Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Home, James

We rented an apartment in the heart of Palermo Soho....

The view from our apartmento.
You should thank me; I'm only making you look at one of thousands of sunset photos.

Living room.
I never once sat on that couch.

Dining/ipadding area

Kitchen (the only thing we ever made in here was popcorn)

We've never had an apartment with stairs before!

Upstairs bedroom area

Upstairs desk area
Found a local grocery store and a farmers market...

Our local chain supermercado.
Not a nightclub.
It's not Union Square, but it'll do
Our neighborhood heladeria and a medialuna take-out window....

Dave enjoys a conito (the smallest ice cream size available) at the esquina de helados
(our name for the nearby intersection that boasts TWO delicious ice cream shoppes)
Baking my delicious breakfast treats

Mmmmmm.... these guys are made with shortening and salt.
Double mmmmmm.... and these guys are made with butter and then glazed
A local steak joint....

Token green stuff on the side

A laundry and a gym

You should see the women who work out here, wow.
I've never seen Dave so excited to hit the gym
(a good thing, given the helado, medialunas and steaks mentioned above)

We like it here so much that we've already opened our own business!

As usual, Jesse brings home the bacon
(or in this case, the bife de chorizo)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a (sweat) bomb on the bus.

After two wonderful weeks in Salta, we were headed to Buenos Aires.  Back to the big city.  We looked forward to having our own apartment.  A week with each of our parents (a good motto for those weeks might be, "will tour-guide for food.  For delicious, expensive, restaurant food").  And all the other finer things of city life.  But before any of this could happen, we had to travel the 1500 kilometers (932 miles) between Salta and Beunos Aires.  By bus.

But don't worry, we learned our lesson during our last 18 hour bus ride and this time bought first class, Suite Premium tickets.  This meant that there was more space between seats, they reclined and extended up to 180º  (actually, more like 175º, but who's counting) achieving a fully horizontal position, and did not include any small children on the bus.  I was pretty excited for the ride.  Jesse was also.  The day went as follows:

8 AM:  Breakfast
9 AM:  Meet Fransisco of Mountain Bike Salta
9:30 AM - 12:30 PM: Mountain bike in the hot Salta weather.  Jesse wisely uses this time to take care of various administrative tasks that I have now successfully shirked.
1:30 PM: Get dropped off at our hotel
1:30 PM - 2 PM: Am told by our small hotel that they cannot accommodate my request to shower in any of the rooms, despite the fact that they were being turned over for new guests and had not yet been cleaned, and that I would shower in it before they cleaned it for the guests who will be checking in.  After some slight argument I was unexpectedly offered the option of using one of the other guest's bathrooms who was out touring Salta for the day!  And those guests were not even checking out that night, so the bathroom had all of their toiletries and personal items!
2 PM - 2:05 PM: Do the best shower I can in the sink of the other guest's bathroom.  Try not to get their makeup and other toiletries wet.  Hope that hotels don't regularly let sweaty people "bathe" in my room.  Change out of my sweaty clothes and into clean ones.  This is not very effective as the clean clothes become immediately sweaty as I am still hot and still sweaty.  Recall, I had not been given the opportunity to shower.
2:10 PM:  Head back to Dona Salta (Córdoba 46) for one last taste of some of the best empandas we've had on the trip (dried salted beef - I know it sounds weird, but they are soooooooooo good).  Order 7 empanadas for the road.

The to-go container is not as nice as this traditional wooden board, but the empanadas were just as good.
2:11 PM -2:15 PM: Head to the Dona Salta bathroom for a second "shower" in their sink while our empanadas cook.
2:20 PM: Hop in a cab for the bus station.  I am simultaneously thrilled and upset that I have a giant bag of hot empanadas on my lap - given that I am a) hungry, and b) hot and sweaty.
2:35 PM:  Get to the bus station to learn that our bus is delayed by one hour.
2:40-3:30 PM I find a giant fan and sit directly in front of it.  By now I have adequately cooled down.  I also think I do not smell, the fact that no one stands behind me in the fan's cool air suggests otherwise.
3:45 PM:  Our bus arrives.  Let the good times roll.

Suite Premium Flecha Bus.  Notice the older, more distinguished crowd surrounding it.
Just the type of crowd I hope to see around my means of transport.

3:50 PM:  Head upstairs to our front-row, suite premium seats.  They look plush.  They were plush.

4:00 PM:  Hit the road.  5 kilometers down, 1495 to go.
One third of one percent of the trip done and Jesse has already finished one book.
She would have finished more if not for Dave's constant poking, prodding, and other childish behavior.
4:20 PM:  We realize we have a long ride ahead us.
A really long ride.
4:30 PM:  The end of all peace and quiet.  Flecha Bus queues up a straight-to-DVD movie marathon.  Loudly. 
4:35 PM - 7:00 PM:  Begin watching Husband for Hire.  Die a little inside that I will never get that time back (even though the time would be spent staring out the window, playing video games (people, buy Angry Birds, buy it now), or just hassling Jesse.

A Latina woman must find a suitable Latino man or risk losing her inheritance. In desperation she hires a man from a group of immigrant laborers, but he turns out to be Caucasian. She must turn him into a convincing suitor while fending off her sister's machinations, her father's suspicions, and the man's girlfriend.Amidst it all, [DSM: wait for it, wait for it] they start falling for each other.  [DSM:OMG, who would have thought!?!]
After Husband for Hire it was snack time!  Lets see what we got:
The starting line (from the upper left corner and moving clockwise)
1)  cereal bar that tasted like bits of cardboard held together by glue;
2) a promising "mini-chocolate dulce de leche ("DDL") cookie that also tasted like cardboard with DDL between the "cookies";
3) Sin sal crackers - dry, white, and, not surprisingly, cardboardish crackers, and for those of you who speak Spanish, you know these are  proudly labeled as "Without Salt", ugggggh;
4) next on the line-up, sweet biscuits with oat & raisins.  These were the best of the bunch, but hardly anything to write home about (or blog about?), and finally,
5) some extra strawberry jam and DDL.
My question to Flecha Bus:  This is Suite Premium!  What about a bag of Lays?  Is an Oreo too expensive?  

I also watched Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, which was actually not bad. 

7:00 PM - 7:45 PM: Enjoyed the beautiful scenery.  I offer you extra-large scenery pics.
The Andes mountains.  They are really nice.  But only for so long.

Scenic farm land.  Also very nice.  Also for only so long.

See, they get boring.

8:00 PM - 10:00 PM:  Read?  [Note from Jesse:  More like, "Hassle Jesse while she reads"]
10:00 PM: We stop in an unknown city to pick up new passengers.  I go out and purchase some proper snacks.  Lay's chips, Oreos, and a Heineken.  Despite Jesse's assurances that she does not want anything to eat or drink she happily shares in my newfound bounty.
10:15 PM:  But wait, my purchases were premature!  Our Flecha Bus Attendant came upstairs to tell us that dinner was served!  Because I read the Flecha Bus promotional materials I knew each bus was "staffed by a group of careful law enforcement auxiliary [to make] your trip more enjoyable."  The problem with Flecha Bus's decision to hire auxiliary law enforcement personnel is that they do not appear to be trained in selecting on-road movies, or preparing on-road food, their main function on these buses.  The dinner was, well, lacking.
The Starters
  1. An empanda (ham & cheese, obvi),
  2. cold rice pilaf (a surprising , and rather poor, choice), 
  3. fruit cup, and 
  4. the carbs - melba toast and a stale roll, along with of course, a few packets of mayo.

Jesse concludes that whatever auxiliary law enforcement training our Flecha Bus attendant might have had it did not include anything on long-grain white rice, onion, celery, stock, seasoned salt, pepper, cayenne, or the other delicious ingredients found in rice pilaf
Oh, but wait.  There is more.  Lets move on to the main course:

Wow.  What can I say?  Somebody call the police?
This delicious hot dinner included:
  1. Top layer: thick cut ham, charred by the scalding hot tin plate the dish was served in
  2. Middle layer: a breaded and fried piece of "meat".  It was both tough, chewy, and flavorless, a tough combination to achieve in a fried dish,
  3. Bottom layer: a cheesey, mashed potato dish.  This was the dinner's saving grace.  It was pretty good.

Jesse, always skeptical of 1) food in transit (for the twin reasons of flavor and bathroom situations), and 2) slices of ham was not going near this dinner.  That is, until she learned of the cheesy mash lying beneath the surface.  Who knew that its draw would be so great as to compel her to dig through not one, but two layers of food she finds totally repulsive.
12:30 PM:  The movies stop playing.  We have completed our Breaking Bad (season 1) marathon.  It's time for bed.

Full flatness.  Awesome. 
Its more comfortable than the beds at a few of our hostels.
9:00 AM (following day):  Wake up to the smell of a Flecha Bus breakfast.  Medialunas and coffee - not so bad.  

9:15 AM:  More movies.  This time its a French movie (played in french) with Spanish subtitles.  It looks to be from the late 70's early 80's.  It looks bad.  We only have a few more hours to go.

11:30 AM:  We made great time and arrive early.  Woo hoo!  Buenos Aires here we come!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Week Four Daily Journal

Friday, October 22
Cafayate, Argentina

We headed back to the plaza for breakfast and shared an overpriced omelet and some coffees.  On our way to the first winery, we stopped off to see some ruins and picked up a local guide named Miguel.  We never would've found the stuff we were supposed to see if we hadn't had him with us, although we're still not sure how much of what we saw was actually ancient cave art, or more recent Miguel art.  Jesse practiced driving stick and then we went to Finca las Nubles.  We had a tour and tasting in Spanish (doesn't even matter any more, since we've done so many winery tours we would probably understand it in any language) and then had a dream lunch - empanadas, grilled veggies, 2 small perfectly cooked pieces of steak and a cheese plate.
Old wine barrels at Porvenir

Next we went to Estecco, where we sampled DSM's namesake wines from the Don David line.  At our next stop, El Porvenir, we wine tasted with a group of men from all different countries who were developing a resort and golf course in the area on land owned by the owner of the winery.  Needless to say, we got to try some of the good stuff that isn't on the normal tasting menu.  We finished up at Salvador Figuera, a tiny one-man operation.  After resting up (and recuperating) we went to El Terruno for a very tasty dinner.

Saturday, October 23
Cafayate, Argentina to Salta, Argentina

Great scenery on the road between Cafayate and Salta
We spent part of our morning trying to find the winery San Pedro de Yacochuya, and when we finally found it, discovered that tastings were only by appointment.  Oh well.  The road from Cafayate to Salta was gorgeous and we stopped to check out the many signposted rock formations.  We stopped for lunch at a lakeside restaurant where Dave accidentally ordered the fish with garlic sauce rather than the chicken with garlic sauce much to his disappointment.  Back in Salta, we checked in to the gorgeous Sheraton Salta for only 3000 points and went to the pool and then had a proper shower without flip-flops.  Dinner was at Viejo Jack where we ordered steak and chicken which turned out to be enough for at least 4 people.

Sunday, October 24
Salta, Argentina, to Tilcara, Argentina

Billy goats!
We drove north from Salta, past Jujuy, and stopped in Purmumarca, where we paid 5 pesos to park (enraging Dave for hours), ate our lunch of Viejo Jack leftovers and perused some of the traditional Pumumarca textiles.  Next we drove to Humuarca (stopping at a museum and at the Tropic of Capricorn monument) and after about an hour there drove back south to Tilcara, where we spent the night (after driving around for a while and looking for a place to stay) at a hotel Agua Canta.  We went to a local place for dinner where Dave had llama in gravy (sort of like a mediocre brisket in gravy (and adding insult to injury, not one hour before we had been petting llamas)) and Jesse had locro (a traditional maize based stew, it was ok).

Monday, October 25
Tilcara, Argentina to Salta, Argentina

Road back to Salta
We drove back past Pumamarca along a windy road that climbed to over 12,000 feet until we finally reached the edge of the salt plains.  We stopped (along with a tour bus) at a salt mining operation and explored the salt bricks, huge piles of salt, and miles of salt flats.  Also the salt llamas and other salt creations being sold by local peoples.  We spent a while taking funny pictures that used the lack of perspective, most of which we subsequently lost when our memory card failed.  After driving for an hour and a half down a horribly rutted road, we stopped in San Antonio de Los Cobres.  We were starving for lunch but since it was siesta obviously everything was closed.  So we (along with some other people from BA) approached a lady on the street who had a little portable oven grill type thing.  She ran home and made us some empanadas, they were delicious.  J then bought a knit hat and fittens from a lady on the street.  Before leaving town we drove to the "don't miss" viaduct, which we surely could have missed especially given how long it took us to get there.  The last part of the day was the drive back to Salta along the route taken by La Tren de Los Nubles.  Especially noteworthy was when road work required that we drive along a dry riverbed.  After we dropped off the car back in Salta we attempted to go to a new hostel we had made a reservation at but they totally screwed it up so we were back at Inti Huasi in the same musty smelling room with the same somewhat questionable shared bathroom.  We couldn't find any of the places we wanted for dinner so we ended up a random place by the square where J had a mushroom omelet and D had grilled chicken.

Tuesday, October 26
Salta, Argentina

Steak and eggs, clean plate club
We slept in and then changed to a different room with private bathroom that was well worth the extra 20 pesos ($5).  Then we dropped off our laundry and picked up the rental car and drove out to San Lorenzo, a leafy suburb of Salta.  We checked out some of the huge mansions and then had lunch (J salad, D steak with onions, peppers and an egg).  We drove up to the Quedabra de Caminos which turned out to be a nice looking woodsy area to hike in, except J was wearing flip flops so we passed and headed back to Salta where we tried to return the rental car.  However, since it was the middle of the afternoon, the rental car place was closed.  Pretty much everything in Salta closes from 12-5 which really screws up many of our days.  So we drove it back to the hostel and then back in later.  For dinner we went to a pizza place.  Definitely not NY pizza but it was ok.

Wednesday, October 27
Sayta Estancia, Chicoana, Argentina

We were picked up at 9am and driven to Sayta Ranch where we were met by the charismatic owner, Enrique.  The incredibly fun day consisted of breakfast, ride, ridiculous pork feast, afternoon ride (really difficult after all that wine and food!), tea, and empanadas and tamales for dinner.  There were some great people staying atthe ranch - a family from VT on their own RTW trip (Tammi, Brian, Ian, Reed and May), a German couple (Niko and Rebekah), and a French couple (Doris and Patrick).  We all got along really well, and Niko and Rebekah taught us to play Schneffel (?), a dice game similar to Uno.  J lost.  I can't even imagine how well Taryn would do with her crazy 4-5-6 dice-rolling skills.  

Thursday, October 28
Sayta Estancia, Chicoana, Argentina

Another full day at the ranch.  The French couple left, but we were joined by Claire from England.  Lunch was lomo, dinner was pasta with salsa de Enrique.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sayta Ranch - Confidence, Charisma, & Chauvinism: The Three “C’s” of Gaucho Living

Gaucha Jesse surveys the scene.
           We went to Sayta Ranch to horseback ride.  For 3 superb days we ate an unreasonable quantity of meat, drank an unreasonable amount of wine, and in between the eating and drinking even did some horseriding.

            Sayta Ranch is located in Chicoana, outside of Salta.  The ranch is all-inclusive, including a pick-up from our hostel.*  We arrived at Sayta around 10, had a (small) breakfast and met the other gauchos (both the working gauchos (handsome young men, generally unmarried, but with a handful of kids), and the tourist gauchos (also all handsome, but mostly married).  At that point it was time for our first morning ride.  We saddled up and then basically walked (with one tiny path for galloping) with the horses for three hours.

I think its clear that both me and my horse
had the same thought in mind.
Get me home for lunch.
In my view, the optimal length of a horse ride is 60-90 minutes.  As anyone who knows me would suspect, however, the optimal time immediately drops to zero once I am hungry.  And so when you combine a small breakfast at 10, followed by a ride from 11 AM to 2 PM you can be certain that someone was feeling pretty sorry for himself about halfway through the first ride.  Would you believe me if I said it was Jesse who was feeling sorry for herself?  I didn’t think so.  Despite my pangs of hunger, the first ride was very scenic.

Fields of green tobacco, golden wheat, and the Andes in the distance made for some pretty impressive scenery.
But even if we went to the ranch for the horseriding (or is it horseback riding?), it was the lunches that made it all worthwhile.  I would happily ride all day for one of the parillas that Enrique, the owner of the Ranch, made for us each day.  Outrageous in size, he purchased at least a pound of meat for each man, woman, and child at the ranch, but perfectly cooked, this was an asado with love.  With, as you will see, tough love.

Like an oasis to a man in the desert, this parilla was my saving grace.
8 kilos of beef.  11 guests, including 2 children**.
But, man, look at those costillas in the back.
The dog sure knew where to sit.
I was only slightly jealous. He was closer to the meat, but I had a chair.
          Enrique is a difficult man to describe.  He has an aura of confidence, charm, and charisma that draws you in and instantly connects you to him.  Within minutes of arriving at his home you feel truly welcomed, not as a client, but as a friend.  Without formalities or pretenses Enrique instantly puts you at ease and you settle into the life at the Estancia.  Life at the Estancia, however, is dominated by Enrique.  At his house you play by his rules – and he has many great rules.

Enrique, Jesse, Dave, and the parilla (BBQ).

Rule #1: Carne, Pan, & Vino (Steak, Bread, and Wine).  Everything else is hospital food
            For Enrique, there are only three things to eat in this world: steak, bread, & wine.  Everything else, as he put it, is shit.  Or, more descriptively, hospital food.  And after 60-some years on this diet perhaps he is right, he was robust and had more vigor than men half his age (read: me).  And his parillas bore witness to this belief. 
Enrique's Table.
In his mind, your plate is always empty.

            After the morning ride we would return to the ranch to find pounds and pounds of steak roasting on the grill.  Though he served up (delicious) salads he pulled me aside and told me that these were for the women and children.  Men, he said, eat steak.  And at Sayta Ranch, boy did I eat steak.  Gorgeous, perfectly seasoned, and massive cuts of filet, sirloin, flank, ribs, pork, and other bits that came from parts that I don’t even want to know about.  And all of this was after the starters of salchica (the best sausage I’ve ever hard), morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo (with and without blue cheese) and more that I am probably forgetting.

            With the wine flowing freely (see Rule #3 below), Enrique could not be stopped with the meat.  Within moments of finishing one glorious cut of meat (or in fact, moments of halfway finishing) Enrique was at your side, simultaneously complimenting you on your culinary accomplishments and challenging you to take one more slice.  Not that it was really choice.  The meat was so good, that in the moments hesitation between the primal “more-delicious-meat” thought and the higher functioning “I am so stuffed I could burst, and I have a 2-3 hour horse ride coming up, and  after that we still have dinner” Enrqiue had slid another perfect slice onto your plate, clapped you on the back and beamed with pride, it was impossible to say no.

Morcilla (Blood Sausage)

Salchica (My most favorite and delicious sausage)
Lomo.  A whole filet mignon tenderloin.  For me.  Heaven.
Dessert.  Look at the crisp grasso (fat).
I wish I had it now.

The man is an Asador.

Rule #2:  Water is for showers
Enrique hazing Niko & Rebekah.

Along with his view that there is no limit to the amount of meat a man can eat, Enrique steadfastly believed that water is for showering only.  When he spotted me pouring water into my wine glass (you only have one glass), with mock outrage he would roar, “Daaaahhh-veeeeed, What is this?  This is not a time for shower!”  And saunter over with a bottle of wine (and likely a slab of beef), dump the water on the ground and fill my cup to the brim (actually Jesse’s first, see Rule #3 below).
Indeed, the only proper thing to drink at Sayta Ranch is the light, easy-drinking wine that is served to each person by the bottle.  Allegedly produced by monks living high in the mountains, Enrique promised this wine would not, and could not result in a hangover.  Remarkably, he was right.  We know this because of Rule #3.

Rule #3:  Ladies First
Anytime anyone at the communal table was pouring wine, Enrique insisted that all the women’s glasses be filled (to the brim if he had his way) before pouring your own.  With everyone topping off everyone else’s half-filed wine glasses (and Enrique filling them even if they were full) it was no surprise that we went through one or two cases of wine each day.  Somehow, each morning we felt totally fine, and ready to horseride (well, kinda ready), and definitely ready for another asado for lunch.

The Experience
Our time at Sayta was superb.  In part, this was because of Enrique, his attitude, his force of character, and of course, his asados.  But it was also the other guests at the Ranch.  We really enjoyed our time with the Browning family (including a much needed beer with Brian after three days drinking only room temperature red wine), and learning Kneiffel with our best barman Niko and hearing about all his and Rebekah’s travel adventures, and meeting Patrick, Doris, Claire, and more.

The afternoon ride - post parilla, post vino - was always a bit more exciting and a bit more fun.
* Things actually got off to a bit of a rocky start when at 8:45 AM we were told our 9:00 AM ride had arrived.  As Jesse scurried about finishing packing, paying the hostel, and doing a final room check, the surly driver explained to me that the 9:00 AM pick-up time had been changed to 8:00 AM and that he had been waiting for over 45 minutes.  How we were suppose to have known the the pick-up time had changed, despite his repeatedly showing me the post-it note with our name, our hotel’s name and “8:00 AM” was unclear.  No one from Sayta had told us of the new pick-up time.  As we drove through the city it was strangely deserted, eerily so.  In an attempt to make amends with our driver (we weren’t sure if we would be spending the next three days living, riding, and eating with him) we asked why everything was so dead.  Sadly, his mumbled Spanish response was incomprehensible to us.  Later, we learned that that day was the census day, during which – by law – everyone has to stay home and some 650,000 teachers nationwide go door to door counting everyone.  Perhaps his grumpiness arose from the fact that those in the tourist industry are exempt from this government mandated day off….

** Note from Jesse:  Ian was only 13, but given that he ate more meat than even Dave, we put him squarely in the adult category.  Also -- the fact that Dave did not feel honor-bound to out-eat a 13 year old is truly a testament to the sheer amount of food Enrique served us.

More Photos

The Scenery

A great day for riding.

Workers tending to the tobacco by hand
Golden fields of wheat in front forested the forrested Andean foothills.

The Riding

Me and Jesse.  This photo took about 10 minutes to set up.

Claire gallops.
Patrick riding with his gourd.

Jesse gallops.

Still galloping!
Ian galloping.
Reed, helping the gaucho gallop.

May.  Not galloping.  Yet.
Niko gallops.
Rebekah gallops (even better than Niko).
Whoa cowboy - lets try to stay on the road (errr, grass).
And we're done.  Hitting the brakes.

The Ranch

Room No. 1 - Two twins.  Behind the kitchen.  Maid's quarters?
Upgrade with a wink & a nod to Enrique.  
First room's bathroom.  Note the showerhead over-head.
This really addresses that age-old question of whether you can pee in the shower.
Upgraded room!
But the way Enrique poured wine this bed was for passing out only. 
Horse-riding equipment.

More gear.  The saddles look comfortable.
Don't be fooled.
Enrique had the fifth and ninety-ninth motorized vehicles in Salta and Chicoana respectively.

What's a ranch without four-legged friends?
Here, Jesse plays dead with Fiorina.