The Great Salt Flats of Argentina

February 21, 2012

Not easy to get there, but the trip to Las Salinas Grandes was well worth the trouble. I’d say it took us between 6-7 hours to get to the salt flats counting various stops along the way, and another 8 or 9 hours to complete the loop where we started at 7 AM that morning.

Salinas Grandes are great huge salt flats in the province of Salta way up in northern Argentina close to the Bolivian border. To get there we first flew 2 hours from Buenos Aires to the city of Salta, then joined a small van tour for the rest of the way. We drove some really bad road (including nearly 80 kilometers of washer-board, rutted gravel), but saw some unbelievably beautiful country.

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There are mountains on all sides of you and being the rainy season, the rivers are flowing so constantly flood or wash out the road. There seems to be permanent road crews along the way whose job is to keep the longest North to south route in Argentina open.

The forecast for the 3 days we were in Salta Province called for rain and thunder showers, which would have also washed out our tour, but as is so often the case, they got it wrong and we had great weather with only a minor quick shower at the highest point (4,170 meters) of the journey.

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The flats are created as mineral-laden water from the surrounding mountains fill the rivers feeding the lake.

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With nowhere for the water to go and due to specific geological and climatic conditions the evaporation rate creates over time thick layers of various minerals, chiefly sodium chloride – SALT! Salinas Grandes stretches 32 kms N-S, and is approx. 9 kms E-W covering some 3,200 sq miles as compared the the Great Salt Lake in Utah (the largest salt lake in the Western hemisphere) which covers about 1,700 sq miles.

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The trip was somewhat arduous, but well worth the trouble!

Aloha, Mikie

GetOffYourButts.com . . . . . . turned travel blog direct from Buenos Aires for the month of Feb.

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In by 9-Out by 5!

February 18, 2012

It doesn’t look like much. In fact it sorta looks like crap if you’re a business presenting a face to the buying public, but inside are two very hard working ladies who will wash, dry and fold your clothes for a song- literally in by 9, out by 5! We’ve been there twice so far and never paid more than $8 US for a big, stinky bag of laundry. image

We travel with only 1 carry-on bag each, so you can imagine we go through our paltry repertoire of “outfits” to use the term very loosely, pretty quickly so we’ve become familiar with this lavadero and the nice ladies who work there. In fact, panic set in today when we returned from a 3-day trip to Salta up North by the Bolivian border, with a bag of dirty clothes and found out they we’re going on vacation for a week starting Monday. When we asked for another lavadero close by (cerca de aka), the owner exclaimed, “But we’re the best!” in perfect English. We all laughed, then we assured them we’d return as soon as they re-opened after their short summer break.

Aloha, Mikie

GetOffYourButts.com . . . . . . turned travel blog direct from Buenos Aires for the month of Feb.


Argentine Snacks & Other Delectables

February 15, 2012

The Super Pancho is a very popular snack here in Argentina enjoyed by young and old. It’s a little hard to tell, but those are the old familiar crunchy, shoestring potato things on top of a hotdog.
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Below is a common Super Pancho stand spotted anywhere you go- in this case adjacent to the Provential Legislature Building in the city of Salta (in the Northwest part of Argentina towards the Bolivian border).
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As hot as it has been, you could be as easily beckoned by the promise of a cold beer, image
though I personally prefer a fresh sqeezed OJ (jugo de naranja). They also have a carbonated grapefruit juice which hits the spot.

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But this is the snack we chose to have with a cerveza yesterday afternoon when we needed a respite! It’s called Picadas Simple, picada means pick, like we would use a toothpick to snatch hors d’oeuvres or a pupu if you were in Hawaii.

Aloha, Mikie

GetOffYourButts.com . . . . . . turned travel blog direct from Buenos Aires for the month of Feb.


The Menu Mystery

February 15, 2012

Eating out in Argentina is a trip. They eat very late, no earlier than 9 PM and more often much later. Most of the menu selections are good, but I have to say some items, like blood sausage could gag a vegetarian. (full disclosure: I am not a vegetarian, but my preferences often lean that way).

Last night we stopped by a neighborhood Parrilla (a restaurant specializing in blazing hot-fire grilled meats) run by a guy from New York, affording us the advantage of an English-speaker to help us through the menu, and we had a great steak dinner! Each of us had steak and ensalada mista (a mixed salad of lettuce, arrugula, onions and tomatoes. Mickey couldn’t decide between the steak or bife de chorizo (grilled sausage)-so he had both! Total bill including beer & tip, cover, bread,etc., came to 145 pesos or about $33. Between our New York friend and the good price, we may have found a home! image

Even in a simple cafe, the menu is lengthy with many, many items. But it’s not just the food that’s different. The entire experience is unique. For starters you will most often be charged a nominal fee for the table. This cubierta or cover charge, brings you the napkins, cutlery, a basket of bread (never butter), salt, but rarely a pepper shaker, and some sort of a snack. Depending on the price level it could be a small dish of peanuts or a variety of snacks or spreads for some little dry toasts.

Ask for water, they’ll ask you “gas o sin gas?” With gas or without, meaning carbonated or not? And there is no such thing as a simple glass of water from the tap -it’s all bottled water and costs 8-10 pesos (around $2). Customary tipping is 10%, but by the time you buy water and pay the cover, it’s close to a wash on the lower end of the price scale anyway. image

Coffee and medialunas (small little crossiants) are very popular for a quick breakfast -even at Subway!

Almost every restaurant or cafe has tables set up outside surrounding the door and down the sidewalk making every meal a people-watching bonanza. Once you order something, even an orange juice, you own that table. You can pull out the newspaper, a book, a laptop or your Droid smartphone and camp out for as long as you like without so much as a glance from anyone. It’s normal and expected – and I think, very cool.

Aloha, Mikie

GetOffYourButts.com . . . . . . turnedtravel blog direct from Buenos Aires for Feb.


Tango May Be To Buenos Aires What Hula Is To Hawaii

February 7, 2012

Saw this cool schematic on a sidewalk while wandering around looking for a place to eat last night in the neighborhood (Palermo Soho) we are staying.
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And according to my trusty Spanish translation website –http://Spanishdict.com, it literally means “Sidewalk of Tango“. But I can tell you, it will take a little more than a few footprints on concrete to learn the Tango! We saw a couple demonstrating a few steps today at Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. It is beautiful and so sexy, and I am forever and completely amazed that the women wear spiked heels to dance in – and in this particular situation, on a very uneven cobblestone street.

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Excuse the blurriness- they're in motion!


Tango may be to Buenos Aires something like what Hula is to Hawaii at least in the old days. Remember the old Kodak Hula show in Kapiolani Park? They did it for the tourists everyday just like what we saw in Plaza Dorrego today!

Aloha, Mikie


She Was Both Loved and Hated

February 6, 2012

Eva Peron the ‘patron saint of Argentina’ that is, was hated by the wealthy, gentrified class and business owners because at the height of her power she had a huge following and tremendous clout. She could go to the rich factory owners for instance, and demand that they make big donations in support of this cause or that, basically shaking them down on the threat of bad press if they did not comply. (A lot like what Rev. Jessie Jackson used to get away with before his “Rainbow Coalition” sort of faded away and exactly what our unions do today). The flip side of course is that the poor and down-trodden idolized and loved Eva Peron.

She died at the young age of 33 of cancer and is interred at the Recoleta Cemetary, one of Buenos Aires’ most visited tourist attractions so naturally we had to check it out.

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Main entry to Recoleta Cemetary

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Iglesia de Nuestro Senona de Pilar


Unfortunately we picked a 100°+ day to do it! The local paper had the heat index (which takes in humidity, dew point, etc.) but a straight temp of 39.9°C by the lazy man’s converter of C° temperature to F° (double it, minus 10% and add 32) it was well over 100°! Lucky thing they were selling fresh-squeezed orange juice at several stands along the street outside.image

Recoleta Cemetary is unique, not just a cemetary with grave markers and headstones but full on mausoleums bought, paid for and maintained by the famiy or ancestors of the interred. We overheard one tour guide telling their group that a particularly ornate one had just been cleaned and refurbished with weeks of scrubbing, painting and touching up all at tremendous expense, but worth the cost and trouble because there were 141 people buried within it!

Aloha, Mikie

GetOffYourButts.com . . . . . . turned into a travel blog direct from Buenos Aires in early Feb for about a month.


Lessons Learned at the Supermercado

February 5, 2012

Well the term Supermercado is a misnomer by American standards. (No COSTCOs spotted yet) but the few S-mercados we’ve seen so far in BsAs are like all the rest; storefront operations that look no different than the hardware or newsstand along any typical city street. image But we gotta stock up on some basics (tp, dish soap, coffee makings and of course some papas fritas (potato chips) and cerveza (Quilmes -our favorite locally made beer thus far) so off we go.

It’s always fun scooting around the store, “Oh look at this!”, etc. The fruits and veggies don’t look so neat and trimmed, but their color is nicer and you can actually smell the fresh aroma from the tomatoes and other fruit. It makes you hungry right there. And you get the sense they came from just outside the city limits, not picked half-ripe and hard, shipped across the country (think Con-Agra barf).

Oh another cool thing is no matter how big or small the Super Mercado (most are like a longer double-car garage) is the separate little area that just sells cheese & meat sorta deli style. They’ve got great hunks of a zillion kinds of cheeses, sausages and many other meats which you can just point to and grunt. They slap them on the ole scales and make eye contact till you reach some sort of mutual agreement on how much (priced in the Peso/100 gram sort of way) is enough, then it’s wrapped in paper and away you go.

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But apparently some things in the grocery gathering game are the same the world over. Two check-out lines only, snaking back into the crowded isles of the store and just like at home you can hear the kidlets yammering to their mom or dad, reaching for whatever goodie they want right now!, and the various, some successful, some not parental protests. But there we are having finally worked our way to the cashier -and she was fast, had the first bag loaded till she spyed the credit card. We’re busted, no can. We’re in the infamous “cash only” line. Dang, and we thought we we’re doing so good!

Oh well, today’s a new day and undoubtedly a few new lessons too!

Aloha, Mikie

GetOffYourButts.com . . . . . . turns into a travel blog direct from Buenos Aires in early Feb.


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