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The mountain guide from Kazakhstan, Andrey Gundarev
Argentina: a tango with icebergs
«From Kazakhstan? In an original way …» — personal introduction was hardly an only reason when my Argentinean interlocutors displayed a genuine interest to the person naming himself «Kazakh» having the good knowledge of geography. In most cases, local residents could not recall a single country ending with «stan». But it was more pleasant to learn that here nobody practically heard about the character by name of Borat either.
And what did I know about Argentina? Its capital is Buenos Aires. Legendary football player Maradona is from here. Oh, yes — the passionate tango! Well, another song «Chaifa» is about the game that Argentina and Jamaica have played 5:0. In the past year, by the way, the national team of Argentina was beaten by that of Bolivia — 1:6 ... But I was lucky enough to learn about this country much more after I had spent there the whole month.
It started from the time when together with my Russian friend we ventured to move to the highest point of the Western Hemisphere — peak of Aconcagua (6962) in the Andes. They began to collect general information about the peak and the country and understood that we had quitted mountaineering which was a part of our future journey. So there is much worth seeing and trying! There exists actually all in this huge country: on the northeast — jungle, deserts — on the north, the Pampas (steppes) — in the center, in the south — tundra and forests and, of course, the mountain range of Andes on all Western border of Argentina.
They ceased using the railway, and after some time it became worthless. The former presidents are no longer at the helm, and there exists a museum now in the building of old railway station Mendoza and the rails were replaced by modern highway with a concrete cover. So, we got on not a compartment, but a car and set out towards the Chilean border.
I will note straightly that even if you don’t have pesos in cash, dollars will be accepted in any institution at a slightly undervalued exchange rate.
We were pleasantly surprised by the service throughout the ascent: good food at base camps — with dessert and wine in the evenings, English-speaking staff, internet and satellite, services for transportation of expeditionary loads, the chance to send home a real postcard, hotel, cafe, police station and an art gallery — at the height of 4300 meters! And the most important thing is the lack of garbage.
On the descent to base camp we met our fellow countrymen — the teams of Yuri Moiseev and Artem Skopina. It was just a beginning for them and we wished them fine weather, good luck and good health. After the successful ascent of Mendoza, we visited the office of our travel agency where our further travel was mapped out.
Argentina is open to tourists with love, especially when they pay in cash, and after an hour’s talk we went to eat and have a rest, and in the evening of the same day our air tickets and necessary documents were brought directly to the hotel.
Few words about the Argentinean cuisine. All the Latin American meals are considered to be very hot and spicy. It is quite possible. But only not here! In the gastronomic sense Argentina is, more likely, a part of Europe in Latin America. No pepper"chili"! Nowhere! Only black milled pepper and only if you specially ask a waiter for it. In Argentina the beef is eaten by all and everywhere — in cafe, on the nature and at home. In every private house stands the «asado» in the courtyard — a device for cooking steaks on the coals that resembles a barbecue for shish kebab or grill. Stakes are often served in cafes «with blood», no pickles, mayonnaise and ketchup, and without garnishes. But a portion to serve weights up half a kilo! It is possible to serve meat with «mixtra» — salad from onions, tomatoes and leaves of salad with olive oil and balsam vinegar. Oil and vinegar are necessary on the table along with salt and napkins. All dishes are certainly washed down with excellent Argentinean wine from a province of Mendoza. Local residents say that the best white wine is red. I completely agree though white dry local wine is, of course, excellent and first-rate.
One cannot but mention the famous South American tea «Paraguay tea». It possesses the same tonic properties as coffee, but at the same time it doesn't have a ruinous effect on heart. «Tea leaves» are filled in the special vessel made of a pumpkin (called «calebas»), poured into with hot water (not boiling water!) at the temperature of 70 degrees and drunk through a small silver tube with a strainer on the end («bombily»). One portion of «Paraguay tea» can be made about five times. Even to the beach Argentineans go with a special bag with «tea leaves», calebas, bombily and a thermos with hot water. When water ends, it can always be bought in any beach cafe (1 peso per liter).
«Maradona is all for us!». Everyone is sincerely confident here. And the capital area of La Boca lives with football. It is a kind of city within a city, with the its own laws and rules. Local residents even name it the Republic of La Boca. All the life boils including the criminal round the stadium of La Bombonera, a home playground of the well-known team of Boca Huniors. Therefore, the tourists are recommended to travel around the district only by taxi. Argentinean robbers are said to be civilized in their own ways: it is mentioned even in guidebooks that they approach and ask politely: «Life or the purse?» Naturally, you choose your life, give the purse, and the parties mind their own affairs quietly. Fortunately, we didn’t meet such «intellectuals».
La Boca is renowned not only for football, but also for being a homeland of the Argentine tango. One of the most beautiful dances of the world, a cocktail of passion, love, hope for bright future and immigrant anguish, originated in the port area of Caminito among total poverty and dregs of the population. Nowadays, the dancing couples can be found in most of the pubs and cafes in the center of the capital. For an additional fee visitors will be shown the real tango, and get their photos taken with the dancers. Those with strong wishes are offered to learn it at special schools (cost of classes — from U.S. $ 30).
The main place of interest not only in this region, but also in all country is, certainly, Iguasu Falls which is the trademark of Argentina, just the same as Niagara Falls in the USA. In 2008 National park of Iguasu was visited by one million people and everyone left there a minimum of 20 dollars (entrance fee). The park infrastructure is so thought out that it allows even to take the invalid carriage on special gangway through the real tropical jungle to the observation area. And there is much to see! The virgin nature, wild animals, adventure tourism (for example, it is possible to sail far out by a motorboat directly under raging streams of the Falls).
By transit we left through the capital for Patagonia, the extreme south of continent. Everyone is likely to read about the 38th parallel in the childhood in «Children of Captain Grant» by Jules Verne. It is only 1000 km from the archipelago Tierra del Fuego to Antarctica- penguins, whales, marine lions, guanacos and armadillos… The Unforgettable Perito Moreno glacier is located 78 kilometres away (48 ml) from a small city of El Calafate.
Before my very eyes the glacier is getting split into icebergs in size of nine-storeyed building. There are huge cruise liners in the port of Ushuayi, the southernmost city on the earth. And Russian research vessel «Love of Orlov» which has been re-equipped for the tour to Antarctic is among them, too. The southernmost operating railway, «a Doomsday Train», has the length of 7 km on which the Argentinean convicts were taken for logging hundred years ago. And I hope naively that I am the only Kazakh who has bathed in Beagle Channel, the maximum water temperature of which is only 5 degrees in summer.
The final destination of our tour was the beaches in Mar del Plata which is second largest Argentine city on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The resort city is located in 500 km to the east from the capital, and it is the most convenient to arrive here from Buenos Aires by bus. Bus rides are every 20 minutes, and it is no wonder that the resort population increases several times in summer months. On a beach there's not an inch of room! for example I do not so much love beach rest, but after long, eventful travel a three-day stay on the seashore allowed me to have a wonderful time and get ready for the final flight over the distance of 18000 km — Buenos Aires — Madrid — Moscow — Almaty.
Iguazu (Игуасу) is derived from words in the Guarani language; u means «water» and guasu means «big». The legend says that God wanted to marry the beautiful native by name of Naipú, but she ran away with her beloved on a canoe. In anger God split the river which caused falls, dooming the beloved to eternal fall.
The more words and phrases in Spanish you learn before your trip to Argentina, the better, because practically no one speaks English here. And even if you speak Spanish very badly you will be attentively listened to and will be surely helped. The locals are very open and don’t be surprised if you get a kiss on a cheek at the first salutation.
We exchanged money in bank where it seemed more reliable than near the tourist centre. Currently $1 USD is worth about 3 pesos. It is impossible to exchange currency in the bank without a passport and employees take an interest in which hotel you stay at.
In Argentina, there is a characteristic feature in the pricing — the farther you move to the south of the country, the more bills you get in restaurants and cafes, despite the fact that you always eat the same dish.
Everyone will enjoy a kind of entertainment in Buenos-Aires: go to the very centre, Florida street, for souvenirs (there are a lot of streets with similar names — Cuba, Paraguay, Mexico, etc.), for antiques to the district of San Telmo; if want to plunge into the history of the country, visit an ancient The Recoleto Cemetery, touch upon the high art — The Colon Theatre; have a cup of coffee with tasty dessert which I recommend the Cafe Tortoni having 150 years of history!
Yellow taxis in Buenos Aires constitutes exactly one-third of all municipal transportation. Probably, therefore travel by it is cheap enough, on the average 7-8 US dollars.
Ascent to Aconcagua cost us 1600 US dollars from the person. This sum includes hotel accommodation (3 stars) in Mendoze, transfer to the mountain and back, overnight in hotel on the way to mountain in Penitentes, a meal in base camps and delivery an expeditionary cargo of 20 kg per person to the top base camp. It is necessary also to pay for «permit» (the permission to an ascent) at the office of National park in Mendoze: during a" high" season (December-January) — 500 dollars, in «low» season (February — March) — 300.