Argentinian Charm


Metropolitan Touring (Ecuador office) fam trip to Argentina at Iguazu Falls

Besides the fact that when we think of Argentina what first comes to our mind is Buenos Aires – a magnificent city, by the way!!!! – during a recent trip I discovered a couple of things.

It is common in Latin America to refer to the Argentinians as “the ones that know it all”. The ego of the Argentinians is something we always talk about. But travelling in Argentina for 11 days completely changed the way I think.

I found the most amazing, charming and friendly people, from the bus drivers we had, to MT Argentina´s General Manager who travelled with us throughout the trip, it’s no exaggeration to say I now have tons of new Argentine friends now!!!!!

We travelled to the northern part of Argentina, the province of Salta, quite Andean. Our local guide Miguel Angel was so proud of his culture and ethnics, showing us around and telling us about the famous Humahuaca Carnival (held in February), we all felt the irresistible urge to book a trip in 2011 so we could be part of the fun too!!

And then there was Diego our guide in the Salta region, full of good humour and with a great ability to hold ones attention. And César our guide at Iguazú Falls, was something out of this world, a young man with so much knowledge of his rainforest, you just had to love him!

All in all, I have found my preconceptions of Argentinians swept away: surely one of the best reasons to travel there is!

Andrea Swigilsky, Division 8 Commercial Manager, Metropolitan Touring.

Join us to discover Argentina and meet the ‘charming Argentineans’: http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=1299

Buenos Aires – Airs and Graces


Streets of CaminitoPorteño: the adjective used to refer to people from Buenos Aires, is also the key word to understanding this city, which seems almost to rush headlong into the River Plate. Its congested avenues all point to the river and the port. Its high rises vie with one another for the best view of the ‘silver’ ocean (thus the name) beyond. Gateway… Nexus.

Streets of Caminito The city funnelled all the produce of the continent’s hinterland out through its docks. And in exchange, distributed the manufactured goods of the sophisticated world beyond back across the pampas and mountains and plains. Here, the influences of Paris, London and Madrid disembarked on the clippers and steamers. Here, the riches of southern South America were transported, taxed, hoisted and sold. It’s as a point of exchange that one can understand Buenos Aires’ character and unique qualities.

Working through the city’s history chronologically, one has to start at the old docks and the neighbourhood of La Boca. From here the city grew. The corrugated zinc and patchwork wood houses, painted in colourful hues from scavenged paint pots, are dilapidated and touristy, an area that lives off its past rather than its working class present. Its streets are dusty and worn, but loved, retaining a quasi-religious significance for the fans of nearby Boca Juniors. The accordion wheeze of tango songs and their laments emanate from its houses and shopping arcades, turned over to selling the souvenirs which as visitors we all feel obliged to, if not buy, then at least peruse. It’s bright and colourful and fun, perhaps the most lingering image one has of the city.

Streets of San TelmoSlightly north come the streets and houses of the later colonial and republican period, more orderly and ornate: the neighbourhood of San Telmo. Its cobbled thoroughfares are lined with stalls on weekends, competing with the shops stuffed with antiques, bric-a-brac, funky designer furniture or clothes. The feel is bohemian and down-at-heel, a bit like a criollo version of Portobello market in London. There is an organised chaos feel to it.

On the Sunday we visited, rivers of locals and tourists flowed up and down its streets, and one had to weave between them, the stalls and the huge number of people selling small amounts of food in impromptu places. These looked like local residents who had decided to pick up half their lunch and sell it to passers-by to make a few pesos.

Accordion friendsOutside an antique shop on Plaza San Telmo, an accordion player eased the notes from his instrument as he stood chatting to his friend, while inside, we were treated to a tango show by a trio whose average age must have been 65. The debonair dancer, immaculately-dressed in a pin-strip grey suit and trilby hat, must have been a regular rake in his youth. He winked at the girls in our group and made them giggle.

The anomaly in the historical narrative is the area of Puerto Madero. These old docks, which lost their reason for being in the 20th century, make one jump to a decade ago, when the authorities decided to regenerate the area. The functional yet symmetrically-pleasing red brick warehouses were given a new lease of life, making the most of the progressively-claimed two kilometres of land the city has stolen from the river over the years.

La Parolaccia, Pueto Madero, Buenos AiresToday, the Calatrava-designed Puente de la Mujer provides an elegant point at which to cross over to the newest and swankiest part of the city, where 50-storey apartment blocks rise and a couple of top-flight hotels have been inaugurated. The former warehouses host some of the best restaurants in Buenos Aires, packed to the gills on the Sunday we visited, enjoying a fantastic meal at the Italian bistro, La Parolaccia (www.laparolaccia.com).

Streets of Recoleta and Alvear Palace
Jumping back to the late 19th century and early 20th century as one heads north, Recoleta undoubtedly feels European. Not entirely the Paris that some would make out, but certainly an amalgam of a handful of European cities. The slate-grey mansard roofs and the cream-coloured stone of many properties are undeniably elegant, while the shops lining the streets around the famous Alvear Palace Hotel are chic, to be sure. There are dog-walkers and baby strollers, street-corner newspaper stands, architraving that wraps and curls, and a pleasing symmetry and formality. Here one finds the Four Seasons, Caesar Park (www.caesarpark.com),  Hyatt and Recoleta hotels, all making fine bases from which to explore.

Palermo’s parks spread further to the north, a welcome counterpoint to the bustle of the city. These are formal parks, ordered and delineated, punctuated by huge, tired goma rubber trees and museums such as the impressive Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (MALBA – www.malba.org.ar).

Palermo’s neighbourhoods are being atomised into smaller districts by journalists and real estate profiteers. Locals now talk of Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood. Their largely low-fronted houses have been turned over to trendy boutiques, bars, hotels, restaurants and cafés. A jeunesse dorée crowd hangs out on terraces heated by metallic tubes, people watching and enjoying the sun on a holiday-Monday, as a blessing to be savoured after the bitter cold that has chilled porteños this winter. Perhaps here the influences are now more North American, more Sunset Boulevard then Boulevard Saint-Germain. And soon enough, the city will no doubt find another identity to adopt and make its own.

The port city of Buenos Aires seems constantly on the move, charged with a nervous energy like few cities I’ve visited. Its past and its present are inextricably linked to its role as a conduit; fashions, trade, tastes, commerce, styles and ideas ebbing and flowing through its heart. It continuously, and some would say obsessively, transforms, reworks, reinvents, and today, sends its hybrid creations and its irrepressible creativity out into the world like never before.

By Dominic Hamilton – dhamilton@metropolitan-touring.com

Join Metropolitan Touring to discover Buenos Aires:  http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=1797

Colours in Caminito

View photos of Buenos Aires on our Flickr gallery here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/metropolitantouring/sets/72157624609709491/

Metropolitan Argentina Staff goes Whale Watching at the Valdes Peninsula


It was early in the morning in the city of Puerto Madryn, with breathtaking scenery, as we watched the first sunlight on the shores of Golfo Nuevo (New Gulf), in silence as we warmed up with a cup of coffee.  Led by Andres, our tour guide, we bravely left the hotel to face the cold windy morning, as he told us how his Welsh ancestors had arrived at the peninsula over one hundred years ago, and made Patagonia their home.  Aboard the van, we crossed the Patagonia steppe as we drank hot mate and heard the stories of the people who live, work and love in these rugged lands; the native’s culture, the Welsh tradition, the B&R (born and raised) and all those people who conformed this dreamer and rebel southern identity characterized by insurrection and dreams.

We took to the sea in Puerto Piramides, armed with fashionable orange lifejackets, anxious and expectant; our eyes wide open to spot the whales, we almost didn’t blink, as we knew that one of those whales who visit the peninsula periodically could be Alfonsina, the Southern Right Whale that we had recently adopted at Metropolitan Touring Argentina as part of our sustainability efforts.  We believe that protecting natural resources through responsible tourism can be the greatest contribution for a better Planet Earth ( see http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=2075 for more on this initiative).

Emotions surged, as we saw them… far far away. A tail, a fin, it seemed as if our sea friends were trying very hard to catch our attention: one of them dove into the water doing stunts, the other let us to watch its tail up in the water; a third was shooting a water jet into the sky.

The exclamations of joy and tenderness were immediate. We walked from side to side of the ship to appreciate as much as we could. Cameras and camcorders could not capture all the wonder and beauty. Nature was throwing a party and we were invited to celebrate!

A whale with its calf came too close to our boat. Our tour guide explained that they were a female whale with her calf born one year before and the games they were playing were the last before they parted: they had been together for a year and it was time for the calf to start life on its own. Perhaps, this powerful influence that whales have on us may not be another thing that seeing our own life’s values: love, family, freedom, natural connection being part of the unique and mysterious universe…

The truth is that whale watching is a unique experience that can connect us with essential emotions and feelings that teach us that life is holy and loving in all its expressions, and that striving to keep it is our utmost aim and our most important mission.