argentina

A Quick Trip to the Iguazu Falls

It’s cold and snowy in NYC and I’m seriously missing the warm days of summer.

…or at least any day when the temperature topped 90 degrees.

The last place I was in, that fit that criteria, was Iguazu, Argentina, in early November. After several days in Buenos Aires, I headed there before returning to the States.

The Iguazu Falls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. They’re located in northwestern Argentina, along the border it shares with Brazil. In fact, the falls belong to both countries, as part of National Parks Iguazu (Argentina) and Iguacu (Brazil). Some people view the falls from both sides. Due to time constraints—and not wanting to pay an additional reciprocity fee for Brazil—I only went to the Argentine side of the park.

In and around the town of Iguazu, Argentina, there are a wide range of accommodations: hostels, generic western-style hotels, rustic-lite places. I opted for the latter.

Yvy Hotel de Selva had just opened in September. It’s a ways off the main road, in the same woodsy area as similar nature-minded lodgings. Yvy is comprised of a lodge-like, airy reception/restaurant building…

hotel yvy

…and several wooden cabins equipped with all the creature comforts: AC, hot water, king beds.

hotel yvy room

I arrived on a late afternoon flight from BA. After checking in, I spent a few hours lounging by the pool, then ate dinner in the restaurant. The place was quiet—just me and a few other diners—and my fish and veggies were pretty tasty.

On the way back to my cabin, I realized I’d forgotten one important thing: I’m afraid to be alone in woodsy areas! The trail was, admittedly, well-lit, but I still booked it back to my cabin, locked myself in and turned on all the lights. I went to bed soon after, in hopes that morning would come quickly.

It did, and the day was sunny and warm. I ate breakfast from Yvy’s generous, complimentary spread, then cabbed into the town of Iguazu to use an ATM. (The people at my front desk warned me that the ATM at the park is usually out of service.) I wasn’t thrilled to make the detour, but was glad to see what downtown Iguazu looked like. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed. There were some generic touristy shops and restaurants—nothing picturesque or noteworthy. To get to the park from there, I hopped on a coach at the main bus stop.

I haven’t been to many national parks, but I’ve yet to visit one, in the U.S. or abroad, that’s easier to navigate than Iguazu. There are only a few trails and they’re all paved or platformed and very clearly marked. You definitely don’t need a guide unless you’re looking to learn about the falls in detail.

From the park entrance, I walked to the Green Trail…

green trail sign

…which led me to take either the Upper or Lower Trail.

trail sign

I opted to start with the Lower.

lower trail 1

Since it was pretty early, around 10 a.m., I had parts of the trail to myself.

lower trail 2

I walked along the metal paths, admiring the greenery, until I caught my first glimpse of the falls in the distance.

first view of falls

As I walked closer, I passed smaller falls along the trail.

small falls

After a short walk, I came to a spot where I could see the full falls—and was astounded.

iguazu falls 1

Never before had I seen so many in one place.

While gaping at the view, I noticed speed boats zipping through the river, ferrying tourists right up to the cascading water. During my cab ride to Iguazu, the driver kept urging me to take a boat ride and tried to hand me a pamphlet about it. At the time, I’d politely declined, thinking that I wouldn’t be caught dead doing something so touristy. But after seeing it in person, I had a change of heart.

iguazu falls 2

I walked right up to the Iguazu JungleВ stand on the Lower Trail—conveniently located so people like me can buy tickets for the boat on a whim, after seeing them in action. The guy behind the counter fielded a few of my questions. (No, your stuff won’t get wet—we’ll give you a dry bag. Yes, it’s safe—the boat is the size of a bus. You won’t capsize and drown.) Then heВ gave me my ticket (AR$180) and pointed me down to the dock. I placed my stuff in a dry bag, put on a life vest and climbed on board.

iguazu jungle boat 1

The boat makes two trips to the falls.

iguazu jungle boat 2

On the first, they stay far enough away so you can take photos.

iguazu falls 3

On the second, they tell you to put your cameras away—because you get drenched! Within a few seconds of speeding towards the falls, I was completely soaked.

iguazu falls 4

Luckily, it was sunny and hot, so I didn’t mind walking the rest of the Lower Trail in saturated clothing. The end had some of the best views.

iguazu falls 5

iguazu falls  6

I went to the Upper Trail, afterwards.

upper trail sign

By that time, it was noon, and the park was crowded—wall-to-wall people on the walkway crowded. Admittedly, I wanted to finish the trail as soon as possible.

Some of the aerial views from the Upper Trail were pretty spectacular—when I could actually get through the crowds to see them!

view from the upper trail 1

view from the upper trail 2

I thought it was especially cool to look down upon this viewing platform on the Lower Trail.

viewing platform

I’d saved Iguazu’s most iconic fall for last: La Garganta del Diablo. (Translation: the Devil’s Throat.) To get there, I hopped the little train that takes visitors to the trail.

iguazu train

Once we arrived, I took an empanada snack break near the train station. I wouldn’t be able to escape people completely, but at least I wouldn’t have to walk along the trail with the hordes of other people who’d just disembarked from the same train. A few minutes later, I embarked on the trail.

garganta del diablo sign

The water beneath the walkway is so calm that you’d never guess there was a massive waterfall nearby.

walkway to garganta del diablo 1

After a few minutes, an Argentinean flag came into view—along with mist billowing in the air.

walkway to garganta del diablo 2

La Garganta del Diablo was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The sheer volume and power of the water astounded me. I couldn’t see—or even fathom—how far the bottom of the falls were.

garganta del diablo

Brazil, just across the way, seemed so close, yet far. Maybe one day I’ll see the falls from that side.

garganta del diablo 2

garganta del diablo 3

After admiring the falls from every angle, I walked back to the train station and rode the train to the stop near the exit. While waiting for a bus back to my hotel, I was struck by how exhausted I was. Walking around a park all day, in 90 degree heat, among crowds, had finally caught up to me. Luckily, the bus ride wasn’t too long, and the driver dropped me at the side of the road, near my hotel. I walked along the path, for about 15 minutes, before finally reaching it. I immediately changed into my bathing suit, went to the pool—and feel asleep for an hour.

hotel yvy pool
That evening, I was too tired to go into town, so I ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, again. I had a steak and Malbec—a fitting meal for my last night in Argentina.

Adentro Dinner Club

I spent my last night in Buenos Aires at Adentro Dinner Club, another puerta cerrada. This one was in Palmero, and run by Kelly, another American expat, and Gabriel, her Argentine boyfriend.

Adentro’s defining characteristic is that the evening revolves around an asado—a BBQ. Similar to American BBQs, asados are an Argentine tradition where friends and family gather and hang out for hours, drinking wine and eating an array of grilled delights.

There are few things in life more appealing to me than a good BBQ. After reading about Adentro, I immediately made a reservation.

adentro

The evening started in the back of Kelly and Gabriel’s house, near the grill. Sausages and a few dishes of cheese were already being fired up…

cheese and sausages

…and heaping platters of veggies and meat sat nearby, awaiting their turn on the flames.

veggies

mushrooms and asparagus

In addition to having an outside area for the grill, Kelly and Gabriel also have a rooftop space. We headed up there, and I sipped a cocktail of champagne and passion fruit liquor, snacked on empanadas and the grilled cheese, and chatted with the other guests who were arriving. I met a couple who were in BA celebrating their third anniversary—and, coincidentally, live just a few blocks away from me in Washington Heights! There was a travel writer who was working on Lonely Planet’s BA content, and a group of three American women, two who lived in BA and one who was visiting from the States.

empanadas

After we polished off the empanadas, we headed inside to the dining room. Once we sat down, the food kept coming—and it was all delicious and super-fresh. We started with grilled shrimp and salad…

shrimp and salad

…followed by sausage, blood sausage and intestine, accompanied by chimmichurri and potatoes. (This was my first time eating intestine and I really enjoyed it!)

sausages

Unlike at the other puerta cerradas, Kelly and Gabriel sat down and ate with us. While all puerta cerradas have a dinner party vibe, this one especially did, thanks to that. As we chatted, I learned that they both have day jobs (he as a chef and she as a graphic designer), and that’s why Adentro is only “open” once a week, on Wednesdays. Kelly is also a vegetarian, which explained the abundance of veggies on the menu—something I appreciated, after so many days of meat. Though I did eat plenty of meat, as well!

I thought the sausages were the main course, but it was actually the veggies I’d seen waiting to be grilled earlier—and lots of steak. (I must have been too excited to dig in, since I didn’t get a shot of it!)

grilled veggies

The meal concluded with not one, but two desserts: black cocoa creme brulee…

creme brulee

…and a grilled poached pear with marscapone whipped cream.

poached pear

Even though I was beyond stuffed, I ate every bite of both desserts. Afterwards, everyone lingered for a while, just talking and sharing stories. It seemed like a fitting meal to end my time in BA.

The Argentine Experience

A few years ago, I was in Beijing for a travel story, and one highlight of that trip was going to Black Sesame Kitchen. At the cooking school/private dining space, I met chefs and then watched them make knife cut noodles, stuffed my own dumplings, and chatted with others in my group over good, paired wines. The meal was one of the best I’d ever eaten, and a hell of a lot of fun, too.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to do something similar in another country. And while researching stuff to do in Buenos Aires, I found what looked like an equivalent.

The Argentine Experience started out as a puerta cerrada, but has since moved into a large, new space in Palmero Hollywood. It emphasizes that it’s not a cooking class, but rather a dining experience where people participate in a few key steps.

So basically, they have chefs who do all the hard work (mixing, measuring, seasoning), and guests do one or two things at the end. (i.e. stuff that can’t mess up the meal.)

As a New Yorker who rarely cooks, that sounded fine to me!

I went to the Argentine Experience on my third night in BA. Upon entering the space, I was given a welcome cocktail that I quickly gulped down once I saw that we all had to don crazy-looking checkered aprons and chefs hats. (Luckily, glasses of Malbec followed!)

Once again, I was lucky to have a diverse group of dinner-mates. Besides me, there was a Brazilian couple who lived in Switzerland, two Australians, a travel agent who was from Peru but lived in BA, and an American who was interning in BA. Our hosts for the night were a Brit and an Argentinean.

They introduced the first task at hand: Making empanadas.

empanadas of argentina

We each received a round of dough…

empanada dough

…which we then stuffed with stewed beef, cheese, veggies and Malbec-reduced onions.

empanada fillings

Everything smelled so good that I overstuffed mine—I could barely pinch it closed. (You can see a little of the filling spilling out!)

uncooked empanada

Once we’d stuffed them, they were whisked away to an oven somewhere behind the scenes. We were then given another piece of dough—but this time, our empanadas had to be in the shape of something, and our hosts would select the best one as the winner.

…they assured us that they’d already seen X-rated empanadas formed to look like every possible body part.

Once we’d all finished our entries, they, too, were taken to the oven.

Then first empanadas we made reappeared. They were delicious.

cooked empanada

And soon, our funny-shaped empanadas returned, as well.

Because I have zero artistic talent and a one-track mind, I made a pointe shoe empanada. The winning entry was a crab.

My pointe shoe might not have been the most attractive, but it was certainly tasty!

pointe shoe empanada

The main course didn’t require any work, on our part. We just had to choose how rare we wanted our steak.

steak

After eating the steak (every bloody, juicy bit) with potatoes, carrots and more Malbec, I was ready to fall into a food coma. But there were two more components to go.

First, we learned how to prepare and drink mate, the traditional Argentinean tea-like beverage. We filled our mate cups with leaves, shook them a few times to get the dust out, put the straw in, and poured in water. (I only had a few sips because it’s very caffeinated, and enjoyed its bitter taste! Normally, mate is a social drink, where everyone sips from the same straw, but due to the nature of the dinner, we all had our own.)

mate

For the grand finale, we made our own alfajores: cookies with dulce de leche sandwiched between. And rolled in shaved coconut and dipped in chocolate.

…can someone please open an alfajores shop in NYC? We have specialty food places for practically everything else!

alfajor

Before saying goodbye, we posed for silly group pictures. Here, we’re saying, “Que te pasa?”—or, “What’s wrong with you?”—with feeling!

que te pasa

(I actually ended up having dinner with the Brazilian couple the next night! I needed a break from all the meat I’d been eating, so I went to Osaka, a Japanese place across the street from the Argentine Experience. As I was sitting at the bar deciding what to have for dinner, the couple was seated right next to me. We ended up having the bartender select an array of dishes to share, and chatted as we each sampled all of them. It was one of those serendipitous moments that tend to happen when you’re traveling, but rarely at home!)

(Group photo via the Argentine Experience)

Casa SaltShaker

When I was researching what to do in Buenos Aires, puerta cerradas kept coming up. These “closed door” restaurants are basically supper clubs where a local cooks and serves a multi-course meal in his home to a small group of guests.

I loved this idea. I’m not a tour person and I’m not good at befriending strangers while traveling. But this sounded like the perfect way to meet people. Plus, I’d be able to get locals’ recommendations about what to do—and eat a ton of delicious food.

Once I started researching, I found so many puerta cerradasВ I wanted to try, that I booked one for almost every night I was in BA. I only opted for ones that had a communal table, though.

The first one I visited: Casa SaltShaker, just a few hours after my arrival in the city.

Casa SaltShaker is one of the older puertas cerradas in BA. For nearly nine years, Dan Pearlman, an American ex-pat and chef, and his partner, Henry, have been serving dinners out of their Recoleta home. (That’s actually the reason I selected it for my first night—it was in walking distance from my apartment.)

The evening felt very much like a dinner party. After Dan and Henry welcomed us into their home, we guests had cocktails on their outdoor patio. My dinner companions were an eclectic bunch: a British couple celebrating their 25 wedding anniversary, an American couple and their two friends, and three men (Canadian, French and Belgian) who were installing a flight simulator at the BA airport.

Dinner that night had an Amazonian theme, inspired by Dan and Henry’s travels in the region. Each dish came paired with wine.

casa saltshaker menu

Our first course was a salad of tomato, avocado and hearts of palm…

salad

…followed by a hearty soup of perjerry, cilntro and pureed chickpeas. This was easily my favorite dish of the night—I’d happily eat it every day.

soup

Next came a baked pasta stuffed with cream cheese, soppressata and leek, over a pea puree…

IMG_0743

…and a main dish of pollack and a sweet potato/quinoa cake.

fish and qunioa cake

The dessert was delicious: a huge slice of chocolate cheesecake topped with chocolate honeycomb. I had no trouble polishing it off!

cheesecake

My dinner companions were awesome—throughout the whole meal, everyone was talking and joking like old friends. (I was especially fascinated to learn about the simulator team’s work: The Canadian was part of the team that built the simulator, the Belgian was a veteran KLM pilot who was testing the simulator, and the French guy was the one who fixed the problems they came across.)

I was also impressed at how well paced the evening was. I was afraid that it might be long and drawn out (since I’d just arrived earlier on a red eye). But everything was timed perfectly, with enough opportunity to chat after one course but not so long that you wondered how long it would take the next to come out.

Dan and Henry were nice and polite, though they have the air of veterans who’ve been doing this for a long time. I was expecting them to be a little warmer, but they were a bit businesslike—though that’s what their puerta cerrada is: a business.

Still, I had a ton of fun eating, drinking and sharing stories with the other guests—and it was a great way to kick off all the eating I’d end up doing in BA.

Ballet Classes in Buenos Aires

As you might have guessed from my previous entry about tango, I didn’t seek it out in Buenos Aires. But I did take ballet.

Before my trip, I researched open ballet classes in BA and found Ballet Estudio. They offer many levels of classes a day, and had trained a number of renowned dancers, including ABT’s Paloma Herrera. Plus, I learned that in September, Alvin Ailey held a master class there. Via Facebook photos, it was cool to see a bit of my NYC in BA—the faces of company dancers whose photos are all over my NYC studio, and whom I occasionally see. Plus, it confirmed that I’d chosen a legit place!

I went to the studio on the Monday afternoon of my trip, for an advanced class. (I figured if I usually take intermediate classes in NYC, then I’d survive an advanced class in BA.)

The studio was on the second story of a Recoleta building.

ballet estudio 1

The doormats read “Welcome Home,” which made me smile, as did the weathered ballet photos in the reception area. Especially this one of Paloma Herrera.

paloma herrera

I paid for my class (100 pesos), went into the changing room…and noticed something odd. All the other dancers looked about 12 years old—niГ±as!

Ballet Estudio’s site advertises classes for all styles, levels and ages. I hadn’t realized that all the ages would be together. Here in NYC—and most places in the US—adults and kids are in separate classes. Still, I went with it.

The class ended up being me, five niГ±as and, thankfully, one other adult—I nearly fell over with relief when she came in. But being with mostly kids threw me. I felt off and out of place—which isn’t ideal, considering how much of ballet is mental!

Besides internally wrestling with that, I thought the class was an interesting experience. I’m glad I didn’t cop out because of the kids. The teacher, Mimi, couldn’t have been lovelier. She was warm, welcoming and kind, and had beautiful technique and extension.

She was also very patient with my lack of Spanish. As soon as class started, I realized that though I had no problem understanding the steps and combinations, I could barely understand anything else—my past studies didn’t cover the nuances of alignment, turnout or focus. There had not been a Coffee Break Spanish lesson that included terms like “Don’t tense up your shoulders” or “Pull up over your legs.”

Despite that, I was still able to understand many of Mimi’s corrections through her gestures and the words I did know. Her critiques and tips were all spot on. (Like telling me to straighten my legs and travel more in assembles, and not let my turnout drop when going into left pirouettes.)

As for the niГ±as—they were good! One had especially beautiful control and technique. I rarely see kids dance, and I realized it was gratifying to see Argentina’s next generation of ballet dancers in action.

And at the end of class, I felt a tad less awkward being in the same lesson as them. But just a tad.

ballet estudio

Ballet Estudio’s second floor studio

San Telmo Market and Downtown Sights

On Sundays in Buenos Aires, there’s one place where you can bet you’ll find most first-time visitors: at the San Telmo market.

The outdoor bazaar runs along Calle Defensa, with the bulk of vendors between Venezuela and San Juan.

Even though it looked like quite a trek, I decided to walk from my Barrio Norte apartment to the market. I mapped my route so that I’d pass some of BA’s most notable sights along the way.

Like the Palacio de Justicia…

palacio de justicia

…and Teatro Colon. (I was hoping to take a tour of the theatre, but it was closed for Election Day. I did go back another day—photos in a coming post.)

teatro colon

I made my way over to Avienda 9 de Julio to see the Obelisk…

obelisk

…and other interesting sights.

Ave 9 de julio

By the time I got to the market, I was starving—way too hungry to even look at anything.

There was a choripanВ (chorizo sandwich) vendor on the corner of Mexico and Defensa, where I entered the market. But few people were eating there, so I sought out another. (When it comes to street food, I follow the old rules: Eat at places with lots of customers and that cook food to order.)

I found another place farther up the block. Like the first, this choripan vendor seemed to be in an old auto repair lot. But here, lots of people were chowing down.

choripan place

I purchased one choripan…

choripan venedor

…dressed it with lettuce and chimichurri—and inhaled it. It was flavorful and a little greasy, but exactly what I wanted, at that moment!

choripan

Once fortified, I could turn my attention to the actual market.

san telmo market 1

Many blocks were packed, with seemingly every single other tourist roaming from vendor to vendor.

san telmo market 2

When it comes to markets around the world, my sister can hit one for an hour or two and emerge with amazing finds: soft scarves, elegant table cloths, fine pottery and the like. I don’t have those talents. For me, the San Telmo market was a big browse fest, as I checked out items likeВ faux Toms…

faux toms

…colorful notebooks and boxes…

painting at san telmo

…mate jugs…

mate jugs

…these, um, interesting leather masks…

leather masks

…and these gorgeous tango prints.

tango paintings

I’d read that there are sometimes tango dancers performing at Plaza Dorrego, but there weren’t any when I got there.

I hadn’t plotted a route home, but I fortuitously happened upon more of BA’s most iconic sites on my way back. I stayed on Defensa until I’d passed the last of the vendors—and found myself at Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.

casa roasada

Casa Rosada's plaza

Casa Rosada’s plaza

From there, I headed down Avienda de Mayo, because the tree-lined street was just so pretty.

SAM_0617

After a few blocks, I came upon the Argentine National Congress.

argentine national congress

I eventually made it home, sweaty and tired—I realized I’d been walking for nearly six hours! My feet were killing me. The sneakers I’d brought to walk in turned out to be not so comfortable, and I actually had a few blisters! But I was glad I was able to squeeze in so much of BA in one day.

El Ateneo

One other place in Recoleta that I loved was El Ateneo bookstore.

It’s located on Avienda Santa Fe, a busy commercial street that runs through Buenos Aires. From the outside, El Ateneo looks like any other storefront.

But once you enter—well, it’s clear that it’s not your average bookstore!

el ateneo 2

The space was once Teatro Nacional or Norte, when it opened in 1903, and later the Splendid Theatre in 1919. In that incarnation, it had 500 seats and four levels of balconies—some that you can still see today.

el ateneo 3

The bookstore opened in its place in 2000. Today, there are more than 200,000 books on its shelves.

el ateneo 2

…not that I looked at any! I was too busy admiring the architecture and frescoes, and taking these photos.

el ateneo 4

Think any U.S. cities will open one of these? I think we could use a bookstore this cool, stateside.