Category Archives: Argentina

Argentina Andes

taken at Argentina Andes

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Of pregnant whales and farting sea elephants

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Here in Peninsula Valdez, Patagonia, Argentina, it is winter, the perfect period for whale watching. In summer, millions of Magellanic Penguins come here for their breeding but at this moment, I only saw few swimming penguins out at sea.

It is whale season now (June to August), where the Southern Right Whales come to breed and give birth to young calves. With deep waters around the bay, it is possible to spend the whole day watching the whales swim close to shore or watch pregnant whales cavort in the waters.

Location : Peninsula Valdez is declared a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO, for those who collects UNESCO sites, here’s one for your collection.

The weather was cold (2oC) for first 2 days then pretty warm (20C) and gloomy for the rest. This peninsula experiences two different tides per day, with cold waters from Antarctic and warm waters from Brazil. This varied temperature is excellent, providing rich diverse food for the many animals who migrate here for breeding.

Besides the whales, the Southern Elephant Seals are another to watch  for. There are a few places around the Peninsula where you can get quite close to them, close enough to get attacked should you decide to get in their faces. They do smell bad,  with the frequent comical burps and farts of decomposing fish and dead birds. I visited Punta Ninfa, where a small colony of elephant seals congregate. They were so used to having humans around, they seem quite comfortable with me hanging near them. Punta Ninfa is also a popular site for the locals of Puerto Madryn to go fishing, pick shellfish or just have a day at the beach.

Southern Right Whale is one of the ugliest, they are like the elephant man of the whale species. Barnacles grow on their heads, making each of them quite unique and easily identitable to Marine researchers. Pregnant whales come to the Peninsula to calf, often heavily pregnant females cavort for long periods in the waters to ease calving. Fascinating to watch their tails stick out in the waters.

Here, you can get close to the Elephant seals, they don’t get too bothered with you lying on the ground pretending to be just like one of them. But always remind quiet and don’t get too close, else you would stress the animals or get attacked by them.

Guanacos are everywhere in Patagonia, relatively endangered due to aggressive sheep farming in the region. Apparently related to the camel family, they like to spit at humans just like the temperamental camels.

Crazy eats of South America Part 1

In Mendoza, Argentina the famous Malbec wine region : The Malbec grape varietal thrives and where the best Argentina wine come from, also famous for its Dulce de Leche, a condensed caramelised milk product popular with Argentinians

Half spoonful of  Dulce de Leche, fill the other half with Malbec wine, gulp it down.
Chile has its terramoto cocktail drink, red wine, pisco (grape liquer), pineapple icecream. This is Mendoza’s version of very bad drink ideas that taste quite disgustingly weird.

Alfajores : Very typical biscuits of South America, you see versions of it everywhere, especially in Chile and Argentina. This Argentinian version consist of snow dusted sugar on 2 biscuits with Dulce de Leche filling (caramelised condensed milk) . Quite addictive and probably will kill your liver and kidney from all those sugar! You easily find them in shops, cafes and on the streets.

Cerviche in Easter island. Raw fish cooked in lemon juice along with raw local shrimp from the surrounding sea. Served with steamed banana bread (right) that is more banana than bread, local Tuna call Kana Kana (middle), fried plantains (left) with salad in the background.
One of the best cerviche tasted so far since coming to South America but deadly if you are not into raw fish and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Mendocino (Mendoza, Argentina) version of Paella :

Rice cooked purely in white wine and a bit of broth, but really mostly cook in wine.  Add  tomatos and fresh tomato, onions, salted anchovies, garlic. The octopus is cooked in red wine with carmelised onions. Local Mussles added at the end, Olives and Half boiled egg place on top along with Biondilo and Mendocino hard feta cheese. Cooking preparation & time s about 1 hour.

Eating out in Argentina is expensive and one can’t afford to eat out for all main meals daily especially when it cost 50-80pesos (us$13- us$20) for quite a sub standard dish. That’s just a dish not a meal. However Mendoza is a great place for beautiful vegetables, sea food, meats produce and cooking is fun if you have a great kitchen.

Empanadas are like the South America version of curry puff, pastry stuffed with meats, or cheese, or chicken. There is the fried and baked version. The pasteleria everywhere seems to make awful pre-prepared empanadas, but there are dedicated shops that make fresh versions when you order them. The fillings and the pastry matters a lot. The trouble is it is more of a hit and miss affair when choosing a good empanada shop. The standard varies and often the popular shops serve up quite crappy versions even if there are tons of folks buying it. The  freshly made fried empanadas taste better than the oven baked ones of course. This is what most Chileans and Argentinans have as cheap fast food. A typical cheap dinner will consist of at least 6 pieces.

Salted pig in Argentina, this is more traditional and often prepared only for the weekends. The whole pig with skin and hooves is cured in salt. It seems more of a spanish dish where you make a stew out of it.  The taste apparently is better than fresh pork. Preparation takes more than 1 day to soak the pig in water to rid of the salt then boiled and stewed with root vegetables or eaten just like so. I  have no clue what this taste like as I don’t eat red meats.

Aconcagua and Puente del Inca : Roof of South America

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The roads lead to Chile border got snowed-in for 6 days and I was obsessed with this whole route, patiently stayed around Mendoza for more than a week. This area has one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen, especially when the mountains are covered with snow. Well worth the wait to the mountains of Aconcagua, they say its the roof top of South America, the highest peak of the Andes, reaching 6400meters altura.Some parts of the hike was a little challenging without snow boots, the snowed ground was sometimes knee high. Even though snow powder was the driest I have ever experienced, my hiking shoes were soaking wet after.

Puente del Inca is a natural bridge formed by the river with an old spa built under it. The natural hot spring still flows, causing the yellow sulphuric colored stain on the snowy ground.

While at Puente del Inca, met these 2 crazy brazilians who are making a documentary about their travels to 33 countries of Latin America. I think they are crazier to travel down to Patagonia in strong windy winter, let alone rush thru all these countries in 1 year.

Into the wild : this rusted bus reminds me of Jon Krauker’s book about the young man who ventured into Alaska and died in a bus just like this, in the cold white winter covered grounds.Apparently all were not allowed to cross the Puente del Inca, the bridge covered with yellow sulphur from the hot springs, so I was intrigued when this man walked cross it and climb down to the river underneath. Later I found out he was doing some clearings and getting some rocks for his art stall. He was rather tickled that I wanted to make a image of him

Old abandoned train tracks with avalanche coverings scattered all over, now being replaced by huge cargo tracks. This is the only road that borders between Chile and Argentina making this a heavily used route. Sometimes due to heavy snow or ice, this road gets closed for more than a month during winter

Dogs are everywhere at Puente del Inca. Very friendly and beautiful dogs who are not really that thrilled with the fox that invaded their territory barking aggressively. The sly fox hid well and I initially thought they were barking at the noisy trucks that passed, he appeared and sneaked pass the dogs, creeping pass the Puente del Inca and disappeared before I had the chance to put on my zoom lens.

 

Getting to Brazil side of Iguazu Falls without a visa

Brazil side of Iguaza. Over here, it is called Iguassu Cataratas. The falls here seemly look more photogenic than the Argentina side, but the view is much further.At the Argentina side, the falls are right in your face so close you could feel the adrenalin of the intense water force. The whole place is constantly covered in mist and light showers. You would be drenched if you are not wearing a rain poncho.

Finally after a 24hour bus journey from Salta, I am in Iguazu, Argentina. Always wanted to visit the spectacular Iguazu falls after watching that frustratingly romantic gay film by Wong Kar Wai. “Happy together” starred the late legendary Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Chang Chen. Tango never been so sad and heart breaking after that scene. Maybe at the falls, I shall play Cucurrucucu Paloma as a homage to Leslie.

When I crossed the border to visit the Brazil side of Iguazu Falls, got stopped at customs when the tourist bus I took to visit the Cataratas decided to stop at the border between Argentina and Brazil, the bus driver gathered everyone’s passports and was insistant that I and another travel companion who technically needed a Brazillian tourist visa, get our passport processed at the customs office. Quite bummer, the silly bus ticket cost around ARS$45. Unofficially, the local buses do not stop at customs, and most of the time the Brazilian customs keep a very relax attitude towards one day visits without visas.

The Brazillian Customs officer was friendly, smilingly, advise me to head back to Argentina. Adamantly, I walked away from the border, and carried on walking towards the bus stop that took me to the Cataratas. My travel companion who was not used to travelling the way I do, freaked out  and wanted to turn back most of the way to  the bus stop. With some false reassurance from me, my hapless travel companion with great fear he would be thrown into a crappy Brazilian prison, decided to stay on after I cajoled him into waiting for the public Bus to Cataratas. He had probably watched a fair bit of the cheezy Banged up Abroad documentary, turning into a god fearing law abiding citizen. How could I blame him! I must admit his frantic panic did throw me off a few times.

I had no clue if we were to have any issues at the customs when we return to Argentina. I knew the public buses ferries the locals between the borders for work daily without stopping at the customs. It would have been a pity for my law abiding travel companion to turn back after walking 20 minutes to the bus stop. I would have continued on the public bus without him, we had walked 2KM away from the Customs border anyways.

And so I took the public bus right to the doorsteps of the Iguazu National Park. Saw the incredible Brazil Iguazu falls, frankly it was much more photogenic here than at the Argentina side.

So there I was! Technically in Brazil without a passport entry, returned to Argentina via the public bus without any border check whatsoever. No one checked, or bothered to even stop us. The public bus stopped at the customs to let off a pair of tourist and continued on to Argentina!

The Argentina side of the Cataratas was like being in the action. The devil’s throat falls was one of the most spectacular experiences in my life. Being right at the magnificant falls gave me an adrenalin rush and I could feel the energy of the waters all over. One of the places you definately have to visit before you die. The place is simply awesome and puts a great prospective of nature’s force right in your face.

Argentina side of the falls -San Martin Island borders between Brazil and Argentina

Iguazu Falls in Argentina side- Devils Throat : Garganta del Diablo, the most spectacular falls in the world. You could feel the adrenalin of the nature’s force while you are right near the edge of the falls. One of the best highlights of my entire trip in South America.

Iguazu Falls view of San Martin Island – Argentina Side:  Rainbows are everywhere at the falls. Small, big, doubles, halfs, the colors are just brilliant

The waters are so intense, the whole area is perpetually covered in mist and waterdrops.