Category Archives: Argentina

Final Map

Here ends our story. After traveling for almost eight months in South America, (yes, it has taken us a long time to write the last few blog posts!) we headed back home to make arrangements for new adventures.

We covered a lot of ground and while we could have moved faster and seen more countries, we didn’t want to just tick the boxes but actually to experience the places we visited. It truly has been the trip of a lifetime. We experienced so many wonderful places, met so many people – both travelers and locals, and loved every minute. If you have ever wanted to go to South America, you should definitely do it! It certainly won’t let you down!

Adios amigos,

Mark and Saskia.

 


On Luthiers and Music in South America

Taking a guitar on the road was one of the best decisions I (Mark) made. It is a great way to meet people and liven up a common room.

During our travels I've taken an interest in South America's traditional instruments and the people that make them. I thought I would share a few stories for fellow musicians.

Bariloche – A Cabin in the Snow

I have been travelling with a Martin & Co. Backpacker Guitar. You can see it in the photo above. It's an acoustic electric tapered to be light weight and to fit into overhead compartments on planes. It's been a great companion but eventually it needed some maintanence (the mic jack fell out).

So after a couple of enquiries I managed to get in touch with a luthier in Bariloche. With a street address and vague instructions about heading up the mountain behind town I jumped in a cab and headed out into the snow.

It soon became clear that the cabbie was lost. We knew that our destination was somewhere up on the mountain, the trick was finding it amongst the labrynthine back roads and forest. The snow was starting to fall heavily as well, which didn't help.

After driving for an hour through the forest we found a path in the woods. I struck out on my own and soon found a cabin surrounded by snow covered trees. I'll never forget the impression when the door opened: there was the smiling luthier and his apprentice. Behind them was a room full of guitars with a crackling fire. I could have stayed the night!

I must have been there for about two hours. We chatted and listened to Argentine folk music while they set about making the repairs. I was in no rush to leave. I remember watching big snow flakes fall outside the window. Magic.

Eventually things were sorted and I was on my way. It was a good time, my thanks to Hernán Rojo for the help (rojoluthier@hotmail.com, rojoluthier.blogspot.com, 02944 15411156).

Tilcara – A Flute and Kalimba

When we were planning our trip I hadn't thought about buying musical instruments as we travelled, but I got inspired when I met a Frenchie that had bought a kalimba in Córdoba. The kalimba is a popular folk instrument from the Argentine pampas. It is traditionally made out of gourde and wood, with the sound produced by striking a metal comb.

The kalimba produces beautiful tones and being so small it is easy to travel with. The idea of owning one grew on me, partly because I had begun to experiment with my own music recordings.

We were lucky to stumble across a luthier in Tilcara who made a range of musical instruments: charangos, guitars, flutes, kalimbas, pan pipes and rattles. Talk about a kid in a toy store! Even Sas got inspired, the craftsmanship was so good. We walked away with an instrument each; Sas bought a flute and I finally bought a kalimba. Happy days!

The flute and the kalimba.

The following is a short recording of my kalimba. The track was composed using a drum machine app (DM1) and a loop app (Loopy HD) on my iPad. Effects were added with Cubasis.

We purchased our instruments from 'El Sikuri', near the Pukara ruins in Tilcara, Argentina. The luthiers working out of the shop are De Micaela Chauque and Andrés Santanita (http://elsikuri.blogspot.com/).

La Paz – Home of the Charango

While I was happy with my kalimba the shop in Tilcara had left me hungry to purchase a charango. As it happened the guy managing our hostel in Tilcara could play and he ripped out a song for us. It was awesome and I had to have one!

Now, you may be wondering “what the hell is a charango?” The charango is a nylon 10 string solid body instrument. The strings are paired into five sets and tuned G-C-E-A-E. Inspired by the Spanish lute and guitar, the charango was invented because the Spanish colonisers refused to let the native people play their instruments.

Traditionally made out of armadillo shells and wood, it is now considered unethical to use armadillo (I've also seen them made out of turtle shells and a miner's helmet). The body and neck are one piece and the soundboard, bridge and fretboard are made from different types of wood (as with guitars). Note that it is good to ask about the woods as they do change, particularly with the fretboard.

La Paz has become the home of the charango with many stores selling the work of Bolivia's talented luthiers. I must have played around 20 across four shops in La Paz before I made my choice. There is a range of quality in terms of tone and craftsmanship and I wanted something that sounded good and was well made. This turned out to be a challenge but I got there…

Ain't she a beauty?

The charango was made by Everth Zapata of La Paz. Unfortunately I didn't meet him as the luthiers do not work in the music shops in La Paz, but that's ok.

As an aside, I highly recommend a visit to the Museo de Instrumentos Musicales de Bolivia in La Paz. For only 5 Bolivianos (less than 1 US dollar or AUD) it is possible to learn about the huge range of traditional instruments in South America, including those used by the Incas.

There's an incredible variation between countries. I saw guitars of many different shapes, such as elongated designs from Puerto Rico, Panama and Brazil. There were also 6, 8, 12, 15, 16 and 18 string guitars (try searching for a Guitarrón Chileno) and even double sided charangos, guitars and violins (two necks back to back).

String instruments are hugely popular but the collection also includes pan pipes, drums and flutes. I particularly liked the Inca flute designs, which are instantly recognisable and used a mix of zoomorphic and sexual designs. There's even a petrified mummy on display to show that instruments were buried with the dead pre-colonisation. Be sure to check it out if you are in town!

 


¡Six Months!

 


¿Donde en el Mundo es Carmen Sandiego?

G'day from Trinidad, Bolivia. We recently celebrated our fifth month on the road in South America and we thought it was time for an update. We've been in Bolivia since the 28th of June and have had a great time. Currently exploring Bolivia's share of the Amazon Basin, which is a welcome change from the altitude and cold of the altiplano.

So where have we been? Well, the map below tracks our travels to date. Basically we have covered the southern half of the continent and we are now making our way north. The plan is to spend August in Peru before travelling through Ecuador and Colombia. Our goal is to get to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, the most northern point of interest on the mainland. We will be pretty stoked if we achieve it.

We are well behind on our posts but keep touching base for more stories – there's a ton of content coming your way!

Thanks for reading,

Mark and Saskia

 


Tilcara

From Salta we headed north to make our way into Bolivia, but we thought we would break up the trip by stopping in Tilcara. We had no idea what to expect, but the little town was beautiful and looked like it was straight out of a country and western movie!

Apparently there are a lot of artists around here, which is evident from the high quality of market stalls and craft shops. There are also a lot of really good quality restaurants and bars, which was a nice surprise!

The surrounding mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the activities you can do here. We spent one afternoon wandering up to the indigenous ruins not far from town. The Pucará de Tilcara is a pre-Inca fortification that has been partially reconstructed to show the design of the buildings and llama enclosures. There are also graves that have been uncovered, which show small circular stone holes where people were buried curled up in the foetal position, so that they could be reborn into the next world.

Pre-Inca ruins; a monument at the Pucara site; stone graves; llama enclosures.

After talking to some English backpackers who showed us photos of their day, we decided to do a trek to see the surrounding mountains accompanied by llamas who carried a picnic lunch for us! The Caravana de Llamas is totally aimed at tourists, and not normally something we would do, but we thought it would be a fun way to spend our last day in Argentina. The views were amazing, the food delicious, and the wine was an added bonus!

Overall, a few days in Tilcara was the perfect way to end our time in Argentina and get us excited for new adventures. Next stop, Bolivia!!

 


Cafayate and Cachi

While we were in Salta, we spent a couple of days doing day trips to explore the surrounding landscapes and towns. We had heard that both Cafayate and Cachi were nice, but didn't really know what we would find. Both trips exceeded our expectations!


Cafayate

Driving out of Salta through the Quebrada de Cafayate towards the town of Cafayate, we were struck by the amazing red desert, canyons and rock formations, which looked like they were straight from the set of an American country and western film.

We stopped at several places along the way, to take in the amazing views and look down over the canyon. The Garganta del Diablo (Devils's throat) was a large crack between the rocks that stretched back several kilometres.

El Anfiteatro (Ampitheater) was probably the most impressive, as it was literally a path that lead to a naturally hollowed out circle in the rock, which used to be a waterfall.

The rocks provided amazing acoustics, and apparently many musicians have recorded albums here. We were lucky to see a local band performing although we didn't stay long as it was freezing!

There were other rock formations along the way such as El Sapo (the toad) and El Fraile (the friar), however they were not as impressive and only looked very loosely like what the tourist guide claimed them to be.

The Devil's Throat

Quebrada de Cafayate


The Ampitheatre

We arrived in Cafayate in time for lunch and were surprised to find a quaint little town with a cute colonial plaza. We ate in the sun, tried some local craft beers and ice cream before heading off to a nearby vineyard for a tour and some wine tasting. Having spent so long in Mendoza, we were not particularly excited by yet another wine tour, however, the local specialty is a white torrontes and that was worth the trip! It was so good that we bought several bottles of torrontes over the next few days to make sure we did it justice. The Argentinean malbec is the pick of the bunch for red wines and the torrontes is definitely the best white wine. Highly recommend it!
 
Cachi
Driving to Cachi we saw completely different scenery from the drive to Cafayate, but it was equally as impressive. We drove through a valley and then steadily climbed up winding roads until we were literally above the clouds.
The area is well known for its geological formations and the colours that can be found in the rocks as a result of different layers of sediment. The scenery was stunning, and along with mountains and rocks, we also saw huge cactus trees, some of which are hundreds of years old!
We arrived in Cachi for lunch,and like Cafayate, it had a beautiful colonial plaza surrounded by a church and white washed buildings. Mark was very excited to find an asado restauarant that was cooking up fresh llama, which he tried for the first time. We wandered around town, bought some more local wine and enjoyed the sunshine. The drive back to Salta was just as beautiful, and wellworth the effort!

 


Churches of Salta

Salta is a pretty city, surrounded by stunning scenery. We based ourselves here to explore the surrounding countryside for a few days, and were also pleasantly surprised by how relaxed and easy it was to be here. Rather than go into detail, we thought we would just add a few photos which highlight the brilliant architecture and colourful churches that are iconic of the Argentine city.

Main plaza, Salta

The Blue Church

Inside the Blue Church

Iglesia San Francisco

Iglesia Catedral

Inside Iglesia Catedral

Pigeons in the plaza

 


Beers in El Bolsón

This is part two on our foray into the micro breweries in Argentina's Lakes District. You can read part one here.

El Bolsón is a great spot about two hours south of Bariloche. Nestled in a valley that runs north to south, it is famous for its mountains and craft market.

The Lay of the Land

As the hops are locally grown we expected to find a few breweries humming away and we weren't disappointed. By our count there are seven, but we suspect there might be a couple more:

  1. Araucana**
  2. El Bolsón*
  3. El Dragon Verde**
  4. Otto Tipp*
  5. Parapapoto*
  6. Pittri
  7. Rupestre

Those I marked with a * are covered in this post. The breweries marked with a ** I tried in a bottle and are not covered here in detail. The rest we didn't get to as we were only there for the weekend. Please feel free to share your experience if you try them and I will duly update this post (or link to your review).

We should also note that nearby Lago Pueblo also has a few beers to boast about. While we didn't go there we did try Pilker, which was for sale at the market. This is also covered below.

The market is best visited on a Saturday and can be found in the central plaza. The craftsmanship is the best we have seen in South America.

Available at the Market

Both Cerveza Parapapoto and Pilker were for sale at the market when we swung through. To my joy both had a range available on tap, which is awesome.

Parapapoto

Parapapoto are keen brewers. The thirsty tourist is lucky to choose from an I.P.A., Pilsen, Weizen and a Stout. I chose the Weizen as had not yet seen it for sale. It was very fruity and full flavoured. In fact, you can almost see the fruit in the photo above. Those keen to try it should be warned though: mine came with a lot of sediment, which caused the beer to go bitter on the tongue. Don't expect to drink the whole thing if you order a pint.

Pilker

The staff at the tourism office reckon that a few brews are available in Lago Pueblo. We didn't have time to get there but apparently it is worth a day trip (it is at the end of the river in the photo below).

On the day, only a stout was available. By this point I had noticed that almost everyone made a stout, which is understandable given the climate. I tend to avoid heavy beers but when in Rome…

This one surprised me. It looks like a stout but tastes like an ale. A fresh alternative to a coffee or chocolate heavy version, easy to drink.

Apunto Restaurant

Affiliated with the Otto Tipp brewery, Apunto Restaurant is a classy affair that provides good food and live music. It can be found on Isla Malvinas, near the intersection with General Roca.

Five beers are available on tap: Negra Fuerte (strong stout), Dorada Fuerte (strong lager), Gringa (pilsen), Mestica (red ale) and a seasonal fruit beer. I went with the stout, and yes, it was strong! Came at me from several angles – not too bitter with balanced coffee, malt and chocolate flavours. Quite good.

A very dark beer.

Since we weren't going further afield that night I also ordered the fruit beer, which on the menu is called Con Frambuesa (with fruit). This version was a raspberry lager and it tasted very much like fermented raspberries. Very nice, Saskia also enjoyed.

A very pink beer.

El Bolsón Pub

Anyone passing through El Bolsón must make a pilgrimage to the brewery of the same name, which can be found 2 kms north from town. They make a huge range of beers and you can camp there. Crazy.

We were out of luck though, as it was closed for winter, so we opted for choice number two: their pub in town. Apparently this is not as good and I can believe it. The pub was fairly basic, just wooden tables and benches with an outdoor beer garden. Might be better in summer. Can be found on Avenida San Martin, near the junction with Pellegrini.

We were able to choose from a Pale Ale, Red Ale, Weizen, Stout, Smoked Stout, Winter Stout, three fruit beers (black current, cherry and raspberry), Chili Beer and a Honey Beer. You can see why they provide camping at the brewery.

I went with the Winter Stout, again because stouts seem popular here. I expected something heavy with a hint of charcoal but found that it was sweet, easy to drink and refreshing. I would go so far as to say it was my pick of the stouts. We also tried the Pale Ale and the Weizen, which were good. Would recommend the degustation.

Bonus Points: Araucana and El Dragon Verde

As mentioned at the beginning, these beers were bought from the supermarket but Araucana can be found on tap in town. Araucana makes a Bock, Weizen Dunkel, Weizen and a Pale Ale. Their bottles are fairly hefty and easy to recognise. I think I tried the Weizen but didn't take notes. El Dragon Verde make a Stout, an Extra Strong Stout, a Golden Ale and a Chili Beer (Rojiza). I tried the Chili Beer and enjoyed it. It was strong and woke me up, but very drinkable. Let me know if you find where it can be served on tap.

And so ends our beer bonanza! Thanks for reading, I hope this is helpful for anyone planning a trip to the Lakes District. We had a great time uncovering the many beers hidden in Bariloche and El Bolsón. To my knowledge no tour companies offer trips to the breweries, which is a shame, but on the upside that means there's much to discover. Get into it!

Note: most beers were labelled in Spanish. I found that the word 'Rubia' was applied to lagers and pale ales. Unfortunately I discovered this late in the game and am not sure whether I have incorrectly described a beer as a Pale Ale. Welcome any corrections.


 


Beers in Bariloche

This one is for the beer lovers.

Turns out Patagonia is the home of craft beer in Argentina. The cause is El Bolsón, which is similar to Nelson, NZ, in that they grow mighty fine hops near a town filled with hippies. When we planned our trip to Bariloche I had hoped to discover tasty local brews and I wasn’t let down. In fact, I was amazed at the number of micro breweries up to their eyeballs in amber goodness.

This is a two part post dedicated to the beers we uncovered in Bariloche and El Bolsón, which can be found in Argentina’s Lakes District, Northern Patagonia. Thing is, not only do these towns host great brews in an amazing setting, they have great pubs and restaurants too. So, these posts will cover both the beers we tried and where we drank them. The sole criterion for venue selection was whether local craft beer was served on tap.

Like a Kid in a Toy Store

So how many craft breweries are there in Bariloche? Well, after talking to locals and the ladies down at the tourism office we established that there are at least eleven. At least. The issue is no-one really knows, hence this post. But I can share the following:

  1. Bachmann*
  2. Berlina**
  3. Blest
  4. Colonia Suiza
  5. Gilbert*
  6. Konna*
  7. Lowther
  8. La Cruz*
  9. Manush*
  10. Tres Monks
  11. Windmill

Those I marked with a * are covered in this post. The brewery marked with a ** I tried in a bottle and is not covered here in detail. The rest we didn’t get to, reason being that the ones we did try can be found within three blocks of the city centre (we stayed at Hostel 41 Below). The rest require a bit of time on the outskirts of town, which alas we did not have, so please feel free to share your experience if you get there and I will duly update this post (or link to your review).

Konna Bar

Rightio. Konna Bar was first on the list and can be found on Juramento 73. It is a cozy, easy going pub with good beats. It seems to be poplular with the locals, always a good sign. Konna is a dedicated bar serving its name sake, Konna Beer, and we highly recommend a visit.

Clockwise: pub entrance: the Kolsch beer label; Kolsch half pint.

Konna make an India Pale Ale (I.P.A.), Kölsch and a Porter, all of which you can buy on tap. We tried the Kölsch. Its a delicious, cloudy beer with a slightly sweet, lingering aftertaste. I sampled the other two and, while good, personally preferred the Kölsch.

Los Vikingos Pub

Ahh yes, The Viking Pub. As you would expect, it has a bit of mongrel in it. But, paradoxically, it has quality beer on tap. Figure that out. Can be found about 15 metres from Konna Bar, corner Juramento and 20 de Febrero.

Clockwise: pub entrance; toilet door; beer brands on tap.

La Cruz

First up was La Cruz, a local favourite, although this may change. We heard that it had been sold to Quilmes, Argentina’s mainstream brewery, and as with Little Creatures in Fremantle, there are fears that the quality will slide.

Only two beers were on tap at the pub, but La Cruz produce seven types: English Pale Ale, I.P.A., Brown Ale, Working Man Porter, Barley Wine, Scotch Roble and an I.P.A. Double Hop. The Pale Ale was the choice of the day, as recommended by the barman (who didn’t look like a viking). The beer was sharp and tart with a light amber colouring. Despite the tartness we found that it was still smooth and refreshing. Recommended.

Bachmann

Having tried a Pale Ale we went with a Red Ale, or Roja, from Bachmann. This was fairly rich in flavour, with a delicious, slightly smokey taste. The ale is dark amber in colour, which goes with the flavour. Enjoyed.

If you scout around you will also find a Bachmann Stout, Fruit Beer (probably rasperry) and a Pale Ale.

As we were sipping the suds a fella approached us at the bar. He was an Argentine from Missiones (think Iguazu Falls) and he was hoping to fund his beer through magic tricks. His first attempt went well, somehow managed to undo a knotted piece of rope with his tongue. His next trick not so much; the old pull a ring through string trick ‘came undone’ when Saskia pulled the ring too hard and revealed the gap in the steel. The look on the magicians face was priceless. Good times.

Note that both La Cruz and Bachmann have their own pubs in town. Bachmann is a few blocks east however La Cruz is several suburbs west. You can get to La Cruz by bus but still need to walk a few blocks. Ask at the Tourism Office for directions to both.

Manush Cervecería and Gastropub

Recommended by Leo, our hostel host, Manush is the cool kid on the block. Sitting on the corner of Morales and A.M. Elflein, Manush provides seven brews on tap: Milk Stout, Stout, Irish Cream Ale, Honey Beer, I.P.A, Kölsch and a Pale Ale. The beers are brewed 15 blocks away by the bartender’s brother. So, it is local.

We really liked Manush. It has an upbeat atmosphere and a slick interior design. Think of a modern log cabin. The menu is exceptional and you can order a sample of all seven beers, which we recommend. Dan, our comrade in arms and food fiend, ordered the tiramisu with milk stout and the chocolate brownie and cheesecake with Patagonian ice cream (the famous El Bólson Jauja, no less). We can confirm that they were delicious!

Although we tried all the beers, we did order a half pint of the Irish Cream Ale. Not surprisingly it was very creamy, with a slight sting of ale. Tasty.

Gilbert Restaurant

Located on A.M. Elflein, just along from Manush, the Gilbert Restaurant offers three brews from the Gilbert brewery: Pale Ale, Red Ale and a Stout (or Rubia, Roja y Negro). We weren’t too excited by the beer or the restaurant.

Note that the two for one deal is per person. You can’t share between two people.

We went with the Pale Ale. It has a strong flavour to it, honey coloured with a slightly bitter finish. Probably the least favoured of the brews we sampled, but of course this is subjective. The restaurant offers the usual Argentine fair, could do more to distinguish itself. Swing by for the happy hour and then move on.

Honourable Mentions

There are two other pubs nearby that are worth a look in, even though the beer is not local. Antares and Warsteiner both have national coverage and are a good mainstream alternative to Quilmes. Their dedicated restaurants in Bariloche are pretty good, but note that only Antares offers a range of craft beers (all of which are made by Antares). Both venues are within a stones throw of Manush.

Antares Restaurant

One of a chain of upmarket hang outs, the Antares Restaurant is polished with a lively atmosphere and good food. They provide a standard set of seven craft beers as well as up to two one-off brews. When we visited the special brews were an I.P.A. (a collaboration with Odell Brewing Co., Colorado) and a Belgian Strong Ale.

At 7.0% the I.P.A. is stronger than your average beer. Surprisingly the flavour is more similar to a pale ale, with a sweet aftertaste. I (Mark) enjoyed it, and I am not a fan of I.P.A.s. The Belgian was also good, light, sweet and very tasty. In fact, about what you would expect from a Belgian beer. Get into both of them if you are in town.

Warsteiner Restaurant

Proof of Argentina’s German migrants, Warsteiner provides a tasty mainstay that is easy to drink a lot of. Think of a German lager and you’d be close. The restaurant is a very deutsch brewhouse with a touch of ski lodge. Unfortunately we didn’t look at the menu so cannot comment on that (we did enjoy the beer though).

Dan jumped behind the bar to take this. Cheeky.

And thus ends our coverage of Bariloche. My thanks to Dan and Saskia for the photographs and for indulging in my crazy ideas.

Bariloche is spoilt with stunning scenery.


Bariloche

Hola from Bariloche, where Winter has finally arrived!

We have been hanging around here for about a week, hoping to catch the start of the snow season. Unfortunately it is just really cold and wet, and while there has been some snow, there is not enough to open the ski fields yet. The lack of snow is a bit dissappointing, but it is awesome to be back in Patagonia! We loved it the first time round, and didn't expect to be able to come back again so soon! We had always planned to come to Bariloche, but when we were in El Calafate in March, we had the choice of going south to Ushuaia or coming here, and we went south because we thought we might as well see southern Patagonia while we were so close. Turns out that was a good choice, and we got to do both!

Snow capped peaks surrounding Bariloche.

Bariloche is set amidst stunning scenery of mountains and lakes, which looks very similar to New Zealand's Queenstown, and has the same snow town feel. There are loads of cool bars and restaurants, a nice square with old German style wood and stone buildings, as well as plenty of gourmet chocolate and souvenir shops.

Bariloche town square.

The lake on the edge of town.

Despite the weather, we wanted to make the most of being back in Patagonia. After spending a bit of time looking around town, we caught a bus out to Hotel Llao Llao and spent a few hours hiking through the forest. Hiking in the rain was not so much fun, and it turns out that my jacket is not water proof! The staunch Kiwi kept reminding me that the weather is worse in NZ and they still get amongst it, so I kept going and resisted the urge to complain too much. It was still nice to be in the mountains, which were actually quite different to what we saw further south. The views were somewhat obscured by cloud, but the lakes and forest were beautiful! We found one little grove of trees that looked like they came from the set of a fairy tale, and its not hard to understand why some of the locals believe there are wood elves that live in the mountains to protect the forest.

Hiking in the rain.

Enchanted forests in the mountains around Bariloche.

We did have one sunny day, so we spent an afternoon on top of Cerro Otto enjoying the spectacular views below. We caught a gondola up to the lookout, which also has a revolving restaurant, where you can sit for lunch or a coffee and enjoy amazing 360 degree views over snow capped mountains and lakes.

Cerro Otto lookout


The view from Cerro Otto overlooking Bariloche.

The whole area is beautiful, and we would love to come back one day (in Summer) to do more hiking and enjoy it at its best!