Category Archives: Argentina

Bariloche Unexpected treasures

Lake Nahuel Huapi Bariloche

It takes us all day to fly from Salta to Bariloche via Buenos Aries so there’s only time for a pre-dinner beer at one of several excellent micro-brewery bars before going on to the now-familiar steak dinner.  Bariloche, settled in mid-Patagonia near the Chilean border is described as the Queenstown (NZ) of South America.  For those not familiar with this New Zealand tourist destination – and I’ve not been there for at least 20 years – this means fabulous lakes and mountains, skiing in the winter and hikes in summer.

Civic Centre Bariloche

It isn’t until the next morning when I wake up to a view of the lake (Lago Nahuel Hupi) from my bedroom window back-dropped by snow clad mountains, that this comparison is confirmed. It’s the tail end of the skiing season here and reasonably cool even though the sun is shining.  Unfortunately the foreground reveals an unattractive melange of buildings which make up the town, clinging to the steep side of the lake. I’m sure that Queenstown suffers the same fate.

Bariloche Lake Nahuel Huapi

There’s been a mini revolt in the group.  We are Richard’s guinea pigs on this tour and he’s been very brave taking on a group of his friends and acquaintances. There’s a definite no to the proposal for a bus tour around the lakes and we suggest a boat trip by way of a change.  It’s a ‘free’ day so I take the opportunity to catch up with my blog and edit photos in the morning.  Rob has decided to become ‘Action Man’ and is off on his own boat trip and adventures.  Some of the others are doing a bus ride to take the gondola up a nearby mountain for lunch at a café and Richard, newly briefed is off to book excursions and transport. I take a break and walk down towards the lake and along to a short ski-lift ride. I run into Stephen who as an architect is off to investigate the Civic Centre, supposed to be a great example of Swiss architecture.

Cafe at the top of the chair lift

The tourist information centre will not give us a map each – only one per group. I think there is a shortage and anyway they are only in Spanish. It’s a nice ride up the ski lift to a Swiss-style café – I’m the only one there – and get a fabulous view whilst drinking coffee and eating a rolled waffle, filled with dolche-leche and dipped in chocolate.  There’s an optional luge-type slide halfway down which returns me promptly to the bottom with only occasional and semi-adrenalin moments – probably not up to Rob’s standards.  I reflect that it is also five years since I became a temporary ‘action man’ in Chaing mai, Thailand – so I’m feeling just a little older and more cautious.

General Rico and horse with grafitti

My walk back passes numerous Swiss-designed houses and hotels and I discover the Centro Civico, which also suffers from the same stylistic condition. I venture my opinion that there is not a single building of any architectural merit in this town. There’s a statue of General Roca on a horse. Both are covered with protest graffiti and a handy sign in English (rare here) explains that said General was responsible for the colonisation of Patagonia 1879-1885 – so the locals here have long memories. This is also the place where you can be photographed with a smelly St Bernard dog – fitted out with brandy bottle. There’s a strong possibility that the Swiss emigrated here, it’s the only explanation and the preponderance of chocolate shops confirms it.

St Bernard and owner/photographer

I later find that Stephen, who carries a sketch book everywhere, has not done any drawings of the Centro Civico.  Dr Mike is in charge of sourcing the restaurant tonight, we walk seemingly miles into the suburbs for an Italian. Great choice and good after-dinner exercise walking back.

 

We’ve come for the lakes and mountains so while Rob’s got himself sorted with a kayak adventure, we are off up the lake on a boat. A bus (oh no!) takes us up to Pueto Panuelo where we can stock up with chocolate – having already purchased filled rolls, in town. I’m looking at the forest-clad mountains rising out of the lake and I’m thinking Fiordland in Southern New Zealand. I don’t see any evidence of hanging valleys – the result of glaciations so it’s not quite the same. This is where my woolly jumper comes to the fore as it’s still cold – the end of the ski season. This is all a national park and as the boat passes the grave of the man responsible, it slows down and toots. There are seagulls here following the boat and people hold out crackers and bread for the birds to take. They wheel and swoop, judging the speed of the boat and presumably wind conditions to get a few calories. A successful gull is then chased by the others, while patient tourists continue to hold out more rubbish food. This sort of gull is a scavenger, so I guess they are adapted to rubbish.

Pueto Panuelo
Nahuel Huapi National Park
Nahuel Huapi National Park
Nahuel Huapi National Park
Nahuel Huapi National Park
Nahuel Huapi National Park – Three Brothers
Richard I keeping warm in style – red
Los Cantaros – Nahuel Huapi National Park
Nahuel Huapi National Park – Three Brothers

After motoring past mountainous majesty, we tie up and disembark for a walk to see the Cascada Los Cántaros and onwards to Lago Los Cántaros. I’m suddenly very excited as I’ve been dying to look at the vegetation up-close. The lake-side forest we’ve passed looks suspiciously like the Southern Beech of New Zealand and I’ve known that this genus is also found in South America. At last – proof before my eyes – a connection between us – evidence of Pangea.

Southern Beech
Another relative?
looks like Matai or Totora

Nothofagus Dombeyi is much taller that it’s four New Zealand relatives, towering above a mixed forest of broad leaf species.  There’s foliage which looks suspiciously like our Podocarps – Totora, Matai and Kahikatea. Looking at the waterfall and the surrounding vegetation, first glance might suggest a New Zealand forest.  I’ve taken off on my own, camera at the ready to avoid boring the rest of the group too much with botanical delight. At the end of the walk is Lago Cántaros, so I retrace and rather than re-embark, take a walk around the lake to Pueto Blest where we get on another bus (oh no!) for a short journey to the Lago Frias, a small lake near the Chilean border. It’s beautiful and we collect a group of tourists and their luggage who have crossed the border and are heading for Bariloche. It’s been a fantastic day of sunshine and Rob reports that his kayaking has been likewise. Somehow Richard manages to get us a table-for-six at the most crowded bar/restaurant in town – more meat.

Lake Cántaros
Cántaros Falls
Cántaros Falls – forest
Cántaros falls
Cantaros Falls
Towering Southern Beech
Robbie swings in the forest
Pueto Blest
Lake Frias
Lake Frias

 

Rob has found a zip-wire adventure and several of the gang are off to try, in spite of the weather forecast. There’s been an emotional struggle for some who fancied afternoon tea at the allegedly palatial Llao Llao Hotel (pronounced Zao Zao). In the end it’s just me and Richard C for a walk in the woods – the others are just not trampers. We’re playing it by ear because of the weather and start by taking the bus out to where we caught the ferry only to find that the bus goes right up to the Hotel Llao Llao.

Llao Lao Hotel

We feel obliged to explore, if only to report back, with photographic evidence. This expensive hotel is yet another Swiss fantasy, featuring yellow logs inside and out. The décor is fussy Edwardian and it’s immediately obvious that morning or afternoon tea is more than we want to pay. We settle for coffee.

Richard looks at home in the Llou Llou Hotel

The clouds lift and we set off on a walking circuit of Lago P Moreno Oest. We pass though more forest of even larger Southern Beech and walk on the lake shore. This area is the municipal park of Llau Llao and after a walk along the road, we link up with another circuit overlooking Lago Nahuel Huapi. We stop to admire a woodpecker with a bright red head and at one stage a young blond youth comes rushing up the hill towards us to ask ‘Do you speak English?’ He and his party think they are lost. By the time we get back to the ferry terminal, we are starving and devour several empanadas with coffee before running to catch the bus back to town. We’ve had a great walk and discover that the weather held out for the Zip wire group.  Robbie has found us the best steak restaurant, preceded by a pretty cool beer place adjacent. Don’t go to Bariloche for architecture, its beer and steak in great bars and restaurants in the evenings.

Lake Frias Spring
Lake Frias
Llao Llao Park
Llao Llao Park
Gigantic Southern Beech
Lake Walk
Lake Walk
Lake front walk

Our last day is to be a long one as afternoon flights allow time to buy up local chocolate and take a walk along the lake front. There’s a large English style church imposing itself but I don’t cross the road to look – Richard I later tells me it has fine stained glass.  The sunshine is out on the lake and the strange looking wooden ‘Guardians’ are still alert and anxiously clutching their genitals.

Guardians
Guardians

Back at the Civic Centre the buildings have been partially hidden by a complex of white marquees which host an exciting food festival. Olive oil, wine, nuts, beer, are all on display, reminding me of Waiheke Island.

Food festival

Food festival

I don’t see any empanadas but have spotted a place near the hotel. The Empanadas are fine but the waiter is hopeless and keeps forgetting my order.

It’s a three flight journey for me on Latam Air to Buenos Aries, Santiago and Auckland. The others have a direct Air NZ flight from BA and are feverishly plotting their upgrades and priorities. Richard C stays on to welcome another tour group. I hope we’ve helped him iron out the few challenges and that Outside the Square Adventures in Argentina will continue to delight travellers.

 

Los Andes

Railway Viaduct
Railway Viaduct

It’s another early start and we have to vacate our rooms at the hotel, pack an overnight bag and store remaining luggage in one room. Just in case the Hotel gets guests.  We have another feisty woman guide who tells us about the scandal of the Argentinean Railways – how a corrupt President destroyed the industry and pocketed the proceeds. Sounds a bit like Beeching crossed with asset-stripping in the eighties.

Railway siding abandoned
Railway siding abandoned
Dr Mike shoots
Dr Mike shoots

The result here is deserted narrow gage tracks and rusting bridges which would cost a fortune to restore. We travel onwards and upwards through these beautiful and colourful mountains, past random groups of unaccompanied children wearing brightly coloured clothing and munching empanadas in the middle of nowhere.  We stop at a small settlement and look at a rambling museum created by its owner. It’s full of dusty curiosities like old typewriters and a mummified body.

Llama rubbing
Llama rubbing

I buy some art – a rubbing of ancient work depicting a Llama.  Our lunch stop is at a small poor looking village where we are fed three courses beginning with soup. Llama is on the menu again – still chewy.

Village Museum
Village Museum

 

Blue house purple young woman
Blue house purple young woman

Andean houses are low and built of rocks but there’s one which has been brightly painted and in the otherwise drab environment the townspeople dress in extravagant colours.  There’s an ugly modern church next to a monument to historical figures unknown to us and there is very little traffic so that the employment of a traffic policeman on the main intersection is a mystery.  He must get exhausted walking up and down with not much to do.

Main Street
Main Street
Andean Village - domestic violence mural
Andean Village – domestic violence mural
Big sky with Stephen
Big sky with Stephen

We travel ever upwards to a summit.  Our guide has told us that altitude sickness is mostly psychosomatic, so we are quite disappointed to find that we are breathless and tired in this rarefied air. The colours of the landscape here, so much remind me of Death Valley in California and as we come to the salt lakes the comparison is confirmed. Everything here is larger, higher and extends to the horizon.  Salt is mined from the lakes and snow-like mini mountains group around the place while canals created from the mining stretch into the distance already forming new crystals from the salt water.

Salt Lakes
Salt Lakes
Salt lake canal
Salt lake canal
Salt lake or Antarctica?
Salt lake or Antarctica?
Salty football pitch
Salty football pitch
Salt lake horizon
Salt lake horizon
Los Colorados Cabanas  Boutique
Los Colorados Cabanas Boutique

Its late afternoon by the time we descend to Purmamarca where we say goodbye to our Spanish-speaking travellers and settle into a most amazing adobe built hotel set against a vibrant red cliff face.

Purmamarca Market
Purmamarca Market

Down in the village plaza a fantastic fabric market is just winding down. The market used to be once a week, according to Richard, but I guess that tour buses come here every day so there’s an incentive. Dr Mike has brought crisps to go with the wine I purchased in Cafayate – it makes a good pre-dinner drink, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Purmamarca Market
Purmamarca Market

We’ve become accustomed to the late eating habits of the Argentineans but the recommended restaurant is in full swing by the time we arrive. The Maitre D and waiters are in a panic with orders, wine glasses are brought to our table two at a time – one in each hand and then half-way though, something else has to be done somewhere else in the restaurant.

Main Street Purmamarca
Main Street Purmamarca

It’s hilarious. Eventually the place empties and we are the focus of attention. Although the front-of-house staff don’t quite know what they are doing, the chef behind the scenes, knows exactly what to do and the food is fantastic.

View from our Cabinas window
View from our Cabinas window
Los Colorados
Los Colorados
Morning walk Purmamaerca
Morning walk Purmamaerca

In the morning we have time for a walk over the coloured hills. On a ridge we find a young couple still in their sleeping bags, having stayed the night in the open.  They are not expecting visitors, but we happily say good morning and carry on over the hill.

Morning walk Purmamaerca
Morning walk Purmamaerca

We’re expecting to walk down to our bus-for-the-day, but instead we are met by Maria and Diego who have borrowed a smaller bus from another group and come up to collect us. It’s all very dramatic and complicated as we transfer to our larger bus-for-the day to join a contingent of Argentinean families some with a small baby and four young French-speaking Belgians.

Morning walk Purmamaerca
Morning walk Purmamaerca
Morning walk Purmamaerca
Morning walk Purmamaerca
River Valley
River Valley

This group has come up from Salta this morning and together we see more coloured landscapes while Maria tells us about the Incas and how they were not very nice colonisers. This is around the extent of their empire so Maria details the evolution of societies and trade practices between groups. The Incas came in peacefully, in some respects.

River Valley Purmamarca
River Valley Purmamarca

They offered things like protection and markets for goods in return for a whopping great percentage.  Those who refused were left alone, but found their trade routes cut off and when desperate enough became subsumed into the empire with punitive rates.  Sounds a bit like the East India Company’s work expanding the British Empire, doesn’t it?

Los Andes
Los Andes

The Incas thought the arriving Conquistadores were Gods and when they found out that they were not, it was too late.

 

 

Pucará de Tilcara
Pucará de Tilcara

We are off to see Pucará de Tilcara, a pre-hispanic semi-fortified town on the Rio Grande.  We have to ford this river in our bus so it’s not very deep.  This archaeological restoration has re-built houses and important buildings while preserving the ubiquitous cacti which have taken over the site with dramatic effect.  Some of these are hundreds of years old and are the only source of wood in this part. Rafters are made from them and gift shops sell all sorts of stuff, the most beautiful are a pair of lampshades.

Pucará de Tilcara
Pucará de Tilcara
Pucará de Tilcara
Pucará de Tilcara
Pucará de Tilcara
Pucará de Tilcara
Pucará de Tilcara rafters from Cacti wood
Pucará de Tilcara rafters from Cacti wood
Shocking but beautifully drawn porn/art on a toilet wall
Shocking but beautifully drawn porn/art on a toilet wall
Black ceramic mask on the shed
Black ceramic mask on the shed

We have limited time here so it’s a bit of a rush as we have a retail opportunity in the form of a ceramics factory. Pots thrown on a wheel are demonstrated and we visit the kilns fired by imported wood. Finally there’s the shop and I make a rare purchase of two identical faces which will sit on my garden shed.

Pottery plaques drying
Pottery plaques drying
Ceramics drying
Ceramics drying
Village Town Hall and clock tower
Village Town Hall and clock tower

Once again we have an optional reservation at a village restaurant. We and the Belgians give this a miss and go exploring in the vibrant centre of town. We are after empanadas and beer for lunch and find just the place, deserted and friendly with ambience.  The Empanadas are fabulous and there’s still time to explore the Plaza and climb the steps up to a monument – the altitude makes this quite an effort here.  Apparently the locals have developed large lungs to compensate and as a consequence, have massive chests.

Village monument
Village monument

We are too late to see inside the Cathedral but there’s a church which Maria wants us to see. High above on each side of the Nave are pictures of the angels beautifully painted by native artists. They asked the Spanish what angels should look like and were told ‘they look like us’. Result – Conquistadores with wings and guns.  Sadly, pictures are forbidden.

Rural mural
Rural mural

The rest of the day is taken up with a long drive back to Salta and our hotel where we return luggage to our rooms.  Some of the group are not feeling well enough to come out for dinner, so it’s reduced numbers at a meat restaurant sourced by Robbie. We are shown to a large round table next to a huge group of elderly women celebrating a birthday with a cake and candles which reveals a firework.  We have the attention of the most handsome waiter in the house, which blinds us to any imperfections – although the meat is excellent.

Necropolis in the mountains
Necropolis in the mountains

Sunday in Salta

Cathedral Nave
Cathedral Nave

Richard I is going to mass at the Cathedral and I’ve got some worship of Art and History on my agenda. I’m not a fan of the ‘Top 10 things to see in Salta ‘ or 7 things you need to know about Salta’, so I haven’t counted the ‘things’ on my list. This is another day of discovery, starting with the Museo de Alta Montana, right next door to the empanada café. It’s been recommended by all the guide books and I’m sceptical – not sure if I want to look at murdered children. The story is of three sacrifices to the Gods, children of high class families of the Inca period. They were found buried on top of a mountain at high altitude and low temperature. Chosen for their perfect features, they would have been stupefied with an intoxicating beverage before being buried alive. Each had a cache of treasures – miniature doll-like figures wrapped in brightly coloured fabrics and feather headdresses.

Cathedral
Cathedral

The details of the still-vibrant patterns and plaiting are so fine that magnifying glasses are positioned strategically for us to look and wonder. The story of their discovery is told and there is some controversy that these mummified bodies should have been moved from their sacred resting places. Sacrifice of children was apparently a great honour for a family in a culture so different from ours. The museum is brilliantly laid out, revealing a narrative which only at the end displays one of the children.  She’s a teenage girl – the oldest of the three – and at some point in her sojourn on top of the mountain, she has been struck by lightening, leaving a burn mark across her face.

Plaza 9 de Julio
Plaza 9 de Julio

Working my way around the central plaza the free Museo Artes Contemporaneo is next. It’s actually a one room exhibition space currently showing ceramics by various artists. There’s invention and subdued taste here but nothing startling, vibrant or colourful. The Museo Casa Aria Rengel is also free.

African Masks
African Masks

Housed in a villa a block away from the Plaza, it also hosts temporary exhibitions.’ Confluencias’ (joinings) combine sketches, photographs and Paintings in a random collection of different subjects trying to get along together. Nothing stands out. Upstairs there’s a striking exhibition of African art where a line up of dramatic masks catches my eye. The building is charmingly Spanish with balustraded upper galleries overlooking courtyards.

Casa de Arias Rengel
Casa de Arias Rengel
Casa de Arias Rengel rear courtyard
Casa de Arias Rengel rear courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabildo Histórico
Cabildo Histórico

The Museo Histórico del Norte looks like an interesting old building. It was the first ‘Cabildo’ (Town Hall) and is a great example of the colonial period.  Simple arches make up the façade facing the square while inside, dusty and badly kept artifacts of colonial history molder.

Cabildo Loggia
Cabildo Loggia
Plaza
Plaza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabildo Courtyard
Cabildo Courtyard

Furniture and portraits of long-dead governors in dimly lit rooms are up-staged by the simple white arched loggias and interior courtyard. It’s not hard to find our guys sitting in one of the cafés around the Plaza and as its empanada/lunch time there’s an automatic homing in of like minds to that place.  There are conflicting reports of opening times for the Museum of Ethnic art (on several people’s lists) but it is closed and I wander north alone, to look at the impressive facade of the Palicio Legislativo.

Palacio Legislativo
Palacio Legislativo
Bellas Artes Tapestry
Bellas Artes Tapestry

The Museo de Bellas Artes is nearby. It wasn’t on my list but it’s free entry and is filled with vibrant tapestry/carpet/wall hangings reminding me of Miro’s knitted work in Barcelona. I’m the only one in the place and the single attendant has to follow me around to check that no harm comes to the work. Worth the walk for this show.

 

Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes
Bellas Artes mixed media
Bellas Artes mixed media
Bellas Artes mixed media

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside, on the way back to the Plaza, there’s a dramatic street mural brightening up a dull wall.

Street Art
Street Art

Robbie and Dr Mike have been appointed restaurant hunters – tonight it’s Italian. Malbec has been the wine of choice for the group, but Stephen and I are Cabernet Sauvignon fans, so as an appeasement to our little protest, a bottle is ordered. It’s very good.

Ahh Salta

Cathedral de Salta on the Plaza
Cathedral de Salta on the Plaza

Whenever I mention going to Salta to an Argentinean, their response is Ahhhh. Even if they haven’t actually been there, this city has a place in their hearts. Argentineans, beset with a fluctuating currency, have had difficulty travelling abroad and so set out to explore their own amazing and varied landscape. Our Aerolinéas flight from Iguazu leaves early. All passengers are on board ten minutes ahead of schedule, so there’s no reason in this two gate airport not to leave – unheard of. Taxis drop us at our Salta hotel which is just a short walk from the centre – time to un-pack essentials, regroup and prepare to explore a new landscape. We set off en-mass with Emapanadas and Cambio in mind but some get waylaid at the Farmacia. Colds and minor ailments are developing in the group, so with the help of the Spanish-fluent Stephen and Dr Mike to inspect the active ingredients on semi-familiar products, purchases are made. Medications are surprisingly inexpensive and there’s a half hearted suggestion to buy up a load of Paracetamol to sell on in New Zealand.

Plaza café and colonial architecture
Plaza café and colonial architecture

We have instruction from Richard C to meet at a certain café in the Plaza. We drift apart and I take a look at the Cathedral, make a circuit of the square, noting various museums and galleries to be visited on our free day. Stephen is heading a Cambio expedition and is able to get a good exchange rate from one of the street-corner guys. We later make jokes about spending fake notes, but they all turn out to be genuine and in any case, Argentine pesos are pretty worn, particularly the lower values.  I find some of our group having coffee, not at the designated café – we move on in search of our Empanada lunch, which just happens to be outside the Archaeological Museum of the High Mountains.  We order beer and three dozen Empanadas – a mix of varieties including Carne (meat) Jamon e Queso (Ham and Cheese) and Vegetarian (Quinoa and Cheese).  Compared with the mass-produced, casual versions at the Iguazu Falls café, these are fabulous. Richard C is spotted making his way to the other Café and hailed to join us. Empanadas are simply a pasty, mostly half-moon shaped – cheese and spinach ones can be round – which are eaten in two or three bites. Argentinean cuisine is famous for meat and we’ve been warned to stock up on vegetables before leaving New Zealand, so it’s a delight to visit the most amazing vegetarian restaurant for dinner.  Each dish is not only a work of art, but delicious and the ubiquitous Malbec wine is organic and quite drinkable.

Gorge on the road to Caffayate
Gorge on the road to Caffayate
'Action' Dr M shoots
‘Action’ Dr M shoots

So we are off to the wine-producing Cafayate area today. Our tour bus arrives early and we’re not ready – they come back later after collecting the rest of the tourists who are Spanish-speaking.  Maria is our feisty guide who has proud connections with indigenous ancestors. Diego, our driver is by comparison, taciturn – he has to concentrate on the road. Maria does everything in Spanish first – then English for us. We travel south through the fertile agricultural areas – it’s still the winter dry season, so young crops are being irrigated. In particular the tobacco seedlings are in the ground and amazingly there is still a great international demand for this controversial plant. Maria chooses to dwell on the harmful effects of the spraying – genetic defects caused by non-compliance with safety regulations.  Workers just don’t bother to wear the recommended protective clothing.  We are soon riding through a gorge with incredible red-coloured mountains.

Devil's throat
Devil’s throat
Devil's throat
Devil’s throat
Stephen dwarfed
Stephen dwarfed
Richard I listens to a flute demonstration
Richard I listens to a flute demonstration
The forbidden - Stephen and Rob climb the throat
The forbidden – Stephen and Rob climb the throat
from Devil's throat
from Devil’s throat

Rain is so scarce here and when it does fall, it immediately evaporates, creating weird shapes in the hill-sides. This is an area of geological upheaval and weathering so we stop at a once-flowing waterfall. This ‘Devil’s Throat’ is arid. Andean clay flutes are on sale along with jewellery and handcrafts. Some of the guys just have to climb the dry fall – ignoring the sign not to. It’s too steep and slippery for me.

Ampitheatre
Ampitheatre

Further down the road is ‘The Amphitheatre’ where flutes are being played, filling the space with beautiful music.  We pass weather sculptured shapes which include: The titanic, a monk with choir of nuns above, a nail, windows and old women’s legs.

 

 

 

Ampitheatre
Ampitheatre

Flute music

Ampitheatre
Ampitheatre

Trad band with fiddle

Winery tour
Winery tour

There’s a tour of a commercial winery with tasting of the Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. I stock up for our now regular pre-dinner drinks. New growth on the vines indicates that it’s long past the harvest season but we are talked through the process and inspect the equipment. A bird has foolishly decided to nest on the lawn next to the drive-way, so someone has encircled her with stones for protection.  The tour drops us at a restaurant for lunch with a set menu which is opposite the Museo de la Vid y el Vino. We do a quick walk though this ‘presentation’ in subdued lighting before making for the more interesting plaza of Cafayate.  The return to Salta gives us opportunities to look at some of the geological phenomena in a better afternoon light.

Winery
Winery
winery
winery
wine vats
wine vats
Nesting bird
Nesting bird
Cafayate Church
Cafayate Church
Home made architecture?
Home made architecture?
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate some of the boys
Road to Cafayate some of the boys

Richard is keen for us to experience an area of the city where live entertainment is offered with a meal.  We find the place he’s remembered and watch local dancers and singers get up to perform their well-rehearsed acts. I decide to try a dish of Llama – it’s quite chewy.

Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate Nail
Road to Cafayate Nail
Road to Cafayate Cathedral
Road to Cafayate Cathedral
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate
Road to Cafayate Titanic
Road to Cafayate Titanic
Road to Cafayate Monk and choir
Road to Cafayate Monk and choir
Road to Cafayate Llamas
Road to Cafayate Llamas
Road to Cafayate fertile valley
Road to Cafayate fertile valley

Water Everywhere – Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil

Richard C, our Outside the Square ‘facilitator’, is very nervous today as his past experience of Aerolinéas has not been good. If we are not on time, we will not get to the Brazil side of the falls. Fortunately the airline has had a make-over and is prompt with new planes and plenty of leg-room.

Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil

We are whisked over the border by two taxis, stopping first to drop off our bags at the hotel in Iguazu City. It’s all very efficient on the Brazilian side and everything can be paid for by VISA.

Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil

A bus takes us up the road to the beginning of the walk.  It’s quite short, descending slowly passing multiple falls which make up this vast spectacle. Iguazu rivals both Victoria and Niagara and as we walk the drama increases and we get really up close and look up in awe at the thundering water and swirling mists. Finally I get to the Devil’s Throat where I walk out to get soaking wet by the spray and mist. It’s warm enough so that I can dry out quickly.

Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil Lizard
Iguazu Falls Brazil Lizard

There are warnings asking us not to engage with the wild life. Apparently there are Cougars and monkeys – not seen but I do spot a large lizard and hosts of yellow butterflies which cluster around damp mud to gather moisture and salt.

Butterflies feeding
Butterflies feeding

A small butterfly with a white spiral on black wings alights on Dr Mike to gather his sweat (it’s hot here) and there are birds singing above in the trees.   The main danger is from the Coati, a Racoon – type animal which specialises in stealing food off tourists.

Coati
Coati

They hang around the cafes along the path-way.  The falls are at their most dramatic at the Devil’s throat and then there’s a lift to take you to the top where I stop for an ice cream and coffee. Some of the guys want to do the helicopter ride so while the do that, I photograph a rainbow pond which sits modestly at the park entrance reflecting and projecting subtle colours by contrast to the busy rush of falls water. The taxis return as arranged and whisk us effortlessly back to Argentina all passports stamped and correct. Our Hotel is run by an Italian family and has an excellent restaurant, which saves us venturing out tonight. Many Italians, Germans and Poles have immigrated to Argentina creating a diversity of people and culture.

Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil
Iguazu Falls Brazil Up Close
Still rainbow water
Still rainbow water
Reflections in rainbow water
Reflections in rainbow water

We’re getting to know these taxi guys who arrive to take us to the Argentinean side of the falls. Richard C advises that we should start with the lower loop walk where we can look up at the cascading water.  It’s more extensive than the Brazilian side, which is concentrated and dramatic. It is however essential to do both to get the complete picture.

Iguazu Argentina
Iguazu Argentina
Iguazu Argentina
Iguazu Argentina

The lower walk in the morning has the advantage of being relatively deserted by other tourists. There’s a boat trip you can take to San Martin Island for a close up view of the falls and another which goes up the Devil’s throat drenching the passengers. I’m, as usual running out of cash and don’t think I have time to do these excursions.  In spite of preparing for wetness by purchasing a plastic poncho yesterday, I’ve gone off the idea of a wet boat ride.  I’ve temporarily lost track of the rest of the group and decide that we will all meet up at points along the way. The ubiquitous Coati are desperate for breakfast and are bold enough to harass the few people around at the café stops.

Coati Table Take-over
Coati Table Take-over
Iguazu Argentina
Iguazu Argentina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The upper walk winds around the top of the falls. Walkways cross the Iguazu River, stepping between islands and rocks over the flooding water, moving relentlessly towards the edge.

I spot huge Koi Carp who must know that there is a precipice nearby which they would not survive. Birds fly through the mist and water to feed behind the water curtain. There are viewing platforms extending to the edges of each fall so I can experience the plunging water and spray close up. It’s more crowded here with scores of Argentineans on holiday with sprinkling of foreigners. I take the train for the final walk, which extends right across the river for a kilometre ending in a small viewing platform crowded with people all trying to look at or be photographed by the dramatic Devil’s Throat. There are professional photographers, taking up room so that visitors can be snapped and pay for the print. The photographers have competition from the forest of selfie sticks which threaten not only to spoil everyone’s view and poke out our eyes, but to make the professionals redundant. I wonder how many of these images will ever be seen and will the bored viewers ever say –‘ Yes dear, I know you were there.  I think there would be a better view of the falls if you weren’t blocking out most of them.’

Iguazu Argentina
Iguazu Argentina

I have to be patient and take my turn to shoot the falls. An Asian woman next to me is filming with her phone, panning slowly across in my direction and coming into shot. Not content, she slowly pans back again and I wait until she is out of vision. I encounter some of our group on the way back. They are part of a trickle coming out to the platform, and I realise that the crowds arrive in pulses according to the trains which deliver us to the area. So, the train capacity limits the numbers and my friends report that the platform was almost deserted when they got there.  The walks take less time that we thought and some of us are able to catch a shuttle bus back to Iguazu City.

Iguazu Argentina Devi's Throat
Iguazu Argentina Devi’s Throat

It really is time to change more US dollars, having failed in Buenos Aries.  I’ve got two new-looking $100 notes I swapped with Richard (Hotel bills can be paid with the older notes) and as a precaution, I take all of my US currency. The Banks in this city, I’ve been told are both ATM’s. The case against using these is that on top of the % + £1 for each withdrawal, the banks here charge an extra $9NZ and have a limit of 2000 pesos ($200nz or £100).  I eventually find the ‘Cambio’ and there’s a short queue of one. I’m asked to present my passport and the cash is inspected. I’ve handed over two $100s – one has a cut on the side and is rejected, so I present five $20’s, which seem to be OK. No, one of these has a cut on the side so I withdraw the 20’s and replace them with two $50’s. They are fine – phew. Next up, there are two forms to fill out with name and signature and passport number. The teller gabbles away putting crosses at various points on the papers. As he has my passport I leave that blank for the moment. He’s amazed that I don’t know my passport number off by heart. Why would I clutter up my brain, already burdened with pin numbers and passwords, with that information?  It turns out that I’ve put the name and signatures in the wrong places (not being able to read Spanish) so I get to do the forms again. Still it’s the best rate so far so worth all the fuss.  Later we eat at a restaurant which offers local river fish. The dishes are very inventive and sauces tasty but don’t quite manage to disguise the muddy state of river fish. The rivers are mostly muddy here so the fish are what they eat – worth the try though.

 

 

 

 

 

Elegance and Entertainment

La Colón Opera House
La Colón Opera House

Today we start off walking. ‘Taking in the surroundings’ as Richard (Don’t call me a Tour Guide) our ‘facilitator’ says.  We then travel on the subway or Subte from Plaza Italia to Ave 9 de Julio.  We’re booked for a tour of La Colón, the vast early 1900’s European-style opera house, built for the wealthy Argentinean farmers as a place to be seen in their finery and jewels.  The still-sharp stone exterior seems to extend backwards forever down a side street, suggesting generosity of space from foyer through auditorium, stage, backstage and dressing rooms.

La Colón foyer
La Colón foyer

As I suspect, the interior is lavishly decorated with amazing glass ceilings, rococo mouldings and Italian marble just about everywhere. Curved surfaces are feathered to imitate marble and chandeliers dangle ostentatiously at every opportunity though somehow over-kill is narrowly averted.  The technical dress-rehearsal for the opening night of Verdi’s Macbeth is underway in the huge auditorium with just under 2500 seats and room for 1000 standing.  Our guide claims that this is greater than the capacity of The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, but this is not actually true.

La Colón
La Colón
La Colón
La Colón

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Colón plaster detail - faces in the swirls
La Colón plaster detail – faces in the swirls

The stage of La Colóm is, however much wider. The auditorium is in darkness so there are no photos but we can see it’s size and take in the atmosphere of the production’s scenery. This is now one of the great opera houses of the world and Richard N has managed to get a ticket for tonight in the upper balcony, behind a pillar – it’s the last cheap one available. I’ve seen this opera at ENO, London and as it’s not one of my favourites so I give it a miss.

Elegant city house
Elegant city house

Our other culture vultures, Richard I and Robbie try to buy tickets on the day, but only the more expensive seats remain and they are told they have to wear dinner suits. None of them have packed for this eventuality – jeans and puffer jackets will just not do in the stalls.

We continue our walking tour, which is really an amble in the direction of Recoleta.  We pass official and elegant houses, stopping to have an early lunch at Palacio Balcarce.  An ancient oak stair-way takes us up to a grand entrance hall leading to a dark paneled dining room.

Lunch at Palachio Balcarce
Lunch at Palacio Balcarce

The place is deserted as it’s early for lunch, but the waiter is welcoming and comments not on our grungy clothing – jeans, shirt sleeves and tee shirts seem somewhat out of place in such grandeur – as we take our places at the large circular table in the centre of the room.

Recoleta Cemetary
Recoleta Cemetary

Our next stop is Recoleta Cemetary, a necropolis of tombs for the wealthy and powerful, enabling them to continue their status after death. Statues of the incumbents are often displayed, seated in chairs under cupolas or bronzed in plaques. The modern ones have photographs on mini alters seen through glass windows where the coffins are on display.

Recoleta Cemetary Classical style
Recoleta Cemetary Classical style
Recoleta Cemetary Famous boxer in his gear
Recoleta Cemetary Famous boxer in his gear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recoleta Cemetary
Recoleta Cemetary
Recoleta Cemetary
Recoleta Cemetary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generally there is a removable grill in the floor through which the coffins can be lowered with a narrow flight of marble steps allowing the descendants to visit or workmen to make repairs. There’s a good range of architectural styles – Nouveu, Deco and classical. I’m not sure how to describe the popular and forbidding black marble style – Brutalism?  There’s only one name sign-posted – the popular

President Sarmiento's grave
President Sarmiento’s grave

President Sarmiento (see previous post). It looks more like a memorial to me although he apparently designed the tomb himself.  Everyone is looking for the tomb of Evita. All the tourist websites have her as the number one attraction here, but the Argentineans don’t see her as important. Dr Mike has been here a few days before we arrived and is able to lead us straight to the Duarte family vault. You have to know that this was her maiden name. There are two plaques to look at and foreign visitors are all asking where to find her. They either stumble upon her by chance or get directions from someone who has just been there.

Recoleta Cemetary Eva Peron
Recoleta Cemetary Eva Peron
Recoleta Cemetary Duarte Tomb
Recoleta Cemetary Duarte Tomb
Recoleta Cemetary
Recoleta Cemetary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recoleta Cemetary neglect
Recoleta Cemetary neglect
Recoleta Cemetary
Recoleta Cemetary
Recoleta Cemetary Angel
Recoleta Cemetary Angel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recoleta Cemetary + Richard C ahhhh!
Recoleta Cemetary + Richard C ahhhh!

I’m searching for Cambio (change) and there’s one in the nearby shopping centre on the top floor. Unfortunately all the US dollars I’ve brought out today have either a cut along the edge or historic biro marks from bank tellers. Notes have to be pristine so that Argentineans can buy them to store under mattresses for the future. They don’t trust the banks as the Peso has fluctuated so violently over the years. I’m pissed off, but manage to pay for the group afternoon tea by visa in return for cash from the others.

Alviar Palace hotel
Alviar Palace Hotel

Afternoon tea has been booked at the elegant Alviar Palace Hotel. It’s very grand and we are still in our  shirts and jeans. Silver plate and Noritake bone china dress the tables – I turn over a plate to check. The ‘tea’ is quite substantial with sandwiches, savouries and ‘tepid’ scones followed by a choice of cake from the trolley. There’s also a choice of tea – I go for Darjeeling without milk, it’s delicious.  We are also favoured by a very cute, if camp, young waiter. He is junior to the very experienced waitress, who really, really, knows how to serve tea. It’s the equivalent of a meal – we won’t need dinner this evening and the ‘boys’ are suitably impressed by the pretentiousness of the experience as we rub shoulders with immaculately dressed older women.

Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea

We must cut a strange picture in this place, a collection of highly educated and cultured blokes travelling incognito. We are of course very well behaved. Someone might say that our mothers would be proud of that.

Catching an UBER taxi from the Alvior Palace is interesting as we have to hook up with the hotel wifi. There’s a delicate balance checking the taxi is on its way before leaving the wifi area. We wait in the side street as the UBER taxis are too afraid to draw up to the front – the regular taxis are liable to  attack and bash their immaculate and clean cars. Their drivers engage in pleasant and polite conversation – passengers get to rate the drivers on-line and if well-behaved, can get priority service if rated well by the drivers. No money changes hands as this is all done by an on-line credit card transaction. We’re headed back to the B&B for a rest before our evening entertainment.

Maipo Theatre
Maipo Theatre

It’s UBER time again and while Richard N is going to Macbeth, the rest of us are lowering the tone by opting for The Rocky Horror Show, performed in Spanish. Robbie is not lowering his standards tonight but Richard I has FOMA and condescends to join us. He has to queue at the Maipo Theatre to get a ticket in the same area as us in the ‘Super-Pulman’, which turns out to be the front row of the dress circle.

Maipo Theatre Dress and upper circles
Maipo Theatre Dress and upper circles
Maipo Theatre mirrors
Maipo Theatre mirrors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audience in Costume
Audience in Costume

As is the custom, wherever this show is performed, be it theatre or cinema, some of the audience dress as characters in the show. They parade up and down outside and in the foyer, adding to the atmosphere. We’re trying to decide if the theatre is Art Deco. The gold-painted scalloped balcony fronts are unusual but the mirrors up the stairs are definitely Deco.  We’ve got a great view of the stage and it doesn’t matter that the show is in Spanish as we’ve all seen it in English albeit many years ago. The cast are all excellent with great energy – far better that the tired version I saw in 1978 in a run-down cinema on the Kings Road, Chelsea, London.

The Audience
The Audience

By the reception given to the performer playing Riff Raff, we guess he must be a local pop star. He’s got a great rock voice. The narrator is also famous and seems to be a guest spot – he’s a local tv personality. He reads from his script and knows how to handle the crowd , laughing as he fumbles in the text. every mistake is picked up by the vigilant audience who all know the words. It’s a great night out and at the end (somewhat re-written and improved) the costumed audience join the cast on stage. UBER is too difficult without wifi so we lower our standard and downgrade to ordinary taxis. The difference is noticeable.

Don’t Cry for Me Argentina

It’s a long Friday. I start at Rocky Bay at 11.30 am, walking down Agony Hill to the Bus stop. I get to Matiatia in time for the 1 pm ferry to Auckland then walk  to the Sky-bus shuttle which drops me half way up Queen Street. The journey to the airport takes thirty minutes so I’ve go loads of waiting before my Lan Chile flight to Santiago. Eleven hours later, I’m exhausted and desperately need to sleep, but run into Richard N from my Myanmar tour,  is also on the next flight to Buenos Aries. I power nap in the very back seat of the plane before and during take-off. It’s still Friday by the time we arrive, change money and grab a cab into the city.  Richard C, our tour leader meets us at the hotel and after a quick freshen up before joining the rest the guys in a trendy modern bar for wine and tapas.

The Cast of Characters.
The Cast of Characters.

Our characters for this adventure are assembled. Richard N as before – from Titirangi – ex tour-guide; Robbie, an Aucklander from Edinburgh via Australia is a programmer of our culture and entertainment; Rob, the youngest in our group is an Insolvency Lawyer. Richard I (there are three Richards) gets this title by seniority, is a retired teacher, art lover and foodie. Mike is a well known GP in Auckland, hopefully having a rest from consultations – we shall see. Steven is an Australian architect who went to London for a week and still lives there twenty years later.  In spite of our rugged Kiwi/Aussie exteriors, we’re a fairly cultured and educated bunch of guys.

Saturday promises to be shorter as no international date-lines are to be crossed.  We’re on a city tour this morning in two open-top Citroen 3cv’s. The blue one has been stretched and is an amazing sight. Martin, the owner-operator of Unique Vintage Tours greets us and we set of in convoy

3CV convoy
3CV convoy

with his brother driving the Lime green car. We’re heading for La Bocca region of the city – home to the famous football team (I’d never heard of it) to gaze at the now tired-looking stadium and endless outlets selling strip and memorabilia. Poorly made statues of (unknown to me) famous players proliferate. I think one of them is Maradonna.

La Bocca: Future dreams?
La Bocca: Future dreams?
La Bocca: Art for sale
La Bocca: Art for sale
La Bocca: Could be Che Guevarra?
La Bocca: Could be Che Guevarra?
La Bocca: The Pope is Argentinean
La Bocca: The Pope is Argentinean
Original Housing still lived in
Original Housing still lived in
La Bocca: Even the buses are tattered
La Bocca: Even the buses are tattered

This is one of the original parts of the city and now one of the poorest.  It’s also one of the most colourful; houses originally made from cheap corrugated iron are brightly painted.  Some of the old ones are still lived in but there is evidence that ‘reconstructions’ have taken place to attract the tourists.

La Bocca: A tango couple attract customers
La Bocca: A tango couple attract customers

This is the capital of kitch and also where the tango was allegedly invented. There are various Senoritas dressed and ready to dance, offering me the opportunity to be photographed with them in a pose. Conscious of my rucksack and camera around my neck and the danger of letting go of either, I decline their offers.  It’s all garish and vibrant.

 

La Bocca: Oranges on Caminito.
La Bocca: Oranges on Caminito.
La Bocca - ancient facade retained for future use?
La Bocca – ancient facade retained for future use?
3CV tour- the green one
3CV tour- the green one

We attract attention from passers-by in our strange vehicles. Men stand and stare; women have their photographs taken in front of the cars. It’s a fun way to see the city, looking up at the buildings from near ground level. Buenos Aries is known at ‘The Paris of South America’ and is indeed an elegant city.

Amazing Art Nouveaux city tower
Amazing Art Nouveau city tower

It also reminds me of Madrid and Barcelona with churches reminiscent of Quito (Ecuador). The effect is European with architecture spanning the decades. Arts Deco and Nouveau are well represented here and the main boulevard – Ave 9 de Julio – is apparently the widest in the world.  In the wealthy areas grand apartment buildings are balconied and planted. Mature trees line streets and pass over our heads as we trundle along in our 3CV’s. The Central Bank looms large over our heads as we pass underneath, a huge building designed to impress and instill confidence but contrast with the tattered state of the economy.

The National Bank looms large
The National Bank looms large
The massive Cathedral in Classical style
The massive Cathedral in Classical style
Legislator
Legislator
Tulip which opens and closes according to the sunshime
Tulip which opens and closes according to the sunshime
Malvinas Monument changing the guards
Malvinas Monument changing the guards

We end our tour at the memorial to the Malvinas war. It’s guarded by two grenadiers and just as we arrive it’s time to change the guards. It’s not as grand as Buckingham Palace and the marching drill is not up to

Malvinas Monument - changing the Grenadiers
Malvinas Monument – changing the Grenadiers

British standards, but the soldiers are cute. The Malvinas was significant for two outcomes: the re-election of Margaret Thatcher and an end to the Argentinean dictator responsible for ‘the disappeared’. We walk on past a stunning Art Deco sky-scraper (pictured), stop to have coffee and sweet pastries – standing up because it’s cheaper – on our way to the Casa Rosada.

Art Deco tower
Art Deco tower
Art Deco tower
Art Deco tower
Standing up for coffee - two Richards.
Standing up for coffee – two Richards.

We have to be there on time to join a guided tour group in English.

Cassa Rosada
Cassa Rosada

These working offices of the Argentinean Presidents were originally a colonial fort strategically built and now overlook (to the back) Mayo square which has been the stage for revolution and continues to be a magnet for demonstrations by the populace. We pass barricades stored at the ready a protest which can erupt at any moment.

Cassa Rosada interior
Cassa Rosada interior

The new regime is a mixture of socialism and capitalism (which doesn’t work) producing bureaucratic procedures.  Not only do we have to present our named tickets which Richard has gone to great length to obtain, we also have to show a photocopy of our passports.  As one would expect, there is a scanning procedure to get in to be greeted by a diminutive young woman.  The Cassa is European in style with Italian marble staircases and rococo decoration everywhere.  It’s not architecturally distinct but it is the history of the nation which is important. President Sarmiento is the most revered, having brought education and culture to the country.  He was a Europhile and made many improvements but sadly is also responsible for bringing the European feral pigeon here and they remain until this day.

The Peron's 'unconventialnal official portrait
The Peron’s ‘unconventialnal official portrait

Interestingly Eva Peron, by contrast, does not figure much in our guide’s presentation. She actually wasn’t even elected, seizing power after her husband, General Peron died.  We are taken out to a loggia – not the one where Eva addressed the masses – to learn the difference between this and a balcony. The later is an unsupported ledge and there is one just further along the façade where Madonna appeared in that film.  Andrew Lloyd Webber (or is it Tim Rice?) has a lot to answer for in promoting the Evita legend. The Perons were popular with the working class masses it seems and Eva’s embalmed body was banished for years, doomed to wander the world having various sexual encounters until it was deemed safe for her to be returned and buried. The fear was that her return would resurrect an interest in Peronism. There are some rooms dedicated to her in the Cassa which we get to see, but there is no access to the loggia where she famously addressed the masses. Argentinans seem to be uninterested in her and I get the feeling that her memorabilia is displayed for the tourists.

Mayo Square from Cassa Rosada Loggia
Mayo Square from Cassa Rosada Loggia

The real star is Sarmiento who brought the country European culture, education and social benefits.  His only crime, it seems is to introduce the European feral pigeon which is now ubiquitous. Non flash photography is allowed, but not in the offices of the Vice President or President.  We have to put phones and cameras away and get into lines so we can pass in single file past their respective office doors.  There’s an impressive courtyard with palm trees and our final room houses the marble busts of elected Presidents realised as they were on their first day of office. Only the ones who have been approved by the following president are here, so you can imagine that there are some gaps.

Argentinean scientists - the large portraits are Nobel prize-winners
Argentinean scientists – the large portraits are Nobel prize-winners

One of the more recent presidents has a sticking plaster on his forehead as he had an accident on his first day.  Another was shot at and has a dent in his marble head. The other rule is that the Presidents have to be elected so many of the generals are excluded as is Eva Peron, who was also unellected. We exit on the other side of the Cassa, which is actually the front, a bit like Buckingham Palace.

Monument to Evita
Monument to Evita

The Myanmar stories of shit are echoed when Richard N returns to base minus his jacket.  He’s been scammed queuing for a set to the Opera. Fake pigeon shit is sprayed on a jacket and when the wearier takes it off to clean the mess off, the jacket is snatched.  Fortunately, he carries nothing in his jacket pockets.  Later Dr Mike is hit by real pigeon shit.

It’s a walk back to our hotel for a rest before a welcome dinner at a steak restaurant.  Argentina is famously meat eating and we are not disappointed.  Having been advised that vegetables are scarce, I’m delighted to find rocket salad with parmesan available and sensational spinach in creme sauce, topped with cheese. Malbec is a popular red wine and pleasant but Cabernet Sauvingon (my preference) wines are also very good here.