Santiago, Mendoza and Buenos Aires
01.05.2015 - 07.05.2015
When buying my 4 leg plane ticket from Peru to Patagonia I'd been forced to buy a return, as it was half the price of a single. The problem was I didn't want to return to Peru. So, when we reached Santiago to change planes (on the noticably not-cancelled return leg) I ignored the "Transit" signs and legged it for the exit. I'm not quite sure about the legalities of doing this, although it's definitely against airline policies, but given that I was only staying in the country a few more days I thought I'd take my chances. I haven't been arrested yet.
In Santiago I met Val again (we'd planned it, it wasn't just some kind of massive coincidence) and we relaxed for a few days and went to some pretty good restaurants - highlight being one of the many seafood joints surrounding the massive fish market in town. Amazing fresh cerviche! Although a nice place there's wasn't an awful lot going on in Santiago, so we took a day trip over to nearby Valparaiso. The old town was at one time the most important port in South America, but had fallen into decline until a recent flood of artists and hippie types descended on the place in recent years. Now the place is riddled with cool markets and amazing murals. I've never seen street art/graffiti (depending on your age) like it.
Wandering about the town and travelling on the unfathomably short and therefore quite pointless cable cars we saw street after street covered in bright colours and crazy designs. We also stopped to sample some recommended local empanadas (pasty type things) which were nice, but were notihng on Greggs.
Pointless cable car and street art:
The next day we took the first long range bus through the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina. Was a pretty interesting ride travelling through the desolate mountains, that were bare except for where they were criss crossed with chair lifts. Apparently this is a ski resort in winter, although the lifts were the only real evidence of it.
Mendoza is the capital of Argentinas wine growing region so Val and I hired some bikes and headed off to some vineyards to sample the local produce at source. What an amazing day! Perfect weather for it (high 20's and sunny), gorgeous scenery and some ridiculously good wines at super low prices. Absolutely amazing stuff at £7 ish a bottle, and when we splashed out on samples of some of the vineyards top end signature vintages they were the best wines I've tasted in my life, still for the price of a cheap bottle in a restaurant back home.
In a restaurant that night we wasted no time in getting into Argentinas other speciality - a couple of big fat steaks. Both the prices and quality were pretty special, and we both decided on the spot to eat as much steak as possible before we left the country.
The next bus leg was to Buenos Aires, a 13 hour slog which might have been tedious if it wasn't for the amazing South American buses. Think first class seats with a decent airline. Fully lie flat leather beds, TVs, a waitress bringing you meals etc. Well good fun! It was an overnight journey anyway so after polishing off the vineyards souvenirs I'd brought we slept most of the way.
In Buenos Aires we realised for the first time the madness of the Argentinian economy at the moment. So far the prices we'd paid for stuff had been pretty reasonable, but not all THAT cheap. Then we discovered the concept of the "Blue Dollar" market. So, the government here sets the exchange rate for dollars apparently, and it's currently at around 9 pesos/dollar. However, they severely restrict the amount of dollars that can be officially exchanged. That means there's a booming black maket (or blue market in this case, don't know why) in money exchange. On the "Blue" market (which is technically illegal but so common that everybody uses it) you can get 12.5 pesos for your dollar, if you have cash. Fortunately I had a reasonable amount of "emergency" dollars (which this clearly was...) so Argentina suddenly got a whole lot cheaper!
Buenos Aires is a pretty great place with loads of beautiful architecture and culture. We took a city bus tour and went in search of Evitas grave, which we found in a cemetary that makes even the ones in New Orleans look understated. Also took in a fancy Tango show that whilst a bit touristy was still very impressive. The real Tango highlight though was when we hung around after a local market had closed for the night and they had a Merengue in the piazza after all the stalls had been cleared away. This was local people dancing for the love of it in the square. A real treat to watch.
Graveyard, Beers at the market and the Tango afterwards:
Now, back to those steaks. I've never had steak as good as this in a restaurant anywhere, and with wine lists that had pages of great wines for less than a tenner, you could actually pick the one you wanted most, rather than having to pick one that wasn't too expensive. It was awesome. In our 7 nights in Argentina we'd managed 11 steaks between us, but I ruined it one night by ordering a massive rack of beef ribs and on another we ordered a huge mixed grill. Although that did include steak. On our last night i spotted something intriguing on the menu amongst the rib eyes and chorizos.
"What's the speciality steak?" I asked.
"Just order it!" Was the waiters response!
15 mins later when the most tender and delicious half a cow arrived on my plate, I was very glad I did.