2011 - November, Argentina - Buenos Aires, Chile & Iguazu
Argentina is already a somewhat different world. There is much-uninhabited space in contrast to the capital, Buenos Aires. We had already heard a lot about it and for us, as "Spaniards", it is, of course, a super destination, since the national language is also Spanish - although with a lovely, slightly Italian accent.
We'll fly there, November is the best time!
After the entry formalities, an intellectual cab driver with all kinds of philosophical statements. In addition, he knew to report that in no other country there are so many inhabitants, who trouble the psychologists and psychoanalysts. The street scene is very European, however. Many cars have dents and rust as Argentina is not a rich country, or rather the richness is unequally distributed between the rich and the poor. This is in a political structure that seems rather chaotic: various economic crises, military dictatorships, etc.
"Baires" is a gigantic metropolis in which everything seems to function at least halfway. The ambiance is a morbid mix of central/southern Italy and southern California, with even a bit of Madrid mixed in, only bigger. Everything is somehow very "amable," endearing. Flora, fauna, buildability, antique markets, wide tree-lined streets, lots of very pretty people (mostly of Italian origin), and a tremendous music scene beyond tango. (Many Madrid-based rock musicians are Argentine, all with extremely deep knowledge of the subject).
Life pulsates day and night, with tons of bars and restaurants - you just have to explore Buenos Aires! You look on the map a district, take the extremely cheap cab, or as another experience, the SUBTE (subway), stroll through the ambiance and see the beautiful parks, incredible variety of boutiques and furniture stores, everything is cool! One might wonder how all these stores bring their goods to the man or woman. Fortunately, you don't always come across the same brands - as in the USA. Everything is much more individual and not organized by sales chains. Of course, you see Mcdonald's and Burger King on many corners.
Argentines simply have a deep-rooted sense of beauty, design, and buildability. In addition, these rather Italian-looking people are incredibly nice, helpful, and extremely communicative. If you ask someone about something, you have a few minutes of nice conversation right behind it. And I don't mean this ironically or as a form of criticism, no, this is something that we Germans simply lack to a great extent!
There are other, especially typical Argentinean peculiarities: Storytelling and music are more important than food - that was my first impression ...
We were invited to a barbecue at a friend of Javier Vargas: Gabriel Jolivet, nicknamed "El Conejo" (the rabbit), a guitarist who was active for years in Madrid, running a studio close to the Palermo district with invariably vintage equipment and constantly lamenting the economic situation of this country. Incidentally, in the September 2012 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, Jolivet was ranked 28th among the 100 best Argentine rock guitarists.
He and his wife Maria treated us to a stately barbecue. The grill was fired up and Gabriel grabbed a pack of five grilled sausages, talked and talked, holding these chorizos in his hand for 15 minutes until he finally put them on the grill during an extremely brief pause in the conversation.
A conspicuous feature of the cityscape are the many holes in the sidewalks, caused by the roots of the countless trees that gently cover most of the streets from both sides. In stark contrast, there is a caustic presence of Coca-Cola. But for this, the Fernet Branca tastes more pleasant and milder, and that to con Cola - quasi an Argentine national drink.
Otherwise, work does not seem to be the most important thing for Argentines, and they like to demonstrate and go on strike, which - see below - can have fatal consequences. And outside Buenos Aires, one becomes aware of the innumerable policemen, usually three of them, who stand at the side of the road every few kilometers for the purpose of traffic control, telling each other charming things or sitting under a tree, scratching their balls, while letting all vehicles - in whatever condition - pass in the most friendly manner. A veritable armada of public sector salary earners. Moreover, according to various public discussions, subsidizing the unemployed would be out of proportion to the state's financial resources. If one then adds the inflation rate of 9%, it should be clear to everyone that Argentina will unfortunately - if nothing decisive happens - go down the drain again financially in not too long.
Curiosity: In a kind of flea market building we found a large stand with about 50 slicers and scales of the company Berkel, all very well restored and repainted in the original color bright red.
Surprise: In one street we found no less than 43 guitar stores, unfortunately all with extremely mediocre equipment, nothing worth taking along.
And via the Internet we also discovered a few really good restaurants, where, by the way, rather less Fernet Branca is drunk with Coca-Cola.
First in a few words for South America skeptics and Europe fans:
Ok, first of all, we are not here in our beloved Europe. But we don't need to be so proud of Europe anymore. Because our continent seems to have degenerated into a demi-world, in which the values of our national economies are juxtaposed by sick, conscienceless desperado bankers like in a gambling casino. And the new idols and role models are mainly soccer players, which has led to a large part of the population getting tattoos all over or having sheet metal mounted in all possible body parts and orifices, drinking energy drinks and decaffeinated coffee out of paper cups, and never taking their eyes off cell phone screens. But, don't we still have something like tradition, culture, architecture, let's say "at least a semblance of civilization"? And Argentina certainly has that!
But what about Chile?
According to information of a questionable friend, who recommended us - see under restaurant reviews - a supposedly fantastic restaurant in the district La Boca (origin of the soccer star Maradona), a trip to Chile would also be worthwhile. Attracted by vague prophecies of another acquaintance concerning huge sea urchins and other seafood varieties, knowing about the fantastic Pablo Neruda and not being deterred by the fact that the common Chilean has the reputation of a pickpocket and that the Chileans in Madrid are in first place in the crime statistics, Chile seemed at least worth a visit.
In addition, we had booked flights from Santiago directly to Iguazu, the triangle of countries where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet, with the most spectacular waterfalls in the world.
Okay, off to Santiago, right into the action. While it was quite hot to fly over the Andes, the arrival soon turned to disillusionment after we landed. The government palace, "La Moneda", where Allende took his life in 1973 during the Pinochet coup, was guarded by militarios in Nazi-like uniforms with highly polished boots. Something like that immediately scares you!
Beyond that, Chile is simply a cultureless swamp, an uncivilized zombie country, a goddamned, American-infested banana republic, and not with happy bongo drummers, but with resigned-looking people, who still seem to have the years of torture, murder, and abuse stuck in their bones. In contrast to Argentina, all these war criminals, torturers, maltreaters, and abusers are still walking around freely and possibly meeting the relatives of their former victims on a daily basis. They even continue to act as policemen and militarios, these same guys in Nazi uniforms with polished sheepskin boots and those turned-up umbrella caps, these sadists who tortured all opposition members or threw them out of helicopters or airplanes into the open sea 20 years ago.
I have a very bad suspicion that all intelligent people were also eradicated from the population. Okay, maybe not all of them, but the remaining ones seem to have left the country. Because these people, which one meets here on the street, seem not only sullen and somehow frightened but unfortunately also rather dull and level-less. And on top of that, there is this almost dog-like eagerness of the "shopkeepers" to give you a receipt for every piece of crap you buy, this general fear of the authorities to do anything uncontrolled, even to sell something "black", something that could possibly get you fined or interrogated in dark chambers. The picture is rounded off by countless beggars and countless stray dogs, these mostly with a limp because hit by a car. Besides, one hears in the news that according to a survey among young people and children 73% complain about beating and other abuses on the part of their parents. Pressure from above creates pressure downward! And that 50% of students do not finish their studies.
It may depress me when inhabitants have to live in tin huts without electricity and running water, like in Asia or Africa. But what particularly ticked me off in Chile were these cheap, super-ugly low-rise buildings imposed by the Yanks on both sides of the thoroughfares with stores that barely provide the minimum supplies for people, including Internet stores, laundry, hardware, liquor store, snack bars, gas station. But there is practically no bar where you can sit comfortably outside, not even in the center of Santiago de Chile, the capital! There are hardly any restaurants there, only Burger King and McDonald's and some taco takeaways, so you end up going to a cheap sushi bar that is not allowed to serve alcohol - because they don't have a license for it. What we had rented as a "hotel" and which made a quite correct impression on the Internet, was situated in a prefabricated building with minimal equipment. All this is even worse than back then in the GDR.
But there was a television in the room, about 80 channels - only dirt! And the actors in the commercials are all blond-American beautiful, people you NEVER see on the street! And Chilean soccer: just senseless back and forth bouncing, amateurs!
Chile: only bearable with Underberg or Fernet Branca ...
Away from here, the very next day! We drove south by rental car to Isla Negra to visit the house and localities of the long-deceased Pablo Neruda, who had dedicated practically his entire life to the fight against fascism. The picturesque house is located directly on an imposing rocky coast, which ultimately could have suggested all sorts of seafood deposits in the area.
But far from it! Whoever claims that you can eat excellent seafood here, is mistaken! There is some, but it has been officially forbidden by some post-fascist law to serve it raw! Chilean people are unable to properly bring such a thing to the table boiled or fried. Fibrous protein that forms into a dry ball when chewed in front of the esophagus. Boo...
The only good fortune granted me was to actually buy two huge sea urchins at a small fish stand in San Antonio, which I opened and devoured shortly thereafter at a "restaurant" using a knife ordered there. The purchase had again been made with a receipt, and when I set out to take photos of the fishmonger's counter, he immediately cleared away the remaining urchins, apparently afraid of possibly getting a report because the urchin season was probably just over. Fear of me, I a supposed spy!
Otherwise, there is as a national dish boiled cow udders "tetas de vaca", yuck!
And the icing on the cake was the hostal, where we had rented for the night, of at most 50s youth hostel quality, ugly wallpaper and thick wool blankets with floral patterns, yuck!
Conclusion: After these two days we decided to leave here immediately. Allende is long dead, Pinochet seems still present. Except for light, the sea, and the Andes, this country has NOTHING to offer, and that's why you can lay me that Chile is fully hacked! Also, the much-praised Chilean red wine will not be able to improve the reputation of this country.
Before going to bed I booked the flights from Santiago directly to Iguazu for the next day, expensive but unavoidable!
A village in the middle of the jungle. The first accommodation booked via internet was a total disaster, so I was forced to post the following text later on Trip Advisor:
Hostal Irupé - Overnight accommodation with surprises!:
Hostal Irupé - Overnight accommodation with surprises!:
The young guy at the reception is just super sympathetic and then also helps you to slay and dispose of the various cockroaches in the room. Unfortunately, he is only employed and can't take care that these green-black discolored pillow insides and the thousand times used flower pattern bed sheets and the greenish, broken washed towels are replaced by something white, new. And the gonococcus mothership, this mop-up mat in the completely blackened shower was then rolled up from inside as protection against even more uninvited guests and placed in front of the front door.
But after I had slain at least two more cockroaches with my Birkenstock slippers, Paloma protested, and we simply had no choice but to wander late at night to the best and most expensive hotel in town and check-in. At the reception, they immediately gave us a voucher worth 20 pesos (20 pesos = about 3.30 euros) for the casino. Thus the saying "From the cockroaches to the sharks" was born!
The next morning by cab to the waterfalls, the Catalatas, on the Brazilian side. No problems at the border control, because Iguazu is of course an outstanding tourist attraction. And rightly so! One of the Seven Wonders of the World and an exhilarating day trip. Millions and millions of cubic meters of water, slowly flowing down wide plateaus, suddenly and with the brute force of nature plunge into deep valleys. Spectacular and breathtaking, almost everywhere a vapor of water, exotic butterflies, colorful birds, and cute coatis along the way.
The whole thing can be enjoyed, admired, celebrated, absorbed from the Argentine as well as the Brazilian side. Raincoat recommended.
Here you can see more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrZtXRiy64M
The next day, again from the Shark Hotel by cab to the Argentine side of the waterfall, which is a little less spectacular, but equally breathtaking. It's just a natural phenomenon. Niagara is NOTHING compared to it!
So, having seen it all, we were back to Buenos Aires! The plane tickets were booked, so off to the airport. Bad surprise: all flights canceled. The tower boss had already called in sick the day before, including some other important employees. A strike in disguise, and with an unpredictable end! What to do? We didn't want to be stuck at the airport in the dark like thousands of other pitiful people. The only option was to rent a car and drive the 1300 kilometers back to Buenos Aires. Argentina is a long country with several thousand kilometers more, stretching from the capital south to Patagonia. So onto the "Ruta de la Muerte" This is a country road of which just about 200km are four lanes. Almost the entire goods traffic between Argentina and Brazil moves over this death road (as the Argentines call it). Columns of huge trucks, constant, dangerous overtaking maneuvers, hardly that one hears times no horn. I'm into honking, and during the day everything was maneuverable and bearable. After sunset, however, it was no longer fun. At a construction site exit, a policeman stopped us and asked where our trip was going. "To Buenos Aires." "Suerte!" (Luck!) he replied shortly. Paloma was starting to get horror-struck, so we stopped at some sort of rest stop.
After a good hour of sleeping in the car seats with the constant noise of the huge trucks thundering by, she woke up to horrible nightmares. No point in remaining here any longer. I insisted on driving on, and we threaded our way back onto the death road. It was stressful, but I already know these night drives from Rockinger times when we transported tonewood from Erlangen to Hannover. You just have to hang in there, drive concentrated, keep your eyes open, and don't get blinded!
Finally, dawn broke and we arrived in Buenos Aires in the early afternoon, dropped off the rental car, and checked into the apartment we had already rented in the Palermo district.
Back in Buenos Aires
Oh how nice to be back in urban territory!
Many dog owners here hire a "dog walker" to walk their dogs, who does his job in multiple ways.
And the Tango ...
And nice, old bars and cafes are here ...
At the Rio de la Plata
Made in Buenos Aires: my first design for the Radiator Tremolo ...
One last word about food: Meat is better ordered "al punto" or even "poco hecho", otherwise they fry it dead! So we also had the secret thought during the whole trip that Argentine beef seems a bit overrated. Everywhere you go you get huge portions on your plate, but nothing tastes as good as in Spain. And the strongly represented Italian cuisine is about 30 years away from what one may be used to from really good Italians in our country today. But: As in any new city, the first thing you have to do is acclimatize a bit and explore the terrain.
And last but not least: Never everything goes smoothly! Now, all over Argentina, a lot of Fernet Branca is drunk, which, as already mentioned, tastes more pleasant and milder. So one looks forward to being able to buy a larger supply at the airport before departure, and what? There is not at the airport. They don't tick clean after all!
Patagonia Sur: Can you expect much for a lot of money?
The ambiance in this environment scares you a bit at night. Just around the corner from the Caminito, where during the day full pipe the tourist life is booming. But in the evening: a gloomy, godforsaken harbor scene.
But well, we had a reservation, rang the doorbell, and entered the really nice and intimate establishment. And at 500 pesos for the menu per person (without wine), one should be able to expect a lot! Let's first look at the wine list: no wine below 300 pesos (approx. € 45)! And then looking at the menu: to choose are an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. Starters: okay. Also what came next was nice, very tasty little tomatoes and onions on sweetbreads. Also the arugula salad with grapefruit and cheese etc - was very tasty. But also nothing exorbitant that could have justified the total price of the menu.
First outside, for a cigarette. There one stands alone on a wide corridor. Every three minutes, a car drives by, and across the quay, a few dark figures occasionally troll by. Okay, you can be robbed in any city of this globe, and if you don't have a gold Rolex or a 2000 Euro handbag hanging on you, nothing happens. Same here. But a little bit of the feeling like "Rob me, rob me!" you already have ...
But now it gets weird: For the main course, you could choose between various meats, some fish, and also cannelloni. Cannelloni are for me always a good touchstone for a good restaurant, although they simply do not belong in the main course selection. But okay, ordered! Paloma ordered a filet steak. What came next was incredibly sobering. Two huge cannelloni patties with creamy spinach filling, spinach you find in every freezer in our country. The whole thing was gratinated with a cheap cheese. I could eat one roll, but not the other. And that was already the main course. The fillet was impregnated from above with a foul-smelling sauce, the meat not exactly of the best quality, rather tough and stringy. At 500 pesos (about € 75) you should be able to expect meat that melts in your mouth!
Dessert: A usual, boring selection of various ice creams, tiramisu, and a chocolate soufflé, which we ultimately ordered. This delivered a huge dessert was something that also goes under "Volcán de chocolate" in Argentina, so a "chocolate cake" prepared in a mold with lots of chocolate inside that melts during preparation. Pretty mediocre and way too much! Why is there no mousse on the menu?
A word about the table neighbors. Three loud, pompous Argentine gentlemen with their three blond and lifted ladies with lots of cross-talk about money, jewelry, and stocks.
Last but not least: quantity instead of quality and completely overpriced! About 230 euros, of which two-thirds were at best for the ambiance. We have eaten and sat far better in other restaurants for just under a third of this price. Don't go there!
But the best is yet to come! Arturo, the 24-year-old son of a Madrid artist friend and also a Duesenberg player lives in Buenos Aires. He wrote us an email for a meeting. Okay, wouldn't there be a good restaurant where we could meet? Then his next email with the suggestion of an "awesome place", namely Patagonia Sur. Then we canceled the meeting under a pretext (suddenly important business appointments).