Wednesday, February 18, 2009
My globetrotting days have come to an end for the time being - I'm staying put in Argentina for the next year to teach. I will continue to post regularly on my adventures and random observations and look forward to your comments!
Thanks for reading!
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Yesterday, I was kindly invited to come along to cruise the Rio de Plata on a friend of a friend's company yacht that he had for the day with a dozen or so of his friends that I had never met. We listened to music, had a barbeque, hung out on the various decks, cruised along the river and then we anchored and stayed anchored for the next 8 hours, with a view of Buenos Aires in the distance. By the time we dropped anchor, I'd already had too much sun on the deck; even with full sunblock protection I got fried. It was a scorcher, at 104 degrees or more. So while I stayed under the covered rear deck or inside, the rest of the group lounged in the sun and swam in the river, for hours. By the time we had our civilized 5pm tea-time, I was beginning to go stir-crazy. And while I should've been practicing my Spanish, feeling more and more uncomfortable, trapped on this boat with near heatstroke, I wasn't, and therefore was not really part of most conversations and one of the guys, if I spoke English, would say I had to speak Spanish, that it wasn't fair, I was in their country and needed to speak the language. I felt more and more awkward as the day went on and sensed that I was coming across as an uptight stick in the mud. When we started to head back, as the sun was going down and the stars came out, listening to Bob Marley, I was ready to hang out for a while longer, but then alas, it was over. Even if I did come across as the sweaty, staring, silent American I did manage to make a couple of new friends that live just a few blocks away from me.
So I woke up this morning feeling a bit homesick and after putting on my daily dose of sunscreen and covering up my sunburn with a hat and sunglasses, I headed out to get a cafe con leche at my favorite cafe in Recoleta, Cafe Victoria. Going here always makes me feel good, even if I do feel a bit awkward around a certain cat-calling waiter. Buenos Aires is well-known for this practice of cat-calling and I'd have to say that my favorite is the hissing and clucking - it really helps one to imagine what things must've been like for neanderthal women. So I was sitting there writing in my journal, having my coffee, listening to the accordian player with the red clown nose playing away off in the distance, and an older man, a tourist, asked me if he could join me. I was a little taken off-guard and while staring at his extremely white teeth, hesitated, thinking, oh no, I really want to be alone right now, but then agreed. So I whiled away the next two hours talking with this man, a Canadian, who, after losing his wife seven years ago, has spent six months out of every year traveling somewhere warm, a plan that he and his wife had for once they retired. They had come to Buenos Aires together over ten years ago and had sat in the very same cafe together, enjoying cafes con leche. He had amazing stories, told me great things about the Seychelles, where I now want to go, and about his depressing experience in Fiji, where after being dumped by a girlfriend he found himself trapped and isolated on one small island after another.
After coffee I wandered over to the "grand" park in Palermo, still feeling homesick, seeing the scorched grass and cigarette butts littering every square inch it seemed, with people lazily lounging about in the sun - either tourists or locals that most likely couldn't afford to leave town, since it seems that no one stays in the city on the weekend, it's a ghost town in my neighborhood, amazing. But what I found today is that the El Rosedael, a glorious Rose Garden with benches and fountains and watered grass and Greek bridges, was open to the public (every other time I'd wandered over there it was fenced off with locked gates). It felt rather life-affirming to wander around in here and I spent some time sitting by the small man-made lake watching people go by in the peddle and paddle boats, sometimes painted with a spiderman or batman theme, that looked as though they were on the verge of completely falling apart, only to send the occupants into the murky mucky water (where, by the way, I last month helped pull an almost-drowning little boy out that had fallen in - it was the strangest thing, he just seemed to disappear in a black cloud once underwater). At one point I thought I was watching a rat swimming around, unable to tell due to the lack of visibility, but to my surprise, it was a turtle. How nice.
I've also kept up with Spanish class, although it was a bit of a shocker the first week. No longer was it just three of us, but almost ten, and we had two new teachers that took a little getting used to. There are four Brazilians in the class who mix Spanish and Portuguese all class-long, and since I don't quite know the difference between the two languages when they are mixed together, I never know what's right. And then there's a German man who speaks in French and an Italian- American that mixes Italian and Spanish and an American that somehow bypassed level 1 and never knows what's going on, and then there's me with a crazy party going on in my brain trying to make sense of everything. But it's getting better. And I think once I'm working with children, the base I have will serve me well, and I will pick up a lot. That and the other teachers I'll be working with do not know English. Fun challenges!!
I also can tell that I am adapting more to the culture and settling in here. I am no longer freaking out about having organic food and really like the way the produce tastes here now - and although I can't find peanut butter, I've found that tahini on bananas makes a great snack! I can actually go to the gym or grocery store and run into people I know and I'm developing a little social network in my neighborhood. And the fact that I hardly batted an eye when a stray dog from the street came into Spanish class last week looking for water tells me things are looking good, I can manage in this city just fine.
Until next time!
Saturday, January 10, 2009
A few days ago I returned from Patagonia with my sister, Lindsay. We had a couple of more days in the city together before I saw her off to go back to Minnesota. This picture was taken in Patagonia, on the top of Cerro Tronador, a mountain near Bariloche that lies on the border between Argentina and Chile; it is part of the Andes Mountains. We had spent the day before hiking up the mountain - not a difficult hike, but enough of a challenge to be interesting, and not a very long hike at 4.5 hours. Once at the top, we entered into a Zen state, admiring the beauty and feeling incredibly relaxed from breathing in all that fresh air at high altitude. The mountain was about 3300 meters - not sure what that is in feet, almost 10,000? We had brought our sleeping bags and planned to stay at the refugio, which we did. We both couldn't believe this refugio, however. To climb a mountain and enter into this "hut" that had a bar and restaurant serving lamb ribs with potato puree along with piscos (a Chilean cocktail made with lemon liquor and egg whites that we had to try while playing gin) was quite something. There were four long wooden tables with benches where everyone piled in come night. The sleeping quarters were a bit more spartan - a huge attic with over 60 matresses laid out where hikers could sleep according to the "tetris" map to let guests know their appointed spot.
For dinner, Lindsay and I shared a table with a group of locals from Buenos Aires who had ridden up to the base on horseback. They brought numerous bottles of red wine to share and we learned of all their various occupations and activities.
The sleeping part at the refugio wasn't the most comfortable, but I am an extremely light sleeper and wasn't expecting my 8 hours. Lindsay and I had a matress and a half to share since it was so crowded and that meant that when I rolled over I was in a strange man's face and at one point in the night during a dream where I was reaching out to a dog, I startled myself upon finding the warm hand of a stranger who was sleeping on half of my mattress.
The next day we went on a glacier/crevasse excursion with a guide that was such a bad a** mountain man my sister and I both fell in love a little bit. Lindsay did some ice wall climbing, I stood by and took pictures. Neither of us had been in such close proximity to a crevasse before and it was rather incredible to be able to see light come through the layers of glacier and walk along ice bridges near ridges that would've meant death had we made a false move. Our guide would stop and allow us to look into the crevasse one at a time (we were a group of six), while holding on to our harnesses.
The best part of this excursion was that I got to be in snow! My internal seasonal clock (circadian rhythm?) or whatever it is called has been so thrown off by being in summer when it should be winter - it's like I'm in the twilight zone, time has stopped, the holidays felt surreal, I forget what month it is all the time. I don't mind it so much, it's just such a change from my counting down the days habit that I seemed to have going on last winter that I can feel rather disoriented.
Anyway, after we hiked back down Tronador, legs shaking like crazy from all the downhill tromping, we nearly missed our 5pm bus, or thought we were going to miss it, so had to run the last 20 minutes con mochilas. We got to the bus, and as we'd thought our Dutch friend Simone (an older woman traveling alone that we met at the refugio who turned out to be a tad bit controlling) had insisted the bus wait for us. Alas, that bus was full, but the one next to it leaving a surprisingly half hour later of the same company had room for us. We got on with plenty of time. But then when it was time to go, the engine wouldn't turnover. So we sat there for a while as the busdriver tried to get the bus going and tried not to inhale all of the black burnt exhaust blowing into the windows. (Ahh, back to civilization.) After the engine finally got going and we were on our way, the bus broke down, less than a mile from where we left. So we all got off the bus, the bus driver said we could wait at the trailhead station until another bus came, which would be in 2 hours. As we were walking back a car passed, so we of course stuck our thumbs out and ended up hitching a ride with a sweet French couple. Their car reeked of BO but it was kind of comforting knowing they wouldn't mind having some dirty sweaty backpackers in their backseat. They were going to see some cascades and wondered if we wouldn't mind coming along before heading back to Bariloche. No, we didn't mind - how could we? We were only starving and extremely dirty, but who can complain when someone offers you a favor in such desperate times. Anyway, going along the twisty mountain road, being driven around by a race-car driver in the making, we also concluded we wouldn't be renting a car - our original plan in order to get in some lakeside camping further north with pristine natural surroundings that wouldn't be as accessible to the average tourist.
We got back to our hostel in Bariloche by 10pm, made our leftover pasta that was in the fridge - even our wine from New Year's was right where we left it on the counter, untouched. We spoke with our new acquaintances that we'd met the two nights we'd stayed there over New Year's, one of note was a man named Fernando who lived in Buenos Aires but was hanging out in Bariloche, he really liked English pronounciation and we found it rather humorous when he practiced his skills. We also met a young German guy who spoke to us while obsessively sipping his mate as though he needed it merely to be able to breathe, asking if I had gotten hooked on mate yet because he had (sip, breath, sip, breath, sip). He had an internship in Brazil and was crazy about South America.
The next day we headed to San Martin de Los Andes - unfortunately our whole day was taken up by bus travel, waiting for buses, stopping in towns, but we still enjoyed ourselves and it was probably good to have a bit of a rest day. Once we got there we both knew this was going to be one of our favorite all-time towns - it was a mixture of so many mountain towns in one - a bit of Sedona, Aspen, Sun Valley, Jackson, Chamonix, France - my only complaint would have to be that it wasn't rustic enough, it was almost too nice. It was a town hugged by mountains and served as the mouth of a chain of seven lakes that leads into Chile. I would love to come back to this town in winter. We explored around a bit and spent a day hiking one of the mountains near to town, Cerro Colorado - a nice hike but then our idea to walk back to town (we had taken a taxi to the trailhead) turned into a three-hour walk that would've been a six-hour walk through a Mapuche village if we hadn't gotten picked up by a kind Argentine couple. The walk through this community land was enchanting - rolling hills in a forest, little farms with simple homes - we kept thinking we were going to see a gnome or elf pop up from behind a tree - a thought that bordered on terrifying once we realized how far we were from anything - main roads, the town, etc. But we made it back with the Argentine couple and got ready for our dreaded trip back to the city the next morning.
We needed at least another four days - we had been down in Patagonia for six. I say this to anyone that is planning a trip there - take ten days or two weeks at least! There was still so much we wanted to do and see and couldn't. We loved it, had a fabulous time, and can't wait to go back. Ideally, rent a car and camp, but I think I need an Argentine along for this to work. Driving on those mountain roads uncomfortably with a stick-shift (rental cars were only manual) could have been suicidal. I get freaked out enough just driving on the highway at home.
Back in Buenos Aires we stumbled back to my apartment in a daze, almost like zombies being exposed to light for the first time. The city is actually extremely empty since everyone goes on vacation during this time, but just the traffic, big buildings, noise and air pollution - all these things that of course humans can adapt to, but that are not necessarily harmonious for the health, can be a bit shocking at first, coming from all blue, brown, and green. But here I am, getting used to the grind, and yes, I still love it here and plan to stay a while - I am waiting to find out the details about a teaching job that I'd like to share but am waiting until things are finalized.
Oh, and to back-track a bit, since some might be curious how one celebrates New Year's in Patagonia, Lindsay and I made dinner at the hostel, "El Gaucho," in Bariloche and spoke to a group of French people that had spent the last 4 days hiking around in the mountains and therefore were feasting on a gourmet meal like I'd never before seen prepared in a hostel. We met some brothers from England that were quite friendly and some locals that had come down from BsAs. After dinner we went to an Irish pub for ice cream and a glass of champagne to ring in the new year then headed to the town square where everyone had gathered, people of all ages, shooting off fireworks and drinking out of bottles of champagne, with an elegant stone clocktower hovering above letting us all know it was 2009. We realized this is where we should've been for the hour leading up to midnight, but we learned for next time!
And to backtrack even more, my Christmas was wonderful - the arrival of Lindsay being the icing on the cake! Nochebueno, Christmas Eve, at Maria's lasted until 2:3oam as I was told it would, even the little ones were still up! We had lots of salads and cold meats along with champagne and some excellent dulce de leche mousse! Yum! We were a group of 30 or more and sat at round tables pushed together in the backyard (they had been separated around the yard but then arranged in one long table as all started to sit down and wanted to be together).
On Christmas morning I felt very fortunate to have been able to sleep over in a home and wake up in a house. We sat outside and had some pan dulce for breakfast (I guess this is of Italian origin and now an Argentine tradition), coffee and then a bit later leftovers for lunch. And then a bike ride around San Isidro (a very nice town 20kms outside of BsAs where Maria lives). It was probably 90 degrees F. Quite different than my Christmas last year in Minneapolis where as great as it was having all of my family around, all I wanted to do was sleep due to exhaustion from grad school and teaching - I guess I have to thank that exhaustion for getting me here.
Anyway, I hope all is well with everyone! I better wrap this up, it smells like my computer is burning - unless that's just someone grilling meat nearby...
Happy New Year!
Much peace, love, and happiness.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Everyone that I've met from here has been very kind and supportive and so helpful in every way - if I'm planning a trip, friends and cousins get called, itineraries get planned out, reservations made, escorts to the bus station to get my tickets - the generosity is absolutely unbelieveable! And these people are incredibly busy with their own lives. It reaffirms my faith in humanity in a way to experience this firsthand. The social connectivity seems quite strong and embracing, people take care of each other, even if they've just met you. I don't ever want to forget how grateful I am for this.
So what have I been up to this past month.... Spanish class ended last week and starts up again in January. I've spent some time taking private lessons with one of my professors, the one that was a good teacher (the other, I began to loathe a bit - sorry, but I don't do favorites when a class consists of just me and one other person for the majority of the time, until we had a Dutch guy join at the end, with whom I vented my frustration and gained a supportive ally). My Spanish is coming along, little by little. It is absolutely thrilling when I hear myself string together one sentence after another - whether it's correct form or not doesn't matter at this point, I am speaking! And today I was speaking to a cab driver. But I realized as soon as his meter started scrambling numbers around for the appointed fare, that his firing of one question after another, asking if I was married, had a boyfriend, do teachers make a lot of money in the US (and I was quite happy to practice my Spanish on a perfect stranger, no pressure), that he was trying to distract me from seeing the fare go from 3 pesos to 34 pesos in 2 minutes. I stopped with the Spanish and said in English that his meter is wrong, there was no way the fare could be 30 pesos, it should be 10 pesos. He said, oh, yes, it's not working, it's not even on. And pushed a button that brought it back to 3 pesos. Then he told me it was to be 20 pesos. I said that's too much. And I haggled with the price until we got to 15 pesos - I said this is not fair to do to tourists! (Clearly my Spanish was awful enough that he easily pegged me as a newcomer.) Unfortunately, I only had 10 pesos and a 100 peso bill, bad move!!! I got yelled at by a cab driver before for only having a 100 peso bill - they are crazy about change here!!! There is a change shortage. So often if you don't have small bills or correct change, people get pissed at you and act like they would rather not sell you anything than have to part with their beloved change!! So anyway, I told the cab driver that I would have to get change. Oh, cambio? He said. I have. Great. He had enough cambio (and who knows, they could be counterfeited bills, another big problem here) to still charge me 20 pesos. I said that's not fair. Then he took out a US $1 bill and wished me luck. All the while, smiling like a freaking con artist. Well, I learned my lesson with that one. Or a few lessons.
On Friday I went to my first disco club, saw a seedier side of life here, with my Dutch classmate, and have been coughing with a sore throat ever since. At the time I thought it was great, I was dancing salsa, singing along to the 80s, meeting people, but then the next day I felt soooo awful I just wanted to lie in bed. Maybe it was the fact that I consumed more beer than I have in a long while, that I was unable to sleep in after being up til 5 or 6am, that I am waaaay too old to be going to places like that, that the smoke completely polluted my system...I think what I disliked most about the club was that I've been getting used to meeting men that are true gentlemen, really great quality people, and I began thinking that that's what all the men are like here, but ohhh no. I was thoroughly disappointed with the behavior - I was asked if I was single or married I don't know how many times, and never asked what my name was. My blank stares got the message easily across: GO AWAY! But all in all, after leaving, I just felt dirty. I guess this is why I am very selective with who I spend time with and where I spend my time - I get completely thrown off and my energy gets drained and it takes me days to recover (still have a sore throat). And I'm not talking about my Dutch friend, he's great, but the people at this club! Once again, a problem but also a gift of getting older is realizing these situations that suck the life out of you and to avoid them like the plague! It only made me feel that much more fortunate to be meeting great people.
Upcoming plans...Lindsay is coming for two weeks (can't wait!!!) and we are heading down to Patagonia. I am really looking forward to taking this trip with her. Posts and photos to come! Tomorrow I head over to Maria's home for Christmas Eve. I've been invited to take part in their family traditions and she said dinner usually runs on until 2:30am!! On Christmas Day, it'll be swimming in the pool in the predicted 90 degree heat, a lazy lunch, and then a bike ride with my new friend. I feel so fortunate that I have such wonderful people to spend my holidays with away from home, although I miss home very much.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!!
Peace and Love,
Monday, December 1, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
I recommend this movie.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
So what have I been up to. . . . It is polo season in Argentina and on Sunday I was invited by my Argentine family to see my first polo match. It was a hot sunny day but we only attended one match that was in the late afternoon, so we managed to not get completely fried. I guess the best polo players in the world are from Argentina and the sport is a pretty big deal here. It was fun to watch, rather exciting to see the horses almost run-hopping along. At one point, a horse fell and did a few somersaults while the polo player was still in his saddle. The crowd shouted and shuddered. An ambulance came out to revive the man, but within minutes, he was back on his feet and in the saddle, ready to keep playing (who knows how he was feeling the next day).
After the match, dolled up spectators lingered around the concession area - a concession area like I've never seen before. Lots of booths/bars sponsored by Mercedes (there were a few of the brand's cars parked on the lawn) and other high-end goods producers. It was all in all quite a glamorous scene.
The history of polo (quite interesting, actually):
I also started Spanish class this week and my first impression: boring!!!! I'd forgotten what old school class can feel like, it's like an insult to one's intelligence - I wish they had Montessori Spanish classes for adults! And the fact that there are only two other people in my class also keeps the energy buzz at nil. But I'll keep going back, it's only four doors down from my apartment, an extension program through the University of Buenos Aires. Class is everyday for three hours - but I can tell this time will get shaved off quite a bit because everyone is late, even on breaks (at least from what I can gather from the first two days). The professor is nice and extremely patient. When I speak, I feel like I have a mouth full of marbles.
Yesterday there was a student from Kenya, in our class temporarily for he was really supposed to be in Level 2. He told me and the other student, a recent graduate from Maine, that times were tough when he left Kenya, with all the killing going on, and since he's been in Argentina his grandmother, who raised him, has died as well as his girlfriend. But he says he wants to be out having fun, learning Spanish, dancing tango, rather than be in bed sad. Geez!
Today we had a new student from Norway, a fisherman in his mid-20s. He knows no Spanish, like me, and was quite flustered when the teacher spoke to him. It'll be fine. I think we'll all learn quite a bit, even if I totally disagree with the method in which it's taught! It's interesting for me, after all of the teaching I've done and school that I have behind me, to be this sort of student again - it reminds me of elementary school, talking about what profession people are in our workbook, how old are they, learning the alphabet...I guess it's a bit humbling. Maybe it's been a long time since I've tried to learn a new skill.
Some brain gymnastics never hurt anyone. The other day, the college grad asked me if I brought any good books with me (after telling her I'd just finished a MA in literature), and I said no and that I haven't read anything in a while. She then pulled out a book she had picked up, one I hadn't heard of, and explained it's not that great, that she feels like it's making her dumb. Perhaps my blank stare caused her to put the book away and our conversation ended. When I graduated college I was the same way about books, I wanted to get going on all the classics I hadn't read yet, books are so amazing, I'm an English major, I need to be well-read, etc. So I spent a lot of time reading some really great books, classics, that I could talk about and sound 'smart.' (And I LOVE books, don't get me wrong, and feel incredibly blessed that I've been able to read as many books as I have and have had extraordinarily stimulating conversations talking about them - books build civilizations, so read!) But I don't look to books anymore to make me 'smarter.' I'd rather follow my interests and if that leads me to a great classic, then wonderful, but that book's value might not be any higher than a low-brow book that gave me a great experience or awakened certain insights in me. (I guess I'm going against the idea that certain books are elitist and that those who read them are elite.) Bottom line, however, you've never read enough, and I realized in this moment with the recent college grad, that I wanted to be reading and wasn't.
My interests currently lie in getting to know Argentina, so I decided it's about time to read some of her authors. I'm bypassing Jose Luis Borges for now, even if he is the most celebrated author (I fear I may find him a bit boring) and opting for Julio Cortazar, or at least the one book of his I found at the English bookstore, his short stories. I also recently learned about another author, Roberto Arlt, an Argentine that wrote about the seedy side of life, broke literary rules, was really rather edgy and ahead of his time. I had to order his book 'Mad Toy' online for it's impossible to get any of his work here in English from what I've found.
I'm also continuing to let go of my organic produce fanaticism, I have no choice, it's just not possible here...it's amazing how ingrained that is in me, to buy organic, but I have to shut it off for now, and enjoy inferior-tasting conventional, chock-full of pesticides. Today I was purchasing some nuts and tofu at a nearby health-food store (the standard size for these health-shops are pretty small, about the size of a large closet, just to give a visual) and a sweaty (it's approaching 90*F) Englishman dressed in business attire came in asking the young man at the counter for diet pills to lose weight. He explained how the diet here is making him gain weight, it is horrible. He said he saw an ad for something on TV that's supposed to make you lose weight (if you pay attention to any of the adverts on TV you become inundated with weight-loss hoodoo). He was a little bit manic. But I could totally relate to that one-too-many-empanadas-and-steak feeling that leaves you feeling bloated and disgusting. The man had grocery bags of fruit and vegetables with him. He said he was going to check the name he had written down and come back to see if they had the tablets he saw on TV. After he dashed out, I asked the clerk if many foreigners come in saying the same thing, asking for help. He said, oh, yes, all the time. I asked if he had any tips regarding the Argentinian diet. He said he doesn't eat it, he's a vegetarian.