Tag Archives: South America

Shot of the Week

A traffic circle in La Paz, Bolivia, by TKGO

Residents wait for public transportation in La Paz, Bolivia. Privately-operated white vans are most common, and work similarly to a public bus system.

Tara for TKGO

View from Sugarloaf

As New York gets colder, I can’t help but think how Karina’s new hemisphere is heating up. And so, my mind wanders to the beach town of South America: Rio de Janeiro.

On the gondola ascending Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro

Sugarloaf is one of Rio’s most famous landmarks after Christ the Redeemer. Tourists can take gondolas to different tiers on the mountain for these killer views of the city. Above, one of the gondola bases is visible as we ascend to the top. Below, Christ the Redeemer shows himself on the tallest peak directly in front of me, while to my right, another arm of the city swings into the ocean, surrounded by sailboats.

The view from atop Sugarloaf in Rio de JaneiroLooking to the right: The view from atop Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro

I know, I was thinking the same thing: What is a sugarloaf? Through the 19th century, brown cane sugar was packaged and bought in a huge cone and broken off in pieces to melt in your coffee. While I don’t think the Brazilian mountain bares any resemblance to a British Triangular Trade product, no one who gets to the top will remain concerned about the mountain for long. The views from its summit are clearly the reason it’s famous.

Resting on a bench atop Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro

Lazing on one of these benches with a Matte Leão and a friend is what lucky Rio locals call heaven in stay-cation form.

Tara for TKGO

Double Take: Two Weekends in Bariloche

The timeless questions: Do I travel with friends or family? With natives or tourists? Finally, an answer.

While it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, Argentina is in the dead of winter — making Bariloche one of the hottest tourist destinations. Think of Bariloche as the Colorado of Argentina: Whether you go to ski in the winter or hike in the summer, it’s an active place loved by the Argentinean people for its natural beauty (and heavy chocolate production). I visited in the summer on two separate weekend jaunts, once with my family and once with a huge group of study abroad students. So which group offered the best trip? I wouldn’t trade one for the other.

Weekend #1: American family vacation

With my two parents and grandmother, I expected a touristy trip. Private tour guides are a dime a dozen, and they’ll haul you to chocolate shops galore and all the spots off the highway with the great views. This highway pit stop provided a great vantage point of our posh hotel: the Llau Llau.

The Llau Llau is the creme de la creme of Argentine hotels. When I told my co-workers at Radio Jai (where I translated articles for the web site) that I was going, their jaws dropped. I had to promise to post photos to Facebook so they could see after I’d left Buenos Aires. Lucky for Americans, the exchange rate makes it affordable. As a consequence, only very wealthy Argentineans vacation there, and most of the guests are European. Our suite had three rooms (living room, bedroom, bath) and a porch. Gran and I had a little too much fun with this photo shoot of the room…

We took a chairlift to the summit of a nearby mountain for a spectacular view of the city of Bariloche and the surrounding area…

…and stopped in the city of Bariloche, far from the Llau Llau, where we toured a chocolate shop that made fudge and candies through a clear window for observers. For these two activities, we found four was the perfect number, and 3:1 (of English speakers to Spanish speakers in our group) was the perfect ratio.

Weekend #2: Group travel on an Argentine itinerary

Because it was built for tourism, Bariloche is surprisingly accessible to large groups, assuming you do some planning ahead of time. Still, I had doubts about how much you can get from a place when the entire study abroad program crashes for a weekend, even during the summer low season. When this group ended up touring the same chocolate shop and mounting the same chairlifts, I wished I was with my English-only family again. But no fear — when the director of our COPA study abroad program and Buenos Aires native Mario Cantarini plans the trip with his Argentine co-workers, he does it the way any other Argentinean tourist might. Unlike the luxurious Llau Llau weekend, we spent our days hiking up waterfalls…

…swimming between huge rock formations near the highway…

…and traveling in huge coach buses. While unusually upscale compared to buses in the rest of South America, coach buses are common in Bariloche because of its heavy European and American visitor traffic. Unfortunately, these luxurious things also get stuck easily when landslides block the only road (below). Our porteño city slicker guides laughed and (tried to) help the Bariloche-native bus driver tow the bus out of the mud.

The work was worth the pain. On the other side of the “construction” (read: landslide debris) was Cerro Lopez, a steep hill with terrain that varies from soil to boulders to snow. The hike is between two and three hours, but offers rewarding views every step of the way.

After reaching the little pink house — our rest stop — we paused for lunch and watched the hawks soar overhead as we shared a mate, a traditional Argentine tea-like beverage.

Sometimes you want to vacation like a local, and sometimes you just want to be a tourist with your family. Regardless of your mood, good company — in a group of any size — will guarantee a great trip.

Tara for TKGO

Drinking Wine Like Grown-Ups

For the past couple of months, we’ve been touring the world of wine. We signed up for the weekly, introductory Wine Appreciation “mini course” at Northwestern University’s student center to start drinking wine like adults instead of college kids. Below is a regional run-through of what we learned, as well as descriptions of some of our favorite bottles, most of which cost under $15. This is by no means an exhaustive tour, but you have to start somewhere!

The Basics

  • Hold the glass by the stem so your hand doesn’t warm the wine.
  • White wines in this price range are better when younger (more recently bottled).
  • The term “estate bottled” means the grapes are grown and bottled by the same vineyard. This ensures quality.
  • Reserve (or reserva) means the producers kept it back a year or so to age before distributing it. Drink them right away; there’s no need for extra aging.
  • Gewurztraminer is the current trendy choice in white wine. It’s hearty and aromatic, and is one of the rare few that goes well with Asian cuisines (BYOB, anyone?).


Sparkling and dessert wines at Wine Appreciation, by Karina for TKGO


United States: West Coast
Chardonnay is the most popular grape in America. Pinot noir originated in Burgundy, France, but also grows well in Santa Barbara.
  • Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2008
  • Bonterra Mendocino County 2008
  • Turn Four Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2007
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Washington
You won’t be able to discern the varietal (or type of grape) from the label, which is a departure from wine labeling in the rest of the world. What’s important in France is where the grapes grew and the wine was bottled. French people themselves tend to drink wines from the Loire Valley.
  • Muscadet Henri Poiron 2008, Loire Valley
  • Cotes du Rhone Jean-Luc Colombo 2007
South America
Chilean and Argentine wines are famously delicious and easy on the pocketbook. Malbec is a varietal used in blends all over the world, but Argentina is the only producer to bottle it alone.
  • Santa Ema Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Reserve, Maipo Valley, Chile
  • Terrazas Malbec, 2008 Argentina
Australia and New Zealand
Chiraz is the national grape of Australia. Though rieslings are often German, New Zealand makes some rieslings to reckon with.
  • Yard Dog White Blend 2008 Australia
Sparkling/Dessert Wines:
Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. Anything fizzy made elsewhere is just called sparkling wine. In order from dry to sweetest, the classifications are brut nature, brut, extra dry, sec/dry, demi-sec and doux. Brut is most common, and it’s typically 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay.
  • Method Champenoise Gruet Blanc de Noirs
  • Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Blue Top Champagne Brut

Grab some bottles and start tasting. Cheers!

Tara and Karina for TKGO

2 Filhos de Francisco

You know how sometimes you learn, hear or see something that makes you realize just how big the world is and perhaps how much you still don’t know or haven’t discovered? I think this happens most often with music. In the States we’re obsessed with our pop, rock and hip-hop. We assume everyone else in the world is just as much enamored of it, yet I venture that only a small percentage of Americans have ever heard of Juanes, who is one of the most popular musicians in all of Latin America.

Similarly, I had never heard of Zezé di Camargo & Luciano, let alone their music, when I saw a screening of 2 Filhos de Francisco” (Two Sons of Francisco) last week for my Portuguese language class. Turns out brothers Zezé and Luciano comprise Brazil’s most famous sertanejo (hinterlands or Brazilian country music) duo with more than 22 million records sold. Did you even know there was a such a thing as Brazilian country music? Because I (naively) didn’t. Fun fact: Their 1994 album features a collaboration with the iconic Willie Nelson.

(Below is a video of the duo performing the song that catapulted them to stardom: É O Amor. Translation: It’s love.)

The film, which premiered in 2005, was the highest-grossing movie ever in Brazil and the country’s Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s a true rags-to-riches story about a poor, rural family and a father’s — at times seemingly delusional — dream for his sons to become country music stars. The two-hour movie is beautifully done; it’s touching, surprising and inspiring, but never seems forced. Just as beautiful is the stunning scenery of Brazil’s lush, open countryside.

“2 Filhos de Francisco” is a film one can appreciate on many different levels, whether for pure entertainment, a gripping story, a social commentary on the country or the authentic representation of Brazilian culture, all of which make it universally appealing. And as expected, the movie has a great soundtrack.

Below is the trailer for the film, sans subtitles, unfortunately, but I’m confident you’ll get the gist.

Karina for TKGO

A TKGO Thanksgiving

We are thankful for…

  • Northwestern’s Intercampus shuttle, which gets us into one of the country’s most vibrant, tasty cities — Chicago — in record time and for free.
  • Mayan hot chocolate, particularly at ice skating rinks.
  • Flights that aren’t delayed or canceled.
  • European scarves that cost five euros on the street but still manage to keep us warm and looking trendy.
  • WordPress for blogging made easy.
  • The last year of our lives, which for Tara meant living in Buenos Aires, exploring South America and then months in New York City. For Karina that involved living in Barcelona, exploring Europe and then months in New York City. (We realize how lucky we are.)
  • Happy Ending Lounge, our favorite hipster, grab-bag springtime nightspot in New York City.
  • Our crazy, wonderful, multicultural families. And each other, of course!


TKGO at Happy Ending


Tara and Karina for TKGO