What’s new, Buenos Aires

Argentina’s capital is a gay mecca, but for the most rewarding experience, explore its lush tropical countryside to the north

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HELP ME I THINK I’M FALLING | It’s not just the visual beauty of Iguazu Falls but the monstrous sound of rushing water that thrills you on a trip to the province of Misiones in Argentina. (Photo courtesy Joey Amato)

JOEY AMATO  | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

In gay culture, the must-visit South American country has always been Brazil — especially Rio, with its carnivale and sexual abandon. But while neighboring Argentina may live in Brazil’s shadow, the nation’s rich history and beauty make it a destination serious travelers will love to explore.

Upon arrival into Buenos Aires, you’ll quickly realize the enormity of the city. With a population of approximately 12 million, it is easily one of the largest cities in the world. And while south of the equator, B.A. exudes a distinctly European vibe. You’ll notice signs of the city’s Italian influence and see hints of Spain scattered throughout the Argentinean capital.

Palermo is the largest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, adorned with cobblestone sidewalks, outdoor cafes and a mix of traditional and modern architecture. One of the swankiest properties there is the Vitrum Hotel, which fuses fashion, art and cuisine. The hotel’s restaurant, Sushi Club, has been voted one of the best Japanese restaurants in B.A. Vitrum is everything the modern day traveler needs, not the least of which is complimentary wireless Internet throughout. It’s perfect for a quick business trip or a vacation with your partner.

Buenos Aires is divided into many neighborhoods, with likeable Puerto Madero one of the newest and trendiest. Filled with upscale residential apartments, restaurants, offices and lofts, it’s centered along picturesque canals. Locals spend afternoons strolling along the docks, riding bikes on the wide pathways, and lingering over coffee and pastries at riverfront cafes.

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GAUCHO LIFE | You can live like a South American cowboy at Santa Cecilia, a century-old resort where guests are invited to engage in outdoor activities such as horseback riding. (Photo courtesy Joey Amato)

Puerto Madero attracts businessmen during the day and a fashionable, and affluent crowd at night. It is lined with elegant restaurants serving Argentine steaks and seafood specialties. The Argentine Catholic University campus and a private art museum also call this area home.

Although Gay Pride in B.A. isn’t as large as it is in Sao Paulo, its parade is still a sight, as thousands of revelers partied in the streets until the wee hours of the morning.

Gay life in Buenos Aires sizzles. The locals are friendly and it boasts many nightlife options, from LGBT-owned restaurants to traditional bars to swanky ultra lounges were all within walking distance of the city center. Sitges, Zoom and Glam are all clubs meriting a look-see, as is the Axel Hotel, widely popular for its Sunday T-dance.

But Argentina is more than Buenos Aires; much of the country consists of sub-tropical rainforests. The northern province of Misiones is a great place to discover that fact.

One of the highlights of this region is the incredible San Ignacio ruins. Founded in 1632 by the Jesuits during the Spanish colonial period (the original mission was erected in 1610), in the 18th century the mission had a population of around 3,000 and enjoyed a rich economy, helped by the nearby Paraná River. After the Suppression of the Society of Jesus of 1767, the Jesuits left and the mission was eventually destroyed in 1817.

What remains is a remarkable display of beautifully preserved ruins. A tour guide can walk you through the sprawling compound. There is a mystique about the ruins that lingers. At sundown, guests are invited to enjoy an incredible laser and light show, which rivals most shows you would expect to see at Walt Disney World.

If you have time, stop by one of the small shops that surround the ruins. This is the best place to find local crafts and souvenirs at bargain prices. Argentina is a fairly inexpensive country to visit, especially compared to Brazil.

For a truly unique Argentinean experience, check into Santa Cecilia, a historic Estancia built in 1908, located in close proximity to the ruins. The property features a large main house consisting of four guestrooms each with private bath, a charming sitting area and an expansive dining room. Guests here will indulge in traditional cuisine prepared by a private chef while partaking in conversation with fellow travelers and the gracious hosts.

Guests at Santa Cecilia are encouraged to live like the gauchos, including horseback riding adventures and a variety of other outdoor activities which take you along the spectacular countryside.

It is a short ride from Santa Cecilia to Iguazú Falls, one of the greatest natural wonders of South America — and the world, for that matter.

After a short walk through the lush jungle, you can soon begin to hear the thunderous falls, but it is that first glimpse that’s undeniably breathtaking.

Iguazú is actually a network of more than 275 different waterfalls spanning 23 kilometers. The most impressive waterfall, the Devil’s Throat, is 80 meters high. Three ring-shaped balconies allow visitors to get a close look at Devil’s Throat, which spans 492 feet.

One of the best places to stay while visiting Iguazú is Loi Suites. The hotel, set on a large patch in the Iryapu jungle and only 15 minutes from the falls, has 162 beautifully appointed guest rooms. Built in 2009, the resort features a spa, restaurant, tiki bar and game room. Swinging bridges connect multiple buildings, which was actually enjoyable, but could be dangerous if you’ve had one too many cocktails.

 This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dynamic duo

Couple Jennifer Pickert and Kara Robinson pursue fitness goals together and apart

In most relationships, uttering phrases like “take a hike” or “just walk out that door” would be a telltale sign of discord. But for couple Kara Robinson and Jennifer Pickert, it’s a term of endearment. And while they may have separate workout routines, they come together to chat and cheer each other on and occasionally to show some true love on the tennis court.

— Jef Tingley

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Though Pickert and Robinson have different fitness interests — basketball versus tennis, for example — they motivate each other to do more. (Photo by Arnold Wayne Jones)

Though Pickert and Robinson have different fitness interests — basketball versus tennis, for example — they motivate each other to do more. (Photo by Arnold Wayne Jones)

Names and ages: Kara Robinson, 46, and Jennifer Pickert, 39.

Occupations: Robinson: editor; Pickert, consultant

Length of relationship: 12 years

Sports & activities you participate in: Tennis, walking, hiking, yoga, circuit training and riding bikes.

Exercise regimen: Robinson: I run three times per week, walk two times, and I take a yoga class two times a week (plus I do a little bit everyday on my own).

Pickert: I’m doing a self-designed circuit workout at home three or four times a week. It includes kettle bells, free weights, core exercises and cardio. I also play tennis at least once a week and ride my bike. Soon, I will be adding in hiking.

Fitness resolutions for 2012: Robinson: I want to lose 15 pounds this year. I’ve lost three in January, but not having the usual holiday meals and treats around has made that pretty easy.

Upcoming fitness goals: Robinson: I would like to run a 10K in March and a half-marathon in November.

Pickert: We are going to Colorado this summer, and I want to be able to do some challenging hikes. All the exercising I’m doing right now is about being ready to meet that challenge.

Greatest athletic achievement: Robinson: I finished the White Rock Marathon in 2009.

Pickert: In 2010, I walked in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. I didn’t want to be the one to slow my team down, so I really dedicated myself to the training. Having a team that was counting on me and establishing a fitness routine that helped achieve my goal was really an amazing experience. The 3-Day itself felt like a celebration of all the training and work that went into being able to accomplish it.

Workout: mornings or evenings?  Pickert: Mornings, without exception. If I don’t work out before 8 a.m. it’s not going to happen.

Ways you stay fit or workout together: Robinson: We play tennis and like to go kayaking and hiking. We don’t work out much together because of our schedules and our preferences. But we definitely support each other and celebrate our accomplishments together.

Pickert: We play tennis, and we enjoy taking long walks together. But more than that, we encourage each other to take whatever time necessary to do the things we enjoy doing to keep fit. Kara loves to run and do yoga, and I would much rather play basketball or go bike riding.

How do you motivate yourself to workout? Pickert: I set a significant goal, and I know that exercising is going to enable me to achieve that goal. Also, I have to have other people involved. When I trained for the 3-Day, my friend met me at the corner down the street every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 a.m. to walk with me. Knowing that she was going to be there, and that she was depending on me to be there just as much I was depending on her, made getting up at 5:30 a.m. super easy.

And words of advice for people trying to work fitness into their life? Robinson: I totally empathize with people who believe they are too busy to workout. I felt that way in 2010, which was the most stressful year ever. I didn’t workout because, with everything that was going on, I couldn’t justify spending an hour at the gym or going for a run. I wish now that I hadn’t bought in to this way of thinking, and instead just made even a little bit of time to go for a walk or do something physical. But now I know that exercise is a gift you give yourself, and you’re the last person you should be stingy with.

How does your partner motivate you to workout?  Robinson: Witnessing all the preparation and dedication she put into [the 60-mile 3-Day] and seeing her finish all three days of the event and seeing how happy she was snapped me out of my 2010 fitness funk.

Pickert: Kara sets a great example. In 2009, she ran a marathon, and I so admired her dedication and determination each and every day as she trained for the race. Seeing her cross the finish line and the joy she had in her accomplishment made me want to achieve more for myself in regard to fitness. It made me realize I need a significant goal to keep myself motivated.

Favorite healthy/low-cal snack? Pickert: Pickles totally satisfy that salty, crunchy craving.

Favorite song or play list for workout? Robinson: These three wind up on just about any playlist I make: Lupe Fiasco, the Roots and Mary J. Blige.

Pickert: Barbara Streisand singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade” is my anthem. That song makes me want to conquer the world. Silly? Perhaps. But true nonetheless. (Kara is going to tell you her favorite singer to work out to is Lupe Fiasco, but the truth is, it’s Liza Minnelli.)

If you could become an Olympian in any sport, what would it be and why?  Robinson: Fencing. The outfits are fantastic, and there is no ball to catch or throw.

Which celebrity or athlete’s physique would you like to have and why? Robinson: She’s not really a celebrity, but I’d love to have a physique like Michelle Obama. Every time I see her in a sleeveless dress, it makes me want to do more push-ups.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

LSR: Don’t ride but wanna make a difference? Join the Crew

TERRY THOMPSON Team Dallas Voice

Terry Thompson - LSR Team Dallas Voice
Terry Thompson – LSR Team Dallas Voice

Lone Star Ride 2009 was an exciting year for me.

It was my first experience with this organization. I was not a bike rider then. And while I’ve since taken up the sport and will participate this year as a rider, I’d like to focus this journal on the people who really make things tick: The Crew.

As someone who didn’t even enjoy riding a bike last year, I wanted to find other ways to participate in Lone Star Ride.

As a member of Team Dallas Voice, I crewed our training rides. I had many opportunities to play host when riders met at our house before heading out. I sent them off with a wave and a smile and welcomed them back with mimosas and hot lunches.

When it came time for the actual ride, I was there with my camera, recording all of it as the ride’s official photographer. I did group shots in the pre-dawn, photographed crew, and documented pit stops. I rode shotgun in a convertible, rolling alongside riders, taking snapshots as I worked to capture the magic of the ride. And in the process of pitching in and helping, I grew to love this organization and all it stands for.

By the closing ceremony, I’d really begun to take in just how many talents were engaged to manage and facilitate a ride this big. Before, I thought of LSR as people riding bikes. Now, I see it a larger and far more diverse group of not only the obvious — riders on bikes — but also of a talented army of support people we call Crew.

Long before the first biker arrives, and long after the last biker leaves, there are Crew.

There are Crew that set up the registration, the camp, the gear, the ceremonies. There are Crew that deliver and set up the pit stops, Crew that deliver snacks, lunch and drinks to the stops, Crew that serve it to the riders, Crew that return and take down the stops. There are Crew that mark the route, Crew on motorcycles giving direction and encouragement, Crew in trucks and vans that pick up riders when they need assistance, and Crew that repair bikes to get riders back on the road. There are Medical Crew and Massage Therapy Crew. There are Ceremonies Crew and Event Management Crew. There are Traffic Crew and Bike Parking Crew and even Cheerleader Crew. And, of course, there’s Crew to pack it up for next year.

I think this just may be the year for you to Crew! The fact that you don’t ride a bike is no reason to avoid being a part of this year’s ride. Honey, if you want to participate, trust me, they have a job for you! And by time it’s all over for another year, you’ll feel proud to have participated in this honorable event benefiting AIDS Outreach Center of Tarrant County, AIDS Services of Dallas, and Resource Center Dallas.When is the last time you did something that you felt genuinely proud of?

We all have lost friends to HIV/AIDS. We all want to be a part of the solution, to engage, and the make this place we call home a better place. We all have a reason to participate.

Make this year the year you joined in. Go to LoneStarRide.org and check out the possibilities.

Terry Thompson is a member of Team Dallas Voice. You can contribute to him or to any other Lone Star Ride participant online at LoneStarRide.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 9, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens