23rd January
written by Bloom

South America isn’t the easiest place to be Jewish, but with some communities and fellow travelers spread across the continent, we didn’t wander alone. We started in Lima where the local community numbers, from memory, about 1500 – half of what it was ten years ago. Their main synagogue, which was distinguished only by the fact it has no distinguishing features on the outside of its fortress like perimeter, was sparsely attended even though there was a bar mitzvah.  Of those that did attend, most of the men barely utilized their siddurs, while most of the women did not even bother taking one. With perhaps three people in the shule under 35, the future does not seem bright for the Lima community. On Friday night we were hosted by the Rabbi, an Israeli who took on the post for five years despite not knowing any Spanish. On Saturday we were treated to a an extravagant gourmet Kiddush where guests were presented with champagne by white tuxedo wearing waiters, only further highlighting our our shabby backpacker attire.

Cuzco: Highest Israeli to oxygen ratio outside the Himalayas

Israelis tend to travel in packs so that you often encounter one or two in a given place… or enormous hordes. In Huacachina we met swarms of Israelis who would scream at the dune buggy drivers in Hebrew. In our next stop, Arequipa, there was not an Israeli in sight.

Next stop Cuzco, home to one of the most popular traveler Chabads in the world. What first shocked me about Cuzco Chabad was that it hidden away behind metal security doors.  What shocked me more was that it is a complete dump.  My previous experience with large traveler Chabads was in Bangkok, where I spent  Shavuot 2005 in a prominent, immaculate and highly air-conditioned complex with hundreds of Israeli backpackers. Chabad Cuzco however is a ramshackle courtyard style Peruvian apartment block where Shabbat meals are held in the central yard, which I imagine would be not much fun when it snows. There were around 150 guests for Shabbat, down from their high season peak of 400. Almost all of the attendees were Israelis who of course all knew each other from hanging out at other Chabads in South America. There are all types that gather at a South American Chabad: the religious, the secretly religious, the formerly religious, and the regular Israelis who simply want to be in a place where they won’t need to interact with anyone who isn’t Israeli. One of the more interesting Israelis was a quiet, unremarkable post army guy who proceeded to do an excellent job correcting kriat hatorah… without even opening a Chumash.

Now there are many people who are uncomfortable with kiruv. I am not such a person. In fact, I welcome attempts to bring fellow Jews closer to our tradition, provided it is done in an honest and straightforward manner where everyone is treated like adults. What makes Chabad Cuzco so awkward is that they so desperately want to mekarev these crowds of Israelis, it’s just that they are so damn bad at it.

Before beginning the kiruv, the rabbi stood up to welcome everybody to the Shabbat meal. He then delivered a long list of safety warnings such as, ‘people will deliberately rent you broken  and dangerous motorbikes and then charge you for the repairs’, and ‘the three day white water rafting is not safe all, people have died including Israelis.’ After the warnings one of the shlichim stood up to lead a song, which I personally think is a welcome feature at any Shabbat table.  What song did he choose? A little tzur mishelo maybe, a dror yikra perhaps? No, instead he insisted on leading, in English, a semi responsive reggae style chant about ‘waiting for the moshiach man.’ The second song was just as good, with a chorus of ‘I’m going Chassidish, I started speaking Yiddish.’ Unfortunately I can’t remember more of the lyrics of either song but I can assure you they left the listener in fluctuating states of cringing and laughter.

This La Paz optician really wants you to thank God

Now this is where I think they went wrong. Firstly, no one had ever heard of these songs, which makes it hard to get some group ruach happening.  Secondly, the songs weren’t actually about Shabbat or Judaism for that matter, they were only about Chabad. Thirdly, everyone there was Israeli ( I joked that Ilana and the shlichim were the only people in the room who didn’t serve in the army), so why would you try to sing song in English? Kiruv is like being a good DJ, you’ve got to know your audience.  In any case, most of said Israeli crowd left before the end of the meal and did not return for Saturday lunch.

Where we most would have needed a Chabad was in Rurrenebaque, Bolivia, where believe it or not you can get jungle and pampas tours in lashon hakodesh.  Unfortunately, the Chabad there had closed down just three weeks earlier as it had run out of money and the visas of the shlichim had expired. Funnily enough, we had met the shlichim, who were clearly meshichistim, at our guest house in Huacachina, where they had proceeded to strip down to their underwear and jump into, in order to use as a mikvah, the lake which exactly zero other people had thought fit for swimming.

Our next Shabbat was in Salta, a city in northern Argentina with a local Jewish community where the Orthodox and Reform shule are neighbours. Upon entering shule on Friday night I was made to lead davening, which was awkward because a) they had their own nusach, b) there was no minyan and c) the guy who asked me to lead, after becoming unhappy with my leading, then stood beside me co-leading for the rest of the service. We then ate with a small group of Israelis, mostly couples, with the wife of the Chabad rabbi.

Salta: Great Chabad in an Argentinian desert of traif

After so many weeks on the road it was strange to see men in black hats and velvet kippahs wandering the streets of Buenos Aires. As already mentioned, the city has a tremendous array of Kosher dining options of which we sampled only a few. While there are many different synagogues in Buenos Aires, the one closest to our apartment was, you guessed it, Chabad.  The Rabbi was a cheerful fellow who was genuinely excited by chasidut. What set him apart from all of the other Rabbis we had encountered is that he believed in our trip. Many religious Jews, including, and sometimes especially, Chabadnikim, cannot understand why anyone would want to wander through strange lands and cultures across the globe. Chabadnikim may find their way to the Amazon’s edge, but they are not ideological travelers. Rather, travelers’ Chabads exist to ameliorate the effects of travel. To protect and shelter the travelling Jew from his hostile surrounds, to provide Jewish home in a place so far from your Jewish home.  And yashar ko’ach to them for it. I am certainly forever grateful for their hospitality. But the Rabbi of Palermo Chabad was different in that he understood the journey for its own sake. He said that one of the mistakes of prewar European Jewry is that they were too reluctant to leave their comfort zone, and  that Avraham’s spiritual journey also began with a physical journey abandoning his homeland. He was pleased to hear that we blessed  ‘ha’oseh ma’aseh bereshit’ at Iguazu Falls and wished us well in spreading light and blessings in all the far flung places we might visit. It was nice to finally be understood as a traveler and a Jew at the same time.

19th January
written by Bloom

The Inca Trail

The Inca trail is really that good! Lonely Planet has a penchant for helping to make a place popular and accessible only to later say how said attraction is now uncool and too touristy. Well some things are touristy because they are world class attractions, and the Inca trail to Macchu Piccu is just that. Over four days it was consistently excellent, with stunning  snow capped peaks and lush green valleys, cloud forests, Inca ruins, 4200m high passes and more. Book early, pay the exorbitant fees and accept no substitute.

Silence in the Pampas

While we encountered many problems with the homosapiens in the Bolivian pampas, the other animal species put on a marvelous show. Cruising down the river you see so many caimen, birds, turtles, and capybara that it starts to lose its thrill until you start seeing the food chain in action, such as caimen chomping on a large white feathered bird or birds eating baby caimen. A clear highlight was the night cruise where we motored up river and out of the darkness hundreds of pairs of crocodilian eyes reflected back at us. It was kind of spooky. And then we turned off the engine and just floated down river with the current. Absolute silence and absolute darkness, save for the dazzlingly starry sky and on occasions, starlight dimly reflected from the eyes of reptiles watching us from the banks. I don’t know when I have ever experienced silent, effortless and indeed carbon neutral transport before, and under that sparkling sky our quarrels gave way to awe.

The Antarctic

Due to the Earth being spherical, our flight from Buenos Aires to Melbourne took us over the Antarctic. Now as an Australian I still get excited by a pile of snow or a frozen puddle on the streets of New York. When the Antarctic ice shelf became visible outside our window it blew my mind. Ice, in sheets metres or kilometers long stretching out as far as the eye can see, and cruising at 35,000 feet in clear Antarctic air, you can see pretty damn far. The ice was, I think, seasonal frozen sea ice but occasionally you could see an iceberg which had broken off the permanent glacial shelf and now gotten stranded the winter pack ice. The view was just wondrous and unlike anything I have ever seen before. For the second time in the trip I blessed ‘ha’oseh ma’aseh bereshit’, ‘the One who makes the works of creation.’

See also: 3 Things to Hate About South America

19th January
written by Bloom

While Ilana is pondering, it’s time for some backposts. South America was great, next post will be three things to love. In the meantime, here are three things I’d like to rant about.

Hostel crises

After travelling in South East Asia I had certain expectations about accommodation. In Vietnam, for a few dollars each, I could share a clean room with a TV, fridge, Air con and a private bathroom. Here we have been staying in what is at the cheaper end of rooms with a private bathroom. These rooms are often dark, poorly ventilated and always without heating, despite the subzero night time temperatures in the Andes. I wouldn’t be so concerned if they didn’t cost so much. Why is hostel after hostel just so much worse than Asia? $US33 a night is too much to pay for a crappy hostel in a place where you can’t drink the water and you have to put your toilet paper in a bin.


Having the right means of payment is a challenge for any traveler. How much cash to carry? What type of cash? Which cards and which banks? This presented a particular challenge in South America.

Now there are some things in South America that are damn expensive. It costs around $1500 for three people to do the Inca trail. Not the kind of cash that I’d feel comfortable carrying around the streets of Cusco, or any city really. Try to pay with credit card and you can get hit with perhaps an 8% fee. I think that’s insulting. If you say you accept credit cards then damn well accept them, and if you have to be difficult then tack on 3%. So now we have to wander the streets looking for Peruvian ATMs that accept foreign cards and dispense US dollars. However such machines don’t just let you withdraw $1000 at a time, you have to do many small withdrawals, each time for a fee of course.

I don’t object to charging prices in US dollars as is common practice for expensive items in countries with volatile currencies. It can save you trying to do arithmetic with large numbers or carrying around huge wads of notes. Never before, however, have I been charged in $US and then had the vendor refuse to accept my American legal tender. $1, $5 and $100 notes may be refused as payment, as are any worn, torn or marked bills. We were told that it was common to be issued a $US note at an ATM and then for that bank to refuse that same note as payment. It was hardly reassuring to know that large banks can be just as dickish. Do they not understand the idea behind paper currency? It’s symbolic value, not literal value! If the US government prints $5 in green ink on a small slip of paper then everyone in the world, except some frustrating Andean folk, understands what that piece of paper is worth. Whether it’s stained or wet or torn, it’s still $US5! Not here Gringo!

Bolivia – It’s not me, it’s you

Now I have been to many poor countries in a number of continents and I think I am reasonably sympathetic to the plight of the world’s downtrodden. Never before, however, have I thought that a country’s people played as significant a part in the shambolic nature of their country. Quite simply, many Bolivians we encountered are just bad at what they do. Order something in a restaurant and you can expect to wait an hour for your food to come, and this not for a soufflé but for a simple vegetarian pizza. On one occasion the waiter never told the kitchen our order. On another occasion our food was missing the ingredients listed on the menu. Time after time they were incapable of even vaguely holding to schedules that they had themselves set. They’ll tell you to meet at 9am for a tour and they won’t be ready till an hour later. They’ll tell you to meet us in the kitchen at 6am for the early breakfast, and then sleep in. Now as someone who is both tardy and a late riser I can totally understand someone not wanting to meet us at 6am. So why didn’t they just say so? In a league of its own, the Pampas tour was punishment for all my years as an under communicator. Not since the army have I been on an ‘organized’ tour and had less idea as to what was going on. And it wasn’t just an issue of language, a Peruvian guest was also at his wits end. Now if you can’t get the little things right, like having a bed for all your guests or making a pizza, it is little wonder there are perhaps only two paved roads in the entire country.

Next up: 3 things to love.

21st September
written by Ilana

I know, I know.  I haven’t written in ages.  This is true.  But I have my reasons.  I will now list them:

  1. Buenos Aires was all about relaxing and doing basically nothing other than consuming steaks and loitering all over the city.  I will write a bit about it below, but I will warn you that there aren’t any really captivating tales, it was just a generally chilled out time.
  2. We have been in Australia since August 26th.  This may seem like the perfect place to catch up on blogging, but the thing is, we have been busy with errands and family time and yuntif.  Also, since I have been back in suburbia the whole travel thing has sort of left my mind and all I want to do is hang out at the mall.  Not the best tone to set for a travel blog.
  3. Do you really want to read about my arguments with Buffy, the Bloom family dog or my love of bowling?  I didn’t think so.

Ok, so I’ve made enough excuses, now I will actually try to write something just to get back into the swing of things, and because I started writing something about Buenos Aires ages ago I figured it should get posted eventually, so, like the editors of the Torah, I will redact it all together into one not so cohesive text.  (No offense meant to the Torah here, just when I think of the word “redact” I automatically think of the word “Torah”)

Alright, so let’s start with Buenos Aires.  First of all, a ginormous thanks to Jessica O who hooked us up with tons of information about BA and a website that lets you search different vacation apartment rentals.  We found an apartment and were told by Jessica and Feiber that this apartment was indeed in THE hip neighborhood (did I just become un-hip by calling a neighborhood hip??), and it was even a bit cheaper than the local hostels, so we rented an apartment for our 6 days in BA.  We were off to an amazing start even before we arrived.  Just knowing that we would be in an apartment of our own brought tears of relief to my travel weary eyes (not literally—but I’m trying to work on my travel writer sappiness here).


To get to Buenos Aires we took another long bus ride.  This time it was 19 hours.  Like our previous bus, it had two levels, and this time we opted to sit in the front row on the top floor, so that even if it was a miserable ride, we would still have a good view of the surrounding area.

Enjoying the fancy bus

When we got on the bus, we already noticed the difference between this bus and the 23 hour bus from hell.  On this bus, the seats moved almost all the way back, and there were nice pillows and blankets on every seat.  A few minutes into the ride, a man offered us drinks and little cakes.  Awesome!  We then watched “Evan Almighty” in Spanish.

Something I didn’t mention about our 23 hour crazy bus was that at around hour 16 they finally put on a movie.  Bloom and I were pretty psyched about this, and waited with bated breath to see what it would be.   The first sign of bad news was when the name flashed on the screen:  “Bad Lieutenant: New Orleans.”  Oh dear.  I had absolutely no interest in this at all.  Whatever, if it was in English I would give it a try.  The movie begins, and we see Nicholas Cage and some other people talking to each other.  In English.  Hooray!  Sadly, my happiness only lasted a millisecond, since approximately one millisecond after the English speaking began, a loud man yelled over the movie in Russian.   For some bizarre reason, this movie was not dubbed over in Russian or in Spanish, but was actually the full English movie with a Russian man reading the screenplay over the actors’ voices.  It was awful and it was very loud, which made little sense since I am almost positive that not one person on that bus was a Russian speaker, so no one was being helped by the loud Russian man reading Nicholas Cage’s parts.  The Russian didn’t appear to be trying.  There was no emotion in his reading, only screaming, and he read all of the male parts.  A Russian woman yelled all of the female roles, just to make it more realistic I guess.

The Russian yelling was so loud that when I tried to listen to my ipod to drown them out, all I could hear was 20% Lady Gaga but still 80% screaming Russians reading a screenplay (yes, I was listening to Lady Gaga and I am not ashamed).  When my Russian hell ended, they put on the movie “Old Dogs,” which was actually in English, but was played so quietly so we could not hear a word Robin Williams was yelling.  I do not think of this as a loss, since this appeared to be one of the worst movies ever made.

Right, so back to our Buenos Aires bus, it was awesome, and featured all kinds of delicacies like movies at a normal volume, blankets, cakes, beverages, nice views, fully reclining chairs, and a vh1 special of top 80’s music videos.  Amazing.


We got to Buenos Aires, and went straight to our apartment.

View of the sunset from the balcony of our BA apartment

The apartment was in fact in a great neighborhood near all sorts of shops and grocery stores, and it had a balcony with a view of the whole city.  For some reason, this was cheaper than any of the hostels in the neighborhood, which made me feel happy as someone who feels guilty spending money.

We admired the apartment, and then went straight to a kosher sushi restaurant for lunch.   While I had not really missed eating meat in Peru and Bolivia, I had missed my weekly sushi fix.  Before I moved to NY, I had never been so into sushi, I thought it was very little food for very much money, but then I discovered sushi lunch specials and my life was changed.  This kosher sushi place was very upscale, and had all sort of fancy sushi rolls, which were delicious, but cost more than a week’s accommodation in La Paz.

For six weeks we backpacked, and on the seventh week was a week of rest.

After having spent six weeks traveling around from attraction to attraction, hostel to hostel, we decided that in Buenos Aires we would just chill out, and treat it like a real vacation instead of backpacking.  We spent the next few days loitering in the streets of Buenos Aires, walking everywhere and enjoying the fact that we had nothing planned other than eating and wandering the city.

Regretting Kosher McDonalds

The abundance of amazing kosher food after weeks of nothing but pasta and rice and occasional food poisoning, was heaven.  There was kosher gelato, kosher steaks, and kosher McDonalds.   Although, Bloom now thinks we need to give tons of tzedakah to some environmental group to offset the carbon footprint and general guilt of eating at McDonalds.  Maybe he’s right, but come on, when there’s a kosher McDonalds outside of Israel you eat in it, and that’s that.

Our first day in Buenos Aires, after wandering through the famous cemetery and the main square, we made our way to the Jewish neighborhood.  All of a sudden every man had a black velvet kippah and every woman a few babies and a shaitel.  When we got there, we realized it was time for dinner, so we went to a restaurant that basically served us an entire cow.  I was so excited to finally eat meat, but sadly, I was like a starving refugee whose stomach is nowhere near ready for meat.  I ate a few bites of steak, and thought I would die, so I left Bloom with the task of eating an entire cow, which he managed to accomplish (over two days), since he may look like a starving refugee, but surprisingly can eat a whole cow, or multiple loaves of bread.  Watching Bloom eat is like watching a magic show.  But I digress…


It turned out there was a chabad (one of many in BA) ten minutes away from our apartment.  We went there Friday morning and spoke to the rabbi who invited us for dinner that night.  Perfect.  Hooray for another non-backpacker infested chabad.  We showed up for shul , but for some reason it didn’t start for an hour after  we got there, so I read the parsha.  Ki Teitze.  Oyvey—the worst!  I read all my least favorite parts of the Torah, and started going into existential crisis mode again.  What is my role as a Jewish feminist woman?  Who am I?  What do I do with texts that I find traumatically disturbing?  How can I read something that says (summarized here) that if an engaged girl is raped in a city, she and the man are both stoned to death, she because she didn’t cry out and he because he violated another man’s wife (property).  Look, I know that it’s more complicated than it seems, that it’s a particular time period, that the Talmud changes things, etc. etc.  But I still can’t help feeling like I’ve been slapped in the face every time I read that pasuk.  I am obviously modernizing and personalizing the pasuk, but I can’t help it, because I feel like rape is so prevalent in the world today, and one of the main issues is that victims are afraid to “cry out” during and after the attack.   It’s weird because I thought I had answered those questions years ago in seminary and then again in Pardes, and maybe even again at Hartman,  but I’ve realized that all of my religious questions never really go away, they just cycle through my life every few years looking for new answers.

Oh dear.  This is meant to be a light hearted travel blog and I just went off about the Torah, feminism and rape.  Typical me.  Ok, I will try to get back on track and if you want to hear more rants from me about the above, you can email me privately.

SO…After sitting for an hour thinking about the question “Am I a Feminist Jew, or a Jewish Feminist? (similar to the most annoying question on earth—Am I a Jewish American or an American Jew?), and “How can I STILL be frustrated over this?” and generally driving myself insane, davening finally started.  The few women who were there were sitting silently, as the men sang Yedid Nefesh.  I will not sit silently!  I will cry out!  I sang Yedid Nefesh very loudly, trying to remind myself that I do have a voice.  It was a strange experience.  I looked at the insanely tall mechitzah and listened to the men who sang and then later danced together while the few women sat there staring straight ahead.  Ugh, now I remember why being an Orthodox woman can be super lame and feel like you’re watching a really fun TV show that you are not a part of.  A few years ago this would’ve driven me to a very long rant, but I calmed down pretty quickly remembering that I am a traveler, a visitor, and this is not my community.  I have a community (sort of) and it is not this.  I am here to watch and be respectful.

So I thought I was being respectful, but the next day when I showed up to shul in a T-shirt (I was thrilled that it was finally warm enough to wear a T-shirt!), I was immediately chastised by an elderly lady.  I sat down next to her and she said a bunch of things to me in Spanish.  “What?”  I said.  She motioned to my elbows and shook her head.  “No no,” She said.  Luckily I had brought a hoodie, so I put that on, but was shocked about not being able to wear short sleeves.  Where was I, the Academy post 1999?  What was weird to me was that there were women wearing pants at this chabad, but that was deemed acceptable here.  Not my community, I am a guest, I kept repeating to myself.

After shul there was a Kiddush.  I stood on the side talking to Bloom about the T-shirt scandal, while men set up tables.  Hmm…the mechitzah is still up, that’s interesting.  I watched people put tables on separate sides of the mechitzah and set up a separate seating Kiddush/lunch.  Whaaaat.  This was especially strange since the average age of the women in shul was probably 67, so I’m not sure there would have been inappropriate mingling between the sexes.  I started panicking.  Who would I sit with??  The old lady who yelled at me about the t-shirt?  At least Bloom had a bunch of buchurim on his side of the mechitzah.  A woman came up to me and said “I speak English, I will sit with you,” and then sat me down next to a few 80 year olds.  The next time I saw my alleged English speaking friend, she was passing out tiny shot glasses of wine for Kiddush.  She, on the other hand, had a large cup of wine.  “I’m going to get drunk,” she said to me, and I did not see her again.

Abandoned by my friend, I looked at the pensioners and smiled.  They did not speak English.  Eventually the Rabbi’s daughter told me to come sit with her and her high school friend (the only people other than us who were under 60), since they spoke Hebrew.  She asked me what the lady said to me when I walked in, and I told her about the t-shirt.  I asked if it was really unacceptable to wear short-sleeves here.  She said “it is not respectful, but also she should not have said anything to you.”  Interesting approach.

As soon as I scarfed down a bowl of chulent, I got Bloom’s attention and high-tailed it out of there.  We went for a walk through a bunch of the public parks and past the zoo, which was a perfect shabbos activity.

Loitering in BA

We spent the next few days loitering and one day we went to a free tango lesson.  We were awful tango dancers, but it was a really fun time, even when the dance teacher insisted that I stood like an ape and repeatedly demanded I fix my posture.  I hope that Bloom will learn from this that dancing can be fun, but he treated it more like the army, counting out steps and making sure we learned it well.

What else happened?  Well, I ate the best steak of my life (see picture in Bloom’s post), so that was eventful.  If you are ever in Buenos Aires, go to the kosher restaurant Asian, and order the steak with the pineapple/soy sauce marinade.  It was so good, I was actually speechless, a rare event in history.

I hate to admit this, but one of the happiest moments of BA was when I found a Starbucks and ordered a skim latte.  The smell of Starbucks is the smell of NY, and I am admittedly homesick from time to time, so smelling that Starbucks smell and knowing exactly what to order, and knowing I would get what I ordered, was an amazing feeling.  This does not mean I am having a bad time.  I think all long-term travelers are excited when they see something that reminds them of home, I’m just putting it out there.

So that’s it for BA.  We have been in Australia for almost 4 weeks now.  We spent a lot of the first week celebrating Bloom’s grandmother’s 90th birthday and spending time with her, which was really fun, especially since she tells me lots of random things about her life, which I find fascinating.  I am not sure if she gets that I love when she tells me things, since it is pretty clear that she finds my accent and high-paced talking incomprehensible.  But still, I really enjoyed hearing stories from a European Holocaust survivor who is not Polish.  She made it very clear that she is entirely different from the Poles (of which I am one), and that she is liberal and democratic.  I am also liberal and democratic, I think, so this should work out.

Bloom has been spending a lot of time watching and talking about Aussie rules football, since his team is playing in the Grand Final (their Super Bowl) on Saturday.  I find this kind of boring, but luckily I have a computer to loiter on, and future trips to plan.

We also spent 5 days up north in Queensland where we snorkeled at the Great Barrier Reef and explored the rainforest up there.  I will attempt to write a post about this tomorrow.

And readers, I appreciate your loyalty, and I LOVE when people tell me they like the blog, or even that they read it.  So if you like what you’re reading, let me know.

And I promise things will get more interesting when we’re back on the road October 3rd to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia before heading to Indonesia.  Believe me, it will be good.

26th August
written by Bloom

It’s now been seven weeks backpacking through this meat-lovers paradise, tough going for a pair of Jews spoiled by home cooking and New York’s great vegetarian restaurants. Vegetarian cuisine in Peru and Bolivia is, like their economies, ‘developing.’ We were pleasantly surprised at the number of vegetarian restaurants in Lima, Arequipa and Cusco. In many of them we had a set menu consisting of a soup, a main, tea and possibly desert for $1.50-$5. Now it could be that South American vegetarian cuisine is relatively immature, or did the Spaniards run off with all the Inca’s seasoning as well as their gold…  because all most all of our Andean meals were quite bland. The vegetables or grain soups would have been enlivened by adding almost anything. The mains usually consisted of rice, eggs and glisteningly oily fried vegetables. Most of the vegetarian restaurants rely heavily on eggs and cheese, so if you are travelling vegan, it might end up being the rice and oily vegetables for meal after meal. If you risk eating at a non-vegetarian restaurant, the vegetarian menu usually consists of pizza and spaghetti. I should mention that it wasn’t all bad news, we did enjoy a veggie version of a traditional Arequipa dish (at a restaurant called Lakshmivan), a large pepper stuffed with vegetables, tofu and chillies, as well as scrumptious burritos at the Hearts Café in Ollantaytambo.

3000 varieties of potatoes in Peru, yet all they ever serve us are oily french fries

When it comes to snacks there is more to get excited about. Street vendors roast potatoes over coals, although unfortunately for us, always together with chunks of meat. At night, bands of mobile popcorn makers roam the streets providing a cheap and delicious snack, available salty or sweet. One can also find puffed Quinua and other Andean grains, available in small bags or pressed with honey into a type of granola bar. In the right hostel you can find a breakfast of yoghurt, sweet puffed grains and fresh papaya and bananas – delicious. When it comes to fruit, we didn’t try as many exotic varieties as I would have liked, but we did enjoy a juicy cherimoya in La Paz.

On one occasion our diet was supplemented by some wild protein. On a jungle trip in the Bolivian Amazon we were fishing for piranhas using hand reels when I was luckily enough to drag in a fish around a foot long. After checking for fins and scales, we decided it would be a welcome addition to what were some otherwise meager jungle rations.  I killed the fish, a first for me, using the most readily available means, the oar of our canoe, and the fish was cooked up for lunch the following day.

Oily vegetables and fries (standard) with self-caught fish

Civil unrest in Bolivia led us to fly early to northern Argentina, where we traded charming street markets for expensive, industrialized supermarkets where everything contained corn syrup, beef fat or both. The cattle industry is so enormous that the excess fat makes its way into bread, crackers and other baked goods. Additionally, in many places vegetarian food is nowhere to be found, indeed one should not be surprised to have one’s vegetarianism openly mocked. In this region we did a fair bit of self catering, utilizing our pot to make pasta and tomato sauce.

Upon reaching Buenos Aires, home to around 100,000 Jews and some of the world’s best kosher restaurants, we joined in the gluttony of the locals. An upmarket sushi chain has a kosher branch where we paid through the nose for a roll featuring mango, salmon and fried cheese, and another featuring citrus marinated salmon. At the Al Galope restaurant we enjoyed a traditional Argentinian parilla, meat grilled over a wood fire. The steak, sausages, sweetbreads, meatballs and tripe were brought to our table on a mini grill with its own coals to keep it warm. The leftovers lasted two lunches but the meal itself was well, too meaty. It was tough to go straight into that much plain roasted unseasoned meat.

A mini-grill stacked with meat

Now I don’t think I have ever ingested a McDonald’s hamburger in my life, but if you are in Buenos Aires and for some reason there is a kosher McDonalds, why not? OK, I can think of many reasons why not, but we went for what would be a first time and last time experience. My frustration began when the worker took minute after gratification delaying minute to put together our already prepared meal. This is supposed to be fast food! Then I almost threw a fit trying desperately to open their tiny ketchup packets, which cannot be opened with greasy fingers. The bun was soggy and the meat bland – I’m assuming this is standard – not an experience I’ll miss. If I can give them credit for something is that their prices appeared to be the same as the non-kosher McDonald’s. And of course, the sight of a frum woman standing in the middle of a McDonald’s kitchen checking lettuce for bugs is priceless.

The culinary highlight of our trip is a restaurant in Buenos Aires called Asian. After trying a few albeit delicious options we realized their pineapple, soy and ginger marinated steak ($22) is quite simply the best thing we can ever remember eating. Quality kosher wine is served by the bottle only, but for only $13 a bottle there is no fear in erring on the plentiful side. It was very expensive by Argentinean standards, but with quality and service that shamed anything we had experienced in the US, even at top dollar New York kosher restaurants. Argentineans eat ridiculously late, restaurants are usually packed at around 11pm, such that when we came at 8pm we had the whole place ourselves. A great way to finish off the first continent in our round-the-world trip. Bring on Australia.

Ilana is pretty excited about the steak at Asia

19th August
written by Bloom

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