Lakes Crossing: Bariloche to Puerto Varas

The Cruce Andino/Cruce de los Lagos or Lakes Crossing, a marathon boat-bus-boat-bus-boat-bus ride from Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Varas (or Puerto Montt), Chile took the entire day and substantially lightened my wallet, but the experience, in my opinion, was worth every peso and then some. We made the voyage across the Andes on Easter Sunday, which turned out to be a fitting date for the tour, as I was continually reminded by my surroundings that only a divine hand could have wrought the spectacular natural beauty we saw that day.

In the faint morning light, we set sail from Puerto Pañuelo in Bariloche. After discussing the details of the day's itinerary with one of the tour coordinators, we ordered a few medialunas and cups of hot chocolate from the boat's snack bar. Vince, my stepdad, and I climbed the stairs to the upper deck, where we marveled at the mountains looming on all sides of the expansive Lago Nahuel Huapi, while my sister Marianna snoozed down below in typical teenage fashion.

Cruising Along Lago Nahuel Huapi by katiemetz, on Flickr [Vince on the first leg of the journey over Lago Nahuel Huapi – Puerto Pañuelo to Puerto Blest]

Venga a Navegar la Cordillera de los Andes by katiemetz, on Flickr[Signpost at Puerto Blest]

We stopped at Puerto Blest with its lovely pink hotel [photo] for a few minutes before boarding a bus to Puerto Alegre, just 15 minutes away.

The early morning temperatures in Bariloche hovered around the freezing mark, and we were cautioned by the crew to watch our step as we boarded our second boat at Puerto Alegre, as patches of ice had accumulated on the deck.

Cerro Tronador from Lago Frías by katiemetz, on Flickr[Cerro Tronador reflected in the waters of Lago Frías – Puerto Alegre to Puerto Frías leg]

The boat glided over the milky green waters of Lago Frías en route to our next destination. The lake's unique color, which can be appreciated in the photo below, comes from minerals suspended in the water.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat by katiemetz, on Flickr[Thank goodness we didn't have to row all the way to Chile – rowboat outside of the border checkpoint at Puerto Frías, Argentina]

After exchanging some Argentine pesos for Chilean ones, we were successfully stamped out of Argentina at the Puerto Frías border checkpoint before continuing our journey by bus. The actual Argentina-Chile border crossing at Paso Vicente Pérez Rosales is located deep within the Patagonian forest with nary an official in sight.

¡Chau, Argentina! by katiemetz, on Flickr Welcome to Chile! by katiemetz, on Flickr
[Vince and Marianna saying "chau" to Argentina and "hola" to Chile!]

Cerro Tronador from Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr[Cerro Tronador from the Chilean side – Puerto Frías, Argentina to Peulla, Chile leg]

The bus ride from Puerto Frías to Peulla through the national parks (Nahuel Huapi in Argentina and Vicente Pérez Rosales in Chile) offered fantastic vistas of the forest, the Andes, several small waterfalls, and the Río Peulla.

Peulla, Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr[The village of Peulla, Chile]

*We now interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post for a public service announcement.*

How My Stepdad Almost Caused an International Incident

The only hitch we experienced the entire day came when we passed through the border checkpoint in Peulla, Chile. Marianna was first up to the plate with the stern-looking Chilean carabinero. She presented her passport to the officer and waited patiently as he reviewed the details on her photo page. The officer looked up from the passport, unsmiling, and asked in broken English if Marianna knew how to speak Spanish. She shook her head no and beckoned to me for assistance.

The officer asked whom Marianna was traveling with, and I replied, "Her father and me – her sister."

"And her mother? Where is she?"

"She died almost four years ago."

"Do you have proof of that?"

I turned to Vince and asked him if he just so happened to be carrying a copy of my mother's death certificate. The obvious reply came, and I responded with a tinge of worry in my voice, "No, I don't."

After establishing that we didn't have any other documentation such as a birth certificate or consent form for international travel with a minor (Vince had traveled several times before with Marianna, and no one had ever asked him for such proof), the carabineros made us sweat it out as they busily typed away at their antiquated computers.

A few minutes later, having somehow determined that, indeed, my stepdad was not attempting to abduct his own child from his deceased wife, they waved Marianna on through, followed by me and then Vince. We were lucky this time, but we easily could have been denied entry into Chile. For the record, Argentine border officials never requested any sort of documentation to this effect.

Moral of the Story

Minors traveling internationally with just one parent should carry a notarized document granting written permission from the other parent. In the case where the parents are divorced or one parent is deceased, the traveling parent should carry a notarized affidavit of sole custody and legal proof such as a death certificate or custody order.

OK, now back  to pretty photos of flowers, glacial lakes, and snowy volcanoes.

Pink! by katiemetz, on Flickr Florcitas by katiemetz, on Flickr Aljaba by katiemetz, on Flickr Chilean Flower by katiemetz, on Flickr

[Flowers in Peulla, Chile]

After (barely) getting stamped into Chile, we sat down to lunch at the Hotel Natura, whose dining room features floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the surrounding meadow and mountains. Following our meal, we set out on foot to take in the scenery and shoot some photos before the next leg of our journey, a ride on a catamaran that would take us past not one, but two, volcanoes.

Boats in Peulla by katiemetz, on Flickr[More boats!]

Cascada de los Novios, Peulla, Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr [Cascada de los Novios, Peulla, Chile]

Dock in Peulla, Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr [The dock in Peulla, Chile]

La Bandera de Chile | The Chilean Flag by katiemetz, on Flickr[Chilean flag with the Andes Mountains and Lago Todos Los Santos serving as the backdrop – Peulla to Petrohué leg]

Volcán Puntiagudo, Lago Todos Los Santos, Chile by katiemetz on Flickr[Volcán Puntiagudo (at right), Lago Todos Los Santos, Chile]

House on the Shores of Lago Todos Los Santos, Chile by katiemetz, on Flickr[House on the shores of Lago Todos Los Santos, Chile]

The people who make their homes along the shores of this lake lead a life of relative isolation. As there is no road between Peulla and Petrohué, anyone living in the area must rely on boats as the principal means of transportation. A couple of passengers used our catamaran as a sort of water taxi to get them close to their homes. A pair of smaller motorboats pulled alongside, and the passengers hopped off and went on their way!

Volcano in Black and White by katiemetz, on Flickr[Volcán Osorno (at left) by the shores of Lago Todos Los Santos]

After the breathtaking views along Lago Todos Los Santos, we disembarked at Petrohué for the final leg of our day-long adventure through Patagonia. We boarded a bus bound for Puerto Varas, and we zipped alongside the Río Petrohué and dense forest before the majestic Volcán Osorno and the neighboring Volcán Calbuco came into view. We hugged the shores of Lago Llanquihué as we sped toward the city of Puerto Varas with nightfall fast approaching, and the snowcapped peak of Osorno glowed in the evening light.

Osorno Volcano at Sunset by katiemetz, on Flickr[Volcán Osorno by the shores of Lago Llanquihué, on the final leg from Petrohué to Puerto Varas, Chile]

About 12 hours after leaving Bariloche, we arrived at our hotel in Puerto Varas. I slept like a Patagonian rock that night.

Next up: Puerto Varas, Chile

[Patagonia Series: Intro 1 2 3 4]
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More Holiday Recipes from Argentina

Pan Dulce [Panettone] from ArgentinaWith Christmas and New Year's swiftly approaching, you probably already have your holiday menu finalized; however, if you're still in search of inspiration, take a look at my recipes for two more Argentine holiday favorites: vitel toné and pan dulce.

If you're hungry for more ideas, Asado Argentina's post on Christmas and New Year's food in Argentina provides a nice overview of some of the country's most popular holiday dishes.

Thank you for following along with Seashells and Sunflowers. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas! ¡Les deseo muy Felices Fiestas a todos! Read More......

Vino Argentino

I don't often write about wine, yet it's an undeniable fact that the fruit of the vine plays a noteworthy role in Argentine culture. Whether it's a copita of inexpensive table wine mixed with a blast of soda water from an old-fashioned siphon bottle or an elegant glass of one of the country's fine malbecs, wine is rarely absent at mealtimes.

Mendoza, often touted as the Napa Valley of Argentina, lies at the heart of the country's winemaking region. The following video provides a brief glimpse of the history of winemaking in Argentina, the climatic and soil conditions of Mendoza that make the region so special for winemaking, and the work involved in the grape harvest or vendimia.

Land of Elements: Mendoza

While we're on the topic of wine, I'd also like to tell you all about an exciting contest open to bloggers from the U.S., Canada, U.K., Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia. The Wine Blogger of the Month contest, sponsored by Wines of Argentina, invites submissions from food and wine bloggers that highlight their experiences with Argentine wine in their countries. One lucky grand prize winner will enjoy a week-long trip to Mendoza and another wine-producing region in Argentina, with flight, lodging and food included!

The contest ends on August 1, 2011. Click here for contest details. Uncork a bottle of malbec or torrontés for inspiration and start writing! ¡Suerte!

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Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Argentina

The Immaculate Conception, 1492, Carlo CrivelliThe Catholic feast day known as El Día de la Inmaculada Concepción (or El Día de la Virgen), celebrated on December 8th, is a public holiday here in Argentina.

As a non-Catholic, I admit that I'm not exactly up on all the details of the Church's dogma, various saints, feast days, etc., but I still find the information interesting.

When I first learned of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, I mistakenly assumed that this feast day celebrated the conception of Jesus. Thankfully, there's always the handy-dandy site Wikipedia to clear up the confusion on pressing questions of faith:

The Immaculate Conception of Mary is, according to Catholic doctrine, the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain of Original Sin....The doctrine states that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved by God from Original Sin and filled with the sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth.

According to Artcyclopedia, "The idea is central to the belief in her absolute perfection and purity as the vessel of Christ's incarnation."

While some will head to church to honor the Virgin Mary through prayer, from a cultural perspective, the most important aspect of the Día de la Virgen lies in the fact that it's the unofficial start of the holiday season and the day when almost all Argentines set up and decorate their Christmas trees. Since my family never trimmed the tree on a pre-determined day, I decided to jump on the Argentine bandwagon, and now I break out the ornaments on the 8th, too. Here's a post about our Christmas tree from last year. [I'll have photos of this year's tree soon.]

The lighting of Necochea's community Christmas tree also takes place today, complete with music by the Banda Municipal and a performance of the "The Nutcracker" starring a local ballet troupe.

Fake trees are the order of the day here in Argentina, with live Christmas trees being extremely difficult to source. Apparently, the local government does offer small pines for sale at Parque Miguel Lillo (the municipal tree nursery is located there), but honestly, I've never really investigated that option. My friend Cherie at tangocherie keeps a small, potted evergreen on her terrace in Buenos Aires to decorate at Christmas.

I'm content with the artificial tree my stepdad gifted us and the collection of ornaments that I brought with me from the United States. Every ornament represents a memory of a Christmas past, and I derive a lot of pleasure from unwrapping them, reminiscing about them, and placing them on the tree.

Do you have a special day to decorate your Christmas tree? Tell me about it in the comments.

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Notes on the Argentine Approach to Cooking

Argentine home cooks' approach to the country's food classics tends to reflect something of the national character: fly by the seat of your pants, make do with what you've got, and don't stray too far from what you know. The beauty of Argentine dishes lies in the fact that they deliver simple flavors and rarely demand pricey, obscure ingredients or kitchen gadgets for their successful preparation; however, those with perfectionist tendencies would do well to work up some culinary courage before tackling these recipes, as they're often plagued by a dearth of specific instructions. Here are some of my notes on the challenges of cooking estilo argentino.

1. The Recipes
One of the biggest problems with Argentine recipes is that they often don't exist in the first place. Tucked away in the mind of Daniel's great-aunt Rosa lies an absolute treasure trove of gastronomic knowledge. Without fail, her meals turn out flavorful, succulent, appetizing, [substitute your choice of adjective here]. Does she have any of this vast repository of recipes documented? Sadly, the answer is "no."

añejo [Old Argentine cookbook] by reiven on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]Should you be fortunate enough to encounter a written recipe, it's often lacking the most basic details (e.g. exact amounts, temperature, estimated cooking time). It's easy to get lost in the ambiguous directions and inexact measurements—puñados, pizcas and poquitos—doled out in heaping helpings in some of these recipes.

To avoid precision, Argentine cooks also love to list the amounts of key ingredients as "a gusto" (to taste). Salt and pepper to taste? OK, I can handle that. But when virtually every component of the recipe reads "add to taste," the collection of ingredients ceases to be a recipe.

Friends in my chorus actually teased me a bit the other day when I translated a well-written English-language recipe for dulce de leche brownies for them to Spanish. "It's so...detailed!" they exclaimed. Cue sigh.

2. The Measurements
Your average Argentine does not own measuring spoons, measuring cups or any other standardized measuring implements (nor does this fact keep him or her awake at night). I remember the look of wonderment on the faces of Daniel and his mom Hilda when I unpacked my set of gleaming stainless steel measuring cups and spoons and my Pyrex liquid measuring cup.

Vintage Tea Cups Collage Sheet [free download from] by autumnsensation, on FlickrThe other day I was researching recipes for vitel toné, a holiday favorite here in Argentina. One of the recipes I came across (by a noted Argentine chef, no less) called for half of a taza chica (small cup) of vinegar. How small, exactly, is this cup? Now, I recognize that using a "half of a small cup" instead of a standard 1/2-cup measurement won't spell the difference between life and death; however, in recipes requiring more exactitude, for example, baked goods, using sloppy measurements may lead to a less-than-desirable result.

Then, of course, there's the recipe I saw a while back that called for 17 teaspoons of sugar. I don't know about you, but I'll pull out my 1/3-cup measuring cup and call it a day. Hell, I'll even use a 1/3 of a "small cup" rather than count out 17 teaspoons.

True to her Italian roots, Hilda makes tallarines (tagliatelle) from scratch. The first time I watched her make the long strands of pasta, I commented to her that I'd like to jot down the recipe. She replied, "Oh, sure. You just use one egg per person and a handful of flour for every egg." Never mind the fact that my hand is about 50% larger than hers.

3. The Ovens
In the beginning, I used to ponder why hardly any Argentine recipes give an exact cooking temperature. I later discovered that when your oven offers three choices—yellow, orange, and red—achieving anything more precise than "medium heat" becomes a real challenge. I'd like to be able to blame this issue on the fact that my oven dates to the 1960s; however, a quick trip to the local appliance store confirmed that even brand spanking new ovens lack a thermostat/temperature control (unless, of course, you're prepared to shell out about $4,000 pesos [US $1,000] for the one oven in the store with a thermostat, which most people, myself included, are not).

My Oven's Temperature Gauge by katiemetz

Perhaps I'm a spoiled yanqui, but I really crave more precision than that provided by a needle bobbing between the "yellow zone" and the "red zone." The oven thermometer I purchased has helped me tremendously, but the process of regulating the oven temperature still gives me a headache, given that just a barely perceptible flick of the wrist makes the difference between undercooked blobs of dough and incinerated ones.

Let's get kitchen confidential. Share your culinary trials and tribulations in the comments.

[Photo credits: reiven and autumnsensation]

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Elizabeth Lovelace: Photographer in Mar del Plata

The relationships I've forged through my blog never cease to amaze me. In the case of my friend Elizabeth Lovelace, we got acquainted after she commented on Seashells and Sunflowers earlier this year. As coincidence would have it, it turned out that she currently resides just an hour and a half away in Mar del Plata. Stranger yet, Liz and her husband once lived in the exact same town that I did back in Pennsylvania. El mundo es un pañuelo. It's a small world.

The first time I visited Liz's home in Mar del Plata, I couldn't help but smile when I saw her photograph of the Philadelphia landmark Boathouse Row hanging on the wall. The conversation came easy that afternoon, and I found that we have a great deal in common. Liz further endeared herself to me that day by plying me with homemade chai tea, fig preserves, bagels and, of course, Philadelphia cream cheese.

Sometimes as an expat, you're so eager to make a connection with someone (anyone!) that you find yourself drawn to an individual simply for the fact that he or she shares the same mother tongue or country of origin, with little or no basis for the friendship beyond those simple commonalities; however, I can say with 100% certainty that Liz is someone whom I would happily befriend regardless of the circumstances.

One of the passions that Liz and I share is photography. While I indulge in picture taking merely as a hobby, Liz has taken the next step and chosen photography as a profession. The tagline on her photography blog reads, "Hallando la belleza de los momentos simples" (Finding beauty in simple moments), and I think this phrase speaks perfectly to her aesthetic as a photographer.

Liz invited me to her very first photo exhibition at Casa del Mar a couple of weekends ago, where some of her lovely work was on display. If you happen to be in Mar del Plata on Saturday, December 11, Liz's photos will be featured at Casa del Mar for the "Noche de Museos" event, as well.

Elizabeth Lovelace, Photographer - Mar del Plata, Argentina[The artist with two of her photographs]

You can view more of Liz's photos on her blog FotosEli. Feel free to join her Facebook page, too, for updates. She's fully bilingual (Spanish/English) and available for portrait sessions, weddings, quinceañeras, and more in Mar del Plata.

Elizabeth Lovelace, Photographer/Fotógrafa
Mar del Plata, Argentina

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"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have." – Frederick Koenig

On this Thanksgiving, I'm grateful…

Vintage Thanksgiving Day Postcard by riptheskull, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]» for my partner Daniel, who gives me unconditional love and supports me in all my endeavors.
» for a loving and supportive network of family and friends, both in the United States and here in Argentina.
» for my good health.
» for the roof over my head and food on the table.
» to be doing work that I enjoy.
» to have hope for the future and exciting plans on the horizon.
» for the opportunity to make music with Coro Alta Mira.
» for the natural beauty that surrounds me, especially the ocean.
» for the opportunity to meet so many special people through the medium of blogging.
» for the chance to expand my perspective on life through travel and living in another culture.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family, wherever you call home. May your hearts be full and your blessings many.

Past reflections on Thanksgiving

2009 Let's Talk Turkey (or Lack Thereof)
2008 Thankful

[Image credit: riptheskull]

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Holiday Recipes from Argentina

With the holidays just around the corner, most foodies' thoughts turn to meal planning for the many family get-togethers and parties that typically take place at this time of year. If you're looking to put an Argentine twist on the festivities this season, I've got two new holiday recipes from Argentina: pionono or arrollado primavera and clericot.

Pionono or Arrollado Primavera by katiemetz on Flickr
Here's a snippet of my post on arrollado primavera:
Arrollado primavera—made with a thin, lightly sweetened sponge cake typically known as a "pionono" in Argentina—is filled with ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce, roasted red peppers and mayonnaise and rolled up jelly roll-style. As a dish that incorporates ingredients that go down a bit easier in the heat and humidity of late December, pionono or arrollado primavera is frequently found on holiday tables in Argentina.
Read more about arrollado primavera, and get the recipe here.

Clericot by katiemetz on Flickr
And here's a snippet of my post on clericot:
Clericot was popularized in Argentina and Uruguay by the British (read more about the British influence in Argentina). Originally known as "claret cup," this summertime drink featured claret (red) wine, sugar, lemon juice and carbonated water.... These days, the Argentine version of clericot generally contains white wine instead of red. Similar to white sangria, a basic clericot features chunks of in-season fruits, a nice white wine, and a touch of sugar.
Read up on clericot, and click here for the recipe. Read More......

Free E-book: Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level

I am pleased and excited to share the release of a free e-book, Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level [click the link to view/download the PDF].

E-book: Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level

Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level, compiled by Steven Roll of the blog Travelojos, contains 29 brief personal essays about life and travel in Mexico, Central and South America. Steven notes, "The idea behind the e-book is to offer a platform from which bloggers in this niche can demonstrate what makes them and Latin America so special."

Each story provides a colorful and unique glimpse into some aspect of Latin American culture, with contributors detailing experiences from Mexico to Argentina, and just about everywhere in between. A slew of talented travel writers collaborated on this effort, including my blog buddy Eileen Smith from Bearshapedsphere.

My contribution to Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level, entitled "Drink" (found on p. 23), discusses the importance of mate in Argentine culture. The essays "La Vida" by Cathy Brown and "Buses" by Vicky Baker touch on Argentina as well.

So, get your best armchair-traveler mojo workin', and sneak a peek at life south of the border. Download your free copy of Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level now.

A big thank you goes out to Steven Roll for inviting me to participate in this project!

Update: Thanks to Margaret Snook at Cachando Chile for compiling a list with links to all the bloggers and travel writers who participated in the e-book.

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Katie, Tony and Chris by katiemetz

While I was back in Philadelphia visiting my family and friends, I seized the opportunity to meet up with Chris, a new blog buddy who just so happens to live near my old house. She, her husband Tony, a native Argentine, and their three children are planning to move to Patagonia sometime in the near future, and they invited me over for dinner to chat a bit about Argentina and expat life.

Chris and Tony proved to be every bit the gracious hosts, and I really enjoyed getting to know them! With all the Spanish, good food, wine, and laughter, for a few hours, tucked away in a suburb of Philadelphia, I felt like I was in Argentina again. Their company made for a truly delightful evening, and it's gratifying to be able to turn virtual friends into real-life ones.

Chris very kindly wrote a glowing commentary on me, my blog and my Spanish skills over at her corner of the blogosphere, In Patagonia, so go check out what she has to say about yours truly. She also provides independent confirmation that I'm not a psychopath, just in case you were wondering.

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The Beaches of Necochea and Quequén

Necochea Sketches by Matt Jones [used with permission of the artist]

With summer right around the corner, Necochea's 40 miles (64 km) of beaches will soon be teeming with umbrella-wielding, mate-drinking, sun-worshipping tourists and residents alike. The area is graced with some of Argentina's most ample beaches, in some spots up to almost 1,000 feet (300 m) wide. The following beaches constitute the most popular spots for enjoying the sun and surf in both Necochea and neighboring Quequén.

Las Grutas [photos]

Removed from the hub of tourist activity in the downtown area, Las Grutas lies about six miles (10 km) south of the heart of Necochea. The many small caves that dot the cliffs along the shoreline in this area gave rise to its name, since Las Grutas means "The Grottoes." Poking around the rocky alcoves provides good entertainment, and friends and families often huddle inside the caves to drink mate.

Downtown beaches [photo]

Necochea's downtown beaches boast fine sand, easy access and plenty of services for beachgoers. Beach clubs known as balnearios line this stretch of sand that borders Avenida 2. These clubs offer a variety of services including umbrella and cabana rentals, restaurants, snack bars, volleyball courts, etc. While the downtown beaches provide the most  in the way of amenities, they are also the most crowded (though nowhere near as packed as the beaches in Mar del Plata, for example).

Playa de los Patos [photos]

This stretch of beach located in Necochea, adjacent to the Escollera Sur, offers easy access to the jetty for those who would rather go fishing than work on their tans. Visitors can also check out the sea lion colony that makes its home on the other side of the jetty. Though still somewhat centrally-located, this beach never gets too crowded, but it doesn't offer much in the way of services.

Monte Pasuvio/La Hélice [photos]

Popular with surfers and sunbathers, this stretch of beach in Quequén gets my vote as the best spot in the area to catch some rays and play in the frothy waves of the Atlantic. Plop down on a towel or in a chair on the broad, sandy beach, and watch the surfers ride the waves against the backdrop of the jetties and the port. Monte Pasuvio features a couple of small beach clubs that offer umbrella and cabana rentals and a bite to eat.

This beach received its name from the wreckage of the Italian steamship Monte Pasuvio, which shipwrecked in the midst of a terrible storm on April 1, 1924. The ship's propeller and a portion of the hull remain visible amid the breaking waves.

Bahía de los Vientos [photos]

The rusted-out, hulking remains of the Pesuarsa II, a mysterious-looking ship that lies stranded on the coast, easily lay claim to the most recognizable symbol of Bahía de los Vientos. The rocky beaches and cliffs in this area don't exactly lend themselves to sunbathing and swimming, but you're sure to find plenty of tourists snapping photos, examining the wreckage of the former fishing vessel, and hunting for shells and pebbles.

Costa Bonita [photos]

Just six miles (10 km) north of Quequén, you'll find yourself in the aptly named Costa Bonita ["Pretty Coast"]. This spot lies a bit further off the beaten path, so even in high season it maintains a sense of tranquility. The desert-like dunes make for some fun exploration, and beachcombers are sure to find something interesting on this pebble-filled beach. The balcony at Hostería Costa Bonita, one of the few places to stay in the Quequén area, provides a sweeping view of the beaches and Necochea in the distance.

Click here for a map of Necochea and Quequén showing points of interest.

[Illustration courtesy of Matt Jones]

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The All New Necochea Webcam

iSight by Shaylor on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]Last year I discovered not one, but two webcams broadcasting live images of Necochea. Sadly, both cameras were taken offline just a few months later.

However, the other day I found out there's a new 24/7 webcam in Necochea with its eye trained on the downtown beaches and Avenida 2, the street that hugs the coast. Things are looking rather quiet at the moment, but as the summer heats up, the beaches will be teeming with activity.

Check out the new Necochea webcam courtesy of Clima Necochea.

[Photo credit: Shaylor]

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Dulce de Leche in a Crock Pot

Dulce de leche by roboppy on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]Friends and lovers of dulce de leche, rejoice! I came across yet another way to prepare the oh-so-delicious and calorie-laden caramel spread for which Argentina is so famous.

Just dust off that crock pot you've got hiding in the back of your pantry, fill it with water, and plop in a few cans of sweetened condensed milk. Set your slow cooker on low, and start daydreaming about ways to use up that dulce de leche. Click on the link for more detailed instructions from the blog Cupcake Project for making dulce de leche in a crockpot.

While I have chronicled the traditional stovetop method, the crock pot method seems like a foolproof way to get your dulce de leche fix. Unfortunately, it takes eight hours to work its magic, so it's not suitable for emergency cravings or last-minute desserts.

I don't own a slow cooker, so I can't personally attest to the results; however, judging from the comments I've seen on other blogs, it looks as though you can't go wrong with this method. If you try making dulce de leche in your crock pot, let me know how it works out!

[Photo credit: roboppy]

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Bariloche: Cascada Los Alerces and Cerro Tronador

Day three of our adventures in Bariloche required a very early wake-up call, as our tour to Cerro Tronador was scheduled to leave not long after sunrise. In the feeble light of predawn, we trudged our way to the pick-up point about a mile (uphill) from our cabin.

Our efforts were soon rewarded when we paused at our first stop to drink in the view of Lago Los Moscos, with the sun hanging low in the sky and the morning fog still hovering over the lake's waters.

Early Sun over Lago Los Moscos by katiemetz on Flickr

Lago Los Moscos by katiemetz on Flickr

Marianna at Lago Los Moscos by katiemetz on Flickr[My sister managed to look rather awake in this photo.]

We continued onward to Cascada los Alerces, a small but powerful waterfall set among a lush wood containing old-growth cypress trees. An otherworldly feeling permeated the fog-shrouded forest, and I heard very few sounds apart from our footsteps as we ambled along the wooden boardwalk and the rush of the vibrant blue-green Río Manso coursing past at our left, just beyond the trees.

Misty Forest [Cascada los Alerces] by katiemetz on Flickr

Cascada Los Alerces by katiemetz on Flickr

After admiring the waterfall and the haunting beauty of the forest, we headed back to the site's parking area at the entrance to Cascada los Alerces, where a tiny rustic café run by a spry 94-year-old serves up tortas fritas and hot chocolate to visitors. The warm tortas fritas and the café's roaring fireplace helped drive away the chill. Before piling back into the van, we stopped to fuss over the resident cat and giggle at the hen scratching away in the café's flower garden.

As we made our way to Cerro Tronador, we stopped at El Balcón (The Balcony) overlook to take in views of Lago Mascardi and Isla Corazón. By the time we arrived here, the morning fog had burned off and the nip in the air had mostly disappeared.

View of Lago Mascardi by katiemetz on Flickr

Pristine Waters [Bariloche, Argentina] by katiemetz on Flickr

Further down the road, we also took a few minutes to admire Cerro Tronador from afar, because you begin to lose perspective of the mountain as you get closer. At 11,453 feet (3491 m) tall, Cerro Tronador claims the title of tallest mountain in this region of the Andes. It has three peaks: the Chilean, the Argentine, and the International, the tallest one in the middle.

Cerro Tronador by katiemetz on Flickr

We headed onward to the base of Cerro Tronador to visit this dormant volcano and home to seven glaciers.

Cerro Tronador and the Black Glacier by katiemetz on Flickr

While most of Cerro Tronador's glaciers sit atop the mountain, the Ventisquero Negro or Black Glacier is located at its base. The Black Glacier, which is actually more of a chocolate brown, is simply a normal glacier that has accumulated dirt and small pieces of rock.

Dirty Ice from the Black Glacier by katiemetz on Flickr[Large chunks of ice that have broken off from the Black Glacier]

Listening for "Thunder" at Cerro Tronador by katiemetz on Flickr[Here we are listening for "thunder" after a small avalanche.]

Tronador means "Thunderer," a name that refers to the frequent rumbling sounds that emanate from the mountain as ice and snow fall away from the glaciers. In this video, you can see and hear a pair of small avalanches and then an enormous one that's truly impressive.

Vince at Cerro Tronador by katiemetz on Flickr[My stepdad Vince doing the shutterbug thing.]

After our visit to the Black Glacier, we hopped back in the van for a brief ride to a rest area and small restaurant a short hike  from a waterfall called Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat). After refueling with a hearty lentil stew and sandwiches de milanesa, we ascended a rocky path to get a better view of the water pouring down from Cerro Tronador. The waterfall and additional glacial melt from Tronador feed this small stream, Arroyo Blanco.

Arroyo Blanco and Garganta del Diablo [Bariloche] by katiemetz on Flickr[Arroyo Blanco with Garganta del Diablo in the background]

At the conclusion of the tour, we doubled back on our previous route for the two-hour return trip to Bariloche, and it's possible that someone might have taken a snooze in the van on the way back to the cabin…

Next up: The Lakes Crossing: Bariloche to Puerto Varas

[Patagonia Series: Intro 1 2 3]
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All the News That's Fit to Print

The Paper Boy by Mike Bailey-Gates on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

Argentina is abuzz today. Former Argentine president Néstor Kirchner, husband of the nation's current leader Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, died suddenly this morning of a heart attack at the age of 60. While I don't support the politics of the Kirchners, my heart goes out to the president and her family at this difficult time.

The political landscape of Argentina will surely be altered by this event. As Taos Turner of The Argentine Post noted on Twitter, "This feels like the death of a head of state, not that of a former president. It changes everything." For more on the details and political implications of Néstor Kirchner's death, click here.

On a lighter note, the Argentine government declared today Census Day, and businesses and schools have been ordered to remain closed until 8pm so that every citizen may be counted. Rather than mailing out forms to households, which would surely either a) never be returned or b) get lost/intercepted/ stained beyond legibility by a postal worker's mate at Correo Argentino, census takers have been hired to visit each and every home.

While I didn't venture out to the grocery store yesterday, Dan Perlman of SaltShaker tweeted that in Buenos Aires, "supermarkets look like war zones as people are buying everything they can lay their hands on. Come on, it's only a 12 hour closure tomorrow!" His observation reminded me of how people generally react to the forecast of a winter storm back in the Philly area. The major difference in this case seemed to lie in the fact that no one was clamoring to stock up on rock salt, though I imagine that supplies of toilet paper were similarly hard hit.

Lastly, I leave you all with a piece of news that's not likely to change the course of human events, but it's exciting to me nonetheless. Seashells and Sunflowers now boasts its very own .com domain! The blog can now be accessed at Visitors to the old Blogspot domain will be automatically directed to the new address; however, I'd appreciate it if you'd take the time to update your bookmarks, links, blogrolls, etc. ¡Gracias!

[Photo credit: Mike Bailey-Gates]

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The Sounds of My Neighborhood

With the windows open to take advantage of the pleasant temperatures, it's impossible to ignore all the sounds of my neighborhood.

» The cries of the egg seller roaming the street in search of customers. "¡Hay huevos!" he proclaims loudly.

» The sound of the towels and sheets on the clothesline billowing in the breeze.

» The enthusiastic calls [listen] of the bichofeo as he sits perched high up in the weeping willow visible from my bedroom window.

» The low rumble of cars and motorcycles punctuated with a random, impatient honk.

» The intermittent barking of the neighborhood dogs.

» The drone of the natural gas compressor at the gas station around the corner.

» The rustling of the leaves of our cherry tree in the wind.

» The tap-tap-tap, thunk, thwack! of the mechanics across the street as they work to patch up a tired jalopy.

» The occasional hum of a power saw emanating from the house behind us.

» A visitor clapping to announce his presence to a neighbor. [This is common here, as many houses don't have doorbells.]

What are some of the sounds of your neighborhood?

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¡Feliz Día de la Madre!

Today is Mother's Day in Argentina. To all the moms out there in my adopted country, ¡Feliz día!

No relationship can ever hope to replace the one that I had with my mother, but I do feel extremely fortunate to have Daniel's mom Hilda in my life. She's one of those people who would do virtually anything for her loved ones, and she treats me like one of her own. And did I mention that she makes really good panqueques con dulce de leche?

Here's a letter that I wrote to my mother last year on the anniversary of her passing. The words are truer today than ever.

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Recipe File: Pancetta and Plum Empanadas | Empanadas de Panceta y Ciruela

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I recently played teacher for the afternoon, with my great-aunt as the star pupil in my empanada cooking class [though admittedly she didn't have much competition for the title]. Aunt Phyl is decidedly a foodie; she's no stranger to the pleasures of a good meal and a glass of wine. She also holds a well-deserved reputation in the family as an accomplished cook.

We decided to make two types of empanadas: the classic beef and the more avant-garde combination of pancetta and plum. Truth be told, I had never actually made pancetta and plum empanadas up 'til that point, but I had enjoyed them many times from my favorite empanada joint here in Necochea, Campo Alto. Since Aunt Phyl subscribes to an easy-going cooking style with room for experimentation, I figured we'd just play it by ear. While both types of empanadas turned out well, we agreed that the pancetta and plum were the winners, hands down!

Aunt Phyl and the Empanadas by katiemetz on Flickr[Aunt Phyl getting ready to sample the finished product with a glass of wine]

Delicious in their simplicity, these empanadas give testament to the pairing of sweet and savory. The pleasingly sweet plums and the salty, flavorful pancetta bound together with stringy mozzarella cheese created a mouthwatering filling for our empanada dough. We discussed what additional flavors might work to give the relleno some zing, but when we taste tested the filling, we thought it stood on its own, without so much as a pinch of salt.

Pancetta and Plum Empanadas | Empanadas de Panceta y Ciruela
Makes 10 empanadas


For the filling:

4 oz. thin-sliced pancetta, chopped
2 large plums, pitted, thinly sliced and chopped
8 oz. whole milk mozzarella, shredded
1 10-count package of empanada discs*

For assembly:

1 beaten egg yolk
A glass of water


Preparing the filling:

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat, and add the chopped pancetta. Sauté the pancetta, stirring frequently, until cooked through, about five minutes. Add the plums to the skillet and sauté lightly. Remove from the heat and allow the pancetta and plum mixture to cool.

Assembling the empanadas:

Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Place a heaping tablespoonful of the pancetta and plum mixture and a generous pinch of shredded mozzarella in the center of the empanada dough. Resist the urge to overfill the empanadas, as they will be difficult to work with and will likely explode in the oven if you do so. Dip your finger in the glass of water and lightly wet the edge of the dough. Bring the edges of the dough together and press firmly.

There are several methods used to seal the empanadas [the repulgue]. The most simple way involves pressing the tines of a fork around the edge of the empanada, but if you're interested in trying your hand at a fancier repulgue, here's a video that demonstrates a traditional twisted edge. 

Place the empanadas on a lightly greased cookie sheet, and brush them with egg yolk. Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

Katie and the Empanada II by P. Grillet [Prepping the beef empanadas]

Deep in Concentration by katiemetz on Flickr [Aunt Phyl lost in deep concentration]

I thought Aunt Phyl did very well considering it was her first attempt at making empanadas! Thankfully, there's no photographic evidence of my very first empanadas...

Katie and the Empanada by P. Grillet [Showing off a different repulgue for the pancetta and plum empanadas]

A note on the empanada discs:

We used Goya brand empanada discs with annatto [achiote], hence their sassy orange color. The empanada dough in Argentina does not usually sport this vibrant hue, but hey, it's what we had to work with. My great-aunt found them in the frozen section of Pathmark (for those of you in Pennsylvania/New Jersey/New York).

Are you looking for more Argentine recipes? Click here to browse the entire Recipe File, or try out the visual recipe index. Read More......

Home Sweet Home

I'm now back in Necochea after a month-long visit to the States, and I've been up to my eyeballs in translation projects and choral music ever since I returned. Now that I've gotten caught up on my work, lived the excitement of the Coraliada, our multi-day choral festival, and officially tacked on another year to my age, I've finally had a chance to sit down and reflect on my trip.

I lived some wonderful experiences during my time back in the Philadelphia area, and I had the good fortune of visiting a number of delightful places such as Longwood Gardens, the Philadelphia Zoo, Tyler Arboretum and the Jersey shore. I also spent many an evening sipping coffee at Starbucks with my best friend, talking makeup and girly stuff with my little sister, and just catching up in general with family members and friends (and getting to know some new ones, too!). No matter how many emails you send or phone calls you make, nothing beats some good old-fashioned face time.

I took great pleasure in the little moments – small reminders of home that hit me out of the blue and made me grin. I had missed these things, and I hadn't even realized it: watching a flock of Canada geese honking and passing by overhead at sunset; knowing the words to just about every song that came on the radio and singing along as I sped down the highway; savoring some water ice from Rita's on a hot summer's day and having my mouth stained red as a result.

I also brought along some elements of my new life to share: I drank mate with my stepdad, I taught my great-aunt how to make empanadas, and I spoke Spanish at dinner one night with an Argentine and his wife who live just a hop, skip and a jump from my old home.

In some ways it felt so effortless to be back in my former life, but still there were moments that pinched me and reminded me that I've changed since moving to Argentina. This place has left an indelible mark on me.

Home is where the heart is, or so they say. But what happens when your heart is torn between two different countries? I've resigned myself to the fact that there's always bound to be a bit of heartache for me, because no matter where I am in this world, I'm always missing someone who's important to me. Straddling two cultures, two lands – it's not easy. What do you say we just squeeze the continents back together, Pangaea-style?

If you'd like to check out some of the photos from my trip, take a look here.

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I've traded in gray skies and the chill of winter for a healthy dose of sunshine and the long days of summer; the Southern Cross for the Big Dipper; and sandwiches de milanesa and helado for cheesesteaks and water ice. In just 24 hours, I went from being a foreigner with a funny accent to a native with a Philly accent – from a yanqui to a Yankee.

After a year and a half, I have returned to the City of Brotherly Love for a long-anticipated visit with my family and friends. And just to make things more interesting, I even managed to surprise a few people – in particular, my stepdad at his 50th birthday party.

Of course, in addition to enjoying the company of my loved ones, I'm also indulging in some of the foods I'd been pining for and shopping for some items to keep my clothes and shoes company inside my suitcase on the plane ride back to Argentina.

I know my time here will fly by, so I'm bent on making the most of it.

¡Saludos desde EE.UU.! // Greetings from the USA!

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Product Branding in Argentina

With numerous multinational corporations peddling their products here in Argentina, scores of familiar brands such as Dove, Oreo, Hellmann's, Colgate, Gillette, Raid, Glade, Pampers and Pantene compete for consumers' attention and pesos in the local supermercado.

In some cases, your favorite products might be hiding in plain sight right there on the shelf because those clever marketers have rebranded the name and/or logo to make the item more appealing to the sensibilities of Argentine consumers. 

Here's a sample of some products that have undergone a branding transformation for the Argentine market:

Pledge – Blem/GloCot [SC Johnson & Son]
Tide – Ace [Procter & Gamble]
Clorox – Ayudín [The Clorox Company]
Snuggle – Vivere/Comfort [Unilever]
Crystal Light – Clight [Kraft]
Surf – Skip [Unilever]
Degree – Rexona [Unilever]
Sunsilk – Sedal [Unilever]
Vive – Elvive [L'Oréal]

By the way, if you find yourself in a pharmacy or other store where you must ask for the product instead of merely plucking it off the shelf, make sure you pronounce the name in Spanish-inflected English or no one will have a clue what you're asking for. Tragically, the pronunciation of some brand names is often a shot in the dark. Colgate, for example, is pronounced according to the rules of Spanish [kohl-GAH-tay] while Dove is pronounced closer to how we say it in English.

Mr. Clean vs. Mr. Músculo

It's also amusing to compare the differences in brand mascots across cultures. Let's put Mr. Clean (U.S.) and Mr. Músculo (Argentina) head-to-head to see how they size up.

Mr. Clean Image [Mr. Clean takes the no-nonsense approach to cleaning.]

Procter & Gamble's iconic Mr. Clean, with his gleaming bald head, impressive biceps and gold hoop earring, looks as though he can get the job done. According to our friends at Wikipedia, "the original model for the image of Mr. Clean was a United States Navy sailor from the city of Pensacola, Florida." Mr. Clean has been banishing grime since 1957, but he's yet to travel to South America.

Mr. Musculo [Mr. Músculo, a science geek with six-pack abs, has the answer to your most difficult dirt dilemmas.]

Mr. Músculo, brought to you by the folks at SC Johnson & Son, sports washboard abs, a white lab coat and a slicked-back 'do. With the slogan "La ciencia de la limpieza difícil," it appears that Mr. Músculo favors the brains over brawn approach to cleaning, though his physique says otherwise. The brand was created in 1986, but the superhero mascot didn't come about until late 2008; Mr. Músculo is clearly an upstart. The Mr. Músculo brand is sold throughout Latin America.

For those of you who live abroad, how important is brand recognition for you? Do you find that you gravitate toward familiar brands that remind you of home?

[Mr. Clean image © Procter & Gamble / Mr. Músculo image © SC Johnson & Son]

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