Often when travelling, things are unexpected, never exactly what you think. We stop for a cup of coffee or tea, and see people drinking a layered drink. At first I thought it might be cafe con leche, but when I order that it comes in a small cup and is mixed. A latte maybe? But that isn't on the list of available drinks.
So I finally asked at one of the little spots we were stopped at. I asked what is the drink in the tall glass. "Uno cappuccino," was the response. Steamed milk, espresso poured on a spoon so it gently floats on top of the milk, milk foam rising to the top, and then sprinkled with powdered chocolate and sometimes some cinnamon.
I figured I'd try it. Turns out to be great. And it actually has more milk than the cafe con leche, and is more like a latte. (Even though a cappuccino in Italy is usually an espresso with milk foam but no liquid milk.)
We drove from Mar del Plata to Tres Arroyos, a pretty town with some really old buildings. We spent a night there, and then headed onward.
The traditional border for the Patagonia region in Argentina is the Rio Colorado (which I've marked on the map at the end). We drove over the riverbed, which was nearly dry. The bridge is huge, however, so apparently the river is stronger during the rainy season.
Just past the river there was a biological check point. It isn't really called that - it looks like a toll booth, but inspectors come out to check for plant or animal products that travellers might be bringing with them. They're trying to ensure that no invasive species are brought into the region, no insects or plants that might change the balance of nature in this ecosystem.
We drove up and they asked that we open the trunk so they could inspect it. They looked in and saw that we only have luggage. And they gave us a piece of paper explaining the need for keeping insects and such out of the region.
It was a quiet afternoon, so I figured I could ask questions about the river and such. I asked if the river was low this year, and they said, it has been dry. They said in winter there will be more rain, the river will be stronger and bigger. I asked if el Rio Colorado is the boundary for Patagonia, they said yes. Then they welcomed us to Patagonia, which gave us a good laugh.
Much of this whole part of Argentina is referred to as "pampas," which in the Quechua language means "plains" - just like the plains of the central region of the USA and Canada. Quechua is both the language and people who are indigenous to much of South America, although there are different groups and dialects under the broad grouping of the Quechua. And yes, this is believed to be the modern version of what the Inca spoke in Peru.
Anyway, the pampas regions tend to be grassy plains with various grasses native to these areas. Best known is the pampas grass, the tall feathery stalks and tall green spears having become common ornamentals in various parts of North America.
This tall grass is used in yards and gardens here as well, but it grows wild all over this part of Argentina. We see clumps of pampas around houses and gas stations, but we also see large areas in the middle of nowhere along the highway, huge areas of pampas grass.
It's really beautiful, and much softer than it looks. The feather tufts feel cottony, without any scratchiness or stiffness. Almost like dandelions once they've gone to seed. Just very soft and delicate.
This is part of the ecosystem that the biological inspectors are protecting.
We managed to drive all the way to Carmen de Patagones, a historic town some 900 km (560 miles) from Buenos Aires. This town was founded in 1779 by the explorer Francisco de Viedma, who was exploring and colonizing Patagonia for Spain. Carmen is a pretty little town, although it's a bit depressed these days. We walked around a bit, trying to find a hotel. Everything available was, well, sad and not worth the price asked. We had asked directions of a nice woman police who was directing traffic for a running race, and when we asked directions for leaving town, she asked if we had found the hotels she sent us to. I explained in my limited Spanish that they weren't nice, so she suggested we drive across the river to Viedma, the larger town and regional capital. So we went ahead and did that, and found a decent hotel.
Viedma, it turns out, is a pretty town with great views across the river, looking at the cathedral in Carmen. There's a small ferry that goes back and forth, carrying only passengers. Viedma has a beautiful riverwalk, a nice park in the center of town, and several buildings that house the regional governmental offices and agencies. Plus there are orange trees lining the streets, and parrots flying overhead as well as nesting in the park.
We decided to stay two nights here and enjoy the town. Because the point of a road trip is to appreciate the drive, the journey, the travel - not just a final destination.
One very odd thing about Argentinian Spanish is the pronunciation. There's a definite slurring of "s" and "z" sounds so that there are more "sh" sounds added to the words. "Desayunos" (breakfast) becomes "deshayunosh." Numbers like six (sies) or seven (siete) are now "shies" and "siete."
Even more confusing is that the double L is also pronounced with a "sh" sound! For example, the word for road or street is "calle," usually prounced more like "cah-yay" in most Spanish-speaking countries (like Spain, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Peru, Chile to name a few). But here, when we ask directions, we're told to walk X number of "cash-yays" and then turn. Or Richard wanted cake with chocolate ice cream, but the menu said vanilla (vainilla, pronounced "vie-nee-yah") - so the waiter told him the dessert came with "vai-nee-shah."
We're totally baffled by this anomaly. I don't know it this is the influence of being close to Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken - because Portuguese has more "sh" and "zjh" sounds than Spanish.
Or maybe this is just how Spanish developed on this side of the Andes, in the 500 or so years since the Spanish arrived.
We don't know.
It certainly makes speaking with people much more challenging! Our Spanish is improving, but this unique pronunciation quirk has definitely set us back!