Author: seabeard

Farewell, dear friend

Hey… You sitting there!

I normally don’t just strike up a conversation with a stranger and introduce myself, but you must have noticed it too – we bear a startling resemblance to one another!

Except, you seem so much more relaxed… so much more laid back than me.  How do you stay so stress-free and careless?  Your biggest worry appears to be making sure that fantastically even, bronze tan doesn’t turn into an itchy peely burn.

And that BEARD – I’ve always wanted to grow one like that but just haven’t had the opportunity.  You know how it is… work and stuff.  Or maybe you don’t.  Maybe you just go where the tides take you, travel with the wind at your back and the sun in your face.  Never really thinking about anything more than one simple thing – enjoying life.

Well, anyway, I must be going.  People to see, things to do… But it was really nice to meet you.  Maybe someday, somewhere we’ll bump into each other again.  Stranger things have happened, you know.  So, farewell dear friend… at least for now.  I’ll miss you.

By the way, what does your shirt mean?

so many wines, so little time…

After spending 5 days tasting in one of the most laid back places we’ve been to in the last 6 months, we finally hopped on a bus to Tucuman (and then almost immediately to San Juan) with our sense memories overflowing.

Here are some of the highlights and recommendations:

Bodega Jose L. Mounier (also confusingly referred to as Finca Las Nubes) – this small to medium sized producer makes a wide range of entry level wines labelled as Finca Las Nubes, including a great P/Q torrontes and some OK reds.  They also produce a higher end blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat labelled as Jose L. Mounier.  It is a solid wine, but in this price range the bottles are remarkably good and better wines can be found.  Still, it’s a perfect compliment for a big fat bife de chorizo.  Price at winery A$80.

Bodega Porvenir – medium sized by Cafayate standards, the winery produces about 20,000 bottles each of their 6 flagship Laborum brand reds.  The Tannat has garnered some acclaim in the UK, being touted by the sommelier at Gaucho.  But I found the syrah and malbec to be really interesting expressions of the respective grapes.  Both can be overwhelmingly jammy and rich at times, almost sticky in the mouth.  Yet Porvenir wines are refreshing and balanced, with an unreal purity of fruit.  And a ridiculous deal when purchased at the bodega.  Price at winery A$60 (everywhere else A$80-100).

Bodega Tacuil – we were unable to visit because the winery is near Molinos, a town inaccessible by public transport.  However, we found this bottle in a small shop in Cafayate so gave it a try.  Apparently this is yet another place that claims to have the highest vineyard in the world, a very popular tag line around Salta.  What I can say about this malbec and cabernet sauvignon blend is that it is probably the biggest, fattest, most complex and tastiest wine I’ve ever had for the price.  “RD” is about halfway up their quality scale and it was amazing.  We had to let it breathe for about 1.5 hours, but once it opened up and settled down – wow!  Tried pairing it with a bife de chorizo, but honestly the food was no match.  Price at tiny local shop in town A$55.

Bodega Tukma – we heard about this one at a wine bar on our last night.  The winery doesn’t have tastings, so the wine bar offers its wine at a fractional mark up to allow visitors to taste.  The torrontes was along the same lines as San Pedro de Yacochuya… so refined and polished that it somehow misses out on the refreshing party in your mouth that makes drinking torrontes so much fun.  But it’s a fantastic wine;  something along the lines of an unoaked, more refreshing version of a white Bordeaux.

Some of Cafayate's finest

Some of Cafayate's finest

El Almacen Wine Bar – just off the main square in Cafayate, this place is a great choice for sampling some of the area’s finest quaffers.  The profit margin is minimal – it’s all about getting people to try the wines.  They even have some of the illusive San Pedro de Yacochuya wines by the glass!  Patience is a virtue though;  officially it opens around 8pm but in reality it depends what mood the owner is in which, in turn, depends on the recent football results.

View from the couch

View from the couch

All things considered, it was a great visit in a really cool little town.  While the area is a bit of a pain to get to from the north, it is definitely worth more than the cursory day-trip from Salta many tour operators run.  Just hop on an El Indio bus in Salta, enjoy the ridiculously stunning Quebrada de Cafayate along the way, and settle in for some truly chill wine country.

All things considered, it was a great visit in a really cool little town.  While the area is a bit of a pain to get to from the north, it is definitely worth more than the cursory day-trip from Salta many tour operators run.  Just hop on an El Indio bus in Salta, enjoy the ridiculously stunning Quebrada de Cafayate along the way, and settle in for some truly chill wine country.
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Worst Overnight Bus Movies Ever

So a few nights ago on a bus from Ica to Arequipa, on the fancy Cruz Del Sur, they were showing United 93.  It’s not that United 93 is a bad movie, but for me it’s not the kind of thing you want to have going on while eating your scraps of carne, sipping Inca Cola and preparing for some semi-reclined sleep.

Also high on the W.O.B.M.E. (pronounced “wohb-mee”) list – the incredibly depressing movie about a woman dying of Alzheimer’s we saw from Lima to Huaraz.  Who is picking these things and can the bus company just offer them a few sessions of counselling?

Of course, the USA is not immune.  Although not on a night bus (actually, it was a very early morning bus making it arguably worse), the NY-Philly Chinatown bus had the bright idea of showing David Lynch’s Blue Velvet!

A scene from Blue Velvet

A scene from Blue Velvet

Anyway, so as not to finish on a low note, in a shining example of fantastic long distance bus movie fare – ANY bus in China.  I mean, seriously, who doesn’t like hour after hour of sword fighting and martial arts!  Honourable mention for Kangaroo Jack as well.

Now for a little audience participation… what is your best/worst long distance bus movie experience?  Winner gets a partially used pack of Gravol and almost new ear plugs for your next vacation.

Wine shopping abroad – a primer

Who among us doesn’t like a tipple of wine whilst on holiday?  This question is, of course, rhetorical… since everybody does!  But which wines are the “best” deals is a question as old as the fermented grape juice itself.

My reflex answer is drink local – sometimes the best wines never make it out of the production area and usually are very competitively priced.  However, this was challenged recently on our trip to a Panama City wine shop.  In the wine shop, not only were there NO strictly local wines to choose from,  but the French and US wine was ridiculously cheap – ridiculous as in cheaper than in France and the US.   But why?  Here goes my theory…

Reason 1)  The required profit margin on a bottle of wine in the US (or insert name of other “developed” wine producing country here) to cover rent, employee salaries, insurance, corporate tax, etc. is many times more than other places in the world.

Reason 2) The cost per bottle to ship wine overland long distances within the US can sometimes be more than bulk shipping by sea along traditional shipping routes

So, for the above reasons, Panama City really hits on all cylinders for drinking imported wine from traditionally expensive areas…  and if you don’t believe me, here are two examples (both including tax):

2007 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon – $55

2002/2003/2004 Hugel “Gentil” – $10 each

Anyway, moral of the story is: don’t automatically assume imported wine is a rip off simply because it’s imported.  Sometimes it can be a better deal than you think!

Hunting down the world’s largest flower

Sometimes when you travel, cool experiences and opportunities find you. One such opportunity came when we wanted to break up a long overland haul from Penang to Pulau Perhentian Kecil in northern Malaysia. Roughly at the midpoint, the Cameron Highlands seemed like a nice change of pace from the beach bumming and scorching hot weather we’d been enjoying for the last month or so. A quick read through our guide book told us we could expect nice cool weather, tea plantations, strawberries and some decent trekking/wild life spotting. After doing a little more research on things to do, we found out that Rafflesias, aka, the world’s largest flowers and pretty rare, were native to certain areas of the Highlands.

When we arrive, we discover that the flower takes 7 years to grow and then is only in bloom for 5 days before it dies.

But, when we arrive at Father’s Guesthouse, the owner informs us that there was a very large bloom that was about to start and we could hike about an hour into the jungle to see it. So, the next morning we set out on a guided tour to have a look.

At the end of a wet, muddy, hot, sticky and sweaty hour trek through the jungle and into the mountains, here is what we found:

This rafflesia flower had an 80cm diameter

This rafflesia flower had an 80 cm diameter