Bariloche, a botanist’s dream vacation

Surprising flowers await hikers in a variety of ecosystems.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
The delicate high-altitude Andean flowers that bask in the sun amid dry, coarse volcanic rocks in the northern sector of Argentine Patagonia are one of the miracles of nature that fascinate hikers at this time of year. Just a couple of months ago, the plants that support these miraculous blooms were buried beneath meters of snow.

At lower elevations on the same mountains, forest floors are strewn with beautiful yellow alstroemerias.

Sun-loving fire bushes border lakes and clearings, and shrubs bearing yellow and pink blooms beautify the steppe.

Meanwhile, the humid forests tucked away in Andean valleys are rife with fuchsias and wild orchids.

Around the northern Patagonian town of Bariloche, arid steppe, humid forest and high mountain environments are very near each other, and in the spring and summer the blooms that represent them await hikers who have a few days to explore the surroundings.

Diversidad, a travel agency run by native son mountaineer Clemente Arko, offers a wide variety of hiking excursions in this area, including specialized hikes for botanists. In addition to the photos of the viola, the forest-floor alstroemerias and the dainty wild orchid seen above, they have sent us the following photos of high-altitude blooms to share with you.

Seeing is believing.
One of the mountain tops around the Challhuaco Valley where these blooms can be seen is included in their four-day hiking program which includes other environments as well: the Mount Tronador area that offers nalca plants with sunshade-sized leaves, fire bushes, fuchsias and a “black” glacier; the humid forest of the Llao Llao Peninsula area, and the steppe with caves, ancient rock paintings and lots of birds.

PHOTO CREDITS: An example of floral mimicry, Diversidad. Alstroemerias in the forest, and detail of a bloom, Diversidad. Flowering fire bush and neneo shrubs, Bonnie Tucker. Fuchsias, Bonnie Tucker. Chloraea alpina orchid, Diversidad. Peak of Mount Challhuaco, Diversidad. Oxalis, Rhodophiala, Ranunculus and Viola flowers, Diversidad.

Hernán Uriburu

A tribute to the dean of Argentina’s pack trip outfitters.

Hernán Uriburu, Argentina’s first pack trip outfitter, whose approach to people, horses and his beloved province of Salta launched lifestyle tourism in the country, is no longer with us. One of the province’s best-loved native sons, Hernán thought that a backcountry pack trip should offer riders a cultural experience in addition to a series of impressive landscapes. His passing has deeply saddened those who were fortunate enough to take part in one of the many memorable rides he led into the mountains over a period of more than three decades, because those expeditions included contact with local families, and with his philosophy of life.

For Hernán, watching the landscape change from atop a horse that picked its way up and down mountain trails was the best way to “ruminate” (assimilate) it, and to slow down enough to enjoy living a rustic life for a few days. Indeed, one’s concepts of time – and priorities in life – inevitably changed during the course of one of his rides.

The first rule of the game was implacable: all your essentials had to fit into the saddlebags behind your saddle. There was room for just a few toiletry items (soap, towel, toothbrush, comb, toilet paper), a change of underwear, and clothing for dealing with heat, cold and rain, all of which could be experienced in a single day at certain times of the year. In the outdoors, nothing can be taken for granted.
As the hours and days passed, you learned the value of patience, prudence, caution, silence, the simple things in life, and respect for others. Riders had no need to fear, or be ashamed to ask for help when they needed it. And they soon understood and accepted the need to eat lightly to avoid altitude sickness while acclimating in places that presented the problem, and to use the same outer clothing throughout the ride.

Hernán lived in the city of Salta and took his clients on three different circuits in semi-arid and high-mountain areas in the province. On each circuit he used the horses of a local supplier (usually a small rancher), who accompanied the ride and took care of his animals. He said that local horses know the terrain, and what poisonous plants they are not supposed to eat.
Hernán took care of the riders. His preferred mount was a small mule, which apart from being sure-footed, was close enough to the ground to allow him to dismount and remount easily several times a day to solve any problem from a loose cinch to a lost hat. He did the cooking if the group was small. If there were more mouths to feed, he brought along a cook.
His clients included many a stressed businessman, systems analyst and diplomat, as well as a few journalists. During his first two decades in the business, most of them were foreigners. Later, groups included several Argentines.
In 1995, I signed up for his classic four-day mounted venture into the mountains behind the town of Guachipas, about halfway between the capital and Cafayate. I particularly remember focusing the camera on a perfect figure of a rhea at an impressive rock art site, chatting with a family of goatherds, and toiling up a trail to a mountain peak tall enough to offer close-up views of condors flying over the valley below.

We lived four days without electricity. On the first night we ate and slept beneath a storm lamp on the porch of a rudimentary ranch house. On the second and third nights we slept in tents, or under the stars. A sole kerosene lamp illuminated the family table at which we devoured noodles on night two, and on night three, food was prepared by flashlight and eaten around a campfire because the host (a curandero, or practitioner of popular medicine) had no lamp at all. Earlier on the third day, when we had tea in the curandero’s cookhouse, we learned that by sitting on a low stool, one escapes the smoke, which rises and goes out the door.

Hernán called this sort of experience “alternative tourism” – that is, “doing something different from what a consumer society proposes.”
He insisted that mountain people are not poor. “They pay grazing rights, they have their own animals, but they have no boss. They subsist with no money but they have a lot. They have freedom because they live there because they like it, not because it’s imposed on them. If not, the mountains would be uninhabited.”
After a ride in Hernán’s mountains, his clients returned to civilization and their everyday lives. But for more than one, something had changed.
Bonnie Tucker

PS: Hernán’s son Marcos, who accompanied his father on several pack trips with tourists, will continue organizing rides in the Salta backcountry. Information: (0387) 401-1200, or

PHOTO CREDITS: Hernán Uriburu. Bonnie Tucker. Riders in the hills behind Guachipas. Bonnie Tucker. Hernán with a local guide. Courtesy Lihué Expediciones. Thousand-year-old painting rock painting of a rhea. Bonnie Tucker. A goatherd milks one of his animals. Bonnie Tucker. The author with local hosts. Courtesy Lihué Expediciones. Hernán Uriburu with riders in the kitchen of a local family. Courtesy Lihué Expediciones.

The Argentine Polo Open

A showcase of the world’s best players and horses.

In world polo circles, Argentina has long been famous for producing the game’s best players and horses. Most Argentine players are from ranching families and some, such as the Heguys, are from polo dynasties whose members raise and train many of the horses they play. The best derive most of their income abroad, from contracts to go with their horses to play in different tournaments on teams sponsored by companies, or by a wealthy patron who is a team member. And they earn even more by selling their horses at the end of the season. However, they do not part with their best mounts; they keep them in the country to play in the Argentine Polo Open. Thus, on December 5, the top players astride their best horses will dispute the final match of the 116th edition of the Open in Palermo.
This final winds up a series of three prestigious high-handicap spring tournaments: the Tortugas Country Club Open (Sept.-Oct.), the Hurlingham Open (Oct.-Nov.) and the Argentine Open in Palermo (Nov.-Dec.). Forty-goal Ellerstina, which won the Tortugas and Hurlingham tournaments, is the favorite to win this year’s Open and take the triple. Its chief contender is La Dolfina, also a 40-goal team, whose captain is Adolfo Cambiaso, considered the world’s best polo player.
All the games of the Open are played at the Palermo polo ground, which seats 15,000 spectators and is known as the “Cathedral” of world polo. Tickets can cost as little as 60 pesos for the first match of the series, and as much as 1,700 pesos for the final. They can be acquired a week in advance online, by phone, or on Ticketek. Information: 4777-6444 and Phones to check for a possible postponement in case of rain: (011) 15-6448-5151 / 4163-1595 / 4163-1596.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of the Argentine Polo Association.

Classic Jaguars come to Patagonia

The dream of driving on traffic-free roads.

If you plan to be driving the roads between Bariloche, Esquel, Puerto Madryn and San Martín de los Andes in Argentine Patagonia between November 14 and December 2, you will probably come across a caravan of 40 magnates from Europe and the New World at the wheel of their classic Jaguars. They will be participating in the first edition of the Classic Jaguar Tour to be run outside Europe.
It is a non-competitive tour designed for the pleasure of the drivers, their navigators, and whoever happens to be present when they pass or display their mechanical jewels in the cities on their itinerary. Organized by the UK firm Classic Jaguar Touring Ltd., the tour allows collectors of classic XK and E-Type Jaguars manufactured between 1948 and 1975 to take their cars out of the garage and show them to the rest of the world amid beautiful landscapes.

The organizers chose Argentine Patagonia for its natural beauty, road and tourism infrastructure, cultural traditions and safety. And the participants signed up with the idea of living their own Patagonian experience. When some of them who were present at a press conference at the Expo Patagonia show were asked what pleasure they expected to get out of the tour, they were unanimous: “driving on roads without traffic in unending natural spaces.”
During the 3,500-km tour of the provinces of Chubut, Neuquén and Río Negro, they will enjoy spectacular landscapes, regional gastronomy accompanied by great Argentine wines, places and towns of great cultural and historic importance, and the hospitality of locals.
It is a classic itinerary that is very recommendable for drivers with the economic means and the time necessary to do it. It can take them 19 days, as in this case, or more than a month if one takes more time to enjoy each destination.

They will begin their tour in Bariloche with a round-trip detour to Villa La Angostura. Then they will head south on Route 40, passing El Bolsón and El Hoyo on their way to Esquel. From there, they will have a look at Trevelin and Los Alerces National Park. Then they will cross the arid central plateau to Puerto Madryn, with a stop in Gaiman. They will tour the penguin rookery of Punta Tombo and then continue on to the Valdés Peninsula. From there, they will go to the Río Negro beach resort of Las Grutas. Leaving the coast, they will drive to the city of Neuquén. They will rest up in San Martín de los Andes and finally return to Bariloche, where the Patagonia driving part of their tour will end. Before and after the tour, they will spend some time in Buenos Aires, the port of arrival and departure of the foreign contingent.

The accommodations that have been contracted for the tour are the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Hotel in Buenos Aires, the Llao-Llao in Bariloche, the Hostería Cumbres Blancas in Esquel, the Hotel Territorio in Puerto Madryn, the Faro de Punta Delgada on the Valdés Peninsula, the Hotel Portovenere in Las Grutas, the Casino Magic Hotel in the city of Neuquén, and the Hotel Loi Suites Chapelco in San Martín de los andes.
Each of the cities that figure in the itinerary is organizing a reception and preparing a suitable place to exhibit the cars so that the tour’s visit will also be a recreational event for locals and occasional tourists.
Part of the proceeds from the inscriptions and sponsorships will go to four non-profit organizations dedicated to health and human development: the Favaloro Foundation, the Argentine League against Cancer (LALCEC), the CHASE children’s hospice charity of the United Kingdom, and Plan International, a child-based community development NGO that works in more than 40 countries.
The Classic Jaguar Tour in Patagonia is expected to generate revenues of US$ 300,000 for the local tourist industry.

PHOTO CREDITS: A classic Jaguar on the road, and the tour itinerary, Classic Jaguar Touring Ltd. Lake Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche, Expo Patagonia.

International Tourism Trade Fair

A fun way to shop for a vacation.

From November 14 to 17, the destinations and services of 50 countries will be on display for travel agents and future vacationers at the International Tourism Trade Fair of Latin America in the Rural show grounds in Palermo.

Better known locally as the “la FIT” (for Feria Internacional de Turismo), this important annual trade show will offer transport, accommodation, recreation and tour options; colorful shows, and special promotions to the general public on Nov. 14 and 15 from 3pm to 10pm, and conferences, seminars and business rounds to professionals on Nov. 16 and 17 from 10am to 7pm. This year, some 1,800 exhibitors from Latin America and other continents will occupy stands en 42,800 m2 of trade fair surface. Last year, 32,000 travel industry people and 48,000 prospective tourists visited the fair. General admission is 15 pesos. Children under 18 are not admitted. Information:

PHOTO CREDIT: International Tourism Trade Fair of Latin America.

A vicuña roundup in Catamarca

Tourists attend an Inca chaku.

The peoples of the Andes have survived in an ungenerous environment since pre-Inca times thanks to the meat, leather and fiber (wool) of the South American camelids. They domesticated the llama and the alpaca 5,000 years ago, letting the guanaco and vicuña run wild. Of these four species, the star is the little vicuña, which produces the finest and most prized fiber in the world. During the short period that the Inca hegemony lasted (1200-1532 AD) in a large part of South America, that fiber was destined exclusively to clothing the ruling class. It was obtained by means of a chaku, a traditional vicuña roundup and corralling done on foot for shearing purposes. Hundreds of residents of various settlements participated in these well-organized roundups that took place every three years – the time that it takes a vicuña to produce 200 grams of fiber.
Grasping a long cord decked with fluttering elements to frighten the vicuñas, the locals formed a “human rope” to drive the animals into stone corrals where they could be caught and shorn, and later freed. The only animals that were killed were old or superfluous males. The fiber was given to the Inca and the meat to the people. Vicuñas were not killed outside the ceremonial chakus because it was believed that they were herded by spirits.
When the Spaniards colonized the Americas, the vicuña herds were hunted in an indiscriminant manner in all areas of the Andes. Finally, in 1969, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina signed a vicuña conservation agreement that was fundamental in avoid the animals’ extinction. The sale of fiber from sustainably managed vicuña herds has been legal since 2002. The governments have turned over the management of these herds to the indigenous communities, giving them as payment part of the fiber, which they may use to weave items that they later sell.

In the Argentine provinces of Salta and Jujuy, a handful of small undertakings raise and shear vicuñas. In the Catamarca Puna, Laguna Blanca, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, protects a large population of vicuñas, and the four Indian villages that share it can allow themselves the luxury of staging an Inca-style chacu every year. In recent years they have begun to invite tourists to watch how they do it.

This weekend, (Nov. 7 and 8), one of these vicuña roundups will take place in the village of Laguna Blanca, which lies at 4,000 meters above sea level. Tourists who wish to play an active role in this activity may join in. It has also been announced that they can help shear the animals. Whoever decides to accept this offer should remember that vicuñas, like all camelids, spit when they are frightened or irritated. And a wild vicuña that has never undergone shearing can become so frightened that it suffers a heart attack. But the locals know how to treat these animals so that this doesn’t happen. It is in their interest; vicuña fiber is worth a lot of money.
With regard to the altitude of the Puna, it is best to go to the area a few days before the event in order to adapt to the thinner oxygen. Ascending from sea level to 4,000 meters above it in a day is not recommendable for anyone, especially for someone who is going to indulge in physical exertion.

PHOTO CREDITS: the roundup of vicuñas out on the range, men closing in on the animals in the corral, and a detail of the shearing, all from Catamarca Tourism Secretariat / Iggy.

Tradition Day in Argentina

In San Antonio de Areco, it is celebrated like nowhere else.

On November 10, the birth date of José Hernández (1834-1886), author of the two-part gauchesque epic poem Martín Fierro (1872 and 1879), is celebrated in different parts of Argentina as Tradition Day. But in no other place is it celebrated like in San Antonio de Areco, the quiet Buenos Aires Province town that was the childhood home of Ricardo Güiraldes (1886-1927), author of Don Segundo Sombra (1925), a novel that exalts the gaucho.

Every year, on the Sunday closest to November 10 on the calendar, a big gaucho parade makes its way through the streets of the city. It is followed by a barbecue with folk music and dancing. In the afternoon there is a criollo horsemanship show and rodeo.
This year, various events and cultural activities related to this festivity began on the last day of October and will end on Tuesday Nov. 10. However, the most important activities will take place on Saturday Nov. 7 and Sunday Nov. 8. Admission to the Parque Criollo where the horsemanship and dancing shows take place costs 25 pesos for the weekend.

This Sunday, gauchos from San Antonio de Areco and other towns in the province will concentrate in the Parque Criollo at 10am. They will ride to the Plaza Ruiz de Arellano main square at 11am, and from there they will parade through the town’s streets with herds of horses and back to the Parque Criollo. Whoever wants to get good photos has to look for a good place on a curb around the square and occupy it at least an hour before the parade begins. If it rains – a very common event at this time of year – the equestrian events of Saturday and Sunday will be postponed until the following weekend (Nov. 14 and 15). However, the barbecue of Sunday Nov. 8, which will be served in the Parque Criollo at 1pm, will not be suspended in case of bad weather.

How to get there: San Antonio de Areco is 113 km (an hour and a half by car and nearly two hours by bus) from Buenos Aires on the Panamericana and National Route 8. Nueva Chevallier (4000-5255) and Pullman General Belgrano (4315-6132) offer several departures daily.

See the program at

PHOTO CREDITS: Gaucho and folk dancing in San Antonio de Areco. Both by Bonnie Tucker.

Arteclásica shows all contemporary styles

Finally, some figurative art.

The sixth edition of Arteclásica, the only BA art fair that gives considerable space to contemporary figurative art, is in full swing in Pavilions 1 and 2 of the Costa Salguero exhibition complex on the Costanera Norte riverside drive.
The motto of this fair is Plurality and Quality. Thus it gives a rather revolutionary respite from the deluge of experimental and alternative products of the younger generation that has been occupying most of the space of other shows for several years now. They too are present in Arteclásica, but as a minority.
Every year, Arteclásica invites a different foreign country to send works by its contemporary artists. This year it was the turn of Japan, a country with styles and an aesthetic sense that are quite different from those of Argentina. Artists and art specialists give afternoon lectures on technical and philosophical subjects of interest to the art world every day from 4pm to 8pm.
The fair will be open daily from 1pm to 10pm until Saturday November 7. General admission costs 20 pesos.
It is to be hoped that next year Arteclásica will be staged in a more centrally located exhibition center that is easier to get to for people without a car. Only the 33 bus goes there and it is packed with passengers in the late afternoon and evening. And who wants to wait for a bus in that area – or even be there – at night?

FOTO CREDIT: Arteclásica.

Orcas in Puerto Deseado

A new thrill for wildlife fans.

Eight orcas were sighted by tourists during an excursion to Penguin Island near the Santa Cruz port of Puerto Deseado, the city tourist office announced. It is not common to see them here; the last sighting took place two years ago. The animals are believed to have been in transit from a feeding ground off a reserve further south to Bahía Camarones or Bahía Bustamante in the neighboring province of Chubut. The photos taken of their white markings – those of each individual are unique – will be compared with pictures taken of orcas in the other reserves to see if these animals are the same ones that hang out there.
The big cetaceans were sighted on Oct. 27 by the 16 passengers of a Darwin Expediciones boat that was one its way to the island to take pictures of the rockhopper penguin rookery for which it is famed.
There were two adult males, two adult females and two juveniles – an orca family. The male of the species has a two-meter-high dorsal fin and can be up to eight meters long. Penguin Island and an islet near it are home to large colonies of sea lions, a favorite prey of orcas. The tourists spent nearly two hours taking pictures of the visitors.

PHOTO CREDIT: An orca within view of the Penguin Island lighthouse. Tree members of the pod play near the island. Both from Darwin Expediciones / Puerto Deseado Tourist Office / Iggy.

National Yerba Mate Festival

The “Yerba Family” Reunion.

Those who happen to be passing through Misiones this week should stop by Apóstoles (68 km from Posadas, the capital), where yerba mate farmers and millers from this province and neighboring Corrientes are having their big annual party in honor of Argentina’s traditional infusion.

It is the 31st edition of the National Yerba Mate Festival, which this year is taking place from November 3 to 8 with the participation of representatives from the 17 departments of Misiones and the two in Corrientes that grow yerba. During the festival, there will be seminars on advances and new knowledge related to production and industrialization, as well as music and dance shows. The fairground is open in the afternoon and evening.
The Yerba Mate Queen will be elected on Saturday Nov. 7, and the Big Lunch for the “Yerba Family” (for more than 2,000 diners) and the presentation of the Yerba Mate Order to the best producer of the year are programmed for Sunday Nov. 8. Also during the weekend, there will be an exhibition of special cars (vintage, classic and hot rods).
See the program at

PHOTO CREDITS: A well-steeped mate. Marcelo Imbellone. “Matecito,” a vintage car and the festival’s well-attended lunch last year, all courtesy of the National Yerba Mate Festival.