Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Blog!

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't been very good about keeping up with this blog. Oops. This is because after many months of agony and writer's block, I have decided to start my blog all over again. I am crazy? Well, sort of but that's not really the point.

The point is that I decided I wanted to switch from Blogger to Wordpress. I'm getting more serious about blogging (oxymoron?) and since most blogs use the Wordpress CMS, I figured I should probably make the switch. Plus, I wanted a new toy to play with. I'm still not sure I made the right choice but there's no looking back now. Giver.

You can now find me at or on Twitter @practicalmeg

I have sincerely appreciate everyone's support and I hope you keep reading!


Traveling and Practical Meg

Thursday, August 18, 2011

San Antonio de Areco, Argentina

Just an hour and half outside of Buenos Aires is San Antonio de Areco, a pueblito famous for gaucho culture, Sunday parrillas and horses. Here gauchos still exist, riding their horses next to the highway and parking them outside of cafes. Not exactly the open pampas but I guess everyone has to adapt.

With glitter still stuck to my face from last night’s bachelorette party, the first order of business is to take a siesta. In small town Argentina, there really isn’t anything else to do from 2 – 4pm and we are happy to abide by the local customs. Once we finally wake up, we are faced with the all important question, "What's there to do in San Antonio de Areco?" Short answer: chill out, eat and drink.

Hang Down by the River
"The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it." Author Unkown

Well then we'd be successful. The river is the place to hang out in town with family and friends while enjoying mate, chatting and teaching your kids how to fish. This is another world compared to the traffic and bustle of Buenos Aires.


If you feel the need to do more than just sit by the river and don't have an irrational fear of large mammals, then you can ride horses for a steal of a deal. Personally, not my cup of tea, but whatever floats your boat.

Equus caballus

On a Sunday afternoon, the rich smells of wood fires and roasting beef wafts out onto the street. It is very hard to resist. Perhaps a vegetarian's worst nightmare, eating an asado is the thing to do in San Antonio de Areco on the weekend.

The restaurants do fill up, especially during prime asado time (2pm) and/or if the sun is shining, but don't let this dissuade you. Grab your friends, a bottle of wine, agua con gas, salad and order any part of the cow you can imagine. They may even cut your piece right in front of you.

A skilled asador

Ok, so we didn't really find any 'nightlife' in this town. Once the sun went down, the streets seemed very quiet and peaceful. Still, there are places to grab a beer. The best (and really only) cervecería is the Old Town Brewery, where we met our friends Dani and Lolo.

Not only are they a ridiculously good looking couple but they are also an extremely interesting one. With four nationalities representing three continents at the table, we discuss living in Argentina, the state of this crazy world and most importantly, which beer tastes the best. Our favorite is the amber.

Just around the corner is the neighborhood pulperia. Recommended to us by our hosts, I lead the charge into the local joint with minimal signage. I am greeted by collective silence and male stares. Uhhhh… I’m am unprepared and I imagine it shows on my face. Behind me someone has enough good sense to say buenos noches and everyone quickly returns to their drinks. I love finding hole in the wall places like this and I try to take photos but I don’t want to make them feel like this is a Nat Geo moment ("just look at ‘em, in their natural habitat, drinking beer").

Pulperia in afternoon light

Practical Stuff
Companies like General Belgrano and Chevallier run services San Antonio (1.5 to 2 hour trip) at 30 – 45 pesos each way. Bring a book or good company. Pick up a map if needed, but this town is so small you can probably figure out the hots spots within an hour.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

La Cumbrecita, Cordoba, Argentina

Over the river and through the woods lies La Cumbrecita. Here, horses are the only form of transportation besides your own two feet and there are plenty of trails, rivers and waterfalls, perfect for weary city-dwellers.

There is a lot to do in La Cumbrecita, but we are only passing through for the day. My Kiwi travel partner, Sarah, is a very perky blond and she insists that we take an early bus to get in all the activities we can. But the first bus leaves at 7am and I am absolutely not interested. There is another bus at 10am and we are on vacaaaaation, I plead using my best whiny voice. Sarah is sympathetic but undeterred, and she continues to think up hypothetical situations in which it would be better if we were to arrive early. All in all, she has been an extremely good travel partner and considering that she has saved me from traveling on my own, I should probably show a little bit of flexibility. Plus her accent is sort of convincing. Damn.

So then we find ourselves walking to the bus station in the dark under the Southern Cross and it’s many star companions. We run the last 100 meters to catch our bus just as it is leaving the station. Whew. On board are locals going to work and elementary school children wearing white lab coats blasting reggaeton on their cellphones. I manage to sleep through it and wake up in a daze when we arrive at 8:30 am in La Cumbrecita.

“It’s beautiful isn’t it!” Sarah exclaims. I try not to give her too much of a scowl. I’m not sure if she is trying to convince me or herself, but it doesn’t take me long to realize that she is genuinely enthusiastic. It is freezing cold but she’s right, the air is crisp, clear and silent. Nice.

Nothing opens until 9am but we give the local coffee shop owner our best pathetic gringa faces and she lets us in. We huddle around our cafe con leches while we dreamily eye the delicious German pastries that are outside of our price range. The coffee shop owner gives us some recommendations for walks and sites to see around the town. We manage to do a fair bit:

La Casacada

Our first destination is a peaceful waterfall about 20 minutes outside of the center of town. We are the only ones on the trail and we watch the sun quietly spread its rays out over the hills. We sit and enjoy the waterfall, respecting the rule that it’s still too early to speak.


We meander around to the Olla which is really just a stream but I can imagine in the summer time that it's the perfect swimming hole. In fall, it's a great photo op.

Cerro Wank (1715 meters)

Highlight of the day. Pretty cool hike, only about 1 hour to 1.5 hr each way with great views of the town and dry mountains once you reach the top. The trail is not marked and we kind of get lost on the way back. This is mainly my fault. I see a large rock with a distinctive hole that I swear I would have recognized, therefor we must be on the wrong trail! Makes sense, right? So we double back and end up right where we started. Huh. (Needless to say, I have a pretty bad sense of direction.) Sarah is a very good sport and she rightly earns herself the position of trail leader. I follow her down and around the loose rock path, taking horse droppings as a sign that we are on the right track. We meander a bit off the trail but end up right where we want to be.

After a morning of wandering, we grab some cheesy empanadas and sit by the el Rio del Medio to watch the local horse traffic and nap in the sun.

By the afternoon, the clouds fill up the sky and we decide we’ve done enough for the day. In the end, it was better that we caught the early bus because of they sunny weather and we had the trails all to ourselves. Downside, we look exhausted in all our pictures. Live and learn.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Villa General Belgrano, Argentina

I am sitting a hammock on a fall day, listening to the collective sounds of sustainably raised chickens and green parrots nesting in pine trees. I am happy to be reminded that places like this exist. We have settled in Villa General Belgrano, a small town about two hours outside of the provincial capital of Cordoba. The town has a distinctly German character thanks to the German sailors who moved here during World War II after their warship was sunk off the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay. Today the town is most famous for the by-product of its German heritage, great beer.

We are staying at El Rincón, an old German farm turned eco-friendly hostel. El Rincón is enlightening and a destination within itself. The house smells of wood and the floors creak every time you walk up the stairs. With an inviting fireplace and sheepskin seat cushions, the living room feels like a mix between a ski cabin and my dad’s old windsurfing van.

I keep looking out the window,expecting to see the Alps but instead all I see are birch trees losing their leaves to fall. It is low season, and there is only one other person our 12 person dorm room. An older gentleman with a thick German accent that covers his Argentine Spanish accent checks us in and tells us to make ourselves at home (dorm bed, 40 pesos = $10 USD).

I take some time to enjoy the atmosphere while my travel mate/amateur photographer Sarah embraces her artistic side. I lie in the hammock, swing on the thin metal swings, and see how close I can get to the chickens before they cock their head sideways with a look of alarm. Soon enough, it’s time to wander into town, and we manage to find the only grocery store still open before the entire town shuts down for a two hour siesta.

We decide to hike up Cerro de la Virgen, an easy 1.5 hour walk into the hills. For some reason, the trail is sponsored by the cellphone company Claro.

In South America it is common for there to be a cross or Jesus statue overlooking the town. Villa General Belgrano has an effigy of the Virgin that makes excellent use of shadows.

After our relaxed walk, it's time to enjoy some artesian beer. Sarah asks around and the locals recommend Cafe Rissen. We have a liter of Scotch Red Ale for 30 pesos. Delicious.

While there isn't much more to do in Villa General Belgrano, there are other smaller towns to visit nearby. Next post coming soon: La Cumbrecita.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Argentina gives all U.S. tourists a 90-day visa. Some visitors (like me) simply do not want to leave Buenos Aires and for those of us who aren't quite ready to commit to permanent residence, there is a very simple way to renew your visa: Go to Uruguay. It's easy. You hop on a ferry and in about an hour you arrive in the cutesy tourist town of Colonia del Sacramento. And that's exactly what I did. Since I'm on a tight budget, I had to take cheapest ferry I could find departing Buenos Aires at the ungodly hour of 7am. Ugh. On the plus side, I start my day by watching an amazing sun rise.

When I arrive in Colonia, it is a breezy walk off the ferry. All of the other passengers have realized that it is fall except for me. I clutch my thin hoodie and curse myself for not bring a hat. I think of all the times my mom yelled at me to wear warmer clothing. "I'm cold just looking at you Meg!" I honestly don't think I'll ever learn. But it is beautifully sunny and I take the opportunity to roam the quiet streets and take photos.

Colonia was an old Portuguese port and in the historical district there are still blue and white tile signs and cobblestone streets.

An UNESCO Heritage site, some of the original colonial buildings still remain on la Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs). Ahhhhh. Over hundreds of years old, they are still charming.

And there are lots of these pretty flowers, Bougainvillea (that's right, I googled it.)

I would be able to tell you more about the history of Colonia had I bothered to go to any of the museums (sorry Mom). But by mid-day, the sun was heating up and I opt to head for the beach to eat my veggie sandwich and take a siesta.

After my nap, I check out the artesian market (meh) and then decide it is tea and writing postcards time. At around 2pm, a huge ferry arrives with all of the tourists who had the common sense not to catch to the 7am ferry. The sleepy historical town is transformed into a tourist trap, complete with street performers, hippie jewelry vendors and men with giant "I'm overcompensating for something" cameras. I hate it when other people remind me that I'm a tourist. I feel the need to flee to higher ground and elect to head to the nearest lighthouse. I climb up a winding, bright green staircase to get a view of the town and the sea from above. It is very peaceful.

By the end of the day, I am ready to go. Exhausted and wind-blown, I head to the ferry terminal to return to Buenos Aires and I did get my visa stamp for another 90-days. And who knows, I may have to make this trip again...

Practical Travel Tip: $1 USD = $4 ARG = $16 URG. It is very easy to exchange money and I would highly recommend trading in some Argentine pesos for the local currency. While most cafes and stores will take ARG pesos, it's the polite thing to do. Also, the ferries do board early, so do get there a full 45 - 30 mins before departure time.

Friday, April 29, 2011

El Monumental, River Plate Stadium, Buenos Aires

I love going to soccer games around the world. Whether its Guatemala, Scotland, Brazil or Argentina, I always enjoy the chance to catch a game. So when I happened to be wandering by the River Plate stadium on a Sunday afternoon with two friends, I jumped at the chance to go.

Outside of the stadium, we soaked up the pre-game atmosphere; males dressed in red and white drinking bottles of cheap beer by the liter, the smell of choripan roasting on the parrilla and the crackling sound of gunfire thanks to the nearby shooting range. Ahhh, Argentine fútbol. We began our search for tickets. There are basically two types of seats, popular and platea. The former is where the hard core fans sit, nicknamed 'Los Borrachos del Tablon’ (roughly translated – Drunkards of the Stands). After haggling with a man sporting double denim and an Argentine mullet, we splurged for platea, 100 pesos, ticket price 70 pesos.

There are no assigned seats but we carefully select seats away from the visiting team fans in order to avoid being hit by projectiles. For everyone's protection, the visiting team is surrounded by a high fence and security, but they can still manage to huck trash on the fans below.

Soon enough it’s game time and the festivities begin. The stadium begins to thunder with fans yelling, jumping and singing in an elaborate show of flags, songs and drumming. Handmade flags and banners are an essential part of expressing one's never-ending loyalty to the team and the stadium is covered in red and white banners with neighborhood names and fan love.

About 35 minutes into the game, River Plate scores on a penalty kick and the stadium erupts in song and fireworks. GOOAAAAALLLLLL!!!!

But the visiting team quickly fires back in the second half, and their fans rattle their chain link enclosure like little kids playing Where the Wild Things Are. In the end, River lost 2 -1. But no sooner was the game over did the River fans begin to sing about their devotion... aunque ganes aunque pierdas, te llevo en el corazon!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Parque Nacional Iguazú, Argentina

Parque Nacional de Iguazú is a tropical paradise. Stunning waterfalls slide down cliffs while butterflies land on your shoulder and monkeys crash through the trees. The waterfalls are not only huge but there are a lot them, and they all seem to miraculously line up, begging you to take a picture (I now have a zillion). A great place to take Mom during her brief visit to Argentina!

We started at the uppermost part of the falls, la Garganta del Diablo or the Devil’s Throat. The water crashes down far below and everything is white. Here you realize just how much water is flowing through the falls as it thunders and spews a mist that drenches you. The sound is deafening but the mist feels great in the tropical heat. And when I say mist, I don’t mean like a light fog, I mean more like a sporadic rainstorm.

If you want to get even closer, take a boat ride. For $110 pesos ($28 USD), you can get a view of the waterfalls from the river and they actually take you into the base of the falls. You get absolutely soaked. All you can hear is roar of the waterfalls and the screams of the tourists (my Mom “Oh my god they are really taking us into the waterfall!! Ahhhhhh! Eeeeeek!”).

Understandably, the park is wildly popular and expect crowds of tourists, especially in the morning. The entrance fee is 100 pesos (about $25 USD) but if you can get a half-price ticket if you return for a second day. The park is big enough that you can find some spots to walk alone and listen to the jungle. While the waterfalls are the main attraction, you can see Black Capuchin monkeys roaming the trees,


and Coatis, lovely creatures who patrol the snack bars like tropical raccoons. This one ripped a can of seltzer water from a German tourist’s hand while her husband took photos and laughed. I probably shouldn't be too judgemental, because I did the exact same thing.

It was an amazing experience and I would recommend visiting Iguazú to anyone vacationing in Argentina. The town of Iguazú is rather mediocre and feels more like Brazil than Argentina with the red dirt, plethora of motorbikes and large buffet breakfasts. We stayed at a great hotel, La Sorgente, (thanks mom!) with a very relaxing pool area. Try their wicked caipirinhas for 15 pesos.