Spent 8 days in Argentina, visited three provinces, 4 cities and a few small towns in between – Explored quite a bit of wilderness and tried a few interesting local specialities along the way …..
My rather random thoughts on the visit:
People are warm, respectful, helpful and above all friendly. Now wrt cities, Buenos Aires is like any big cosmopolitan city. There are the poor neighborhoods and then the chic ones – Some districts have close resemblance to Madrid and Rome (believe it or not some areas reminded me of Jakarta too – Busy, bustling with life).
Neuquén is pretty much a desert. Terrain is rugged and hostile. Oil has done wonders for the place and Neuquén city which lies between two rivers is a nice and neat little town with decent amenities. There are a few wineries around the area which have been put in place within last two decades. Due to very strong winds, Alamo trees have been planted around these vineyards to protect the plants. Andes mountain range surrounds the west of this part and is supposed to be very scenic however I didn’t visit as my priority was set on the southern part of Patagonia.
Talking of South, I explored the area between Comodoro and Trelew – “Peninsula Valdes” which is a UNESCO protected area (nature reserve) and considered as one of the richest when it comes to marine life. You can find different type of whales, sea lions, elephant seals there. It is practically a true wonderland of nature. Along with it, I visited “Punta Tombo” which is another narrow peninsula and home to a huge colony of Magellanic Penguins. I was blessed to roam around among penguins which were not in their hundreds but in thousands! You can go up close and see how they behave from an arms length – Was an experience of a lifetime for me and allowed me to check this off the bucket list!
Second major highlight was my visit to “Punta Marquis” which is a huge colony of South American sea lions. At any point you can see from 6k to 60k sea lions. You can go close to them and this thought did cross my mind but I opted not to execute. The climb and not having other companions were the deterrent. You can also see different type of whales and other marine animals here (btw staff of these nature reserves kept on showing me whales but I couldn’t spot any so that is for another day!). Few key things to remember when visiting the vast and majestic southern Patagonia:
1- Don’t Underestimate the remoteness and plan properly – Gas stations are few and far between.
2- Due to the remoteness, these places have very little visitors so one will have all the time and opportunity to do whatever (as the caretakers etc are not too bothered as well) – Please exercise caution and not disturb the animals in their habitat.
3- If you have ever wanted to see a clear sky lit up with uncountable stars along with crystal clear view of all constellations, then Patagonia is the right place – The sky will mesmerize you!
On the food scene, a few must try items:
1- Chimichurri (Sauce: unique taste and can’t even describe, its green leafy sauce but goes well with our taste)
2- Alfajor: A biscuit like circular food items widely eaten and quite tasty. Good snack and offers a couple of flavours
3- Dulce de leche: Its basically a paste which is insanely tasty (for the people with a sweet tooth like me). It has three ingredients only : sugar, milk and heat ! God knows how they do it but it is soooo good. It can be of goat, cow or sheep milk and each is better than the other. In nice Restaurants, they bring a crepe and then give you an option to choose one of these among three (or all) to allow one to choose whatever suits the taste buds the most.
4- Flan: Essentially Argentina’s egg pudding, Caramel, lychee flan or whatever you want to call it. Exists in almost all countries with some variation . The Dulce de leche flavored one was the best.
And some general observations:
1- Lots of stray dogs all around in almost all cities.
2- As a Pakistani passport holder, be prepared to wait for a few minutes at the immigration counter as they will take the copies etc of your documents.
3- I finally saw a true random check at the customs. The officer in fact presses a button and a bulb goes red or green. If green, you proceed forward and if red your belonging etc will be scrutinized – It’s not Ad hoc as I have seen in other places.
4- Taxis are by meter and taxi drivers seem very cooperative and decent (very different from taxi drivers of other countries)
5- Inflation has hit Argentina very hard in recent months and 1$ which used to be 18-20 around 18months back can now be exchanged for 42-43 (good for travelers). Beware when taking cash out of ATM as there is a 10$ transaction fee on top of everything else.
6- I had the impression that tourism must be a big thing in Argentina but I stand corrected. I don’t think there is any specific focus from government to promote tourism.
The country of pampas, Andes, Patagonia, Iguazu falls, Messi, Maradona, and pope Francis is an incredible country overall. It has so much potential to grow but has been in the back seat for a while. Wish it the very best to realize its potential and prosper way beyond where it currently is!