Chilean food festival

From June 25 to 27, the Hotel Caesar Park Buenos Aires’ Agraz restarurant will offer a Chilean food festival organized by Pro Chile as of 8:30pm. The five-course à la carte dinner, paired to different Chilean wines, will be designed by Rodrigo Barañao Garcés, a chef with a signature restaurant in the exclusive Providencia neighborhood of Santiago, and a TV program in which traditional Chilean food with a contemporary touch is the protagonist. The food will be prepared by the Chilean chef invited for this occasion, and by Micaela Conesa, the executive chef of the Caesar Park Buenos Aires. It will cost 190 pesos, including the wines. Reservations at 4819-1129.

Guided walks and boat excursions in the Delta

On Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, the Tigre and Paraná Delta Guides’ Center offers guided walking tours and visits to different places of interest in Tigre and the Delta. For example, tomorrow, June 21, at 4pm, they will conduct a free one-hour tour of the

Museum of the Reconquest in Tigre, explaining what happened in 1806 when English troops captured Buenos Aires and were routed after French-born Santiago de Liniers (1753-1810), who at the time was chief of Spain’s local navy outpost, landed with reinforcements in Tigre.

The meeting point is Av. S. de Liniers and Calle Padre Castañeda. In addition, from 12.30pm and every hour after that, there are one-hour guided excursions on the Líneas Delta passenger boats (Stand Nª 6 of the boat terminal), during which the guide tells the stories behind the rowing clubs, the Argentine Naval Museum, the weekend summer homes built in the early 20th century, the Tigre Hotel and former Tigre Club, School Nº 8, the Chapel of Our Lady of Luján, the museum that occupies Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s summer home in the Delta, the Fruit Market, the Trilenium casino and the Parque de la Costa amusement park. Participants pay the price of their tickets. Members of the Center also lead two-and-a-half-hour walking tours in the Tres Bocas area in the Delta that put visitors in contact with nature and island residents. The meeting point for these excursions, which begin in a passenger boat, is the Todo Delta stand (Nº 2 in the boat terminal) at 2.45pm. It costs 25 pesos including the round-trip boat ticket. For more information, visit, or call Gabriela at 4749-4770, or Luisa at 4743-1648, or the Todo Delta stand at 4731-3555.

PHOTO CREDITS: Diorama of Captain Santiago de Liniers' landing in Tigre, in the Museum of the Reconquest; a passenger boat in the Delta. Both photos by Bonnie Tucker.

Art galleries in Argentine airports

In May and June, Espacio Arte, the program that promotes the works of local artists in the Argentine airports concessioned to Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, inaugurated new art galleries in the Puerto Iguazú (photo) and Mendoza air terminals, respectively. This cultural undertaking allows artists to show their work in different parts of the country in airports that participate in the program, which is already functioning in the airports of Salta, Jujuy, Resistencia, Córdoba, Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata and Bariloche. New EspacioArtes will soon open in the airports of Bahía Blanca, Tucumán and Neuquén. Thus, passengers who walk through these terminals have a contact with art works that they might not have otherwise, and the artists have the opportunity to exhibit in more cities than the one in which they live, without having to spend a penny.

PHOTO CREDIT: Inauguration of EspacioArte in the airport of Puerto Iguazú, Aeropuertos Argentina 2000.

Free transport to Tigre port shopping mall

Every Saturday and Sunday, Mercados del Delta, the new shopping mall in the Puerto de Frutos outdoor market of Tigre, offers a free shuttle service that leaves every half hour, from 11.30am to 7.30pm, from the parking lot in front of the train terminal. A city ordinance bans entry of cars to the area on weekends owing to the congestion produced by the thousands of shoppers who go on those days. You can also walk there; a mere eight blocks separate the train terminal from the Puerto de Frutos. Ask for a map in the city Tourist Office in the boat terminal across the road from the train terminal. The mall occupies warehouses of the sector of the port that the Casa FOA design and decoration show reconditioned last year for its 25th edition. Its 48 upscale shops, food court, kiddies’ games and a space for cultural shows are open from 10am to 7pm Tuesday to Friday and until 8pm on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Mercados del Delta brings a touch of modernity to the traditional Puerto de Frutos, where you can still find wicker furniture, plants and other products of the Delta. It also meets the needs of the ever-larger crowds of weekend shoppers, more than 100 of whom bought, dined and were entertained there during the last four-day Easter break. Have a look at

PHOTO CREDIT: The 25th edition of Casa FOA in Tigre's Mercado de Frutos, precursor of the Mercados del Delta shopping center, Bonnie Tucker.

Aconquija adventure

Three days to remember

Bonnie Tucker / FST
I am a trail ride freak. I like to just get on a horse and head for any place in the mountains that is far from cities. The objective is not so much the destination, but the voyage on horseback itself. With the animal’s first step in the direction of high places with sweeping views, I already feel better.
Sleeping in a tent is not my thing, but since it is part of most trail ride experiences in isolated areas, I accept without complaint as long as riding a horse is involved. So imagine my delight last November when Cabra Horco Expediciones invited me on a ride in the Aconquija mountains between San Miguel de Tucumán and Tafí del Valle, during which nights would be spent in a family home and the upscale inn of the Las Queñuas nature reserve deep in nature’s embrace.
The ride outfitter, Nicolás Paz Posse, had been warmly recommended by a travel agent friend who is very demanding with regard to horses, gear, safety, routes and service in general, so it wasn’t hard to convince me. He had even won Lugares magazine’s 2008 best adventure outfitter’s award.
Nicolás and the young men who work with him on his rides spent their high school vacations exploring those very same areas for the fun of it and enjoy sharing their experiences with riders.
Most of them are university graduates in fields such as law and business administration, but the call of the mountains is so strong that they have found ways to play both roles by spelling each other on rides. Foreign tourists don’t realize to what extent the family names of some of them are related to Argentina’s early history, and they do not volunteer information. They, and the mountain families whose homes they have equipped with proper bathrooms and sleeping quarters for visitors, act as the hosts of the riders who book pack trips from April to December.
Most of their horses are small but very sturdy and sure-footed “caballos cerreños” (mountain horses). There are also some handsome Anglo-Arabs.
Nicolás picked up the group at the airport of San Miguel de Tucumán and gave us time to offload our bags at a nice downtown hotel before taking us to dinner at a restaurant in the 9 de Julio Park. He was joined there by a tall, blond guide who would be accompanying the group, whom he introduced as “Marco.” Not a Spanish “Marcos,” but an Italian or Roman “Marco.” The full names of Marco, and those of all Cabra Horco personnel, were in the program e-mailed beforehand to each participant, but I had left it at home.
The next morning we riders were driven to a roadside farm house near Siambón, where we put the saddlebags with our belongings behind the saddles of the horses assigned to us, mounted and headed into the mountains. We were accompanied by Roberto Martínez Zavalía, owner of the new Las Queñuas inn where we would be spending the second night.
First we rode up the broad bed of the Río Grande, which at that time of the year was almost dry. It was strewn with enormous boulders left by different summer flash floods (for which reason Nicolás does not offer rides in the summer). Then we passed through a small cloud forest area and continued up through a sparser alder forest and a brushy area before finally arriving at a grassy mountain top. There we made sandwiches with fresh bread and cold cuts on a tablecloth spread out on the grass.
The distances between ranch outposts along this and other Cabra Horco routes are short, but the going is slow owing to the terrain, which comprises a series of mountain chains separated by narrow valleys, many of which harbor rivers that must be forded. As the horse, and you astride it, toil up a winding trail on one side of a mountain and gingerly make your way down the other side, which seems even steeper than the first, you have time to observe how the vegetation changes with the elevation and orientation of the ranges.
We saw particularly impressive vegetational contrasts in east-west-trending canyons, where chaco-type bushes typical of semi-arid climates cling to the side blasted by winds from the desert area to the north, and rainforest-type trees and undergrowth luxuriate, complete with ferns and mosses, on the other side in the humidity provided by the pampean winds from the south.

But more impressive still was the way that local people live and interact in remote outposts. There are no roads, just trails, a few rudimentary landing strips and clearings where a helicopter can land. They ride down to town to buy provisions once a month, river levels permitting. The nearest neighbor may be several kilometers away, but if one of them falls ill or is injured, they join forces to get him to the nearest house with a cell phone or radio and a big enough clearing to accommodate the province’s hospital helicopter. On the second morning of our ride, we awoke in the modest home where we had spent the night to find that ten people had brought a boy who had had convulsions out in the bush. They had traveled for six hours on foot and horseback on mountain trails in the darkness to get there, and were still waiting for the helicopter when we left.
It was Marco, a recently graduated lawyer, who did all the work on the ride, leading the pack horse and tightening cinches along the way, serving the picnic lunch and cutting bread for tea on the first day, always with a smile.
Late in the morning of the second day we posed beside an engraved stone menhir that was set on a high mountain meadow facing a beautiful mountain range by people of an indigenous culture that flourished in the area 2,000 years ago.

It was one of the few menhirs that had escaped the collection and concentration atop a hill near Tafí del Valle ordered by the military governor during the 1970s. Later on, we rode across a ridge that harbors the remains of stone constructions that were possibly lookout points built by the same pre-Inca culture.

Las Queñuas is a private nature reserve located on what was once an enormous ranch. When Martínez Zavalía, a rancher and former provincial tourism official, bought the land, he gave outpost families deeds to their homes. It took him three years to get the inn built and bring in the furniture, and even mirrors, on pack mules.

Yet the property’s cozy, tasteful décor has nothing to envy of country hotels nearer town. The guest rooms with their private bathrooms are large and fully equipped, as are the dining room and living room. There are easy chairs on the porch. The midday meal of the second day – pasta with two sauce options – showed that the cook had gone to a cooking school in Buenos Aires.

As it was a warm day, lunch was served on the patio in front of the inn. It faces an uneven ridge that serves as a landing strip for daring bush pilots. They land headed uphill and take off downhill.
The heat brought a shower. Shortly thereafter, Nicolás arrived with his fiancée. The men went out to continue exploring the surroundings on horseback even though more rain seemed to be in the cards, and the women had tea in front of the fireplace in the inn.

When we were about to descend a particularly steep mountain slope to our lunch stop on the third day, there was a bit of action. Marco got off his horse – a tall, handsome but bloody-minded young Anglo-Arab sorrel palomino – to tighten the cinches of the tourists’ horses. While he was doing that, his mount got loose from the bush where he had left it tied and, calculating the distance, began to inch its way toward freedom. Warned of the impending escape, Marco attempted to dissuade the animal with slow movements and kind words, which were ignored. And it took off at a trot, and then at a gallop down the trail, with him in hot pursuit. He finally caught it in the river 500 meters below because it got tangled up in the reins. During the pursuit a boot sole came loose, and when he washed his feet in the river before lunch, the wounds left by the nails became evident. “It’s nothing serious,” he said as he slipped on some alpargata cloth slippers.

During our last lunch in the mountains, eaten seated beneath the grape arbor of an outpost beside the river, we gorged on delicious fried empanada turnovers and different salads. This place is quiet because the river and difficult trails put it out of reach of motor bikes.
When we got to the top of the Cuesta de Raco, the mountain above the town of the same name, we were returned to reality by the revving of enduro motorcycles that ascend and descend for the fun of it the trail that outpost residents use to buy provisions. The deep ruts left in the dirt trail by the wheels of these infernal machines of the local jeunesse doré were just one more example of the damage done to many of the country’s natural environments, and the enjoyment of them, by this sport, which should be practiced only in stadiums or closed tracks.
The excursion ended with tea served at Nicolás’ family’s home in Raco.
When I returned to Buenos Aires I looked at the ride program and saw that Marco’s family name is Avellaneda. The same as that of a local grandee whose life and death are legendary in Tucumán. A phone call to Nicolás confirmed that our guide is a descendant of Marco Avellaneda (1813-1841), a fiery, idealistic young journalist and governor of Tucumán who made history by dying for his ideals. That Marco led an unsuccessful uprising of the northern provinces against Buenos Aires dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas and was beheaded for his efforts. His head was impaled on a pike driven into the ground in the main square of San Miguel de Tucumán as an example to the citizenry of what not to do. One night, a brave society lady removed the head from the pike, left the square with it hidden beneath her shawl, and returned it to his family for burial. It lies at rest in his mausoleum in the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires, not too far from the tomb of Rosas. That Marco’s son Nicolás (1837-1885) was president of Argentina from 1874 to 1880.
In Buenos Aires, the travel agency that organizes groups for Cabra Horco rides in the Aconquija can be contacted at 5031-0070.

FOTO CRÉDITOS: Mountaintops, and cloud forest trail, Rafael Smart. Crossing the bed of the Río Grande, Rafael Smart. An outpost owner with her goats, Rafael Smart. Marco Avellaneda, Bonnie Tucker. A rider looking at the menhir, Francisco Didio. Roberto and Marco look over a pre-Hispanic site, Rafael Smart. Living-dining room of the Las Queñuas inn, Bonnie Tucker. Lunch in front of the landing strip in Las Queñuas, Bonnie Tucker. A ride on a rainy afternoon, Rafael Smart. The table set for lunch on the third day, Bonnie Tucker. An old portrait of Marco Avellaneda (1813-1841).

Buenos Aires X 3

Three different versions of the city

Bonnie Tucker / FST
Nowadays, tourists who are looking for Buenos Aires experiences head for retro-rich San Telmo and trendy Palermo Viejo because those are the neighborhoods where the international travel media have been telling them they should go. Not surprisingly, both have several new boutique hotels and even more refurbished apartments for rent or sale. Located at opposite ends of the small part of this city of 3 million inhabitants that is known to tourists, they are also opposites in terms of style, essence and appeal.
Porteños (Buenos Aires residents) go to these two neighborhoods for much the same reasons as the foreign tourists. In San Telmo they expect to be entertained by colorful street vendors, living statues and assorted other characters on weekends, and in Palermo Viejo they hope to catch sight of some famous model or TV star while dining at a fashionable restaurant or shopping for clothing.

San Telmo vs. Palermo Viejo
The narrowness of San Telmo’s streets and the cobbles on several of them remind tourists and weekend shoppers that the neighborhood is around 400 years old. It was one of the city’s first parishes, but it was considered a dingy rundown neighborhood where only workers and a few artists wanted to live until the 1970s. That was when its remaining venerable buildings avoided the wrecker’s ball thanks to the campaign of architect José María Peña, who founded the Museo de la Ciudad (city history museum) and convinced the military government to issue a zoning ordinance exempting historically worthy buildings from changes to their façades and banning the construction of additional condo towers.

The Sunday flea market in Plaza Dorrego, another gift of Peña, established an antiquarian’s hub and a bohemian attitude that put San Telmo on the map for most tourists around the globe. And for the first time, porteños came to consider that oldness has some worth, at least with regard to architecture. In 2000 the municipality established a Historic City Center Board. In a move that was unrelated to the board, but was in a similar vein, the Public Works Department removed asphalt from some stretches of Calle Defensa and re-installed cobbles. And when the present city government recently began to remove them from certain streets in San Telmo, Palermo and Belgrano, it met the opposition of many residents.
Palermo Viejo in its present form is a fairly recent creation of developers who learned the San Telmo lesson that old can be chic. Here any kind of building can be demolished, but many venerable family homes have survived by being refurbished into expensive homes, hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and offices.

Known simply as Palermo when it was the unpretentious turf of Italian, Spanish and Armenian immigrants who arrived at the turn of the 20th century, the tree-shaded streets of this once-peaceful backwater changed forever in the 1990s, when the 1:1 exchange rate allowed porteños to travel abroad and discover the pleasures of modernity in food, clothing and culture in general. Property prices were still low, but not for long. Realtors and developers christened the part of the neighborhood with the most ethnic restaurants, designer shops and artists’ studios “Palermo Soho” and the one with several TV and cinema studios and radio stations “Palermo Hollywood.” The only retro tendencies that prospered were of literary origin. As the Argentine mass media rediscovered 20th-century writers Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, Plaza Serrano and the stretch of Calle Serrano between that square and Av. Santa Fe were renamed Plaza Cortázar and Calle Jorge Luis Borges, respectively. The latest additions are a host of new bookstores and art galleries destined to make Palermo the city’s new cultural epicenter. In the summer, a stroll around the plaza and along its most emblematic streets gives the feeling of being in a pleasant upscale US suburb where people sit at aseptic sidewalk cafes and watch the world walk by.

People who let homes or shops in San Telmo and Palermo have a problem in common: the enormous increases in rents and food prices brought by the influx of wealthy new residents and tenants (especially foreign tourists with US dollars or euros). The arrival of these newcomers, who were attracted by the fame and upgrading of these neighborhoods, has forced many longtime residents and merchants to move elsewhere, taking with them the trades that gave their neighborhoods character. A case in point is the Mercado de San Telmo (1879), a privately owned indoor market that once had more than 100 stalls that sold high-quality fresh produce at reasonable prices, but now is full of flea market-type shops and very few food stalls.
Of late, San Telmo has been flooded by designer shops, expensive restaurants and other consumer society accoutrements that have nothing to do with the people who have lived there until now. These changes are decried by residents who don’t want the neighborhood to become another Palermo. A bigger threat still is the Town Hall’s desire to turn historic Calle Defensa into a permanent pedestrian mall that aims to please tourists and shoppers, but denies residents public transport and exposes them to floods of strangers at any time of the day, and to a potentially noisy night life.

Avenida de Mayo
The new favorite of amateur photographers is Avenida de Mayo (in the Monserrat neighborhood), which has interesting Art Nouveau architecture and is the most authentically porteño of the three because no attempt has been made yet to make it touristy or exclusive.

Officially inaugurated on July 9, 1894 to give Buenos Aires a grand avenue that would have nothing to envy of those in France, Avenida de Mayo was destined to be important from the moment that Congress approved its construction in 1884. It looks French but its spirit is that of the large Spanish community that adopted it in the early 20th century.
For porteños, it is just a place to work and go about everyday life, frequent demonstrations moving between Congress and Government House allowing. And the many youth hostels that have sprung up in former hotels show that this normality, and prices that are lower than in San Telmo or Palermo, are appreciated by foreigners interested in local culture.
Many guidebooks equate Avenida de Mayo only with the Café Tortoni (Av. De Mayo 829), the dean of Buenos Aires cafes, which opened at another location in 1858. It moved to its present building with entrances on Calle Rivadavia and Avenida de Mayo in 1880, and opened on the avenue in 1893. Famed for having been the choice of famed writers and other members of the local cultural scene, and for its luxurious décor of marble-top tables, Tiffany lamps and stained glass, it makes you feel like you are temporarily an actor on a stage out of the past. The Argentine Tango Academy has its office upstairs. The Tortoni offers several tango shows every night Tuesday to Sunday. See for the program.

But don’t forget Los 36 Billares (Av. de Mayo 1265), which was inaugurated along with the avenue in 1894 and has one of the city’s last billiard halls (which is in the basement). Upstairs it is a traditional porteño bar with a modest décor and a clientele of largely elderly people who go there to read the newspaper in the mornings over coffee with milk and croissants, and younger clients who choose the executive menu at lunch. It is not full of tourists, and you feel like you are watching a scene from the first half of the 20th century. Los 36 Billares offers tango dinner shows Tuesday to Sunday, and a flamenco show after midnight on Saturday. See for details.

The Barolo building (Av. de Mayo 1370), an eclectic 22-floor tower built between 1919 and 1923 for an eccentric textile magnate, represents Dante’s Divine Comedy, with Hell on the ground floor, Purgatory in possession of the first to 14th floors, and Heaven extending from the 15th floor up to the beacon on the top floor, which symbolizes salvation. The building’s administration offers tours that leave from the concierge’s desk from 2pm to 7pm on Monday and Thursday. They last 40 minutes, cost 20 pesos, and can be bilingual if some members of the group speak English only. Evening tours can be arranged. Reservations at 4383-1065.

PHOTO CREDITS: A clothing store in Palermo and a living statue in San Telmo; Old glass siphon bottles in San Telmo; New buildings on Calle Armenia, Palermo; Cafe-restó on Calle Gurruchaga, Palermo; Avenida de Mayo; The Los 36 Billares bar and the Barolo Building, both on the Avenue, all by Bonnie Tucker.

Ancient Argentina

Until July 5, an important exhibition of archaeological artifacts in the Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires will illustrate the worldview of the Andean peoples who inhabited what is now northwestern Argentina between 1000 BC and the mid-15th century AD. The diversity of environments in which the original populations lived is reflected in the fabrics and ceramics, and metal, stone and wooden objects on display, which are also proof of the intense long-distance cargo traffic that moved in llama pack trains between different regions. The exhibition is open at Av. del Libertador 1473 from 12.30 to 8.30pm Tuesday to Friday and 9.30am to 8.30pm on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Free admission.

Iberá experiences

From June 13 to 15, La Lunita will conduct an excursion to the Iberá wetlands (Corrientes) that will include a 4-hr wildlife spotting boat trip, horseback riding and a cattle roundup on a ranch, a visit to the renovated Nature Interpretation Center, and a hike in the reserve. 875 or 975 pesos according to the hotel + bus (368 pesos round trip). 4776-7821.

Focus on Montevideo

Photography teacher Marcelo Gurruchaga will be leading a photo safari to Montevideo dur-ing the June 13-15 long week-end. For three days, participants will enjoy snapping pictures of the Uruguayan capital’s peculiar combination of tradition and modernity. Cost: 1,590 pesos.

PHOTO: Montevideo reflections, Bonnie Tucker.

Hero of the North

If the persistent guerrilla attacks by the “infernal” gaucho cavalry led by General Martín Miguel de Güemes had not kept the Spanish troops occupied on the northern front of the War of Independence, it is very possible that General José de San Martín would have been unable to pull off his trans-Andean surprise invasion of central Chile. Every year, his death in 1821 is mourned by gauchos who spend the night of June 16 at the foot of his statue in Salta City, and his memory is exalted by them and other residents during a big parade the following day.

Winter solstice

Like the Incas, who always celebrated the winter sol-stice in their Inti Raymi (or Sun Festival in Quechua) every June 21, and the people of Jujuy, who continue to do the same on June 20-21 at a monolith on the Tropic of Capricorn, the northwestern Argentine province of Cata- marca will stage its own fiesta in honor of the Sun in the city of Santa María from June 20 to 22.