Argentina wasn’t on my bucket list of places to visit. And it’s a long list. Somehow, we ended up there anyway. How? We are in the extremely fortunate position of being able to travel business class for a reduced rate with Lufthansa, but that only applies to direct flights from Germany with Lufthansa and not a partner airline. So when my hubby was told he needed to take a vacation, I naturally looked up all direct flights from Lufthansa from Frankfurt and came up with a short list of places we had yet to visit. It was a short list because I eliminated anything in the U.S. This was vacation after all!
Basically, it came down to Panama, Argentina, or Singapore. Panama sounded interesting, but there were problems with the flight times. Singapore was appealing as well but not for any visit longer than a weekend. Argentina it is, then! After our 9-day visit, I’m ready to recommend the country to anyone and everyone. In addition to great food, friendly people, interesting and somewhat heartbreaking history, and beautiful nature, there were some surprises as well. Here are the five most surprising things I discovered about Argentina:
Artsy. Buenos Aires is artsy, artsy, artsy. In addition to art museums and galleries, art is literally everywhere – even the bus stops are decorated! And there are wall murals everywhere. The murals are reminiscent of Diego Rivera (who features in The Lacuna from Barbara Kingsolver, which you should definitely read if you haven’t already). There are even some quirky statutes sprinkled around the city.
Beer, beer, beer. Being a wine lover (and somewhat of a wine snob), I was well aware of Argentina’s wine reputation before our visit. I had no idea that there was such a beer culture. Of course, the mass-produced beer was good, but the real gem was the microbreweries. We stumbled upon several bars that had their own brew. Typically, we could choose from a white, dark or amber beer. I love me some amber beer!
Gravel roads. Much to my surprise, we found ourselves in the Andes for three days during our trip. We decided to rent a car and check out the local villages (and wine production!). The rental car didn’t look brand-spanking-new as expected with a rental car. I shrugged. Whatever. We soon discovered why the car was full of dents. The vast majority of roads in the Northern Andes region were unpaved! But those views? Man, those views made the bumpy ride worth it!
Time travel. We happened to be in Buenos Aires when we discovered that the annual Gaucho festival was happening in San Antonio de Areco – an hour bus ride from the city. Naturally, we planned our entire vacation to ensure we could attend. The town itself was cute and there was some awesome locally brewed beer, but the most interesting aspect of the festival was the lack of safety measures. No, that sounds wrong. There were safety measures: police and some fencing. But it wasn’t what we’ve become – unfortunately – accustomed to in the West. The Argentinians were assuming we would use our common sense to keep ourselves safe. You know, take responsibility for ourselves.
Mate everywhere. Of course, I knew Yerba Mate was the national drink of Argentina before arriving. But I assumed its popularity was blown out of proportion for tourist reasons. Wrong. The locals drink that stuff all the time. Instead of insulated mugs of coffee, they carry around the tools for mate drinking.
And now I want to travel back to Argentina and get to the South where the real wine production happens. And maybe to the coast to see those whales. Huh. Maybe I need to amend my bucket list.