I realise that i got a bit excited about Patagonia but there is much more to Argentina than just the amazing south. In fact Argentina is massive, it would takes months to see all the major sites and unfortunately we will miss a few of the major ones (iguazu falls, mendoza) but choices have to be made when your on limited time and a budget. Argentina isn't that cheap, yes its cheaper than Ireland but its one of the more expensive south american countries. It is also one of the more complicated ones when it comes to the currency. The currency itself isn't difficult to understand. It is approx 1 US dollar = 5 peso. The stressful thing about the currency is that you get a lot more than 5 peso for your dollar if you exchange it on the 'blue' or 'black' market. Basically, Argentina's economy declined and when that happened people wanted to buy US dollars as a means of saving. So, the government put a ban on argentinians buying US dollars/foreign currency. The result is that if you come to argentina, you can exchange your dollars for around 7.5/8 pesos on what is called the 'blue market' as dollars are wanted. Its not strictly legal but its not a dodgey as it sounds. Its great for the tourist in that you can get 1.5 times more than the official rate that you'd get from the bank. The downside is that it's a bit stressful as you have to find the right seller and hope that they are not giving you fake peso notes. You have to check the notes, then hope your not being followed etc - the usual streetwise security. It also means you need to bring US dollars with you. The best rates are in Buenos Aires, elsewhere in the country its mostly the offical rate or some shops will offer more.
Buenos Aires itself is as expected, a very busy and vibrant city with plenty to see and do. Altogether we spent 7 nights in it (before and after Pategonia) its definitely a city that you could fall in love with but unfortunately for us, we were (particularly me) just too exhausted to fully appreciate it. That said we did our fair share of sightseeing. Maire, Ger and I went for a lovely evening in a restaurant a little out from the main center. It was a real treat as it was a tasting evening done by a collaboration of two chefs (one from a restaurant in Mendoza). We were treated to about 6 courses and had different wines to taste with each. Needless to say, we throroughly enjoyed ourselves. That is one thing about Argentina, the wine and the meat is outstanding. I always thought it was a bit of a myth when people 'went on' about argentinian steaks but no it isn't. If you love red meat and beef in particular then book your ticket to Argentina!!!
There are lots of cool cafes/restaurants around Buenos Aires especilly in the palermo region. It's full of local designers, tea shops etc. There are also lots of tango bars and shows. We went to one local place where you could get lessons and later on they had some professionals to show us how it is done. We didn't do lessons but we went along to watch. It was cool and I was tempted to get lessons at some stage but time didn't really allow it. We did also get to a music festival when we got back from Patagonia. It was really cool. It was very similar to festivals in spain and we were chuffed to just to hear anything. We hadn't been to a festival/concert in so long that it was a bit of a treat. We had gone hoping to see on DJ in particular (jeff mills) but unfortunatley he didn't show up. Never the less we enjoyed it until about 2am when the heavens open and we were soaked to the skin. There wasn't much shelter at it so we ended up leaving but were happy enough as by that stage we had seen some cool acts.
After Buenos Aires, we took an overnight bus (22 hrs) to Salta, a city in the North of the country. Luckily the bus we got was quite luxurious so the trip wasnt that bad. The long distance buses in Argentina & South America are completly different to anything I had seen before. They are big double deckers usually and have super comfy reclining seats. On long journeys you are served meals etc. It was quite the novelty for us.
Salta itself is a lovely city. Its busier (traffic wise) than I thought it would be. We signed up for a 1 week spanish course there in a homestay. The course itself was good but a little outdated in material. The homestay was fine but unfortunately our host ended up in hosptial for 2 nights the day we arrived. The course definitely helped us to pick up some basics and we can at least order in a restaurant now and understand a bit.
Out of Salta you can visit various towns/wine regions all of which have spectacular landscapes and are only about 3-4 hours away. We done a day trip to Cachi which was about 3 hours west of Salta and much much higher. That day we hit 3, 400m and got our first taste of high altitudes in South America. In Cachi, the landscape has lots and lots of Cacti. They are class. I don't think I'll ever get sick of looking at them.
We also spent a weekend in the wine region of cafayate. Here they make superb argentinian wines and specialise in one particular white wine made using the torrontes grape which is really yummy. Cafayate is stunning and the 2nd half of the journey from Salta is really spectacular. Unfortunately for me the journey was a little bit of a 'non event'. I ended up with a stomach bug and spent the time there in bed. Luckily we had booked into a really lovely guesthouse "Casa Arbol"and the owners were a young family who were so nice. Oh well, these things happen and at least I got to see the scenery and ger got to taste a few of the wines.
From Cafayate it was time to say begin our goodbyes to Argentina. We headed north of Salta to the village of Tilcara which was the last stop before Bolivia. As we entered Tilcara, its not hard to see why so many people stop here for a few days. It really is a very picturesque little village. there is also a noticable difference in the culture wiith more people wearing traditional clothes. It is a bit touristy but the upside of this is that are some really lovely restaurants, interesting shops and lots of things to do in the area such as a visit to the Pucará de Tilcara, the partially reconstructed ruins of a pre-Inca "pucará".
Tilcara was our last stop in Argentina. Argentina is an amazing country, full of specualar scenery, wildlife and very friendly people. It is a big country though. I think we would have needed about 4 months to see it properly. We really enjoyed our time there with Patagonia being the ultimate highlight. Sadly, my time there was tainted a little with sickness. Argentina is not a great place for someone with IBS. While the steaks, parillas (grills) are amazing, the food is very rich and is bread heavy. This is always an issue though when your not really cooking for yourself and travelling so I cant blame Argentina.
Next stop Bolivia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dodding Mosquito Status: Buenos Aires was fine but the battle began as soon as we entered our homestay in Salta. I am not sure why but this homestay seemed to be habouring lots of our enemies. The garden outside our room was like an army camp of mossies and we were stuck in the middle. Well after several hours of battle and the use of chemical warfare (ie: a plug in spray) we managed to sleep reasonably comfortably. We did have serveral run ins though throughout the week and this particular army loved Ger. He has since had to upskill his killing techniques!!!!