Argentina2018 – Ten Things about Argentina

I thought I would make a list. I like lists as they mean that you return from the supermarket with only the things you really need. This list is not about the supermarket, although a supermarket is mentioned. This is a list of the things that popped into my head when I thought I would list the best of Argentina……and a few of the irritations.

1. The great outdoors


Iguassu, Andes, Patagonia, Perito Moreno, Ocean and Lakes, Mountains and Pampas. From the Tropic of Capricorn to the wind blasted misery of Cabo de Hornos. That is a lot of variety in a very big country.

2. Wine


This wine tasting was at 9:30am !!! The only time we could get in. As a consequence we admired the wines and did not consume one drop.

3. Food


Wherever we went each restaurant delivered great quality food. This is the equivalent of the Coles or Woolworths rotisserie. It was chicken cooked over wood coals. The  smell was wondrous and the taste also. Moist, smokey and perfect. Argentinians know how to cook meat, even at this AUD 14 a chicken, takeaway shop.

4. Another alcoholic beverage


Lots of beer that is very pleasant in taste and arrives in 1 litre bottles. That is a bladder full.

5. Yerba de Mate, a non alcoholic drink.


This is a photograph taken with guile. He is a man on a bus. He has his thermos full of water and he has his Yerba kit. You often see people in the streets with their Yerba boxes containing bowl, Yerba, metal straw and thermos flask of hot water. You see many places that sell hot water so you can replenish your thermos mid trip.


The Yerba statistics are extraordinary as told by the Argentine Airlines flight magazine: A:  90 % of Argentinians drink Yerba. B: they drink an average of 2 litres a day EACH. Each every day. That is an awful lot of Yerba, in fact six kilos of Yerba, per person, per annum. This is truly Yerba country


6. Coffee, another non alcoholic drink.


Because of all the Yerba the coffee industry struggles. There is no room for any other fluid in the stomach of the average Argentine. So how did we manage to get a photo of advanced coffee art? It is noticeable that there are more decent coffee shops than was the case four years ago. Still they are uncommon and still, most coffee is Brazilian and bitter and awful. I sense movement and that movement is positively directed.

7. Football

Lots of passion. Great songs and traditions. Any player who is halfway good left Argentina, they may return to get married but they accrue weekly earnings in harder currencies than the peso. The local game is of poor quality. Yes, do visit for the atmosphere, songs and banners and enthusiasm. Better to watch the atmosphere than the field of play.

8.  Service mentality

Not so much, even worse than Canberra? Strangely the expectation of a tip (in cash and only cash) is high.

9. Public Toilets


In many towns there are few public toilets. A sensitive nose identified this as a public toilet. I then realised that I needed to alter my frame of reference. Once I changed the way I thought about public toilets, I realised that Argentine towns were blessed with a plethora.

10. Stray dogs


I spoke kindly to this dog and he started following me. There are many stray dogs on the streets. People seem to feed them, which I think says something about their generosity.

11. Owned dogs

There is no illustrative photo here. Dog owners do not pick up their dog’s excrement. I saw one lady pick up after her dog in my weeks here. The evidence of others who had not picked up their dogs faeces, was plentiful. During the day feet have to be carefully placed on footpaths. At night feet have to be carefully placed on footpaths, but poor light makes this more difficult.

12. Traffic rules


Salta and Cordoba and Mendoza are built as grids with one way streets. Where the streets intersect who has right of way? There are no markings. Each street is of equal dimension. There are no signposts. There are no signals and no officers of the law. So who has right of way? We watched and our first theory was: You give way to the left. That worked for a while and then it didn’t. We developed a second theory: You give way to the right. That worked for a little while then it didn’t. Then we developed our three tier convention that did work. As follows: a) If you have a big vehicle that is heavy and, probably, commercial you have right of way over everything.b) If you drive a shiny, newish vehicle that you own you are deferential to everything, all of the time.c) If your exhaust smokes and your car is scratched and dented you exist in a confusing midzone. Your boldness at intersections will earn you more dents and more scratches.                                         I think this rule set is from the jungle exemplar.

13. Thirteen is unlucky for some. Certainly you are an unlucky Argentinian if you want to transact with a service provider. Processes and systems are slow, inefficient, unnecessarily complicated and paper bound.

At a Post Office in Salta, we waited a lifetime to buy a stamp – take a number wait until you are called. There were 60 people in the queue before us, one had died whilst waiting. Fortunately they were carried away by next of kin before they began to pollute. We stuck it out because we were fascinated. OK we left. We had a cup of coffee and came back and our number was still a big sum away from the front. If I lived here I would go mad. It is a country that requires patience. More patience than I have in my cuerpo. Oh by the way. when we got served the man behind the counter weighed our postcards. Yes, really, he weighed our postcards and then he charged us AUD7 for each for its journey to Australia. Wow. Inefficency comes with a high price tag.


This is an example of how technology doesn’t work very well. In the Carrefour supermarket Mendoza you can self check out. Except you cannot.  You can self scan ten items maximum. NOT fruit or vegetables!! Ten items and an item for this purpose is not fruit and is not vegetables. You scan your items and bag your items and then you take your ten items (or less) and queue at a normal till. A lady inspects your purchases and your receipt and weighs your fruit and vegetables and prices those. Then you pay her. It is perfectly Argentinian. It is agonisingly slow.

14. Same electricity sockets as Australia


How welcoming is that? A certain sign that all Australians should visit.





Argentina2018 – Mar del Plata

Mar del Plata is better known as Mardel, certainly to me and AJ. It is a five hour bus journey southish of Buenos Aires following the water. We came here for two reasons.

The first reason is that, in summer, all Portenos come here, each and every one. We wanted to understand the attraction and I think we failed this objective; because we failed to see the attraction.


In the high season you cannot raise your elbow without nudging a neighbour from Buenos Aires. In the low season you can point your elbow wherever you wish and throw rocks as large and as far as your elbow will allow. No one will be disturbed or bruised.



In December Mardel fills. At the end of February Mardel drains. Once it drains it leaves rusty edifices and homeless people stranded by the outgoing tide. In early April we arrived and made comparisons with Skeggy in the off season, or Blackpool after the illuminations have been extinguished.

The second reason we came to Mardel is related to the threat of nuclear war.  It is THE centre of population, greater than 500,000, that is furthest from Kim Jong Un’s launch sites in North Korea (Attribution: ABC News). His rockets can’t reach here. We thought we would feel safe for a few days. We also thought we should check it out, just in case a longer term residence becomes necessary.

4EB191DE-5AD0-40CC-80CE-A0DD1D4F3523On our first day here we pulled down our trousers and exposed our buttocks in the direction of Kim Jong Un. We were secure in the knowledge he could neither see us, nor do anything that would impact upon us. Because, we were in Mardel and we were safe.


On day two in Mardel we loosened our belts in order to buttock salute Kim Jong Un in a repeat of day 1. But our heart wasn’t in it. It had started to seem a bit childish. It was also cold and wet and this time there were schoolchildren watching us. So we didn’t.

Instead we went for a coffee and booked a flight out of Mardel. We resigned ourselves not to return.

Mardel. Its safe from North Korea but its wet and its boring.


I can always find something nice to say about everywhere. I liked the museum of contemporary art in Mardel which housed this exhibit. The girls on the chairs are life sized and I liked it, even if it is a bit creepy. Insufficient on its own to reward a five hour bus journey from BA? Possibly so.



Peru2018 – Ten things about Peru

1. Everyone provides a taxi service

Lonely Planet said that one in seven cars on the street in Lima is a taxi. I think that is possible. Three types of taxi are captured below:

There are also taxis that have no external markings of the fact that they are taxis, they are usually the expensive taxis. As we walked along the street taxis flashed their lights at us, or the drivers whistled or sounded their horn. It was a tad tiresome.

2. The Theory of Supermarkets DB452312-E596-4B68-8103-00A1FC37033A

I have a rule which states that you can tell something of the people by visiting the supermarket. Here there was a lot of shelf space given to this product. Inca Kola.

It looks like a urine sample and tastes like cream soda that is chewing gum flavoured. Ten grams of sugar for every 100ml, which is a lot of sugar. It is a source of national pride and the top selling soft drink, outselling the number two, Coca Cola. Inca Kola was invented here and built its brand on Peruvian nationalism in the 40’s. The brand is now owned by Coca Cola (who are not Peruvian) and is manufactured by Coca Cola everywhere in the World except………….Peru, where they sit in a JV arrangement with the local originators.

3. Lima is a desert

I didn’t know that. It means it rarely rains and the smog collects from the cars used by its ten million residents.

4. Food can be very good

The very good includes: Ceviche, Causa (mashed potato sandwich), Guinea Pig, limes as an ever  present accompaniment, chilli sauce that looks watery but is pretty durn hot, Papas a la Huancaina (cold potatoes with a yellow sauce that is generally bland, although sometimes the sauce is green not yellow), Leche de Tigre (ceviche juice), goat stew.

5. Food can be very ordinary.

Chicken and rice is guaranteed at every low cost buffet, the bread is generally awful and desserts are absent or very limited on most menus.

6. Food can be superlative


Central, Maido and Astrid and Gaston are restaurants placed at numbers 5,8 and 33 in the listing of the Worlds best 50. And in Lima, there are many more locations of high quality.

7. Visa versus Mastercard


If a shop/restaurant accepts Visa, that doesn’t mean it accepts Mastercard. Two different systems two different machines. Quite annoying to discover you have one and require the other.

8. Pre Inca Civilisations. Moche, Chimu and Chachapoyas.

During our visits to the North of Peru we were very impressed by the Moche and the Chachapoyans “People of the Clouds”. Both preceded the Incas. At this point in time I have a revisionist blog posting. An addendum to my original posting concerning the Chimu.


The Chimu ( 1300-1532) built Chan Chan and the Huaca del Arco. I dismissed them as big mud wall builders. This is accurate, they did build big mud walls with little decorative inspiration. In Lima we visited the Museo Larco. This holds the largest collection of pre Inca artefacts and reveals the Chimu to have been great metal and textile workers, examples above. I blame the guide at Trujillo for my premature and unwarranted dismissal of the Chimu. She was provided to us because she could speak English and not because of her subject matter expertise. I think that explains my earlier error.

9. Revolving Governments

The country tipped out a President while we were waiting for the plane to arrive here. It didn’t seem to cause any issues, no protests, no police on the street, no army presence, nothing. No one seemed very interested.

10. Football

The Peruvian team are in the same group as Australia at the World Cup (and France and someone else called Denmark). That was generally the first observation we received from the locals after we identified our country of origin. The seleccion nacional were playing international friendly matches while we were here, and winning them. That created a lot of joy. Lots of Peruvain soccer shirts were worn by middle aged men whose sporting days had passed them by. It’s the flag waving pride that sells Inca Kola.




Peru2018 – Lima, Astrid y Gaston Restaurant

We had an impression of this restaurant before we arrived at the doorstep that wasn’t terribly positive.

1. Its booking system on the website doesn’t work and it isn’t getting fixed any time soon.

2. I read the night before our lunch that I was supposed to have phoned them to confirm my booking a week in advance. The other two big restaurants in Lima are kind enough to send you an email and you press a button to confirm. Astrid and Gaston make it harder for their guests. I thought bad thoughts.

3. The Tripadvisor reviews are “mixed”

Number 33 in the World and I was expecting old, tired and arrogant.



Its an old house and this is the front porch. It then goes back and back in a confusion of rooms. It is a really lovely house.


We were sat in front of the kitchen in this bright “sort of” outside room. We liked it. Yet again we were early, which is great for photos. All the tables did fill.


Who would recommend a restaurant for its bread? We would when it’s as pretty as this.


The three ceviches. Trip Advisor says this is the “go to” dish. It was indeed a wonderful way of trying three representations of the ceviche. Fish was very fresh and in great big lumps. I hadn’t realised the tigers milk would be so different, sharp, orange and sweet.

No degustaccion for us. They only do 17 course monsters that fill very fat people fuller than fat people have been filled before. So we ordered two entrees and two mains and one dessert and shared them. That worked extremely well. Ceviche, Pulpo, Chipirones and then Heart. All fabulous but the heart was a step too far for me girl.

We had to have a chocolate story to conclude.


Four chocolates from Peru. Your job is to taste each and match the mousse to its tasting notes,  condensed onto a small flag attached to a toothpick. We got one from four correct, which I think may be worse than random.


The chocolate made my girl happy again. So we got her one more mouthful before we went home.


Total price for 5 platters, bread,two waters, one bottle of wine, tip (which oddly had to be in cash). AUD 533. Note that the Bramare Marchionesse Malbec was $320 of that total. Which makes the food very good value in my opinion. ( The wine was superb also)

Central number 5, Maido number 8 and Astrid y Gaston number 33. Prices $735, $597, $533 respectively. Excluding alcohol the prices were $500, $440, $223 respectively. We had a bottle of wine at Maido and Astrid y Gaston and the wine matching at Central.

Central was a very serious experience and three of the dishes I shall remember to the end of my days. Maido had the food we enjoyed most in its totality, even though I can only recall one spectacular dish. Astrid y Gaston was most fun.

I would go back to Astrid y Gaston, then Maido. I don’t think I would go back to Central, but I am very pleased that I shared the experience they offer.



Peru2018 – Lima, Central Restaurant

The restaurant is one of the three Lima based restaurants rated as being in the top 50 in the World. Central was at number 5 in the 2017 listing, sponsored by Pellegrino.


We were upstairs next to the room of botanicals. The menu is a tour of Peru and this room is where the foraged product sits awaiting experimentation and consideration for inclusion on the next version of the menu.

The place looks fairly ordinary and it is. Its a bit of a tardis as a single fronted doorway opens into a restaurant that seats many on two levels. But the layout is nothing spectacular. Downstairs there is a large glass wall along the breadth of the restaurant separating the dining room from the kitchen, so the diners seated downstairs get a view of the preparations. Upstairs we got to view the botanicals and the glass fronted wine cellar.


We had booked the 17 course tasting lunch and chose a matching of 9 wines, 2 cocktails and one beer. Each line on the menu is described by the number of metres above sea level at which the ingredients were sourced.

On arrival at the restaurant we passed many hopeful souls waiting. Their aspiration was that there would be a no show and they would be able to hop straight into that “no show” seat. We had booked a few months prior, no standing in line for us. No siree, ushered in to table 19.


It’s tricky to remember the best parts of 19 parts especially when many of those 19 arrive in two and sometimes three parts. And particularly when we are slurping a high volume of alcohol alongside. The mussel and snail here was superb.


I loved the piraña. It was dried and with a flavour as intense as its orange colouring.


I don’t think we needed bread as a filler. It came on a bed of leaves that had been burning. the smoke penetrated the bread and gave it a fabulous and strong flavour.

I shall remember the above as my favourite three. I wanted to say I loved the pig also, but am determined to limit myself to three.

The pictures below I include because I thought the food looked so lovely.


We arrived for lunch at 12:45 and left at 16:15, so three and a half hours. It seems a long time when you write it down. At the time we felt that the food was coming out really quickly and that they were clearing up fairly speedily also.

Price. Two people 17 courses each, two wine matches of 9 wines and 2 cocktails and one beer, tip. Grand total AUD 735.

Service was excellent. Wine matched well. There was nothing I tasted that I would have purchased as a bottle for home but I’m not sure that is the test of a wine match. I think the emphasis here is on match.

The food is an experience. I preferred the food at Maido but I think the two restaurants are different things. This was an experience. A very sophisticated experience and one I am very pleased to have had.



Peru2018 – Chachapoyas to Jaen

We booked a AUD$ 20 transfer from our hotel in Chachapoyas to the airport in Jaen. We selected Movil Tours. Their bus is large and has a toilet for the 4 hour trip. Consistent with the approximate nature of timetables in Northern Peru, the trip took five hours. The big bus never arrived. Instead we got onto a 20 seater and settled down for a dull transfer.

Not dull at all. How lucky we were that we had a small bus and not a large coach.

First aspect of not dullness:


The dramatic countryside. I hadn’t realised most of the journey would be through the same limestone outcrops that had made the visit to Kuelap such a delight. Visually splendid. Because of the rain there are lots of impromptu waterfalls that cascade the water off the limestone to the raging rivers below. It reminded me of Milford Sound.

Second aspect of not dullness:


The landslides. The two days of rain had brought impromptu waterfalls and also rockfalls. We passed perhaps two dozen landslides that had blocked parts of the road. Half of those had rocks far too large for man to move without machinery.

Third aspect of not dullness:


As we rounded one corner we could see rocks still falling and blocking the width of the road. We got out and started moving them by hand. In this picture I am poking them with my toe!! All of this is a bit dangerous as another fall could be imminent. Those rocks are very heavy and my flesh is very soft.

Vehicles started to arrive at the other side of the rockfall and they pointed out something we could not see. To the left of this photo is an old road. The drivers pulled down the fence posts and wiring. We ran our small bus through the vegetation on the old road to translate it into the newest road. We emerged back on the new road on the other side of the rockfall, with a tangle of recently mown green stuff attached to our pathfinder bus. And off we went. I’m not sure a big bus would have been able to negotiate these various rockfalls, or smashed its way through the vegetation on the old road in such a carefree manner.

Fourth aspect of not dullness:


Gocta Falls. The small bus suddenly went off the sealed road and up a switchback. 15 minutes later it stopped outside a very nice hotel catering for people who want to visit this. Gocta Falls. It is the second highest waterfall in South America. This ranking is achieved by the application of a twisted criterion in Lonely Planet that had been awkwardly constructed to state that this waterfall is the second highest in South America after Angel Falls.

We had thought about a day trip to Gocta Falls from Chachapoyas and in the end decided we would not. Suddenly we had a free trip. A great view and lovely toilets in a very lovely and quite expensive hotel that is not for the likes of us modest travellers. The big bus we had booked (but which did not appear) could not have got up these roads to pick these passengers.

We got to the airport in time for the plane. We had an unexpectedly thrilling transfer. No scent of dullness.


Peru2018 – Kuelap

The Chachapoyans lived in Northern Peru from 500AD to 1500AD. During the late 1400’s the Incas arrived. The Incas did not defeat the Chachapoyans but seemed to sortof draw with them and cohabited in a resentful relationship. Until the Spanish arrived and wiped them both out with a bit of military strength and a lot of germs the locals had never  previously experienced.


The key town for the Chachapoyans was Kuelap. Built on top of a limestone escarpment at 3000 metres and fortified with enormously high and enormously thick stone walls that totally enclose the town. The shape of the town is in the picture above and it is approximately 600 metres in length by 120 metres in width.

It invites comparison with Machu Picchu. It was home to 2500/3000 people which is three times the size of Machu Picchu. It was built hundreds of years earlier. The stone work is not as sophisticated as that of the Incas, but what it lacks in skill it makes up for in volume. There is a much higher quantity of stones here than at Machu Picchu.


Getting to Kuelap is an adventure. Big bus to Tinto Nuevo and then a small bus to the cable car station, then the teleferico 240 metres above the valley and then a 1.5 k walk to the fortress.


View from the teleferico. Don’t come on a Monday, its closed on a Monday.


The site remained hidden and lost in the undergrowth until 1843. It has remained lofty and hidden (well difficult to get to) from the tourists; until the cable car went in, end of April 2017. The number of visitors has doubled in the last two years. Still there are only around 100,000 a year. Which is 10 percent of the number that go to Machu Picchu.


The Chachapoyans are known as the cloud people because Kuelap is high at 3000 metres and often shrouded by cloud. Evidence the photo. This makes the location atmospheric and WET.


Only three entrances to the fort. Each is long, the longest being 60 metres. Each narrows so that eventually only one person at a time can gain access. If you don’t want that person to have access this design makes it much easier to stick sharp pointy things into their body. This has the power of dissuasion.


I like the cloud shots. This also illustrates the houses they built. All were stone and circular and with a wooden and thatched roof. They were 7 meters tall. The Chachapoyans did everything large. Many of the houses had an indoor guinea pig pen. Source of protein then and still a source of protein 1500 years later.


The Chachapoyans did not do human sacrifices which I think gives them a tick. They did not do  decorative arts. These geometric bits are as much as you get. Oh and one face carved on a rock that we were told was a monkey, but a bit of a rubbish monkey face I thought. They died young and before they died they spent their lives placing limestone blocks one atop the other.

The site is a day trip from Chachapoyas and not the easiest place to visit. Chachapoyas itself is not the easiest place to get to. So to visit Kuelap is a commitment of 3/4 days. The countryside here is rugged and visually very impressive.

Our day trip cost…..AUD 40. That’s everything included, transport, entrance fees, lunch, guide, the lot. Wow that is cheap. The entrance fee to Machhu Picchu is AUD80 (source: Daily Telegraph)  the entrance fee at Kuelap is AUD8. Eighty percent of the 100,000 visitors to Kuelap each year are Peruvian.

I think things will change quite quickly now that Kuelap has been discovered by the Worlds travel writers. Access is easier than it once was and I expect it will continue to improve. The prices are ridiculously low for an extraordinary World Heritage site.