Late Wednesday night my friend Rosita and I decided to venture to Uruguay on Thursday morning. We took a boat from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay. As I disembarked the boat I felt as though I had stepped back in time. Colonia is a quaint town where everyone knows everyone. I asked a few locals what I should see when I arrived, each of them told me that Historic Colonia was exactly what I needed to see.
Rosita and I rented a golf cart to drive around for the day – that was an adventure in and of itself, since golf carts are certainly not fast enough for the freeway. Our first stop was the center (town square) of Colonia. The streets were cobblestone and lined with flowers outside of the homes. The restaurants were incredibly inviting and had unique outdoor seating. The ruins help keep the cities history alive and lastly, the small lighthouse that still lights up today is open to the public for tours.
We ventured a little further outside of the center of the Historic part of Colonia and continued down the coastline until we reached an old bull-fighting stadium. It was obvious that the structure was once a focal point of the city. Today, it is prohibited to enter because the structure has grown too weak and is crumbling to the ground. We did sneak a few peaks of the inside however, we could see where the bulls were kept, and had a view of the center of the stadium because a portion of the wall was broken off.
Uruguayans are known for their kindness and their love for mate. As we were leaving the stadium we saw an old couple sitting on a sofa on the street corner, they were selling handcrafted mate cups. Since both Rosita and I are a bit directionally challenged at times (and by a bit, I mean a lot), we asked the couple for directions. They not only gave us directions back to the Historic Center, but told us to take a different route that would allow us to see houses, the school and church in Colonia and have a taste of their everyday life.
We wound around on the dirt roads passing dozens of people sitting in front of their houses sipping mate until we reached the church. The church was the first one built in Colonia and holds a great deal of value for many of Colonia’s residents. It sits at a distance from a great part of the town but it is never empty because both locals and tourists are constantly visiting it.
On our way back to the historical center we stopped at a few of the beaches along the way. The pace of life appeared to be very relaxing – people were playing Frisbee and soccer on the beach, and families were grilling lunch. As we reached the historical center again, we returned our golf cart to the rental shop and caught a bus to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, where we had our connecting bus to Punta del Este, one of the most beautiful beaches in South America.
It is a beautiful four-hour drive from Colonia to Punta del Este. We passed stunning hay fields that shimmered in the sun and as we drove through small towns we could see groups of kids running in packs, itching for school to be over for summer vacation. Finally, we reached Punta del Este. We were forewarned that since it is not quite high season for vacationing in Punta del Este the city might seem dead – it was. After we found a hostel we went out for Thanksgiving dinner and although we did not eat turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing we had a delicious dinner and a warm day at the beach with other travelers from the hostel awaiting us.
A day on the soft white sand was the perfect way to relax after a semester of hard work! We tanned, swam in the freezing ocean and saw the famous hand sculpture that has sat in the sand since 1982 when a Chilean artist created it. It has become a landmark for Punta del Este and is a very important sculpture for many tourists to see.
Around sunset we left the beach and went straight to the bus terminal to catch our bus to Colonia and then our boat back to Buenos Aires to enjoy another Friday night in the city!
Spur of the moment trips provide chaos, excitement and fun. Last week I decided to celebrate classes ending by traveling to the gateway to Argentina’s wine – Mendoza!
Mendoza is a city located in the Andes Mountains in the Western region of Argentina. It is located in the desert, but most people never realize they are there due to the outstanding aggregation system. There are canals lining all of the streets in the city that fill with water from the rain and snow run off from the mountains. It is a modern day system that has been adapted from ancient Inca inhabitants.
I traveled to Maipu, a 20-minute bus ride from Mendoza, on my first day to rent a bike from Mr. Hugo Bike Rentals. I took off on a biking tour of the vineyards and olive oil gardens. Naturally, Mr. Hugo had Malbec wine straight from his own backyard for my housemates and I before we took off for our tour. He then provided us with a map of the wine vineyards, olive gardens and chocolate and liquor factories in the area. We began pedaling and were on our way!
Touring the wine vineyards was an unforgettable experience. Not only did I learn the different ways wine has been processed throughout the years, I learned about it at some of the most popular vineyards in the Americas. If you enjoy wine you are most certainly in for a treat – wine tastings were offered on balconies overlooking the vineyards and the Andes. I watched the sunset over the vineyard while trying Malbec, Cabernet, Bonarda and Chardonnay.
Traveling a little further out of Mendoza there is a series of quaint little towns tucked between the switchbacks of the Andes Mountains. The tour is traditionally called the “High Mountain Tour.” I had a wonderful tour guide, Martin, who took my housemates and I to three extra locations just because we were enjoying ourselves so much together!
After winding down the Pan-American Highway for three hours we arrived in Las Cuevas, a small town filled with skiers in the winter, located a few kilometers from the Chilean border. Unexpectedly, a snowstorm hit leaving a beautiful fresh layer of snow covering all of the mountains. To warm up we drank homemade hot chocolate in a small café in the living room of a woman’s home.
As we wound our way back down the mountain our first of many stops on the way back to Mendoza was Parque Aconcagua – a national park, home to the tallest mountain in the Americas. We hiked up the mountain for about an hour, but to say the least we were all a bit chilly – we were not prepared for the snow storm or fierce wind and only had jeans and sweatshirts on.
After the hike we sat in the warm pickup truck for a while and continued onto our next destination – Puente del Inca, a natural rock bridge formed over Río de Las Vacas, along the Inca Trail. The puente (bridge) is one of the last stops on the Inca Trail and is famous for its hot springs. According to the legend, these waters had healing powers. The Incan Commander’s son was very sick and it was his goal to bring his son to these healing waters. To make their commander’s dream a reality, the soldiers hugged one another, creating a human bridge. The commander carried his son across his soldiers’ shoulders and when he turned back to thank them, they had turned into stone.
In the 1900s a hotel was built in the mountain allowing people to sit in the hot springs in their rooms or in a common area of the hotel. Martin went there every week with his friends to have a beer and sit in the hot springs until 2005 when the bridge was closed because it had grown too weak as a result of all of the traffic that crossed it. Although the hotel has been closed, the yellow tint from sulfur crystals remains.
Continuing down the highway, we stopped in a small town called Uspallata – with a number of hostels and hotels it is a place where a lot of tourists stay if they are looking to get out of the city. From Uspallata, we stopped at Incan Ruins – Tambillo and Cerro Tunduqueral. My housemate, Heather, is an anthropology major and learned that the site has not been excavated since the Incas left it so only outlines of the rectangular houses can be seen in the never-ending desert. Cerro Tunduqueral was used for rituals and is covered in massive rocks that were engraved with humans, animals and Incan traditions.
After seeing the Inca Trail, bridge and ruins we decided that there would not be a better place than the hot springs to spend our last day in Mendoza. We went to Termas Cacheuta early the next morning and spent the day in the sun, sitting in the natural hot springs in the middle of the mountains. The view was like looking at a postcard – it was unreal!
After meeting hundreds of people at hostels who are also traveling through Argentina I know it is safe to say that Mendoza is by far one of people’s favorite destinations. I met a couple that was planning to skip Mendoza and after tasting a bottle of Mendoza’s wine, it was added to their agenda!
Locro is a traditional dish originally served in the Andes Mountain Range in South America. In Argentina, it is served from the Northwest throughout the rest of the country. Locro is consumed throughout the year, however it is traditionally eaten at large gatherings on May 25 to honor the founding of the first National Government.
Locro is a dense stew-like dish that is prepared with squash, corn and beans. It is prepared in a large pot cooking over a low heat for several hours. Meat (beef) is cooked separately and added to the stew later. Other vegetables, such as carrots or red pepper, are also commonly added, depending on who prepares the stew.
Although Locro is enjoyed all over the country, it is prepared more frequently in the mountain region. I tried locro in Las Cuevas – a small town in the mountains a few hours outside of Mendoza approximately 5 kilometers from the Chilean border. It is very hearty and warms you up on a cold winter day.
It is important to keep in mind that recipes for Locro vary depending upon what region of Argentina you are in and what food is available. A basic recipe follows:
Ground corn (yellow or white) – 2 cups
Dry beans – 1 cup (white beans/butter beans are most commonly used)
Approximately 3-4 pounds of beef (with bones)
Approximately 1 pound of Chorizo (sausage)
Fat – 2 tablespoons
Chopped Onion - amount varies
Red pepper – amount varies
Carrots – amount varies
Squash – 1
Some people choose to add chicken, beef jerky or bacon as well. The meat that is added is often what people have at home.