South America

20140211-202151.jpgOr “location, location, location!”

Let’s face it, I’m not just living in a new country, but also a new continent, which brings with it a variety of different places, people and culture, and fantastic opportunities to explore.

It’s not like I’m on the move all the time like last time I visited South America and covered 7 countries in five months.  I work and have some form of daily/weekly routine that keeps me in Santiago most of the time.

But living here allows me to get out from time to time, and get to know places that would be   s o   f a r   away if I was still in Australia.

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I have managed to see a little more of Chile, flying up to San Pedro de Atacama when a friend visited, taking a road trip up the coast and into Valle de Elqui with another visiting friend, and another road trip south as far as Valle de Maule with another friend. These latter two trips obviously incorporated some wine and, indeed, my interest in that field has also led me to explore, in depth, many of the wine regions around Santiago.

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I saw a lot of the rest of Chile when I was here last time, but I’m sure the opportunity will come up at some stage to revisit more of this beautiful country.

But there is, of course, also opportunity to get out to see a little more of the continent.

Last August, I took a truly-foodie trip to Lima with fellow-foodie-friend Fernando and, in addition to seeing some of the city’s sites, experienced the great range of Peruvian food, from the street, to China Town, to the city’s top two restaurants.  Although I would have liked to have seen the sun sometimes (Lima is notoriously cloudy), the trip was delicious, fun, and worth the extra 5 kilos!

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Over New Year, it was great to be able to take a friend up on a very kind invitation to spend some time on his country property in Uruguay.  After finding some reasonably priced flights, a group of four friends enjoyed a relaxing time together, sharing home cooked meals and exploring the coastline and surrounding areas.  Those of us who were visiting, albeit for a second or third time, got to know a different part of country and enjoy seeing it through the eyes of someone that had lived there for 10 years and knows it very well.

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When a Buenos Aires-based friend managed to get a free apartment for a week in Mendoza, I was able to find a very reasonable flight (US$140 return – cheaper and quicker than the bus) and join her and another friend for a girly week of wineries and restaurants.  With the exchange rate very much in our favour, it turned out to be an indulgent week with a relatively cheap price tag.

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So, I’ve managed to get to know some places a little better and it’s great to be able to jump at these opportunities, which would be so far from reality back home, when they arise.

This year, I plan to see some places that I’ve never been before, both of Chile (e.g. Easter Island), and abroad, like Colombia.

Although flights here are not cheap compared to Europe or the US, where competition is more intense, good offers come around and I will be keeping my eye on them to see what other opportunities present themselves.

So, I don’t just love living in Chile, I love living and experiencing all that a whole new continent has to offer!

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Dancing and Dinner

After Christmas, it made me realise how fast my time was flying in BA, and how little time I had left.  My friend Gil was leaving to head back to Canada on 31st December, and I guess his departure only made my own seem more real and imminent. We put our heads to thinking of the things that we really needed to experience before we left and, of course, came up with a tango show!

(Oh, how I resisted the urge to call this post the Last Tango in BA)

We had both independently been to milongas – community spaces where locals go to dance with each other and occassionally hold shows – but we wanted to experience the full, flashy, professional show. There are several to choose from, ranging in price up to the most expensive – Rojo Tango at the exclusive Faena Hotel at a whopping $400+.  We chose Esquina Carlos Gardel, which had been recommended by some local friends.

We also chose the show only option, deciding to skip the pre-show set menu dinner. I’m sure the food is “good” but we’d both been in BA long enough to know that there are many “better-than-good” eating options around, and also to know how much the cost of the dinner will get you in a “great” restaurant.

We were picked up from Gil’s apartment by a driver, included in the ticket, and taken to the venue, a historic building in Abasto. Upon arrival, we were shown to our seats, along a high counter, elevated behind the dining tables and with a direct, front-on view to stage. Surprisingly, most of the dining tables seemed to be filled with locals, whereas those that arrived for the show only were tourists. We were served wine, also included in the ticket price, and offered the menu for any a la carte snacks we might want to purchase. Before the show started, we were asked to come and have our photo taken with the dancers, where we were instructed into fake poses for the photos which would be offered for sale at some exorbitant price afterwards. Definitely the most touristy “push” of the night and one we laughed about, then tried to put out of our heads in order to enjoy the show.

20130121-171639.jpgThe show started with the orchestra being unveiled in an elegantly framed box above the stage. We were then treated to number after number of great performances, each time with different dancers in amazing costumes. There was an older couple who danced a couple of numbers – a reminder that tango is ageless; and a guy who danced a tango with two brooms tied together – great technique. There were young, dynamic couples who threw each other around, and showed amazing strength and grace.

Meanwhile, the wine service was generous and frequent! There was a brief intermission where the orchestra kept us entertained, banging out some tango numbers, then the dances continued. Each time that we thought it couldn’t get any better, they surprised us with an even more dramatic and incredible performance. The show finished with a group performance, followed by the whole troupe appearing on stage for their well deserved applause.

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The photos aren´t great, but check out the link for a better idea.

After the show, we were delivered to our respective homes by our friendly driver, both agreeing that it had been a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening, certainly worth the cost.

With Gil gone a few days later, and the new year in full swing, I sat down to review some of the notes I’d made when I first arrived, and some of things I hadn’t yet done. I decided to contact one of the puerta cerradas to see if they were open so soon after the holidays, and if they could fit me in for that night. Paladar was a puerta cerrada that I had read about when I first arrived in BA, run by an Argentinian husband and wife team. Their website certainly indicated they were open, and the week’s menu looked delicious. A quick phone call, and chef Pablo confirmed that there was space available. I was in luck, so I rounded Cheryl up, then Laura, an Italian friend that Cheryl had met in Brazil, and we had a date.

Laura and I shared a cab from Palermo and, just as we climbed into the taxi, the skies opened and the rain started in full force. With no umbrella, we ran to the door, hoping we were in the right place. With a puerta cerrada, it just looks like someone’s apartment or house, and there are no signs to indicate a restaurant. Luckily, we were, and Cheryl was waiting for us at the table.

20130121-171723.jpgThe menu included matched wines, and we were welcomed and served a glass of bubbles by sommelier Ivana. We were in an apartment on the second floor of the building, and a huge window gave us a tree-level view over the rainy street. Our courses started with an appetiser of a perfectly cooked “langostino” (or prawn to us) on a creamy aioli, followed by an entrée of a brie and tomato tart. Each were matched with wines that were well-explained by Ivana, tonight favouring the higher altitude region of Salta.

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Our main course was lamb served with a quinoa salad and tzatziki. A Greek influenced dish that transported us back to the streets of Melbourne and was a hit with the Aussie girls!

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We had a delicious pre-dessert, a light and fresh lime and basil sorbet, followed by the real deal, a heavier and richer dulce de leche creme brulee.

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We finished the meal with a nice coffee, and Pablo brought the couple’s baby daughter out from the kitchen to see us. He told us that they had recently been able to buy a house, so no longer live in the apartment, using it exclusively now for the restaurant. I had the feeling that we’d experienced an authentic puerta cerrada, set in what had been their home, and run by an Argentinian couple who’d put their hearts into it. The food and wine were incredible, the girly company great, and it was a nice way to spend one of my last nights in BA.


Polo Argentina – up close and personal

Following my excitement about attending the Polo Finals, I saw an event posted through the Expat group, InterNations, to visit an estancia and have a free polo lesson. The only cost involved was a contribution for the transport, and a small tip for the staff. Bargain! And … yikes!! As much as it sounded like fun, it also made me a little nervous. Would I be able to stay on the horse, AND hit that little ball with the big stick? Well, there was only one way to find out.

On the last Sunday of the year, we met at Marion’s place to make our way to the estancia. Marion is a tango teacher who runs a hotel geared at people who want to learn tango and, on the side, she’s been learning to play polo and is the connection to the polo club. She came across it by chance one day while out visiting her in-laws at their “country” – a rural property in an enclosed and secured neighbourhood. She saw the signs for the polo club and decided to check it out. Just happened that they were playing at the time, she watched for a while, and has been hooked ever since. She now has her own horse which she keeps at the club.

Four of us jumped into Marion’s car and it took about half an hour to make the short drive out of town to the west of BA. Being the period between Christmas and New Year, the roads were very quiet, which is completely out of the ordinary.

When we arrived, there were a couple of people saddled up and having a run. They looked pretty comfortable, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say they make it look easy. Not for me anyway.

20130116-222955.jpgIt was a beautiful setting, very casual, with a nice green field with some big old gum trees along the near side and a small covered seating area to watch the action. Marion had just bought some brand new, custom-made riding boots (told you she was hooked) and, having the same size foot as me, was kind enough to give me her other pair of boots to ride in. I was then fitted up with chaps and a helmet, and felt ready to go.

It wasn’t long before more horses were ready and they gave me Marion’s horse. Fidel, the polo instructor, appropriately “instructed” me – go on, take her for a run around the field. Oh, OK, just like that. She had a beautiful smooth canter and, after a couple of spins, Fidel approached me with a whip and a mallet, gave me some pointers on holding them all polo-style, and sent me off to chase the not-so-little white ball.

It was hilarious at first, and that poor horse was the most patient animal I’ve ever come across. Initially, I missed the ball a LOT, and laughed a lot but, after listening and applying the tips from Fidel and other more experienced players, I was getting the swing of it (pardon the pun). Every now and then, I hit it far enough to try to get my horse into a run in between, but she knew better for such small distances and we walked in between shots. I relentlessly chased that ball up and down the pitch, making sure to hit it between the goal posts at each end and gloriously raise my arm and shout “Gol!” before turning around and taking it back to the other end. Eventually, I was hitting the ball a little further, enough to at least get into a trot between shots. I was thankful for the helmet, not for fear of falling off, but I’m sure it prevented me from hitting myself in the head with the mallet a few times!

Once the sun started to get too much for me, and I noticed that all the other players were heading off the field, I reluctantly decided to call it a day.

20130116-222946.jpgAfter the horses were unsaddled, unbraided and sent off to graze, all of which happened like clockwork from years of experience of the handlers, Fidel brought out some “picadas”, plates of cold cuts and cheese, and we brought out our picnic goodies that we’d brought along, and enjoyed a relaxing time in the shade of the shelter.

There was talk of a mid-week polo game on the next coming Wednesday and Marion was hoping that, being holidays and a lot of more experienced players being away, she might get a game. In the car on the way home, she asked me if I’d like to go, and I jumped at the chance.

So, once again, I turned up at Marion’s place to head out to the game, but this time, wasn’t really prepared to play as I thought I’d just be watching. Apparently not! Marion told me there would be time before the game to have a run, and so she equipped me with some socks and again offered to lend me her boots so that I could have a ride.


I got quite a decent run the second time, first of all a nice canter round and round the field on a different horse, and then with the ball and mallet. I could notice improvement over last time already, and with a bit more instruction and practice, could hit the ball further, hit the ball on the trot, get into a canter between shots but, for the life of me, couldn’t manage to make contact with the ball from a canter. Still, I was encouraged by the more experienced players and told I was making good progress.

A number of other players and horses had turned up while I’d been practising and they formed two teams, and started the game. I watched the first chukka from the shelter and then, between chukkas, I was handed Marion’s horse to ride for a bit. Once the second chukka was about to start, Fidel told me to stay on the horse and ride around the boundaries, watching the game from the horse. We had another good run around the outside of the field and followed the action. It was great to see them play, especially to see how well the girls played, and it gave me something to aspire to. Fidel had bought a little pony during the week, and he even gave it a bit of a run, even though his feet nearly touched the ground! I had an absolute ball, and I can see why this exhilarating game can become addictive.

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When the game was over, the horses were once again efficiently undressed and sent off to graze, some put in floats to go back with their owners, and we all sat down to have a refreshing cold beer. It was dark as we were travelling back into BA, and I was so glad I’d been able to get another chance to get close to these beautiful animals and to this game before I left BA. What an amazing experience, and not something I’d ever thought I’d be doing on this trip!