- Last minute measures
- A meaty welcome in a traditional Argentine parilla
- The never ending conflict of the Malvinas/Falklands
- A weekend on a typical Pamaps estancia
- Living the Gaucho life
- A proper Argentine sunday asado
- Too much Malbec
I am in Buenos Aires now and after 5 intense days here in Argentina I finally found some time to write.
Last minute measures
The last hours in Europe were quite chaotic, as I found out that I had to be vaccinated against yellow fever before coming to South America, otherwise I would be denied entry to Panama. So I managed to find a private travel shop in London which was willing to carry out this last minute vaccination, however, they did tell me that for 10 days I could get a light flu and that I would not be allowed to drink alcohol for this period. Unfortunately, I was offered far too much delicious wine here in Argentina and as a result I am now lying in bed with fever…
I had to stop over in Madrid on the way to Buenos Aires, which was awesome, as the 4 hours I had to spend there coincided exactly with the Spain-Portugal match of the Euro semifinals. They had only one TV in the terminal and around 200 people gathered there. They even postponed the flight for 40 minutes and my theory is that they did it only because the pilot and crew did not want to miss the game and it went all the way to penalties.
The flight was very long, and I underestimated just how far Argentina is from Europe. 12 long hours from Madrid and I finally arrived.
A meaty welcome in a traditional Argentine parilla
When I skyped my Argentine friend Juan before coming here he asked me what I expected from Argentina and Buenos Aires, my answer was short and clear: meat and wine! So when I got here, the first thing Juan did was taking me for lunch to a traditional parilla (steakhouse). When I got in there I was simply amazed by the culture Argentina developed with regards to beef. You get in there, and there is a proper wood-coal fire. All around, on skewers, entire of halved animals are slowly roasted. When you get the menu, you can choose from all the different cuts of the cow. And the portions are just huge: I had a big piece of meat taken from the rear leg of the cow and it just tasted amazing.
In Europe, when we eat beef we expect it to be as tender and lean as possible. Here in Argentina on the other hand, they have realized that this is complete rubbish! The fattier the meat the better! Also it is usually served quite well done, or at least not really jugoso, and some cuts are tough and chewy. But here it´s not about the tenderness, it´s only about the taste!
Parillas can be found all over the city and when I was strolling around the center I kept looking out for queues of locals in front of the street parillas. When I spotted one, I ordered sandwhich after sandwhich of succulent, amazing beef and chorizo (pork sausage, very different from the Spanish one). I had to think about lunch sandwiches in London, Pret A Manger style, and how we are used to eating prepacked, boring food in Europe, whereas here all the workers go to a parilla and have a substantial, tasty sandwich accompanied by a generously filled glass of red wine.
The never ending conflict of the Malvinas/Falklands
It seems as if I didn’t do anything but eating, which is kind of true, but I did try to visit some cultural sites of Buenos Aires too. Well, I tried because out of 7 museums I went to, only 3 were open and they were not really good. But just walking down the streets in Buenos Aires was enough to get an idea of today´s society. What surprised me most was the role that the Malvinas (Falkland Islands) still play in this country.
Basically the British occupied these islands off the coast of southern Argentina at the beginning of the 19th century. They expelled the few Argentines and populated the territory with Brits. In 1982 Argentina was facing serious domestic problems and to divert attention decided to invade the Malvinas and claim the territory back. What they didn’t expect was that Margaret Thatcher, Britain´s ruthless prime minister, embraced this conflict and sent the navy to fight the Argentines. After less than 3 months the war was over, the Falklands still British and more than 1000 people (mostly from Argentina) dead.
Today, the 4000 inhabitants of the Falklands feel British and want to stay British. Here in Argentina, however, this issue is still used by politicians for populist intentions. I talked about it with locals, and their point is that despite the valid argument of self-determination, Argentina has to keep this issue alive, as accepting the status quo would mean to accept that all those soldiers died for nothing.
I just hope that the Argentina will let this go at some point, as you can´t change what has been done and the people who live on the Falklands today have the right to stay British.
A weekend on a typical Pamapas estancia
I am very lucky that Juan is hosting me here in Buenos Aires. They have an amazing flat right in the centre of town and are trying to help me with everything. Moreover, they own an estancia 250km northwest of Buenos Aires, in the Pampas. Basically the great-great-great grandfather of Juan moved to Argentina at the beginning of the 19th century. He went to the Pampas and occupied a huge territory (around 8000 hectares) for farming.
As you can imagine, the indigenas were not very happy about this and they kept on fighting him until the end of the 19th century, when ruthless Argentine armed forces pushed back all the native people to create land for the newly arrived European immigrants. Today, Juan´s father owns 1000 hectares of land where he cultivates soy, wheat and has 500 Herefordshire cows.
On Saturday morning Juancho arrived from Santiago de Chile and the group was finally complete! We took the car and drove to the estancia. You leave the main road and start driving on this unpaved road with huge eucalyptus trees on both sides. Then you arrive at the beautiful houses in the middle of the compound. This place just has so much history, it´s incredible. Juan´s father drove us around most of the property on a 4×4 pick-up and proudly explained everything to us. The father is a lawyer and editor of a newspaper and the estancia is something he does on the side. But he has strong personal ties to this place, as it belongs to his family and his ancestors have literally fought for it.
Living the Gaucho life
On the estancia they also have 15 horses, beautiful horses which run around the fields all day and can be used for horse riding whenever. I have been on a horse only once in my life, in a small compound and to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it that much because the horse was huge, I was afraid and my thighs hurt lots. The worst was that I couldn’t play football the next day and my entire laddish football team took the piss for months.
But when I saw these horses and these endless, foggy fields I thought that it would just be stupid not give it another go. So we asked Hugo (the Gaucho who takes care of the cattle and the horses on the farm) to catch the horses and put the saddle on. They gave the oldest horse to me, which I am quite thankful for, as is was a really lazy horse and I knew that even if it started galopping it wouldn’t last very long. So me and Croto (which means very ugly/homeless) got to know each other and the first day the three of us just rode along the vast estancia, catching up after 2 years of not seeing each other. It was just so nice. Moreover, the farm´s crazy dog, Toni, accompanied us all the way and he loves to scare off the cows.
Juan and Juancho are both very good at horse riding, and they wanted to teach me how to galopp. I have a lot of respect for horses, as they are huge and unlike dogs I can´t really read their face expressions. But Croto and I were getting on really well and the second day I felt confident enough to give it a go. The only problem was Croto´s laziness, he just wouldn’t run! But after a while I managed to get him going and we galopped! It just felt so amazing, galopping down these fields in Argentina. I really want to do it again and now I can imagine just how awesome it must be to be really good at it and taking your horse out for endless strolls.
A proper Argentine Sunday asado
One more thing was missing from getting the proper Gaucho experience: a proper Sunday asado! In Argentina, the women traditionally cook during the week and then on Sunday the men take over. In the morning you start a bonfire with proper wood, then you go to mass and then when you come back the ashes are ready. You then place lots of meat on the parilla and let it slow roast for around 2 hours. Moreover, some chorizos are served in bread (choripan) to bridge these two hours of feast anticipation.
Juan´s family obviously only uses meat from their Herefordshire cows. We had ribs and two different other cuts. And I have to say, this was the best meat I had in my life. It was not that tender, quite well done, but the taste was just unique. These cows have a happy life, they run around the fields, eat the lush grass of the Pampas, have fun and you can really taste that. Moreover, the meat has a lot of fat which you get on every bite and it just ads so much to it.
The icing on the cake was the amazing Argentine wine that his father offered to us at every meal. I have heard of this wine in Europe, but to be honest I never have it because either you go for the very expensive one (which I cannot afford) or for the cheap piss. But the bottles Juan´s father offered to us were just so good, mostly Malbec, a very fruity, strong red wine which complements the asado perfectly.
Too much Malbec
On Sunday afternoon we left to be back in Buenos Aires in time for the Euro final, which I will not talk about. Unfortunately, I got ill and spent the last 2 days in bed. I told you at the beginning that I got that yellow fever vaccine and they told me not to drink any alcohol for 10 days. I guess you can imagine that I couldn’t resist the temptation of exquisite asado and high-quality Malbec. I got the bill now and will have to chill for a couple of days. But they are helping me with everything here and I think this is the best possible place to get ill.
One thing that is quite bad and that forces me to change my plans is the inflation in Argentina. The current president, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner did not take necessary measures years ago and the country now faces 20-25% yearly inflation. This means that all the prices in my 2010 Lonely Planet are useless and that I cannot afford to go to the Iguazu waterfalls in northeastern Argentina. Admittedly, the distances are very far, but a ticket there costs 90€ and from there to Salta in the west 110€, which is simply too much for me.
So my current plan is first to get fit again, then to take a bus to Cordoba, the second biggest city in Argentina. I want to visit the wine region of Cafayate before heading to the high plains of Humahuaca, the most arid place on earth, famous for its Gran Salares, the salt desserts.
So these are my first news from Latin America, I am well aware that I have basically been writing exclusively about food and wine, but what can I do, it´s amazing here!
Hasta luego viejos