Friday, August 15, 2008

A final note

As of today, I've officially been back in the US for two weeks though one week was spent on vacation in Washington. It's pretty weird to be back and as much as some things have change, much is still the same. Taking my first few steps into the airport after the 12 hour plane ride made me realize how much I had missed things and how remarkably good I had become at placing those things I missed at the back of my mind. I realize 6 months is not that long, but in some respects it's still a pretty long time. It's incredibly refreshing to be back amongst family and friends and in a place I know so well that I don't have to think and rethink every move I make in terms of leaving the house or trying to navigate a bus system or crowded subway in rush hour. I'm more than happy to eat the fatty foods I had forgotten and the spiciness I had missed so much. It's also kind of nice to drive a car again.

Anyhow, I've been meaning to make this final update to this blog for a couple weeks (honestly even before I left Argentina), but haven't gotten around to it. I've been debating this the entire time but I made an entry in my personal journal right before I started traveling in July that I think I'm going to transcribe here, though not word-for-word. It's a little bit over the top but I tend to get that way when I'm up late and have nothing better to do than just collect my thoughts. Here it is:

"I'm about to sleep in this bed for the last time and ironically enough I can't sleep. This reminds me a little bit of the way I was back on the night of February 18th, the first night I spent in this room. I was scared out of my mind and sleeping was the last thing on my mind. What the hell had I gotten myself into? I remember my first impressions of the apartment so well: the smells, the suffocating heat and humidity that aided my initial sleeplessness, the unfamiliar hum and roar of the busses and cars constantly passing the apartment thirteen stories below and the subtle annoyances of big city living that were so incredibly foreign to me.

Now I sit here staring into the darkness. How is this over? As cliché as this is, it feels like it was yesterday that I stumbled into Argentina. It saddens me to see the empty room and the dark shadows of my packed bags in the corner. I'll miss the small things I've become so accustomed to during my time here: a welcoming "Buen día" from the porter, the call to cenar (eat dinner) from our maid Rafaela, conversations with my host mother Greta, coffee and toast with dulce de leche every morning, alfajores, colectivos, subtes, taxis, Malbec, cheap beer, coming home on a colectivo from the bar or boliche at 6 in the morning (because that's normal), constantly speaking Spanish and always having to pre-think what I'm going to say and how I'm going to go about doing so, the parks, avoiding little land mines in the form of dog crap on the street and the Porteño attitude.

As much as I disrespect the elitist European-like-attitude that many Porteños like to fulfill, I'll miss them. I won't miss their blatant racism towards dark skinned people, but I've come to love their culture. The kiss-on-the-cheek greetings, mate culture, Tango, Gauchos, the silly accent…

I think back on the times when I was pretty homesick and realize how I've grown. What a fantastic experience this has been. I've met incredible people, seen absolutely beautiful places and learned that I can settle and thrive anywhere I might be. I will admit that I cheated myself on more than a few experiences; always resorting to watching the channels that played American shows (though they were better than their Spanish alternatives…), being shy around Argentines in class, etc. This experience has taught me how beautiful the world really is and how much of an urge I have to travel it. I've seen how badly some people have it as well and know that someday this experience will bring me back here, though God only knows for what reasons…

Studying here was the best decision I have ever made for myself and through thick and thin I have absolutely nothing to regret. I've learned so much and I'll even go as far as to say I'm fairly proficient in a foreign language now. I've been incredibly lucky and blessed to have had the opportunity to do this and I'm extremely thankful for having such great parents who supported me in this endeavor. Studying abroad has been a dream of mine as long as I can remember and it's almost anticlimactic that it's over; it's a little scary to think that the next big event in my life is going to be graduation."

The next day we took off on our 2000 mile journey through South America, another indescribably amazing experience. I can't even begin to explain how lucky I have been in the last 6 months. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world and this is something that I will remember and reminisce about for the rest of my life.

On another note, thank you so much for reading if you've kept up with this. I've tried to make most of it at least mildly entertaining but I still realize it's hard to remember to check back to someone's blog who is living on the other side of the world when you've got your own things to worry about. It means a lot of me that people were interested enough in what was going on with me to read this and I really, really appreciate it.

I got a little bit lazy with the blog towards the end of the trip, but if you want to know more about the end of it just let me know and I'll tell you. Thanks again, and if I haven't seen you yet, hopefully I'll see you soon.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pictures from Cusco

Here are three albums I just loaded onto Facebook from the last few weeks

More Colca and Lake Titicaca

Cusco and around Cusco

Machu Picchu


Monday, July 21, 2008



Here's the link to the one album i was able to load. Its all of Arequipa, Colca and a little bit of the trip to Puno. For some reason the pics are a little mixed up, but there they are. I'll try to load more in a day or two. Machu Picchu at 5 AM.

Arequipa, Colca, Puno Perú

We finally made it to Cusco, I'm just going to make a brief update on whats going on and I still cannot load pictures..whatever though.

We did the homestay on the island in Lake Titicaca two nights ago. It was really interesting and I'm really glad we did it, they fed us traditional food which mostly consisted of 4 or 5 different varieties of food and we had a fiesta on the island and they dressed us up in their traditional clothing.

We're in Cusco now and did a tour of the sacred valley yesterday. We saw our first true Incan ruins and they were amazing. The holy grail is tomorrow though when we depart for Machu Picchu at 6 AM. We're doing a city tour this afternoon and have spent some time in museums this morning. Cusco is a really pretty city with lots of very narrow cobblestone streets set alongside the hills.

I haven't decided what comes after Machu Picchu and it's scary that this journey is over in 5 days! There's lots to do here though so I don't think I'll be at any loss for entertainment.

I'll try to post pics from the hostel tongiht, its going to be like 200 pictures though probably so no guarantees. Hope all is well!

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I got a bit bored on the bus and wrote a long entry. It's a bit dry as in "we did this and then we did that", but here's pretty much what we've been up to the last few days for those interested...

Perú, Perú, Perú. We traveled the day after I last updated from San Pedro, Chile to Arequipa, Perú; a ride consisting of only about 15 hours of bus travel but for some reason we were unable to find a direct bus from Calama (the largest city to San Pedro) to Arequipa. We rode the 8 hours overnight from Calama to the border town of Arica, Chile. To get from Arica to Tacna, Peru you have to take a collective taxi from the bus station in Arica to Tacna. A guy followed us around when we got to the bus station until he was able to rope us into his office where he sold us the taci and the connecting bus ticket from Tacna to Arequipa for about 24 US. He sat us in his little 90's model Chevy car and told us to wait while he went to find more people to fill the taxi. The parking lot was pretty sketch and it wasn't exactly a comfortable spot to be alone. I must say we weren't exactly sure what we had gotten ourselves into in the beginning though we had read that what we had done was pretty much the standard. We were relieved when a younger Chilean couple cam and got in the car with us. The 2 hour journey went off without any hitches, fortunately, and he dropped us off at the bus station in Tacna with our bus tickets. For some reason we decided not to exchange any of our money in Chile and when we arrived in Tacna there was no power so we couldn't use an ATM and it was a Sunday so we couldn't go to a Cambio leaving us broke by Peruvian currency standards. I had to use the bathroom pretty badly and there was a lady sitting outside charging for its use. I watched her and ran past and used the toilet and then tried to leave but she forced me to stop. I ended up having to concede my sole remaining granola bar as a form of payment. Barter systems suit me anyhow.

The taxi guy charged us a little more than what he paid for the tickets and we ended up getting on an economico bus, meaning it was the cheapest one we could take. We had front row seats both on the bus and for our introduction to Peru. At every small town we stopped at 7 or 8 people would run on the bus shouting and selling everything from avocados to sodas to fried chicken (the chicken venders made sure to point out that their chicken was cold). When the bus started going again it was a mad dash to the front to bang on the door seperating the driver and the passengers in order to try to get off the bus. A few times they just rode to the next town.
After a few chuckles and wondering where the hell we were we finally made it to Arequipa and fond our way to our hostel. We sat around the hostel the rest of the day to rest up and drank coca tea, a very welcome respite. Although we were a little afraid of where we had placed ourselves on the journey we still remained wary of what was going on and were in control (for the most part) of what was happening to us, so mom and dad don't worry. haha.

Our first ful day in Arequipa we walked around for a bit and found the Santa Catalina Monastary. The monastary was built in the 16th century by a wealthy Spanish woman for nuns of rich families. The nuns, once having entered, were never allowed to exit and had to follow strict rules such as only cutting and washing their hair 7 times a year. There were once hundreds living within the walls but now the number has dwindled to about 30. The monastary resembles a small city with is narrow streets and housing complexes and tons of rooms. The monastary's walls were painted in bright blue and red hues following its opening to the public in the 1970's. We spent about an hour and a half in the place finding every room we could possibly find and just doing some straight up exploring; pretty fantastic place.

After the monastary we checked out of our hostel and went to a small hotel that Marc (the guy I've been doing my internship with at CAT Travel) helped work out for us. We then met our guide who gave us a half day city tour including...a trip to the monastary. We were a bit disappointed but we learned a lot more having an informed guide lead us around. Our tour then continued to the main plaza where the cathedral is located. The cathedral has been destroyed several times by earthquakes and then rebuilt. Its not all that impressive but they did have an interesting carving of the devil underneath a pulpit. Odd. We then continued to another smaller church which has 4 huge elaborate golden altars and memorials of Saints. In the back of the cathedral there was an ornately painted domed room. The room is a kaleidascope of different colors and veyr beautiful drawings done by the indians of the area, unfortuntaly we were unable to take pictures and it was pretty breathtaking.

That night, based upon recommendations from our guide, we went to a restaurant that is supposed to serve the best cuy in Arequipa, a very traditional dish of the area. We ordered ourselves some cuy chactado and a beer with a German girl we had randomly ran into that we met in Chile. Cuy would generally be considered a pet in the US but in Peru, as the natives will tell you, ¨Cuy es muyyy rico¨or Guinea pig is very delicious! Haha. Guinea pig. Cuy chactado is the guinea pig whole including the head and the legs. When we ordered our waiter told us that we were very brave and then asked us if we had seen the movie Predator. Not a good sign. The cuy came out whole with its jaws broken apart and its teeth still intact, and supposedly looked like the aliens from Predator. It wasn't the best thing I've ever had, the texture and taste were very similar to chicken only it was much harder to eat. Anyhow, I tried it and now I can add that to my list of odd things I've been adventerous enough to try. The food in Peru is much better than Argentina though, mainly because its spicy.

After our big day we took a tour to Colca Canyon. Colca is the second deepest canyon in the world and is situated in the Peruvian Cordillera. We stayed in a very nice hotel outside of Chivay, Peru called El Refugio. The hotel sits along the Colca river in its own little ravine and was an extremely nice place to take in the beauty of the area and relax. The hotels guide took us that night to the local hotsprings and we sat around for a while and sipped on the national drink of Peru, Pisco Sours (though the Chileans would argue that Pisco Sours are their creation).

The next day we had free to ourselves. In the morning the hotels guide took us to some ruins near the hotel and explained that it had once been a thriving city until the arrival of the Spanish who forced the people out of their homes and burned the city so that they could never return. Some of the tall natural brick houses still stand silouetted against the mountains. The guide explained a lot of the history and pointed out the pre-Incan terraces that were built into the sides of the mountain.

After the tour we walked into Chivay, which was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel. We hung around in town for a bit and had some more Coca tea and bought some souvenirs. The coca leaf is very popular here and people chew it to battle altitude sickness. The tea is pretty tasty and they also make candy and baked goods out of it. The leaves are of course from the same plant as cocaine and are illegal back home. Whatever.

We spent the evening in our hotel reading and writing and preparing for the early tour the next day which began at 630 AM. We met our guide that morning (that morning techinically being this morning) and took the 2 hour drive out to the Cruz del Condor where one can see a huge group of condors flying around. They come out about 830 every morning and disappear about as fast as they appeared to hunt in the mountains. They return everyday mid afternoon. It was pretty cool to see the graceful birds soar effortlessly through the canyon. We then hiked a little bit away from the veiwpoint and saw the deepest par of the canyon which is over 1300 meters deep at its most extreme. We ate some cactus fruit at a nearby stand that tasted a lot like kiwi and then continued on and met another bus to head to Puno which sits on the shores of the great Lake Titicaca which is the highest navigable lake in the world. Titicaca means grey puma in the native language and it is considered a navigable lake because it can host the sailing of huge ships meant to transport goods between the different shores. On the way we saw a pretty cool rock formation and were able to walk through it as well as a bunch of flamingos.

We're in Puno now and we're going tomorrow morning on a 2 day tour of Lake Titicaca which includes a homestay with a family on one of the lake's islands. Should be really interesting.

The computer I'm on is crappy so I can't load photos to facebook but hopefully that'll come soon. Thanks for reading all of that if you actually stuck around... Miss y'all!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Walking on the moon

So yesterday after I updated we took a walking tour through the driest desert in the world. It looks like the surface of the moon and is absolutely beautiful. We did the tour through a small company called Cactus tours and ended up with a group of four; Emily and I and a couple from Dallas. I ended up finding out that the guy went to Tech and graduated a couple years ago. It was pretty weird considering we're in northern Chile in a tiny tiny town. We hiked through a ravine and then took a bus to catch the sunset over the Valle de la Luna, or Moon Valley.

Through talking to the couple from Texas we found out about a stargazing tour that night. We got back to San Pedro and booked the tour and headed out to the small observatory outside the city. The desert here is so dry that clouds very rarely form and the conditions are near perfect for star watching. The man who owns the telescopes is French and speaks Spanish, English and of course, French. Our tour ended up being in Spanish and was very very enjoyable. He told us all about the stars and pointed out tons of different constellations and planets. We then got to look through the different telescopes at Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, a star cluster, a nebula and a high resolution shot of the moon. They even let us take pictures of the moon. Here's the one I got on my camera

After the tour they gave us hot chocolate and told us a little bit more about the stars. We then went to dinner with the Texans and got to bed early as we were leaving for a tour of the geysers at 4 AM.

4 AM in San Pedro de Atacama in the dead of winter is not a fun time. When we woke up it was probably about -9 degrees celsius. We got on our tour bus and headed out to the geysers just before dawn, where the temperature still read -9 celsius. It was FREEZING, but totally worth it. The geysers are the highest in the world. In the world, our guide told us, there are just over 1000 geysers, half of them located in Yellowstone. The field here is home to 40 of those 1000. I know I keep using the words ¨incredible¨and ¨beautiful¨but thats just how it was. The tour then took us to the thermal pools which were anywhere between 25 to 40 degrees celsius. We almost didn't get in because it was still bitter cold, but decided it was the only time we might get to do something like this and took full advantage of it. Although it sucked getting out, we were much warmer once we got our clothes on than we were before we got in the water. The tour then took us through the valleys to a small village where we sampled llama meat. It was pretty tasty, I must say. We say a wide array of flora and fauna in the area and overall it was a great but tiring tour.

Tonight we get on a bus to head to Arica in the far north of Chile to cross into Peru. This will probably be the longest and hardest leg of our trip but we should be in Arequipa by tomorrow night. We'll sleep on the overnight bus tonight, hopefully, though the bus won't be the lap of luxury we've come to know in Argentina. Here's the same link to the San Pedro de Atacama Album I've put up on facebook but I've loaded a lot more pictures from the tours in the last two days:

San Pedro de Atacama

Hope everyone is well, miss y'all!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chilly Chile

We're now in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. We've spent quite a bit of time on busses the last three days... the 20 hr one from Buenos Aires to Salta, a 15 hour bus tour around Salta the next day and then a 10 hour bus trip from Salta to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Salta was pretty incredible. We took a tour of the surrounding areas and went to the Salinas, or Salt Flats, which were pretty incredible and huge. The bus tour took us around a pretty big circuit that included stops along the way in a couple small villages as well as Purmamarca, which is famous for its 7 colored hill. Unfortunately the lighting was not right for views of the hill, but the surrounding countryside was an array of greens, maroons, reds, and browns. It was beautiful. We also went to the salt flats in the area which were formed as the sea dried up in the area. The area is pretty far from the ocean now but at one time the land was deep beneath the water. There are a ton of man made pools in the area that they put water in and then extract the salt out of once the water evaporates.

Thursday we got up early and got on the bus to Chile. Where we're at now is extremely dry and is pretty warm during the day but gts VERY cold at night. The temperature can range from anywhere between -20 celsius at night to 20 celsius during the day. None of the buildings have heating and you have to bundle up pretty well if you want to even think about sleeping. The village is gorgeous though, its all adobe and dirt streets and very laid back. The people are very friendly and its a really nice place to take a stroll. Today we´re going on a tour out to watch the sunset on the Valle de la Luna. The surrounding desert is one of the driest in the world and is supposed to resemble the moon in its landscape. Aside from the small town that we're in, its petty barren, just a lot of rocks and steep mountains in the surroundings. Tomorrow we're taking another tour in the morning to watch the sunrise over the geysers...pretty exciting...

Thats all I've got for now, but here are the links to the pictures I took in Salta and the couple that I've taken so far in Chile, more to come on those.

Salta, Argentina

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


After a 22 hour bus ride we're now in Salta. We got here a bit late but made use of our little time. I won't upload pics tonight but we walked around and found 3 fantastic churches. The main cathedral is abosultely gorgeous; a light pink and white on the outside and inside an ornate gold altar and lots of beautifully painted walls and ceilings.

We then went to the Museo Archeologico where they have three mummies from Incan children found in the mountains. The mummies are chryogeniccaly (spelling) frozen and maintaned. They only display one at a time and it was quite a site to see. The children were sacrificed during religious celebrations and chosen for this sacrifice based on their flawless beauty and physical characterics. It was a bit weird to see the mummy they had on display, the child was seated indian style (for lack of a better description, sorry) and looked as though it had died yesterday. They were discovered in 1999 and are believed to be over 500 years old. Pretty incredible.

Tomorrow we're doing a 15 hour bus tour of pretty much this whole region including the salt flats. The next day we're leaving at 7 AM for San Pedro de Atacama Chile, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to update again, hence this quick update...

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Here it is, it's a bit rough but it should give you an idea of what we're trying to accomplish.



Leave BA for Salta



Arrive Salta 4pm



Full Day Salta




Bus to San Pedro de Atacama leave 7 am arrive 3:30 Geminis



Full Day San Pedro



Full Day San Pedro



Bus to Arica to Tacna to Arequipa



Arequipa- museum, town tour



Colca Canyon




Colca Canyon




travel to Puno arrive AM



lake titicaca- overnight bus to cusco











Chinchero-Ollantaytambo ruins



Machu Picchu







Emily (travel buddy) back to BA.









Spenser Back to BA



The last couple of days after Machu Picchu are going to be a bit awkward as she's leaving and I'm hanging around a couple days, but I will be able to find some things to do. That's the plan for now, a lot of it will probably change as we go and figure out plans don't really work so well, but we do have to be in Ollantaytambo on the 21st to catch the train on the 22nd to Machu Picchu as we've already bought our tickets. I don't think it will be hard to find a place for quick updates and a few pictures so keep checking back…

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I took this out the balcony of my apartment the other night when I was up at 5 AM writing a paper. Whoops.

I finished my last class Wedneday. I'm quite confident that I didn't fail a single one of the five I took this semester. Can you believe that? I can't. A whole semester in Spanish, and I held my own. I do have one 'final' this Friday but I got a high enough grade on the midterm that I don't have to take the test, just have to show up and get my grade for the class. I can't believe I've already finished school, if this isn't obvious enough. I'm not ready to leave Buenos Aires, but I'm not actually leaving until the end of July. What am I going to do with the rest of my time here, you ask?

If I haven't already told/bragged/talked to about it, I am for sure going to go on the backpacking trip I talked about earlier. Three countries, 70+ collective hours on a bus, countless historical and majestic mountains/ruins/valleys/deserts—and memories. The trip is going to be a bit of a hike and a whirlwind journey, but I've recently been reminded of this little itch I have to travel. We leave Buenos Aires next Monday the 7th of July for Salta in the northern province of Argentina. This first leg is a 20 hour bus ride, and hopefully the longest (I'll know for sure in a couple days, there might be one more 20 hour trip amongst the other smaller ones). We are taking another nice bus on this journey to spoil ourselves before we reach later legs of the trip where buses have a bit of a reputation for being not quite as nice as buses from Argentina, to put it nicely. A few days after Salta we're heading to San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile. Atacama is the driest desert in the world and its Valle de la Luna is often compared to the surface of the moon. I believe it's even been researched and practiced on for future journeys to our moon. The desert has volcanoes, salt flats and flamingos. Yes, flamingos. ¿Qué sé yo?

After Atacama we will then continue on to the northern border of Chile and Peru at Tacna/Arica. If all goes well at the border we will then continue on to Arequipa to spend a few days. Arequipa is home to Colca Canyon which contains the first and second deepest canyons in the world; though I believe the first canyon is rather inaccessible. We will be most likely doing a two day hike through Colca to see the sites there.

From Arequipa we will head to Puno, Peruvian access to the highest navigable lake in the world and largest in South America, Lake Titicaca. A couple days will be spent at Lake Titicaca then we will continue on to Cusco. We hope to be in Cusco around the 19th of July, barring any unforeseen delays and/or mishaps.

The absolute highlight of our trip will be our journey to Machu Picchu from Cusco. Explanation unnecessary.

My traveling buddy will fly back from Cusco the 24th while I will be staying by myself to hopefully do some more adventuring the region until the 26th. I have been crossing my fingers the entire time I've been in Buenos Aires hoping that something along these lines would happen. I'm incredibly excited about this trip and its going to be an absolute dream. I will be updating as often as is possible from locutorios, or internet cafés, from each destination and will of course be loading tons and tons of pictures. It's weird how small technology makes this world.

Recently not a lot has been going on other than finishing school. I finally made it out to a market outside of the city called La feria de los Mataderos (The Butcher's market). It definitely had a lot better and more carefully crafted goods than did most the typical bubble-gum booths in Buenos Aires. I'm a bit disappointed in myself for not having bought a few souvenirs early when the stuff was novel as opposed to falling ill to the normality complex.

I went to a dialogue last night that an organization my host mother is in put on. She's in a women's business club and the dialogue was between a priest, a rabbi and an imam. The talk lasted about an hour and a half and they talked about peace in today's world. It wasn't exactly the liveliest of dialogues and the rabbi and the priest both left early for one reason or another. Either way it was still interesting to see such a thing in a really fundamentally Catholic country.

My study abroad advisor was in town touring COPA last week and Kristin (the girl from SU who has been here a full year and has become one of my better friends here) and I took her to get a drink at the Museo de Arte Latinoamericana de Buenos Aires, or MALBA. Sue, our advisor, was equally impressed with the way our program works and the people running it. If anyone, ANYONE, is thinking about studying abroad in a Spanish speaking country I HIGHLY recommend this program. It has been absolutely fantastic in every way shape and form that was within their threshold of power. Never overbearing but always an extended hand. Back to MALBA; I love that museum. It makes me wish we had more big spacious museums with rotating exhibits where I live. Austin has its fair share that I've actually yet to explore but I will definitely be making more of an effort when I get home.

People are gradually leaving Buenos Aires from my program, one by one. It's a sad sight to see but it's also incredibly exciting to see how far we've come and the good friends I've made along the way. Thick and thin there is nothing in the world I would have traded for this semester. I'll make a more emotional and heartfelt entry about things I'm going to miss/not miss/fondly remember/other observations when I return to Buenos Aires after the trip and then have to leave for real for real. Tune in, it'll be a good one.

I'll post an update a day or two before I leave with a pretty detailed itinerary for those interested. Other than that ¡Chau!

Monday, June 23, 2008

¿Qué sé yo?

Wow. I've really lost my touch with this blog. Here's a promise to myself to not let that happen again.

Lately. I've been extremely busy tending to the finalization of my academic life in Buenos Aires. In the last couple of weeks I've had 3 tests, 4 papers and lots of very interesting and frankly quite exhilarating reading. As much as I enjoy spending my life in the basement of the coffee shop around the corner from my house perusing my notes, I'd prefer that this part of my life here end as quickly as possible. I should be done with school not this week, but the next. If I did well on one of my tests I'll be done the 2nd of July, if not, I'll have to take the final for the class on the 4th of July. I don't know why they would schedule a test on Independence Day, but they tend to do things a bit strangely here.

Outside of trying not to die studying in the last couple of weeks, I've done a little exploring around Buenos Aires, gone to a couple soccer games, and played a little too. Last Sunday I had the opportunity to see Argentina's national soccer team play. This was a huge deal for me as I've been a fan of Argentine for quite a while, and it did not disappoint. Though the two teams tied, it was still an awesome game to watch. Unfortunately Argentina had to scrap by with a tie against the much lesser Ecuador, achieved by an exciting goal stoppage time of the second half. Tonight I went to a Boca Juniors game. Don't tell mom but we sat in the común section, or the cheapest seats. I was a little nervous, but it ended up okay, it seems like they have two común sections; one for the touristy types and another for the diehards. Our side was a little bit less rowdy with the exception of two pretty loud and unidentifiable explosions during halftime. Boca won the game 6-2 so it was definitely a very fun high powered offense game. The Friday before the Argentina-Ecuador game, I played 5v5 indoor soccer with some Americans against Argentines. Once again the American team pretty much killed. Don't know why that has worked out for me the two times I've played here, but what can you do?

Another big event in Buenos Aires has been the continuation of the strike by the farmers. The strike reached a new high this last week around the 100th continuous day of the strike. The strikers had been demanding once again for dialogues with the government, and last weekend the vice president made an announcement that they would think about opening dialogues. Yes, the vice president. Who knows where the always tactful Mrs. Kristina Kirchner was. Once again thousands and thousands of people took to the streets again last Monday night banging on their pots and pans in support of the farmers. The banging continued again on Tuesday night and then the government decided to set up a rally to address the public in front of the Casa Rosada. The rally was meant for all supporters of the government (try not to think too much about Kirchner's approval rating hovering at a measly 25%) and in fears of some sort of violent outbreak, the banks and schools decided to close early. Everyone at my internship left the office around noon and my commute home felt a lot more like rush hour than a typical mid-day commute. Kirchner came out and addressed the crowd mid afternoon that day in front of a crowded Plaza de Mayo full of "supporters" of her regime (sorry, I felt it necessary to use the word). The government is notorious for paying people to march in support of them and it's basically assumed that the vast majority of those in the Plaza de Mayo that day were being paid. One such paid marcher was killed by a falling lamp. The death was unrelated to the gathering and the lamp likely would have fallen off of its post march or not. It was sad to hear his story, however. He was a 20 year old man from a province in north central Argentina called Tucumán and had gotten on a bus the night before with a promise of 100 pesos (33 US) to ride the all night and support the government then return home that same day. The speech went relatively uneventfully in terms of violence though Kirchner made sure to make a few slanderous remarks against those striking calling them undemocratic and going so far as to accuse them of Nazi practices. Leave it to a politician to start the name calling in place of trying to solve the issue at hand.

This whole situation blows my mind. I see both sides of the argument and in all essence it seems like things need to be laid down for now in light of this crucial moment in the rising costs of food. I read somewhere the other day that as a result of this strike Argentina has lost something like $1.5 billion. The country has had one of the fastest growing economies since its fall in 2001 and much of the growth has been attributed to good decisions in the agriculture sector. Now, however, with the current president and her husband and the disagreements in the ag sector Argentina has been listed as one of a handful of economies worldwide that are expected to default within the next few years. This fact is a little bit shocking and in my opinion if Argentina were to default again it would be close to impossible to pull them out. In this sense, this strike is absurd. I realize Kirchner is trying to tax upwards of 45% of these peoples income, but sometimes people need to think in the wellbeing of the economy as a whole. Kirchner is being incredibly immature about the whole process and seems completely incapable of solving this problem; the first major one in her 6 months of presidency. With the rising costs of food worldwide this is an absolutely key time for Argentina and this strike and incompetent government are putting the country at a pretty grave risk. The Congress has decided to weigh the benefits of lowering the tax, and the farmers have agreed to temporarily take up their road blocks. They have very directly said that the strikes will continue if the Congress does not act.

Enough of that. It's hard to believe I'm almost at the end of this semester. I still love every minute of this experience, and I might go as far as to say I'm enjoying it now more than ever. I love living with my host mother and she has been so incredibly hospitable and kind this entire time. I really do feel like I'm at home here. Disregard any notion I made a while back about not having changed; I've learned an incredible amount about myself in this journey, but perhaps I'll leave that for another post.

I'm going to bed. I WILL update again soon, I promise. Hope everyone is well!



Friday, June 13, 2008

Menos mal...

I just wanted to update just so someone aside from the few I talk to a couple times a week might know I'm still alive . Everything is going good, I've started my internship and I'm doing that about 15-18 hours a week on top of class. The only concrete thing I can show you that I've been doing is the company's newsletter, which I put together with a little help from my advisor. Click here for the link to that. It's been a bit rough as on Monday and Tuesday I leave for the office at 9 AM and don't get home until 10:30 that night, but it could be worse.

A few things on the agenda:
I'm going to San Antonio de Areco tomorrow, which is like the gaucho capital of Argentina and still maintains much of its early 18th century architecture. Sunday is the World Cup qualifying game between Argentina and Ecuador. I bought tickets yesterday and I cannot even begin to relay how incredibly excited I am about the game. I've been a huge fan of Argentina's national team for quite some time and it's going to be an absolute joy to get to see them play. Doesn't hurt that they're currently ranked as the best team in the world right now either. After that, it looks like alot of studying and writing. I have a test Tuesday and two papers due next week; one of them being 10-15 pages long. I should be done with class around the 26th of June if all goes well (as in I pass all of my finals and don't have to take the retests...eek). Theres a MINUTE possibility I may backpack up to northern Argentina into Bolivia and ultimately Machu Picchu in July but thats in the earliest stages of preparation right now.

That said, I changed my plane ticket today and instead of coming back the 12th of July, I will be leaving Buenos Aires on the 31st of July to return to Lubbock the morning of August 1st. It feels like I've been here forever and another month and a half seems like an eternity, but this has been the opportunity of a lifetime and I don't want to return home without having pushed it to its limits and squeezed if for everything I imagined I possibly could.

Anyway, that'll suffice as a quick update. Being the talented procrastinator that I am, I'll probably update next week amidst my bottomless hole of work about the events of the weekend with photos included.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Cataratas, caipirinhas and coatis.

Sooo Igauzú Falls, Cataratas de Iguazu, Foz do Iguaçu. This last weekend I made the journey up to the northern province of Misiones, Argentina near the tri-border area of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. The area is subtropical and home to the Paraná and Igauzú rivers which feed the massive falls. They say that Argentina provides the falls while Brazil enjoys the views. I can't say that might not be true, but Argentina does have pretty massive networks of walking trails each providing spectacular views of the many sets of falls. We would have liked to have gone to Brazil but it costs over $300 US to get a tourist visa to get into Brazil for US citizens and we didn't think it was really worth it and therefore spent all of our time within the wonderful Argentine side of the park.

I left Thursday night with my friends Esteban, Stephanie and Rachel. We took a the 17 hour bus ride up to Puerto Iguazú (Argentina's access point to the falls) overnight Thursday night to arrive Friday. The busses in this country are ridiculously nice and not very expensive to take. We took a bed bus since it was an overnight trip and shortly after the trip began we were given glasses of scotch to start the trip off right. They also gave us champagne after they fed us that same night. I felt like a king. King of the castle, king of the castle (sorry if you don't get that reference, I had to add it though). The bed bus seats aren't as much beds as they are really big seats that resemble a lazy-boy recliner. They were extremely comfortable and made for a good night's sleep.

When we arrived in Puerto Iguazú we ate lunch and made our way out to the hostel by means of the public transportation system. The town is very small, I wouldn't say much more than 30,000 people and still has a fully functioning bus system, that's pretty amazing if you ask me, but I guess not so surprising when you realize how much of an impact tourism has on the area's economy. The hostel we stayed in advertises itself as a party hostel and has room for over 200 guests. I was a bit nervous about that claim to fame because sometimes I like to sleep when I'm on vacation, but it turned out to be okay. When we checked in they gave us a coupon for free caipirinhas which are a drink made of a rum-like alcohol from Brazil, sugar and lime. We spent the day relaxing by the pool and hanging out with our free drinks. The hostel organized a little soccer match that night and me and another guy from my program who was with another group of kids in Iguazú. The Argentines that showed up decided to stay true to their cocky reputation and that it would be best to play foreigners versus Argentines. The 'extranjeros' team consisted of the other American, me, a couple guys from England and, to make the teams even, an Argentine and a Brazilian. We beat the Argentine team 7-1.

The following day we woke up early and talked to the hostel concierge (side note: what hostel has a concierge??? This hostel felt a lot more like a hotel) and arranged a trip on a 4x4 truck through the forest and then a boat ride up by the falls. We then took the bus to the park and paid our entrance fee where my friend discovered that if we showed them our visas, we were considered Argentine citizens thus only having to pay 14 pesos (about 5 US) as opposed to 40 pesos for foreigners. We took the parks free train over to the area designated to meet our 4x4 tour. The truck wasn’t exactly the coolest thing, but we got to see more of the jungle than we would have without it. It took us to our boat which then navigated the group to the falls and helped us remember that its winter and drove under the falls soaking us all. I’m pretty sure half the people who have ever been to Iguazú have been on a similar boat, but for good reason; it definitely gave a front row view of the falls. It was kind of a cool day so it was freezing under the falls, but really entertaining. It dropped us off by one of the paths and we took a short boat over to an island with views of the string of falls in the area. We spent the rest of the day walking around the maze of paths and admiring all of the falls and the beauty of the park. It was incredible to see how huge, powerful and loud the falls were. Don’t get a whole lot of that in the cotton fields of West Texas.

We closed the day by going to the most famous part of the falls called the Garganta del Diablo, or Devil’s Throat. This was by far the most impressive part of the park in terms of sheer size and power. I’m not sure I can even do this part justice neither in words nor in pictures, but I’ll let the pictures try to do the job instead of trying to describe it. We got to this part of the falls a bit late and they made us leave as the park was closing. No worries though, we went back the next day in our half day left in the park just to admire the massive set of falls before we had to catch our bus back to Buenos Aires.

The night after our long day at the park our hostel hosted an asado and Brazilian dance show; complete with more free all-you-can-drink caipirinhas (I'm not even sure what to make of all the free alcohol we were given this weekend without even asking). The night made me realize why the hostel advertises itself as a party hostel and we had a great time dancing and enjoying our stay. We did eventually make it to bed and it wasn't too loud to sleep; it crushed my secret hope that I wouldn't be able to sleep as a result of blaring music which would in turn make me feel as though I were back home in Georgetown at the Phi house. Bummer. Y.I.T.B.

If you missed the post right before this one, I posted two links to the pictures I posted on facebook of the trip. The small animals with the striped tails and long noses that resemble raccoons are called coatis and are huge pests. People have been feeding them for a while and they act like domestic animals. The park strongly discourages feedings but many can't resist and only further the problem. The animals will follow people around if they smell food and are not afraid to bite or dig into backpacks. We also saw a crocodile, lots of different types of birds, lizards, fish and condors.

I had an amazing time in Iguazú and I'm incredibly thankful I had the opportunity to go. The only bad part was that I did get a little sick from some empanadas I ate in the park and suffered the disastrous results on the way back to Buenos Aires and the next few days. I think I'm finally recovered but it was NOT fun.

It's now winter in Buenos Aires. Apparently there's no such thing as fall here and we've gone from temperatures in the 80's last week to temperatures this week in the 40's with a brisk, biting breeze. Also, the farmers strike is now officially back on and I think they've decided to cut off meat trucks going into the city for a few days, but we'll see how long it lasts. Mrs. Kirchner seems to like to play with disaster.

Now that Iguazú is over, I really have to focus on my school work as I have three tests and a few papers coming up in the next few weeks. I also started the internship this week, but I'll go more into detail on that later on.

That's it for me for now, I hope everyone is doing well and thanks for reading!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Las Cataratas

Here are some pictures from Iguazú this last weekend. I'll update later this week when I (hopefully) have more time. I took about 250 pictures over the weekend but here are the 120 I posted on Facebook:

Iguazú 1

Iguazú 2

Hasta luego

Thursday, May 22, 2008

When in Buenos Aires…

Do as the…porteños do…

I have nothing to write about, but due to increased pressure from some unnamed factor back in Lubbock, Texas, I'll try to spit something out. Love you mom =).

The only new thing in my life is the possibility of an internship with a travel agency in Buenos Aires. I found out about the internship through my school's internship postings because a graduate of Southwestern works for the company. Turns out the graduate from Southwestern lives in the apartment building RIGHT NEXT to mine. What a small world, right? It would be in an unpaid internship and I would most likely be doing things like writing some reviews and researching locations and helping out with press releases. Right now I'm trying to figure out how I might be able to transfer some credit back to SU for the internship, which hopefully I'll have resolved by the end of this week.

In the spirit of nothing new to write about, why not a little rant and list about the daily occurrences/little annoyances/things I don't leave my house without that I've come to appreciate while living in Buenos Aires.

  1. The Moneda: How difficult these little chunks of metal can make one's life. I've ranted about this one more than a few times, but it's definitely something that I spend a valuable amount of time thinking about everday. The colectivos (busses) only accept monedas, which are coin money. In Argentina the coins come in 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavo, or cent, denominations as well as a whole peso coin. The 5 and 10 cent pieces are the same size and color and are pretty much worthless. The 25 and 50 are also the same size and the 25 comes in two colors, silver and gold, gold also being the color of the 50 cent coin. The whole peso coin is a dual colored coin with an outer circle of silver and an inner circle of gold. The whole peso coin is the holy grail so to say of money for us. Receiving your change in only single peso coins is a miracle. In the same respect, they're impossible to get, you just have to get lucky. I've spent half an hour at times walking around to different kioskos trying to get monedas just to get on the bus. I would happily trade a 2 peso bill for a 1 peso coin.

  2. The 100 peso bill: Another monetary issue. The ATM's usually only spit out 100 peso bills which is roughly equivalent to 33 dollars. No one likes to make change for these bad boys and will beg you for a smaller bill until they realize you're not going to give them anything smaller. In some not so rare cases they'll tell you they don't have change in turn not selling you your phone card or selected grocery items. This no sale due to stinginess of monedas also occurs, and even if you see the moneda in the cash register, they'll boldface tell you that they don't have any and you cannot have your 3 peso purchase with two 2 peso bills.

  3. The Guia T: The city guide pocket sized. It lists all of the busses and their routes and has maps of every road in the city. I hardly ever leave my house without it but I'm not nearly as dependent on it as I used to be.

  4. Colectivo línea 152: This is the best bus ever. It goes pretty much everywhere I could possibly need to go and it drives right next to my house. The bus systems are privatized here and as a result vary in quality, but not in cost. The 152 is probably the nicest out of the colectivos in Buenos Aires.
  1. Quilmes: The national beer of Argentina. I wouldn't say it's the tastiest of beers I've tried (of course I mean of the ones I've tried legally since I've been in Argentina) but at around 2.50-3.00 U$S a pint in the bar and 2 U$S for a liter in the supermercado, I can't really complain all that much.
  2. Empanadas: I could live on tasty empanadas and I need to learn how to make them so I can bring them back with me to the states. The only thing that could possibly make them better is the addition of some jalapeños.
  3. Spanish-English Dictionary: Needless to say I never leave my house without that lovely book either.
  4. Walking to school in itself: In Buenos Aires walking to class is always an adventure. I live on one of the main upscale shopping streets in Buenos Aires and it's always a joy dodging the oblivious Argentine shopper who decides to promptly stop themselves in the middle of the crowded sidewalk to view the new line of brightly colored leather goods in the window. Another object to avoid: a nice, big, warm pile of freshly laid dog poop. Everyone and their dog has a dog here (seriously, I've seen dogs walking other dogs) and the daily hired dog walkers descend upon the morning streets leaving a wake of destruction in their paths. This phenomenon tends to be more prominent in the mornings, but one must always be aware of where they are walking. Another fun experience is the act of crossing the street. Even if the little pedestrian light says you can caminar, you still have to be aware of the taxis/busses/motorcycles that are turning into your path and typically are unwilling to yield the right of way. I've almost been hit more than a couple of times.
  5. Drivers: I am most thankful that I have not been graced with a car while in Argentina. No one can drive here and the abstract idea actually using those lane dividers painted on the roads has yet to infiltrate the minds of Porteño drivers. They also love their horns. Love 'em. We're talking a driver honking their horn without stopping for a solid two minutes because someone might be trying to cross the street at a moment when said driver feels is inappropriate. They also like to use them if the light isn't changing fast enough or if they see a pretty lady walking by.

That's about all that comes to mind really. Class is about to kill me, I have tests on June 2, 9 and 20 and a couple of papers due in the middle of those dates. I kind of forgot that I'm actually here to learn…oops!

Anyway, I think that'll suffice as an update for those who couldn't last another minute without knowing every mundane detail of my life. I say that with all the sarcasm I can possibly express in typed word. Also, I'm not trying to be overly cynical in this post. I love Buenos Aires, but living in a large city when you're from somewhere like Lubbock tends to take a toll on your sanity after a few months. But yeah, that's basically my life here. Thanks for reading if you lasted this long! I'll post another update next week about Iguazú, I'm pumped…I leave tonight (Thursday) and I'll get back to Bs. As. around mid day Monday. It'll be my first really long bus trip-17 hours-but we have a bed bus, so it shouldn't be too bad.

Anyway, chau!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Middle Ground

So I'm a little more than halfway through right now and it's very hard to believe. I'm trying to think of how much I've changed since I've been here, and I honestly can't say that I've noticed anything within myself. I have learned a lot since I've been here, both about myself and my abilities. However, as of right now I'm not at all happy with my level of speaking, but my comprehension is miles ahead of what it used to be. I don't think my mentality/maturity has changed a whole lot, though I will admit I feel differently about a lot of things, if not at some points pretty apathetic. Life here is still a day to day struggle, a struggle I wished to have surmounted, but I guess there are some things about trying to live in another part of the world that aren't so simply overcome. A bad day can be made by something absurdly simple while a good day can be made by something as minute as a compliment on my Spanish speaking abilities; though half the time I'm not sure they're actually complementing my abilities, as much as they're just surprised that an American can speak Spanish. In all reality, everyday seems to be better than the last and it hasn't been an uphill struggle as much as an extremely fun and interesting learning process. That said, I've set a few goals for myself for these last couple of months in Argentina, and hopefully life will continue in the same manner as it has.

Así es la vida.

I went to Montevideo last weekend with my friends and all around it was a pretty fun time. Montevideo definitely has a different feel to it than Buenos Aires, and to me it feels a lot more like what I thought South America would be like. Buenos Aires feels more like New York City, with its huge high rise apartments, city block sized parks and the hustle and bustle noises of busses and cars while Montevideo has fewer high rises and many of the buildings have fallen into disrepair. It feels much more relaxed and not so caught up in time as Buenos Aires. I think one solid symbol of this idea is that EVERYONE in Montevideo drinks mate EVERYWHERE. Everywhere they go, they carry their thermos under one arm, and the gourde in the other. The cartoneros (or people who dig through trash to recycle goods; common in Buenos Aires too) use donkey/horse drawn carts. Overall, there's not a ton of touristy things to do in Montevideo, thus our lack of research and hope for springing out monuments like Buenos Aires failed us. We still managed to find interesting things in Montevideo, i.e. a mausoleum with the ashes of the national independence hero, Jose Artigas, underneath a huge statue of the previously named. The city also had a pretty impressive cathedral and port area. I went with a group of 5 girls and 1 guy and we had a ton of fun, the trip probably would not have been so good amongst other company, but I think you could probably say that about a lot of things in life. We entertained ourselves the entire trip being goofy under the spell and caffeine of our yerba mate (which we had handy at ALL TIMES). I'm not disappointed that I went to Montevideo, but I definitely have no desire to spend another weekend there.

After Montevideo, we took the bus to Colonia, Uruguay to meet up with the group. The trip was a planned excursion to the house of our program coordinator, Mario, in Colonia, we just decided to change our tickets and head to Montevideo early. I went to Colonia with my family while they were here and we felt there was little to behold within the small colonial style town during our visit. This time, however, was different. Our program, COPA, put us up in pretty nice hotels (though I'll admit the one Esteban, my roommate, and I got put into was by far the nicest) and we had a lot of time to relax and roam around the town. It was an extremely welcome change from the continuously stressful life of the city and we spent a lot of time hanging out on the streets. On Monday the whole group (by whole I mean the whole half of the program that was there; 65 people) went to Mario's house for an asado, or barbeque. His house is absolutely gorgeous. It's a vacation home that also acts as a bed and breakfast set in the Uruguayan countryside. It's a beautiful white building with ivy running up the walls and faces two large ponds. Beyond the ponds and some brush is a swimming a pool and a huge lemon orchard (if that's what you even call it). A short walk away rests a huge beach. It was really nice to be in the countryside and have the ability to think without the noise of thousands of cars on the streets at all hours of the day.

With that trip in the past, it's time to plan the next trip which is…drum roll, please…Las Cataratas del Iguazú, or Iguazu Falls. They're located in Northern Argentina on the Brazil/Argentina/Paraguay borders and are way bigger than Niagara Falls. They're the second biggest falls in the world, second to Victoria Falls in Africa. I've been looking forward to going to the falls for quite a while now and it's pretty exciting that the trip is finally piecing itself together. I think I'll be leaving a Thursday night, probably the 22nd and returning that Sunday night on a bus. It's about a sixteen hour bus ride, but hopefully I'll be able to get some studying done on the bus.

Today I had to go get a yellow fever shot in preparation for the trip. If there's one thing that Argentina does better than the United States, I discovered today, it's the distribution of vaccines. Before I came to Argentina I tried to get the yellow fever shot in Lubbock and was told that I needed three other people to even be considered for the shot, as they come in four pack vials. This was after I waited in a waiting room to get another vaccine for three hours with ill people whose ailments interest me not. Today I budgeted about 4 hours for the process. I arrived at the building walked in, was asked for my passport, told not to take aspirin for 7 days, then directed to a room. I walked into the room, watched a man take a needle out of a package fill it with vaccine as he said "Relax. Sting. Hurt? All." In English. "Todo?" I asked; he nodded and sent me on to the next room where a woman stamped a piece of paper proving I've received the vaccine and I was on my merry little way. This whole process took less than 5 minutes. It's no wonder I've been so scared of needles my whole life; who wouldn't be when you have to sit in a waiting room for 60 minutes thinking only about that sharp piece of metal someone's going to inject into your arm in a matter of moments. As I left I was in complete awe of what had just happened, but extremely happy. It's amazing how difficult we tend to make things back in the states, especially in the medical field. Gotta love insurance companies.

I also got a haircut today. It was kind of sketchy and I picked the emptiest, nice looking salon in a row of three others. He actually did a pretty good job but he totally tried to give me a mullet. He didn't even touch the back of my hair and I had to tell him that that party in the back was going to have to go. Regardless, it's shorter now and a huge relief.

Anyways that's all I've got for now. Here's the links to the albums of the pictures I took in Uruguay:



Thursday, May 1, 2008

I'm still here...

Sorry for the complete lack of updates in the last couple of weeks. My life has been relatively uneventful since I last updated, hence the lack of updates.

The smoke here has all but cleared out, though its effects were still sure to make themselves known. I've been pretty sick the last week and a half with allergies. Every day consisted of waking up unable to breath and feeling like complete crap. I'm feeling a lot better now but I'm still in the stage of coming out of the allergy type sickness i.e. coughing up wonderful remnants of smoke flavored snot. I think the fires are still burning relatively out of control, I guess the wind has just decided to be kinder to the Porteños.

I got my birthday package from my parents last week, and had to go to the main post office to pick it up. Believe it or not (and if I haven't emphasized this enough) the word "efficient" is not actually part of the Porteño vocabulary. I got my package receipt letter at the program office, and found out that I had to go to the main post office to pick up my package. I have a few friends that have already experienced this wonderful event in Buenos Aires, and from their experience I was a little hesitant to go. I made my way to the office after class that Thursday (a week ago) and pulled my number to prepare to wait in line to get my package. They're huge fans of the little turnstile paper numbers here, maybe it's because I'm from Lubbock, but it's definitely not a staple of places I go back in the states. I waited for my number to be called and filled out a form and showed them my passport to verify that it was really my package. They then gave me ANOTHER number and told me to wait in the next room. The next room was horribly ominous, a large room with rows and rows of chairs…none empty… and a hidden loudspeaker calling out 6 digit numbers extremely quick in Spanish. I know my numbers in Spanish, but it still takes a bit to have to think about and process the numbers you hear in Spanish into English. I sat in this room for about an hour and a half waiting for my package, and before I knew it I was no longer Spenser, but Ocho-veinte-nueve-ciento-noventa y seis, or 829196. I think I may have missed my number a couple of times, but I'm not even entirely sure. Eventually I got called and went to the next room where they finally gave me my package. I grabbed my prize and ran past customs without making eye contact (a useful skill I've learned through my many trips through customs offices since I've been down here. They tend not to really care if you don't let them). Anyway the moral of the story is that I did get my package which consisted of a two pound bag of jelly bellys (with apple flavored, my absolute favorite!) and a bag of candy hearts from Katy and Sully, a card from those two, another from my parents, and one from Sam, and a tiny stuffed black lab like Holly along with a Sports Illustrated. Pretty awesome, thanks guys for the package, it seriously made my week; I finished off the candy hearts within three days, it was bad, but absolutely delicious.

Really though, nothing has been going on with me. I've basically just been going to classes and going out on the weekends. I like all of my classes so far and it gets a little bit easier every time to understand what they're saying in class. It does make me realize how spoiled we are back home; none of my classes have set schedules (aside from the COPA ones, but those are designed for American students). As of right now, I have NO idea when my tests are going to be and have no true assignments, other than to read tons and tons of articles. In my history of Argentina class I've yet to even buy a textbook along with the rest of the class because no one is able to find the book he's been telling us that we need to have. Whatever though, I've taken a little bit of an apathetic stance on it, but I'm a bit worried every one of the finals is going to spring up on me in the same week.

I don't have a whole lot on the agenda as of right now. I'm going to Montevideo tomorrow morning with a couple of my friends. We have tickets to go to Colonia, Uruguay with a trip organized by the program, but we decided to go a couple days earlier and do the tourist thing in Montevideo. I'll be there from Friday until Sunday and then we'll meet the group in Colonia on Sunday morning. I'm kind of starting to look into going to Iguazu Falls one weekend, but that's just a thought right now, I'll probably start to research it within the next week and hopefully have a date set soon. It's a 16 hour bus ride away I still need my yellow fever shot before I can do a whole lot of planning for it.

The seasons are finally starting to change here, and it's cool outside now. It's an incredibly relief and I don't remember ever being as ready for winter as I am right now, though I'm going to need to buy a few clothes soon. My hair is absolutely ridiculous right now, and I'm really afraid to get it cut. The idea of having an Argentine mullet scares me to no end, but I might just have to take the plunge.

That's all I've got for now, hopefully I'll have an exciting weekend, and have a real story to tell next week. So expect an update early next week.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Smoke on the water, if you will

It's been a pretty interesting week, it always seems like there's something going on in Buenos Aires, and you never know what you're going to wake up to every day. Last week waking up everyday consisted of the smell and cloudy views of horrible thick smoke. It started last Monday, and wasn't terrible, but definitely got better Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday and Friday, however, were absolutely miserable. The smoke Friday morning was so thick that visibility couldn't have been more than about 200 feet. Consequentially, the local airport shut down as well as many of the charter busses out of town and some ports.

What exactly is this smoke? Lovely, that's what. There was no escaping it; it invaded the apartments, and now I think all of my clothes have that dreaded, impossible to escape smoky stench to them. Really though, it started with the farmers in the Provencia, the area right outside greater Buenos Aires, burning off the weeds on the soy crops. I lead a pretty uniformed life here I feel like, and I probably should change that, but that's the basic story as I understand. The fires were meant to just burn of the weeds and crops in preparation to replant (though I don't think you have to replant soy? So I'm not entirely sure its soy), and in the process of these controlled fires they got out of control, which tends to happen when it's really dry, as it is here. The smoke made it very hard to breathe and altogether unpleasant to be outside. At one point though, I have to admit, it smelled a little bit like a barbecue pit with smoked meat. Made me pretty hungry. The smoke has also made for some pretty bright red and orange sunsets, which I've gotten a few interesting pics out of.

Last Thursday one of my friends invited me to go to Punta del Este, Uruguay, which is a pretty famous beach resort 2 hours east of Montevideo. A lot of Argentines own apartments and condos there and it's a HUGE resort spot during the summer months, but now that it's getting more into winter, its' pretty much vacated. Considering how miserable life was with the smoke and the hope of escaping its presence, I decided last minute to tag along with the two that were going, Tamarinda and Star. We went and bought tickets about 30 minutes after I decided and left Friday afternoon. I got my student visa on Friday morning, kind of cool, but it helps a bit when travelling.

We left Buenos Aires Friday at around 230 in the afternoon on a bus to Tigre to catch the boat which we thought was going to Montevideo. We had our mate and yerba (I'll explain that culture in a bit) all packed up and ready for the journey and got on the boat. We met a couple of Argentines from Córdoba and hung out with them on the boat for a while and they helped us perfect our mate making abilities. The boat ended up docking in Carmelo, Uruguay around 8:30 and we had to take a 3 hour bus trip to Montevideo. Our Argentine friends ended up on the same bus and we figured out that we had reservations in the same hostel that night in Montevideo. We took the three hour bus ride to Montevideo and arrived around 12-1215 A.M. We were having trouble deciding rather it was worth it to make it out to the hostel in Montevideo because we wanted to catch a bus at 5 in the morning, which would mean less than 3 hours of sleep, which we would still have to pay a whole night for. Luckily, we found a bus that left out of Montevideo at 1 A.M. and bought tickets. We ate McDonalds with our friends in the bus station because it was the only thing that was open and we hadn't eaten since we left Buenos Aires and then went our separate ways. We got into Punta del Este around 4 A.M. and made our way to our hostel, called 1949 Hostel. The hostel was closed, but for some reason there was a girl on a computer downstairs, and she let us in. God only knows why she let three people in to a hostel at 4 A.M. in the morning in South America, but I'm pretty thankful she did. Turns out she was from Houston, but not a whole lot of fun to talk to, kind of a bummer. We ended up finding the person on duty in the hostel to check us in and we slept until about 10 in the morning. It's one of the first times I've ever just gone somewhere without definite plans on the mode of transportation and there were a few moments when I thought we would be sleeping in the bus station or spending all night at a bar, just as a place to stay, but it ended up being all good memories and I'm glad it worked out.

Punta del Este was absolutely gorgeous. We spent a lot of our time on the beach, and Star and Tamarinda both surf, so they rented boards both days. I tried to a little bit but it just wasn't working out for me. I caught a couple of waves but there was no way I was even close to getting up, so it was a little bit more like boogie boarding. The hostel was really cool too and we met a couple of people from Australia who were travelling all over South America. It seems to be a trend among the Australians and United Kingdom folk, I've met more than a couple everywhere I've been who are taking off time from school and work just to travel. It's a pretty awesome idea, and I'm not really sure why that hasn't caught on in the States. Anyhow, Tamarinda, Starr and I decided to have a bonfire on the beach Saturday night so we went and bought a ton of wood and beer and invited our Australian friends to go with us. Only one of them decided to go, but we trekked back out to the beach and dug our pit and started our fire. I think we sat out there for like 4 or 5 hours starting at around 11:30 P.M. and just talked about everything and enjoyed the cool ocean breeze and the warm fire. It was a pretty amazing night, and something I'd yet to have experienced, that being pretty much only the 3rd or 4th time I'd ever even been to a beach.

We spent the whole weekend just trying to find waves and enjoying ourselves on the beach and drinking tons and tons of yerba mate. The only kind of downer thing to happen was that the smoke from stupid Argentina started to invade the air of Punta del Este. It wasn't overwhelming, but made things hazy and ruined a lot of good picture taking opportunities. I saw a paper in Punta with a headline saying something along the lines of "Montevideo and Uruguay suffer from the Argentine disaster." The wording in Spanish cracked me up; it was definitely very accusing of Argentina.

Overall, it was an incredibly weekend and I'm really glad I decided to go. Uruguay seems a lot more relaxed than Argentina, and Montevideo is definitely more chill than Buenos Aires, but also like 1/14 the size. Punta del Este just feels a lot more secure and you don't have to be AS cautious when you go out. Overall I really like Uruguay, and I definitely need to try to make it back to Montevideo just to do the tourist thing since I was unable to. I ended up coming back by myself because I thought I could make one of my classes tonight at 6, and the others wanted to stay and try to get some more waves yesterday, since everyone was telling us that yesterday (Monday) would be the best day for waves. I left around 7:30 A.M. from Punta del Este and got back to Buenos Aires at 6 and figured I would rather be late than absent to my class. I made it to the school exactly an hour late only to find an empty classroom and realize class had been cancelled. It was a bit of a bummer, considering I don't have class until 4:30 on Tuesdays and I definitely could've stayed another day, but what can you do.

On the whole mate culture: Mate (pronounced mah-tay) is like the official drink of the Rio de la Plata region, and I think they drink it a lot in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay as well. I think I talked a little bit about it in an earlier post, but it's basically a tea that you buy in huge packs like you would coffee. Basically you have three main components: the leaves, or yerba (pron. jerba with a soft j), the mate (which is the gourd that you drink the yerba out of), and the bombilla (pron. bom-bee-sha). The bombilla is basically a metal straw with a kind of strainer on the end to keep the leaves in the gourd. To prepare the mate, you have to put a little bit of the leaves in the gourd and add very hot water, letting the leaves soak it up. You put the bombilla in and add more mate, basically repeating the process of pouring just a little bit of water and letting it soak in, until it looks about right. Typically mate is shared amongst a group of friends, and you have one person who prepares and serves the drink. They fill it up with water, drink it all, refill it and then pass it to the next person. Each person drinks all of the water in the gourd and passes it back to the server who refills it for the next person. It's a pretty social event and I think like something like 80% of Argentines drink it almost daily. I tried it for the first time this weekend, and I think I'm already addicted. We had semi-sweet mate, as it's typically VERY bitter, but I definitely am a huge fan and will probably try to work into the more bitter stuff later on, at least to try it. We took our mate, yerba and thermos of hot water everywhere with us this weekend and drank an incredible amount of the stuff. I think it has a lot of caffeine in it, which might be part of the whole addiction process, but I think my addiction to caffeine is nothing new.

I'll try to edit this post within the next couple of days when I upload the pics to facebook with a public link so everyone can see them, so check back soon.

UPDATE: heres the link:



Sunday, April 13, 2008

La antorcha olímpica y mi cumple

Birthday Friday, and also the day the torch made its way to Buenos Aires, its only stop in a Spanish speaking country on its way back to the other side of the world. Even though I for sure don't support that they're giving China the Olympics this year, the running of the torch was still an event that I felt was necessary to see, but I'll get into that a little further later.

A couple friends (Emily and Esteban) and I headed out to Puerto Madero, where we were told the running of the torch was supposed to begin. We had absolutely no plans for the day and truly had no idea what was going on and where to see it. One of the universities we take classes at (UCA) is located in Puerto Madero so we just went there as a reference point to venture out. When we got to UCA we saw a ton of people and busses with Olympic stickers and all that good stuff on them, so we naturally followed like sheep to see what was going on. When we got inside the main building of UCA we realized it was a congregation of all the torch carriers for the day and it was really cool to see all of them, ranging from businessmen who have had a positive influence on business between different countries, to Olympic athletes who have represented Argentina to special Olympic athletes. As things started to break up, we noticed one of the carriers was right in front of us. My friend Emily, who will talk to ANYBODY, tapped on his shoulder and we asked him a few questions and took pictures. Turns out he's a three time Argentine Olympic cyclist (1988, 1996 & 2000), named Gabriel Curuchet. We talked to him as long as we could and he ended up trying to get us tickets to the after party at the very end of the relay, but time didn't allow, and he actually ended up giving us his email address to send him the pics we took from the day, pretty cool experience.

After Gabriel got on the bus, we went to the Plaza de Mayo to see what was going on, and as usual, it was definitely a hot spot. There were tons of people with Chinese flags, but also tons with "Free Tibet," and other sayings for human rights, and "El regimen comunista Chino: encarcela a periodistas" (The Communistic Chinese system: imprison journalists). There was also another torch called "La antorcha de derechos humanos" or the human rights torch, which was pretty interesting. We stayed in Plaza de Mayo and just watched everything that was going on and finally the torch came by. It was pretty anti-climactic, but still really cool to see. You could tell the torch bearers were incredibly honored to have such an experience. My friends saw people with huge buckets of water trying to put it out, but I don't think anyone was successful at any point along the 13 kilometer run.

After we watched the torch, we followed it to the obelisk and it was pretty intense. People were throwing shredded paper out of windows and there were thousands of people walking down Avenida 9 de Julio, which is supposed to be the largest street in the world, which was pretty cool to see. After that whole charade we split our separate ways to go home and change because it's actually gotten a little bit cold in Buenos Aires, with the plans of meeting up later to try to get into the after party/ceremony on the other side of town.

We met up a couple hours later and got on a colectivo and tried to find our way over there. We accidentally got off way too early and had to spend our last monedas to get back on the bus (People are INCREDIBLY stingy with coins here, which are the only way to pay on the bus, because a lot of people think there's a shortage of them right now ). We got back on the bus and finally arrived to the event as it was becoming dark. When we got up there we realized that the event was ending and everyone was going home. We kind of stood around for a minute trying to figure out what to do, but found some people giving away free t-shirts, which we of course took advantage of. As we were about to head home, we saw Gabriel walking out of the gates where the press conferences were and we (and by we, I mean Emily) yelled his name to get his attention. He came over to us, and showed us what he had received as gifts, an Olympic torch, and cards and hand-made crafts from China with messages from students in China written on the back. I'm not sure if the torch was the one he carried lit, but he let us hold it and take pictures with it and it ended up being absolutely amazing. He explained the symbolism of the torch and was absolutely amazingly nice to us. It ended up being one of the greatest experiences I've had in a looong time.

On the whole topic of the Olympic torch, we talked to a couple of the runners just randomly at the end of the day, one being Gabriel, and another very old man and a pretty young kid, who looked younger than us. Each of them was overflowing with joy and emotion of having the honor to carry the torch, and the symbolism it has as a uniting force around the world. All of them said things along the lines of it being one of the most exciting experiences of their life to have the opportunity to carry the torch, and the older man (who was carrying the torch because he was a businessman who had some part in strengthening relations with the government in Argentina and indigenous tribes here, not entirely sure about all the details) called it "el sueño de la paz," or the dream for peace. It made me realize that the protests that have been going on around the world against the torch are against what the Olympics represent in itself. I think it's wrong the way the Chinese government functions, especially with all the occurrences in Tibet, but the Olympics are about uniting the world not dividing it. It's sad to think that people are attacking the running of the torch, which in effect is one of the biggest days of many of the lives of those who have the opportunity to carry the torch. Gabriel was overflowing with emotion and honor at being able to carry the torch, and made a comment about how this day was just as important to him as having had the opportunity to PARTICIPATE in the Olympics. To him he was having the honor to show his love and nationalism for Argentina. In all I feel the protest against the torch are disrespectful in many ways and are extremely tacky; we shouldn't be protesting the torch which represents the unity that is the Olympics but rather the protests should be aimed at the government of China, not the Olympics which embody the exact opposite. I realize and understand the counterarguments, but that's the way I felt after conversing and seeing this take place in front of my eyes.

Anyway, last night we went out for my birthday to a restaurant called Kansas. I invited a few people and only expected like maybe 10 to show up max, and it ended up being 18 of us, and it was really fun. I had a full rack of barbeque ribs and coleslaw and french fries, and it was AMAZING. I miss barbeque! And Mexican food. And spicy things. And peanut butter. Don't get me wrong though, the food here is really good, but bife de lomo (pretty much steak) and pasta tends to get a little old after a while. After the restaurant we went to a couple bars and just hung out, it was a really fun time and I'm glad everyone came out to celebrate.

My host mother also made me an apple pie type thing for my birthday too and it was pretty much amazing. She also gave me a little wooden compass sundial. It's really cool, and she's way too nice to me; I totally wasn't expecting a gift.

Anyway, that was an EXTREMELY long entry about just one day, sorry about the length, but thanks if you took the time to read it all. Thanks also to everyone that sent me emails/facebook comments/comments here wishing me a happy birthday!!!

Everything is going really well and it's hard to believe that I've already been here for almost two months now. Only three to go, scary…

Here's a link to the pics from the torch and the birthday festivities:

Click here.