Monday, February 23, 2015

Experiencing Nature, Food, Drinks and Dance
From Buenos Aires To Brazil

Hiking down the Gold Trail in the Brazilian rain Forest
with Michael and Harry from Paraty Explorer Tours.

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We Live Not on Food Alone
My blog is mostly about nutrition and the healthy recipes I create to help us all live a long and healthy life. I kicked off the year with my post on the Top 20 Foods For Health and Longevity. But there are other things beside food that will also help enrich and extend your life. These are the things that not only feed your body but additionally feed your soul - like adventures, dancing, music, getting close to nature, friendships, good wine, and wonderful life experiences, to name a few. 

On a quest to feed our soul, last year we took an adventure to Australia and New Zealand. And we just kicked off 2015 with a wonderful trip to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. 

It Takes More than Two to Tango
Doug and I flew to Buenos Aires to learn the Argentine tango. After taking several private lessons from Cristian Correa and Miriam Copello we quickly realized that we should have started these lessons about 30 years ago. It takes a lifetime of dancing to master this dance. But we totally enjoyed the experience and really loved Cristian and Miriam but don't look for us any time soon on Dancing with the Stars.

My tango lesson with Cristian Correa

To really appreciate how the tango is done, we went to a typical Argentine Milonga club called Salón Canning, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires. Notice, no one is smiling - this is a very serious dance.

Salón Canning Milonga, in the Palermo district

Argentina's Food and Wine - Meat and Malbec
Argentinians LOVE their beef although I've read that their consumption of beef is declining. At it's peak Argentinians consumed over 200 pounds for every man, woman and child. Although it's fallen to almost half that amount (still twice the US consumption), by the looks of most restaurant menus, you would think that it is all anyone there eats. I asked my tour guide if there was nice seafood available (given that they are on the ocean) and he just said, "Sure, but no one eats it. We eat steak!) The consumption of beef is very cultural and although there is some growing interest in vegetarian diets, beef will not significantly disappear from their diet. It would be like Italians giving up pasta. 

Perhaps they eat beef because it goes so well with their wonderful Malbec wine. And yes, we sampled a bit of that. One day for lunch, the waiter wanted us to try this particular glass of Malbec. After mentally converting pesos to dollars (but paying in dollars - they LOVE them and restaurants will give you a big discount for them), we figured it was $11 a glass - kind of pricey. Well, what the heck, you only live once so we ordered some. We were shocked to discover that for $11 you got the entire bottle. And it was fabulous! I can't imagine anywhere in the US where you would get a wonderful bottle of wine of this quality in a restaurant for only $11. Besides wine, nothing else was much of a bargain.

Nicasia Vineyards Red Blend
90% Malbec, 6% Cab, 4% Petit Verdot
12 months in French Oak

So a warning to traveling vegans, the wine in Argentina is wonderful but you may have a difficult time finding meatless and dairy-free options. Argentina was ranked one of the worst countries for meat-free travelers by Lonely Planet several years back but new restaurants are opening all the time. Check HappyCow eating guide for the latest vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Buenos Aires.  

Uruguay - What a Surprise!
After enjoying ourselves in Buenos Aires, we boarded our Azamara Cruise ship and headed for Uruguay. I have to be totally honest - I knew nothing about Uruguay before last month. I don't think I could have even pointed it out on a map. So you could just imagine how surprised I was to arrive in Punta del Este with it's fancy yachts, gorgeous beaches and quirky art. 

Mano de Punta del Este - a sculpture on the beach
by Chilean artist Mario Irarrazabal.

We were just as pleased when we visited Montevideo, Uruguay's capital.

You won't find a Starbucks around here. The national drink is yerba maté, a very stimulating and rejuvenating tea made and served in a hollow gourd. You drink it through a metal straw to strain out the leaves. We bought this cute gourd and straw to take home. Doug and I are no strangers to this drink since we live within walking distance to Guayaki, a US company that makes yerba maté.

Being wine grape growers and wine makers, we headed out to Varela Zarranz, one of the oldest wineries in Uruguay. We were very interested in tasting their wine that is made from Tannat grapes, which you don't usually  find in the U.S. 

Tannat vineyard with split trellis

They certainly get a lot of use from their equipment. This enormous oak barrel is over 100 years old. At 10,500 liters (around 2,800 gallons), it is 50 times bigger than barrels typically used in winemaking. They use regular-size, new oak barrels for their premium tannat wine and utilize these big ones for their production, low-cost wines.

We got to taste a number of their wines and I will say, the ones made from 100 percent tannat are "muy fuerte". They are a lot easier to drink when in a blend with merlot.

Wine tasting in Montevideo

Paraty, Brazil
One of the highlights of our trip was the hike down the Gold Trail in the Brazilian town of Paraty. We took a private tour with Paraty Explorer with our wonderful guides Michael and Harry. The rainforest was absolutely breathtaking. 

At the bottom of the trail, there was a waterfall and a cachaça factory. Cachaça is a rum-like liquor distilled from sugar cane. Some of it is aged in oak and enjoyed like a find whiskey and some is not aged very much and used to make a popular Brazilian drink called Caipirinha - we'll get to that later. This is clearly not a health food but it was very interesting to see them make this local and traditional liquor.

Distillation unit for cachaça
Different grades of cachaça

Finally, a Simple Meal and Cold Beer
We ate some fancy meals on the cruise ship and at some very nice restaurants in the various cities but my favorite meal was in this very casual restaurant in Paraty where I could finally have a simple meal of salad, rice, beans, kale and the best beer I've ever had. Perhaps it was because I had just hiked for hours in a hot, humid rainforest and this beer was served ice cold. But aside from that, Brazil sure knows how to make good beer!

My favorite restaurant. You could get lots of veggies, beans and rice (BBQ'd meat too, of course) and they just weighed your plate to bill you.

Rio de Janeiro
Rio was the end of the line for our cruise but just the beginning of a new adventure for us. 

Dancing at Rio Scenarium
Although we made this trip to Buenos Aires to learn to tango, we fell in love with the samba in Rio. After taking lessons on the cruise ship, we decided to head out to Rio Scenarium , a three-story nightclub with two live samba bands. I've never seen anything like it.

Cooking in Rio 
Doug and I booked a 4-hour cooking class with the Brazilian chef, Simone Almeida. Simone interjected lots of interesting stories about Brazil that were just as fun as the cooking class. Our favorite being that women in Brazil will wear the same bikini that they wore when they were 18 no matter how their bodies may have changed. We experienced this first hand the following day while on the Copacabana beach. I need not say more.
In our cooking class we learned to flambé vegetables, make Caipirinhas, cook Moqueca (a seafood stew with fresh sole, lime, onions, red peppers, and coconut milk), and Farofa de Banana (bananas coated in a cassava flour).

Me with chef Simone
Moqueca, rice and farofa de banana. on the right
Caipirinhas made with lime, fresh passion fruit,
sugar and a shot of cachaça.

Farmers' Market
On Sunday, just around the corner from our hotel on the Copacabana beach, was a beautiful farmers market. The fruit was to die for. For lunch we ate 3 enormous papayas - we were in heaven!

Farmers' market
Beautiful, ripe papayas


Carnival 2015
We planned our trip to enjoy pre-carnival and to be gone before the craziness began. Locals and tourists begin celebrating weeks before Carnival and it was easy to get caught up in the energy and excitement!

Can't Leave Rio Without...
On our last day, we headed to see the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. It was totally fogged in but right before the tour guide was gathering us to leave, the clouds parted and there it was - in all it's glory. It was magnificent!

Adiós Argentina and Uruguay. Adeus Brazil. Thanks for the wonderful memories that will continue to feed our soul forever. We will be back!


woodwarddc said...

Thanks Joanne and Doug. Lovely photos and story. Thank you for not posting the 'older' ladies wearing their teenage bikinis! :-)

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Ha! I thought I would spare you that detail.