Saturday, March 03, 2018

Sampling the best of Toronto Winter Brewfest


What was probably bad news for organizers of Toronto Winter Brewfest was good for those of us who attended on Friday night.

There were noticeably fewer people in attendance than on the same night last year, which meant either very short or no lineups to sample the 150 craft beers on offer from about four dozen breweries — and more opportunities to talk beer with the people serving them.

And since I spent most of my time at the two large multi-brewery bars largely tended by volunteers, it was heartening that they were given some background information about what they were serving and allowed to taste them so they could provide recommendations. That hasn’t always been the case at this and other beer festivals I’ve attended where there are volunteer bartenders.

I had a VIP pass that allowed me into an area where I could snack on free popcorn, so I didn’t partake of any of the food being served by TDots Naansense, Delight Bite, Sul Irmaos Smokehouse, Pappas Greek, North Shore Pie Co. and Sausage Party.


My focus was beer and I sampled 19 of them.

My favourite was Flying Monkeys Live Transmission milkshake IPA. The well-hopped ale has 6.3-per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) and registers 60 on the international bitterness units (IBU) scale. Lactose sugar, grapefruit, orange peel and coconut white tea are added to the basic beer ingredients. It’s gold in colour and pours with a frilly white head. Once in your glass, it has a very rich aroma and flavour. It just arrived in LCBO stores and I look forward to picking some up so I can enjoy it as much at home as I did at Brewfest.

My second favourite was Block Three The Legend Belgian saison, an eight per cent ABV, 40 IBU farmhouse ale that pours hazy gold with a fluffy white head. Even with the addition of brett, it’s more fruity than funky and is very easy drinking and finishing.

A close third behind the top two was Beyond The Pale Cosmic Latte, a 5.5-per cent ABV traditional stout brewed with blonde ale malts, oats, coffee and cacao nibs. Blood Brothers Guilty Remnant White Chocolate Stout is one of my favourite beers of the moment, and this slightly sweet stout has some similar qualities and is almost as good.

While IPAs accounted for the bulk of my sampling, I also had two wheat beers, a bock, an eisbock, a sour and a Belgian-style tripel.

Here are the other beers I drank, ranked from most to least favourite, at Brewfest on Friday night:

Cowbell Vintage Renegade Series cinnamon cardamom tripel
Small Pony Barrel Works They Go Up! sour aged in oak barrels with Montmorency cherries
Dominion City Sunsplit American IPA
Gainsbourg Blanche de Chelsea witbier
Le Prospecteur Tete de Pioche #85 IPA
Gainsbourg Serie Road Trip double IPA with Simcoe hops
Cowbell Renegade Series black currant bock
Stalwart Dos Jefes American IPA with grapefruit and vanilla
Stray Dog Shaggin’ Wagon New England IPA
Bicycle Craft Freedom Machine barrel-aged cherry pale ale
Orleans Brewing Wild Wild West west coast IPA
Oast House 2018 Eis Bock Eisbock
Flora Lady Friend IPA
Beyond The Pale Whiskey Blood blended whiskey IPA
Founders Centennial IPA American IPA
Perth Citrus Wheat wheat ale

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Toronto Winter Brewfest returns this weekend


Toronto Winter Brewfest will live up to its name in 2018 by being held in the year’s first season, as opposed to the early spring as it was last year.

The third edition of the event takes place at the Enercare Centre at Exhibition Place from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. on March 2 and 3. Various ticket packages have been discounted and neither evening has yet sold out. Tickets will be available at the door if they’re not all sold.

Purchasing four-ounce beer samples and food will once again be done via tokens after last year’s successful (to me at least) experiment with all-electronic transactions via RFID bracelets. Most samples will cost from two to three dollars, with some imports and small batch specialty beers going up to four bucks.


Attendees will be available to sample some 150 craft beers from about four dozen breweries. Whether your tastes run from hoppy ales to sweet milk stouts, from crisp lagers to fruit-infused sours, or from saisons to stouts, there should be something to appeal to all discriminating beer drinkers.

Calabogie, Elora, Market Brewing, High Park, Oast House, Nickel Brook, Rainhard, Bench, Orleans Brewing, Flying Monkeys, Saulter Street, Maple Beer Co., Halliburton Highlands, 3 Brewers, Beau’s, Goose Island, Railway City, Prince Eddy’s, Whiskeyjack, Spearhead, Creemore, Broadhead and Cowbell will all have booths.

Larger multiple-brewery bars will offer up limited selections from Founders, Stray Dog, Beyond the Pale, Le Prospecteur, Bicycle Craft, Stalwart, Left Field, Redline, Gainsbourg, Collective Arts, Dominion City, Square Timber, Cassel Brewery, Perth, Big Rig, Blood Brothers, Thornbury Village, Revel, Block Three, Domaine Berthiaume, Brasserie du Bas-Canada, The Exchange Brewery, Les Trois Mousquetaires, Two Roads, Small Pony Barrel Works, Kensington and Innocente.

Some ciders, wines, spirits and kombucha will be available for non-beer drinkers.

Those needing to fill their stomachs to try and soak up some of that alcohol can do so with fare from TDots Naansense, Delight Bite, Sul Irmaos Smokehouse, Pappas Greek, North Shore Pie Co. and Sausage Party.

DJs will be spinning tunes both nights if you want to get both your dance and drink on.

Photos by Nick Ghattas

Monday, January 15, 2018

The magical landscape of Cappadocia

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to spend time in 69 countries, but I’ve never encountered a landscape that fascinated me as much as central Turkey’s Cappadocia region.

Cappadocia’s “fairy chimneys,” its most distinctive features, were formed by volcano lava flows that covered the hills and valleys to create a high plateau thousands of years ago. Underground cities were created to house people and animals in this surreal setting, and it’s estimated that  more than 600 churches were cut out of its rocks. 


Yaprakhisar
My first taste of what Cappadocia had to offer last July came in Yaprakhisar, not far from the 16-kilometre long Ihlara Valley, where several scenes from Star Wars films have apparently been shot. Something just felt special as I stepped out of the bus, and the vistas that spread out in front of me confirmed it.

We carried on a bit further to the Derinkuyu Underground City, the largest and deepest of the region’s subterranean settlements that have been excavated. It’s estimated that there are three dozen underground cities in the area.

The admission price was 25 Turkish lira ($8.30 Canadian), which gave access to stables, churches, wineries, kitchens, wells and a variety of other rooms and chambers connected by an extensive network of tunnels over eight levels that extended 60 metres below ground level. Heavy millstones were used as doors to keep invaders out during times of war, which were the only times the underground cities were used — sometimes for up to years at a time.


Derinkuyu Underground City
Not all of the tunnels are open and you can’t go all the way to the bottom of the cave system, where the temperature is a constant 16 degrees Celsius year-round, but it was a fascinating place to spend an hour.

Ortahisar Castle
I stayed for two nights not too far away in the small town of Urgup, the home of the remains of the photogenic 13th century Ortahisar Castle, which was reopened to the public in 2013 after almost nine years of extensive renovations to protect the structure from collapsing. Steep steps and ladders lead as high as you can go in the castle after you pay the two Turkish lira (70 cents Canadian) admission fee, but the highest part remains closed for renovations. It provides prime views of the surrounding area.


I got up at 3:30 a.m. the next day, after three-and-a-half hours of sleep, to be taken to the office of Cappadocia Voyager Balloons, where I paid 520 Turkish lira ($173 Canadian) for the experience of a lifetime. After a glass of tea we were driven to the launching point, where it was interesting to watch about 60 hot air balloons prepared and inflated in the early morning darkness.


Not nearly as interesting, however, as after 20 of us climbed into the basket of a balloon and rose as high as 800 metres. We also flew low over the Pink Valley, just barely avoiding its walls, some of which had holes carved out for pigeons. We hovered above a cave town that was abandoned in 1952, and others that have been out of use for much longer, as well as numerous fairy chimneys, rock formations and a modern town.


Seeing the sun rise from this vantage point was the piece de resistance of the hour-long voyage and bucket list experience. A glass of sparkling wine, a personalized certificate and a baseball cap were waiting for me upon landing, which was a nice touch. 


Balloons take off in Cappadocia approximately 280 days a year, more than anywhere else in the world, due to benevolent winds and weather conditions. But for me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing that I’ll cherish forever.

Goreme Open Air Museum
The rest of the day was far from a letdown, however, as I later found myself at the Goreme Open Air Museum, where several cave churches from the ninth century on have been preserved and restored and you can view frescoes from the Byzantine era depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Photography is forbidden inside the churches to protect the frescoes, but there were more than enough photo ops outside and in some of the cave living quarters, dining halls and tombs to take my camera battery levels down by several percentage points. It was well worth the 30 Turkish lira ($9.80 Canadian) entrance fee.

Avanos
From there it was on to the town of Avanos, where I saw the ruins of some old houses and crossed a pedestrian suspension bridge across the Red River to a park.


It was then back on the bus for stops at two more vistas for additional photo opps of fairy chimneys and rock formations. The second overlooked the Pigeon Valley. While the rest of my tour group opted to return to our hotel, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hike through the valley on my own.


Even better, I didn’t encounter another person — just birds, bees and jaw-dropping scenery that you couldn’t see from above. Hundreds of pigeon holes carved into the soft volcanic tuff give the valley its name, and its trail varied in width and moved back and forth from parched to covered in vegetation.


I couldn’t go any further once I came to a gorge that dropped at least 100 metres down to a green valley. I backtracked a bit and found another trail headed upward that was pretty steep and tiring in the blazing sun and 42-degree Celsius heat. It eventually led to the town of Goreme, which has several high-end hotels (including several with cave rooms) overlooking the valley.


I started walking down the highway until I was able to flag down a taxi driven by Mustafa Kemal Polat, who spoke some English and understood where I wanted to go. He had three nieces in the back seat, who were probably in their late teens or early twenties and conservatively dressed with their heads covered. They were friendly and curious and, despite out language barrier, we were able to laugh and smile and communicate a bit during the ride back to my hotel in Urgup.

It was one of my favourite interactions during my two weeks in Turkey.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A short hike through Turkey’s Saklikent Gorge

Turkey is a treasure trove of sights to behold — the mosques of Istanbul, the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, the ancient ruins of Ephesus and the white travertine terraces of Pamukkale among them.

But it was a place previously unknown to me before I decided to travel to the country that straddles Europe and Asia last summer that turned out to be one of my favourites: Saklikent Gorge — the longest and deepest in Turkey.



Saklikent National Park opened in 1996 and is located approximately 50 kilometres from Fethiye, a port city and tourism centre in the southwestern part of Turkey. Lovely low mountain vistas accompany the drive to the gorge, which was formed through geological cracks that separated Mount Akdag into two parts thousands of years ago.

The admission fee to Saklikent Gorge is just six Turkish lira ($2 Canadian), which is a bargain at multiples of that figure. While the canyon is 18 kilometres long, just the first four are generally accessible. The first two are relatively easily walkable for those of decent fitness and mobility levels, though you’ll sometimes have to negotiate your way over or around rocks through much of the journey.

The hike begins by taking a catwalk attached to the gorge's western wall for a few hundred metres before you’re forced to wade through the foaming, cold, waist deep water of Karacay Creek (which can be seen in the 2014 Russell Crowe film, The Water Diviner) with the assistance of a rope that’s strung across it. From here on in, the pebble-bottomed creek ranges from ankle to hip deep and from calm to fairly fast-flowing.



Saklikent Gorge ranges in width from 20 to 30 metres, while the cliff walls soar 200 metres above you. Rock formations, in combination with the water and varying degrees of sunlight that make their way to the bottom of the canyon, make for stunning views and photo opportunities. Just be sure to keep focused on keeping your camera out of the water.

You must return the same way you entered, but that gives you the opportunity to soak in things you might have missed the first time when travelling in the opposite direction. You may encounter a few bats, and I saw a dead snake, but this hike is about geological wonders and not wildlife spotting.



Once you get back to the main entrance, there are more entertainment options if you have time to take advantage of them. There’s rafting and tubing going in the other direction on Karacay Creek, as well as zip-lining and jeep safaris. The less adventurous can indulge in a mud bath, check out gift shops, fill up on fresh trout at restaurants or just lie back and relax.

Oludeniz
Saklikent Gorge is open from the beginning of April to the end of September and makes for a great day trip. As long as you have transportation, you can also spend part of the day there and the remainder in the nearby beach resort town of Oludeniz, which is surrounded by small mountains and is a popular place for paragliding.

Montana Pine Resort Hotel & Spa
My accommodations in this part of Turkey were at the four-star, all-inclusive Montana Pine Resort Hotel & Spa, which is scenically nestled in a pine forest on the side of Mount Badabag at the beginning of the historic and breathtaking, 540-kilometre Lycian Way hiking trail, which I partook of for four hours as temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius. 


The 159-room hotel offers great views, multiple restaurants and bars, three swimming pools, two children’s pools, live music and entertainment, tennis, volleyball, miniature golf, archery, a children’s playground and gift shop among its amenities.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Steve McLean’s favourite music of 2017


My favourite 10 albums
1. Guantanamo Baywatch - Desert Center
2. J.D. McPherson - Undivided Heart & Soul
3. Cowbell - Haunted Heart
4. Low Cut Connie - Dirty Pictures (Part 1)
5. The Orwells - Terrible Human Beings
6. Lowest of the Low - Do The Right Now
7. Fastball - Step Into Light
8. The Rubs - Impossible Dream
9. The Jesus and Mary Chain - Damage and Joy
10. The Len Price 3 - Kentish Longtails



The next 10 albums
11. The Discarded - The Discarded
12. Old 97’s - Graveyard Whistling
13. Hollerado - Born Yesterday
14. Dropkick Murphys - 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory
15. Drew Beskin - Cha-Ching Machine
16. Chuck Prophet - Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins
17. Liam Gallagher - As You Were
18. Dan Auerbach - Waiting on a Song
19. Pokey LaFarge - Manic Revelations
20. Robyn Hitchcock - Robyn Hitchcock



The next 10 albums after that
21. White Reaper - The World’s Best American Band
22. Jon Langford - Four Lost Souls
23. The Strypes - Spitting Image
24. The Stanleys - The Stanleys
25. AJ Davila - El Futuro
26. Thelonius Hank - Walk Between the Raindrops
27. Wyldlife - Out On Your Block
28. The Mavericks - Brand New Day
29. Spiral Stairs - Doris and the Daggers
30. Mark Lanegan - Gargoyle




My favourite EPs
1. The Surfrajettes - The Surfrajettes
2. Lily Frost and the Gentlemen Callers - Rebound
3. Goodbye Honolulu - No Honey



My favourite compilations, reissues and live albums
1. Lydia Loveless - Boy Crazy and Single(s)
2. The Rolling Stones - On Air
3. Teenage Head - Fun Comes Fast
4. Frank Turner - Songbook
5. The Northern Pikes - Big Blue Sky (Super-Sized)
6. The Replacements - For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986

My favourite concerts (chronological order)
The Sadies - Jan. 1, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Gabba Heys! - Jan. 21, Shacklands Brewing Co., Toronto
Handsome Ned tribute - Jan. 29, Horseshoe, Toronto
Dwayne Gretzky - Feb. 3, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Arc Sound - Feb. 4, Duggan’s Brewery Basement, Toronto
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, Arkells - Feb. 10, First Ontario Centre, Hamilton
The Tailbreakers - Feb. 11, Cadillac Lounge, Toronto
Whiskey Jack’s tribute to Stompin’ Tom Connors - Feb. 12, Cadillac Lounge, Toronto
The Del Fi’s - Feb. 18, Cameron House, Toronto
Dead Souls, The Crooked Beat, The Gabba Heys!, Amy Gabba - Feb. 19, Horseshoe, Toronto
Locomotive 8, The Discarded - Feb. 25, Duggan’s Brewery Basement, Toronto
Ferraro - March 3, Cameron House, Toronto

Chuck Prophet and The Mission Express
Chuck Prophet and The Mission Express - March 21, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Screwed, Mr. Pharmacist - March 23, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Discarded, The Tailbreakers, The Sonics - March 25, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto
The Cliff Divers, The Millwinders - April 1, Cadillac Lounge, Toronto
Ferraro - April 3, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Harmoniums, The Slackers - April 8, Horseshoe, Toronto
KOLARS - April 18, The Rivoli, Toronto
Dentist - April 19, Monarch Tavern, Toronto
Early Hours - April 19, Nightowl, Toronto
Punchline 13 - April 20, Bovine Sex Club, Toronto
The Velveteins - April 20, Cherry Cola’s Rock ’n’ Rolla Cabaret & Lounge, Toronto
Bueller - April 21, The Silver Dollar, Toronto
Early Hours, Devin Cuddy Band - April 21, Cameron House, Toronto
Twist, Casper Skulls - April 22, Lee’s Palace, Toronto
Ferraro - April 22, Cameron House, Toronto
The Millwinders, Lilly Frost and the Gentlemen Callers - April 27, Lula Lounge, Toronto
Elliott Brood - May 20, Fort York, Toronto
Midnight Oil - May 20, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto
The Rheostatics - May 26, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Arc Sound, Simply Saucer - June 3, Duggan’s Brewery Basement, Toronto
The Calrizians, The Surfrajettes, Champions of Justice, Ninth Wave - June 3, Cadillac Lounge, Toronto

The Specials
The Specials - June 7, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto
Ethel and The Mermen, The Discarded - June 10, Duggan’s Brewery Basement, Toronto
The Inquisitors, Muck & The Mires - July 14, Trinity Common, Toronto
Lisa LeBlanc, TUNS - July 15, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
Royal Headache - July 16, Horseshoe, Toronto
Elvis Costello & The Imposters - July 20, Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto
Cockney Rejects - July 21, Velvet Underground, Toronto
Sloan - July 29, Toronto’s Festival of Beer, Toronto
Dropkick Murphys, Rancid - July 29, Echo Beach, Toronto
The Abruptors - Aug. 12, May, Toronto
The Classy Wrecks, Skaface - Aug. 18, Lee’s Palace, Toronto
Scott H. Biram - Aug. 20, Horseshoe, Toronto
Robyn Hitchcock - Sept. 22, The Drake Underground, Toronto
Billy Bragg - Sept. 27, Horseshoe, Toronto

Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul
Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul - Oct. 9, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox (with Marshall Crenshaw) - Oct. 10, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Arc Sound - Dec. 2, The Artful Dodger, Toronto
The Rheostatics - Dec. 8, Horseshoe, Toronto
C + C Surf Factory, The Surfrajettes - Dec. 21, Cameron House, Toronto
The Skydiggers - Dec. 22, Horseshoe, Toronto
Lowest of the Low - Dec. 28, Horseshoe, Toronto
Jon Langford, The Sadies - Dec. 31, Horseshoe, Toronto

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Time to unwind in Tigre

The Delta of the Parana, commonly referred to as Tigre for the former jaguar population that used to inhabit the region until 1900, is a popular weekend and vacation spot for Buenos Aireans looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.

A commuter train on the Mitre Line that costs just 10 pesos (approximately 70 cents Canadian) will take you for about 45 minutes from the heart of Buenos Aires north to the end of the line in Tigre. It’s a city of about 380,000 people that has a charming riverfront area along Rio Lujan that I’m hoping to return to later in the month to explore further.



This trip, however, was about getting further into the delta — which is comprised of a labyrinth of dozens of islands and interconnected small rivers bounded by the much larger Rio De La Plata to the east and Rio Parana De Las Palmas to the north.

A map of the area.
Anyone who lives in the area already has a boat of their own because that’s the only way that places in the delta are accessible, but there are a variety of options for those not lucky enough to own property there, which can be compared somewhat to Ontario’s cottage country.

The great crew from Unsettled, which essentially acts as a concierge service with multiple added benefits for myself and 30 other nomads from around the world in Buenos Aires, arranged this mini adventure. 


This included a 170-peso (approximately $12 Canadian) round trip ticket for the comfortable boats run by Francisco Bugatti Hijos S.A. that essentially act as water buses for some of the rivers extending from Rio Lujan. The main terminal is in Tigre, but people along the route can stand on docks and wave down the boats, which will stop to pick passengers up or drop them off where they want.


China Town
Our trip started on Rio Tigre before a quick left turn on to Rio Lujan, so we got to see some of Tigre’s main tourist attractions — including the Museo De Arte Tigre, the National Navy Museum, China Town and the Parque de la Costa amusement and water park — and several impressive buildings while in transit. Just when we came to larger freighters docked to our left we turned to the right and entered Rio Carapachay.

The Museo De Arte Tigre.
This narrower river featured private homes and cottages, small resorts, a few restaurants and a school. Some were in great shape, others not so much. Some looked like they could have been primary residences while others seemed better suited for weekend getaways. All had docks and almost all were elevated so, even if river levels rose, the water wouldn’t affect the interiors. As I found out later in the evening, water will also seep up from the ground, turning formerly dry grass temporarily swampy.

It was a pleasant and relaxing hour-long journey, though larger or fast-moving boats can cause reasonably large wakes that add to the challenge for the kayakers, rowers and canoeists who also frequent these waterways.

One of the houses at Poema.
We eventually arrived at our destination, a compound identified as Poema on its dock. We’d been warned that the accommodations (which Unsettled paid for but apparently cost about $50 Canadian per person per night) would be spartan, and I brought ice packs to keep my drinks cold thinking there would be no refrigeration. But while the two houses that would be our home for the night were far from luxurious, they had electricity and fully functioning kitchens and toilets. I’m fine with rustic and basic and got more than I expected.

The other house at Poema.
As people scrambled to the cramped bunk rooms to claim a bed, I’d noticed that the large games room had a fridge and bar as well as pool, ping pong and foosball tables — and two beds in the far corner. I immediately claimed one of them and it took a surprisingly long number of minutes before someone else twigged in to take the other bed.

My Poema bedroom.
The extensive property was fronted by the river and surrounded by trees on every other side. It featured: a decent-sized swimming pool that proved to be a much more popular swimming location than the murky brown river; lawn volleyball and paddle tennis courts; a large outdoor grill; outside dining areas; three kayaks; and a hiking trail.

The Poema pool and some of my new Unsettled friends.
After walking for about 15 minutes through forest on the trail on Sunday morning, I still didn’t have a destination in sight and no one knew where it led to so I returned the same way. I spotted a few different types of scat that belonged to smallish but decent-sized animals along the way, but saw no wildlife aside from some birds and large but empty snail shells.

My new favourite dog, Tigre.
Perhaps best of all, the property came with its own dog — appropriately named Tigre. He was constantly running all over the place, acted as my guide on the hiking trail, and would often swim long distances in pursuit of kayakers. But he always returned and, when he tired, would casually ease himself on to a friendly and accommodating lap to rest or sleep on.

If there was one thing better than Tigre, and it was a tight competition, it was Ben — who Unsettled had hired as our personal chef for the weekend. We all contributed 250 pesos (approximately $17.50 Canadian) and he brought and prepared all the food — which was more than we could eat.

Lunch was a delicious curried chicken salad that could be added to hummus, shredded carrots and cabbage and eaten as a wrap.

But that was nothing compared to dinner, which was a traditional Argentinean parrilla (a meal featuring a lot of grilled meat) with a lot more extras than you’d get at most restaurants. There were staggering portions of steak, beef ribs, sausage and pork shoulder as well as cheese and a variety of salads and sauces that were a welcomed accompaniment to all of that protein.

Later, as many of us were sitting around a bonfire talking and drinking, Ben brought out crepes slathered with dulce de leche, a favourite Argentinean confection that’s like a very sweet caramel, for dessert.

Breakfast consisted of leftovers from the previous day as well as heaps of scrambled eggs, homemade bread with jams, and coffee. No one should have gone hungry during their 24 hours at Poema.

The garbage we created was bagged and hung off the dock, where a trash boat would apparently come by later to pick it up.

While I’ve been trying to put in my normal work week while also endeavouring to cram in activities to help me discover a new (to me) part of the world, Buenos Aires isn’t stressing me out. I don’t anticipate that it will either but, should such a thing happen, spending more time in the Delta of the Parana around Tigre would provide a quick antidote.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Getting into the green in Buenos Aires

The Palermo neighbourhood that’s become my Buenos Aires, Argentina stomping grounds has an excellent tree canopy on most of its streets, providing attractive greenery, shade and a positive environmental impact that adds to the pleasure of wandering around whether you have a destination in mind or not.

You’ll also find several small parks with more green space, benches for people to sit and chat, playground equipment for kids and, at a few of them — like at Plaza Immigrantes de Armenia — a carousel for the young ones.


The Plaza Immigrantes de Armenia carousel.
There’s a much more extensive park system closer to Rio de la Plata, however, and I took advantage of a beautiful Friday afternoon to take a long walk through a large segment of it, beginning near Plaza Italia and moving north from Avenida Santa Fe.

I took in the 17-acre Botanical Garden, which is home to approximately 5,500 species of plants, trees and shrubs from around the world, as well as a number of sculptures, monuments, greenhouses and a beautiful building housing the Municipal Gardening School. I also walked through the nearby Parquet Las Heras and Plaza Sobral.

The 44-acre Buenos Aires Zoo, which housed more than 2,500 animals, was closed down last year amidst complaints of cruel treatment of its 89 species of mammals, 49 species of reptiles and 175 species of birds. It’s supposed to be turned into an ecopark, but it’s still locked up tight and it doesn't look like there's a lot of work happening there. Walking along its perimeter, you can occasionally see inside through fences and I spotted what looked like a young capybara wandering around on its own. I didn’t spot any other signs of life, but some of the buildings looked intriguing.


Galileo Galilei planetarium
One of the observation towers around the planetarium.
Renzo Baldi and Héctor Rocha's monument to General Justo José de Urquiza.
Continuing northward on Agenda Sarmiento past Avenida Del Liberator towards the water and the city’s domestic airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newberry, I came upon several more interconnected parks and gardens as part of the 989-acre Parque Tres de Febrero that's more than 140 years old. 

You’ll find the Galileo Galilei planetarium, commonly known as Planetario, as well as several statues — some of monumental size — in this area. There were also four observation towers, covered in astroturf, surrounding the planetarium for reasons unknown to me.


While roads run through this park system, on this day at least there were more walkers, runners, rollerbladers and bicyclists using them than cars, which was a nice respite from the busy streets not far away. You’ll also find lots of water, and can even rent paddleboats to leisurely take in some of the sights and get up close and personal with the abundance of waterfowl in the area.


Moving further west, I encountered the lovely rose gardens of Rosedal and the ornate Eduardo Sivori Museum, where I checked out the lobby but didn’t pay the entry fee to see more.

Eduardo Sivori Museum
For the sportsmen (and women), there was: a horse-racing track; the polo grounds where the Argentine Open (the fifth-oldest competition in the world and one of the most important international championships) begins later this month; a golf course; and a tennis club. I even stumbled upon the Buenos Aires Padel Master, a tournament stop on the world paddle tennis circuit (which I had no idea existed), that attracted thousands of fans to La Rural, Predio Ferial. I watched an outside practice court and bought a super poncho (that's what they call hot dogs here) with mustard, ketchup, bacon and potato sticks, but didn't pay to get inside to see the main event.

There were also several less official games of pick-up soccer and Frisbee taking place in some of the open grass areas.

The Puerto Madero area of Buenos Aires also has a very large park that I’ll check out before my time in the city runs out on Dec. 2, and I’m sure I’ll continue to keep discovering smaller green spaces throughout the city as I walk around it and get to know it better.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Iguazu Falls from the Argentinian side

My original plan for Thursday was to walk around Foz do Iguacu and get a better idea of what the Brazilian city of 260,000 people had to offer, and maybe make a return to a great beer shop called Cerjevario where I had two pints on Wednesday night, and then do the same on the other side of the border in the Argentinean city of Puerto Iguazu so I could have a full day on Friday exploring the side of Iguazu Falls I hadn’t seen yet.

However, a check of the weather forecast revealed rain all day Friday (and as I sit here writing at 2:30 p.m. it’s been coming down in torrential amounts since it first woke me up at 6:30 a.m.), so I changed my plans and left for Argentina on Thursday morning. It was a bit of a complicated procedure, and my lack of knowledge of Portuguese didn’t help, but after taking two buses, having my passport stamped twice, and spending about 2.5 hours and R$5 (about $2.50 Canadian), I found myself at the end of a 15-kilometre journey at the Puerto Iguazu bus station and a short walk (if I’d been given proper directions) from Nomads Hostel, home for the next two nights.

I gained an hour since Brazil and Argentina use different time zones, found a bank to obtain some Argentinean pesos, and was ready to return to the bus station to buy a 150-peso (about $10.50 Canadian) round-trip ticket for the 18-killometre drive to Iguazu National Park.

Unlike the Brazilian side, there’s no shuttle bus to take you in further. You’re ready to go as soon as you enter and pay the 500-peso (about $35 Canadian) admission fee. There are four main trails that go through Atlantic forest, sometimes on the ground and sometimes on elevated catwalks, to take you to various locales and observation points in the park.

I first took the 655-metre Green Trail through rain forest wetland to the Cataratas Train Station, where a small open-air train takes you for a 10-minute, 3,700-metre ride through more forest to the beginning of the 1,100-metre Devil’s Throat Trail. The ecologically friendly-designed train runs on liquefied petroleum gas, travels at a maximum speed of 18 kilometres per hour and can hold 250 people.



An environmentally friendly gangway crosses the Iguazu River, in sight of some of its small islands, until you reach a balcony just a few metres from the largest and most important of the Iguazu Falls: the 80-metre Devil’s Throat. The turbulent water, rock-crashing flow and blowback will spray you with a mist that’s refreshing on a 30-degree Celsius day.


You return along the same route to the Cataratas Train Station, where a short walk takes you to the entrances to both the Upper Trail and the Lower Circuit. I began with the 1,750-metre Upper Trail, which offers panoramic views of a semi-circular chain that begins at Dos Hermanas Waterfalls and goes through Chico, Ramírez, Bosetti, Adán y Eva and Bernabé Méndez waterfalls before ending at the Mbiguá Waterfall lookout.


The gangway then crosses the Superior Iguazú River to reach the edge of the second largest falls of the system, San Martin Waterfall. This balcony provides the best and widest panoramic view of Iguazu Falls from the Argentinian side. You can see the Hotel Das Cataratas and elevators on the Brazilian side as well as the Sheraton Hotel, the old water tank tower, balconies of the Upper and Lower trails, San Martin Island and the gangway to Devil’s Throat on the Argentinian side.


The gangway then snakes back through islets and forest back to Cataratas Station. From there, it’s a short walk to the 1,700-metre Lower Circuit.
 



Footbridges through the forest foliage take you to Dos Hermanas, Chico, Ramírez and finally the bottom of the Bosetti Waterfall. It’s at this point that landlubbers looking for a soaking can venture to the closest point of the observation balcony to feel the immense power of the falls.


You then descend stairs to a short rockier trail that provides more stunning views of both waterfalls and cliffs. This trail also leads you to the embarkation point for a boat ride to San Martin Island. Unfortunately, the last boat leaves at 3:15 p.m. and I arrived 30 minutes later. Had I known that schedule in advance, I would have taken the Lower Circuit first so I could have experienced the steep climb to the top, forest walk and observation point of San Martin Island.


From the same spot where the boats to San Martin Island leave, it’s possible to pay an additional fee to take a jet boat excursion through the rapids and to the base of the Three Musketeers and San Martin falls. I was already pretty wet, and didn’t know if the ride was worth the cost, so I passed on the opportunity.


The final portion of the Lower Circuit takes you through the Lower Iguazú shore and provides access to the Alvar Núñez, Elenita and Lanusse waterfalls before returning you to Dos Hermanas Square. On the walk back to Cataratas Station, I encountered more of the omnipresent quatis as well as a couple of lizards.


I caught the last train to Central Station as the park’s closing time neared. Had I had more time, I would have liked to have taken the 7,000-metre (round-trip) Macuo Trail, which runs through thicker forest and is home to cai monkeys, before ending at the edge of Iguazu Canyon and the Arrechea Waterfall.
 

Iguazu Falls has been named one of the natural wonders of the world, and viewing them from the Brazilian and Argentinean sides was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll forever cherish. And instead of satiating my life-long desire to see waterfalls, it’s intensified it. 


While South Africa is high on my list of countries to visit, knowing I can include a trip to Victoria Falls as part of that itinerary (while also seeing some friends I made earlier this year) moves it up the pecking order.