argentina

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After reaching our destination of Ushuaia we saddled up for the long drive back to Buenos Aires.  The landscapes are pretty much the same up the Atlantic coast – mostly large estancias in the empty pampas.  We motored along heading to Punta Tombo, home to the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins in South America and who doesn’t like penguins?

Penguin Walking

We cruised into the park around 5pm and after buying our tickets priced at three times what Argentine nationals paid we wandered into the reserve. Minutes into our walk we started to spy our cute tuxedoed amigos.  One lone little guy even hopped up onto the bridge to say hello and we spent about 15 minutes up close and personal with a very forward and curious penguin.

Our drive up the coast then took us to Puerto Madryn where we were lucky to catch the Southern Right Whales that come to Argentina’s coast to have their babies and teach them how to swim in a safe environment. Driving down to the nearby beaches we were happy to find the whales hanging out and playing at both Playa El Doradillo and Punta Flecha.

Penguins and Whales from Kels M on Vimeo.

I was rather taken by the whales and wanted to have a closer look so we cruised about 35km up the coast to Peninsula Valdez – a marine animal sanctuary.  Puerto Piramides offers boats tours to see the whales and we hopped on a sunset cruise, perhaps we were just lucky but we ended up with an awesome day, capped off with a blazing fiery sunset.

A Whale of a Tail

Biking with wine

We left Uruguay promising to return to it’s chilled out old-school vibe and headed into Argentina with plans to meet up with our friends (and partners on drivetheamericas.com) to get a little conversation and drink a little red wine.  We hightailed it over the bleak pampas, passing flashes of pink flamingos, to the wonderfully sunny and charming Mendoza.

Wine Tour Mendoza

Since we were in wine country we felt that to really experience it we should take advantage of the nearby wineries.  Boarding a bus for about an hour and half took us to Maipu and right to Mr. Hugo’s bike rentals.  We pedaled through the spring day, stopping in at a few wineries to sample the wares.  But I think the highlight of our little afternoon jaunt was the last stop – a small shop, A la Antigua, which had every sort of homemade delicacy imaginable: olives, dulce de leche, chocolates, preserves and liqueurs from Scotch to Absinthe.  Osvaldo, our giggly and rather round host, invited us to try a little of everything all of which were ridiculously good, so good that we all left with backpacks a little heavier than when we came.

Concha y ToroAfter enjoying a week of Mendoza’s sunny days and great wine we decided it was time to head to Chile in search of waves.  But, before we could hit up the surf we felt it was only proper to pay our respects to Concha y Toro, Chile’s largest wine exporter and creator of one of our most favourite joyful finds.  After a night of free camping (people are really too generous) we arrived at the crack of 10am to take a tour and a tasting at the humongous bodega.

Wine SnobsOur tour guide, who had a very odd accent (think William Shatner’s Captain Kirk with a British accent), told us a little about the winery as we wandered around the estate, the Concha y Toro cellar and the infamous El Casillero de Diablo (The Devil’s Cellar).  Señor Concha y Toro found that wines were going missing so he created a bit of a legend that the wines were protected by the devil himself thereby keeping frightened thieves out of his private collection.  The tour includes two tastings of the medium brand wines and your own Concha y Toro wineglass…all in all a pretty good time.
The end

One thing we noticed right away in Uruguay were people carrying strange leather cups and thermoses: on the beach, walking around the city, the campground, the hot springs, drinking it in their cars… maté was literally everywhere.

Maté actually refers to a small gourd some of which can be elaborately decorated, wrapped in leather, embellished with silver or inset into cows hooves.  The tea is referred to as yerba.  This tea is sipped through a metal tube called a bombilla which acts as both a straw and a sieve, the whole ensemble is completed with a thermos which is usually carried tucked in the crook of the elbow.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun we decided to wander around Montevideo and try to find ourselves a maté and bombilla set that we both liked. Tom picked his up first (only after we saw every mate dealer in the whole old city) and I found mine in a small Saturday market and bought it direct from a man who handmade them…making Tom rather jealous.

There are a million rules about how to prepare and drink maté…but it all depends on who you talk to and since Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay all partake in the yerba ritual you could hear a lot of different stories—but from what we have read and seen Uruguayans are the most serious maté drinkers, consuming twice as much maté per capita than their Argentine amigos

Preparing Maté – Uruguayan style
We had the lovely owners of Punto Berro Hostel in Montevideo give us a lesson on how to prepare and drink maté, this is our summarized version:

How to make mate from Kels M on Vimeo.

Maté Etiquette
Maté is serious business here in Latin America.  It is more than just ‘drinking tea’ it is a centuries old ritual that is deeply ingrained in the culture and if you’re invited to share a maté you really shouldn’t refuse as sharing mate is seen as extending friendship.  Another steadfast and important rule is to leave the bombilla alone, don’t fuss with it or do anything crazy like pull it out or stir it around, once it is set it stays there until the maté ritual is finished.

Mate Flavour
As for the flavour, well I think this maybe  one of those things you learn to like.  It sort of like green tea only a whole lot stronger and at times bitter though every Uruguayan we met was sure that we would learn to love it.  We started out on one which was rather potent and have since backtracked to Abuelita (little grandmother) to slowly work towards proper appreciation.