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Destinations, South America

My Vacation from My Vacation

May 27, 2009 • By

It’s worth mentioning that finally –after 3 months—I downloaded my photos.  If you haven’t received some of my Kodak emails and you are desperate to see way too many photos shoot me your email and I’m happy to oblige.

Let me catch you up on my last 25 days of South American fun.  It probably goes without saying that I’ve experienced a few hiccups in the road but for the most part I’ve survived fairly unscathed.  Although I’m holding my breath tonight because I’m either about to have an appendicitis or the Pilates class I took today was a killer.

Now that I have your attention…


My first vacation from my vacation came on May 1 when my classmates Landra, William and I (all from the US) decided it would be a good idea to head to Montevideo.  Several people were going away for the long weekend and we were excited to test out a new city.  Little did we know that May 1 is Labor Day in every country BUT Canada, the US and South Africa (of course why didn’t I think of SA).  To our surprise and to our disappointment, none of the stores were open.  I mean Montevideo = ghost town on May 1.  What to do?  Well after talking to the hotel managers, we learned there were a few restaurants open by the port and off we went.  After some amazing seafood (not easy to find in Buenos Aires) and hmmm two bottles of Don Pascual vino blanco, we didn’t mind so much that the city was deserted.  We did manage to check out some fabulous freedom statues and capture beautiful photos of the blue sea and empty alleyways.  The highlight of the overnighter might have been the shower.  We were all pretty excited about the water pressure at the Sheraton Four Points.  I definitely gave it 2 thumbs and maybe an entire hand up.

In Montevideo, the shit brown river meets the Atlantic Ocean, which explains the desirable seafood and the loads of fisherman along the coastline.  People compare Montevideo to Buenos Aires but I would say Montevideo is a calmer more ethnically diverse version of Buenos Aires.  Uruguay is considered to be the most economically stable of all South American countries but the jobs are hard to come by and taxes are very high.  Again, most single people live with their families until late 20s or 30s.  There seems to be a little less European influence in Uruguay than in Argentina at least in the major cities.  From Montevideo, we traveled to Colonia and since this was my second visit I played tour guide.  It was a gorgeous Fall day and we enjoyed a magnificent sunset before heading back to Argentina.

Chao William

My crazy friend from school William decided he hated Argentina and wanted to move on to Santiago early.  William is a dear but I am pretty sure he is insane. He somehow convinced my entire Spanish class that the world will end in 2012; that the US would divide up into 50 States; that the US single handedly crashed the economy in order to secure one North American currency (Georgie Porgie wasn’t that smart), I adored him.  I found him mildly entertaining.  To celebrate his birthday and his last night in Argentina, Landra and I decided to take him to La Cabrera, a famous steak place in Palermo Viejo.  We had an hour wait ahead of us and meandered down the street to find a bar.  It seemed like only a few minutes before we met the owner of the bar who informed us he hated the United States and that he was a Communist. Of course, he added he didn’t mind us because we traveled outside of the US and didn’t’ seem like idiots.  Thanks! I wonder what he thought after William unloaded on him.  When the nice owner said something about the US robbing the Argentineans, William went on the attack.  Landra and I just sat back and wondered what the hell they were even talking about. It started with the banking crisis and went right into Marxism.  Please…I left the US to avoid this nonsense.  I just wanted my juicy cow.  Back at La Cabrera, we each ordered our own version of mouth watering steak and split it three ways.  Let’s say it must have been a good night since I got acid reflux, Landra puked and William ate all our leftovers and that was before they brought out 3 glasses of Champagne and a free bottle of wine. (Update on William: he is now in Santiago and hates it. Next up?  Lima but I did convince him to get a haircut)

Futbol is VIOLENT

Is it a good or a bad thing when 300 police surround a futbol stadium and the fans are holding signs that say, “Stop the Violence.”  It’s an interesting question right?  Most of the significant futbol games are held on Sunday’s here and attending a game is pricey for locals but considered a must do.  Landra and I attended the San Lorenzo v. La Boca game with our friend Ollie from school.  Along with Anna from Germany, Ollie is a very mature, adorable 19-year-old who hails from London.  We all purchased tickets through school and went on a bus with other tourists to get to the game.  This is not like American or Canadian sports.  Before we exited the bus, the guide gave us some warnings:

“You are in San Lorenzo territory.  When San Lorenzo scores, you cheer.  When La Boca scores even though you love them, you keep quiet and cheer at home.  When San Lorenzo does something bad, you feel bad.  You don’t wear La Boca colors.  You only wear San Lorenzo.”  So I guess I’m definitely not purchasing my La Boca shirt at this stadium.

The fans are either neurotic or passionate.  I’m still trying to figure out what word is more appropriate.  There are fireworks, flags (small and entire section size), signs cursing the other team, waves, singing, shouting, confetti, and lots of something like cash register paper floating on the field.  San Lorenzo won and we all enjoyed a fabulous night of futbol in Argentina.  That is after the police finally let us leave an hour after I am fairly certain every single La Boca’s fan returned safely to his or her home.

Salsa Anybody

I haven’t given up on the tango.  I am simply taking a short reprieve.  My Spanish class ended for two weeks and it was time to say good-bye to darling Anna and youngling Ollie.  We also met a new student Daniel who is from Holland.  Landra, Ollie, Daniel and I headed to dinner in our favorite neighborhood Palermo Viejo.  We tasted home cooking at a local favorite, which consisted of none other than an Argentinean specialty EMPANADAS.  Ollie was meeting a friend of his at a Salsa bar.  We were all trying to figure out if that sounded fun when Daniel blurted, “oh but I don’t have my shoes.”  We giggled a bit thinking it was a joke.  We became extremely suspect when no less than 3 minutes after arriving at the Salsa bar, Daniel grabbed a local chick and had her twisting about like he was a professional.  Later, we learned Daniel’s expertise derived from 5 years of Salsa lessons in Holland and not only does he own Salsa shoes but he also has matching shirts too.  Who knew the Dutch were so into Latino Culture?

I was determined to dance the Salsa and tried to master a step or two until a local asked me to dance.  After explaining in Spanish I only knew two steps, he spent the next hour teaching me four more so now I’m not such a klutz.  I firmly believe you have to start somewhere but after Juan informed me his brother married an American, lives in NYC and now has a green card, I became a bit suspicious.  Chao Juan.  Lo Siento.

To be continued tomorrow…Mendoza and horseback riding up next.  Don’t miss it.

Destinations, South America

Why do I always seem to find the creepy guys?

April 30, 2009 • By

I may have mentioned my building super.  It turns out he isn’t the super he is the engineer.  He has been a great sport helping me learn Spanish and forcing me to speak to him.  Of course, I didn’t think anything of it until he added me on Facebook.  The first day as “friends,” I received 12 messages.

The next morning the messages continued to appear on my blackberry.  I took some of the messages to class so my teacher Alberto could translate.  Upon reading the first few lines, he burst into tears laughing.  When Anna and I didn’t understand his excitement, he asked me if I understood what the words meant in English.  When I shook my head no, he started laughing more and walked around the room reciting the words in Spanish.  I knew I was in trouble when in English he started saying things like perfume and flowers.

My teacher then wrote the word poesia on the board.  Ahhh!  Entiendo.  He wrote me a poem. What to do?  My class decided I should leave it be and stop responding.  Now I answer once a day about the weather or the magazine I read or some other protest going on in Buenos Aires.  It does not always pay to be nice.

The weather heated up this week in Argentina.  It reached 90 on two of the days.  I don’t know what these people would do in a real winter.  They bust out their scarves and winter coats when the thermostat drops below 20C (70 degrees).  Here I am sweating while walking to class and these people are decked out for a snow storm.  It must really be hot here in December. Otherwise,  there is no explanation for the excessive layering of clothes.  I know they sweat because I’ve seen them do so at the gym.  I guess it’s one of those things I just have to accept as “foreign” to me.

Today, I finished up my level one course and move to level 2.  It’s really been a great week with lots of tango (I only fell once this week) and some school activities.  Last night, I tried the tango intermediate lessons and of course I got stuck with the guy from Africa who speaks a combination of Swahili and Spanish and who definitely cannot count.  I mean seriously I was counting out uno, dos, tres, and I was pushing him and pulling him to go the direction I wanted him to go.  After some chick in her 5 inch tango shoes nailed my toe, I told my partner politely I needed to leave.  I figured being dropped at 2 pm by a professional partner and then a foot massacre at 10 pm there was no need for further torturing.  I needed to get a good night’s sleep for my test anyway.

I’ve had some great wine and food this week.  William and I checked out Chinatown which turned out to be great fun and even tastier food.  Chinatown seems to be the place where many of the locals purchase international food. The lines were so long in the markets I wondered if a storm was brewing on the horizon.  This had to be one of the biggest suppliers of restaurants in Argentina.  They had noodles galore, fresh fish and I even found my Skippy peanut butter.  I really wanted the Skippy but after waiting in line for 15 minutes, my patience thinning, my stomach growling, I gave up on having my American treat.

I also checked out a new neighborhood called “Las Carnitas.”  It caters to a European crowd and more well-off locals.  Monday was a gorgeous night so I ventured out for a walk.  The streets are lined with gorgeous trees some of the leaves turning colors while others fighting the cooling air.  It reminded me of Lincoln Park(Chicago) or Brooklyn Heights(NYC).  There were many couples and groups of men and women dining on the sidewalks.  That is one thing Buenos Aires has mastered.  The use of outdoor space.  It’s truly remarkable the number of restaurants and cafes serving underneath the stars.

As I was getting hungry, I decided to taste test a local favorite, Campo Bravo.  I seated myself next to two businessmen so I could eavesdrop on their conversation and possibly learn a word or two.  It turns out they were from Brazil and didn’t understand a word.  Good thing I brought my journal I had a lot I needed to add about William anyway(HA!).  I ordered a bottle of wine because I didn’t like the glasses they were offering and at $10USD a bottle I figured I could afford to splurge.  Don’t worry I used portion control and besides I needed to save room for my amazing dulce de leche crepe with cream flavored ice cream.  Simply divine.

While I’ve contained my steak feeding frenzy, I’m finding it very hard to avoid the pizza restaurants.  They are seriously on every single corner and most of the cafes in between those corners.  I’ve now made it my mission to find the best pizza in Buenos Aires.  The first month I started strong but lately my last few picks have been disappointing to say the least and I’ve had to make up for it by sampling the apple or banana panqueques (desserts).

I’m off to Montevideo, Uruguay tomorrow for the holiday weekend.  Argentina celebrates LABOR DAY on May, 1.  I’m not sure employees do a whole lot of laboring to deserve another day off from work but I am not currently in the position to judge.  Montevideo is a popular South American spot and an easy jump for Argentinians.  I’m traveling with Landra(a fellow American and friend from school) and William on the 3-hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires.

It should be interesting.   More information on Uruguay later this weekend.