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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wine and Waterfalls Womens Tour of South America

Imagine six ladies setting out on a whirlwind adventure of Brazil, Argentina and Chile on the Wine and Waterfalls tour with Voyages Millefleurs Travel Inc. What an adventure! As I remember this trip I am again fascinated with the diverse itinerary... we included the sub tropical rainforest, some 3000 horses in a small town at one time... and some great wine tasting, of course!
We ladies joined in a small travel group through a cooperation of Women With Wings with Voyages Millefleurs Travel Inc. We were a diverse group but we all meshed well and brought new perspectives to our travel experiences. We had some times where the laughter never ceased and other times when we were quiet in awe of the amazing sights we saw before us.
After we finally obtained the correct visas and paperwork in our passports for we Canadians to enter Brazil, we were off to Sao Paulo. We chose a couple of days in this huge city and practiced our Portuguese and ate real Brazilian churrasceria BBQ. The food was amazing and the people friendly; the best was when we were handed off from one person to the next in their attempt to help us get to the downtown area! Thanks to all of you, whomever you were! I can´t forget the local bus driver either, somehow we got our point across with the help of a few locals shouting directions!
Next we were off to Iguazu Falls, the UNESCO World Heritage site on the border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. As we had our Brazil Visas we were able to see the other half of the falls which we had not experienced before. We had a perfect day of sun after it had been raining, which brought out all sorts of monitor lizards and iguanas, catching some rays just as we tourists had intended! The toucans and the raccoon like coatis´ came out to say hello as well. That evening was spent around the pool with some Brazilian caipiriƱas to cool off our sunburns!

The next day we spent on the Argentine side of the falls on the Gran Aventura circuit. This tour includes a jeep safari and a walk above and below the falls. The best part was the speed boat ride under, yes under the careening water! This was a highlight as we felt so alive by being in the thundering, cascading mist on the border of three countries. This really is a magical place but soon we were off for more adventures in Argentina.

We had a few days to explore the capital, Buenos Aires. We saw live tango in the streets in La Boca and met watched some dancers that we knew while having beer and empanadas... later they took us upstairs of the restaurant for a private tango lesson with our beautiful friend Trinidad and five ¨tango taxis¨, unforgettable! We topped off this tango themed day with a dinner and show at the ritzy upbeat Piazzola Tango Show downtown. Other highlights of Buenos Aires included shoe shopping on Avenida Santa Fe, getting massages and pedicures to go with our new shoes and visiting Eva Peron Duarte´s family plot in beautiful Recoleta Cemetery.

One hour north of Buenos Aires is a town called San Antonio de Areco, and here is where the national annual Tradition Day activities are held. Almost every Gaucho (Argentine cowboy) meets here once a year for the parades and horse drills that are everything ¨criollo¨or traditional. The town filled with some 3000 horses on the Saturday afternoon as the gauchos were showing off their different breeds or ¨strings of horses¨. We ate like queens at the asados or BBQs in the park and learned to dance the traditional way with the gauchos in full olden day suits and spurrs! For the rancher women in our group, these three days of Argentine history reminded us of the wide open spaces of the plains of Canada.

Although the wine flowed freely up to this moment in the trip, the next leg took us to Mendoza, Argentina for three days of wine touring in Malbec country. We stayed at a tranquil Parador del Angel while branching out to tour wineries just south of the city. We took a carriage ride in the vineyard at Bodega Tapiz and learned about traditional irrigation in the region, we learned how to make the staple food, empanadas, from fresh ingredients and we tasted some liquors at Tapaus, a new distillery with a modern concept. On a wim, we met some new friends at Mairena winery and discovered one of the best Bonardas in Mendoza! As our visit to Argentina came to a close we did some shopping for leather and souveneirs... next stop is Santiago, Chile!

One of the most memorable parts of this tour is the day trip across the second highest mountain range in the world, the Andes. We boarded our seats in the top front of the double decker bus for the approx. 360km, 7 hour trip up and over Los Libertadores pass. The views were breathtaking as we climbed up the valley flanked by purple mountains to catch a glimpse of Aconcagua, the highest summit in this range. After crossing the border into Chile we strapped in for the ¨caracoles¨ or the 30 some switchbacks winding down the mountain, sitting in the top front really made us weak in the knees!!

Near Santiago we continued our wine tourism in the Maipo Valley at Concha y Toro winery, the third largest wine exporter in the world! I also had the pleasure of having worked for this company so it was nostalgic to go back and see old friends and the devil himself in his cellar, the Casillero del Diablo. After a long gourmet lunch at Septimo Cielo in Pirque we made our way back to centro Santiago to the Teatro Municipal where we caught the ballet, La Bella Durmiante or Sleeping Beauty, wonderful!
We continued to tour around the city of nearly six million before we had to take off to the airport. The city is steeped in history and filled with beautiful architecture although it is the fastest developing city in South America. We had a wonderful lunch on historic Calle Londres to reminisce about our adventures and to say goodbye before heading back to our own corners of Canada. Thanks for a grand experience, gals! I won´t forget this one in a long time.

Natascha Radchenko
Spanish and French Guide
Voyages Millefleurs Travel Inc. ¨Your Window on the World of Wine
(& Waterfalls, & Tradition, & Tango and... Adventure!)¨

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