Sunday, July 31, 2011

Destinations 2 & 3: Wanda and San Ignacio

I am currently trying to put together a schedule of classes to attend for this two-week "tryout" period.  It is way more complicated than it should be.  So many of the courses that are recommended for extranjeros are at the same time!  Not cool, guys.  Not cool.

So to pick up where I left off in my traveling tales, Sunday morning, Maria and I got on a bus to Wanda, about an hour away from Iguazu.  We got dropped off on the side of the road, at the end of this dirt driveway where there was a little ticket booth and some guys milling around.  When we got off the bus, they approached to offer us remise (hired car) service to the mines, which were what we had come to see.  We asked if it was possible to walk, because we didn't want to spend the money.  They said sure, it was possible, but a group of people had just been robbed walking that road.  We decided fifty pesos was not at all a bad price.  Don't be too impressed by the idea of a car service.  It was just this guy's personal car, a dumpy little sedan, and he drove us a few miles to the mines.  He was very friendly, though, and before he left we arranged a time for him to come back for us.

We took a brief tour, ooh'ed and ahh'ed at the beautiful stones-- quartz and amethyst, mostly-- and actually got to walk through the tunnels.  The guide told us about how each stone formed and how the miners extracted the stones with dynamite.  It was pretty interesting, and the stones were absolutely beautiful.

I wish I knew how to rotate photos...

After touring the mine, we started to walk through the "Parque de los mitos guaranies," which, as cool as it sounds, was, to be blunt, kind of half-assed.  It was a self-guided tour with recordings of myths at each stop.  Pretty boring.  Instead we spent the remainder of our time (before Alberto, our driver, came to pick us up) in the gift shop.  We each bought a few things, mostly gifts for friends.  At 12:15, Alberto arrived.  He drove us back almost to where we were dropped off, but when we told him we were headed to San Ignacio, he stopped at a bus shelter on the side of the road.  It was unmarked and standing completely alone on a long stretch of open road.  Alberto told us that a bus would arrive within fifteen minutes.  We could buy tickets when we boarded, and it would take us to San Ignacio.  We waited there with what appeared to be a few locals, and a couple of backpackers.  Finally the bus-- a very small one-- arrived.  It was crowded and there was no A/C.  This certainly was not the same bus experience that we had had between Buenos Aires and Puerto Iguazu.  This was four hours of sweaty, smelly passengers boarding and getting off, seats that hardly reclined, and hot sun beating down through the windows, despite the closed curtains.  But somehow it was exciting.  We were in Wanda and just hopped on a random bus to get to our next destination.  And four hours wasn't so terribly long.

Finally, at around 5:00 p.m., we arrived in San Ignacio.  The backpackers who had gotten on the bus with us in Wanda also got off in San Ignacio.  We walked across to the tourism office, which we could see from where we were dropped off (not at the bus station, but again sort of on the side of the road).  The guy in the tourism office could not have been more helpful or nice (or adorable...but, you know, that's irrelevant).  He told us about all the available activities in San Ignacio.  Everything fell perfectly into place here.  We would go to the light show at the Jesuit ruins that very night, then back the next morning to tour the ruins during the day.  After that, we would take a "tranquilo" (peaceful) bike ride to the provincial park Teyu Cuare, where we could see beautiful vistas of the rio Parana and Paraguay on the opposite shore.  This guy even told us we could leave our bags at the tourism office with him, since we would be checking out of the hostel early in the morning.  With all this in place, we made our way to the hostel.

Adventure Hostel San Ignacio was not as impressive as Hostel-Inn Iguazu, but we really only needed a place to shower and sleep, so it did just fine.  And we met some interesting people during our stay.  There was an older gentleman who wanted to impart his great wisdom about the Spanish language, and told us we would master it quickly.  As entertaining as he was, his condescension got to me pretty quickly.  We also spent some time chatting with two younger guys, one of whom was on vacation and actually works in Buenos Aires, in a building really close to where we took our intensive review course.  After chatting with them for a bit, we started walking to the ruins to see the light show.  It was well done: it told the story of the mission settlement in San Ignacio, how the guaranies and the Jesuits came together to form a community and how that community was destroyed, fell into ruin, and was rediscovered.  They projected, I guess you could call it, onto walls of water.  It was really interesting and made the projections look like ghosts, which was kind of appropriate.  After the show, we went to a little restaurant that the tourism guy recommended.  It was delicious, of course.  We went back to the hostel and did some research on Rosario before going to bed, as it was to be our next destination.

The next morning we got up, ate breakfast, checked out of the hostel, and headed to the tourism office.  We dropped our bags, got our bikes, and also got confirmation of the seats that the guy had booked for us on a bus to Rosario for that evening.  We hopped on our bicis and headed to the ruins.  It was still early, around 9:00 a.m., I think, so the sunlight was really beautiful, and there was dew on the grass, and it was such a tranquil place.  We walked around for an hour or two admiring the ruins, which were absolutely fascinating.  We also chatted for a bit with one of the security guards, who showed us to the wine cellar/pantry of the ruins, a little underground room that I'm not sure everybody is allowed to go in.  It was really cool.

Seriously annoyed that rotating photos is apparently not possible...

The view from inside the pantry/wine cellar
We left the ruins and rode through the town to Horacio Quiroga's house.  We read "El hombre muerto" in a Spanish class last year and figured, why not check out the author's house?  I am so glad we did.  It was really interesting and I love walking around knowing that someone famous/important/cool once walked/lived in this place.  I actually felt like I was walking through one of his stories, since the one we had read was about the land where he lived.  Here's the view from his backyard, which in itself explains (to me, at least) why he kept moving back to la selva even when his family wanted to go back to the city:

Seriously.  This was his backyard.

After Horacio Quiroga's house, we started on the trail to Teyu Cuare.  It was 8km, which Maria told me is about 6 miles or something...?  I am absolutely useless at estimating/visualizing distance, so I had no idea how far or how painful this ride was going to be.  We rode along the road for awhile before we even got to the trail leading to the park.  This trail was the typical red dirt of Misiones, and completely full of rocks and puddles.  There were times on this eternal trail that I wished I had accepted the ride in the back of a truck offered to me by random strangers.  I wanted to curl up into a puddle and lie there until some sort of animal carried me off into the wilderness.  I was in full-on whiny six-year-old mode, throwing a little tantrum inside my head.  Finally we got to the park rangers' station, where the ranger explained the trails to us.  We hiked up a sixty-degree incline of giant rocks and I continued to whimper...until we reached the vista points.  While we stood up there, looking out on THIS

I put the pain and hunger and irritation in the back of my mind.  I tried not to think about how awful the return trip would be.  We strolled down on the lower trail and ate snacks/lunch on the banks of the rio Parana, in the most beautiful sunlight.  Seriously, this was incredible.  We headed back up and ended up chatting with the park ranger for a long time about all sorts of things.  He gave us oranges and we talked about learning other languages.  It was really interesting.  Then he helped me fix my bike chain before we re-mounted those damn bicis and started the agonizing trek back into town.  As it turned out, the return trip was much easier and seemed much shorter.  Before I knew it we were in the tourism office returning the bikes and heading to the restaurant next door.  We ate, picked up our bags, said goodbye to our friend in the tourism office, and walked up the hill to the bus terminal, where we would board a bus that would, fifteen hours later, drop us in Rosario.  Stay tuned.  The final installment of this travel log is coming tomorrow.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Destination 1: Iguazu

Last Thursday afternoon, around 5:15 p.m., Maria and I picked up our bags, locked our doors behind us and left the residence, certain we wouldn't return for at least seven days.  We caught a bus to Retiro Station, where we had to find the bus we would be on for eighteen hours en route to Puerto Iguazu.  Retiro is a madhouse.  It's a train station, a bus station, and a crazy sort of market.  There are people and buses everywhere; there are booths selling everything from chipas to cell phone covers to mates.  When we got there, we didn't even know which part was the bus station.  First we walked into the train station.  Then we continued down the lane of cheap trinkets and snacks until we finally saw a sign: "Terminal de Omnibus."  Up a ramp, down a hall, around a corner, and we were met with a big departures and arrivals board.  Unfortunately, we were an hour early, so our bus was not yet posted.  We sat and waited.  Pretty soon it was ten minutes to seven (our scheduled departure was 7:00 p.m.) and still we had no word on where our bus was.  Frantically, we ran around until we found the customer service/ticket sales window of the company (Crucero del Norte) and showed our tickets to the woman, asking her if there was some problem, if our bus was going to come soon.  It was 7:06.  With a shockingly bored expression, she told us to wait downstairs where we had already been waiting.  Our bus would be here in a few minutes.

We ended up departing at about 7:20.  I'm not sure why I was surprised to learn that the lax attitude toward punctuality extended to the transportation industry, but I was.  So we boarded our bus, found our seats, and settled in for a nice, long ride.  These buses are not like Greyhound buses.  And they're not like Bolt Bus, either.  Each seat is a big armchair that reclines fully.  You get a pillow and blanket.  You get meals.  They show movies.  It's like a plane, but with more legroom and cheaper tickets.  I legitimately enjoyed the eighteen hours we spent on that bus.

Friday afternoon, around 2:00 p.m., we arrived in Puerto Iguazu in the Misiones province of Argentina.  After some disoriented wandering, we found the local bus we needed to take to our hostel.  When we arrived at Hostel-Inn Iguazu, I was in awe.  The place looked like a resort: a big, beautiful pool out front surrounded by lounge chairs, a cabana bar.  We walked in and there were people milling about and music playing; it was a party.  The whole place was just a party.  We checked in and planned out excursions for the following day at the park, then went down to our room.  That first night we met some girls from England who were finishing up a six-month tour of South America and not at all eager to be leaving.  Maria and I agreed we couldn't fathom six months of solid traveling, without some sort of home base.  We went into town for dinner, at a parrilla, where I enjoyed yet another amazing steak.  We headed back to the hostel and went to bed early so we could get to the park and see the falls in the morning.

For a week now I've been trying to put my experience with the falls into words.  I was awestruck, speechless, blown away.  There are hundreds of individual falls in this park, and each one just shocks you.  We walked the upper trail and the lower trail, then we went out in a boat on an "approach to the falls" excursion, where we got entirely soaked.  It was incredible.  After that, we found a sunny place to eat lunch and dry off.  Except the coaties (somewhere between a raccoon and an anteater) stole my sandwich.  Bastards.  Seriously, these animals have no fear.  It's probably because everyone thinks they're adorable and feeds them all the time.  They were cute when I first saw them, but it didn't take long for me to change my mind.  After lunch we took the train up to the other end of the park to see the unfathomable Garganta del Diablo.  This is basically the main attraction in Iguazu.  It's the biggest of the falls, the most powerful and terrifying.  We stood on a platform right on the edge-- everywhere in this park, you can stand so close to the falls it's actually a little unnerving.  For the next few nights I had dreams about falling or dropping things over the rails. 

We marveled at Garganta del Diablo for as long as possible, which was difficult with everybody shoving toward the front and throwing elbows.  Afterward we took another boat ride, this one a more peaceful excursion called the Paseo Ecológico.  There was a small group of us on this boat, with a guide paddling us through the river.  We saw crocodiles, flowers, birds-- it was so relaxing and a perfect way to finish the day.  If you're ever in Iguazu I recommend exactly what we did: Upper Trail, Lower Trail, Approach to the Falls, Garganta del Diablo, Paseo Ecológico.  In that order.  It was excellent.

That night we were hungry early and went back into town to find a restaurant.  There were several nice places, but we didn't really feel like spending too much, and we came across a place called Colors where the owner offered us 10% off if we paid in cash.  The food looked good, and the deal sounded good, so we went in.  It ended up being a very strange experience.  I still can't quite put my finger on it, but I was just incredibly uncomfortable the whole time.  The whole town felt like a tourist trap, like all of the businesses were working together to get you to spend money.  And, I mean, yeah, that's what they want you to do, obviously.  But it was creepy.  I felt like prey.  So when we couldn't find the bar for which we had received a free drink coupon, we weren't too upset.  We headed back to the hostel, pretty early again, because we had to get up the next day to get our bus to Wanda.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Today I returned to Buenos Aires after our first big trip.  I've got to let it all sink in for a bit before I can recount it here, but here are some bullet points...

  • Days away from Bs As: 6
  • Nights in hostels: 4
  • Nights on buses: 2
  • Different hostels stayed in: 3
  • Hours spent on buses: 41?
  • Kilometers biked: +/- 8
  • Dollars spent: ...don't really want to think about that one...
  • Incredible meals eaten: 3
  • Interesting people met in hostels: upwards of 10
  • Park rangers befriended: 1
  • Lunches stolen by coaties: 1
  • Photos taken: 200+
I'm going to elaborate on all of this.  Just not tonight.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Colonia y San Telmo

This weekend was packed with activities and outings with the girls from my Spanish class.  Thursday we went on our final class-organized outing, to the movies.  Despite the sketchiness of the neighborhood where the theater was, we had a really good time.  The movie was called "Un cuento chino" and one of the main themes was the language barrier, so we all sort of related.  After the movie we went to a little restaurant near Katie's host family's house and, as usual, shared a pizza and a bottle of wine.  As usual, it was incredibly delicious.  I wish I knew the secret to this pizza.  I want to bring it back to the States with me.  (The secret, not the pizza.  I don't think that would keep very well.)  Friday night, Tania moved into her new apartment in San Telmo, so we all went over to celebrate.  After going out for an excellent tapas platter, we headed back to Tania's to share some wine, chat, and enjoy her new place.  It's really a cute apartment.  Very tiny, though.  We stayed late that night; I think it was around 2:00a.m. that we ambled hungrily around the streets, looking for a kiosco to get some snacks, and it couldn't have been earlier than 3:30 that we headed back to the Resi.  Saturday night we had plans yet again.

See, Katie and Brittany, two of the girls from the class, are only here for that one class.  They're leaving this week, after the class ends with our final tomorrow.  So Katie planned a ton of activities for her final weekend in Argentina.  Saturday our original plan was to head to Cafe Tortoni for dinner and a tango show.  Cafe Tortoni is the famous cafe where great writers like Borges used to hang out, so, needless to say, I was psyched at the prospect.  As it turns out, though, Cafe Tortoni has become somewhat of a tourist trap, with hiked-up prices and unimpressive service.  Luckily, in a student travel guide, Tania found the name of a place right in San Telmo where we could see a tango show for free.  Although that particular restaurant (El Balcón) didn't have a show that night, the place right next door (Todo Mundo) did, so we went there.

It's a tiny little bar on the corner next to Plaza Dorrego, with TVs off to the right, where everyone was watching Argentina vs. Uruguay, and off to the left there was a small stage.  We got a table right in front of the stage so we would be able to see the shows.  The waitress told us there was a tango show starting immediately and a flamenco show at 10:30.  The tango show was nice and all, but it was clearly a warmup to the awesomeness that was the flamenco band.  There was a singer, two guys on these box drum things, a bassist and two guitarists, as well as a flamenco dancer.  They had such chemistry and energy; I loved it.  To make the night even better, I ate one of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten in my life.  It was a hot steak sandwich: very simple, just lomito con queso, but it's Argentinean steak, so it's absolutely unparalleled as far as flavor goes.  And it was all warm and cheesy on this soft bread, with such good fries...mmm.

We didn't stay out quite as late that night, because we had to get up early to get the Buquebus ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay the next morning.  In spite of the fact that I woke up half an hour late (at 7:30, which should never be considered all), we made it there by a little after 8:00 and proceeded to stand in line for nearly an hour to get our boarding passes and get through Immigration.  The ferry was cool, though.  It had a duty-free shop on the first level, next to the first-class room, then on the second level was the seating for everyone else (set up sort of like airplane seating) and a little cafeteria, and you could go up to the next level to stand out on the deck.  We grabbed a table by the window and, after some breakfast, spent the three-hour trip alternating between homework and naps. 

Finally we arrived at Colonia del Sacramento.  We each got a map and started walking toward the Historical District.  We strolled through the cobblestone streets, wandered through small shops, went up in the lighthouse, and ate outside, looking out on the water.  My clothes from that day still smell like parrilla, the grill.  In our travels we encountered some interesting characters.  There was an 82-year-old man in one of the shops who told us not only about his own family's immigration to Uruguay from Italy, but about the strength of the country's culture.  He spoke with this immense pride about his tiny, beloved country: "Somos chiquitos, pero la cultura..."  He explained that the country is one of "viejos," or older people, as the youth tend to immigrate to every corner of the world. 

We met some of the youth that remained in Uruguay when we went to the heladería to get some homemade ice cream.  There were two young guys serving us who were endlessly amused by the fact that we didn't speak Spanish.  I get the impression that they thought we understood even less than we did, and also that they were making fun of us.  But one of them shared mate with Tania, which was nice, and the encounter solidified my belief that the people on this continent are on a completely different level as far as looks go.  A higher level.

Maria and I leave in three days for Iguazu.  We finally got our bus tickets and booked a few nights at a hostel, but after Saturday night we have no concrete plans.  We're both a little nervous about that, but it's also pretty exciting.  We plan to set aside Friday (once we arrive, at 1:30 p.m.), Saturday, and part of Sunday for the falls and the park, then head to San Ignacio Sunday night.  There we'll see the Jesuit ruins, and I believe the mines of Wanda are right there, too.  It'll probably be Tuesday before we leave for Rosario and re-acclimate ourselves to city life before heading back to Buenos Aires by the weekend.  Our classes start the following Monday, so we plan to get back by Saturday night in order to have Sunday to relax, unwind, and prepare for the semester to begin. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lessons Learned

Also food-related:

#2. Jamón is omnipresent.  Seriously: nearly every dish I've eaten has involved ham in some way.  Today's lunch: pizza with sliced tomato on top and ham hidden under the cheese, accompanied by an empanada whose contents included egg, cheese, and ham.  I usually don't even like ham that much.  But it's good here. 

#3. Somehow, all food is better here.  I've had pizza, ham and cheese bread, empanadas, meat, cookies, hot chocolate, tea-- somehow everything tastes better.  Well, last night I had Oreos, and they just tasted sort of odd, as if there was a minute recipe difference.  But other than that: pizza, McFlurrys, soup, beef-- it is all amazing.  There have been few meals that I haven't loved, and they've usually had a startling amount of onions involved.

Maybe today after class I'll just do an entire post about my food experiences, because while I've touched on it in essentially every post (what can I say?  I love to eat), I think I should synthesize it all so you can come to understand just how happy my taste buds are every single day.  I'll think about it all day.  Hasta luego!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lessons Learned

(Note: The numbers assigned to these lessons do not reflect the order in which they were learned, but the order in which they were recorded.  Future posts will pick up with whatever number I've left off on.)


#1. Dulce de leche is God's gift to the human tongue. As much as I miss peanut butter, dulce de leche is a fabulous substitute.  You eat it on crackers, on toast, in cookies, on apples, or just on a spoon.  It's incredibly sweet without being overwhelming; it's light; it goes with everything. 

That's the only one I've got on my mind now, as I've just eaten spoonfuls of dulce de leche.  Buenas noches.


Every day, several times within the day, my perspective of this life changes.  In the morning, I may wake up exhausted, unable to even think about tackling the day.  I'll think about how everything is just that much more difficult because of the language barrier.  I'll think about the four agonizing hours I'll have to spend in class, poring over every detail of Spanish grammar.  Then, by the time I'm on the colectivo, I see the city buzzing and thriving around me and I'll get excited; I'll realize I'm living here in this incredible city, in this incredible country, and God, aren't I lucky?!  Class will both discourage and enliven me as I have moments of clarity and periods of utter confusion.  And when I get home all I'll want to do is collapse on my bed.  I'll get some much-needed alone time, all the while feeling an obligation to go out and converse with the girls on the floor but simply not having the energy to do so.  I'll eat my dinner, finish my homework, and go to sleep thinking about what I would be doing if I were at home.  That's what always brings me back to positivity.  As much as I miss my family, home, and everything familiar, I have to remind myself that if I were there right now, I'd spend my days in some boring job or another, my nights on the couch watching TV.  Don't get me wrong: I miss those things; I love those things.  But look at what I'm doing here.  I'm going to the theatre, the movies, museums; I'm exploring not only a major metropolis, but the capital of a country in a completely different hemisphere.  It's exciting; it's challenging; it's big.  And that's what makes it so exhausting.  I was dropped into this world and I have to adjust my habits to survive here, to thrive here.  I'm making progress; every day gets a bit easier, but I still can't help but realize how much easier it is at home.  I realize how much I take for granted the fact that people I interact with will understand the language I'm speaking; that I live in my own home country, my patria, that I belong there.  I never really thought about it until I left, but there's a certain level of comfort living in a place where you are a citizen, living in the country where you were born.  I take travel for granted, food, TV shows, my couch.  There are so many little things I miss while I'm here.  But I know that this experience is a unique opportunity, that it's going to change me, permanently, probably for the better.  And I know that when I go home in four months (which now seems like such a short time), all those little things I miss-- peanut butter, my couch, local commercials-- will be there.  My regular life is going on without me there; my friends and family and all my little habits will all be there when I get back.  It won't all be waiting for me, exactly, but my regular life will be ready to envelop me, and I'll be ready to wrap back up into it, maybe a slightly different person than when I left, but still essentially the same.  I can't help but think big picture every day that I'm here.  I can't help but realize the magnitude of everything I do during this five month period.  Every day is significant; every day I'm going to see and hear and experience a hundred things that I won't be able to experience again come November.  I'll just have the memory.  So that's my goal while I'm here: I try to take every day as it comes, to enjoy every day.  One day I might be homesick, but the next day I won't be able to imagine leaving Buenos Aires.  Studying abroad is so strange: you create an entirely different life only to leave it behind.  It sounds tragic.  But, God, every day is just so damn exciting.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Weekend #3? Already?!

Wow.  The days are getting away from me.  I can't believe it's Sunday and my last entry was Wednesday.  It doesn't feel that long ago.  It's weird how I can already feel time speeding up.  The first few days here were unfathomably long, but now that I'm more comfortable and I'm off doing things, the days are much quicker.  My four-month stay here, which used to seem daunting, now seems brief.  I am falling in love with this city, and I can already tell how terribly I'm going to miss it when I go back to the U.S., as thrilling as it will be returning home.  The main reason I've been thinking long-term is because yesterday Maria and I spent almost the entire day trying to get a handle on what big trips we were going to be able to make and when.  Machu Picchu got knocked off the list very quickly-- I think I already knew it was pretty impossible.  But it looks like we're going to hit Iguazu Falls and the Jesuit ruins in Misiones; los Esteros de Ibera in Corrientes; San Antonio de Areco; Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay; Bariloche, or depending on the volcanic ash situation, Puerto Madryn, both a bit south; and Mar del Plata.  We might also make it to the city of La Plata as well as Mendoza (wine country).  It's all very daunting and complicated right now, but we're zeroing in on concrete plans for our first trip (Corrientes and Misiones), which will happen within the month.

Today we finally made it to the fair at San Telmo.  We left the Resi around 1:30 and met up with Maria's high-school Spanish teacher, who is in Buenos Aires for a week to take an intensive Spanish course, as well.  He won it in a contest, or something.  So we met up with him in San Telmo at Habibi-- does this translate?  Comida arabe = Arabic food?  I'm not sure exactly what type of food it was, but it wasn't Argentine.  We had falafel and this thing that I think is called shawarma or something, as well as a plate of what were essentially shish kebabs.  It was all delicious!  I was a little iffy when we got off the colectivo (#59, something new for us) and had to walk a few blocks through this neighborhood that I guess is still part of San Telmo.  I was a bit uncomfortable, even when we found the restaurant, but it was excellent and afterward we walked through the street fair, which led us to more populated, commercial streets.  Maria and I already know we're going to return to San Telmo at least once because we saw some booths where we might like to buy souvenir gifts for family and friends.  Today it was just fun to meander through the streets and browse.  After we'd wandered for a bit, we stopped at a cafe where Maria and her professor got coffees and I got dulce de leche ice cream...and a Coke.  I'm very concerned about eating healthy, you see.  We had to ask the waiter which colectivo to take back to our Resi (it was the #29, and the stop was just outside), but we made it back without any trouble.  Now I've got some homework to do.

But first, I need to recount Thursday's trip to the theater and Friday's excursions to the Dept. of Justice and boliche #3.

Thursday morning we had to get up early to go get our certificados de antecedentes penales-- the document proving we haven't committed crimes in Argentina-- since we had to turn it in to the exchange office Friday morning.  We had intended to go Wednesday morning, but I was still sick.  So we got up, hopped on the colectivo, and managed to find our way to the office where we stood in line, paid our money, had our fingerprints scanned, and got receipts telling us to come back the next morning no earlier than 9:35.  Then we sat in a cafe for four hours, finishing homework and people-watching.  Maria and I agreed that people in this city are just generally good-looking.  And everyone dresses well.  It's a great place to people-watch, that's for sure.

After class we had a few hours to head home and get changed before we had to meet back up at the Teatro del Globo to see Codigo de Familia, a drama set a few years before the war over the Falkland Islands/ Islas Malvinas.  Everyone in the class settled in and proceeded to concentrate for an hour and a half, and we all came out of the show understanding the gist of what had happened.  We even caught some of the jokes.  We were all very proud of ourselves.  After the show, Marina (one of the professors) recommended that we go for dinner at Banchero, a popular pizza place.  I'm so glad we did.  The pizza was excellent; we shared a bottle of wine, and we all just generally had a great time.

We had to get up early again to head back to the Justice Dept. (I guess that's what it's called?) to pick up our certificates.  After hitting a kiosco to make a photocopy, we dropped off the necessary documents and hit another cafe to do some homework.  We finished earlier this time, as planned, and headed to Avenida Santa Fe for some shopping.  We didn't actually find the store we were looking for, but we stopped in several places selling the beautiful boots that are everywhere in this city, and we also hit El Ateneo.  This bookstore is in a remodeled theatre, and is the most beautiful, amazing place I've seen.  They still have the painted ceiling and the molding on all the balconies.  It's incredible.  When we walked out of there, you couldn't slap the smile off my face.  The place just made my day. 

After class we headed back to the Resi and I was dying to get out and do something, but we couldn't figure out what.  Luckily when I was eating dinner a few girls from my floor invited me to go out to a boliche with them ("early," at 1:30).  Maria and I were both sort of undecided about going, but one single exclamation of "Están en Argentina!" persuaded us, and we went.  It was only a few blocks away, so we walked over.  We danced for a while, but we were both tired, and left by 3:30.   The thing about the boliches is these girls here can naturally dance.  They're not spectacular or well-versed in particular steps-- they just naturally dance better than I can.  I don't know if it's cultural or genetic or what, but when the average American tries to move to the music, it's pretty awkward.  Not the case in Argentina. 

Saturday was gorgeous, so we went to the park for a bit to look through travel books, then to Casa de Gretha to get submarinos and alfajores-- so far, the alfajores there are my favorite-- and continue planning.  Planning and scheming continued until late, then we tried a new pizza place for dinner, hit McDonald's for dulce de leche and Oreo McFlurrys, and watched a movie before calling it a night.  Then this morning, before we went to San Telmo, I finally got to Skype with my family-- all of them!-- during family breakfast.  It was almost like being there, except I didn't actually get to eat.  So, you know, that was pretty disappointing.  But I ended up eating loads of delicious food today, so I'm not terribly upset.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Our current unit in the Spanish class is discrimination/stereotypes, etc.  Within that theme, we're reviewing verb forms to express opinions or impressions.  I don't know how many people know the stereotypes of the different South American countries, but what everyone says about Argentineans, especially portenos (people from Buenos Aires), is that they are cold and arrogant.  I've heard Buenos Aires compared to New York: the same bustling, everyone-for-themself attitude, indifference to your fellow man, that sort of thing.  Now, I'm not sitting here saying I believed that; I'm sitting here wondering where that stereotype even came from.  Everyone I've met here has been generous, helpful, and compassionate.

Last night I got a little sick (too many sweet, sugary foods--read: medialunas) and I couldn't finish my homework or make it to class today because I just felt so awful.  So not only did the managers of the residence give me something for my stomach and move me to a room further away from the construction that's happening in my bathroom, but today I just checked my email and found that Angeles, a contact from the exchange office, had sent me an e-mail.  She had spoken with Maria and found out I wasn't feeling well, and she said to call her if I needed anything at all.  I get the distinct feeling that I could have called her and asked her to drive me to the hospital or bring me some ginger ale (something I have not been able to find) and she would have done it, gladly.

There was more I was going to write, but now that I'm feeling better, I've got to work on the homework I missed.  We're getting up early tomorrow to go to the Department of Justice and get a report of past offenses in Argentina (clearly, there will be none): a document we need in order to get our student visas.

So, to recap the weekend:
Saturday night: boliche with the girls from the Resi.  Very overwhelming, loud, fun, and one of the few types of establishments that still permit you to smoke my clothes smelled disgusting.
Sunday: recovering from the boliche.  Sunday night we went to a parrilla to get some authentic Argentinean meat.  It was incredible.  (  While we were there, Rebecca gave us advice for planning our trips and we were excited to realize that we were following the conversation pretty well when the other girls were talking. 

Tomorrow we have our third class outing: to the theatre!  I'm very excited.  Stay tuned as always for more pictures and stories.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Este finde

This weekend is shaping up to be considerably better than last weekend.  For one thing, the weather is nicer.  It was 52 and sunny today when Maria and I went to Recoleta Market, a flea market only a short walk from the Residencia.  Like the fair in San Telmo (which, as it turns out, is only on Sundays, otherwise we would have gone there today), it's every weekend.  Booths with handmade merchandise line the sidewalks of the Paseo Recoleta, generally with reasonable prices.  There are some booths with cheap touristy stuff, but there are also a lot with really beautiful, genuine, hand-crafted products: jewelry, paintings, small wire sculptures, mates (the special cup that you drink mate out of), clothes, shoes, leather goods, and loads of other things.  For today we were mostly looking, though I did buy a mate.  While we were around there, we stopped in at El Cementerio de la Recoleta.  It's a famous tourist attraction, entry is free, and yes, it's a graveyard.  It's one of the most bizarre places I've ever seen.  The cemetery is honestly like a small city: there are streets lined with tombs and mausoleums as if they were houses or businesses.  They sell maps of this place.  It's enormous.  And it's a very exclusive place for the deceased to reside.  Not just any corpse can rest in the Recoleta cemetery.  It's full of famous people, most notably Eva Peron. 

While we were walking around, we watched a trio performing music on the street.  I'm going to try to upload the video to either YouTube or Flickr.  I think they were called Aqualatica.  They all play electric string instruments that were designed specifically for them (according to the flyer we received).  It was very impressive; Maria wanted to buy their CD. 

Tonight the girls on the floor are going out to a boliche (nightclub) for someone's birthday.  We actually ended up going out last night, a bit unexpectedly.  Melanie, one of the girls from the U.S. who'll be heading home next week, came into my room and asked if I wanted to go out to a nearby bar "por un ratito," just for a little while.  She said she didn't want to stay much more than an hour.  I think she just didn't want to walk over and arrive by herself.  Since I wasn't really doing anything, I agreed and we went.  The bar, Porte Zuelo, was very cool and apparently very Americanized.  Almost everyone we met was speaking in English and many of them were from the U.S.  We got there a little before 12, at which point we sang Feliz Cumpleaños to Sofia, whose birthday we were celebrating.  We stayed for a bit longer and then Rebecca (my roommate, who will also be leaving next week; she's finishing her semester here) and I went to a nearby boliche with some people we'd met. 

I would say my first boliche experience was a positive one.  I don't really have much to compare it to, as I don't go to clubs at home, either.  This place was pretty relaxed, though.  There was music playing, but not a lot of dancing.  People were mostly standing or sitting on the sofas.  We didn't stay too long, maybe an hour, and we got back to the Residencia at 5:00 this morning.  This is apparently the normal schedule for such a night, which is why I'm going to take a nap now before we go out again tonight.  Make sure to check out the pictures of the cemetery on Flickr.  The place is outrageous.