Virtual kitchen: daydreams of SALSA!

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t taken a single cooking class while we’ve been in South America. Shocking but true! 😦 Not to say that I haven’t been enjoying the food. Especially since we arrived in Bolivia/Peru.

Bolivia’s simple but hearty quinoa based soups were consistently delightful and satisfying. And I’m really getting into Peru’s collection of colorful, beguiling salsas!

While I haven’t been taking classes, I HAVE been asking questions at our favorite restaurants. I’ve never been able to get the most clear recipes however, so I’ve been supplementing my requests with some internet research, and all of it’s been making my mouth water for the day that I have my own kitchen again and get to experiment till I get the flavor combinations for some of the lovely condiments we’ve encountered during our South American journeys the way I want them.

So I’m putting together a recipe collection here so I’ll easily remember what I want to try, next chance I get. 🙂 Apologies for the long post, but it’ll help me to have everything in one place. 🙂 Maybe some day I’ll spruce it up with pictures of the recipes I get around to trying. 🙂

Chimichurri – Argentina

From Wikipedia: Chimichurri is a sauce used for grilled meat. The origin of the name of the sauce is unclear. There are various stories explaining the name… The Argentine gourmet Miguel Brascó claims that the word chimichurri originated when the British were captured after the British invasions of the Río de la Plata. The prisoners asked for condiment for their food mixing English, aboriginal and Spanish words. According to this story, che-mi-curry stands for “che mi salsa” (give me condiment) or “give me curry”. The word then corrupted to chimichurri.Another theory for the name of the sauce comes from the Basque settlers that arrived in Argentina as early as the 19th century. According to this theory, the name of the sauce comes from the Basque term tximitxurri, loosely translated as “a mixture of several things in no particular order.

There are green versions and red versions chimichurri – the red includes all the same ingredients as the green but adds tomato and or red bell pepper. The flavors are lovely and I’d be happy to put it on plenty of things – not just meat. 🙂

Here’s a recipe I found on simplyrecipes.com:

INGREDIENTS

1 cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of thick stems
– 3-4 garlic cloves
– 2 Tbsps fresh oregano leaves (can sub 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
– 1/2 cup olive oil
– 2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
– 1 teaspoon sea salt
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

METHOD
1 Finely chop the parsley, fresh oregano, and garlic (or process in a food processor several pulses). Place in a small bowl.
2 Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasonings.
Serve immediately or refrigerate. If chilled, return to room temperature before serving. Can keep for a day or two.
Yield: Serves 4.

Green Aji/Huacatay Salsa – Peru

Oh my gosh these elusive Peruvian sauces!

The green goodness that is served with bread as a starter in Peruvian joints in the US and has been showing up on randomly unpredictable culinary occasions during our time here in Peru seems to be the stuff of legend.

Online searches have proved absolutely futile in terms of pinning down an official and definitive recipe. There seem to be as many variations to the recipe as there are entries online; I can’t even settle on the most proper and official name. Suffice to say this topping is as delicious as it is addictive.

A key component appears to be haucatay, a Peruvian herb that seems near impossible to get fresh outside of South America (thus speaks the interwebs anyhow) – cooks on other continents make do with pre-packaged pastes when they’re lucky and mint/cilantro/a combination of the two when they’re not. More info here and here.

I found one afficianado’s advice on yelp:

each person has its own way of making it.

aji amarillo paste
huacatay paste
chopped green onions
lime juice
salt
bit of oil

puree on a blender

some others make it with

mayo, queso fresco, milk, cilantro…

i suggest you get creative.
enjoy

Seems to me like a good place to start (although I have also heard tell of a version involving peanuts!!! Seriously yum!). Here are some more intriguing recipes I’ve found online (have I mentioned I am so excited for when I have a kitchen again some day???):

http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/saladssidedishes/r/Peruvian-Huacatay-Salsa-Aji-De-Huacatay.htm
http://www.robertaskitchen.com/2008/01/06/salsa-verde-peruvian-green-sauce/
http://veganfeastkitchen.blogspot.com/2009/09/move-over-ketchup-and-salsa-peruvian.html

Salsa Picante – Peru

I had an awesome version of this just tonight at a restaurant here in Nazca (La Encantada in case you’re interested). Our friendly waitress told me it was made of the infamous aji amarillo (yellow chile pepper), onion, garlic, and milk blended together. Further research on the internet has yielded other recipes of course – see the collection below. The jury will have to wait till I get home and can try to rediscover the lovely, deep, sweet, fiery flavors of the pepper in my own homemade experiments before I can say what the best recipe might be.

http://www.fiery-foods.com/recipesearch/salsa-picante-de-peru-peruvian-hot-salsa
http://www.pepperfool.com/recipes/salsa/salsa_picante2.html

Tallarines Verdes: Green Noodles with Spinach Pesto – Peru

I stumbled across this recipe during my extensive internet searching. While this dish/sauce is not one that I was looking for, it makes me think of two meals from our two favorite restaurants in Cusco, so I want to make sure I give it a try when I can.

1) Green’s is a lovely organic restaurant that I got hooked on. Their garden salad comes with a great basil vinaigrette that I really loved. All the goodness of basil without heading towards the heaviness/garlic overload (not that that’s a bad thing! 😉 of pesto. Reading the ingredients for the sauce in this dish, I wonder if they used something like this recipe for their dressing.

2) Roma Mia was the delightful Italian restaurant – run by a proper, passionate Roman Italian – that absolutely charmed us. Our last meal there I had spaghetti pesto; it was served with beans a potatoes as in this recipe – which was a first for me.

The recipe is from about.com. Here it is:

YIELDServes 4-6.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound pasta (spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bunch washed spinach (about 3 cups leaves. packed)
  • 1 cup basil leaves, washed
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup queso fresco cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. While onions are cooking, add spinach and basil leaves to a blender with the milk and process (working in batches if necessary) until smooth.
  3. Add cooked onions and garlic to the blender with the cheese and process, adding a little more milk if necessary, until you have a smooth mixture.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  5. Melt butter in the skillet that cooked the onions. Pour sauce from blender into the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes, until sauce is heated through and smooth. Keep sauce warm.
  6. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook according to directions. Drain well and toss pasta with the sauce. Serve warm.

The next recipes have nothing to do with South American cuisine. When we got to Arequipa, we were ready for some international fare. We loved the french-style creperie, subtly named Crepisimo, and I was in heaven finding some decent hummus and falafel at Fez (or Istanbul – there were two signs on the door so I’m not sure what the official name was. 😉 ). Sticking with the salsa theme, here are some sauces both restaurants got me excited about:

Crepisimo’s tasty french-style vinagrette

I normally don’t go for sauces with mayonnaise in them, but this one was delish! Our sweet waitress was kind enough to ask the kitchen for the ingredients, but as for measurments, I’ll have to experiment when I can. Some pointers – the finished product was thoroughly emulsified, light tan in color, and somewhat thick and creamy.

INGREDIENTS:

Mayonaise
Mustard
Balsamic vinegar
Salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Plain yogurt

PREPARATION:
Mix all ingredients well.

Yogurt/garlic goodness inspired by Fez

My salad at Fez came with a small pot of a seemingly simple yogurt sauce that exploded with insanely awesome garlic intensity about a second and a half after the first taste. Our waiter here was less communicative; he said the ingredients were yogurt and garlic but wouldn’t divulge any kitchen secrets beyond that.

Yogurt and garlic sauce in Middle Eastern cooking has less of a mystique to it than Peruvian green sauce although until that meal I’d managed to forget about it and how darn good it is given how rare it’s been to find that sort of food in South America.

Below is one simple recipe I found on about.com that could serve as a good base. The sauce I had at Fez though was completely smooth, so I think I might try nixing everything in a blender rather than having pieces of minced garlic floating about.

During my search I also found an intriguing recipe for vegan mayonaise that goes heavy on the garlic. I am NOT a fan of traditional mayo but I am a fiend for garlic, so this is definitely on my list of recipes to try.

http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2011/09/lebanese-vegan-mayo/

Yogurt and garlic sauce

INGREDIENTS:

  • 16 oz. plain cold yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt to taste

PREPARATION:

In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Mix well. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
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Santiago street art – wow!

It’s been a busy week or so. The Navimag Ferry dropped us off in Puerto Montt. From there, we did a little side trip to the island of Chiloé (more on our time there in another post).

We did a bit of sight-seeing while there, but we also got down to work, sketching out the upcoming weeks of travel and then filling in the details – researching, checking out reviews, finding out about transportation, booking hotels and tours. Somehow I always manage to forget just how much work the planning part of this trip takes. The work always pays off though, and I’m really excited for the next stops on our roster… Watch this space. 🙂

In the mean time, we left Chiloé, and we’ve been in Santiago, Chile’s capital city, for a few days now.

I didn’t know what to expect from Santiago. Prior to getting here I really didn’t have any mental image or feeling about the place. People we met while traveling had told us that it didn’t have Buenos Aires’ sophistication or edge, but while it might be missing the wow factor, it is a very “livable” city.

We won’t spend nearly as much time here as we did in BA, but Santiago’s making a really good first impression on me. It’s certainly feeling quieter than BA, but it’s got its own certain magic.

For one, I didn’t expect the city to have so much incredible street art. It has a very different feel from BA’s graffiti. Buenos Aires’ street art is amazing – I don’t want to take anything away from that – but the stuff we’ve seen in Santiago feels warmer and more whimsical and it seems to be just about everywhere. I am definitely a girl with a soft spot for whimsy, and I can’t help but fall for a city that embraces art with open arms the way Santiago seems to. If I have time at some point, I’ll have to do some research to find out a bit about the street art scene here (i.e. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the things we’ve seen are actually commissioned murals, but I really have no idea).

In the mean time though, I gotta share just SOME of the graffiti/murals we’ve seen around the city. Check out the gorgeousness below! 🙂

Winter wonderland without pictures part 2, or “Overcoming my winter sport phobia”

And for my mental record, here is the verbal account of further snowy adventures in Ushuaia.

We got back from dog sledding and snow shoeing. High from the cold, beauty and exercise, we popped happily into our favorite café in town where I foolishly downed a Bailey’s-laced coffee. This pushed my sensibilities over the edge of a mountain, so when Roman suggested we forget the insane cost and just jump at the chance of skiing/snow boarding at the end of the world (for goodness’ sake!!), I was just silly enough to enthusiastically gush: yes, absolutely! I am up for it! How could we not??

We ventured forth to make arrangements and rent equipment for the next day – our last in Ushuaia.

We staggered forth from the rental shop to our hotel. I felt increasingly sober AND klutzy with each step in the cold winter air and my mind began to wander towards all the things I had wanted to do while still in town plus my last two experiences on the pistes.

The first was as a child, where I spent an endless miserable afternoon trudging duck like up a slope with what felt like lead skis attached to my feet while developing a raging fever. Strike one against winter sport.

The second encounter was more recent. Roman is a snow boarder and had convinced me to overcome my childhood misgivings and give his favorite winter sport a go. This was after I’d already lived in Switzerland for many years without ever visiting the mountains at winter – a feat I had found very sensible and was quite proud of. I gave in to his coaxing and even started boasting around the office about how we were taking a week off at a ski resort and I was going to learn how to snow board, just watch me!

So children, let this be a lesson about hubris, because I didn’t even make it through the first day.

My instructor was a sweet lady and we were taking it slowly, learning how to stand and slide on the board on a flat bit of snow, not even on the bunny slope yet. I made one stupid move and down I went – crack! – right onto my sacrum. The wind was knocked out of me and my eyes teared up as I lay there, stunned, staring at the sky. I got up and tried to get on with the lesson but by the time Roman and I had left the slopes for the après ski beer, it was clear that something was wrong – I couldn’t stand to sit down, even for a reviving beer.

I spent the rest of my ski-vacation-week moving around our rented flat like an arthritic 100-year-old woman, lying on my stomach reading magazines and books and trying to nurse my bruised ego. The worst was showing up at work the next week, having to tell everyone the story AND stand at my desk, because it was another week or so before I could sit properly again. 😛

So, all these fond memories were swirling through my head as I tried not to drop my ski poles (still too soon for snow boarding!) or impale Roman or myself on my skis. By the time we made it to our hotel room, I was having a full-blown freak out. I did my best to contain it, but it was still there when I woke up in the morning as we boarded the bus to take us to the slopes. Boy was I a miserable cow! I buried my head in Roman’s shoulder and tried to sleep until we arrived, hoping for oblivion and that this whole thing was just a bad dream I could still wake up from.

But then we were there, having a coffee, buying our lift tickets and signing me up for an afternoon class. Roman offered to stay with and comfort me until the instructor showed up but I thought there was no point as I was inconsolable and I wanted at least one of us to have a good time. I sent him on his way and proceeded to wait till it was time for class, experiencing the definition of a bad head space:

Suddenly all the people around me looked 20 times more glamorous, sophisticated, at ease and graceful. I, by contrast, felt like I was stomping around like an elephant in a tea shop. I felt ugly and awkward and out of place, lurching around in my massive ski boots. I already had lost complete feeling in my feet and was getting colder and more miserable by the minute. I was convinced I was going to injure myself again and started fantasizing about skipping class, going back down the mountain to where my comfy Ugg boots were waiting, and drinking beer all afternoon while Roman boarded. I decided my teacher was going to be some arrogant guy who only spoke Spanish, and I started working on phrases in my head with my rudimentary vocab about how I was scared, not feeling well, currently hating my boyfriend for “convincing” me to go through with this, etc.

I’d worked myself up to a point where tears were actually welling in my eyes when this little sprite of a girl in oversized ski gear, a wild pony tale on the top of her head, a button nose and apple red cheeks came up and kissed my cheek (as Argentinians do with friends), introduced herself as Dana, my ski instructor, and immediately, effectively washed away all my fears with the strength of her warmth, ease and down-to-earth presence.

I don’t even know how she did it but clearly she is a charmed ski instructor because before I knew it, I was swishing my way down gentle hills, taking turns, laughing out loud at the rush and yes, even ENJOYING myself. Miracle worker.

She is ten years my junior, has been competing in ski competitions around the world for well more than half her young life, is from Ushuaia and LOVES the place, loves the sport, loves what she is doing. And that love and passion was so strong that I couldn’t help but focus on that instead of all those cobwebby fears I’d spun in my head.

We chatted about all sorts of things and I even got to practice some of my Spanish, and in between that, she taught me the basics of skiing. She also reminded me to stop, to breath and look around at all the beauty – the light coming through the criss-crossing patterns of black, back lit tree branches. The stunning, wide view over the mountains and valleys. The color the sky turned as the sun began to get low. This is the power of a true, passionate teacher.

So, thank you Dana, for not only helping me to overcome a fear, but transforming it into something really joyful – a beautiful memory from our last day in Argentina!

Obviously left the camera at the hotel for this day too, but here are some pics Roman took with his phone

Elated not only about having survived but about having actually skied AND enjoyed myself!

Days without pictures: Ushuaia

We had a super winter adventure yesterday in the Torres del Paine national park. It was overcast but the weather held out and we got to see some beautiful things. (Post about that to come at a later date… 😉

We timed things right. Today it’s nasty out which is just perfect for us. Full license to have a lazy/admin type Sunday in our wonderfully cozy temporary home here in Puerto Natales. The snow and slush are coming down outside. The wood stove is clicking and creaking gently as the fire burns inside. There are plans afoot to cook a curry for dinner at home with the owners of the B&B. I’m a happy girl.

Some snaps from right now, here in Chile…

 

And in the mean time, there’s a chance to finally catch up on some blogging…

So leaving Chile for now to return to our last stop in Argentina, Ushuaia… We had a total of four days there. The first day was a recovery day. Although I thought I had factored in plenty of time to do everything we needed and wanted to fit in prior to our departure from Buenos Aires, inevitably there was too much to do and too little time – how does this ALWAYS happen?? – and our last days there were busy, busy, busy and of course we got the minimal amount of sleep on our last night. So Saturday, our first day in Ushuaia, was all about recovery – relaxing, getting organized and gathering energy for the next four days.

We’ve been traveling for ages now and I’ve learned that it’s good for me to take a break from photography from time to time. I’ve got more pictures than my laptop has space for anyhow, and it DOES change your experience of a place when your more focused on just being there, rather than being behind the lens.

So there are days that I leave the camera behind, and I am always happy when I do. But Ushuaia was different.

We only had four days there, I was head over heels in love with the place, and God was it beautiful. I wanted to photograph EVERYTHING. And in my defense, we have seen and done so much on this trip. Capturing images are a great way to jog your memory later on, to help bring you back to a place and an experience. And Ushuaia is definitely a place I want to remember clearly.

But I also wanted my camera to survive the visit, which means that it got left behind, much to my chagrin, during our winter sport outings.

So, here are some verbal snap shots from my days without pictures (supplemented with some of Roman’s pics – his camera is pocket-sized and therefore much more portable! :-))

Ushuaia winter wonderland number 1: dog sledding

We are picked up by our tour operator and drive out of the city. Any buildings disappear pretty quickly as soon as we reach the city limits, and the views outside the fogged windows are replaced by nature. Snowy woods, pristine mountains. I wrote earlier that Tierra del Fuego looks like a landscape out of a fantasy movie, and today I narrow things down: it feels like I am entering the eternal winter of Narnia.

We come to the lodge where the dogs and sleds are. Inside is piping hot, with wood fires blazing in every room. Next to one a grey cat is stretched on a couch, napping. We are out all day and I swear it hasn’t moved an inch when we come back later in the afternoon.

The crew is organizing the sled and us tourists; Roman and I get to meet the dogs. Siberian and Alaskan huskies. It was awesome to learn about them and they were soooo cuddly and sweet. Apparently they don’t get along so well with each other, and the sled teams have to be carefully arranged – pairs are made up of a male and female dog for example, and order is determined by personality – to ensure fights don’t break out.  But they are tremendously sweet and affectionate with humans, and we got down to petting them every chance we got. The team of the second sled was younger dogs – teen agers – and they acted the part, barking and howling, a lot of talking with not much to say – while our team sat around with quiet dignity in the snow, waiting to get going.

 

Thank you Roman for sharing your pics with me. 😉 The dogs had the most amazing eyes. A lot of them had two different colored eyes. Gorgeous!

The sledding was fun – except for when a dog stopped for a bathroom break. If you ever find yourself traveling by dog sled and you see a dog stop to drop a load, make sure you hold your breath when the sled starts moving again. Husky poo is potent and you don’t want to breath in a cloud of it, trust me on this.

What a sweet face!

We sled along into the woods until my feet and cheeks are just about frozen with the cold, and then it’s time for…

Ushuaia winter wonderland number 2: snow shoeing

I’ve snow shoed before once, with Roman’s mom and step-dad back in the Swiss mountains. That was an awesome experience, so I’m so excited to have the chance to try it again.

There’s a lot of standing around, trying to stamp feeling back in to my feet, as everyone in the group gets kitted up with shoes. Finally we are off, and at first I am underwhelmed as we move slowly through flat forest. Eventually, our quiet but kind guide turns off the flat path and we start to head up hill. It feels good to use my body. The blood starts to pump and I find a rhythm to my pace. My footsteps in the crisp snow are like a yeti systematically making his way through a lifetime supply of Captain Crunch cereal. Up, up, up we go through the hilly woods. I start to forget my frozen toes and notice little details.

The delicate tendrils of sage green moss on the trees. Naked, knobbly, symmetric branches forming vivid patterns above the snow. Small but hardy leaves on bushes, spikey and defiant. The color of the snow. It is thick, pristine and white, but where crevices form – fine cracks that run inches deep along the side of the path – there is a subtle glow of the most pure aquamarine, as if snow and cold were the birthplace of blue.

We come to a clearing and that magic moment happens, when the work of my body has warmed my blood and the heat zooms down to my toes all at once. I love this feeling and savor it as we take in the view that stretches for miles before us. The valley down below, the ranges of mountains reaching out in either direction behind it. Stunning views. This place really is magic.

Then it’s time to head back down. We return to the woods in the valley where a small wooden hut has a fire, hot cocoa and cake waiting for us. Cheeky birds, like sparrows but with vivid yellow breasts, sneak in through the cracks and jauntily land on the table, the cake, claiming it as their own. We laugh and watch them flit about, and take another round communing with the huskies outside before heading back to the lodge and returning to town. An awesome day!

I loved this collection of colorful lanterns back at the lodge. Roman kindly let me steal is camera… 🙂

So much to say

So few pictures, so little time, such insufficient internet access lately!

Phew!

The days since my last post have been chock full! We did some wonderful things back in Ushuaia that involved a lot of cold weather and outdoorsy-ness. I left my camera abandoned at the hotel for a lot of it. Some of it even involved getting over some apparently bigger-than-I-thought fears.

We’ve also been on the move a lot. We’ve left Argentina now (!!!) and have been in Chile (!!!!!) since Wednesday night (over thirteen hours on the bus to get there…!). First stop Punta Arenas and now we’ve arrived in Puerto Natales.

The days have been so full and there’s so much I want to say (write) – little details to capture before they slip through the cracks in my memory. It’s already past midnight though and we have to get up early tomorrow for our latest adventure – only recently discovered the existence of Torres del Paine but, when in Rome – or in this case southern Chilean Patagonia… So tomorrow we’re off to go check it out. Will try to get at least a few little vignettes together about recent events before the vividness of them fades before it’s time to board the Navimag ferry on Tuesday…

Just for now here is a snap shot of this moment though.

I’m sitting in the living room of our awesome B&B here in Puerto Natales. The lighting is low, the room is quiet and the fire in the wood stove has collapsed into a small pile of coals but still radiates heat. I suspect Roman may have fallen asleep on the bed in the next room. 😉 Outdoors, the quiet streets are filled with old snow; the sidewalks are miniature skating rinks that we skidded and laughed our way across earlier in the night. The current temperature outside is 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which only makes being inside in the warm all the more cozy. I’ve been scoping hotels on Tripadvisor for some of the next stops in Chile. I’m excited about visiting the National Park tomorrow and for the next day – our hosts at the B&B are lovely and the wife, Fabiana, has promised to show me how she makes her home-made bread. My belly is full of good food (vegetarian even – huzzah!) and tasty Patagonian beer from a local brewery/pub we visited for dinner earlier. Life. Is. Good…

Arriving at the end of the world (plus a shoe review)

So, here we are now, in Ushuaia. (Concerned and confused about how to pronounce it? Click here for some sound bytes by native speakers 🙂 ).

We haven’t been here long, and Roman is a bit under the weather, so we’ve seen next to nothing of it, but still, I am soooooo excited to be here!

Stole this off the web somewhere but now I can’t find the link. Please forgive me oh internet karma!

Here, in Ushuaia, the southern-most city on the planet. Here at Fin del Mundo, the end of the world. The city is home to around 60,000 people. It’s made up of a clutch of cheerfully colorful buildings nestled between the Beagle Channel (the friggin’ Beagle Channel of Charles Darwin fame!!) and the Martial mountains.

The cold air smells of metal and snow. The white-capped mountains look close enough to touch. They are craggy and fantastical and imposing, like something straight out of fantasy novel or movie. Our hotel room is wonderfully warm and cozy. There’s a perfect balance of exhilarating adventure and homey comfort coexisting in my day today.

Arriving by plane yesterday already felt like a mini-adventure. The views were just unbelievable.

Not the best picture but is that an amazing mountain peak or what?

After flying over clouds and then blank ocean, we finally crossed over to land. Flat earthy-colored expanses gave way first to hills and then dramatic rocky peaks thrusting towards the sky, interlaced with fingers of chilly looking waterways. All illuminated in long, afternoon sunlight. The jagged edges of fierce mountains, topped in snow that glowed blindingly in the sun, sent deep periwinkle shadows running across the valleys. We descended lower and lower, coming closer to the mountains and channel. Wraiths of clouds stuck on rocky peaks were backlit in the sun, luminous halos of water and light. The channel was an expanse of gun-metal grey, pricked by points of white – choppy surf and low-flying sea birds gliding above the water’s surface.

There was nothing outside our plane window in any direction but this rugged, magnificent nature. No sign of humanity’s existence what so ever. The water came closer and closer and then suddenly we hit the tarmac. Ushuaia’s airport is right at the edge of the Channel and I think it is the most beautiful airport I’ve ever seen. It’s like landing at a ski lodge; all vaulting ceilings and light wood. And you step out the main doors and there are all those amazing mountains and the Channel right before your eyes. Such a stunning arrival!

Have you ever seen a prettier airport?

View from the airport

A bad picture taken from the back of our cab but a first glimpse of Ushuaia….

Today is a chilling/planning day. We’ve got a bit of time here and a big wish list of things to do, so we’ve got to get organized for that as well as for our onward travel to Chile. I may also try my luck finding long underwear here since there was none to be had in Buenos Aires. We haven’t picked up much specific snow gear since space is always an issue and we’re mostly hoping that layering will do the trick to keep us warm and toasty.

I did buy some boots while we were back in BA though, and I’m already really glad I have them. They’re knock-off Uggs, a type of boot I would typically never be into. The tread isn’t great and they’re as attractive as Uggs and knock-off Uggs can get (that is, not attractive at all), but they ARE warm and that is totally what I was going for.

I’ve been meaning to do an update about shoes, since I switched out my footgear during our pit-stop in the United States.

Gear check in – sneaker reviews!

For the first half of our trip, I was either wearing sandals or my Merrell Moab Ventilator sneakers. These sneakers were great and I was really happy with their performance. They are pretty versatile in terms of having decent breathability versus some water resistance, they are comfortable, they were totally fine for all the activities we did throughout India/Asia and they put up well with me wearing the crap out of them!

What they were not though, was small or light weight. For sure, they’re not huge, bulky hiking shoes, but when you’re traveling the way we are, cutting down on space and weight where ever you can is always a good thing. So I decided to switch sneakers.

This time I went for New Balance’s Trail Minimus. New Balance partners with Vibram, who provides the outsole in this shoe. From Amazon, “New Balance takes their Minimus line off-roading with the WT20 trail runner. Exceptionally lightweight and breathable, yet ruggedly capable where it counts, your every stride is as sure-footed as it is cool and ventilated.”

After my Merrells, the New Balances feel like I’m wearing nothing, they weigh so little. They’re also tremendously comfortable. No break in time required for these; it’s been like wearing slippers while walking around town since day one. They definitely have a lot less support than I was used to – that’s kind of the point of them since they’re designed to make your foot do more of the work. The woman at the shop I bought them from warned about this and said you should ease into wearing them since it takes a while for the body to adjust to less support. Of course I didn’t and all I noticed was that my calves were perhaps a bit more tired than usual at the beginning. Am doing fine now though.

In defence of her advice, I do have pretty good body awareness from yoga and all that and try to be conscious about my form when I walk and run so I tend not to slam my heels down on the ground – something that a thicker sole will cushion somewhat and an action that is not particularly kind to the skeleton – knees especially.

Anyway, I absolutely love these shoes and am already toying with buying a second pair since they’ve already come out with newer line that is narrower, and my happy yoga toes like to have more space.

My cute NBs in the Australian sunshine! 😀

The New Balance have been fine for everything we’ve done so far in Australia and Argentina. NB – we haven’t encountered much rain and although I’ve not tested them I know they will not keep my feet dry like the Merrels.

They also don’t provide as much warmth as the Merrels. Thus the Ugg knock-offs. Please forgive my fashion faux pas but I’d rather be weirdly dressed than lose a toe to frost bite (or just have cold feet which would be the more likely scenario. ;-)).

Ugg….

Buenos Aires bookends

Today has been our last full day in Buenos Aires.

A full day – we’ve been going since we got up and there will be an early start tomorrow morning to do the rest of the packing, hand back the keys to our temporary home and go through the process to get onto the plane that will fly us down to Ushuaia.

A full day, sometimes a challenging day, a good day.

A grey day – over cast and sometimes rainy. Which I liked.

Our first week here there was nothing but grey, and it feels fitting that we end our time in BA the way it started. Meteorological bookends to a place. I like the symmetry.

Maybe it sounds dramatic but I guess things are feeling a tad dramatic. I’ve been pretty emotional the past couple of days. It’s not unheard of for me to get all nostalgic about a place as it comes time to leave it on this trip, even as we are still there.

Will we ever see this city again? And it’s been temporarily home and now it’s time to uproot yet again and move once more into the unknown. All that sort of stuff.

But I’ve gotten better at it with time. Especially in this second half of the journey, I’ve been filled with momentum and more tuned in to gratitude and the hunger for more adventure has been sustaining and inspiring me through having to saying goodbye to a place.

But this time round the emotions are in full force. Everything feels more intense as awareness of the end to the big journey increases. As well, this little apartment in Palermo, Buenos Aires, is the longest place Roman and I have had been able to call (temporary) home since we left Zürich a year and nine months ago. And Buenos Aires and I have had to go through a process. From that pretty tough first week when I was really wondering what the heck we were doing here to now, where the city has been transformed in my eyes to a place full of rough beauty and soooo many things I would love to do, if only we had more time…

I am greedy; I always want more. But I am trying to learn how to be satisfied with what is, and so I will just enjoy the symmetry of my rainy days and focus on some details of BA that I’ve savored during my time here, with the addition of the one little rant.

BA – what I hate

Oh my God I hate the dog crap all over the place. It is everywhere and it is awful. You know when you were a kid and you played that game where you couldn’t step on a crack in the street and you’d be jumping all over the place as you walk? It’s like that here except everyone is maneuvering to NOT step on the poo. Some streets are better but some streets are worse and you cannot drop your guard. Some streets stink of it and you have to watch not to accidentally open your mouth ever cause you might just get a mouthful of poop-flavored air. I would rather walk in a cloud of Roman’s second hand cigarette smoke than breathe in poo-air, it’s that awful. Seriously, people of Buenos Aires, do not own dogs if you can’t or won’t pick up after them!!!! It’s just not right.

You see something like this in the street and you know someone’s day just got worse when they walked here….

BA – just some of what I love

Caca de perro was definitely one of the things I noticed first about BA, but thankfully, many other things joined the symphony of the city and managed to do a decent job drowning out that particular “instrument”. Once you get over the poo, or at least get adept at side stepping to avoid it, there are so many lovely details to appreciate. Here are just some of the little things I’ve collected and enjoyed while we’ve been here:

–       There are islands of good smells on the streets to counteract the poo. Small fruit and vegetable shops opening up to the sidewalk and street-side florists with stands bursting full of gorgeous blooms are all over the place and I love walking through the fresh, lovely smells and taking in the burst of bright colors while walking through BA’s streets.

–       Walking home from yoga. I take a different zig-zag to get back just about every time and I love discovering new streets, shops, views each time.

My favorite cobblestone alleyway on the way to/from yoga

–       All the PDA in the street! I love the young couples making out in public. This is still such a thrill for me since Asia is way conservative about that sort of thing and it was so tough for me to have to watch my actions with Roman while we traveled there. I love it that I can kiss, hug or hold hands with him when ever I feel like it, and that other people can – and do! – too.

–       I love the old American and European cars! There are plenty of standard modern cars all over the place but there are also all sorts of rusty gems – Fords, Citroens, Fiats – clunking along the city streets and I think they’re awesome.

–       No pictures of this but I love how the slanty light of mid morning or later afternoon filters through the arched roof of tree branches hanging over the city’s streets. Just gorgeous.

–       I love the street art!
Yes, that’s Alf

–       The awesome old-timey elevators with the accordion doors you have to pull closed before you can ascend/decent. The nifty apartment doorbells. The funky keys.

What a classy doorbell system!

Our apartment key, like some sort of mini steam punk machine gun

–       Cheap and delicious wine!

–       The way the people here sing along with the music in their headphones while walking.

–       Beautiful sunsets from our apartment window.

I’m sure there’s more to add to this list, but it’s bedtime now – tomorrow is a new adventure! Good night folks! 🙂

Here and now plus a bit of BA graffiti

Taking a break from the China catch up for some current events…

It’s our last weekend in Buenos Aires. We’re leaving the city on Friday, for our final destination in Argentina: Ushuaia. I’m really excited for our little foray into Patagonia, and in the mean time I am enjoying the heck out of what’s left of our time in Buenos Aires. We’re having a lovely weekend here with gorgeous spring-like weather and I’m soaking in as much sun and warmth as I can before we plunge into winter: the current temperature in Ushuaia is 3 degrees Celcius, 37 degrees Farenheit. The sun is rising around 10 in the morning these days and there’s a 60% chance of snow tonight. Brr! 🙂

I’m also trying to savor as much as I can in general. We still have a lot of travel ahead of us, but the truth of the matter is that the end of our big trip is starting to loom on the horizon. It’s still months off, but when you’ve been traveling for over a year and a half, a few months (or what ever it will end up being – dates are NOT set in stone) will naturally feel like a significantly smaller portion of time.

At the moment, our utterly amorphous future is a fun place for my mind to wander. Happily, some of the earlier pressures of feeling like I have to “figure it all out” have eased. I’m actually doing a decent job these days of trusting that the future will work out. As a result, daydreaming about what might be is a fun exercise only and in the mean time I’m actually enjoying and showing up for the present in the way I often desire, but seldom manage to. I’m not entirely sure what’s shifted but I’m sure the yoga helps, I imagine the finite timing of the rest of the trip is a factor as well, and I’ll put the rest down to grace. For which I am grateful.

I might write more about all three of those things later on, but in the mean time I want to share about the graffiti tour we went on in Buenos Aires yesterday.

(In fact if my photo card reader wasn’t playing up, I’d share a post-appropriate a picture here that we took of some simple but philosophical graffiti in Salta that said “Usted está aqui y ahora”. In English “You are here and now.” Good to remember. :-))

BA street art!

I’ve been a casual fan of graffiti ever since I wrote an article on it for the sadly now defunct magazine Inside Switzerland. It’s impossible not to notice the graffiti in Argentina in general and specifically in Buenos Aires. It’s a strong and significant part of the country’s art scene as well as it’s political discourse. Plenty has been written on the subject by people much more informed than me. Here are just a few articles if you want a bit more background:

http://maisonneuve.org/blog/2012/03/27/political-legacy-argentinas-graffiti/

http://www.therealargentina.com/argentinian-wine-blog/street-art-in-buenos-aires-so-much-more-than-graffiti/

http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/story?id=7697519&page=1#.T-dIJu2RSfQ

Some of the main points of note about graffiti here – it’s not illegal unless the owner of the property that’s painted on files a written complaint. Graffiti tends towards either the political or the lighthearted – it does not carry a heavy association with crime or vandalism here as it does in some other countries. Politicians actually hire people to paint their names or campaign slogans on buildings or walls. This of course isn’t real graffiti, and many artists focus a lot of their efforts on spreading political commentary of their own on the streets. But a lot of street art is truly art for art’s sake alone. Whimsical and colorful creations can be seen all over the place, and some of the pieces have actually been commissioned by neighborhoods who want to brighten their little corner of BA.

We took a tour yesterday with Graffiti Mundo, a small company that does a lot to support street artists in BA (they’ve just this week opened at a gallery in London and are currently working on a documentary and book). It was a lovely, sunny day to be exploring nooks and crannies of the city, many of them unknown to us. We finished up at the gallery run by the artists (with a handy bar attached), where we got to watch one of the members of the collective bs.as.stncl working on a new piece that is motivated by the current political/financial situation in Argentina – the same thing the protest during our first week here was about. It’s a picture of a mousetrap with US dollars as bait. I’m hoping we’ll see it up on a few walls before we leave the city. 🙂

Here are some pics, from the tour and from other days wandering around BA:

Maradona is everywhere of course. Here he is in La Boca.

La Boca

Graffiti about La Boca in La Boca

Tags in San Telmo

“No Bailarás” – “No dancing”. San Telmo

Murals in Palermo

“La ciudad es de todos” – “The city belongs to everyone”

One of my favorites. 🙂 In San Telmo

Murals in San Telmo

A mural about the forced disappearances during the military junta in the 1970s and 80s

Street art by rundontwalk

Stencil detail

Penguin! 😀

Our tour took us to see a different kind of street art. The artist Marino Santa María has transformed his street with brightly colored tile murals on his and his neighbor’s homes. The artist just happened to be hanging out when we showed up – this is him with our lovely tour guide Cecilia. Barracas.

Street art by bs.as.stncl

New interpretations of Argentinian figures: a gaucho with a double guitar, a rare photo of Che Guevara and a strung out Maradona feature in this piece. I love the detail of the gaucho’s shadow on the sidewalk below.

Elephant stencils

I love this whimsical piece, with grates transformed into boxy bicycle wheels.

A memorial to a friend. Palermo.

Mural. Palermo.

Back at Graffiti Mundo’s studio/bar

An insanely intricate bit of stencil work!

Back in BA and other bits and pieces

Hello, hello! We just got back from a brilliant little three-stop tour in the northern half of Argentina. Now we are back in Buenos Aires for another week or so before it’s time to head off again.

It was great to get a break from the city. The majestic nature and fresh air of the places we visited just stunned me and got me feeling really grounded after the past weeks of city life. It’s a whole different side of the country and I’m glad that we’ll have the chance to see and experience a bit more of Argentina’s natural landscapes before we move on to our next country (Chile!).

On the flip side, it was also a really nice feeling to return to Buenos Aires yesterday. We arrived to a wonderfully sun-shiny afternoon, and that, plus returning to our familiar neighborhood and apartment with all our stuff (we only took small packs on our mini-trip) made for a lovely “welcome home”.

It’s going to be a busy week – on the to-do list are yoga and Spanish classes, getting to see as much of BA as we can fit in while we’re still here, and loads of prep for the next leg of our travels. Plus as much blogging as I can manage. 🙂

I’m heading to yoga soon but before I go here are some random bits and pieces…

Dancing in the streets

Our last night in Buenos Aires before we headed on our trip was just awesome. Among other things, we got to watch people dancing traditional folk dances at a square in the neighborhood in San Telmo.

The video doesn’t pick up the amazing vibe that was present; people were having such a good time, dancing with passion and without any self-consciousness and the music and movement gave me goose bumps to witness. We hung out for nearly an hour watching, getting explanations from a lovely, friendly porteño who would have danced tango with me if I had only had half a clue (he said he was an intermediate dancer – after “only” four years of practice – and that he was good enough to lead someone who knows a bit but alas, I haven’t learned ANY tango – yet… 😉 ). This dance isn’t tango, but one of the traditional dances from the countryside. Check it out!

Shopping and Spanish 

One day after yoga I took myself shopping. I’d been eyeing a scarf in a shop window on the way to the studio for two weeks and I finally worked up the nerve to go buy it. I also ended up picking up a few other things from another awesome boutique in our neighborhood.

Clothes shopping probably doesn’t seem that noteworthy, but it was exciting for me because 1) I managed to communicate in Spanish on my own for the first time! (usually Roman is with me and he does the talking for the both of us since he’s got a couple years worth of study on me) and 2) I love the fashion here in Argentina!

The second shop, where I got all the clothes, was a great, small, affordable boutique that carries pieces from Buenos Aires designers. (in case you are in BA and want to check it out – it’s called Ofhelia, at Sánchez de Bustamante 2007)

Here’s what I picked up.

The scarf that started it all…

Comfy maxi skirts!

Although the porteña seem to be dressing in somber colors for the winter, I definitely seemed to go for warm, summery hues.

I did pick up something less tropical and more practical as well – take a look at my new silly hat. It may make me look like a smurf (so says Roman), but I know I won’t care how I look so long as I’m warm during out next adventure – we’ve decided to take the plunge into full on winter and next week we’ll be heading to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world! I’m super excited about it!! 😀

And here are a few teaser photos from the past week – Iguazu, Salta and surrounding areas, Mendoza and the Andes! And now, I’m off to yoga! 🙂

What a difference a week makes

And glorious sunshine, and a good amount of yoga!

Last time I posted, I was feeling pretty downtrodden by our first seven days here in Buenos Aires. Happily, the weather took a turn for the better this past Tuesday, and my mood, along with the city itself, is much lighter as a result. All the locals we’ve chatted with seem to have been similarly depressed by the rain; typically Fall in BA is much more like this past week – crisp, sunny, invigorating. Since the weather has improved, I’ve been loving the cool morning walks to Spanish class and the play of autumn sunshine across the wonderful mix of architecture old and new, and I’m starting to discover why and how people get enchanted by this city.

Here are some random impressions and experiences from the past week.

–       I talked in my last post about the fashion sensibilities of the young porteñas in the city. I’ve noticed too that the older generation – 60 and above – tend to dress with an awful lot of panache and I adore seeing the elegant older women in refined, well-tailored fall colors, the men with small moustaches, stylish blazers and dashing neckerchiefs wandering around the streets of our neighborhood.

–       I don’t want to jinx things, but I seem to be developing a knack for avoiding the dog poop (caca de perro) on sidewalks. Knock on wood – I haven’t stepped on any since arriving and I’m even starting to get a kick out of what Roman and I are terming the “dog trains” that trundle along the sidewalks here. Imagine a single dog walker as the spoke in a wheel made up of at least ten leashed dogs, from pocket dogs to great big labs and everything in-between. Now picture this moving down the street at a good clip, and the millipede effect of all those legs trotting along at once. Quite a sight, and there are tons of them, in our neighborhood at least.

–       BA is great for trees! I love, love, love how many streets are covered by an arching canopy of branches that reach up and over from opposite sidewalks to touch hands high above the traffic. Especially gorgeous when sunshine filters through the branches. Photos to follow one of these days… In the mean time, here’s a whole blog devoted to the subject: http://losarbolesdebuenosaires.blogspot.com.ar/2009/03/tipa-trees.html

–       There are some not-so-good smells in the city for sure (reference the previous dog poop item) but there are good smells too. Our little corner almost always smells like the fragrant smoke from a barbeque, which makes me hungry. Need to find out which restaurant this smell is coming from. 🙂 I love passing by the little cave-like meet-cheese-and-wine shops and getting a whiff of the evocative, musty, cloistered smell that wafts out of the open door.

–       I am loving our Spanish classes! I’m the only beginner student at our school at the moment (it’s low season), so I’ve been having one-on-one sessions with my teacher and I’m amazed how much ground we’ve covered in just one week. We’re at Vamos Spanish, in case you’re interested, and Roman’s been really happy with his intermediate class too. Friendly, highly competent staff, good value for money, nice location – based on our first week we can definitely recommend this place. 🙂

–       We got to experience a protest! We were at home one night when I thought I heard some weird noises coming from the apartments next door. I went onto the balcony to check it out, and the racket only escalated. Cars honked, pedestrians clapped, and people all over the neighborhood stood on their balconies and leaned out their windows, hitting pots and pans, whistling and blowing on vuvuzelas. We were baffled but intrigued and delighted. Take a listen and maybe you can see why we were initially confused: Palermo 31 May. The event went on for about an hour, and we found out when we went for drinks with our “landlady” (the woman we are renting from on Airb’n’b. She’s a total sweetheart) later that night that it was a protest against the government. Here’s a bit more info about it if you’re interested. There was a second round the next night, and I have to say it’s been pretty amazing to see so many people participating in something like this.

–       I’ve found a yoga studio. It’s in the neighborhood, is teenie-tiny but cute, is staffed by Americans and the classes are all in English. Bad for my Spanish practice maybe but oh so good for my state of mind and my out-of-shape body. I’ve been going just about every other day and as per usual, a regular practice just makes everything better. Thank goodness for yoga. Another definite recommendations: http://www.happysunyoga.com/

And, just for good measure, here’s a few photos to visually whet your whistle for Beunos Aires. 🙂

In the touristy but still awesome section of La Boca

In Boca

Around San Telmo

This guy’s got it going on!