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Trip Report Report: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay

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Leaving the US on March 12, 2012, I traveled solo in Chile and Argentina for two weeks and then visited a friend and her mother in Uruguay for a week. Nights were spent in the following locations: Puerto Varas, Chile (2), Bariloche (2), Buenos Aires (4), Salta (4), Colonia (1), Minas (4), Piriapolis (1), and Montevideo (2).

Puerto Varas: The hotel was the family-run Weisserhaus in the town center. While the walls were a little thin, the hosts were warm and helpful, making this a fine place to stay. A superior restaurant nearby is Las Buenas Brasas that serves grilled meats and excellent Chilean seafood. It is open for lunch and dinner.

Bariloche: While the furnishings of the Hotel Ayres del Nahuel were a little stark, the location was excellent and the management welcoming. It had the additional advantage of being close to the chocolate store and small cafe, Mamushka. Two excellent restaurants were Jauja, where the large varied menu offered more tempting possibilities than I could handle, and El Boliche de Alberto, a parrilla (steakhouse) at Elflein 158. I give the address because there are several of these restaurants and at least one specializes in pasta, not meat. Bariloche, more than any other place, made me think that I was going to break my neck on the uneven, broken, and otherwise imperfect sidewalks.

Buenos Aires: When the taxi driver pulled up to the Moreno Hotel, I thought that a mistake had been made. All that was visible was a nondescript door and a small sign. I was still wary when I entered the door and saw an early 20th century brass elevator, but no concierge. Anxiety was replaced by delight, though, when I left the elevator on the second floor (first), saw a nice lobby, and then was directed to a large Art Deco suite overlooking the Jesuit compound across the street. I was even happier when I discovered that an excellent restaurant/wine bar (Aldo's) was next door. Another restaurant that I recommend is Brasserie Petanque, in San Telmo, the neighborhood adjoining the area of the hotel. Restaurants where I had so-so experiences were Cluny and La Brigada. The Moreno Hotel sponsors an Evita Peron tango show, but, at the recommendation of an employee, I walked two blocks down the street to El Querandi for a great review of tango history. I did not eat there, but arrived about 9 - 10 p.m. (I've forgotten exactly) and paid just to see the show. The restaurant arranged a ride for me back to the hotel (in one of the tour buses).

Salta: My trip there began badly, as I missed my flight through sheer stupidity, couldn't get on the next (and last flight), and had to go back to BA for the night. If you really have to know: in my eagerness to get a cut-rate minibus fare to the airport, I accidentally went to the wrong destination and then didn't have time to get to the correct airport. Arriving in Salta early the next morning, I immediately liked it: palm trees, bougainvillea, dry, rugged landscape. I stayed at the Salta Hotel, designated a historical site, on the plaza and immediately made plans for an all-day trip by private car to Tilcara and Humahuaca through Tastil Travels, which has an office near the hotel. I had the good fortune to get Christopher Canada as the driver. Having lived in the United States, he speaks excellent English. He is a good guide, considerate, and a gentleman. He introduced me to coca leaves and to llama stew. The latter was enjoyed at K'allapurca in Humahuaca. Christopher also took me to Artesanias Sasakuy, a cooperative in Humahuaca. (The women's cooperative in Tilcara mentioned in some guide books apparently no longer exists.) Back in Salta, two restaurants to be recommended are El Solar del Convento and Dona Salta. A special place to see local music, performances, and dancing, with lots of audience participation, is Panaderia del Chuna on Balcarce Street 475. It is close to the plaza and easy walking distance to Salta Hotel. The food is pretty good, too, but don't go before 9: 45 p.m. or so, unless you want to sit in an empty restaurant.

I'll sign off from now and continue later. ZZ

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    Part II. Continuing from Salta. I flew from there to Buenos Aires and immediately took the ferry to Colonia, Uruguay, where I spent a night at Hotel Plaza Mayor. The facility is in a perfect location, management is helpful, and the property is attractive, but I do wonder if it is not overpriced, for there is no Internet service if one don't have one's own equipment and there are no other amenities. Across the street, though, there is a good restaurant, Pulperia de los Faroles, that serves food and beverage of some sort most of the day and evening. It has tables outside on the plaza, too.

    Minas: The idea of going here came from my Uruguayan hosts, one of whom is an employee of the state-owned telecommunication company that owns a long-established vacation park for its employees. It was the Vacaciones Sierra de Minas, at which we could stay for $65 a night, including all meals. We used it as a base for day trips to an estancia and to Puenta del Este. In the latter place, we had a nice lunch at El Pobre Marino. Another day, we visited Jose Ignacio and had a good lunch at Los Mejillones, where the desserts were special.

    Piriapolis: Because of its history and reputation, we decided to splurge by spending a night at the Hotel Argentino. It was a bittersweet experience because we could see the faded glory of what used to be a splendid resort, now very much in sad decline, with few guests and obvious signs of serious maintenance needs. Rather than eat in the hotel dining room where the menu was overpriced, as was the hotel, we opted to eat at La Langosta and we had a good meal.

    Montevideo: Balmoral Plaza Hotel in the central city was a good choice for location and access to restaurants and sights. El Fogon Restaurant was close by and the real thing, in terms of where one could get a genuine asado. Its menu was so varied, though, that a customer could eat vegetarian, if he wished. Another good nearby restaurant was Ruffino, with Italian food. I would be remiss not to mention the ice cream shop across the street from the hotel: La Cigale. I believe that there are branches elsewhere in Montevideo.

    I am sure that I have omitted useful information and I have made little commentary on my travels. Please respond with any questions you have. Further, maybe I'll have a sequel of reflections. ZZ

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    We enjoyed viewing the photographic history of the Argentino and Periopolis in the hotel gallery. Definitely an aging queen with beauty and an interesting history. The boardwalk was a boardwalk, but still fun and with some good restaurants with outdoor seating.

    Next year we will visit Minas during our two week stay in Uruguay...could you tell us a bit about Minas ?

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    avrooster: I have left many Argentine sights for next time. Having been ill half of the time in Salta, I want to return. Then, there are the falls, fishing, and many other locations.

    Regarding Minas. It is a pleasant town that reminds me of small Mexican towns. It centers on a large plaza filled with trees. At one corner is the Confiteria Irisarri, a good location for afternoon tea and snacks. There is a pretty good restaurant at another corner, El Ombu, where I enjoyed fried eggs and toast at 10 p.m one night. (Uruguayans don't eat eggs for breakfast---and, for that matter, neither do residents of Argentina, so I was delighted to have some after several weeks of travel. Near Minas is a Tibetan Buddhist temple that is open on Saturday and Sunday. I understand from the local tourist office that one makes reservations for lunch, goes to the entrance, and then is transported to the grounds. You had better check this out well in advance. I shall always be grateful to employees at the twenty-four hour ANCAP gas station in Minas for its help to my friends and me in locating the vacation park where we intended to stay. (Signage in Uruguay is scant.) As for Lavalleja department, of which Minas is the capitol, the territory is the most rolling and diverse of Uruguay. It is a nice area to visit. ZZ

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    Here are some random reflections on my recent travel in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, given, generally, in chronological order. I did not find the boat trip through the lakes district of Chile and Argentina as appealing as I had come to believe it would be from what I had read in guide books and from posts on this forum. Perhaps my opinion that volcanoes, at best, are only mildly interesting is the explanation. Also, the scenery did not measure up to what I have seen in many other parts of the world. I took the one-day trip with the lunch stop at the Hotel Natura in Peulla. Although the trip was long and a little strenuous, with passengers having to exit the boat or bus thirteen times for transfers or customs (there were additional bus stops for photographers to get good pictures of volcanoes), it seemed better than spending the night in Peulla, with its limited attractions for a visitor such as I. The dining room at Hotel Natura is stunning, but the meal was a big disappointment. Seeing minced veal in a cream sauce with browned potatoes (rosti) on the menu, I chose it in order to compare it to the same dish I've had in Zurich. Alas, the meat was tough and the potatoes had onions in them. The boat trip was enjoyable in spite of these aspects, for the day was cloudless and warm. The tour operator and the guides were all very efficient and every step was seamless.

    About Bariloche, I haven't decided what to make of it. It is a big city on a big lake, very built up. The mountains are miles away, making me wonder how much time skiers must spend in getting to the slopes. In the town itself, it is mostly kitsch, with tourists buying either teddy bears or chocolates as they mill about the streets. I inquired about fishing and, aside from getting an unenthusiastic clerk in the Martin Pescador shop at Rolando 257, I found the cost prohibitive for one person.

    I was stunned to find how big Buenos Aires is and its compartmentalization into mini-cities (Palermo, etc.). Either there was a scarcity of free tourist information or it was my failure not to find it, but I felt pretty much on my own trying to get places. Although I had a guide book and the occasional help of the hotel staff, it was difficult getting around. Not knowing Spanish compounded the problem. I rode both local buses and the metro (Subte). While knowing where and when to get off the metro was easy, it was a different matter on buses, where stops were fairly far apart and no one could give me a clue when to get off, even as I pointed to a location on the map. I did a lot of walking. As in Bariloche, one had to watch carefully where one walked. Not only were the sidewalks often broken up, but it is the custom in Buenos Aires to place household and business trash on the street (often in black bags) for garbage pickup.

    That brings me to Uruguay. (I'll skip Salta.) Talking of trash, everywhere I went, there were large dumpsters for citizens to deposit their garbage. In the country, the units might be distributed a mile or so apart, but, in the cities, they seemed to be every block. Another characteristic of Uruguay is the presence of beat up and antique automobiles. For example, in Colonia, there was an ancient Studebaker. Even African countries don't have as many battered vehicles as Uruguay. Some are running; some sit abandoned. One of the most enduring memories of Uruguay is of people carrying their thermos of hot water under their left arm and a mug (gourd) of mate with a silver straw in their right hand. It truly is an addiction.

    Finally, I want to mention what was the most mind-bending outcome of my travels. I hope that I do not offend anyone. Or, perhaps you will say, "Where has she been?" It had never occurred to me that there could be whole countries in Latin America in which the population has almost no one of African descent and, yet, this is what I found in Argentina and Uruguay. (Since I was in Chile just two days, I'll leave that nation out.) I had only Spanish television seventeen of the twenty days I traveled, so I watched news casts and other programming just for their effects. It was really different to see just one ethnic (racial) group represented. The experience helped me to understand the cultural adaptation my Uruguay friend had to make when she came to the US for her undergraduate and medical school education.

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    Thanks for taking the time to write up your report. I was not sure what to make of the town of Bariloche either...to me it is a medium sized town as opposed to a large city. But in any case I did think the surrounding area was lovely.
    In the NW Argentina, did u get to Cafyate?

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    Yestravel: No, I did not get to Cafyate, although that would have been my destination had I not been ill two of the four days in Salta (upper respirtory infection). That is one reason why I want to return to Salta. And, I'll seek out Christopher Canada as my driver. He recommended a two-day trip to the area, so consider that when booking accommodations. If I had been able to go and to spend a night away from Salta, I would have had complications with the Salta Hotel, which I believe could have been resolved. I went to Salta without hotel reservations and since the airport minibus stopped at the Salta Hotel and I had heard about it, I went in and inquired about the availability of a room. After looking at it, I decided, since it was not yet 11 o'clock in the morning, to check out some other hotels, but, when I told the desk manager this, he offered to reduce the price of four nights to three nights, so I accepted. It would have been awkward now to leave one night. ZZ

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    Sorry u were sick -- that is awful to sick get while traveling. Yes, u must go back and visit Cafayate and Cachi too. The drive from Cachi to Cafayate is wonderful, although much of it on a gravel road.

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