Sunday, November 29, 2009

From Devil´s Point

We have been here in Punta del Diablo for four days now.

The five hour bus ride east from Montevideo has provided a perspective that has been much needed since I began. Though it seems there is no such thing as a deserted sandy paradise in Uruguay (which in retrospect makes sense because of the countries location between travelers from the population centers of Buenos Aires in Argentina and Rio in Brazil) - we have stumbled upon this cabaña riddled little village in the off season - which might as well make it Mars.

Our cabaña is probably a half mile from the focal point of the village (a cove where the fishing boats dock), but less than a five minute walk from a mini-market that has a decent supply of produce and honey flavored snacks that we have become very fond of (best when combined with fig jam).

I am not quite disillusioned, on the contrary, my eyes have been opened. Punta del Diablo makes no excuses for what it is. The locals spend the day mysteriously buzzing back and forth across town on their scooters - sometimes with propane tanks, sometimes with a liter of Fanta in hand, most always with their maté gourd and a thermos. They are mostly a dishevled, but happy community. Despite all the pontificating and surmising - they have shown me who they are. Our first day here we happened upon a group of about twenty (mostly) young men playing soccer on the beach. I spotted who I correctly assumed was the best player and asked him, "Puedo jugar?" - "Can I play?" - the result was an almost esoteric experience that I will one day spend a good bit of time dictating. However, the spackled structure that functions as an internet cafe (but looks more like a post industrial garage) will be closing shortly and I have a pizza to make tonight.

For now, a list of developments.

My "cold" appears to have actually been allergies.
We have booked our return to Buenos Aires for this Wednesday.
We will stay there for a week so I can participate in some Spanish tutoring (for about $50 US).
Then we will finally head south.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We have arrived in Uruguay!

It was a lot easier to leave the hostel in Buenos Aires than I was anticipating. I had begun to feel rather comfortable with the staff, as well as the city itself. However, with our bags packed - the mobile spirit returned.

We spent most of the morning in a café on de Mayo. Marvelling at the porteño obsession with media lunas (croissants) as well as the general activity of the city center on a Monday. We stayed for some time, reading and writing, relishing the custom that you pay when you are ready to leave.

Back at the hostel we scheduled a taxi ride to the ferry and then waited about thirty minutes. Getting into the cab I was hit with that exhilirating sense of the unknown that had more or less faded after our second day in Buenos Aires. Yet again, we were at the mercy of strangers..

The taxi ride was fairly uneventful - as was the check-in for the ferry (though I was more reluctant this time to hand over my backpack). We had our passports stamped while still in Buenos Aires with a thirty minute wait for the bags to be loaded and everyone to be boarded.

During that wait we encountered only our second and third Americans of the trip (the first being a sixty year old California man named Terry {whom we met only two nights ago} who has spent the last five months driving with his son from Sacramento - through Mexico and Central America - through Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, up through the Patagonia, and is now on the last leg of the journey in Buenos Aires - truly impressive!). These other Americans though, were disappointing. They talked boistrously about their unwillingness to partake in the custom of sharing a mate because they are "germophobes" and "it tastes like dirt anyway."

It was a bit of a reality check. Everyone we had encountered previously had been so open-minded and excited to learn about new things, that I think I had constructed this happy little "The World is One" bubble around myself.

Fortunately, once we made it to Colonia (a harrowing hour on a ferry that was driven more like a speedboat) - these young gentlemen made their way towards the tourist trap/destination town - while we boarded the bus for Montevideo.

It was as the bus was pulling away from the harbor that I remembered again what we were doing. I had not seen so much green vegetation since our taxi ride from the airport nearly two weeks prior. It was pretty amazing how the verdant landscape lifted me and though I was in need of a nap - I kept my eyes on the molehill farmland, the cows, the tiny little sheep, the tidy little modern bungalows that lined the highway, the locals out for an afternoon joyride on their scooters or motorcycles (sometimes a family of three on one modest Yamaha dirt bike), just to see people in the sun again was nice - rather than watching them scramble across busy intersections.

Eventually, we approached the outskirts of Montevideo. As we made our way through about a mile or two of thoroughly distressed shanty towns we began to see these flags everywhere:

My initial suspicion was that these flags were in support of one of Uruguay´s two biggest futbol clubs who have the same colors, Club Nacional de Football. However, some Google research has turned up "Frente Amplio" - a "left wing" party with ties to trade unions and a cooperative housing movement (according to Wiki). Of course, it is very possible that there is a correlation between the two as futbol and politics are never too far removed, especially in SA (the socialist/anarchist songs at River Plate come to mind). Perhaps conversation with locals will shed more light on any relationship..

Ultimately, we arrived at the bus depot, received some very good information from the tourism representative there (who even knew where South Carolina is and the capital of Colorado!). Before leaving the depot we purchased our 7am bus ticket for Punta del Diablo and took out about 2,000 Uruguayo pesos (about $100 US). Just when we were starting to feel comfortable with the exchange rate in Argentina..everything gets thrown out the window.

From there we caught the city bus which lucky us had three attendants to help make sure we did not miss our stop. One to drive the bus, one to doll out tickets and change (a machine did this in BA), and one gentleman who went around checking ticket stubs to make sure we all paid - a pretty impressive display of beaurocracy if you ask me.

That brought us to the streets of Montevideo´s Palermo barrio. A neighborhood that we wished to have found in Buenos Aires. Not as scary as La Boca, but still possessing that gritty flavor. There are two other reasons why I am already looking at this city with more fondness than Buenos Aires - people were playing futbol everywhere here, in private and public parks, and in the streets (that´s more like it!) and the ocean. Montevideo sticks out into the ocean (whereas BA is situated within the delta of the Rio de la Plata) - the water is visible from our hostel door..and from the incredibly comfortable terrace on the roof (complete with hammocks and a grill).

I am feeling well rested (despite still being rather congested) and am more than ready for a hard day of walking down the ocean front boulevard and then up through the old city.

We are able to access the USB port on the computers here, so it is likely that I will be able to upload some pictures from our excursion today.

We are considering spending a week or two somewhere (either here or Buenos Aires) before we head south so that I can get some tutoring in the language. Before we left BA I was pretty set on returning, but now I would be very interested to find a school here so I can enjoy the sea breeze while I toil. Hard life!

More later..and hopefully pictures!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Today is our last day in Buenos Aires - for now.

Tomorrow we leave for Montevideo - Uruguay.

The plan is to rent a cabaña in Punta del Diablo, which is supposed to be a slow little surfer town. I´m hoping the reports are accurate. I came down with a bit of a head cold two days ago. Though I am feeling better, the crowded hostel is hampering my much needed rest and at half speed exploration of the city becomes a chore.

On a brighter note.. Kaitlin and I continue to find people to enjoy our time with. We are fortunate to maintain a steady supply of well balanced and earnest day trip companions. However, now it is our turn to leave..

Sergio to Mar del Plata.
Rik to Cordoba.
Mikk back to Vancouver.
James off to Mar del Plata.
Jessica to Montevideo.

..and now we too are off to Montevideo and ultimately the "end of the devil."

I am not sure what sort of internet access we will have in Uruguay. I am willing to bet the hostel in Montevideo will be equipt, but there is no telling how much contact we will have access to during our week at the beach.

Till then..

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The "Special American"

The last few days have been rather slow (compared to the ridiculous pace we set upon arrival).

Yesterday Kaitlin and I ventured out to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, but everyone just says, MALBA. Right now the MALBA is featuring an Andy Warhol collection entitled, "Mr. America" - which I find strange considering the sentiment out there that people from the USA should not refer to themselves as "Americans" due to the fact that there are many nations and two continents consisting of "Americans." Still, I have heard no plausible alternative - though when people ask where I am from, I just say, "The States" or "Estados Unidos."

Anyway, I much enjoyed the MALBA - in particular, I found Fabian Burgos to be quite accessible. Of course there were some other artists that stretched the boundaries a bit more - which I quite enjoyed {insert artists}. Of course, it being modern art, I felt there were also some rather repetitious pieces with little substance..but they did "look cool."

The evening consisted of what was supposed to be a "dub" show at this venue "La Cigale" on Ave. Cordoba. The first group "La Golden Acapulco" was pretty rad - bonafide dub. The next group (not even sure of their name) sounded more like a ska-punk band (and not a good one) rather than dub.

What I really wanted to take a moment to talk about is something that happened this a result of yesterday.

Yesterday was a big day for world football. The last five spots for the World Cup were being played for between France-Ireland, Portugal-Bosnia, Russia-Slovenia, Greece-Ukraine, and Uruguay-Costa Rica. Suffice it to say, much of yesterday was spent watching these matches with a crowd of fans from all over the world (Australia, Spain, Scotland, Morocco, England, Israel, etc...).
Over the course of the day, I had some opportunities to talk about football and ultimately the USA. The specifics of the conversations are not too important, but it is safe to say most were surprised that my knowledge of the modern game rivaled their own and that my political sentiments did not lie completely to the left or right.
This morning, I asked the Spainard and Israeli who have family in Uruguay for their advice about where to go and what to do once we get there. They gave me some pointers on Punta del Diablo and what to do in Montevideo and I shared with them what I knew of the cemetery in Recoleta and the markets of San Telmo. Eventually they left, never having exchanged names or much personal information, but as he was walking out the door the Israeli said, "Bye, special American."

It really struck me, for many reasons. Staying in the hostel, we have been surrounded by such incredible diversity. An Irish Scottsman with Italian heritage. A Jewish Spainard of Uruguayan decent. And so on..

I wonder why that guy chose to say "special" - because of my soccer knowledge, because I recognized they spoke Hebrew and could say good-bye in their language, was it something about me that is truly special compared to my fellow Americans (United Staters!) or was it something about him..
My experiences in football here have led me to believe that we(humans) are less and less and one thing in particular, aside from just that - human. Cultural constructions can be overcome..language, recreation, cuisine, they are easily maliable. The hardest thing to bend and change is our mind - but I feel it happening everyday - in myself and in those I meet.

I am less and less self-conscious about how I am being perceived and more and more excited to just be with people. If anything, I hope this is what my Israeli friend took from his experience with me. That he goes home and takes a second glance at someone he has a preconceived notion about. That he allows himself to be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


..just a few highlights to hit so that you all know I´m not just making this stuff up.

Reading on the roof..
The roof of the Lime House hostel on 11 Lima in Buenos Aires served as a refuge in what could be a rather active hostel. After the first few days, construction began on expansion of the terrace to cover nearly half of the roof and add more green to a city/skyline that could really use it.

One of the numerous demonstrations..
Nearly half our time in Buenos Aires there was a demonstration of some sort. Only one that I would call "massive" - though there were two others that stopped traffic. On the whole, they are peaceful, well organized, and rather redundant.

View of the Paraiso and Avenue de Nueva Julio from the hostel lobby´s balcony..

You are now on Boca´s turf..

Which is not a problem, as long as there is respect..

The softer side of La Boca (with Rik from Holland)..

And so mom knows I´m eating well. This meal cost the equivalent of around $15 US for pasta, steak, and wine..


Monday, November 16, 2009

River Plate vs Tucuman

I am becoming increasingly concerned that I may run out of goals for my time in South America. Already I feel as though I have accomplished so much.

Surely, the biggest goal (to speak Spanish comfortably) remains a daunting task, but I feel as though I am growing in the language (both in my oral skills and in my ability to differentiate the Argentine dialect).

Most importantly I have added, "¿Donde esta la cancha por aqui?"

Meaning: Where is the soccer field around here?

Not only does this sentence roll off the tongue without much work - it is an essential phrase for my intentions over the next five months.

In fact, it would have come in mighty handy when Mikk and I were trying desperately to find a pick-up soccer match. Speaking of which...

Yesterday, I accomplished two of my main goals for this trip.

1) To play with Argentines (I did this in La Boca the other day, but only for a few minutes and they were but teenagers)
2) To attend a professional soccer match

Early in the day Mikk and I left for Palermo to purchase tickets for the River Plate / Tucuman match. It took about an hour to ride the subte to the end of the line and then walk the 7-10 blocks to River´s stadium.

With tickets purchased (thirty pesos/about $8 for a killer seat) the goal now was for Mikk and I to find a pick-up match. It was surprisingly difficult as we found out that most people in Palermo belong to clubs which have private fields.

Though after an hour of frustrating attempts in broken spanish to find anywhere to play - we found a caged in astroturf field where teams were playing. Again, we attempted to ask to play and eventually found out that one team was short two players and that we could substitute for them.

I could write an entire entry about the experience of playing TWO competitive matches with those guys. Suffice it to say, we held our own (we both scored) and represented our respective countries well - perhaps improving the reputation of the US and Canada as memebers of the global football community. That is just my humble dream.

After playing two matches in a row - we realized it was time to get back to the hostel so we could disperse the tickets we had bought, take showers, and then get back on the subte so we could make it to the match in time.

Despite some lagging Aussies, we made it to the stadium with about twenty minutes to spare. Enough time to catch the fanaticos pre-game concert on the balcony outside the top tier. Blocks away from the stadium you can hear the deep thud of the drums, but that only hightens your senses...only to be blown away when you step through the gate and see the thousands of men jumping, swaying, singing in full voice, one arm pumping the air with the rhythm, bleary borrachos, all clad in white with red stripes.

It is hard to distinguish between the game on the field and the game in the stands. Each group of supporters takes turns attacking each other with their voices and drums..meanwhile each team takes turns creating a breathtaking run that gets the regular fans off their feet with arms in the air - meanwhile the fanaticos only intensify their rage.

As for the game itself, Tucuman scored in the third minute after the referee allowed play to continue - although there were legit cries for a penalty. The goal consisted of a precise cross just outside of the six yard box to find Emanuel Gigliotti´s head for a reaction flick into the far side. Despite the early goal, River had numerous clear cut chances and were unlucky to be ruled offsides on multiple occasions.

The second half was a completely different story. The River supporters somehow found the reserve energy to gradually increase their intensity - meanwhile the team on the field came ever closer to an equalizer - producing several efforts that were well saved by the Tucuman keeper.

Sure enough, in the 69th minute Marcelo Gallardo leveled the match sending the stands into absolute pandamonium. Never have I witnessed such a correlation between the efforts of the fans and the efforts of the players. The goal, of course, only incensed the fans even more and sent the atmosphere into levels of hysteria that made me feel - as a foreigner in a see of locals - that I too, could will the team to victory by the mere fact of my presence and enthusiasm.

And that is exactly what happened... five minutes later Diego Buonanotte slotted home the game winner - followed shortly by substitute Daniel Villalbe to put the match beyond doubt in the seventy-sixth minute.

What more can I say... it was incredible - the first of many if I have any say in it.

That is all for now... I feel as though I am inundating this blog with posts, but I am very much so taken by this city. I will perhaps become more concise as the weeks wear on, but for now I am revelling in each new experience.
Finally, a slow day in Buenos Aires.

We have been hitting the city pretty hard the last few days. Sadly, though we have been running ourselves ragged - we can´t keep up with the pace here. We have been staying out till four in the morning..still, as we are heading back to the hostel, some are just beginning their night. Thursday through Sunday it is common for the hostel lobby to be full through the night (there is a bar here) ..and for people to stumble into the bunk room between seven and ten in the morning. Poor creatures.

Meanwhile, we are keeping ourselves occupied. Two nights ago all the museums in the city were free from 8pm to 2am. We went for dinner at Desnivel, the most holy of steakhouses. I have never really been into steak, but I am now convinced I had not had steak until Desnivel. All told a massive choice cut (and well cooked!), salad, and wine came out to the equivalent of twenty dollars US. Unreal, a meal of that quality would certainly be pushing the $100 mark back in the States. Such is life here...

Sorry, I got sidetracked, but that meal was a truly happy time.. followed by more.

After dinner we joined what seemed to be all of Buenos Aires as we walked the streets of San Telmo in search of a museum. Eventually we came to the Museo Penitenciario Argentino - a museum on the grounds of what was once a massive prison in San Telmo.

The exhibits were interesting enough, including period garb, weapons, documents, and medicine on display. However, the main attraction was taking place in the courtyard. There a full concert band was assembled to play everything from the theme song to The Godfather to Queen and various classic rock hits. Eventually the band made way for tango dancing and cover singers.

We soon realized how lucky we were to have stumbled upon this museum. As a smaller venue it attracted more locals. After the last tango (which was incredibly intricate and dynamic) a folk band took the floor.

After the first song, a group of more than twenty girls came from nowhere and began dancing to the folk music. They stayed and dance for over an hour, begging the old men to continue playing. I was smiling the entire time. It filled me with such a see youth so exuberant for and appreciative of their tradition.

Perhaps I wanted it to end less than anyone, but the old men had played more than they bargained for and were unable to continue. We dispersed with the crowd and left to find a bar in the direction of the hostel.

We stayed at a cafe near the Plaza de Mayo until they closed, I think around three in the morning. By the time we were a block from our hostel it was nearly four. Exhausted, but content, we stumbled up the stairs, knowing most in Buenos Aires were just beginning their evening.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

¿El gringo puedo jugar?

If we continue our current pace, we just might learn something about this country before we leave. In two days of bonafide exploration, we have tackled the two main destination barrios Palermo and Recoleta (River Plate) and yesterday San Telmo and La Boca (Boca Juniors).

Yesterday began around noon with a stroll down Ave. de Mayo. On the western end of de Mayo is the Congreso Nacional - while the eastern portion (to the river) is the¨"Pink House" (the Argentine "White House") as well as the national bank, internal revenue, department of the interior, and various other administrative buildings all situated around the Plaza Mayo. Our aim was beyond this district, but I would very much like to go back next week and thoroughly investigate the monuments/history.

Eventually, we arrived in San Telmo, a barrio that is as tourist oriented as Palermo and Recoleta are commercial. However, I will take a slow evening in the plaza sipping cafe con leche while watching people tango over dozens of city blocks with nothing but shoe stores!

We stayed for a while in the plaza enjoying our coffee and empenadas (which our waiter rightfully thought bizarre). From there we wandered through some antique markets (much like indoor markets in the States) - then made our way through Parque Lezama towards La Boca.

The Boca Juniors firm is known to be heavily proletariat. This is evident in the blocks surrounding the stadium where trash and crumbling concrete are most prevalent. The Boca stadium itself is pretty impressive - though could not see the grounds without the tour.

A few blocks from the stadium is an¨outdoor museum where you could sit and watch tango. A tourist trap - no doubt. However, on the next block were over twenty boys and young men playing soccer on a fenced in concrete field about the size of a basketball court.

We stood there for a while watching them..and the longer I stared the more I knew I would not be able to leave without having played. So, I did. "¿El gringo puedo jugar?" - then they stared at me and talked to eachother and then looked back at me and motioned for me to come.
My first few touches were disappointing. One in particular was rather comical and the boys confirmed by laughing and pointing. Fortunately, my next touch was much better and I ended up Cruyffing one of the kids to complete a quality sequence - there were definitely smiles and some ribbing of the kid I had beat.
It didn´t take long for my lungs to start burning. The air here, is on the tolerable side of horrible. Fortunately, again, the soccer gods were smiling upon me this day. Just as I was contemplating calling it quits, a rebound fell just into my path, bounced and descended at what would be the perfect height for a volley - in an instance I had lined it up and let fly with my left, making perfect contact on the laces for an unstoppable shot a foot inside the pipe.
I promptly thanked everyone and left before I had a chance to ruin my moment of glory. Kaitlin took a pretty awesome picture, but access to a USB port to upload the photos has been a task we are yet to dispatch.

Shortly after my immaculate volley - the heavens opened up yet again, but this time instead of sending down the perfect ball - it sent buckets of rain. So, we grabbed a table at one of the tango cafes and watched the dance while sharing a beer and continuing our discourse on Dutch and American culture.

We then took the 64 bus back to Ave. de Nueva Julio where we showered and prepared for the remainder of the night. Last mention in this entry, before I get to the rest of our experiences, is that there is a buffet across the street that charges 19 pesos for a spread that far and away is the best all around buffet I have ever seen. Fresh veggies and choice cuts of beef and sausage...unbelievable value.

..must run for now. Mikk and I have to get up to Palermo to buy tickets for the River Plate match today. We have put it out there that we are going and ten people (five aussies, two swedes, and three brits) have given us thirty pesos each to get their tickets.

Might have time later today to get to our amazing experience with the acoustic show two nights ago and the tango/folkdance experience last night. For now...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Palermo y Recoleta

Yesterday, I woke in the confused stupor that occurs when you realize (after a few seconds) that you have been hit in the face with a towel. Once I realized it was a towel that was covering my face and that someone must have thrown it at me, the confusion multiplied. Fighting the groggy morning, disoriented further by the sounds of snoring and traffic, I panned the room left to right. Sure enough in the right corner of the room a girl was propped up on her elbow staring at me.

"I thought you were snoring!"

"Was I?"

"No! Sorry! Will you throw it(the towel) back?"

Later in the day, I asked her if I actually was snoring. She said that she was "too fu%ked to know" - awesome - only she had thrown two towels at me.

So, I´m still very confused about the situation. Of course, because of the traffic and the snoring, I couldn´t get back to sleep. A fortuitous turn of events. Hostels...

Because I was up before eight, having my coffee in the lobby, I met a very talkative Mexican, Sergio - Rick, the Dutchman - and a very mellow Canadian, Mick. We are yet to run into anyone from the States, but I have no complaints with our North American compatriots.

In fact, after talking for a while, Mick and I realized we have the same goal - to attend an Apetura(Argentine Futbol League) fixture and to play against some of the natives.

Mick and Rick have been here for a few days more, so they gave us some advice as to which Subte line to take and/or buses. We all planned to go to Palermo, but didn´t meet up until the Subte station and from there we decided to tackle the barrios(burroughs) to the north/northwest of our hostel which is between San Nicolás and Monserrat.

We rode the muggy, but not too crowded Subte about seven stops north to Plaza Italia, got off and wandered aimlessly for an hour or so. This took us past the zoo, what we believed (but didn´t investigate) to be the River Plate stadium, through the Plaza Italia - which is a fairly massive podium with a statue centered in a traffic circle, then we made our way to the Parque Tres de Febrero (of which I do not know the significance), also known as the Rose Garden, but should be known as The Amazing Parakeet Garden. The trellises and groomed rows of roses bordered on the verge of overzealous, but ultimately, it was an incredibly serene place to stop and rest for a bit.

From there our goal was to find lunch. We were directed towards the commercial district, but my first hot meal, Asado, was a boney-fatty disappointment (although Kaitlin and Mick enjoyed their empanada & sandwich). From there we decided to make our way to the Cemeteriá de Recoleta. It was a long, but conversation filled walk through the countless blocks with shop windows full of shoes and clothing. Even from a short excursion on day one, it is plain to see that Recoleta and Palermo are on the posh end of things. If this were not understood from walking the streets - it was a blatant fact once we reached the cemeteriá.

The Cemeteriá de Recoleta puts New Orlean´s St. Louis Cemetery to shame. To understand the scope of the Cemeteriá de Recoleta - imagine if every tomb in the St. Louis Cemetery were at least as big (most bigger) than the Italian Society Tomb. More so, most tombs have doors with windows which allow visitors to view the actual coffins. Many tombs appear as mini-cathedrals fit with spires, gargoyles, and relics - some even have stairs to a lower crypt. Only the best for the generals and politicians of Buenos Aires!

From the cemeteriá, our missions was to find ice cream/heladeria. A gentlemen walking his dog saw us with our map and gave us directions to a quality, but reasonably priced heladeria (most near the cemetery were rather ritzy). This experience (in addition to the man that gave us directions to lunch) further debunks the myth that Argentines are rude or pretentious. So far, no one has scoffed at our broken Spanish or Kaitlin´s Iberian accent.

After ice cream we made our way back to the Subte, tired, but content. The Subte was absolutely packed. If you have ever seen the video of stewards cramming people onto the metro in Japan - the return trip on the Subte was not much different. We waited for the next train and were lucky to find the one car where it was not necessary to be touching strangers on all sides. Unfortunately, a friend from day one (Sebastian from the Netherlands), was returning from a day trip to Uruguay and had his passport, plus 300 pesos stolen from his front pocket.

We listened to his story over a dinner that Rick, Kaitlin, and I had thrown together and were reminded that it is dangerous to make assumptions. Only the night before, Sebastian had remarked that here, unlike Morocco, he felt he did not need his money-belt.

After finishing our dinner, we took our vino blanco to the roof and continued our discussions about the pros and cons and differences between life in the States and Holland..and then just general talk. It would be exhausting to talk so much about nationality and culture - I am glad that the people here have been eager to ask questions (as I have been), but have also been content to just enjoy eachother´s company and leave things on a tertiary level every now and then.

It is now nearly ten in the morning. Sergio has just joined me at the computers. Kaitlin, Mick, and Rick are still asleep. The goal today is to make our way to San Telmo and La Boca. We have heard that the area is more "touristy" but also that it is more cultural. Personally, after the abundance of commercial venues in Palermo and Recoleta - I am ready for a slower pace or at least the illusion of culture. Not to mention "La Bombonera" is there - the Boca Juniors stadium.

Still no pictures, we forgot the camera yesterday! Maybe today.

Admittedly, I am most looking forward to Sunday. Mick, James(the Brit from Northwest England), and I have decided we will brave the Apertura together. It is just a matter of which match to attend.

Lastly, Kaitlin and I have decided to stay in BA for at least another week. We may very well extend beyond that, but the prospect of the beaches in Mar del Plata are calling our names. But, who knows!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Having finally achieved a decent night´s sleep, I think I am now more able to share some cultural experiences and observations - rather than just moan about the difficulties of travel.

First lesson: Quisiera vino tinto, por favor.

The wine served on the plane with dinner was better than most $20+ bottles I have had in the states. The hostel only has two selections, but both are stellar and can be purchased for $25 pesos - the equivalent of about $7 US. At that price it is very managable to have a decent bottle of wine with your dinner, considering we bought all the fresh materials for veggie pasta w/ marinara for $5 (US).
So, the length of our money is one area in which we did not overestimate. Beyond food, we have heard that lengthy busrides in a cama-bus (sleeper with food service) are more than affordable. This will factor massively when we start looking towards Mendoza (to really taste some wine) and Bariloche when we start working south.

Wine aside.. the people, barring the taxi (who according to some fellow hostel residents is the exception rather than the rule), are generally friendly and willing to help - even if you struggle with their language. Kaitlin remarked yesterday that the service at the cafe in the Plaza de Congreso was very friendly - whereas in Spain the wait staff would just stare at her if she asked questions about the food. The staff at the hostel has also been very nice (especially to me, since it is obvious I am learning the language). People on the street seem very busy and purposeful, but it is a good balance of what you would expect in any major metropolitan area. Though I´m sure the next few weeks will bring some lasting impressions regarding the locals - I think our best experiences with the people will probably come outside of the urban setting.

A moment:
Kaitlin and I were soaking up some sun on the roof of the hostel after our midday meal (I guess it was a siesta) when we started hearing drums and a bullhorn in the distance. Sure enough, we look over the roof wall and there is a massive demonstration clogging the Ave. de 9 Julio (the widest street in Argentina, named after their independence day - mix Times Square and Chicago´s Michigan Ave). There is a massive transit strike going on here right now - our assumption (I haven´t seen today´s paper) is that this march is related to the recent breakdown in negotiations between the Gobierno and the socialist bloc of workers. There is grafitti everywhere here championing the socialist agenda or lamenting the Falklands War in 1982 (there was also a veterans demonstration next to the house of congress).
The march, while rather massive (easily thousands of people - taking nearly two hours to clear a block and a half) - was very pedestrian. We laughed that they were not over zealous - more like they were on their way to a football match than to the steps of Congress. Still, it made an impression on me, to see people actively participating in something. Whether it was the drumming and singing of the marchers or the honking and gesitculating of the stranded motorists - I took it as a good omen for eventful and safe travels.

Lastly, we have already met some charming characters here. In addition to the staff we shared the kitchen with a gentleman from northwest England - were bestowed with a helpfully modified city map and some bread by another Brit (he from the northeast) - but we had our best interaction with a couple from Holland whom we spoke with on the roof last night for some time - each couple with their own bottle of vino tinto. They have already come through Santiago and Mendoza, so they had some helpful tips for us, but mostly it was nice to share first impressions of Buenos Aires (as well as other destinations we had in common).
Today we plan to make our way north to the massive park (I forget the name). Friday, I´m not sure what we´re doing, but Saturday and Sunday are about futbol! Argentina is playing Spain on Saturday and word is every hotel lobby, bar, and cafe will have the game available. Sunday River Plate play Tucuman, but I´m not sure if we´ll be able to make it up there (River´s stadium is about an hour northwest).
I still haven´t decided who - if anyone - I will follow or at least attempt to see play. All accounts so far are that the terraces at a Boca or River match are filled with bonafide hooligans and extremists (and that´s coming from Brits!). From what I saw of the game on TV last night between Estudiantes and Rosario - the entire stadium is a hazard, but that´s the point, right?

Oh well, today is a new day. I feel fairly rested, though I could have slept much later (someone hit me with a towel this morning because they mistook me for one of the people snoring below and beside me. Needless to say, I couldn´t get back to sleep because of the snoring.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alive, in Buenos Aires

A day later and indeed, a few bucks short - we have arrived in Buenos Aires.

If the last forty-eight hours are any indication of the path that lay before us, God help us. Of course, nothing we can´t handle, but I am hoping for more subtlety and romance to divulge - rather than the abrupt drama that is the city.

But first...

I try not to believe in jinxs (and now I know of at least one we can avoid on the return trip), but after smooth passage via Delta from Denver to Atlanta to Miami - it was only a matter of time. Originally, we chose Aeorlineas Argentina because it was reasonably priced, but more so because it flew direct from Miami to Buenos Aires. All other airlines stopped in either Mexico or Panama City. I still think we made the best choice but it is difficult to ignore hindsight.

Upon arriving in Miami we were greeted first and foremost by that all too familiar wave of humidity. At that moment I found myself longing for the swelter of the Sandhills - bizarre.
Continuing up the ramp the sentimentality was overcome with the excitement of our pending final leg of the twenty-eight hour haul. But Miami International is a rather large airport and rather than wandering aimlessly we opted for the information kiosk.

When we told the clerk which airline we were seeking, his chin sucked into his neck - pursed his lips - rolled his eyes to the top of his head: Y´all are brave...DAMN y´all are brave!

Immediately, we shriveled. Why exactly should we be brave? Who wants to be brave? Not me.

The gentlemen proceeded to inform us that Aerolineas Argentina is the bane of MIA - the target of countless industry jokes - ´´That airline is held together with bubble gum and duct tape.¨ ¨Sometimes they try to take off with two..even one engine!¨

Thansk for the heads up!

Luckily, the flight was cancelled due to, ¨No aircraft.¨ So we had an entire day in Miami to ruminate on the possible flaws with this airline - to ponder and joke about the potential for crashing into the Gulf of Mexico or the Andes. Huzzah!

Of course, the flight itself went off without a hitch. The craft was not state of the art, but the meal was good and the ride smooth and I was lulled into the simpler, slower way.

That was until my pack arrived in baggage claim with the brain (top compartment) unclipped and hanging next to the body. It was a very strange kind of panic that came over me. My pack seemed smaller, but that could have been because it was buried under the weight of a pyramid of luggage - it didn´t necessarily mean that anything was missing.

Then I saw that two of my five carrabiners used to hold my zippers shut were missing. Long story short, because this is dramatically overhyped - my external hard-drive (which we intended to load with thousands of touristy photos) was gone. In retrospect, I´m not too surprised - more surprised that my first naive blunder would come so soon upon arriving.

The sick insecurity of knowing that a stranger has access to all of your photos, videos, writing, etc... left me pretty vulnerable - I was caving after being swept through customs, no questions asked - only to be blindsided.

We soldiered on though - in the grand scheme of things it was a minimal loss - all our files had been backed-up on Kaitlin´s harddrive before we left..and we brought mine because it didn´t even really work that well. Good riddance.

- I hope every day does not produce such long winded entries -

Our cab ride was another harrowing experience. Before we walked through the automatic doors - we were picked up by a taxi. We were told the rate would be $350 pesos..which seemed exorbitant compared to the exchange rates and the info we had seen online about fares from the airport to the city center, but hey.. we were on our way..

The since of injustice ebbed and flowed as I took in the drive. It was difficult to stay focused on the fare as we passed the training facility for the Argentine National Futbol team and the sporadic cars parked in the median and shoulder with people just sitting staring at the countryside. We asked the driver what they were doing, ¨Just passing the day,¨ he said.

We arrived after a while and the fare showed $460 pesos - I knew we were getting ripped off, but I just wanted to get into the hostel and collapse - so between Kaitlin and myself we shelled out $500 pesos. The driver attempted some poor slight of hand and produced four hundred peso bills and two ten peso bills. He then tried to convince us that we had given him $420 pesos.. it was pretty surreal for about five minutes as Kaitlin tried to grasp what the man was saying and I (limited by my lack of Spanish) was unable to tell the guy to go jump off a bridge. Once he realized we weren´t going to submit - he changed his story and said he was just giving us our change (still shorted $20 pesos from the already inflated fare). We shook hands and he drove away. Bizarre.

This entry has already swelled beyond acceptable proportion and we need to hit the grocery store before it gets dark. I´ll be back later with impressions from our exploratory walks around the area and perhaps a picture of the massive socialist protest that shut down the cities major thoroughfares for almost an hour. Till then...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Psuedo-South America

It is currently 8:01AM EST on November 10th, Miami - USA. Yes, Miami.

I am living to rue my words to Matt the night before we left. I was ruminating on the poor mail service in Argentina/South America and I said, "We may just find that the world is a lot bigger than we think."

I didn't think we'd find out so soon!

Two of three flights yesterday went off without a hitch. Upon arriving in Miami we made our way to baggage claim, because our flight from Miami to Buenos Aires was on a different airline: Aerolineas Argentina

After we got our bags we went to the information desk to get directions to the Aerolineas check-in

We walk up to the desk and ask the gentleman, "We were just looking for the A-A check-in desk."
The man leans back in his chair, lowers is head, and purses his lips - "Y'all are brave, damn, y'all are brave..."

"Excuse me?"

The man proceeded to explain that A-A is the bane of the Miami airport. That there is an "industry joke" about the airline: That airline is held together with bubble gum and duct tape.
He was also kind enough to elaborate by explaining that they often try to take off with two..even one engine working - instead of four.

GREAT! AWESOME! THANKS FOR THE HEADS-UP! we are about to get onto our flight..

But, we are hardy traveleres - we soldier on! After sitting infront of the Aerolineas Argentina check-in desk for a few hours (we didn't want to check-in too early - in order to reduce the likelihood that our bags would be misplaced so early before the flight) we slap our knees and say, "LETS DO THIS!"

We tie up all of the loose straps on our packs and stride galantly over to the check-in desk. We wait for the clerks to finish their conversation. We place our identification on the counter. We wait. The woman says, "No flight today." It doesn't sink in to either one of us. Kaitlin talks to the woman - I continue to imagine that the form she is filling out is our boarding pass, "Gee, that's odd that she is hand-writing our boarding pass."
"If you go out the door and take a left, that is where the shuttle will pick you up. We are giving you breakfast, lunch, and dinner.", what?

So, I jinxed us. And, the "big world" got bigger a lot faster than I expected.

Thus - here - in Miami - not Buenos Aires - but that's okay!

It has been a good while since I have been in Miami. I look at it as Miami is our "warm-up" to BA. The minute we stepped off the plane, we smiled at the humidity. As I felt my fingers get sticky for the first time since early September - sentimentality for the south crept in.
More so, everyone speaks Spanish here. We more or less feel immersed, although I'm sure my first day in BA will blow this feeling out of the water.

So, that is the first update from life after Denver. We are crossing our fingers for a flight today. The weather looks clearer today, I'm taking that as our good omen. More tomorrow from Buenos Aires - ojala!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

..just get me to the hostel.

Just over forty-eight hours until departure.

Yesterday, I tested out the pack. Everything fits!

Today, I will load up the car with everything that is not going to South America.

Tomorrow, we'll drive the car down to Colorado Springs and leave it there.

Sunday will be an early Thanksgiving with Kaitlin's family and time to make my last free phone calls for a long time.

Early Monday morning we'll head for the airport. Boarding Denver to Atlanta 6am Mountain Time. Atlanta to Miami. Miami to Buenos Aires.

We should arrive in Buenos Aires 8 or 10am Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday.

I have resigned myself to the fact that everything between now and Tuesday afternoon will be a blur. Last minute plans to visit with family and friends, phone calls, letters, everything that can be done simply now, that will be difficult to do for the next six months. That's okay.

I feel like we have taken every opportunity to say farewell, to settle our affairs, and to properly prepare ourselves for everything we wish to do in South America. Still, I know it will be hard to turn off my phone that last time, to close up my laptop that last time, to get to sleep that last night, to load the car, to walk away from this generous continent, and to enter a relative unknown. But it will be done.

We have reserved three nights in the Lime House youth hostel in Buenos Aires. I am focusing solely on getting from the airport to the hostel. Once I'm there, I don't know how long I'll sleep, but after I wake up - I will be a new animal.

What exactly that entails - I can't be sure, but I feel it in my gut.
..just get me there.

I imagine I'll write again before we leave - though there is increasingly less to say. Words are nearly obsolete - time for action.