Friday, February 17, 2017

A Day in Tigre.


Tigre is a town located about an hour's train ride north of Buenos Aires. Named after the “tigres” or jaguars that were hunted there, Tigre lies on the Paraná Delta, situated on an island created by several small streams and rivers. Tigre was founded in 1820 and today, is a popular tourist and weekend destination.  When I was planning our trip, I had set aside two days for day trips.  The idea was to spend one day in San Antonio de Areco, on an Argentine ranch, to get a feel of the gaucho life and the other was to spend a day in Tigre.

The plan we started out today with was to go to San Antonio de Areco.  There are plenty of tour options available but you have to pay at least $160 USD per person and all the tours seemed to pretty much do the same thing - pick you up from your Buenos Aires hotel, drive you to San Antonio de Areco, take you to a ranch where you get to be entertained by some gauchos and then fed typical Argentine barbecue lunch. At the end, they bring you back to the big city.  I figured we could probably just make our own way to San Antonio de Areco and from the town's information center find a suitable ranch to visit.  So, we started our sightseeing day by taking the subway to the central bus station in Buenos Aires.  Our Airbnb host had kindly provided us with a Sube card (Sube is Argentina's national transportation company) which can be used for the metro.  The closest subway is just about a 10 minute walk from the apartment. It's a flat fare so we used one Sube card to get both of us in.  To confuse things a bit, the subway system is known as Subte.  I kept saying we had a Subte card when in fact we had a Sube card.

The subway is definitely a cheap, quick and efficient way to get about town.  In hindsight, I would've have scrapped the hop on, hop off bus and made our way around on the Subte instead.


The Las Heras stop is located on a recently opened line.  The station was spanking clean.



Neither the station nor the train was crowded until we transferred over to the green line on the way to Diagonal Norte station.



From the green line, we transferred to the blue line to Retiro Station.



When we got off at Retiro station, we arrived at what one would think was the bus station but it turned out to be the train station.  When asked for directions and headed in the direction people were pointing us in.  The next big terminal looking structure also turned out to be a train terminal. I was getting confused.  How many train terminals can there be?  Well, at least one more.  The last building did not look like a bus station at all.  Until I caught sight of the parking lot in the far distance.  We entered into a very large and modern looking building.  At the far end were countless bus company counters - so many that they had to be divided by region. 


When I did my research on buses from Buenos Aires to San Antonio de Areco, two companies were frequently mentioned - Pullman General Belgrano and Chevallier. We came across Chevalier first and the next bus was not scheduled to leave until 11:20a which meant almost a two hour wait. Not to mention that it would be a two hour ride to San Antonio which puts us there so late that I did not think it would be worth the trip.  We kept asking various people behind the bus counters on buses to San Antonio de Areco and they basically pointed us to the two bus companies.  For some reason, when we asked the folks at Pullman about buses to San Antonio de Areco, they pointed us back to Chevalier.  So, after doing what we felt was our due diligence in trying to find a bus to San Antonio de Areco, we were finally resigned to give up.  We still have tomorrow if we truly want to go.  Truthfully, by now, I had lost interest.

So, it was on to Plan B.  Going to Tigre.   There are two trains, a couple of buses and a commuter boat that go to Tigre from Buenos Aires but most economical way is via the Linea Mitre train at Retiro station.  We just had to figure out which of the terminals we walked by was the one servicing Linea Mitre.  As you might expect, it turned out to be the one just by the steps leading down into the subway station.

The moment you enter the station, you will see the ticket counter for Tigre.  Seriously not hard to find :-)

Even though Bro's command of Spanish is very good sometimes it's not easy to understand exactly what you need to do. 


As he was standing in front of the Tigre counter, the young man who was standing in line behind us offered to help Bro out.   In this case, with the help of the young man explaining to us, if you have a Sube card, you can simply add the cost of the ticket to your card and it costs less than if you don't have a card. 


Trains run every 10 minutes on weekdays, every 20 minutes on weekends and the journey takes about an hour.   The line terminates at Tigre so we don't have to worry about keeping a close watch on the stations as we ride.


All that was great news for us!  Oh...and the fare was only $6 Argentinian pesos....about 37 US cents.  Seriously......just 37 cents for an hour long train ride!  This is how public transportation should be .....runs frequently and doesn't cost an arm and leg.  The US could take a BIG lesson here!!



After he helped us get our fares, the young man told us to wait for him while he purchased fares from himself and the young woman who was traveling with him.  He then led us to the turnstiles to enter the train platform. 


Such a nice young man!  He was obviously on the same train as we were so we continued to walk with him to the platform.


Basically, the train route between Tigre and Retiro Station is a commuter route but it runs frequently enough during the day to make it practical for anyone living in the suburbs to take it into the city.  The trains are very modern, very clean and on a hot day like today, comfortably air conditioned!



As often happens on any metropolitan region train, buskers came aboard to keep passengers entertained....for tips of course.  I decided to take one group's performance as my background music for a snippet of video I took on our ride.


While I was enjoying the music and the suburbs of Buenos Aires whizzing by outside, Bro and the young man had struck up a conversation - at times in Spanish but mainly in English. Turns out that the very pretty young woman he was traveling with was his fiance.  They were on their way to a local church for premarital counseling.  At one point in time, he excused himself, asked to borrow a pen from us and then spent a few minutes filling in the paperwork for their appointment at the church.  Such a nice guy and a very good looking couple!


A couple of stops after we bid the young man and his pretty fiance goodbye, we arrived at Tigre. 


From the station we had to figure out how to get to town.  While Bro was using the facilities, I caught sight of a tourist tram pulling into the station.  Most certainly an option and there was a kiosk inside the station itself.  But Bro was not keen on the tram idea. Perhaps the hop on, hop off bus from yesterday was enough to deter him.


We decided instead to head to the Visitors Information Center which is conveniently located just about a 5 minute walk from the station. It's literally right next door to the McDonald's which you can easily see from the front entrance of the station.  Oh the heat....I don't want to walk today but the tram is not something I want to do either so I'm just going to suck it up and brave the heat and humdity!  Whose crazy idea was it to come to Buenos Aires in the height of summer anyway? :-)



At the Visitors Information Center, we got a map (which Bro loves).  A very popular and touristy thing to do is to take a boat cruise around several off the streams that intersect the delta around Tigre. Conveniently, the boat companies have kiosks in the same building as the Visitors Information Center.  In fact, you walk right by them to enter the Visitors Information Center.  It was lunch time so we had to wait a few minutes before anyone was available to serve us.  As we waited, there was a group of young Argentinians also waiting so we asked them about the cruises.  Apparently, they had come for a long term stay so they weren't doing a cruise but rather, they were taking a boat to get to their final destination.


In fact, the region around Tigre is vast. At 5,405 square miles, the Tigre Delta is among the world’s largest, and it is one of the only major deltas in the world that does not empty into a sea or ocean. It flows instead into the Río de la Plata, which separates Argentina and Uruguay, after the Río Paraná splits into several smaller rivers and forms a multitude of sedimentary islands covered in forest and grasslands. With its islands and canals, Tigre is what Venice might have looked like before development.

There are two cruise routes.  The small, purple loop is the tourist loop - it takes about an hour to go around.  The longer route is the one that locals take to get their homes.  Notice all the streams that run through the delta.


We made our way to the passenger boarding area.  There were a few people already waiting at the gate although we had at least a half hour to wait before departure.  Nearby was a small air conditioned waiting room.  After spending a few minutes to take photos, I darted into the cool room.  Bro soon followed.


The Visitors Information Center




In seemed like barely a few minutes before the few people grew to a sizeable crowd.  I decided it was time to get in line!  Then the confusion began.  We were told to be at Gate 3 and so that's where we stood in line.  As we moved forward, the man guarding the gate took a look at our tickets and allowed us to pass.  At the bottom of the ramp, we followed the folks ahead of us. Turned out we were all headed towards the wrong boat so we turned around.  You would think that the guy manning the gate could've told us which way to go once we reached the bottom of the ramp but no....

There were two boats parked side by side.  As we boarded we were waved over the one on the far side.  I think they were splitting up the passengers by boat so in the end, our boat was less than half full. 



Not complaining as that meant that pretty much everyone had their choice of seats!  Of course, I sat at one on the side so I could enjoy an unobstructed view.  Bro took an interior seat.  I think he claimed it was a cooler spot to sit in but I was just hoping that once the boat got underway, we would get a breeze to cool us down.



Soon, I heard the engine firing up and we got underway.  The first stretch of our boat ride took us through parts of the city.


There's a China Town here!  Okay, it's actually just a building that's home to shops and restaurants selling items and foods from Asia.

Club de Regatas La Marina, a private sports club.

It was a short ride through the city. Then we entered the neighborhoods.  Ignoring the loud sound of the boat engine, it was a area....filled with homes, many of which were shuttered up....presumably because they are vacation homes.  Here are some of the photos and videos I took on our ride through the neighborhood.





I did feel a bit sorry for the folks who have their homes along the waters that the cruise boats ply.  I think it must be like living on a main road; it must get awfully noisy here.


The water's brown color comes from silt.  It's clean otherwise.


We passed by several small stores and restaurants that are only accessible via boat.  I think that's pretty much how you have to get around; I don't know how many roads there are.



Even the *delivery trucks* are boats here.


We also passed by a very unusual sight.  It was a small house, fully encased inside a large glass cube.  This is the Sarmiento House, the former residence, from 1855 until his death in 1888, of Domingo Sarmiento, the 7th President of Argentina. It was declared a National Historic Monument in 1966 and is now a museum.




It was all over in about an hour and we were back in the city.  It was a short boat ride but it was nice to see how people live on the water here and it was also nice to escape the concrete jungle.  Given how close Tigre is to Buenos Aires, I can understand why people come here for the weekends and vacations.


Off the boat, we decided it was time for lunch.  We started walking towards China Town and fell and twisted my right ankle.  I am such a klutz!!!  A stranger happened to be nearby so he and Bro helped me get to my feet.  From the degree of pain I was experiencing, I knew it was a bad twist.  I sucked up the pain and hobbled over to a nearby set of steps where I could sit for a few minutes and catch my breath.  Then I declared I was good to go but I knew I had no choice but to take it slow.  Grrr....hobbling along :-(

Bro had read about a street called Saenz Peña that is not only home to several restaurants but also on the way to a commercial area called Puerto de Frutos.  So he walked and I hobbled our way to Saenz Peña.  We just happened to stumble upon a restaurant called Almacen de Tigre. It was a cute little place with a few small tables out front and a side patio area that was decorated with whimsical street art.




It looked like a nice place for lunch but it was much to hot to be eating outside so we headed inside.  We greeted by a very tall, blond haired European woman who spoke with a perfect Argentinian accent.  Another woman was busy tinkering with the room's air conditioner....which we had chosen to sit nearby.  I guess it wasn't draining properly so she was attempting to jury rig the system because otherwise, they couldn't use the air conditioner. Of course, we encouraged her to do whatever she had to do. :-)  Both women were super friendly and the place had a very nice, casual vibe to it.

Menu wise, the food offerings were what I would describe as healthy vegetarian.  I think there were some meat dishes but all the ones that were interesting to Bro and I were veggie centric.  I went with a mushroom salad. It was simple but nice and refreshing on a hot day like today.


Soon a family entered and took a table behind us.  From the way they were interacting with the two women, it was obvious that everyone knew each other.   By now, I had decided that I very much like this restaurant and a large part of that is because of the two women.  I don't know if they own the place or not..  If I lived in Tigre, I would be a regular here.

All during lunch, I had forgotten about the pain of my ankle. Then it was time to leave and well, it was back to the hobbling.  We exited via the side door as I wanted to see the artwork.  Very quirky stuff.



From here, we walked and hobbled the short distance to Puerto de Frutos which was established in 1938 as distribution point for fruits grown in the northern part of the country that were to be marketed in Buenos Aires.  Today, the area is filled with shops selling handicrafts and oddly, wooden and wicker furniture and other items for the home.


The first place we came across stopped us in our tracks.  It was local bakery.  Of course, we had to check it out :-)


This is Argentina so alfajores are a common sight.  This place had tiny, bite sized ones filled with membrillo (quince paste). For some reason, I have not been able to entice Bro to try one.


On the other hand, both Bro and I have a weakness for anything puff pastry so these pastelitos caught our attention.  Pastelitos are Cuban pastries that have either a savory or sweet filling.  In the Argentine version, the dough is not puff pasty but really phyllo which to me, is just as good.   We couldn't resist so we got a membrillo filled one to try.  The filling was well, okay but the layers of phyllo were a delight to crunch through though not easy to eat without making a mess :-).  I must try to figure out way to recreate these when I get home.

Sweet potato pastelitos.

I loved the sign. It translates "they are not flies, they are bees".....and yes, there were a lot of bees hovering over the sweet treats!

Puerto de Frutos turned out to be a bit of a bust.  The shops were all housed in what I would described as the restored warehouses that once housed fruit.  Today, the places mainly catered to home goods and well, nothing that was of interest to us.  It would've been nice to have a few souvenir places but I'm guessing most of the people who come to this place are either from Tigre, Buenos Aires or places in between so no one in need of souvenirs.  Maybe as more foreign tourists come, the offerings will change.


By now, my very sore and slightly swollen right ankle and I were ready to hobble back to the train station and make our way back to the big city.  Had I not injured myself, I would've told Bro to take out the map of Tigre and figure out another place to go visit.  There are some museums here that might have been nice to see.  Oh well.


We arrived back in the Buenos Aires around 5:30p.  From Retiro Station, we took the metro back to Recoleta.  We got off at Pueyrredón and walked back to the apartment from there.  Sore or not, I was good to hobble along and all the sights and sounds of the city were actually a great distraction for me.  I really enjoy the European inspired architecture of the buildings here.

The Four Seasons Hotel.

Avenida Santa Fe, one of the main roads running through Recoleta.

There are a lot of fancy apartment buildings here!

La Basílica de San Nicolás de Bari.

I didn't notice these curbside seats on any other street so Avenida Santa Fe gets the award for the most comfy city streets!  Typically, you would find a metal bench but never an tufted, upholstered one!


We entered Plaza Vicente López y Planes, a small bit of greenspace named after the author of the Argentine national anthem.  It was the perfect place to just sit for a bit and watch the world of Buenos Aires local life go by. 





Turns out Bro had some stale bread with him.....carried all the way from some place in Chile!  What?!?!  I thought we had left all uneaten food behind in Punta Arenas but apparently not. It had been in his backpack the whole time and what was once edible was now a bit moldy.  Perfect pigeon food so Bro took the opportunity to throw out crumbs.  In some places, they don't like you feeding pigeons but no one here took issue so he and the pigeons had a good time. :-)



On our way into the park, I reminded Bro about going to Volta, the gelato place that I had read about in my pre-trip planning.  Luck was on our side today as when Bro looked on the map, he realized that we were literally just a few blocks away from Volta and it was enroute to our apartment!  You cannot imagine how thrilled my sore right ankle was to hear that we would finally get our gelato today!

Gelato is not cheap here but I was willing to go for the splurge.  Volta offers a large selection of flavors so it was hard to choose just one.  Bro quickly figured out that the best deal, price wise, was not to buy a single cone but to go with the quarter kilo option which gives you three flavors.  You basically get three cones for the price of 2!


So we had to pick three flavors.   We settled for chocolate, passion fruit and something called sambayón which our server described as having wine.  We had noticed the same flavor in the gelateria in El Calafate but never paid close attention.


As Bro waited for our ice cream, I Googled and learned it's ice cream made from zabaione and it's a very popular gelato flavor in Argentina and Uruguay.  One taste and I can understand why - it's absolutely delicious.  I'm going to try and recreate it at home and I think it would be even more tasty with the addition of some cherries.  Oh yeah.

The chocolate was also divine but the passion fruit was ho hum.  I want more of the sambayón!!


By the time we left Volta, the sun had set and it was starting to get dark.  Luckily, our apartment was just a few blocks away.



Back in our apartment, I iced my ankle.  We have several plastic bottles of frozen water and they came into good use!  After that, it was on to making dinner, the stars of which were the two steaks we bought at Supermercado COTO last night.  Like the steaks we got at the butcher, these were very flavorful but tough. I'm spoiled by the tender steak meat we have in the US.


After dinner, it was time to do some laundry.  Tomorrow is our last day here and we need to have clean clothes for our for days in Uruguay. Just as I'm settling into Buenos Aires and it's time to leave.  So sad.  Even more sad is that in less than a week, we both have to fly home.  :-(

I will not think about that for now.  I have a sore ankle to tend to.

Goodnight from Buenos Aires!