Oba Oba, Steve Jobs, and Northwest Argentina

DSCN5461While we were in Brazil, attending a wedding of one of Cris’s cousins, I overheard her eccentrically comedic uncle describing a type of travel he called “oba oba” style.  Because this was a Portuguese term I hadn’t learned yet, I asked what this could possibly mean, and an aunt kindly explained that she thought he meant the kind of traveling where you head in a general direction but don’t really know where you’re going or have any clear plans.  My theory is that it must refer to the way Brazilians shout “oba!” any time they receive an unexpected prize or happy result.  Thus, when you head out in the “oba oba” style, you tend to find yourself shouting with happiness every time you reach an unplanned, unexpected destination.

I liked the idea.

So, while we were enjoying the very well planned W Circuit of the Torres del Paine park in the Chilean Patagonia, I convinced Cris that what we needed was to rent a car upon our return to Buenos Aires and head out on an oba oba adventure.

I’ll admit, it’s not the easiest way to travel.  That said, it has provided us with some pretty great results.  Yes, we’ve driven about 3100 km (1920 miles) since we started 11 days ago.  However, we’ve had some great, and unexpected, times.  I’ve already posted about our time in Mendoza, which was wonderful.  I left out that we loved it partly because of the quaint boutique hotel where we stayed, which made it easy to relax between adventures into wine country.  The “oba oba” aspect of that trip was that we had no place to stay in Mendoza until we arrived in town.  Because we liked it so much, we stayed there for four nights.  It helped that Cris is particularly good at getting a discount every time she walks unannounced into a hotel lobby.

After that, we really only knew that we would head north.  On our way north, we had to stop in the less interesting town of La Rioja.  During our night there we decided that the next day we would try out the village of Tafi del Valle, about 5 hours away.  As we headed up the only highway into town, however, we were stopped and informed that the road was closed due to construction.  We were discouraged, because at this point we were pretty far away from anything other than the village of Tafi.  So, after scouring the map and surveying the locals, we gathered our spirits and resolved that the best thing to do would be to drive another 5 hours north to the nearest big city, Salta.  Again, we had to spend a night in a less than desirable town, but we did manage to find another charming inn.  Over dinner and then breakfast we figured that we might as well take the hint and keep heading north before circling back south to reach Tafi from the other direction.

Heading north took us to the Quebrada de Humahuaca, and we were stunned.  After taking in some of the most colorful and awe-inspiring canyon country I’ve ever seen, we settled on the town of Tilcara, once again finding delightful (and discounted) lodging.  Here are some pictures of the Quebrada de Humahuaca region:

Nice hats.

Nice hats.

The colors in this place were crazy.

The colors in this place were crazy.

 

Really crazy.  These pictures don't even capture it.

Really crazy. These pictures don’t even capture it.

 

DSCN5588After three nights of that, we knew we needed to start heading south to be able to make it back to Buenos Aires in time to meet up with Cris’s family for Christmas.  So we checked out the options and picked the town of Cachi.  Admittedly, we chose this one because it looked like it was the hardest to get to with the most winding road and because we’ve had great success lately with hard-to-get-to places and winding roads.  Again, we were stunned.  Here are some pictures of our approach to Cachi.

DSCN5823 DSCN5840 DSCN5882Today we decided upon waking that we’d make the easy 160 km drive to Cachi and even if we left late we’d make it in time to swing by a local winery.  As it turned out, the “national highway” is a dirt road for about 135 km and it took about 3 hours longer than expected.  But again, we were stunned by the spectacular landscape.

DSCN6041 DSCN6042What will we do tomorrow?  Not sure.  We may stick around Cachi and rent bikes to tour the countryside.  Or we may decide to spend a night in Tafi.   Who knows.

That’s oba oba.  Yes, there are some frustrating moments and it can be stressful when it’s late and you don’t know where you’re staying tonight.  But the feeling of reaching some place beyond your previous knowledge and finding out that there is even more out there is invigorating, satisfying, and relaxing.  Plus, the journey is pretty awesome, and when you get there, wherever that may be, you can pretty much stay as long as you like.

Oh yeah, and it really helps to have a good audiobook.  We’re currently listening to the biography of Steve Jobs.  Man, that guy was crazy.

Advertisements

Aaah, Argentina

Please, don't cry for her.

Please, don’t cry for her.

We have finally pulled ourselves out of Patagonia, although it wasn’t easy.  On Thursday we flew to Buenos Aires and ran into a series of annoying travel issues, like Aerolineas Argentinas deciding to fly us to a different airport than originally promised without notice.  We didn’t actually know where we were when we landed until we walked out and things didn’t look right.  For example, our rental car was at the other airport.  Aaah, Argentina.  I blame it on Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.  Look her up.

After the hassle (including some cathartic insults cast in the direction of various unapologetic porteños), we had a relaxed evening in the Puerto Madero neighborhood and rested for the next day.  Upon waking, I hit the street to find a map of Argentina so we could figure out where to go and how to get there, when I ran into a cloud of chemicals so caustic my eyes started to water instantly.  Apparently, someone had stored something improperly in a container in the port.  This led to an explosion that sent poisonous pesticides throughout the city.  The people on the news freaked out and told everyone to stay inside.  Aaah, Argentina. Once again, I blame it on Cristina.

Then we drove about 11 hours west to San Luis, mostly because we just couldn’t go any farther.  We found a spot to stay the night and the next day swung by Sierra de las Quijadas National Park.  It was another beautiful place, and a distinct change.  In just a couple days we had left this:

DSCN4799For this:

DSCN5267

DSCN5269We hung out in the park for a few hours before heading to Mendoza.  This is another great Argentinian town, with the added benefit that Mendoza is a surprisingly well-planned city with great public spaces, tree-lined streets, and access to some amazing wineries.  So what do you do in wine country?

We first headed to a winery called Ruca Malen, which means “the house of Malen” in the Mapuche language.  There we had a five-course meal with wine pairings.  I was pretty surprised that for a very reasonable price, we got: 1) a detailed written description explaining how the characteristics of each wine paired with the ingredients in each dish, 2) a sample from each of their categories of wine, including their top-line stuff, and 3) a fantastic meal.

Yes, they literally point out the ingredients

Yes, they literally point out the ingredients

Pairs well with both a Cabernet and a Malbec....

Pairs well with both a Cabernet and a Malbec….

Ruca Malen winery

Ruca Malen winery

Nice view on a clear day.

Nice view on a clear day.

Out in the vineyard at Ruca Malbec

Out in the vineyard at Ruca Malbec

The following day we took a tasting class at the Familia Zuccardi winery.  Again, amazing value.  Our teacher, Pedro, was passionate about getting us to really smell and taste the subtleties in each one.  He liked to compose the wine out of its different aromas by putting different fruits, nuts, etc, next to each other and shoving his nose into the middle of it all.  It was very cool how he could reverse engineer the aroma of each wine.  We had so much fun, we signed up for their cooking class, which we’re doing tomorrow.  I guess you really can’t go wrong in wine country.  Aaah, Argentina.

The lineup of odors to look for in the wine

The lineup of odors to look for in the wine

Pedro our sommelier/teacher at Zuccardi

Pedro our sommelier/teacher at Zuccardi

Those three ingredients (chocolate, coffee, strawberry) combine to smell like that wine.  Cool.

Those three ingredients (chocolate, coffee, strawberry) combine to smell like that wine. Cool.

She's in her element

She’s in her element

Tossing Rocks in a Pond in El Chalten, Argentina

DSCN4859The other day, at the top of a long hike to see yet another stunning Andean panorama, Cris and I sat down at Laguna de Los Torres and took in the view.  While we sat there, staring across at the Los Torres peaks, the glacier at their base, and the blue lake below that, Cris challenged me to hit one of the nearby miniature icebergs with a rock. Before long, we were both throwing and skipping rocks at various targets and giggling at our mostly futile efforts.  What followed, however, was intriguing.  We were not alone at the lake.  There were perhaps fifteen other people from around the world sitting at different places on the lake, and about ten of them had taken to tossing little stones into the water, watching them in flight, and listening to the mysteriously satisfying plunk of a rock splashing into a pond.

If you want to know what it’s like to spend a week in El Chalten, wandering around the Argentinian side of Patagonia, that’s pretty much the sensation: mysteriously satisfying.  This is a town of little cafes, restaurants, cabins, and hostels.  There isn’t much history to speak of, but there is a general air of tranquil hospitality, adventure, and remoteness.  There’s also some really good food, wine, and locally brewed beer, making it pretty much perfect.

And what else do you do in El Chalten?  While we were on our way back from Los Torres, an American girl stopped us to ask how much farther she had to the top.  Within a few minutes, she had invited us to join her the next day for a rock-climbing session with a local guide.  We accepted and subsequently enjoyed it thoroughly.  Tomorrow we’ll rent and ride bikes down the stretch of highway that provides a complete view of the local mountain range.  If that’s not enough for you, glacier tours and horseback rides are also available.  Of course, the real pleasure of El Chalten is the ease with which you’ll find yourself enjoying the simple stuff.

Check out the pictures below, including hikes to Los Torres and Mount Fitz Roy, our day of rock-climing, and some time in the back room of a pub with a self-made brewing operation.

Cooling heels in Laguna Los Torres

Cooling my heels in Laguna Los Torres

Cris chilling by the lake

Cris chilling by the lake

View of Los Torres from the trail.

View of Los Torres from the trail.

My life in her hands.

My life in her hands.

Nice moves

Nice moves

Even better moves

Even better moves

Heading to see Fitzy

Heading to see Fitzy

At Laguna Los Tres below Mount Fitz Roy

At Laguna Los Tres below Mount Fitz Roy

Checking out the local brewry

Checking out the local brewery

A Brazilian's birthright

A Brazilian’s birthright