Argentina’s big country fair

See you in Palermo

Argentina’s Expo Rural ’09 country fair will take place in the Argentine Rural Society grounds in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo from July 23 to August 4. This will be its 123rd edition, making it the oldest such exhibition of livestock, agriculture and related industries in Latin America, and one of the most important in the world. The grand champions of the different livestock breeds are chosen at the end of the show. For the schedule, see

Fiesta del Poncho

The 39th International Poncho Festival that will take place in the capital of the Argentine province of Catamarca from July 23 to August 2 will showcase the handicraft of hundreds of artisans from Argentina and other Latin American countries. Live folk music and dancing, regional food, gourmet cooking classes and lectures on subjects of cultural interest will be additional attractions. Information:

Cabalgatas en Salta

Pioneros is organizing two four-day trail rides that will take participants to jungle and desert areas of the Argentine province of Salta. It costs 1,490 pesos per person, including lodging in mountain refuges and all meals and drinks during the ride. Departure dates: July 27 and August 3. Information: 4382-5886.

Jujuy in eleven days

Agreste, a Buenos Aires travel agency that specializes in non-conventional tourism for travelers interested in local culture and the outdoors, will conduct an 11-day tour of the towns of the Puna and Humahuaca Valley in the Argentine province of Jujuy from July 24 to August 3. It costs 1,730 pesos, including hotels, half board, coordinator, and all excursions and local transfers, with bus or airfare apart. Information: 4373-4442.

Aviario gigante

The Temaikén zoo in Escobar (50 km from Buenos Aires) recently opened what is billed as the biggest aviary in South America, with 2,500 birds of 200 species from the Americas, Oceania, Africa and Eurasia visible in natural habitats in an area of 3 hectares. General admission to the zoo costs 48 pesos and 35 pesos for children under 10, and half that on Tuesdays. Information:

Iguazú field guide

A new trilingual field guide to the flora and fauna of the Iguazú Falls area recently published in Argentina will delight nature lovers. Iguazú Guía de Campo, by Marcelo Beccaceci (South World, 2008, 67 pages) contains more than 500 full color illustrations identified in English, Spanish and Portuguese, a map of the national parks, and a brief description of the region´s geology and geography. It costs 48 pesos and is available in bookstores such as El Ateneo, Yenny, Cúspide, and the Boutique del Libro franchises.

A weekend in Montevideo

An escape from the pressure cooker.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, is 40 minutes by air or three hours by ferry from Buenos Aires. The air and water entrances provide different first impressions of this city of a little over 1 million inhabitants, but both – and especially the stretch of riverfront between them – are valid representatives of its personality.
Porteños (Buenos Aires residents) and tourists from elsewhere go to Montevideo because they know it is different from BA. They realize the extent to which this is true only when they get there and look around. Topography has helped preserve the life quality of montevideanos.

Saved by the Rambla
Montevideo’s port, which concentrates truck traffic, operates inside a bay on its western side, and its international airport is far from downtown, in the opposite direction. The southern edge of the city that overlooks the River Plate, and runs between the port and airport, has been preserved as a middle class and upper middle class residential area, and is embellished by the Rambla, the 22-km-long riverside drive and promenade that has long given all residents free access to beaches and unmarred views of the water.

Buenos Aires’ Costanera Norte riverside drive suffers from heavy port traffic; the proximity of squatters’ slums; the airport that borders it; and the clubs, restaurants and events halls that block the view of the river. If porteños turn their back on the river, it is because they have been deprived of contact with their side of the estuary. So they like going to Montevideo, where the situation is different.
Montevideo is also a lot smaller than Buenos Aires (1,400,000 million inhabitants vs. 11 million for BA counting the Greater Buenos Aires urban sprawl). That means less stress in the Uruguayan capital. It is a pleasant, tidy time-warp city that has preserved most of its Art Nouveau and Art Déco buildings, in addition to the Spanish colonial fort that overlooks its harbor. Its only high building is the relatively new Communications Tower. Its people are amiable and seem more relaxed than their neighbors across the River Plate estuary.
Some tourists are irked by the fact that in Montevideo most shops are closed on weekends; one has to go to a shopping center to be able to spend one’s money. But when they discover the Rambla, they realize why montevideanos seem so relaxed. Porteños are more than a bit envious of the way that their neighbors across the estuary unabashedly take their weekends off and enjoy fresh air and open spaces on the broad sidewalk that overlooks so many kilometers of sand bathing beaches facing the River Plate. No clubs or events halls or restaurants or sausage stands get in the way of the view of water, water and water. They can stroll, run, cycle, walk the dog or sit on benches and read, sip mate or stare at the water for hours on end in a residential area that is free of noisy, smelly truck traffic.
It is said that the sight of water calms anguish in most people, and water has always been part of the lives of montevideanos. For them, the estuary is the “sea” and the Atlantic, which officially begins 120 km further east at the tip of the peninsula for which the upscale Punta del Este resort is named, is the “ocean.”

Too much for so short a time
Montevideo is an ideal city for people who like outdoor markets, street shows, art, crafts and antiques. It also has good restaurants, and several shops that sell high-quality leatherwear and woolen garments.
If you go for two days, you will soon realize that the things to see and do in the Uruguayan capital greatly exceed that time frame, and that you will have to return.
Most Buenos Aires residents on a weekend getaway opt for the ferries (Buquebús and Ferrylíneas) because the terminals are quick to access from the BA downtown area, they can take their cars, and Montevideo’s port is on the doorstep of its historic and commercial downtown areas. (Be sure to book a three-hour ferry, not one that takes five hours, or more.)
However, if you want to do all the markets or join a guided city tour in the Old Town that begins at 10am on Saturday, you will have to fly there or take a ferry Friday afternoon and spend a night in a hotel because the morning departures across the river won’t get you there in time.

Classic musts
For tourists, the two classic weekend musts in Montevideo are the Mercado del Puerto (Port Market) and the Sunday morning flea market on Calle Tristán Narvaja.

The Port Market looks like an old English railway station, and there are several versions as to how it made its way to Montevideo. It opened in 1868 as a food market that supplied ships, and ended up as a picturesque food court. The former stalls inside are occupied by some fish restaurants and steak houses, and several grills that have a long U-shaped bar at which clients sit to eat barbecue specialties. One such grill serves a potent medio y medio cocktail (half sweet white wine and half white sparkling wine, or champagne, if you please) to a garrulous clientele that packs the aisles in the winter and spills out onto the mall in the summer while waiting for a table. On Weekends, itinerant musicians liven up the place and artisans arrange their creations on blankets out on the esplanade.

The Tristán Narvaja market, which on Sunday occupies more than 20 blocks of the eponymous street starting at its intersection with Avenida 18 de Julio, has everything you could dream of, and more. It is a favorite of collectors of antiques, coins, postage stamps, old books and used records. Absolutely everything is sold there, from clothing to plants and pets. It opens at 9am and the merchants begin to dismantle their stalls at 2pm; as there is a lot to see, it is best to get there before midday.
The antiques and crafts fair held in the Plaza Matriz square in the Old Town on Saturday is a good excuse to have a look at that square – the city’s oldest – and the rest of the neighborhood.

Tours and activities
Also on Saturday morning, diagonal streets in the Old City are closed to traffic to form a grid with pedestrian streets where roaming musicians and dancers perform, and stalls selling art, crafts, book and antiques are set up. At 10am, City Hall guides conduct three-hour excursions from the meeting point at the Puerta de la Ciudadela (remains of a gate of the city’s first fort) on the edge of Plaza Independencia. For information on the City Hall’s “Paseo Cultural” Saturday program, visit
There are several interesting museums and tours for people who are interested in art, architecture and music.

Arteuy ( takes you to artists’ studios in the Old City, starting from meeting points at three hotels and ending with a drink in the Port Market.
Downtown, an obligatory stop for those interested in early 20th-century South American art is the museum at Peatonal Sarandí 683, which showcases the works of constructivist painter Joaquín Torres García, founder of the Escuela del Sur (Southern School), whose students prioritized artistic expression with a Uruguayan and South American identity. The museum is open every day but Sunday.

Also downtown, the Teatro Solís, Montevideo’s recently refurbished 19th-century neoclassical opera house, offers guided tours in Spanish, English and Portuguese on every day but Monday. During the 50-minute tour, two actors appear from time to time to illustrate key moments in the history of the theater. See schedules at

In addition to its splendid permanent exhibitions of the works of Uruguayan artists Juan Manuel Blanes (1830-1901) and Pedro Figari (1861-1938), the Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes Juan Manuel Blanes (Av. Millán 4015 in the Prado neighborhood) has a nice coffee shop in a large winter garden setting where plays and concerts are given. Set in an Italian-style villa that was built for a wealthy family in 1870, it is open every day but Monday.

Finally, no one should leave Montevideo without attempting to devour an entire chivito – an enormous sandwich filled with thin beef fillets and a host of other goodies that range from tomato, lettuce, boiled egg and cheese to corn, marinated eggplant and fried onion rings. The diner orders the ingredients according to his or her taste, and may eat the result with a knife and fork on a plate, or in hand, washing it down with a good Uruguayan beer. Of all the restaurants that serve chivitos on the Avenida 18 de Julio, the most famous are the La Pasiva franchises.

Those looking for something a bit more upscale or bohemian should try the Molino de Pérez, an old mill in the Malvín neighborhood that has been transformed into a gourmet restaurant and cultural center. Art exhibitions and concerts are given there.

Night life
The three most famous pillars of Montevideo night life are old-time bars: Bacacay in front of the Solís Theater; Baar Fun-Fun (Ciudadela 1229), famous for its sweetish drink “la uvita”, whose recipe is treated like a state secret; and Tabaré (Zorrilla de San Martín 152), where famous singers from Carlos Gardel to Caetano Veloso have performed.

In addition to the aforementioned city fine arts museum, the Prado neighborhood is home to the city’s most important mansions of the 1860-1890 period, and the Uruguayan Rural Association’s fairgrounds.
This year, the Association’s big yearly livestock and industrial show will be held there from September 9 to 20. See for information.
Another date to look out for is that of the yearly National Heritage Day Festival, during which historic homes and other buildings open their doors to visitors, among other events of special cultural interest. It takes place during a weekend in September or October. This year the date is September 26-27, and the theme is “Rural Traditions.” See for details.
PHOTO CREDITS: Montevideo seen from the old Spanish fort, Bonnie Tucker. The Rambla, Bonnie Tucker. A cannon of the Spanish fort, Bonnie Tucker. The Sarandí pedestrian mall, Bonnie Tucker. Port Market, Bonnie Tucker. Tristán Narvaja flea market, Bonnie Tucker. The Cathedral facing the Plaza Matriz, Bonnie Tucker. Artist Gustavo Vázquez, Bonnie Tucker. Inverted América (1943) by Joaquín Torres García, Museo Torres García. Teatro Solís, Teatro Solís. Assassination of General Venancio Flores (1868) by Juan Manuel Blanes, Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes "Juan Manuel Blanes." A Uruguayan "chivito" sandwich. The scene at Baar Fun-Fun, Baar Fun-Fun.

Jesuit Córdoba with a French accent

Santa Catalina and El Colibrí, two unforgettable experiences.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
Santa Catalina
, the best-preserved complex of 18th-century Jesuit ranch buildings in the central Argentine province of Córdoba, is a short horseback ride from El Colibrí, one of the most perfect rural boutique hotels that the country has to offer. You can also get there on foot or on a bicycle provided by the hotel, but who could possibly want to miss the experience of being astride one of the property’s black-and-white paint criollo horses when the white baroque towers of the mission church come into view?
Just past the control post at the entrance to El Colibrí are the club house and two perfectly manicured polo fields. El Colibrí has its own polo team. But the idea is for guests to learn or perfect their game there too.

Beyond a grove of trees is the colonial-looking but new hotel, in front of which the owners and staff greet guests. Inside the building is a world of enormous, tastefully arranged spaces and colors with temperature and humidity control, high vaulted ceilings, chandeliers in bedrooms and bathrooms, and the possibility of dining in different areas. It is like house, but with the dimensions of a hotel. Upon your arrival, and if you accept, your bags will be taken to your room to be unpacked and your clothing will be arranged in closets and drawers according to type and color while you have breakfast, lunch or a snack. There are nine suites and bedrooms. The food is fantastic. Out back, the horses graze in an alfalfa field on the other side of the swimming pool.

In addition to equestrian activities, guests have go-kart and canopy courses at their disposal, and are near the golf courses of Ascochinga and Villa Allende. Every detail is taken care of, and the owners love making the place live up to its commercial “estancia de charme” moniker.
El Colibrí is the creation of Raoul Fenestraz, a member of one of the mythical French hotelier families whose establishments figure in the list of the exclusive The Leading Hotels of the World group. He and his wife Stéphanie and the couple’s three children left the comforts of Paris and Courchevel in 2001 for the polo, tranquility and outdoor life of this part of Córdoba. Quick, easy access to the Córdoba airport (70 km) and connections with Buenos Aires and overseas destinations were other factors that influenced his decision.
The nearness of Santa Catalina (7 km) is frosting on the cake for history buffs who stay at El Colibrí. It reminds them that thanks to the Jesuits, Argentina had local craftsmen and skilled workers in colonial times.
During most of its first presence in what is now Argentina (from 1585 to 1767), the Society of Jesus financed the work of its missionaries, as well as its schools and universities in the urban centers, with the revenues produced by its network of ranches. The workers on those rural properties were African slaves and local indigenous people who received lodging, food, religion and instruction in crafts and trades that they performed without pay, and were taught to read, write and play music. For the most part, they preferred this arrangement to living in totally abject slavery on the estates owned by the Spanish colonists. The wealth produced by the well-organized ranches made the Jesuits a state within a state, and the crowned heads of Spain, France and Portugal eventually became envious and distrustful enough to decide the expulsion of the order from their turf and New World dominions in the second half of the 18th century.

The five remaining Jesuit ranches in the province of Córdoba, and the order’s main buildings in the provincial capital, comprise a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, as well as the province’s 250-km-long “Jesuit Ranches Road” circuit, which promotes lodging in country hotels and working ranches near the former colonial properties. The San Ignacio ranch no longer exists. Of the others, only the churches, and, in most cases, the administrative buildings, are still with us. The land they exploited was auctioned off to other landholders following their expulsion in 1767 and later subdivided, and their universities were nationalized in the 19th century. The order returned to Argentina in 1853, but didn’t open universities again until the mid-20th century.
The biggest ranch was Santa Catalina. The Society of Jesus bought the property in 1622 with a few rickety buildings, lots of livestock and very little water. Unfazed, the priests built a masterful underground aqueduct that brought water by force of gravity down from the hills in the Ongamira region. With the irrigation system thus obtained, their ranch blossomed into an estate with thousands of head of cattle, sheep and mules, in addition to crops, two mills and workshops specializing in weaving, carpentry and ironwork. It took them more than 100 years to build the ranch’s baroque central European-style church, which was finished in 1754. The church and many of the property’s buildings are intact thanks to the fact that they have been kept up all these years by the numerous descendants of Francisco Antonio Díaz, the Córdoba City Mayor who purchased the Santa Catalina ranch at an auction seven years after the expulsion of the Jesuits, and went to live there with his family. The descendants still use most of the rooms as weekend and vacation getaways.
Virginia Díaz, one of the descendants, and her husband Sebastián Torti, have installed a good restaurant and crafts shop in the former slaves’ quarters, which they call La Ranchería. Here you can enjoy cold cuts and/or a barbecue lunch to the heavenly strains of the American baroque music by Italian-born composer Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726), who taught music at Santa Catalina. Reservations must be made for lunch or dinner by calling (0352) 542-4467 or (03525) 424-467. Accommodation in artfully recycled slaves’ quarters is also available.
Try to make your visit coincide with November 25, the saint’s day of the village beside the church, or the last Sunday in January, when the Díaz family celebrates their traditional votive mass and procession commemorating their ancestor’s miraculous escape from death during an Indian attack.
Santa Catalina is located 20 km from Jesús María, one of the towns on the Camino Real along which overland traffic between Lima and Buenos Aires moved in colonial times.
Five kilometers north of this city on National Route 9, which runs parallel to the old Camino Real, is the Posta de Sinsacate, built in 1709 to lodge travelers. Notorious La Rioja strongman Facundo Quiroga was waked in its chapel after dying in an ambush in nearby Barranca Yaco in 1835.

The post house museum has two carriages from that period.
For a look at what else El Colibrí has to offer, see http://http://http//http//http//

PHOTO CREDITS: El Colibrí's paint horses in front of the Santa Catalina church, Bonnie Tucker. Polo horses in front of the El Colibrí Club House, Bonnie Tucker. The luxury ranch's swimming pool and main living room, El Colibrí. The Jesuits' early 17th-century university and church in the city of Córdoba, period engraving. Composer Domenico Zipoli, period portrait. Sinsacate post house, Bonnie Tucker. The ambush in which Facundo Quiroga was murdered, period engraving.

The 2009 Lugares Awards

At mid-year, Lugares, Argentina’s leading tourism magazine, bestows awards on persons or companies that provide good services that benefit the development of the sector.
The magazine, which has for the past 19 years encouraged readers to “not stay at home,” forms part of the La Nación Magazines Group. The seventh edition of its awards ceremony, held this year in the auditorium of Buenos Design in the Federal Capital, awarded distinctions in the following categories:
Ranches: DOS TALAS (Dolores, Province of Buenos Aires) is a ranch owned by a traditional family of descendants of Pedro Luro, developer of the city of Mar del Plata. The main house, built in 1893, has a large library and was frequented by famous members of the European and Argentine cultural scenes during the entire 20th century. Guests are attended personally by the owners.

Inns and small hotels: EL MOLINO DE CACHI (Cachi, Province of Salta) is a cozy Spanish colonial-style inn built around a 17th-century grain mill, whose millstone still functions in part of the breakfast room. The owners restored the building in 1994, adding five finely decorated rooms and a suite. Later, they planted a vineyard and built a small winery. They organize excursions and expeditions in the province for their guests.

Hotels: EL CASCO (Bariloche, Province of Río Negro). Argentina’s first “art hotel” is the creation of a well-known Buenos Aires art dealer, who purchased this famous property from a European baroness a few years ago and updated its layout to accommodate his project. Each of the 33 suites has original paintings by famous Argentine artists, and the gourmet signature cuisine of its chef is well known.

Museum: MNBA Neuquén (Neuquén, Province of Neuquén). The first annex of the National Museum of Fine Arts outside Buenos Aires, it was installed in the provincial capital in 2000 thanks to the good offices of the city Culture and Sports Secretary. Its permanent headquarters, built according to modern architectural standards for art museums, opened in 2004.

Personality: Valeria Atela (Chascomús, Province of Buenos Aires). In 1998, the present director of the Chascomús School Orchestra decided to give children and adolescents in local schools an alternative way to progress based on playing music. The project began with 35 students and now there are more than 350 aged 3 to 21, who perform in four different age-determined groups.

Guides and small adventure travel companies: EL JABIRÚ (Las Lomitas, Province of Formosa). In 2003, two young naturalists went to live near the Bañado de la Estrella wetland, which is home to more than 300 species of birds. They specialize in custom tours of the region, including the Río Pilcomayo National Park and its surroundings.

Activities: BIG ICE (El Calafate, Province of Santa Cruz). The company, which has been a concessionaire of the Los Glaciares National Park for the past 20 years, became famous for its successful guided excursion known as Minitrekking, which enables tourists to walk on a small part of the Perito Moreno glacier with ice crampons for about an hour. In 2004-2005 they went further and offered Big Ice, a full day of hiking toward the center of the glacier.

Gastronomy: LAS BALSAS (Villa La Angostura, Neuquén). For the past eight years, Chef Pablo Campoy, 34, has been in charge of the kitchen of Las Balsas, a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux hotel and restaurant group. Since his arrival in 2001, after having practiced his profession in Argentina and Spain for several years, Las Balsas has won several awards and mentions that consecrate its restaurant as one of the best outside Buenos Aires.

Snow for skiers

Give the first low season a miss; go in August.

Antonella Romano / FST
After playing coy during most of June, snow has arrived in the Andean region, to the relief of the ski centers, which in Argentina flog their ski weeks in the Expo Nieve winter sports show that takes place in Buenos Aires in early May.

While one usually pays less by reserving in advance, it is not a good idea to book a week during the first low season (in June), because in many centers there has been little or no snow at that time during the past few years. It’s like playing the lottery: you can lose, or win, in that order. Just take a look at the portals of the ski centers on both sides of the Andes: at mid-June this year, most hadn’t been updated. The only honest one was Las Leñas, whose three live cameras showed the sad truth: only a few scattered white patches. This was perhaps because the southern Mendoza resort had been one of the few with the nerve to push their opening date forward to the second weekend of June.

But then came the reward: on June 17 it began to snow like mad there, three days before the classic June 20 official opening date that had been the benchmark for many ski centers in previous years.
July is a safer month, although the high season inflicts prices that reflect that circumstance and the centers are crowded thanks to the winter vacation period. August is the best month of all: there is snow on top of accumulated snow, there are fewer skiers because the winter vacation period has passed, it all costs less, and the warm spells that can hasten the end of a ski season have not set in yet.

This year most centers have announced an early October closing date, although compliance will depend, as always, on the weather, which is becoming more and more unpredictable.
In Argentina the ski centers where the snow seems to last longer are La Hoya (Chubut), because of the mountain’s orientation, and Cerro Castor (Tierra del Fuego), also for its orientation, and for its closeness (1,000 km) to that big ice box called Antarctica.
In the southern Andes the leading ski centers are Catedral, Las Leñas, Chapelco and Cerro Castor in Argentina, and Portillo, Valle Nevado and Chillán in Chile.
There are many other small or emergent centers, especially in Argentina.

All the Argentine and Chilean centers have ski and snowboard schools, as well as runs for all levels of proficiency that attract people of all ages. Many that specialize in Alpine (downhill) skiing have also opened sectors for cross-country (or Nordic) skiing.
The choice of a ski center depends on one’s personal circumstances, one’s idea of what a vacation should be like, and, finally, preferences as to landscapes. And most experienced skiers want powder snow.
In addition to the prices and landscape of a determined center, many people also want there to be additional entertainment in the resort or in a nearby city. Others prefer a place far from city noise, where people only want to ski.
Las Leñas, Portillo and Chillán are far from cities, while Valle Nevado and Catedral are very near “civilization.”

The ones with the broadest, most spectacular lake views are Catedral and Cerro Bayo.

Skiers at Caviahue enjoy an unforgettable view of the homonymous lake in a strange volcanic landscape sprinkled with extravagant araucaria forests. Las Leñas and Portillo occupy valleys in the Andean vastness, while some tracks at Antillanca put skiers amid the peaks and volcanic cones.

Chillán, located at the foot of a volcanic massif, has equipped its two hotels with outdoor thermal pools and has a refined spa in the best of the two. It also has the famous Don Otto 2.5-km-long double chairlift, which arrives near the rim of the Chillán Nuevo volcano and the beginnings of three “red tracks,” also on a level with other nearby Andean peaks.
(N.B.: due to the Chillán city hall’s award of the concession to the ski mountain, the Pirigallo Hotel and Valle Hermoso to a new concessionaire, the property, which was called “Termas de Chillán,” a trademark registered by the previous concession holder, is now known as “Nevados de Chillán, and the hotel “Nevados de Chillán Hotel.”)
During the past few years, many Argentine centers have been developing off-track areas for expert skiers who look for adrenalin on fresh deep powder snow (despite which a campaign to get everybody to use helmets began only at this year’s Expo Nieve show).
In Argentina, heli-skiing services are offered mainly at Las Leñas, but also at Chapelco. In Chile they are on offer at all the main winter resorts.
There is also competition between centers as to which offers the longest uninterrupted descent. For many years Las Leñas held the title with a combination of three runs that totaled 7 km. Then Caviahue announced that its off-track that begins just below the rim of the Copahue volcano is 8 km long. Now, with the extension of its new Nubes quad lift to 2,100 meters above sea level Catedral is offering a descent of 9 km. But Chillán has the Tres Marías track, which is 13 km long.
Before booking, or buying a “ski week” anywhere in the Andes, consult the portal of the center that interests you to see if the winter weather has been generous with them.
Following are the portals of the major Argentine and Chilean ski centers, so you can see what is most convenient for you.


Las Leñas (Mendoza)

Penitentes (Mendoza)
Cerro Catedral (Río Negro)

Chapelco (Neuquén)

Cerro Bayo (Neuquén)

Caviahue (Neuquén)

La Hoya (Chubut)

Cerro Castor (Tierra del Fuego)

For information on other ski centers in Argentina, see the tourism portals of the provinces of Mendoza ( , Neuquén ( , Río Negro (, Santa Cruz ( y Tierra del Fuego (


Valle Nevado




For information on other ski centers in Chile, see

PHOTO CREDITS: Skiing on Cerro Bayo, Cerro Bayo. Shoveling snow in Las Leñas, Las Leñas. Family fun at Cerro Bayo, Cerro Bayo. Snowboarding on Cerro Bayo, Cerro Bayo. Skiing on Cerro Catedral, Cerro Catedral Alta Patagonia. Snowmobiling amid araucarias in Caviahue, Caviahue. The pool at Portillo, Portillo. Heliskiers, Burco Adventure. Skiers at Las Leñas, Las Leñas. Off-track skiing on Cerro Catedral, Cerro Catedral Alta Patagonia. Magic Carpet conveyer ski lift at Cerro Chapelco, Cerro Chapelco. Snowboarding at Cerro Castor, Cerro Castor. Skier at Valle Nevado, Valle Nevado. The scene at Antillanca, Antillanca.

Let´s have a mate

A visit to the Mate Museum in Tigre is an ideal first step towards a trip to Misiones y Corrientes.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
One of the first things that draws the attention of newly arrived tourists in Buenos Aires, is the large number of people they see sipping an infusion through a metal straw from a small container full of ground leaves and stems that are steeped with hot water from a thermos or kettle. Consumption of the infusion (popularly called mate) through a straw with a filter at the end (bombilla) sunken into the yerba mate (popularly called just yerba) inside a gourd or another type of container (also called a mate) is an old regional tradition shared by citizens of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil.
But not even habitual mate consumers imagine the intricacies of the folk rituals that have developed around this practice over the past two centuries, grafted by immigrants from many different countries onto a mestizo rootstalk.
Both locals and foreigners interested in finding out about this tradition’s roots in Argentina, and enjoy a refreshing approach to the country’s history as well, would do well to drop by the new Museo del Mate (Mate Museum) in Tigre, which deals with the history and evolution of preparing, serving and sipping this popular infusion.

While nowadays the word “mate” is used to refer to both the infusion and the container in which it is steeped, the museum deals with the container and the folklore associated with it in Argentina, the world’s biggest yerba mate producer.
A visit to the Mate Museum is an ideal first step toward a trip to the Iberá wetlands in Corrientes, and then on to Misiones, the province which, in addition to being the best gateway to Iguazú Falls, is the country’s biggest grower and manufacturer of yerba mate.

Inaugurated on February 23, 2009 in an elegant 1930s house facing the Tigre River, the museum is the creation of Jorge Díaz, a former tourism director of Baradero, a Buenos Aires Province town on the Paraná River. The collection contains more than 2,000 pieces acquired over a period of 30 years by its creator Francisco Scutellá, of Paraná, Entre Ríos. Scutellá, who sold the collection to Díaz, is the author of five books that are among those on sale in the new museum’s gift shop.
The first exhibit of the guided tour (which can be conducted in English if you so request in advance of your visit) brings home the fact that gourds of different types provided some of man’s first eating and musical instruments. Then you see the first thermos bottle (patented in the United States in 1907), and examples of the mates with portraits of several politicians from Entre Ríos strongman Justo José de Urquiza (1801-1870) to Carlos Menem. Only the ones with portraits of former presidents Juan Domingo Perón (1895-1974) – made in white porcelain – and Menem – made from a gourd – were examples of political merchandising, as they were given to followers; the others were bought by admirers.

The variety of mates and yerberas (lidded containers with compartments for yerba and sugar) shows the extent to which mate sipping was one of the few habits that cut across social classes.
In addition to humble gourd or orange peel versions of the mate, there is a colonial silver number with a bell to call the servants, and sissy porcelain and glass models that were made to order in Europe for expatriates living in the River Plate area.
Several small gourd or carved wooden yerberas for the family table contrast with a huge wooden 150-year-old teamster’s version with separate compartments for mates, bombillas, yerba, and herbs and other items to vary the taste during long journeys in ox carts.
You come across painted tin yerba cans in which the product was sold in general stores, and the cardboard and glass containers that replaced them during the two world wars, when military activities absorbed all available metals.
The lady who represents the Argentine Republic sits at the base of a porcelain mate made in 1910 (in Germany) on occasion of the country’s Centennial. The Bicentennial Mate can be seen on the Internet.There are mates that reflect fashions, needs and a sense of humor. The “hygienic mate,” an invention of German immigrants who had a Mate Club on Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, consisted of an individual double-filter mouthpiece that each member put on the bombilla when the mate made the rounds. The mate de los enamorados (for spooning couples) had a bifurcated bombilla that allowed the fiancés to sip simultaneously, cheek to cheek.
The mate de la suegra celosa (made to order for the jealous mother-in-law) was a small container with two handles that allowed the lady to hand it to the in-law without touching his or her hand.
One learns that small-mouth mates keep the dirt out of the infusion in windy areas, and wide-mouth ones are for places with little wind. Gourd mates are encased in leather to help them retain heat and avoid breakage.
Modern-day models may be encased in rhea, chicken or surubí (giant catfish) skin, or maybe even a bull scrotum.
More common still are the ghastly cloven cow-hoof mates so ubiquitous in souvenir shop windows in Argentina and Uruguay.
Mates are never washed, just rinsed. Curing a gourd for a mate is an intricate but very necessary process for which patience is necessary.
The museum’s collection of bombillas reveals that the straw may be made from bird bones, plastic and – in the case of the poor Argentine soldiers during the Malvinas war – an empty ballpoint pen case.
Visitors are also reminded that mate has been used in liqueurs, soft drinks and perfumes.
They are shown the National Yerba Institute’s video about yerba, its health benefits and how it is harvested and processed.
In normal times, free of the present “A” flu psychosis, a gaucho from San Antonio de Areco comes to show visitors how to steep the yerba in a mate in the museum’s matera (mate house) in the back garden. The 700 mates of all shapes and sizes hanging from the ceiling are the perfect setting for the following mateada (mate sipping session) around the fire.
For those who feel that sharing a bombilla is anti-hygienic, there is a disposable plastic mate and bombilla that Establecimiento Las Marías sells in a sealed bag together a telgopor thermos and a package of its Taragüi-brand yerba. The Syrians, who have been importing a lot of yerba since the mid-19th century, have taken a similar decision; in their country everybody takes his or her own mate, bombilla and bag of yerba to parties, sharing the hot water at most.
A museum’s gift shop sells skin-encased mates, cimarroneras (large gourds cut and assembled with wooden nails to carry a mate and yerba for people who sip it without sugar), books about yerba and its traditions, and a yummy fruit cake in which the infusion was the liquid ingredient.
The museum is open at Lavalle 289 in Tigre from 11am to 6pm Wednesday to Sunday. Phone 4506-9594 or see http://www.elmuseodelmate.comf/ for further information.
For more on yerba history and the steeping technique, see The Yerba Story. On where to stay and learn more about the yerba culture in Misiones and Corrientes, see The Yerba Mate Trail.
PHOTO CREDITS: Two gourd mates, one painted and the other covered in rawhide(Museo del Mate), Bonnie Tucker. Three horn mates (Museo del Mate), Bonnie Tucker. Upper Circuit, Iguazú Falls, Marcelo Imbellone. Cane mate with carved wooden yerba container (Museo del Mate), Bonnie Tucker. Porcelain mate circa 1910 (Museo del Mate), Bonnie Tucker. Spooners' mate (Museo del Mate), Bonnie Tucker. Mates covered in chicken skin and rawhide (Museo del Mate), Bonnie Tucker. "Mate Listo" disposable kit, Establecimiento Las Marías.