bucket list: 2010 – april

ARGENTINA/NAPA:  Far from being the cruelest of months, April was a banquet of adventure.  My first foray to South America took me from the cultured urbanity of Buenos Aires to Bariloche’s lake district (and a near fatal expedition in search of condors) to the otherworldly glaciers of Patagonia.  The variety of experiences in Argentina whet my appetite for a return, while the Michelin stars dotting the Napa Valley whet an altogether different kind of appetite:  the all-you-can-eat hedonistic kind. Bardessono may have been a disappointment under the fussy hand of Sean O’Toole but Michel Chiarello’s convivial Bottega was extraordinary.  The high point:  a gastronomic pilgrimage to the altar of Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.

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live blog: red sky morning

“Red sky morning, sailor’s warning” is no wive’s tale.  We were up before dawn to go in search of condor with Lorenzo Sympson, a noted Andean condor expert. This involved a good 40 minutes driving off-road across dry, rugged terrain to reach a small mountain refuge built for the express purpose of observing a group of condor nests tucked into the rock face.  About half way there, this red dawn ominously broke above the steppe.  Traditionally it portends bad weather on the horizon and indeed, after we arrived at the refuge it started to rain.  We did however see a condor:  an enormous glider with a 6+-foot wingspan.

What happened next was nothing short of terrifying:  we had to get back down the mountain.  The hard rain turned the clay not to mud but to a surface as slick as ice. Our car skidded and slid the whole way down – at times very close to careening off the edge of the mountain.  At first we tried to make small talk but then quickly turned silent, gripping the door handles and seat belts in anticipation of a horrible rollover into the gorge.  When finally down on the flats we all breathed a sigh of relief.  Little did I know that as I was up front having a conversation with Jesus my photographer was in the back seat praying for a quick death.

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live blog: butch & sundance

El Boliche Viejo is an old saloon and general store on the road out of Bariloche. It was once the hang out for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they were on the lam in Patagonia.  Nowadays it’s the parilla that’s killer – especially the lamb and sweetbreads.

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live blog: birthday hotel

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live blog: a river runs through it

The River Lamay runs through a wide meandering valley along the vast Patagonian steppe.  Deep blue-green pools of crystal clear water, rapids, islands, and an amazing gorge framed by sculpted outcroppings of sandstone monoliths are just some of the attractions that form the Enchanted Valley.  For fly-fishing afficionados, the big highlight here is the trout. (No that’s not me, that’s my guide.)

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live blog: home on the range

Today we went out to a typical Patagonian ranch, or estancia.   This particular ranch, Estancia Fortin Chacabuco, is tucked in a geographic transition area between the arid steppe and the pre-mountain range. (The forest you saw on yesterday’s video is nearer to the Andes and so benefits from the rainfall coming off the Pacific Ocean.  Not ten miles out from the forest, the topography changes radically to arid steppe then high desert.)  The steppe features very little vegetation and spectacular panoramic veiws of Bariloche, Mount Tronador and the Rio Limay.

To better take advantage of those views, we got up on horseback to traverse the terrain.  Plus, after the video you can check out the great asado we had for lunch.

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live blog: beautiful bariloche

Adios, Buenos Aires.  Bariloche – a two and a half hour flight from Buenos Aires – is Argentina’s answer to the Alps.  We arrived here this afternoon and went up a chairlift to take in the view of the lakes.  (The area is also considered the country’s lake district.) Hopefully this short video will give you a sense of the spectacular Andean scenery – though you probably want to turn down the sound.

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