Wednesday August 9
As though a punishment for our late start the previous day, we were collected from the hotel at 4.45 am.
All over Argentina there are many signs saying “Las Malvinas son Argentinas”. The British may have forgotten but they most certainly have not. There were also, less controversially, “Tapir Crossing” signs. We don’t have those at home either and I regret not getting a photo of any of these.
At the airport Mr. Waffle dispensed tips to guide and driver. Although Mr. Waffle actually did all the tipping, I found the whole thing very tedious and, I’m going to call it, I totally blame the North Americans (excluding Canadians and, who knew, Mexicans). Or maybe we’d just never had quite so many bespoke services before. This was obviously a cash operation but mostly, somewhat to our surprise, we were able to use cards. We thought that this would be a problem outside BA but not really. Poor Mr. Waffle brought loads of US dollars to change and we did exchange some of that cash for tipping but mostly we used our cards. I found I could only use Apple Pay in the very occasional spot but physical cards were fine almost everywhere.
Due to the inflation issues, there are loads of different exchange rates. One is called the official rate. This is by far the worst rate. The peso could be worth half the official rate. There’s another rate called the blue rate which is kind of official though not actually official. When you pay for something by credit card, you initially get charged the terrible official rate but then the credit card company – a couple of days later – refunds you money (it appears on your statement as credit ) to bring you up to, I think the blue rate, a better rate anyhow. It’s the weirdest thing. I may have some of the details wrong here but the refund is definitely real and I have the credit card statements to prove it.
Overall, Iguazu is totally recommended but two days was probably enough. However, we did add some expressions to our family vocabulary. Our guides spoke fantastic English, far better than our Spanish, but they had a slightly Spanish turn of phrase which was very endearing. We found ourselves saying to each other “Absolutely that is true; in our case yes.” Also, “So nice; the camouflage is perfect”; which was a big feature of the national park. Honestly, the camouflage could have been a lot more imperfect and your short sighted correspondent would have been impressed.
For Irish readers only. Saw these in the airport in Iguazu:
Salta lived up to its name. It is indeed Linda. We checked into a lovely hotel in the city centre and went for a walk with our new guide. Herself was a bit under the weather so she holed up in the hotel which felt like a nice old fashioned Spanish establishment.
In true Corinne fashion, there was a gift waiting for us in our room. Oh yes. A pair of what I foolishly thought were wooden llamas. They were guanacos. Of course. They were adorable. No one, including me, has ever cared as much about my holidays as Corinne.
Our driver took us up to the top of the city and we walked back to the centre admiring the view. It was winter but it was also pretty darned hot so I was glad that we were going downhill.
Here is a statute of a guacho liberator, one of many in the fight for Argentine independence. It’s Martín Miguel de Guemes, if you’re curious.
We saw a nice old Carmelite monastery which was more impressive in the wilds of the new world than it would be at home.
I liked the curtain detail in the cathedral near where we had our lunch.
Our driver went off and collected herself for lunch (I know!) and we all met in the restaurant. It felt very Spanish. Outside was a forbidding length of high whitewashed wall but inside was a beautiful cool courtyard.
Our guide was a French man. I was very surprised by what a relief it was to have a European guide. I find it very annoying when people from the US lump everyone in Europe into one basket but I have found myself reconsidering a bit since this trip. We just seemed to be more on the same wavelength with this guy. Our Argentinian guides were great but they were – true first world problem coming – just a bit too solicitous and obliging. It felt good to be dealing with someone who felt he was just as good as we were (in fact, probably considerably better) and wasn’t afraid to say so. I was surprised about the shared value system we seemed to operate from. Maybe this United States of Europe will take off after all.
He joined us for lunch and told us that in every restaurant in Argentina, you can order Limonada. It won’t be on the menu but it is always available. It is delicious, it’s lemon with water, ginger and mint and it is one of the nicest things I’ve ever had, particularly after schlepping around Salta in the heat.
Michael had steak for lunch again. I contemplated steak also. At this point I was 90% beef and 10% chipas. I didn’t find Argentinian food terrific. The steak is good but as our French guide observed, it is good but it has “no finesse”. It’s far from finesse we were reared in Ireland etc but I totally understood what he meant.
Herself had been getting great mileage from trip advisor bad reviews throughout the trip. One Brazilian review castigated the service in an otherwise very acceptable spot as “very Argentinian”. Once seen, this cannot be unseen. The wait for food in Argentina takes forever.
Our French guide asked how we like Iguazu and we were suitably positive. “They do the best they can with the volume of people going through but it’s like Disneyland,” he said. I knew what he meant.
We dutifully looked at the Plaza Mayor after lunch; the centre of Spanish colonial administration in any town.
Then we had a trip to the archaeological museum. Our guide was doing an archaeological degree locally and had many thoughts. I found it quite sad. They had the mummified bodies of three children who had been sacrificed on the tops of mountains. This would have been relatively recently, maybe in the 1500s and the victims were so young and tiny. The fact that there were far fewer human sacrifices by these indigenous peoples than by the Incas seemed cold comfort.
The remainder of the afternoon was at leisure! The thrill, I rushed to use the pool in the hotel; it was really warm outside. But people, the pool was not heated. Herself said that I was like her Uncle’s “Cavan Man”. My brother leans into an unfair stereotype that people from County Cavan, which is a small county in Ulster, are quite…careful with their money. I was determined to get value from the pool even though it was killing me. “The only time Ulster said ‘yes’,” said herself laconically.
The value of the peso went from 550 to the dollar to 600. Poor old Argentines. That evening we went out to a nice bistro recommended by R. I have no recollection of what we ate but I imagine it was steak again.
While we were overnighting in Salta, we got our laundry done and I can only say that it must have been the best value for anything anywhere. It was a huge pile, we got it back in the morning beautifully pressed and folded and it cost about €2.
Thursday August 10, 2023
We drove from Salta to Cafayate through the desert. It was so quiet and we saw the most incredible rock formations. I’ve never seen a landscape like it before and I thought it was breathtaking.
My photos really don’t do it justice.
Our guide took us for a fantastic lunch in a small place on the side of the road with its own small vineyard and beautiful views of the mountains as well as a range of affectionate cats and dogs. The food was superb and we did not have steak; though I was beginning to see how I might tire of the empanada. I mean, say what you like about the French but you’re in safe hands when it comes to food.
When we got to the hotel in Cafayate, it was truly amazing. I think it was probably my favouite place from the whole trip. It felt very like one of the Spanish paradors. It was built as an estate in 1892 and it was beautifully modernised.
When we arrived at reception, understandably enough, they spoke to us in Spanish. I think Mr. Waffle was off doing something else so I offered my usual “io parlo italiano”. The receptionist replied politely in English that unfortunately she couldn’t speak Italian but did I understand English? I thought herself would have to be assisted to her room so great was her amusement.
My only caveat about the hotel, and a problem I encountered a bit in Argentina, was the presence of those flickering lightbulbs – they are a new thing and I have found them in some places in Europe but more in Argentina. It was only in the dressing room but if you suffer from migraines, definitely not ideal.
Herself was not fully recovered so she stayed in the hotel while we went on a two hour walk in the desert with our guide, R. The first hour was in sunshine and I honestly nearly died. The second hour was in the shade. Mercifully. It was a beautiful, beautiful walk but it really took it out of me.
The guide gave me his trusty walking sticks and they were the only things that saved me. He’s more used to trekking with groups of super fit people who want to climb the Andes so it took some work for him to adapt to us but he got the hang of it eventually. Meanwhile Michael commented casually to me, “You know in films when they get into difficulties, it’s always the person with the stick dies first.” Quite.
Notwithstanding the nearly dying, I would go again like a shot (probably with some different kit). It felt like a real privilege to be in such an incredibly beautiful place on our own, safely taken in charge by a very experienced guide.
After this, instead of going home which, honestly, was probably all we felt like, R took us to meet his friend Javier who was carrying out his Pacchamama ceremony. This is a kind of earth goddess thing where they leave gifts for mother earth. August is the big month for it. My expectations were low but I found it surprisingly moving and one of the nicest things we did on our trip.
Javier himself was a particularly lovely man which made it all even nicer. I see the Pope is in some trouble in regard to this which, I have to say, gives him a thumbs up from me. In general, the Argentinians are, to my surprise, pretty anti-pope. A particular gripe is that he hasn’t visited Argentina, although, to rub salt in the wound, he has visited a number of other South American countries.
On the way back to the hotel, R regaled us with a story of how he found himself in Chile at the start of Covid having just led a 10 day trek through the Andes. Argentina closed its borders very rapidly and he was going to be stuck. However, he and his mate walked back through the Andes and got back into Argentina; pretty cool, I thought.
It was quite late by the time we got back and herself was convinced that we had all been murdered by these people about whom, after all, we knew nothing. Honestly, she should have known, Corinne would never let this happen.
Dinner was a bit slow but we were now familiar with the concept of Argentinian time and quietly resigned.
Friday, August 11, 2023
Herself was still a bit sick and took the morning off. I was quite tempted to join her but my FOMO prevented me. I gazed longingly at the beautiful pool in the hotel and mentally earmarked it for later. If Corinne has a fault, it is thinking that we are as high energy as she is, an impression we may misguidedly have given her in our pre-departure planning zoom chats.
We passed through the town of Cafayate which was the kind of Argentine town we were getting used to; European in layout but very Argentinian in flora and landscape.
We drove past many vineyards. Vineyards and cacti are a bit unusual for us. Pernod Ricard has a vineyard in Cafayate which turns out more than 10 million litres of wine a year; that seems like a lot.
These were mere sights on our way to the archaeological site at Quilmes. This was pretty cool and like most places we had it largely to ourselves. Very briefly a group of primary school children descended, swarmed and left but other than that it was very quiet. It’s the ruins of an old city, taken over by the Incas who defeated the local people shortly before the Spanish came and defeated everyone. After fighting and defeating them, the Spanish made the locals walk to a town near BA which is now called Quilmes. Even after having been to the museum, I’m a bit unclear what the Spanish thinking was. I suppose to get rid of any last temptation to rebel. It’s a two hour flight away so they must have been walking for a very long time and very many of them died en route.
I was very impressed by the cactuses.
And also these things like quern stone but you put water in and you can see the stars and they’re lined up to particular stars. Apparently they were used for astronomy but no one really knows. It’s funny to think that this dates from the 1400s as it feels much much older.
This is the part of Argentina where most of the indigenous people live and unlike the Guarani in Iguazu, they seem to have a normal standard of living and these museums are run by local indigenous foundations. It seems like a much better set up.
R decided it was time we learnt to make mate which is a special kind of tea that Argentinians drink all the time (did I mention that one of our Corinne gifts was a mate making set?). As you know, I am a big tea fan but mate requires some getting used to; it’s quite bitter. You drink it through a straw and people share it around and Argentinians of all kinds are very keen. Apparently during Covid, people had special masks with holes so that they could drink their mate through a straw. This doesn’t strike me as ideal but apparently in the North they survived without cases for about a year and everything was open.
As we left the site, a French woman came up to Daniel, “You sat beside my husband on the plane from CDG and then we were together on the plane to Iguazu.” Small world, I guess. Mr. Waffle always laughs at the French tourists who always hate meeting other French tourists (I mean don’t we all hate meeting tourists, especially tourists from home?) and as they clutch their Guide du Routard, they look resentfully round at their compatriots, also with the Guide du Routard who have had the same place recommended to them.
We went back to the hotel and spruced up briefly and picked up herself. Had she used the pool? She had not but she had spent time in an amazing lounge upstairs in the hotel. However, to her horror, it turned out to be a suite (!) temporarily open for cleaning and she scuttled away to safety before she was discovered.
We had a lovely lunch in the Piatelli winery which I can thoroughly recommend.
Herself pointed to a perfect table and I said, “Don’t be optimistic, we never get the best table.” However, I had forgotten that Corinne was organising and we were dutifully ensconced there with a view of the vineyards and the mountains and a veranda protecting us from the sun.
After lunch, the others went back to the hotel but having paid for it, I was determined to try the wine tasting. Daniel stayed with me. I am not sure, in retrospect, what my thinking was here but it was something like, I am in wine country, I should do a wine tour. It was very mildly interesting to me as a non-oenophile although Dan found it interesting enough and enjoyed talking to the other punters. Daniel and I had a chance to bond as I introduced him to the world of wine (note to self – good for my 17 year old? ).
When we got back to the hotel, it was really too cold to use the non-heated outdoor pool. Why, oh why had I not gone back earlier? Two pictures because I never dipped more than a toe inside.
Herself was definitely showing signs of improvement by the evening which was good because Corinne had put in a number of calls to R inquiring about the state of her health.
“How much more is there to go?” you ask. Much more.