Sunday, October 31, 2010

Asado With Money, Asado With Love

In Mendoza we had back to back asados (asado, noun - typically a sequence of (an absurb amount of) meats & wine presented by the asador (grill-man)).

Pulenta Estates
Just the beginning
(but a beginning of brie, blue cheese,
and salami is always a good start)
The first was at Pulenta Estates, a fantastic winery, which made us a fancy (and costly) asado in the owner’s on-site bungalow (which they only use when they fly in on their private jet from Buenos Aires). We began with a delicious spread of cheese, meats, wine, and the best empanadas to date (sweet potato and corn, I know, no meat, I can hardly believe it myself). After our group polished off a few bottles we moved to the table to enjoy the meat. Which never stopped coming. Chorizo, blood sausage, flank steak, sirloin steak (double portion please), tenderloin, and then ribs (oh those sweet crispy, juicy ribs)* along with salads, more empanadas (which I forced down), and then a fancy flan for dessert. Everything was served by waiters, we never saw the grill (actually, I snuck out the back to talk to the asador – to try to get a quick morsel in before the meal began because I, as always, was a little nervous there would not be enough).

That's a fancy asado.

This was a fantastic asado. But it was a fancy, sit-down, waiter-service kind of meal. Not that there is anything wrong with that.   If you have the opportunity to take an asado & wine tasting at Pulenta Estates, you would be a damned fool to pass it up. Kudos to Mike & Celeste of Hostel Lao for setting it up and insisting that we join them for this terrific day. It was great.

When you know its been a good asado...

Is that four glasses for the Meshkovs?  Could be.

Chaqnapi Estancia

The next day we scheduled a 10:30 AM start (knowing that the Pulenta tasting was the day before) for an
That's where we are riding?!?
all day horseback ride with a, you guessed it, asado.  Diego of Chaqnapi picked us up and we drove out to ranch, only 30 minutes outside of Mendoza, and after turning onto his property in the mountains you cannot see or hear the city at all.  Once we mounted our trusted steeds (Toki for me; Balthazar for J) we were overtaken by the calm quietness that comes when you are away from the hectic city. Just 30 minutes outside Mendoza there were no engines idling, horns honking, or sirens wailing – it was just us and our horses in the foothills of the beautiful Andes mountains.

The riding was good. But after a few hours I, and our horses, needed a break and some sustenance. Diego took us up to the an oasis of sorts where he had a small cabin with a clay oven and grill in which he would prepare our Asado.**  Because an Asado takes time to prepare (if there is no asador faithfully working while you tour the winery) while Diego set the table, collected wood, and began making a fire Jesse and I began drinking the first bottle of wine.*** Diego then prepared and served us delicious homemade bread, some cheese and a giant plate of olives (good for J, bad for me). We relaxed, drank more wine and waited for the grill to reach a proper cooking temperature.

Dream meal.  For sure.
The grill needed a lot of heat, because for the three of us Diego brought almost 3 kilos of meat! Two thirds beef, one third pork – can you say dream meal? You can once I saw that Deigo also brought onions to cook up (with salt, pepper, and more oil, duh) As we sat by the fire Deigo cooked up the meat to a perfect jugoso (juicy, medium rare) and then served us a freshly prepared salad of tomatoes, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh herbs and salt. The meat with the salad was so simple, yet so delicious, we were well-reminded that sometimes the simplest things are the best.  Having watched (and offered to help) the entire preparation and sitting with the Diego as he made the meal made it taste that much better. The asado was made with love, and we could tell the difference. We finished the meal off with delicious homemade cake and a shared cup of matė tea. After the meal, and totally stuffed – sorry Toki – we rode back to the ranch as the sun set over the Andes. It was a great day.

Fat & happy - thankfully the horses knew the way home.

* A photo of the meat from Pulenta Estates is missing because there may have been a bit of feeding frenzy once the beef was served.

** In the final stretch up to the campsite Diego encouraged me to let Toki run, so I gave him a half-hearted “hee-yah” and gentle kick hoping to break only into a trot (despite the possible pain to my butt and “package” (as Diego referred to my ‘private parts’ in his multiple inquiries as to our comfort and well-being)). Alas, despite my lackluster call to action, Toki knew it was almost breaktime and bolted into a full gallop. It was exhilarating. That horse was going so fast, it was all I could to just to hold on. If was like riding a wave-runner at full throttle, but without anyway to control your speed, direction, or avoid low-hanging branches...

*** Don’t worry mom. We offered to help multiple times but each time was firmly refused. As the (paying) guests we were told the only thing we could do was sit, relax, and enjoy the afternoon – my type of job.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mendoza - Steak, Wine, Ride, Repeat

Mendoza is the wine capital of Argentina, responsible for producing over 70% of Argentinean wines.  It boasts a hot, dry climate, with little rain and sun for something like 350 days a year.  We, of course, managed to arrive during the other rare days of clouds, chilly winds and thunderstorms.  Things we heard often included, “wow, it’s never like this here,” and “I’ve never seen so many cloudy days in a row,” and “the power has never been knocked out by a storm before!”

Cloudy day, sunny smile, interesting hairdo
Despite the lack of perfect weather, we spent a great week in Mendoza.  The first thing we did upon our arrival in Argentina was head straight for Don Julios, recommended to us as the best steakhouse in Mendoza.  We sat down and, like true carnivores/Argentines, ordered a bife de chorizo (like a NY Strip), a bottle of wine, a bottle of sparkling water, and nothing else.  It was DELICIOUS, the whole meal cost $36, and we still had plenty left over for breakfast the next morning.  We then got really excited for the next three months in Argentina.

600 grams of jugoso (medium rare) goodness

After a few days in Mendoza proper, we headed out to the nearby town of Maipu where we stayed for two nights at a great hotel called Tikaykilla.  The owner, Francisco, drove us to a couple wineries and (since barely anything is open at night) called his chef friend to open her restaurant for us for dinner.

Francisco´s amazing dog Sukie, waiting patiently for some playtime.
 The next day we picked up bikes and cruised around to nearby bodegas (not NYC corner stores, but the Argentine term for winery) for wine tastings, olive oil tastings, chocolate tastings and liquor tastings.

Enjoying the delicious organic wine at Carinae

Baby Dave in a bonnet.
Vineyards (and workers)

A less successful wine tasting
We saw many other bike riders in our day of riding.  We were the only ones wearing helmets.  Our mothers taught us well.

Biking self portraiture.  Slightly wobbly after a full day of tasting.
The leafy streets of Maipu.  Note the rain jacket.  Not necessary 350 days of the year.  Sad for us.
How cute is this little vine tendril?

We also spent a great day horsebacking riding in the foothills of the Andes mountains.  Another post about that to follow, but here are some photos to enjoy....

I love how these pups followed us in a single file line for the entire day.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Comedy in Chilean Buses

The time for “aimless wandering” in Valpariso had come to end.  Our time in Chile had also come to end (for now).  Our journey to Argentina began at 6:30 AM and included a series of buses (including funiculars) that would spirit us across the border and into Mendoza, Argentina.  Wine Country.  Cheap, but delicious, wine country.  Yum.

We skipped a lot of steps for a mere $0.75
We left our hostal at 6:30 am so we could catch the first funicular down our hill.  The well-spent 75 cent ride (each) deposited us right at the bottom of the hill, where we were told we could hail any micro-bus (pronounced “mee-cro-bus”) because they all went to the main Valpo bus terminal.*  It was reassuring to know that we could not catch a micro-bus that did not go the bus station because our Spanish is especially bad at 7:10 AM.  We were doubly glad that all micro-buses went to the bus station because it was also raining. 

As we stood in the rain the first micro-bus we saw had a large sign that read “Viña del Mar”; we nervously boarded the (thankfully empty) bus and confirmed with the driver that his bus would stop at the central bus station.  Assured by his machine-gun response of “sí, sí, sí, sí, sí, sí, sí, sí, sí,” we hopped on the bus, and each paid him his fare of 300 Chilean Pesos ($0.60 USD) and hoped we saw the bus station soon.

As the rain increased in its intensity, it became harder to follow the streets with our map and when the driver pulled over at a corner that was certainly not the city’s main bus terminal and told us to get off we were a bit (but not that much) surprised.  Pointing up the street it became clear that he didn’t go exactly to the bus station, but rather, a few blocks away.  Assuming that this was probably as close as this bus was going to get to the bus station we hopped off, zipped up our rain jackets, and started walking in the direction he pointed.  Three blocks later, after passing the opening of a number of vegetable, fish, and other street markets, we were amply concerned that we would miss our 8 AM bus (our third bus of the day) and just like any good motorists, rolled our luggage right up to a gas station to ask for directions.   

Now, even the most rudimentary Spanish speaker knows how to ask “where is the…”, so you can imagine our concern when the gas station attendant looked at us like we had three heads when we asked him where the bus station was.  Pointing first to his right, and then to his left, and finally gesturing all around him, it would not be possible for him to offer us less helpful instructions.  The situation seemed so dire we turned to one another and decided we should ask him to call a taxi.  This, however, turned out to be unnecessary, as his wild gesticulations indicated that we could indeed go in any direction.  We were standing in the gas the station that fills up every bus that comes into and goes out of Valapariso.  The only thing between us and the bus terminal was the gas station building, and as we walked around it we could see, and it was a glorious sight, that we were standing in the bus station, and our beautiful, double-decker, Cata International bus (reserved seats, semi-cama) awaited us.  We could only hope the upcoming nine hour bus ride would have a little less action and a little more certainty.

Nine hours on a bus is a long time.  The ride was mostly uneventful, except for a few points worth mentioning. 
  • Hours one to five.  On nine hour bus rides, companies should not play Spanish love songs/muzak, loudly, from the speakers directly over your seats for over 50% of the ride.  But there was beautiful scenery as we drove into the Andes mountains.  I see it in my minds eye every time I hear the popular Mexican hit, “Espara Espara” (which was the best of the four tracks they played on a loop).  We continue to look for the CD. 

Spectacular mountain scenery

Now that is beautiful mountain scenery

  • Hour five to six.  Customs.  Here, all the lines are not the same.  One line is to leave Chile.  The other is to enter Argentina.  You need both.  We only realized this after the bus driver assistant (bus attendant?)  physically walked us from the bus back to the line to gain admittance to Argentina.  I am glad we did.  It would have been a real bummer to be stuck between Chile and Argentina in the middle of a high Andes mountain pass.

Its a long climb up to Boarder Control

Almost Made it...

    Nobody wants to be stuck in a
    Chile-Argentina border patrol station.
    Even if it is cheerful looking...
  • Hour six to six-fifteen.  Our bus seems to be delayed.  Jesse and I knowingly looked to one another and scoffed at what must be an inexperienced traveler holding up the process.  Probably someone who didn’t get their passport stamped the right number of times.  Eventually, the bus driver (not the assistant) comes to the upper deck and begins barking in rapid-fire Spanish, something about bags “maletas, maletas…”.  Because we think we are all good, and because we don’t know what he is saying, we just sit quietly and gesture that we are fine.  Becuase the entire other side of the bus is looking out the window, I decide to take a look myself, and there all alone, in a sea of tables used to inspect baggage, is my bag.  Twinny Brown, and not another bag in sight.  Panicked, I shrieked, “esto es mi maleta!”  The driver, and the rest of the bus, now knowingly looked at me, and I am quite sure, thought, “Stupid Americans.  Totally novice travelers.”**  Now, imagine our double-decker bus, totally full, having just sat for 15 minutes while a single person’s piece of luggage sat unattended, and because it was locked, uninspected, that prevented us from crossing the border and entering Argentina.  The horror.  I flew down the steps and out to the table where the entire side of the bus watched me and the bus attendant attempt to get the Argentine customers officer to finish his cigarette and inspect my bag.  As he moseyed on over, I dreaded what he might find in there.  He pulled each of my ebags packing cubes and routed through them.  Holding up each of my (very limited) pieces of clothing was only mildly embarrassing – I think my ex officio boxer briefs are really nice (and all black).  When he he pulled out my bag o’health, which was filled with totally full, hand-labeled pill bottles, gauze pads, and other drug-ish looking first-aid supplies, I became a little nervous about what might be lost in translation.  As he began unzipping the bag, however, I was saved because what appeared to be about 100 tampons began falling out of the bag, and when he realized what they were, he zipped that bag up mighty fast and then waved us along.  I am sure it was the fatest he moved all day, and probably all month.  Phew.  I threw that bag back on the bus as fast as I could and we headed into Argentina.

  • Hour six-fifteen to nine:  Grinded out the rest of the ride.  Watched Grown-ups, in English with Spanish subtitles.  It was bad.  I only imagine how bad it would be if you had to read subtitles.
All in, the day was not as bad as this recounting may make it seem.  Anyway, our next bus ride is 18 hours, and after that 22.  So this was just basic training.

*Micro-buses in Valapariso are buses that run along set routes, but, it seems, can be hailed by anyone at any point along the route.  Based on the unreasonable and totally dangerous way the micro-bus drivers swerve, merge, and stop (most uncomfortably in a full bus) on a dime to offer a ride to anyone who even so much looks at the driver, they must be paid by the number of fares they sell.  Because the fares range from $0.20 (for students) to a whopping $0.60 (for an express) these guys are merciless.  Also, because they are the biggest cars on the road, the drivers of Ford Pintos and Dahatsus know to steer clear.

** And by bus, they were totally right.  This was indeed our first multi-hour, international, double-decker bus ride.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Week One Daily Journal

We have been keeping a ¨brief¨ record of what we've been doing each day of our trip and we will post it every week or so in case you're interested.  (It's kind of boring, and we don't really expect anyone beyond our parents, sisters and Sam to read it regularly, so don´t feel obligated to leave your usual witty comments).

Friday, October 1
Santiago, Chile

Arrived in Santiago after a totally painless flight. Dave slept the entire time other than the 3 1/2 hours it took us to watch four episodes of The Shield season 1. We're staying at the Pure Lounge hostel in a nice but small private room with a private bathroom next door. After an obligatory "first drink of the trip" beer, we headed out to explore our neighborhood of Bellavista. We shared a few mediocre empanadas for lunch and then took the funicular up Cerro San Cristobal where we visited a pretty church and checked out the giant statue of the Virgin Mary. When Jesse fell asleep sitting upright on the marble steps, we figured our sightseeing for the day was over, and headed back to the hostel to nap (not a problem despite the blaring techno music playing outside our window). Dinner was tasty grilled fish at deep blue- when we arrived at 9 the place was totally empty but when we left at 10:30 there was a line out the door. Like the elderly almost 30 year olds that we are, we bypassed the many bumping bars and went back to the hostel to do some trip planning and then go to sleep.

Saturday, October 2
Santiago, Chile

We slept for almost 12 hours (and missed our free breakfast)! After a quick bite at a random olde time deli sort of place we spent the day exploring the centro area - the presidential palace, courts of justice, plaza de armas etc. We had a late lunch at Don Augusto at the mercado central, a huge fish market overflowing with tables of Chilean families having a saturday afternoon lunch (see post Mercado Central) and then headed back to the hostel via some other market. After relaxing and internetting we grabbed the backpack and walked to the nearest supermarket to load up on food for Easter Island (everyone we had spoken to about it said that was a must) and then grabbed a cappuccino and cortado. For dinner we enjoyed some tasty empanadas at Empanatodos, a tiny hole in the wall empanada joint. Back at the hostel we headed to the courtyard to listen to our new friend from Dubai, the amateur DJ, spin trance and house music.  Is this spring break 2003? He was (unfortunately) still going strong when we went to bed.

Sunday, October 3
Santiago, Chile & Easter Island, Chile

When our alarm went off at 5:30 we were wide awake listening to the party going on in the courtyard outside our room. The flight to EI was uneventful and Cecelia picked us up at the airport and took us back to Residencial Taniera, where we settled into our room, had a delicious juice from the fruit growing in the yard, and met the resident dog and cat. We ate our lunch of salami, cheese, crackers and apples (brought from the mainland) down at the soccer pitch while some locals played, and then checked out the Moai close to town, and the town itself, during a VERY long walk. It was pouring when we got back so we we were just starting to get settled on the covered porch when Dave closed the outer door, locking us out of the room without our shoes or any rain gear. Eventually he was forced to run barefoot through the yard in the pouring rain to summon Cecelia to our rescue. We had more salami, cheese and crackers until Dave fell asleep at 8:30. Jesse stayed up and finished a book.

Monday, October 4
Easter Island, Chile

Breakfast was included at the Residencial, and was bread, cheese, turkey and homemade jam, banana cake and fruit juice, all from fruit growing in Ceclia's garden. We spent about 4 hours on a horseback riding trip up to the volcano with great views of the island. Dave's horse was Roja and Jesse's was Manga. They loved to gallop right next to each other and smash our legs together. We split a very tasty atun y queso empanada from the green stand for lunch (there are 3- blue, green and yellow- by the soccer field in town).
Reenacting the pollo attack
We showered up and were sitting on the porch when a chicken, chased by the resident dog, flew past Jesse's head like a bullet and smashed into the glass behind her. It then ran into our room and Jesse accordingly ran to block it's path, but slipped and ate it on the hard patio floor. By the time we determined her wrist was not re-broken, the pollo was nowhere to be found so we assumed it had fled during the chaos. About an hour later we hard some strange clucking and found it hiding behind the drapes! Anyway, before dinner we hit the Internet cafe, and then walked forever to go to Cecelia's recommendation, TaKuVuvu for delicious fish and a postre of banana flambé.

Tuesday, October 5
Easter Island, Chile

Today we did a full day tour with Esteban. (See post Rapa Nui Wrappa Uppi).  After the tour, Dave grabbed a tuna and cheese empanada at Esteban´s favorite place, Tia Berta, and we returned to Residencial Taniera only to run right back out to try to catch the sunset over the Moai just outside of town. We didn't make it so we hung out at the playground like a couple of delinquents, eating cheese and drinking wine (out of the bottle since we didn't have glasses), and then hit Te Moana for dinner.

Wednesday, October 6
Easter Island, Chile

This morning the jam and cake were especially delicious - guava lemon jam, and passionfruit cake. At 11am we headed out on a hike to the Rano Kau volcano and Orongo ceremonial village ruins. Along the way, we were stopped by two men in a pickup truck who flashed a badge, told us they were the police, and asked to see our passports. When we said that we had left them in our hotel they immediately told us to forget it and drove away. Weird scam; when we told Cecelia about it later she said we was going to call the police (the bigger story here, however, is the fact that we managed to explain the situation to her in español!).  After Rano Kau and Orongo we hit up Ana Kai Tangata (see post Rapa Nui Wrappa Uppi).  Back in town, we shared a tuna sandwich from one of the beachside stalls (it came with avocado, tomato, lettuce and, of course, canned green beans). Then Jesse wrote some blog entries while Dave headed back out for the sunset shots he had missed the day before (although please note that the photo to the right was taken by J). That evening we went to Te Ra'ai for a traditional Rapa Nui meal of fish, chicken, pork and beef wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a hole in the ground covered by hot rocks, and a singing and dance performance by a Rapa Nui dance troupe. It was touristy but fun. (see post Full Cultural Immersion)

Thursday, October 7

Easter Island, Chile

Today we took care of business, and ate small yet unhealthy meals. Indeed, nothing green was consumed today. The day involved a lot of internetting, coffees and ice cream (shared for health), a ¨small¨ order of papas fritas ahi ahi at the yellow stand, a tuna y queso empanada at the blue stand, and dinner of leftover salami, cheese and (unfortunately, unknowingly) bran crackers.  Thankfully we managed to fit in a quick workout.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Fatter (But More Delicious) Latin J. Crew

In our second day in Valpo (having been locals for almost 2 whole days we can now call Valparaiso, Valpo), we 1) had our typical hostel breakfast of two slices of deli ham, two slices of non-descript cheese, and slice of bread,* 2) aimlessly wandered the city (as recommended by previous visitors and guidebooks) and 3) were beginning to feel a bit sorry for ourselves (i.e. Dave was hungry).  Turning discreetly to Paddy**, I quickly identified the “cheap eats” section and found what appeared to be my newest dream food: chorrillannas.

The restaurant where we were to eat chorrillannas was called J. Cruz.  Now, I have always enjoyed J. Crew - nice clothes & helpful*** employees – but it cannot compare to its far more delicious Latin cousin, J. Cruz.  We knew we were in the right spot when we saw a line of people standing at the end of a deserted alley. 

After our short wait we placed an order for a single order (for one person) of chorrillannas.  Chorrillannas are, of course, a heaping pile of French fries, topped with fried onions, scrambled eggs, and then a half pound of fried steak.  When the waitress finally dropped off our plate for one, I was in awe.

Now that is a (well-earned) sh*t eating grin.
The only thing that one could possibly add to this nearly perfect dish is cheese whiz.  Mmmmmm, cheese whiz.  As you can see, however, despite the not-as-of-yet-imported whiz, we had no problem with this deconstructed cheesesteak. (Dave´s note - the only reason the plate was not cleaned was Jesse´s shaming me into stopping with repeated questions, such as: ¨did you work out today?¨ or the always asked, but less relevant, ¨are you still hungry?¨, see also, Rapa Nui Wrappa Uppi¨Donde El Gordo¨).

Actual Camera Time
3:23:58 PM

Are we done?
3:35:16 PM

Not until we throw the white flag(s) of surrender.
3:36:58 PM
Nevertheless, it remains a total mystery how a) we ordered, but couldn´t wouldn´t finish the smallest dish J. Cruz offered, b) that all the Chileans got chorrillannos plates twice (or sometimes thrice) as large as ours, c) that the Chileans polished their plates off (and washed them down with a nice Escudo, the Chilean beer; for health, I happily took a Coca Light) and finally, e) the Chileans were somehow less fat than most Americans.  I mean, the place was jam packed.

And the best part was, the whole thing cost about the same as the co-pay to see my doctor, who, if I ever eat chorrillanas again, I am sure I will need to see.

JDMesh says:
Hauza J. Cruz.

(J. Cruz missed a double huaza because it (unsurprisinly) left us both with a mild stomache for the remainder of the day)
J, in J. Crew, in J.Cruz
(and looking less than thrilled with our lunch)

* Jesse's note -- Those of us who chose to eat the delicious fruit salad found our included breakfast to be quite tasty.  Dave´s note - Fruit salad?  Boooooooring.
**  We think, but are not sure, that our iPad (easily the most expensive item in our possession) looks like a plain old paper notebook, but still question whether it’s a good idea to pull it out to check our Lonely Planet (Kindle Edition) in the middle of the poor part of Valpo)
*** What what Ms. Marks

Saturday, October 16, 2010


We spent two laid-back days in Valparaiso, Chile, an old port town, staying at the very nice Hostal Portobello and wandering through the hilly, labrynthine streets of the old town.  This is a city known for its tasty food, funiculars and back staircase alleys, and graffiti, murals and other street art, and is best described through photos:

The houses are brightly painted.

They really nailed the ¨distressed¨ look.  It´s because its real.
Yeah, leaned on the saturation button a little heavily, but its still nice.
The funicular up to our hostal.

Its well worth the $0.60 (USD).
The streets were lined with local art.

The Brighton Hotel - whose great locale and cheerful paint job made their drinks too rich for our blood.

Chile´s Navy Building

It is still a working port city.  We heard them working all night.

Hostel Portobello.  Jesse.  A far walk down (and even worse walk back up!).

My friend at the fish market.  He said, ¨Chris Farley?¨  

A non-descript alleyway with a large line leading into a dingy looking restaurant.  Sounds delicious.  Stay tuned.

Cityscape.  At least its not another sunset shot.

There were lots of street murals.  This is a level 2 mural.  (Inception joke.  Get it?  The cat?  BJTT?)

More street art.

Uggggh, just looking at the steps makes me legs hurt.

Street art.  All bottle caps.
My artist vision, executed.  Slowly learning the D90.
Goodnight Valpo.