March 14–17, 2016

South America, Argentina, Mendoza

A night bus’ ride away from Córdoba lies Mendoza, the heart of Argentina’s wine industry. Our days there we mostly dedicated to work, but we also did a bike trip to the vineyards of the nearby wine town of Maipú.

¡Hola, Chile!

The bus ride over the Andes to Chile was also very scenic, especially from the front row (office) of the double-decker bus. We passed through (empty, off-season) ski resorts and even caught a glimpse of the Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia.

Don’t even try to bring fruits or vegetables (let alone meat) into Chile—one guy on our bus tried and it wasn’t pretty.

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March 10–13, 2016

South America, Argentina, Córdoba

After our week in the rural Northwest of Argentina, Córdoba felt buzzling, loud and trafficky. Still, we liked it for its energy and original bars thanks to its large student population.

Despite knowing the importance of Córdoba for Austrian soccer, we did not go on a pilgrimage to the city’s stadium, but rather strolled through the park and rented a pedal boat.

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After we made our way back from the remote pueblecito Iruya, we drove up to a viewpoint overlooking Hornocal, the “Hill of Fourteen Colors”.

We continued to Tilcara where we spent the next two nights in the beautiful Las Terrazas hotel.

Close-by is Pucará, the partially reconstructed ruins of a pre-Inca settlement that wonderfully overlooks the valley from its 2,500 m above sea level.

Contrary to Iruya, Tilcara proved to be far more lively, larger and welcoming. It felt like an alternative mountain village with distinct ethnic touch. Graphic Andean-style table runners, lama-fur covered chairs and colorful decorations were cheering at us from almost every single bar, comedor or café. And yet, it’s a functional, authentic indigenous community.

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March 5–6, 2016

South America, Argentina, Iruya

Multiple times, people (among them, the rental car clerk) warned us from taking our rental car to Iruya, a small indigineous town nested against the mountainside at an elevation of 2,780 m. Iruya is accessible only via a 50 km-long unpaved dirt road that, at several points, crosses small rivers.

Despite our determination to go there (if not at least to see how far we could make it in the worst case), once we got to the street sign that indicated to go off-road, we were a bit unsure whether or not we should give it a try. What if the road was muddy and we got stuck? There was not much time for deliberating, though. Soon, the exact same car model stopped next to us and after a brief chat (with, as turned out later, two Austrians from Vorarlberg) we followed their lead and took on the road. It was indeed 50 very bumpy kilometers with several creek traverses, but rewarded with amazing views of the mountains and valleys we crossed. And we also had a tête-à-tête with a very interested donkey mum and her kid. We also tried to boost our Karma by picking up backpackers from Chile on the way.

Close to the sky, far from everything

Iruya is not exactly what you would call a charming alpine town. You can see and feel that life’s rough up there given the location and climate.

Although Iruya is popular with tourists, the town doesn’t seem to alter itself just for a few pesos or a bit of attention. Signs all over the town remind tourists to be respectful, not to take photos of the locals and to consult immediately the tourist office “to avoid accidents” (?).

The height and the sun took their toll on us and we went to bed early—hoping that it wouldn’t rain so we would be able to take the road back to the Quebrada de Humahuaca valley. The first drops went down at around 10:30pm…

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Going to the Argentina’s Northwest region bordering Bolivia and Chile was pretty much a last-minute decision. We had initially planned on traveling straight to Córdoba and Mendoza from Iguazú and from there on to Chile. But a fellow BA-based Wolframian highly recommended going to the provinces of Salta and Jujuy at the onset of the Andes.

While having traveled on some surprisingly comfortable night buses so far, we wanted some greater flexibility and took a rental car for our week-long trip starting and ending in Salta.

Our first stop after half a day in Salta—spent at the main square’s Café del Regidor with breakfast, limonadas and our laptops—we headed North to Purmamarca in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow mountain valley that was also declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Driving through the valley, pictures of our visits to Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Death Valley at the beginning of our trip came to our minds. Still it’s distinctly different, and landscape here has so many different features, it’s hard to describe them. Sometimes, it looks like desert, then again like a juicy green meadow, alternating with sparse vegetation and wide empty riverbeds full of pebbles and rocks. Also, we never expected to see so many cactuses!

Salinas Grandes

After an ascent to over 4,000 m on a road that climbed in picturesque meanders up and down the mountains, we got to the Salinas Grandes: large salt flats, located at a remarkable 3,450 m above sea level. Google Maps displays them like actual lakes (colored blue), but in fact the lakes’ whole surface is a thick white layer of crusted salt. Every now and then, shallow pools are cut out of the salt, whose water is surprisingyl cold and so salty that the skin on our hands dried out after touching it.

Speaking of skin: We ignored both the altitude and the fact that the white surface reflects sunlight and left with a major sunburn. Ouch!

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Iguazú Falls

February 28—March 1, 2016

South America, Argentina, Iguazú Falls

Eleanor Roosevelt was absolutely right when she exclaimed “Poor Niagara!” upon her visit to Iguazú Falls. Having seen both, we can only agree (although the Niagara Falls are a still spectacular view). The Iguazú Falls are a massive complex of water, rock and sheer force of nature.

We visited both the Argentine and the Brazilian national park. We did the Argentine side first, which brings you very close to the falls: On secured metal paths, you can walk right over some of the over 220 falls of various size or stand right by the intense spray of water thundering down a few dozens of meters.

And, we got to add another country to our list of visited countries on this trip—Brazil (although we didn’t get our passports stamped at the border). Yet, we count it as officially “been there” since we spent a whole day and several reais there. The Brazilian side offers the perfect and complete view of the fall’s full size. It was amazing!

Visiting both sides is absolutely worth it! You have to pay an entry fee twice, but you will be rewarded with a one-of-a-kind natural spectacle.

In contrast to the Niagara Falls we’ve visited in 2015, we were also very pleased to see that the nearby cities of Puerto Iguazú (Argentina) and Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil) have, despite their obviously heavy turnaround of tourists, remained very humble and low-key (if you disregard the huge Wax Museum and the large Duty Free Store at the border). Iguazú is not an amusement park, which makes it score better than their US-Canadian counterparts.

While in Brazil, we also spent a few hours at the Parque das Aves, a bird park 200 meters next to the entrance to the Iguaçu National Park, which was absolutely stunning. Half of the birds there were rescued from trafficking and mistreatment, which made the fact that the birds are held in cages more acceptable (we are no big zoo lovers). You could even enter the cages and almost cuddle with toucans, parakeets, macaws and other colorful and exotic birds and butterflies.

When in Argentina, do as the Argentines do

Two months into our stay in Argentina, we are proud to report that we made good efforts in integrating ourselves into the local habits. We now got our own mate cups and bombillas that we proudly carry around everywhere we go—just as the Argentine and Uruguayans do. We didn’t go as far as getting our own matera, a bag used to carry mate, thermos, sugar and yerba mate that many people are equipped with. I think you see that Argentines take their mate game very seriously.

We experiences this dedication first-hand when we took our mate cups to our hotel’s breakfast room to prepare some mate with the yerba provided at the buffet table. Simone was approached by an Argentine lady, another guest, who friendly suggested that we use a thermos to refill our mate. She saw us pouring hot water into the cups (a no-go, obviously—water used for mate should not be boiling hot) and had her ask the staff for water at the appropriate temperature filled in a thermos.

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San Telmo and La Boca are two barrios in the South of Buenos Aires known for their colorful character.

Every Sunday San Telmo transforms into an open-air market busy with people selling arts & crafts, mate cups, books, etc. You can see musicians and tango dancers perform on Plaza Dorrego. And they make great choripan at ad-hoc barbecues.

Overall, La Boca is a rather shady neighborhood, except for one street (Caminito) that features colorful and decorated shanties. Great for people-spotting, too!

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Buenos Aires

December 29, 2015 – February 20, 2016

South America, Argentina, Buenos Aires

We’ve now spent almost seven weeks in Buenos Aires, enjoying it a lot so far! After two months of traveling, first on the U.S. West Coast and then in Central America, our plan was to take it easy for a while: rent a nice AirBnB and return to our usual work and life routine.

What do we do all day?

We usually start another beautiful, warm summer day with a breakfast on the balcony. We take advantage of the variety of fresh and ripe fruits you get for a couple of pesos at almost every corner. Believe it or not, Simone even traded her daily cup of morning coffee for mate, a bitter but for Argentinians indispensable kind of tea that you sip through a bombilla (a metal straw with a filter in the lower end to separate the mate infusion from the leaves). In parks, on street benches, in buses you see people carrying the distinctly shaped mate cup and a thermos flask of various sizes and sipping calmly the drink of, admittedly, rather acquired taste.

Then, either Jan or Simone go to Spanish class with Mónica. Jan works on his basic Spanish while Simone just needed to pay somebody whom she can talk Spanish to.

From noon on it’s usually work, which we occasionally interrupt for a small merienda in the afternoon (a very popular sweet afternoon snack typically consisting of café con leche and medialunas—tiny delicious croissants).

If you want to learn more about Argentine food (from a foreigner’s perspective), read Argentina on Two Steaks a Day:

The classic beginner’s mistake in Argentina is to neglect the first steak of the day. You will be tempted to just peck at it or even skip it altogether, rationalizing that you need to save yourself for the much larger steak later that night. But this is a false economy, like refusing to drink water in the early parts of a marathon.

Can’t add much to that. The steaks here are great.

Nightlife in BA starts notoriously late. Restaurants get crowded by 9pm, bars by 11pm and clubs around 3am. To be honest, we hardly ever made it that far (late). Going out in Palermo is amazing, though! Half a barrio full of street bars and restaurants, unpretentious, relaxed people (porteños) and everything within walking distance from our place.

The Paris (and Barcelona, and Italy) of the South

BA is somehow the perfect mix between Barcelona, Paris and Italy. With its obvious Italian heritage (that doesn’t only manifest itself in pizza and pasta and the more melodious intonation of Spanish), its ample cut-off street corners boasting corner cafés and restaurants, its Baron Haussmann-esque boulevards and many small fruterías, shops, kioscos, countless bars and confiterías and busy street life, we immediately fell in love with Buenos Aires.

Although we visited the places and sights our guide book recommended—such as the Obelisco, la Casa Rosada, San Telmo, the Recoleta cemetery—the city’s main attraction lies in wandering through the nice barrios of Palermo and Recoleta.

It’s especially nice when you walk those barrios with friends. Thanks for visiting, Maria & Anna and Lisa, Anna & Babsi!

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Jan Pöschko, Simone Kaiser

That’s us!