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.