Argentina bids Apio and Albahaca a fabulous farewell

Getting back to Buenos Aires was like coming home. After an overload of nature, it was nice to get back to bright lights, big city. We had given up our rental apartment though–RIP, Cabello 3363–so what were two guys to do?

Stay at the “heterofriendly” Hotel Axel, of course.

And it was, as one might expect, fabulous. Sleek, stylish public areas; glass-walled shower in the middle of the room; rooftop, glass-bottomed pool situated above the four-story central atrium–the works. (Unfortunately, the wunderpool remained empty for re-sealing for the duration of our stay, but it was pretty cool nonetheless.)

Outside was another pool and very nice public space.

Note the shower cubes–the interior of each lit by a different color of light at night–situated around the pool. Can’t you just imagine how fabulous it would be to show off that tan and new banana hammock and take a go-go shower before the adoring eyes of all the other guests?

I can’t, but that’s only because we were there during winter and it was cold. Plus, my tan really isn’t up to snuff these days.

Perhaps the only blot on an otherwise great lodging experience were the TMI hotel elevators.

I mean, I know we’ve been living it up in the steak, wine and cheese departments for the past month, but I don’t know how I feel about an elevator using some little lights to show me how close it is to being full (“completo”) or overweight (“sobrepeso”). I shudder in my Ferragamos to think of the public humiliation that being rated “sobrepeso” at a place like the Axel would bring.

Judgmental elevators notwithstanding, we squeezed in another nice steak-and-wine dinner, explored San Telmo a bit (definitely more interesting than the land of lobbies and balconies around the apartment in Palermo) and said a slow goodbye to the city and country for which we had developed quite a fondness over the past month.

Jim left for the US, and is now playing around (and working remotely, too) in RI, while I stayed on a couple more days at the Axel–don’t know when I’ll feel so fabulous again–before heading to Chile, where I’ve discovered that, among other weighty cultural differences, los chilenos drink a hell of a lot more than los argentinos.

So, Argentina, I’m thinking this is more “hasta luego” than “ciao,” as we’ll be back again sometime. But in the meantime, as they say where I’m from: that’s a wrap!

– M

Tilcara, Salta, Mirko and us

With a bit of regret, we said goodbye to Iruya–probably our favorite town that we visited on our little road trip–and retraced our steps up the winding road, over the mountain pass and back to the highway. We headed south through the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a high-altitude desert canyon with dramatically colored and shaped mountains.

Here are a couple of culled-from-the-Internet pictures to enjoy. (I swear we saw these exact same views and visualized the pictures looking exactly like they look, but just didn’t get around to actually taking them ourselves.)

We decided to make the picturesque town of Tilcara home for our last couple of days on the road, and, in a stroke of luck, met a guy who offered to rent us his weekend house in town for the equivalent of 20 bucks a night. His name is Mirko. (We actually took this picture.)

There was something about Mirko that was at first vaguely unsettling–why offer out of the blue while at lunch to rent us his house?  why the mustache?–though we later figured out he is just a really nice, gregarious guy.

We (well, mostly me) developed a rather involved story about us finding a French passport beneath the mattress, matching it to the face on posters plastered in the tourist areas around town and then coming upon a cache of other foreign passports somewhere in the house. I thought it might be fun–to sort of mess with the travel-blog genre a bit–to let the story and details develop, ever more ominously, over a couple of blog posts and then stop posting for about a week, but Jim thought that might not go over too well back on the home front.

We spent our time in Tilcara lazing about the house, drinking wine, enjoying the mountain views from the backyard, trying parillada–an Argentine specialty that gets you many different cuts of meat, including kidneys and intestines (“from lips to assholes”)–for the first time, and browsing the town’s outdoor bazaar.

Here I am thinking about which handcrafted earrings might look best on Jim: hoops or danglies? (We took this picture too.)

All was not gravy though, as the house had not been used in a while and so had to have the propane tank replaced, which was a long, complicated process that left us without heat or hot water for the first night. To keep warm we drank beer and tried our hand at making mash-ups by using a couple of iPods and exchanging one earbud from each. Upshot: we sucked.

After a couple of days in Tilcara it was time to return to Salta for our flight to Buenos Aires. Turning in the rental car went more smoothly than expected, the agency remaining entirely unaware of the extent to which we’d beat the thing to hell. Our flight left at about the same time as the visiting Argentine president’s, though we didn’t get a chance to see her.

Here is a picture we didn’t take of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Fancy, isn’t she?

– M


We spent three days in the remote mountain hamlet of Iruya. It’s a fully-functioning town, but four hours away from civilization and reachable only by a vertiginous dirt road. The building at the top of the hill on the right, behind the dome, was our hotel, the Hostería Iruya.

Below are some photos and a video of the crazy road leading to Iruya. The buses would fly down this road at ridiculous speeds. We sort of crept along, but made it there without invoking the “vehicle rollover” clause of our automobile insurance:

This village, like others we’ve stayed at in this region, is made up of mostly indigenous Andeans. The mother and child below are sporting llama-wool ponchos. Speaking of women and children, a local ritual here involves men coming in from surrounding villages once a year to have sex with the women, some of whom can entertain up to five men in a single night. The children born of such pairings are revered by the village. It’s apparently a way to increase the genetic diversity of isolated villages like this one, which are at risk of inbreeding. Note: if you intend to entertain five men in one night, red hot-pants make perfect sense but you probably shouldn’t wear a white poncho.

(If you ever go to Iruya, beware the dog on the left – he attacked our car and left claw marks in the paint.)

Here’s the view from the bedroom window of our hotel. This cemetery was a bit bigger than the others we’ve seen, probably because of the road into town. Good Morning Corpses!

On the third day, we took the Volkswagen on an ill-advised trip up the rocky river canyon to San Isidro. We got stuck halfway up, and walked the remaining distance. Here’s us at the village entrance:

Public transit in San Isidro:


Animals in Argentina

Here are some pictures of animal friends we’ve met in Argentina.


We named this llama “Heather” because she’s clearly the prettiest, most popular llama on the puna. And she’s wearing red ribbons. Lots of them. Not sure why, especially since we came upon her in the middle of nowhere, part of a herd of less attractive, less popular llamas. We’re speculating that the ribbons and bows are the equivalent of a brand, allowing llama ranchers to identify the animals. We’re also speculating that Heather’s rancher is a 12-year-old girl.


These noble burros and I may not see eye-to-eye regarding the music of Bob Mould, but I love them anyway. Burros are all over the place here. In Iruya, the mountain village where we’re now staying, they’re used to move food and supplies up the steep trails. Burros also roam wild, and will kick you if you piss them off.


Finally, I found my herd of wild vicuñas. Vicuñas are not llamas, but they’re pretty close. They’re svelter, have softer and shorter hair, and are used to make really nice overcoats. The fellows in the video above are part of a wild herd, pre-overcoat.

Tethered Dogs of Buenos Aires:

For the first few days in Buenos Aires, we kept coming across groups of dogs, like this one, tied to fences or street lights. WTF? Finally, we realized that there are a lot of dogs in BA apartments, and the dog-walkers walk quite a few at the same time. These guys are waiting for their walker to deliver one of their friends back to his apartment. If this were New York, two would be stolen, four made into soup and the other six run over.


Las Salinas Grandes

As part of our rather epic day on Wednesday, we drove past huge salt flats—Las Salinas Grandes—shortly after noon. Not content merely to see the saline expanse from afar, we took a detour down an even smaller dirt road that led out onto the stark white of the plain.
When looking at them up close wasn’t enough, we got out of the car and felt them. Sharp!

The temptation proved to be too much, and we had to taste. Salty!

And then we felt compelled to model. Style!

But it wasn’t all fun, and Jim took a moment to check out the extent to which we’ve ravaged the Gol.

She’s more dusty than anything, though I’m glad I don’t have anything invested in her longevity–the undercarriage has taken quite a bruising. (Not to mention the dog that attacked the passenger door with its claws as we drove into Iruya, or what happened today when we pretended she was an off-roading Jeep–stream-fording and all–on the way to some far-off hill town. Except a Jeep wouldn´t get its undercarriage stuck on rocks while trying to cross a river, and so wouldn´t require Jim, plus three friendly college-age Porteños hiking along in front of us, to lift the front of the car as I slammed on the pedal while in reverse in order to extricate said car from a premature, watery death. Oops.)
– M

The clean mountain air

It may have been la cocina argentina; it may have been the bumpy road; it may have been the lower air pressure at altitude–heck, it may have been a combination of all three. Whatever it was, the drive to Cachi, with its twists and turns, breathtaking drops and dramatic ascents, took an especially harrowing turn that left us gasping for air and grasping for door handles–while the puna, spread wide in all its arid glory, watched over us and our pulmonary travails with a silence most puna-like in its sparse, unpeopled timelessness.

– M

Americans do it better

On a long trip to a foreign land, there comes a time when you stop accepting and start judging. I’ve been here long enough to admire this beautiful country and its proud and friendly people. Now it’s time to ask them what the hell they’re thinking. These questions are addressed to Argentinians everywhere:

Why don’t you turn on your car’s headlights at night?

It’s 4AM. You’re attempting to cross a street in Buenos Aires. A cab comes squealing around the corner at 60kph with only his parking lights on. He almost hits you, then flashes his headlights at you as if you did something wrong. Huh? If those headlights can flash, they can turn on. Then the cabbie can SEE YOU, and wouldn’t have to flash his headlights when he’s about to HIT YOU. Same for the bus drivers. Driving around in the dark without headlights on makes no sense, especially if you’re wearing slimming black because you’ve gotten fat eating too many Argentinean steaks. Why why why no headlights?

Your dog just took a shit in front of my new tennis shoe. Why don’t you pick it up?

Dog shit smells bad and is difficult to wash out of the treads of one’s shoes. Plastic bags are light and portable, and can pick up dog shit in a jiffy. Why not use them? I like to walk with long, purposeful strides which convey a degree of grace and poise. It’s hard to do this if one is Irish step-dancing around dog piles every few feet on the sidewalk. I don’t piss in your doghouse – why does your dog shit on my sidewalk?

How many ugly French cars are on your roads?

Beat up Peugeots. Sagging Citroens. Ragged Renaults. They’re everywhere. And they’re ugly as sin. There’s a reason you don’t see these wimpmobiles in America anymore. It’s because they’re funny-looking, they have bad suspensions and they break down a lot. (Note: the author has fallen in love with the Peugeot 200-series hatchback, so that model is exempt from this diatribe.) Where are the Freedom Cars like the Hummer H2? How can old people be protected from harm without their 20-ton Crown Victorias? You Argentinians have your own style – you don’t need to ape the French. Try ours.

Why do you eat bunnies and cute baby goats?

At our hotel in Cachi, Miles ordered “cabrito”, or kid goat. The next day, at the farm adjacent to our hotel, we noticed one less baby goat in the herd, and a distraught nannie goat. The next night, he ordered rabbit. And the next morning, the fluffy white bunny in the hutch simply wasn’t there. Is it really necessary to eat young, cute animals? Why not old and ugly animals like the indigenous American blue-footed mcNugget bird?

This is South America. Why the bidet?

We have it easy in America when we take a dump. We do our business, wipe with toilet paper, and flush. The Argentine people, being for the most part DESCENDED FROM EUROPEANS, choose to use bidets. But there are many kinds of bidets. Like the one in our rental apartment, which I turned on and which promptly shot a geyser of ass-cleaning action directly up and into the plasterboard ceiling of the bathroom. Or the misaligned one clamped to the toilet at the hotel in Salta, which administers a scalding laser beam of water directly onto one’s thigh, soaking one’s sock, and then one’s shoe, with water of questionable clarity. The French call it sanitation; I call it aquatic rape. Why, again, the need to ape the French?