Dobbs Away II

Joined April 2017
  • Day300

    Buenos Aires

    March 1 in Argentina

    300 days of vacation-we need a break😋. We’ll be taking a pause from our travels for the month of March, staying in a few Airbnb’s here in the city. We’re excited to study some Spanish, get on a healthier eating and exercise routine, and enjoy exploring this very beautiful city.
    While our first night was rough with the power going out ~6pm and not returning until ~3pm the next day, we’re hopeful that was a fluke (though when you google power outages it seems corruption and poor management mean this isn’t all that uncommon).
    On our second full day we went to a rugby game. We felt like we had to go since the BA team were playing the Wellington team (John’s hometown). It was a fun experience (the NZ team, the Hurricanes, won!) and finding the tickets and the stadium was like a mini treasure hunt.
    Oh...and a funny thing happened on the way to the game...As we exited our Uber at the stadium, we heard someone asking in clumsy Spanish, with a Kiwi accent, 'excuse me, where is gate 2'. They were dressed in Hurricanes gear and lost, like us. We were eating some very delicious empanadas so obviously looked like locals. John cheekily waited a few seconds, took another bite of his empanada, turned around and said "don't worry about it, I don't speak much Spanish either - I'm from Wellington..." Turns out the folks were also Kiwis arrived from Auckland and Peru just for the game!
    Note that it’s unlikely we’ll do any updates until April, so don’t worry about us if you don’t see any activity (we’re talking to you, Danella 😀).
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  • Day294


    February 23 in Argentina

    Cordoba is the second largest city in Argentina. Our Airbnb was in a leafy suburb ~15 minutes outside the city and the apartment was huge. We had an entire room with a garden outside where we could do yoga. So nice!
    The downtown was a little gritty, but had some beautiful old buildings and Jesuit churches. We also enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve had in several years at El Papagayo – a small restaurant in a narrow, converted alley. Beautiful, fresh and creative food. The wine pairings with local wines and a cider was also incredible.
    Outside of the city, we visited the Che Guevera museum set in his childhood home and another world heritage site of a Jesuit church and estancia (farm) in Alta Gracia. We also took a scenic drive through mountains, streams and a large lake to Villa General Belgrano, a town founded by a couple of Germans in the ‘30s. In 1940, some German sailors deserted their ship (they apparently sunk their boat off the coast and fled here after the Battle of the River Plate) and settled here. Today, the town is known for homemade beer and Bavarian architecture.
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  • Day291

    Villa Union

    February 20 in Argentina

    While Argentina doesn’t feel crowded outside of the major cities, we definitely felt like we were well off the beaten path on our trip to Talampaya National Park – a world heritage site. It was a long drive (>6 hours) mostly up the famous Route 40. Apart from one large town, there was virtually nothing for hours and hours with scarcely a passing car, livestock or anything but wide-open desert. This was also the first place we’ve seen evidence of poverty in the villages we passed.
    Talampaya was a beautiful park famous for dinosaur bones, old rocks with stunning red canyons and chimney formations, and petroglyphs. Apart from the dramatic landscape, we also saw some new critters: the mara (looks like a cross between a jackrabbit and a small deer), the suri (similar to a small ostrich), and a road-runner like bird. Cute! Happily, we also saw some more guanacos and condors. Still no puma...
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  • Day285


    February 14 in Argentina

    On our way to Mendoza we flew over a huge mountain range – reminding us of flying into Cusco with the plane seemingly not high enough above the peaks. Once over the mountains, the landscape became very flat and dry.
    A downtown Airbnb apartment served as our base. Dangerously, it had Netflix. While we caught up on a few series, we also managed to get out and about a bit.
    The downtown was bustling and full of restaurants, cafes and wine bars. Many of the buildings were charming, but not nearly as impressive as in BA. While it felt safe, we were put off by many of the small corner shops taking orders through barred windows – even in the middle of the day in nice neighborhoods.
    Wine country was a change from Chile with the main difference being there seemed to be hundreds of small, independent wineries near Mendoza in contrast to what seemed to be fewer, bigger ones in Chile. The tasting fees were also far more reasonable (~$10-15 instead of ~$25-30), likely because of so much competition. We visited a few wineries (including the sparkling wine maker, Cruzat) and had lunch at a beautiful wine lodge. The vineyards were pretty and the wine delicious with huge mountain ranges visible in the distance.
    On one of our days here, we took a drive back towards the Chilean border through a stunning desert landscape. It made us wish we’d taken the bus here instead of flown so we could have seen even more. We were surprised to learn that the highest mountain outside of Asia is here, called Aconcagua, an impressive 6,962 meters (22,841 ft). Luckily we had a clear day so had very good views on our short hike near the mountain. We enjoyed the city and would recommend it for a visit, but the highlight for us was the nearby mountains and landscapes vs. the city itself or even its’ wine country.
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  • Day281

    Santa Cruz

    February 10 in Chile

    Before heading back to Argentina, we picked up a rental car and drove a few hours into the heart of Chilean wine country. We enjoyed some very nice winery lunches, wine tasting and a museum visit. The museum was really well done, but a little crazy. It’s a huge and priceless private collection (from an entrepreneur thought to be a former arms dealer) that ambitiously covered everything from prehistoric times up to the recent Chilean mine rescue where 33 miners were saved after an explosion.
    The climate here is very dry compared to Napa or Sonoma valleys, and is more similar to Southern California’s wine country. The wines have been very good and reasonably priced, but the cost (and quality) of restaurants and wine tasting/tours is definitely competitive with Napa and it feels similarly crowded. Definitely not a secret or bargain travel destination, though it’s very nice - just different than we expected given the cost, crowds and abundance of American travelers.
    We head to Mendoza next so it will be interesting to see if it’s much the same.
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  • Day279


    February 8 in Chile

    A short (1 ½ hour) bus trip took us to this important port city that’s also a world heritage site. Before the Panama Canal was completed, this was a major stopping point for ships bringing products to the Americas from all over the world. While it’s still quite an active port, it’s lost much of its’ former wealth which is captured in the city’s many beautiful, crumbling, old buildings and villas built into the hillsides.
    Famous today for murals and graffiti art, it was an interesting place to walk around up many steep and windy steps, streets and with occasional rides on funiculars. We’re so glad we didn’t try to drive here, it would have been challenging as all of our rental cars have been manuals and the streets are super narrow, steep and windy.
    Our hotel was in a restored villa and we loved our room with its’ wide-planked wood floors, 15+ foot high ceilings and a view out over the bay. We also enjoyed some very fresh fish and delicious salads at cafes and overall preferred the city to Santiago. The only downside was all the free-range dogs meant having to be very careful about where you walked as there was dog doo everywhere (this let your dogs roam free thing is the only real unpleasant part of Argentina/Chile so far).
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  • Day276


    February 5 in Chile

    Flights were so inexpensive that we opted to fly (~ 1hour) vs. taking an 11 hour bus trip to Santiago, which made for a relaxing travel day.
    In Santiago we were immediately struck with the diversity of restaurants compared to what we’d experienced in Argentina. You can find Thai, Indian, Japanese, Peruvian, etc. and many of the menus are vegetarian friendly and much heavier on vegetables. This was a welcome change from the meat-centric menus that seem to dominate in Argentina.
    While here we visited a few museums (the Pre-Columbian museum was amazing!) and walked through the city’s parks and neighborhoods. While there are some beautiful old buildings here, much of the city is a hodgepodge of ugly-ish modern high rises making it harder to love than Buenos Aires. The people were friendly and we enjoyed ourselves, but probably wouldn’t return to spend more time here.
    Our Spanish is slowly improving, but Christy has been a bit irritated that her high school Spanish has consistently been overshadowed by John’s tiny vocabulary learned from watching Narcos. He simply throws out “Porque No?” and instantly gets laughs, smiles and respect that Christy cannot match with her practical, basic Spanish. At least John hasn’t tried to break out the bad language he learned from Narcos yet – that might bring a very different kind of reaction.
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  • Day274


    February 3 in Chile

    What should have been an easy travel day from Argentina into Chile turned into a slog because we’d decided to pick up a rental car from the airport rather than going directly into Pucon (a simple 5 hour bus trip from San Martin). Our questionable choice involved backtracking a few hours, having to replace an initially faulty rental car, and sitting in some crazy beach traffic. The city is very busy this time of year as it’s the go-to vacation spot for young Chileans and families who flock to beaches near the area’s pretty lakes.
    The town was a too busy for us, but the setting was beautiful with good views of several volcanoes.
    We’d come here to experience the hot springs that our friend, Christine, had recommended. They were absolutely incredible. The Termas Geometricas were set in a narrow gorge with a creek running through it and featured a series of pools (ranging in temperature from very cold to extra hot) connected by red, wooden walkways. This was definitely a special place and even prettier than any hot pools we’d seen in Japan or elsewhere. We arrived just after opening time so got to enjoy the space before the after lunch crowd arrived.
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  • Day267

    St Martin de los Andes

    January 27 in Argentina

    A short (4 hour) bus trip took us to San Martin, our favorite Argentinean town so far. It’s a small town of ~30k people that is also set on a beautiful lake and surrounded by mountains. While the town clearly attracts tourists, it doesn’t feel touristy and has many wonderful local restaurants, delis/shops and a very unhurried pace with many friendly locals. There was also an art festival happening the night we arrived. Fun!
    We highly recommend this town as well worth a visit.
    While here, we’ve observed a few very amusing things about Argentineans.
    • Many people carry very large (3+ liter) thermoses of hot water for their beloved mate (tea) with them everywhere – buses, walks with their kids, etc.
    • Ice cream is so well loved that it is commonly sold by the kilo from the numerous artisanal ice cream shops.
    • Siestas are alive and well with most places shutting down for ~4 hours in the mid-afternoon.
    We had to move places 3 times over our weeklong stay since many things were booked. The good news is they were all fantastic. Two were very central apartments in the downtown area so we were able to spend lots of time exploring the town and cooking healthy food ourselves (eating out here is both expensive and generally not very healthy). Our favorite place was a beautiful villa in a nature reserve ~20 minutes outside of town with expansive views over the mountains and valley.
    The best thing that happened while we were here was that our niece Lola was born. We can't wait to meet her.
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  • Day262


    January 22 in Argentina

    After debating whether to visit the Chilean or Argentinean side of the Lakes District, an area known for lots of lakes set in the mountains, we chose Argentina after reading about some of the scenic drives, chocolate shops and famous trout.
    A short (somewhat bumpy) flight took us to this biggish town of ~100k people often compared to a “little Switzerland” because of the scenery and focus on chocolate making. The town is set on a lake and is very pretty, but we found it extremely touristy (imagine several streets full of souvenir and chocolate shops).
    We had rented a car for two days so spent one day driving most of the famous “7 Lakes Route” which wound around 7 lakes and some small villages and through a stunning desert landscape very much like the US Southwest. Our other day we drove around the Llao Llao Peninsula (another drive highlighting more lakes) and hiked up a mountain to enjoy a nice view of the entire area. The highlight of our time here was finding a small town down a dirt road that was serving up some excellent choripan (grilled chorizo on grilled bread). Delicious!

    After a few days walking through the touristy town, we opted to mostly cook for ourselves and did some trip planning with our remaining time. We ended up not trying the trout after learning that all of it is farmed since regulations prohibit restaurants and supermarkets from selling the fresh, natural lake trout – a treat reserved for fisher(wo)men.
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  • Day261

    El Calafate

    January 21 in Argentina

    We returned by bus for an overnight here before our flight to El Bariloche. We opted not to do the famous Route 40 bus trip because 30+ hours was just more than we could stomach. The buses are comfortable, but not THAT comfortable.
    Route 40 is a road that runs up most of the country and is famous for it’s beauty and inspiration for epic road trips – the Argentinian version of Route 66 in the US.

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