth, filled with fresh made dulce de leche caramel, with a sprinkling of coconut. The meringues with dulce de leche and membrillo filled pastry were also divine.
Sarah in a gorgeous vest of her own design for her made-to-meausre collection Edith Palm.
Late dinner was in order.
Our time together in Argentina was coming to a close. We enjoyed a last night playing “Salad Bowl” which is always a blast.
Directions to play Salad Bowl:
*Setup- The game works for teams small or large, with a 4 person minimum, if you have an odd number choose one person that will play for both teams! One team picks a letter of the alphabet, then everyone writes one word that starts with that letter on a small piece of paper (no proper nouns) and puts the words into the bowl. 5-7 words each is usually sufficient.
*Round 1– Set the timer for 1 minute and go! In the first round each person will try to describe the words, using any actions or words (except a part of the word, rhymes with or sounds like) as their team tries to guess as many words as possible. If you get stuck on a word or do not know how to describe the word, too bad, no skipping… When the minute is up, keep the words to the side and switch teams. Both teams will want to pay attention to learn what words were used. The round is up when all words have been guessed. At the end of the round, tally the points for each team then put all words back in the bowl.
* Round 2- Same as before, except you now you can only use one word and any actions to get your team to guess the words.
* Round 3- Same as before, except you now have ONLY actions and no words to get your team to guess the words.After some serious laughs and questionable dance moves, the night came to a close…
We soon departed ways with the crew, and we were once again a party of three, soon to be four. We headed up the coast – a swell is on the horizon in the Atlantic Ocean!