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February 27, 2018

A Sensory Overload!: Argentina

Text and Photographs by Shirin Mehta

South America proves to be everything and more than what Shirin Mehta was hoping for as she visits Argentina under the protective umbrella of a luxury tour by Globus

Buenos Aires — Paris of the South

Argentina’s capital conjours up images of political high drama, of Eva Perón and the musical, Evita; of steaks, this being one of the great beef countries; of chefs reimagining traditional cuisine. The city that we now fly to — following a myriad pertinent instructions from Fernando on suitcases, passports and clearances — is replete with wide tree-lined boulevards, beautiful buildings, legendary bars and cafes, stores, restaurants and parks. Its inhabitants, called Portenos, love to party and dance through the night, downing glasses of the national drink pisco sour or excellent Argentinian wines.

From the comfort of our luxury bus, we enjoy the city sights, starting out at the colourful La Boca, site of the city’s first port, where we walk around, snacking on some excellent empanadas, viewing souvenirs, trinkets and leather goods and resisting the street tango dancers who call out to us. We move on to San Telmo, famous for its late-colonial buildings where artists love to gather. The highlight for me is the Plaza de Mayo, and I take selfies outside La Casa Rosada (the President’s Pink House) with the balcony made famous by Eva Perón who addressed the people from there. We enter the Metropolitan Cathedral in the square to view San Martin’s Mausoleum and discover that our present pope once lived there. Another highpoint is a visit to the Recoleta Cemetery, burial site of Eva Perón. That evening we learn the tango, South America’s most sensuous dance, with Mauiricio and Ivana, and I discover my two left feet. Following dinner at a traditional barbecue place or parrillada, we head back to the tango hall for a flawless performance by professional dancers who seemingly effortlessly play out their emotions through dance as a band belts out mournful numbers.

While in Argentina, a visit to the pampas or grasslands is a must. At a working Argentine estancia or ranch (an optional tour), Estancia Santa Susana, owned by an ex-professional polo player, polo being a national obsession of sorts, there are horseback riding, carriage rides and walks to the stables, with the gauchos or cowboys dressed in their traditional best. Lunch is held in a huge barn-like enclosure and consists of Argentina’s famous barbecued meats, salads and sausages fresh off the barbeque, with local red wines flowing. Entertainment is provided by the gauchos who do the tango, sing and swing a mean lasso. The horses are then brought out, running around in teams like well-behaved children and the gauchos compete in games against each other. The winner, of course, gets a kiss from the girl of his choice in the audience. It proves to be a fun day with lots of laughter and music though, of course, the horses steal the show!

By now, a myriad personal stories have been swapped among the members of the group. We know who will only sit upfront in the bus, who will figure out the best shopping deals, who will have a night out on the town after a tiring day and who will ask the most mundane questions that will be answered ably. Everyone learns to be on time, concentrate on instructions and maintain team spirit. But none of us are prepared for the astounding sight that we are to witness shortly.

Tour director Fernando Bordallo…orchestrates all the to-and-froing from airports with precise instructions on the how, where and what of each destination so that the large group seems to move as one.

Iguazu Falls — Thundering Wonder

A short flight from Buenos Aires takes us to the Iguazu Falls that border the Argentinian province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. The falls are shared by the Iguazu National Park (Argentina) and the Iguaçu National Park (Brazil); the parks were designated UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1984 and 1987 respectively. A picturesque ride in the Rainforest Ecological Train on the Argentinian side brings us to the upper and lower trails. Led by our local guide Wilson onto the catwalk interspersed with viewing platforms at strategic locatons, we discover ourselves directly over these spectacular falls. The number of cataracts at any given time fluctuates between 150 and 300 depending on the water level and are so spread out that one hardly ever sees even 25 per cent of these. But the falls are magnificent and made even more so on this wonderful day by a fortuitous spell of heavy rain this past week.

“Like dulce de leche!” says Fernando, of the brown, mineral-laden waters, as our luxe bus now takes us over the border to witness the view from the Brazilian side. Here, a treat awaits us in the form of the pastel-pink, Portuguese-colonial facade of Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, our luxurious abode for the next two nights. Located right at the falls, this is the only luxury hotel in the Brazilian park area and a wonderful place to be. By 8.30 a.m. the next morning, before the park actually opens for the public and the crowds get incessant, by prior permission, we take the footpath along the canyon that descends right into a narrow chasm called Devil’s Throat. Iguazu River flows to our right and a slight drizzle sets in, adding to the charm of the moment. At the end of this gently descending pathway we find ourselves directly under the cascades, facing another catwalk that goes right into the river at the foot of the falls. The thundering of the waters makes the excitement palpable as we traverse the catwalk, even as a rainbow appears. A tremendous spray drenches us as the sun struggles through the clouds. We remain hypnotised by the majesty of nature and are grateful to be here to witness this tremendous sight. It is no wonder then that upon seeing Iguazu, Eleanor Roosevelt had reportedly exclaimed, ‘Poor Niagara!’

No fear of altitude sickness…as precise instructions are given to us on how to deal with the rarified atmosphere at the altitudes that we are to visit. And for those who are affected, oxygen cylinders were close at hand.

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