A Travellerspoint blog

Mendoza and Buenos Aires

sunny 31 °C
View South America tour on hughw's travel map.

Mendoza

First stop in Argentina: Mendoza, just over the Andes from Santiago de Chile, and centre of the region resposible for two thirds of Argentina's wine production. Malbec and Tempranillo are the two most important grape varieties. Around the town itself are concentrated the vines and production facilities for numerous outfits, large and small. The most popular tourist activity in Mendoza must be touring of the many vineyards by bike, a semi-organised activity in which motley groups are rented even motlier bicycles, given a sort of map and a push in the right direction, and left to their own devices. Having teamed up with a brace of English travelers, we set off unsteadily on our ill-maintained iron steeds into the grape-filled expanses.

First stop was the Rutini bodega, the self-proclaimed 'most visited winery in Argentina'. It's certainly one of the largest I've ever seen.

26600 litre barrels (26.6 tons of wine each!):

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The area is suitable for winemaking due to its low (and consistent?) rainfall. The area felt semi-desert, with the outline of the Andes visible through the hot dusty air. Biking around the avenues:

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At 'Tempus Alba' vineyard: a selection of red wines:

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The seasoned wine taster:

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Buenos Aires

A super-comfy (and expensive) night bus whisked me across the breadth of Argentina to the country's capital. I reflected, while eating my three course dinner with wine on the bus, how in Bolivia the death road boneshaker had taken more hours to cover less than half the distance.

The streets of Buenos Aires, as seen from the balcony in my hostel:

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And a street-level view:

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The different areas or barrios of Buenos Aires each has a different feel. I stayed in microcentro, the most central district, filled with imposing colonial-era administative buildings such as the Palacio del Congreso:

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Nearby was Puerto Madero, an area of docks for cargo ships constructed at the turn of the 19th century, and obsolete within 10 years of operation. Recently the area has been regenerated and hosts ever more hotels, trendy apartment blocks and glass-and-steel skyscrapers.

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La Recoleta is an affluent residential district, full of leafy plazas, parks, street cafes and other features described as 'European'. It is also home to a vast cemetery of the same name, laid out in streets on an irregular grid pattern:

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Itinerant cats preside over the scene, guardians of the underworld:

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Each tomb belongs to a family, the larger ones containing several tiers of caskets. Everybody visits the tomb of Evita, or Eva Perón, wife of president Juan Perón in the 1940s, herself an actress, campaigner and politician.

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La Recoleta is also home to Floraris generica, a 23m-tall metal sculpture, whose petals open and close with the sunrise and sunset each day:

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Sunset in barrio Palmero:

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Posted by hughw 09:00 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Chile

semi-overcast 18 °C
View South America tour on hughw's travel map.

From Uyuni in Bolivia I crossed over into the northeast corner of Chile. Tears of joy filled my eyes as we joined the first paved road I'd seen in weeks:

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We made our way to San Pedro de Atacama, the first city of any size. Since time was short, I took a bus directly to Santiago de Chile, the country's capital city. Chile is 2700 miles long but just 100 miles wide; the journey to the capital, less than half way down the country, took 23 hours. The Atacama desert is one of the driest places on earth, but before long the bus had carried me into greener coastal territory. The blue haze on the horizon below is the Pacific ocean:

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The fine dust which had clogged clothes, eyes and bodily orifices since Peru, had finally abated.

Chile was the most European-feeling of the countries so far (there couldn't be a starker difference with Bolivia), and nowhere was this feeling stronger than in Santiago. Wide tree-lined thoroughfares, excellently preserved colonial architecture, glass and steel skyscrapers in the centre, and a super efficient metro system that ran on rubber wheels.

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But surprisingly, the street dogs were more numerous in Chile than anywhere else. In the central shopping street, lined with expensive North American brand stores, trendily dressed locals carefully stepped around sleeping hounds:

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And the dogs rested undisturbed on well-lit shop floors:

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On the edge of the town, surprisingly close to residential high-rises and city buses, I visited the Concha y Toro vineyards:

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One of the biggest vineyards in the world, they have several mega-cellars:

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And we heard the story behind the 'Casillero del Diablo' wine: the vineyard's founder, Don Melchor, imported a personal supply of France's finest wines to inform him in the production of his own first few vintages. Bottles began disappearing from the cellar, and to strike fear into the hearts of potential thieves, Don Melchor invented the myth that the devil was active in the cellar, and had been stealing the wines. Apparently the tale was effective, and the superstitious locals were sufficiently scared not to return to the cellar...

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The provision of wines for tasting on the tour seemed rather stingy. Needless to say, me and my three Brasilian accomplices found a way of obtaining more, by lingering at the end of the tour and clearing up any leftovers in the bottle from each passing group.

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This led to unintended consequences. After having a hilarious time trying on all the tacky branded apparel in the gift shop, I sobered up several hours later and realised I had parted with 50 dollars in exchange for a Casillero del Diablo rain jacket...

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The next day, I met up with the wonderful Santiago native María, who I'd met in that truck of watermelons in Bolivia. A lucky spell of rain had cleared the smog that lingers year-round over Santiago:

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Not that it's a polluted city -- it's cleaner than most -- but the high mountains encircling the city mean that the smoke and steam generated by the population have little chance to escape.

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Following María's excellent advice I had the best salmon sandwich in my life. Look how much salmon there is! Not just a weedy slice, but a proper filling.

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Wandering around a shopping centre, we found a sort of fairground ride where you were launched up into the air on a seat attached to two very long pieces of elastic. Despite her terror, María managed to say at the top 'look at the view over the skyscrapers!'

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Time running short, I made my second and final stop in Chile in the town of Valparaíso, an hour west of Santiago on the Pacific coast.

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Valparaíso, or Valpo to the locals, is a Unesco world heritage site. It is famous for its streets of brightly painted houses climbing up the steep cerros at the ocean's edge, the many short funicular railways taking pedestrians up and down the slopes, and, overlaid over everything else, an immense amount of spray-painted street art. The subject of most of the art seems to be Vaplo itself, and the cats and dogs that own the place.

Here's a brief tour in pictures of Valparaíso.

Painted houses

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Cats on a window ledge

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Valparaíso inside a sleeping cat

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Dog on staircase

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Painted staircase

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Shifty man

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And my favourite: courtesy of BLACK BLOCK, chaffinch graffiti

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Boats in the harbour

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A cat enjoying a gourmet meal

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Sunset over the Pacific:

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Chile's abundance of dogs was epitomised by the scene at the border with Argentina, a border post high up in the snow and miles from anywhere:

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Posted by hughw 05:00 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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