Argentina – Beef, Yerba Mate and Butterflies

Before our South American trip commenced I couldn’t separate the theme tune from Indiana Jones with South America – for me South America is a land cloaked in mystery and adventure. I was literally salavating at the thought of being chased by tribes of pygmy warriors throwing spears at me as I donned an Indiana Jones style hat and dragged a scantily clad damsel in distress to safety; I mean every dysfunctional guys dream right?

Wrong.

Buenos Aires is our entry point to South America; it is cosmopolitan, shiny and international. The closest we got to my fantasy was drinking a cocktail with the word pygmy in it. We stayed in a cool hostel (called the Millhouse) in the centre of Buenos Aires that was a non-stop party place till dawn every night – which we sort of did a lot in London anyway..

We hid away our pristine backpacks; pulled out our most non-traveller looking apparel and started to take in the sights. We visited Eva Peron`s tomb which is located in large cemetry in the centre of the city; she is kept company by dozens of statues of past loved ones encased in grand tombs for eternity, it was actually quite humbling (although I couldn’t stop humming the chorus ‘don’t cry for me Argentina..’).

We wandered the colourful streets of La Boca; famous for its football but since I know close to zero about football I’d never heard of it until we arrived. And it is pretty damn cool, easily mistaken for a Mexican hamlet, colourful with a very friendly crowd. We strolled through and stopped for lunch in Palmera which has a strong artistic vibe, is full of craft stalls and trendy independant cafes – it really is a wonderful city to get lost in for a few days.

It was all gorgeous and pretty much faultless. But I didn’t want that – I wanted adventure not a civilised city break! Buenos Aires reminded me quite a lot of Barcelona.

But, and this is a BIG but – we ate steak. We ate steak alot, every day in fact. We ate steak every day, usually twice a day. I didn’t have a bowel movement for a week – and I’m not kidding; it was our number one topic of conversation.

Anna – ‘Have you…er…?’

Theo – ‘No, not yet…and STOP asking that!’

Everyone knows Argentina is famous for its steak and it is delicious. What is also as ubiquitous as the gorgeous lumps of sizzling meat is the Chimichurri. Like most recipes in the world that originate from various villages, there are dozens of variations but the fundamentals of Chimichurri seemed to remain; a bunch of fresh herbs (usually parsley), a bit of garlic, chilli, olive oil and some acidity (either vinegar or citrus or both). It is wonderfully refreshing and tangy and compliments the deep full flavoured nature of their sizzling national treasure and just feels heathly eating it. I have a suspician Chimichurri is viewed as the one of the Argentinians five a day… I’ve now stuck to a recipe that for me most resembles what we enjoyed with our cattle in Argentina – but Chimichurri isn’t exclusive to beef; it is a great accompaniment to chicken and works remarkably well with Venison (check out my Venison Steaks with Chimichurri recipe!).

We left the civilisation of Buenos Aires earlier than expected and embarked on our 18 hour coach journey to Iguazu Falls.

A couple of things to mention – coach travel in South America is amazing. It is not just comfortable it is luxurious, efficient, social and dare I say actually enjoyable. Coach travel in South America is the Concord to the budget airlines of the National Express or Greryhound coaches – they are quite simply in a different league.

As we boarded our very comfortable coach we were served a complimentary glass of sparkling wine and quite quickly our in-flight meals arrived – warm and lovely.

We wake as we arrive at Iguazu Falls. They are stunning, verging on magical…like something out of a film set. What we didn´t bargain for were the thousands of beautiful butterflies everywhere. I think I need to clarify this properly. I’m not talking about a few butterflies – I literally mean thousands. They are everywhere, they fly around you all day, they land on you and add an almost surreal dream like element to the experience – if Heaven had butterflies it would have these. In fact it´s a toss up between the butterflies and the waterfalls as to what was the most memorable experience. The falls themselves span the border of Brazil and Argentina, they are surrounded by lush humid greenary and have a natural feel that only a set of falls in the tropics can achieve. Compared to Niagra for instance; which is much bigger than Iguazu and impressive on so many levels just doesn’t have (for me) the same aesthetic beauty as Iguazu that is surrounded by nature opposed to opposite a casino…

On the bus to the falls we went past a fantastic youth hostel that we immediately stopped the coach and marched towards and booked in for a week (it had a pool and hammocks – that was pretty much our entire criteria covered). It was also the villages around Igauzu Falls that I was introduced to Yerba Mate (pronounced Yer-ba Matty). This is a thick rich green tea that is drunk predominantly in rural Argentina. It is a course selection of tea leaves and stalks that are popped into a small bowl type vessel. You fill this with boiling water and have a metal straw with a sieve type opening at one end; the theory is obvious; to stop you sucking up all the leaves, the reality is the first few mouthfuls are spat out as are full of leaves. But this stops once things settle. It has a bitter but thirst quenching quality about it; one of those ‘when something tastes this bad and is really popluar, it must be good for you’ tastes. You can get lots of different varieties and I’m sure if consumed in a nice clean tea shop in the UK; strained and sipped from a china cup it would taste bloody awful. But sipping it through a traditional Yerba Mate drinking vessel while sitting on an old rickety bus meandering through rural Argentina on a hot humid day and sharing a slurp with a local indigenous guy on the seat next to you – well, nothing could taste better….