A West Monroe Reunion!
Dan and Alli, our close friends from West Monroe, made plans to come and visit South America in late May – and we were super pumped to see them in our last stretch down here. They hoped to see some of Chile, head over to Mendoza, then fly out of Buenos Aires. These were places that we really wanted to experience as well. It had always been an understanding with them that we’d be able to spend any and all weekends with them, but in-between time would be TBD, based on the schedule at the Foundation. With Fair Trade Day behind us, it gave everyone a little time to breathe at Chol Chol. When we mentioned to Susana that Dan and Alli were coming down, she said, “You must not miss them!” so we were able to spend a week exploring Argentina with them in the second half of their trip!
It was definitely a flurry of fun travel and experiences. Brace yourselves, this is a long one.
First stop, Mendoza!
After we had an evening reunion with Dan and Alli over some wine at their hotel restaurant, we parted ways and made plans to meet in the morning for our early morning bus ride to our first destination, Mendoza.
The route itself seems pretty straight, but as you get closer to the Chile/Argentina border, you wind up through the Andes Mountains. We were able to book the first row on the top of the double decker bus, so the views were spectacular. We booked the first bus out, as we heard the line to cross the border can be horrendous (our Airbnb host in Mendoza said she once waited TWELVE hours!). It was the first border crossing we’ve done where Chile and Argentina are in the same building. All-in-all, we were through in under two hours, so that was a win!
Our Airbnb host picked the four of us up from the bus station in Mendoza and brought us to the house, which was in a small town outside of downtown Mendoza, closer to the wineries. She brought us by the downtown bakery and corner store to pick up some groceries for our stay, which was really nice. We headed back, made up a quick charcuterie board, and opened our first bottle of wine.
We relaxed, unpacked, hung out, and then made our way to dinner at our first parilla, or Argentinian steakhouse. It would be the first of many steaks consumed.
The next morning, I woke up to make some coffee and found that there were a bunch of tiny ants in the electric tea kettle. I brought it over to the sink to see if I could rinse them off, and I found a trail of them going over our charcuterie dishes into our bag of delicious baked goods — nooooooo! I broke the bad news the team and we told Laura, our host. That couldn’t squash our excitement (get it? I can’t say the same for the ants) for what we had planned for the day – exploring the famous Uco Valley!
Laura not only was an Airbnb host, but also a travel agent, really. She scheduled all of our winery visits and lunches for the weekend, it was great. She wasn’t able to drive us because of an emergency with another Airbnb resident, so her sister Marta drove us.
The first stop was Solo Contigo, and it was stunning. The valley had just experienced their first snowfall of the year, so the mountain range was so beautiful, it looked like a green screen. We toured around the property, which also served as the owners’ home, and sat in a very comfy couch area to sample the first of many Malbecs, along with a Cabernet Franc and some blends.
After the tasting, we headed over to our lunch spot, but not before we passed by a building with full floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the vineyards, with exercise equipment inside. “It’s the gym,” said Marta. LOL. Maybe we’d successfully work out if that was our backdrop every day!
We arrived at Siete Fuegos, a restaurant by Francis Mallman. (If you haven’t watched the Chef’s Table on him, do yourself a favor and watch that right now. It’s incredible. Dan and Alli made fun of my enthusiasm for him. But he might be the most interesting man in the world.)
We walked in and were seated on the terrace. It couldn’t have been a nicer day – the perfect temperature, no wind, no bugs, and staring out at the beautiful mountain range while sipping splendid wine and amazing dishes.
It was really neat, the kitchen was really open and welcoming, and invited us to explore the grounds and watch them prepare and plate our food. The food was just divine – we all ordered something different so we could all sample each other’s plates. After dessert, we wandered around the property and took some photos in the vineyard. It may have been one of the best meal experiences I’ve had.
After lunch (which, by the time we finished, it was 5pm), we headed back to the Airbnb to nap and relax. We stopped by the bakery to get some homemade ravioli and decided to stay in for the night. Nick wasn’t feeling so great, I think he might have caught a stomach bug, so he was in bed for a while. We somehow didn’t realize that the boxes of ravioli were about 100 each (instead of 50), so we ended up making 200 ravioli for four people, haha. It was delicious.
The next day, we had hopes of going for a hike, but with Nick not feeling well and everyone a bit tired from the events of the past few days, we decided to sleep in a bit. I don’t think I’ve slept in since we’ve been here! It was a great feeling.
We had plans to go to a winery in Lujan de Cuyo (where we were staying) for lunch, and then do one more tasting in the afternoon before heading to downtown Mendoza. Laura had plans to drive, but was a little later than we had thought, because of the aforementioned other Airbnb guest. You could tell the tension was growing a bit, we were all packed and ready to try more wines. When we finally arrived, we opened the front door to ask her some logistical questions, and there was AN ADORABLE PUPPY IN THE FRONT SEAT! “I can drop her off at my mother’s if you don’t want her to come,” she explained. No, Laura, the puppy is coming with us. All moods were uplifted at the sight of Luna, the little stray puppy that Laura rescued.
We drove to the lunch spot, and the property was beautiful. It sat on a little pond with some willow trees. We opted for the wine pairing with a three-course lunch, and ate in a little wine cellar room. It was splendid. We got to try some Malbec Rose, among other types of wines. It was a nice, relaxing lunch. We wandered the grounds a bit to take some photos, then made our way to our last tasting.
All of the places we visited were not particularly busy, which was nice. It’s fall in South America, so all the leaves of the vines were turning red and yellow. It was really pretty as we drove along the sprawling vineyards.
Our last spot was Budeguer, which felt like a remote castle. We were greeted right away and guided on a wine tour throughout the facility. This particular winery drew inspiration from all parts of Argentina and included art from Argentinian artists, so it made me excited to experience Buenos Aires. We sat in the upstairs area and sampled a few of the wines. It was a really nice way to end our wine tasting adventures.
After the tasting, Laura dropped us off at our new Airbnb in downtown Mendoza. Since we had dinner reservations and an early morning flight, we decided to switch locales for easier logistics. Nick and Dan ran to a local wine store, and Alli and I enjoyed some rosé while we got our bags in order. We then headed to a dinner at 1884, another one of Francis Mallman’s restaurants. We just decided to go big with that in Mendoza! It was a little fancier than Siete Fuegos, but the menu was quite a bit more extensive. We enjoyed our final hurrah dinner in Mendoza with many steaks and of course, more wine.
Second Stop, Buenos Aires!
After a great couple days in Mendoza, we hopped on a quick flight to Buenos Aires where we checked into a nice Airbnb in the neighborhood of Palermo, where we’d be staying for three nights. Since there were no delays in any of the travels, we had some time at our apartment to relax and get unpacked before heading towards the center of town for a walking tour.
The “city center” tour that we did lasted about three hours and provided a great overview of the city and history. We’ve had pretty good luck with tour guides throughout South America and today was no different. On the tour, we visited the congress building, Plaza de Mayo, Palacio Barolo, Mothers of the May Square, the Pink Government House, and much more. It was interesting hearing about the history of Argentina from a local, especially since he had strong opinions of the past and current political climates. Also, the Argentine economy has had its rollercoaster run in the past years and he discussed this. For example, last year, $1 USD was 19 Argentine Pesos, but this year, $1 USD is up to 42 Argentine Pesos – so needless to say, the locals haven’t had a great economic run.
The tour ended downtown and so we opted to take the train back to our Airbnb. That was a mistake. It was rush hour, and we got on at the first stop. So while it was relatively easy to get on the train, the next 10 stops were just throngs of people trying to get on a very crowded train. Not fun. Anyways, this night the four of us actually split up, as it was Dan & Alli’s anniversary, so they wanted to do a little 1-on-1 dinner, which totally worked for us! Based on a recommendation from our W-Trek guide (his name was Santiago, if you recall), we went to La Bomba de Tiempo – a weekly Monday night show at a music hall which features percussionists and guest musicians. It was really awesome. We didn’t know what to expect, but we enjoyed the show for about 90 minutes before realizing how exhausted we were and heading back to get some sleep.
The next day was our big “experience” day. Sarah had found a Polo Lesson Experience outside the city that we signed up for. Yes, we’re talking polo as in riding horses and hitting a ball with a long mallet kind of thing. First of all, I’m not really great with horses – the whole riding an animal thing isn’t really my style, but I’m competitive and the whole polo thing had me all in. We got picked up by a gentleman named Ezekiel who drove us about an hour to an Estancia that had polo fields. First of all, if you were to describe what you thought a typical Argentine polo player looked like, I’d say it was Ezekiel. He was tall, longer hair, and wearing a long sleeve collared shirt. He was incredibly nice, and you could instantly tell that he could murder us on the polo field.
We arrived and we were quickly assigned horses and then walked around the property to get “comfortable” with the horse. After a short walk, we got onto the field and Ezekiel and his two playing partners started getting us to “gallop” up and down the field with our horses. At this point, you don’t have really any other choice than to just go all in and try to figure this out. So here I am, kicking the horse, and holding on (only one hand since you have to hold the mallet with the other hand), and it’s going pretty well. Well, we start doing some drills (e.g., just trying to “dribble” the ball down the field) and I’m having some fun. I felt like lacrosse and golf played a big role in being able to accomplish anything. The whole riding the horse was the x-factor, but my horse (named Red Bull), was good to me.
Now that we were all comfortable (side note: we weren’t comfortable haha), we played a game of boys vs. girls – where it was 2 pros with Sarah & Alli and 1 pro with Dan & me. Unfortunately, the girls won. Fortunately, it was an absolute blast. We played for about 30 minutes and it was just a really fun experience. By the end of it, you could barely hold the mallet anymore. Not that it was super heavy, but the grip strength just wore off. Also, riding a horse and trying to move fairly quickly definitely hurt your legs and butt. We were all so incredibly sore the next couple days as a result (honestly, I’m still sore and bruised a bit). Long story short – I couldn’t recommend this experience enough.
As if the day wasn’t fun enough already, we then had a great lunch at the Estancia – some more steaks for us. We got a tour of the grounds/property, which was really great. We were the only other tourists there (other than another couple taking some wedding pictures). The super bonus highlight? THERE WAS A CORGI ON THE PROPERTY THAT JUST LOVED US AND WANTED TO SPEND ALL AFTERNOON WITH US. Please see the photos below. Sarah and I tried to keep him.
The experience finally ended and Ezekiel drove us back to the city. We relaxed for a little bit before heading back out for TANGO NIGHT! We booked an Airbnb Experience with a local woman who gave us some Tango lessons for an hour in her studio. It was just the four of us in the class, so it was great to get some close attention. However, I was really bad, and it showed later. After the quick lesson, our host took us to a milonga (basically a bar where people dance Tango and other style dances) for us to try out our new moves. The place was really small, and the dance floor was tiny. So while we were taught to Tango in a pretty large room with no one else, us trying to dance in public resulted in barely being able to move which was a little difficult. We tried a few times, but then opted to watch the more experienced dancers. It was really crazy to see all the different moves up close. I liked this experience better because if felt authentic – as opposed to going to a Tango dinner show or something like that. I liked seeing everyone dressed like normal people and dancing all up close. At this point, it was about 1 a.m. so we went back and called it a (very long, but super fun) day.
The next day was our “play it by ear” day, as we just expected to walk around and visit various neighborhoods and locations within Buenos Aires. We found out that this day was a scheduled strike in the city by various union workers, so all the public transportation was shut down. So we opted for Ubers, lots of walking, and about 5 minutes of bike riding (well, for Sarah & Alli at least, as Dan & I couldn’t find available “divvy-like” bikes to use). We visited San Telmo neighborhood in the morning and grabbed a late breakfast. Then went to La Boca and enjoyed all the colorful scenery and houses. Enjoyed a quick churro/wine afternoon snack break, and then went to Recoleta Cemetery. This cemetery was similar to the one we saw in Punta Arenas, but much larger. We made a few more stops (old theatre converted into a book store, Bosque de Palermo park), before making our way towards dinner. Like any normal people, we had some time, so we opted to get some ice cream and beers before dinner (everyone loves a little ice cream app!).
We went to dinner at Don Julio Parrilla – another recommendation from several people as one of the best steak places in Buenos Aires. This was definitely more of a “white tablecloth” experience, but it had fantastic cuts of meat! Dan and I each had the tomahawk and it was delicious. Also, the mashed sweet potatoes stole the show a bit – it was like eating a tasty cloud. From there, we tried out two speakeasies, but you could tell that the last couple days were weighing on us all as we were exhausted. It had been a great couple of days.
The next day, we had an early pick-up and headed to the airport. It was there, that we had to say our goodbyes. Was sad, but we’re less than a month away, so we’ll see them soon. In other news, big “THANK YOU” to both Dan & Alli, who ended up taking our roller bags home with them. Given our time here, we have purchased a good amount of textiles from the Foundation (we’ve gotten orders from friends, family, and we’ve also bought some ourselves), and so we needed to make some room to bring stuff back. Dan & Alli taking items home will help us accomplish that feat. It was great seeing some of our West Monroe family in South America!
Third Stop, Iguazu Falls!
Heading to Iguazu Falls has always been on my bucket list. Knowing that we’d be in Chile for 6 months, it was a goal of mine to accomplish while we were completing our Fellowship. Given that we found ourselves in Buenos Aires later in a week, we felt that we could take on Iguazu Falls on the weekend and still get back to Temuco for work first thing on Monday! Therefore, instead of flying from Buenos Aires to Chile, we went up to Iguazu Falls and flew into the airport on the Argentine side (note: it’s way cheaper to fly inside the country than cross borders). We had a tour scheduled leaving from Brazil the next day, so once we landed, we got an airport transfer to take us over into Brazil. We hadn’t done much research on this process – and crossing borders are total hit or miss in South America. Luckily, this was a breeze! We didn’t even have to leave the car leaving Argentina (they had a drive-thru window!) and entering through Brazil took about 1 minute as there was no one else in line. It was awesome.
We got dropped off to our small apartment and IMMEDIATELY went to find our favorite Brazilian delicacy: ACAI BOWLS. There was one about a half a mile down the street and it was absolute heaven. Gosh, they are so good. From there, we just relaxed at our apartment, as it was raining, and then found a cute local place for dinner. Overall, a pretty laid back day of travel and getting settled.
The next day was our big day to see IGUAZU FALLS! So a little background – Iguazu Falls can be visited in Argentina and Brazil (just like Niagra Falls with US & Canada). We booked a full-day tour through Urban Adventures (thank you Mike, Alison, Megan, and Ryan for the gift!) which was to take us to see the falls from both sides. Our luck continued, and the tour (which was advertised to be up to as many as 12 people) was just Sarah and me. PRIVATE TOUR! We got picked up by our guide (named Lulu), and she first drove us over to Argentina to see the falls from that side.
We got to the park, and honestly, it had massive Disney vibes. Sarah and I didn’t do much research on the falls because we knew we had a full-day tour, but once we got there, it was like a very large park with lots of trails, activities, etc. to visit. We got to the park as it was opening (again, similar to Disney haha), and hopped on a small train that took us to the end of the park to visit “Devil’s Throat” – or a part of the falls that is very powerful and has lots of the falls culminating in a “small” corner. This blog is going to get really repetitive as I say over and over again that “it was awesome” – therefore, IWA now means, “it was awesome”.
From there, we went back into the park and hiked the upper trail to see many of the falls along the large stretch on the Argentine side. IWA. The trails weren’t that crowded since it was the off-season, and we got to do way more hiking than I thought we’d get to, which was a plus. Also, it’s very humid in this part of Brazil/Argentina (it is the jungle after all), but it was cool and not that humid, so the weather was really great. IWA.
After this, we elected to do an optional boat tour that took us onto the river and next to (and even under) the falls. This portion took about two hours – 30 minute drive to where you get into a boat, a 45 minute boat tour, and then another 30 minutes back. The boats were pretty standard looking, but had some powerful engines, which were quickly put to use as we headed up the river, fighting the rapids, towards the falls. The driver was great and got us really close to the action and we were all soaked. Luckily, they gave us dry sacks for our backpacks and extra clothes and what not. Sarah and I bought some cheap ponchos to help protect us a bit, but honestly, there wasn’t anything you could do to prevent getting soaked. IWA.
That was the extent of the Argentina side. So we quickly changed into dry clothes, and met back up with Lulu who was waiting for us after the 30-minute drive back from the boat. We did the hour drive to the Brazil side (crossing the super easy borders again). The Brazilian-side experience was much shorter than in Argentina, as there are fewer trails and walkways to complete. However, I must say that the views in Brazil are far superior. Even with a lot of mist, we were able to get some great panoramic views. Again, IWA. Also, from the Brazilian side, you can get closer to Devil’s Throat and go out on some walkways. While we thought that our only opportunity to get wet was on the boat tour, we were wrong, as we got totally soaked again by doing various walkways. It was all worth it. All in all, touring the falls from both sides WAS AWESOME!
Lulu dropped us back off at our apartment around 6 p.m. (a full 10+ hour day), so we relaxed before heading out to one final dinner of the trip. Since we were in Brazil, we had to stop by a churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse), for a nice all-you-can-eat feast. Needless to say, health took a back seat this past week.
We woke up on Saturday and had a 4 p.m. flight leaving Iguazu (again, from the Argentina side). Since we had the morning open, I found a good local golf course for us to play, so we got in 18-holes before getting picked up and heading out on our 31-hour journey home. In getting home, our main goal was to make sure we were in Temuco by Monday to get back to work, but also save as much money as possible. Therefore, we had the following itinerary:
- 1-hour car transfer: Iguazu Falls (Brazil) to Iguazu Falls (Argentina)
- 2-hour flight: Iguazu Falls (Argentina) to Buenos Aires
- 2-hour flight: Buenos Aires to Mendoza
- Overnight Stay in Mendoza
- 8-hour bus: Mendoza to Santiago
- 2-hour flight: Santiago to Temuco
If you couldn’t tell from the post, we had a great final adventure in South America. It was great seeing friends, knocking off some much desired locations, and gearing up for the final push at the foundation. We’re ready to finish what we started!