Thursday, March 27, 2008

Apartment and Argentina

I find myself with a spare half an hour before a meeting starts and a lucky internet connection, so the only logical thing to do is blog of course.

As of this Monday I officially no longer live in a hostel - three cheers for private space. I moved into a "luxury" condo on the water in Valparaiso, which does not mean on the beach since Valpo is a port. My commute to work is a lovely 20 minutes on the new metro which is only 2 blocks away, during which time I plan my lessons and gaze at the ocean. The condo itself isn't exactly what I was looking for - a bit too expensive and a bit too small - but it was the best I saw out of about a baker's dozen, I was sick of looking, and it's quite charming. The building is new and has 24 hour security which is nice. There is a washer/dryer which RULES, and I have a full kitchen (a rareity among the places I saw), a private balcony that connects to a building-wide balcony with views of the ocean, and two swimming pools that theoretically work but have been under maintenance since I arrived. It also has a tiny gym and is in a good location. All in all I'm pleased with it, although getting internet is proving a bit tricky... since I still don't have a camera cord, you´ll have to wait to see what it looks like!

We´re in the third week of classes and my students just got their books on Monday. We have our first test next week and I am terrified I haven't taught them the right content, which would not be my fault since we don't yet have any clear guides on what, exactly, they should know. Also, despite my preference for advanced classes it turns out my beginning students are much more respectful - as freshmen, they arrive on time, pay attention, and participate. My advanced students - the seniors - do not have the same, shall we say, zest for learning, and also don't seem to speak English any better than the beginners. I can't help but wonder, who has been passing these fools?

Last week we had a few days off for Semana Santa or Holy Week. Two (American - still no real Chilean friends to speak of, though I do have a ¨date¨later this week) friends and I decided to head over to Mendoza, Argentina to take in some scenery and some wine. The bus ride was truly incredible - a five hour trek OVER the Andes, with some terrifying switchbacks, plus a two hour wait at the border, which I'm told is a lucky amount of time and that it can last up to 5-6 hours. (On the way back, an old man tried to smuggle cocaine across the border, resulting in a strip search of not only him but of this sweet British girl sitting next to him since the dogs smelled it on both their seats. Talk about the wrong place... after an hour and a fine, he got back on the bus and continued on to Santiago with us since it was only enough for "personal use" and he was not trafficking it...)

Once we go to Mendoza our hostel reservation had been lost - as had the reservations of about a dozen other travellers - but they somehow found us beds in large dorms and we were off to explore. First on our list was to eat, which proved harder than it should have since the service in Argentina, it has to be said, SUCKS. It would be one thing if the tipping rate were 2%, but they demand the same 10% our attentive Chilean servers get. We started with a snack and later that night ate at a ¨tenedor libre¨or ¨parilla libre¨which means "free fork" or, alternately, "open grill." This translates to them bringing vast quantities of grilled meat to your table, and then bringing more at your request. Argentina is famous for its meat and wine, and we indulged in both.

Speaking of wine, the next day we decided to do a very popular if not touristy activity: rent bikes and tour wineries. The road we had to bike on ended up being not a quaint, tree-lined country lane but rather a semi-truck-infested, gravel and pothole-filled highway of doom. We actually ran into a few other friends/teachers at one of the wineries and as we were all biking back, something rather shocking occurred. Two young delinquents on a moto (aka mini motorcycle) cruised past us, mysteriously slowing down at points and seemingly slapping some of the girls on their backs. Now, those of us in the front of the line didn't know this, and those of us in the back of the line had no way to notify the rest of us and didn't really realize it would have required notification had it been possible, BUT when the two fools made it to me and my bike, they didn't slap my back: they ripped my messenger bag off of it! Naturally if one is going about 15 mph forward and is suddenly wrenched backward, one will fall, which is exactly what I did, in the dead center of the aforementioned drive of doom. I had no idea what had happened - it was all quite surprising to say the least - but I seem to know how to take a fall and was able to land in such a way that all I have in the way of injuries are gnarly bruises on my legs - I didn't even scrape my hands, which is magical, since after my thighs my hands took a reasonable amount of blunt force. I hardly even bled. Seriously, I cannot underestimate HOW LUCKY I was, especially considering the sheer quantity of moving vehicles in the immediate proximity.

Two Argentine women were in the road next to me before I had even finished falling and were yelling, "don't move!" There was no way in hell I was staying in the middle of that road, however, and within about 5 seconds of being down - enough time to realize I wasn't seriously hurt - I sprang up and jetted for safety. By this time both my bike and, thankfully, my bag (which they broke but did not get) had been retrieved, my friends behind me had stopped, the Argentines had run for paper towels and a glass of water, and I was bent over in what I'd like to call controlled hysterics trying not to lose a bellyfull of wine. The "tourist police" came - I swear that's what they were called - on their own motos, took what details my friends could give them, made sure I was ok and didn't need to be taken to the hospital, and then dispatched other tourist police motos to seek out what one of the bike employees described as "drugged out blacks who should all be shot." My reaction to this? "Dude, they were white..." Turns out racism has a home in Argentina as well.

Easily the best part about the whole incident - other than not losing my bag which had my credit card and passport, and that my camera and sunglasses inside the bag weren't broken - was the ride I got to take on the back of a police moto! My friend Angie has photos chronicling the whole event, which she will post to her Flickr and I will then send to you for your enjoyment.I can now say I have been the victim of an attempted robbery in every south American country I have been in, and that I have also been the victim of a violent crime. Bring it on, Peru!

So... yeah. That's all I can write since my half hour is up. Otherwise I did have a lovely but short stay in Argentina, and particularly enjoyed their highly esoteric brands of street performances: one man did an Italian opera using puppets, complete with timed lighting and sound, while another juggled knives while balancing on a ball on top of a ladder. We paid them both.


Jacob said...

WTF!! all these tales of THAT is what i have to look forward to next week? muggings and bike trips on gravel freeways? hot damn i'm so there!!!

Robyn said...

dude. seriously. i am so glad you're alright and look forward to the pics of the ride in the car. And can i just say that i LOVE this blog.....robbie

jrteacherlady said...

Wow! What luck you have:) I'm glad you are okay and your stuff wasn't stolen!!! Sounds like life is wonderful and exciting...

I LOVE YOU said...