Thursday, December 31, 2009

Vacation Part 2: El Chalten

Hello and happy New Year's Eve! Welcome to part 2 of my Christmas vacation story. This one is shorter than yesterday's and has plenty of photos. Enjoy it while it lasts since I think the Bariloche segment will be another rambler.

Monday: December 21: Summer Solstice, or: Twenty-four hours of rain in El Chalten

Monday we woke up early in El Calafate to catch our pre-reserved 2-hour bus to El Chalten, a tiny little frontier town that was founded in the 1980s as part of a border dispute with Chile. It's within Glacier National Park and its big claim to fame is Mount Fitz Roy, plus a variety of other hikes available.

After some confusion at the bus terminal (since there were 6 buses leaving at once, half of which were destined for the same place and run by the same company but with entirely different systems of ticketing) we were underway. Halfway through all the buses make a stop at a roadside refuge/hotel called La Leona, named after a puma that attacked Francisco Moreno, the very same explorer "Perito Moreno" for whom the glacier is named. It's a sweet spot and we had coffee and fried bread and dwelled on the appropriateness of naming a now-famous refuge after a violent attack against a famous explorer before getting underway again. This interesting distance meter is posted out front:
It had been a bright, blue day when we left El Calafate. It stayed that way until about 2o minutes outside of El Chalten, when dark clouds rolled in and rain started to dot the windows. By the time we pulled up to the park ranger building and went in for our explanation of the park and rules to abide by, it was more than drizzling and the wind had picked up. Fifteen minutes later as we unloaded outside our hostel (blessedly the bus stopped right outside Rancho Grande where we had a reservation) the wind was literally howling around us and two minutes outside resulted in being absolutely drenched from head to foot. Clouds obscured Mount Fitz Roy and any other mountain in sight. Lovely.

We checked in (to what we would later learn was the wrong room, their bad) and decided to venture out for food. We made it a whole block before stopping at the first open establishment, a cute little restaurant called La Waflería. We ordered fancy coffees and then I ate waffles with bacon and eggs (longing for it to taste like what I would have made for myself in the U.S. and only being slightly disappointed by what it actually was) and Beth ate an omelet.

We sat and played cards (the beginning of a vacation-long 7-series rummy tournament which I won narrowly at the Bariloche airport a week later) in this cozy spot with other tourists in various stages of dry for about two hours before deciding to "check out the town." What were we thinking? It was freezing cold. And windy. And wet. And we did not have very waterproof outfits on. We walked as far as the internet cafe which did not have internet installed, and then back to our hostel. In that time water actually started to run off each of us like tiny rain streams. I was cracking up laughing, better than the alternative which was concern for my ever-worsening cold. Here we are at the end of our mini-town-trek:
Once back at Rancho Grande, we settled into the "rained in" scene. It's a pretty hopping place, especially on days when the weather prevents all but the most hard-core/stupid hikers from venturing out. El Chalten is a destination for serious mountain climbers, but the generally inclimate weather means that people must come for days at a time with the hope of catching one or two nice days. Apparently there had been 10 sunny days just before we showed up (a theme for us, since the glacier guides said they had also had extremely nice weather on the days before our hike) which hadn't happened as long as anyone living there could remember.

We sat down at one of the few open tables, ordered soup, and set to work playing more rummy. After a nice long nap we went back out to the main room, ordered dinner, checked our email, and played even more rummy. By this time my cold had made some impressive advances and the combined delirium of being sick and being cooped up made for a lot of sniffling and giggling. This photo sums it up nicely:
The whole day we kept saying to ourselves "Maybe it'll clear up after we... eat lunch. Take a nap. Eat dinner." It never did. I kept wishing people a happy Summer Solstice and most of them looked at me blankly before realizing it was true. Seemed more like winter solstice to me but it made me feel connected to my brethren in the northern hemisphere.
We went to bed early with an alarm set for 5:30 am in the hopes of catching a break in the weather and a glorious sunrise that is rumored to turn Fitz Roy orange.

Tuesday, December 22: 5:30 am wake-up call

Beth's alarm went off as scheduled and she immediately looked out the window. "Ooh, look" she whispered to me and I strained from the top bunk to catch a glimpse of a crimson sky. Mostly clear. Obviously the park ranger had lied to us that the sunrise was at 6 am (we later found out we should have set the alarm for 4:30) but we still got dressed and rushed outside to catch some of the red sky:

In addition to the beautiful sky, we were also greeted by a group of Argentines who had clearly been up drinking all night and were appalled by the thought of our early-morning hike. The bartender who was stuck serving them, on the other hand, showed us mad respect. There was still no Fitz Roy sighting but we started off on what should have been a 3 hour roundtrip hike, with the midpoint being a view of Fitz Roy from a glacial lake. Here is a shot of the town about 10 minutes into the hike:
Almost as soon as we started the weather began to turn. But, we figured that with the forest cover we'd be able to withstand it. Once we came out onto a clearing we were nearly knocked over by the wind and the sharp rain drops stung our faces. We took a few quick photos and were on our way through the forest again. We made it about 30 minutes before good-naturedly throwing in the towel. Here is the storm coming at us again:

And here is what Fitz Roy allegedly looks like at sunrise (photo stolen from a blog called "The Little Stray Cat" who was luckier than we):

We got back to the hostel, ate breakfast, and then I went back to sleep for a few hours while Beth read. We had reserved a shuttle to pick us up and take us back to the El Calafate airport at around 10:30 and it all went smoothly. We even saw some guanacos (wild relatives of the camel and llama) and choikes (aka emus) from the road and our driver was a very affable man who pulled over to let us and the older half American/half British couple we shared the shuttle with take pictures. Here is a cropped shot of the guanaco family:

Before we knew it we were in Bariloche, and that's where this blog entry ends and the next one begins! See you all in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Vacation Part 1: El Calafate

I arrived back in Buenos Aires late Sunday night and immediately started downloading pictures and videos. Turns out it takes a long time to sort through my photos, Beth's photos, and our combined memories of the trip, so my apologies for the delay.

Here is the first part of the blog entry I started while on vacation but didn't want to finish without photos included. This is part 1 of 3. I know it's long so for those of you without the strength to make it through: very soon the ADD version of captioned photos will be available via Picasa.

Friday, December 18: Let the vacation begin!

Day one of vacation included getting to the airport late and begging the people in front of me to let me check in ahead of them, which they did. Due to some inexplicable system Beth and I were on slightly different flights (Oh, Aerolineas Argentinas, you crazy ham-and-cheese airline you) and mine included a layover in Bariloche, so I actually got to see it before our vacation days there. It was lovely from the plane:

On the second leg of our flight we got our second ham and cheese sandwich with a hunk of bready dessert, naturally. I hate ham but I eat it like it's my job in Argentina because it just can't be avoided and, well, I was hungry ok?

We also flew over some really cool mineral lakes in the middle of absolutely nothing. No roads, no towns, not a single structure as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately the camera doesn't fully capture the range of blues, greens, and even reds of each individual lake, but it's cool nonetheless:

Landing at the El Calafate airport is sort of odd, since there is literally nothing around it. Nothing at all. I asked someone how far the city itself was and then asked why they build the airport so far away. She scratched her head and said, to employ taxi drivers?

Let it be said that the city of El Calafate is, from a distance, ugly. Observe: The city has exploded over the past few years and it looks like it could have used a good city planner. Luckily, up close the main drag of this two-horse town is quite sweet, with lots of quaint wooden buildings housing all manner of tourist-oriented shops: travel agencies, places to buy and rent mountain equipment, chocolate shops, and many restaurants, most of which feature whole animals roasting over an open fire. It is bordered by a tall hill/mountain to the east and part of Lake Argentina to the west, the third largest lake in South America. Here is part of Avenida del Liberator, the main avenue:
Beth's flight was late but we met at the hotel and then ventured into town together. We had a nice meal of meat and red wine and then went to bed at around midnight, knowing we had a 6 am alarm waiting for us.

Saturday, December 19: Big Ice Glacier Trek

Our first full day of vacation was also our single biggest day of the whole trip: a full day of glacier viewing and trekking. The ice field in Argentina's Glacier National Park (plus all the ice on Chile's side) comprises the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world, and as such is protected with a vengeance by both governments. There is only one company authorized by the Argentinean government to do tourist glacier walks, so naturally it is super expensive, but we were committed to the experience.

The hike itself is on Glacier Perito Moreno, named after an explorer from back in the day. This is a great shot Beth got of it from the runways:
It is one of the most famous glaciers in the world for two reasons: 1) it is the only one in the park that is accessible by land (and not just water), and 2) it has the famous "ice rupture" every so often in which the ice forms a dam with a nearby land mass, cutting off part of Lago Argentina until it builds up so much pressure that it breaks through in a furious roar of ice and water. Here's a video of part of it (only good for the first 30 seconds):

We were picked up right on time and our group of 24 was quickly on its way to the entrance of the park. After a quick unofficial stop to see the glacier from a distance (where we also got a taste of just how windy the day was), the first official stop were the viewing runways built to one side of the glacier. I took my video camera with me which unfortunately does not take very good still shots, but they wouldn't do it justice anyway. It stands about 250 feet above the water, about the height of a 25 story building. Suffice to say it is impressive.
Unfortunately we did not see any major ice breaks (and just one really tiny one) but we heard plenty of cracking and groaning of the glacier which is pretty interesting to listen to.

We got to take a boat ride to the start of the glacier hike which resulted in some funny, windy videos. Once there we had to hike about an hour to the ice entrance, which unto itself was a heart-pounding climb filled with slippery rocks and rickety stairs. We were outfitted with crampons and a harness ("just in case" they said; "just in case we fall into a crevasse?" I responded, and got a dirty look from one of the guides, but hey, that's what they meant!) and then divided into two groups. This is where it got a little weird. But first, us in our harnesses:
Ok, on to the weirdness. Normally the groups are 40 people total, so two groups of 20 are generally formed for the ice walk. That day we were a small group of 24, so two groups of 12 seemed natural, but for some reason two of the guides wanted an ultra-small group and took the group of 5 "Spanish speakers," of which only one of us was a native Spanish speaker, plus an Italian girl and 3 Americans who happened to speak Spanish. Pretty soon it became obvious that our guides were eager for an abnormal day on the ice since, let's face it, catering to tourists day in and day out is probably kind of boring.

The cool part was they took us off the "beaten path" and we had the chance to be part of a very rare, tiny group on the ice, which just accentuates how giant the glacier really is. They showed us some interesting things, like the only organism adapted to live on the glacier, a tiny insect with relatives in most cold water areas of the world. The bad part was, they weren't very attentive and didn't do a good job of taking care of us once on the glacier, especially considering we were all new to crampons and ice walking. Toward the end when we were tired Beth and I fell behind a little, and while one guide should have been with us, they just walked ahead together, chatting and not even looking back to make sure we were ok. Naturally I was pissed and so was Beth, so we went in to the office to complain and were asked to write an official email, which we did. It didn't ruin the day but it definitely left a slightly bad taste in our mouth.

On to the glacier itself: holy cow it was amazing. It was a cold, rainy, windy day, and walking with 2 pound crampons attached to your feet is definitely a sensation that requires some adjustment, especially since you have to dig in like you mean it with each step (see Sunday: Recovery). That combined with wind trying to knock you off balance and rain marring your vision made for a heart-pounding adrenaline-filled afternoon. We look the part though, don't we?

Beth and I had both naively presumed that the glacier would be flat. FLAT?? What were we thinking? Our trek was a constant up-and-down, straddle-this-glacial-stream and jump-over-this-crevasse experience. Observe how not-flat the glacier is here, plus a bonus shot of how crappy the weather was:
Water runs and pools everywhere, the most delicious water I've ever tasted. I must have refilled my water bottle 3 times. Sometimes the water runs right on top of the glacier which makes it look like a slushy puddle that your foot will plunge through, but you have to trust that it is solid ice underneath and step with faith. Sometimes the water turns into a full-blown glacial river that would project you straight into a deep, dark crevasse with no hope of rescue. They held on to our harnesses as we hovered over one such river-meets-crevasse hole; I didn't make it more than 3 seconds before retreating to the relative safety of the slippery ice behind me.

At one point we got lucky and the sun broke through the clouds. I've never seen so many beautiful shades of blue in my life. Any thoughts I had about the appearance of the glacier before were shattered by the sunlight that illuminated every tiny peak and dip within it, hues of blue so rich my heart ached to look at them, water so clear it was hard to believe it was real. If I weren't so worn out and annoyed at our guides I might have cried. It was one of the many moments in my life where I stopped to remind myself what a privilege my life is.
After our lunch break (a delicious meal of salame and avocado sandwiches Beth and I made at the pre-trek refuge from ingredients bought the day before) we started the walk back, which blessedly was a more straight-forward and flat-ish route. Then we had to do the return land trek, another hour on very sore legs, where we were met with coffee at the refuge and then the real delight, whiskey on the rocks on the boat ride back. But not just ANY rocks - it was glacier ice fished from the lake! Very classy touch in our opinion.

We got back to the hotel about 6 pm and immediately decided to head back out to drink hot chocolate, return our rented hiking boots, and eat something (for fear of passing out if we didn't leave the room right away). Argentina is known for its slow, leisurely meals. We may have broken a record with how fast we ate. From the time we sat down to the time we paid the bill was maybe 45 minutes, but that doesn't mean we didn't thoroughly enjoy our mixed salad and homemade thick pasta noodles with bolognese sauce at this adorable little place called La Vaca Atada. They were very understanding when I explained that we had just done 'big ice' and didn't seem annoyed that we were in such a rush. Of course, it's a place dedicated to catering to tourists, so they're probably used to serving dinner 3 hours before normal (for them) and having it last half as long. In fact, I think some places were surprised by how long Beth and I lingered until we explained that we live in Argentina! But, I digress.

Sunday, December 20: Recovery

Sunday we woke up with super sore legs. Those sore legs would last us a good 4 days, often resulting in hilarious groaning noises followed by laughter as we tried to go up or down any stairs or even a slight incline. Hell, sitting on the toilet was a challenge the first two days.

We hobbled downstairs for breakfast and then had to figure out how we were going to get from El Calafate to Bariloche. Originally we planned to take a long-distance bus equipped with "bed seats" that go flat, but since it was the high season the only bed bus was already booked. Our alternative was a series of 4 buses, none of them bed or even semi-bed, taking a total of 30+ hours to arrive with none of the comfort or luxury of Argentina's long-distance buses (which usually involve huge comfortable seats, lots of free wine and whiskey, multiple meals, plenty of movies, and sometimes even bingo). There was a brief moment of panic - renting a car was also out since neither of us drives a stick - until we decided to check on flights.

We had originally decided against flying since 1) Beth was eager to try one of these long-distance buses (I took one last year to Iguazú), and 2) they were really expensive. But, two weeks later they were the same price and suddenly seemed like a steal. So, we bought airfare and had 2 extra days to do something with. We decided to go to El Chalten the next day, and with everything settled drank some (more) hot chocolate (they're really big on chocolate in Patagonia), took a nap, and then went to the casino for some Blackjack.

Tune in tomorrow for Vacation Part 2: El Chalten (much, much shorter, I promise).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hectic week in my new 'hood

On Sunday I moved from Caballito ("Little Horse" - ode post coming in January since I really did love it there!) to Barrio Norte ("North 'Hood") without much complication. I really like this neighborhood, the new apartment is lovely, Amy is as chill as chill can be, and I am especially in love with the huge kitchen. I immediately started cooking and haven't stopped since. This picture really doesn't do it justice, but here is the kitchen:

Here's a shot of the living room, which also doesn't fully emphasize what a nice, large, airy, bright room it is (note Amy's awesome Christmas tree):

Here is a picture from our balcony (we're on the 5th floor which in the U.S. would be the 6th):

And here is our constant companion, adorned in Christmas lights:

This week has been pretty hectic. Luckily it hasn't given me a chance to be sad about missing the Christmas season in Seattle (that plus the gorgeous, warm weather and mosquito epidemic just doesn't make it feel like Christmas, despite Amy's decorations). I moved/unpacked, had some friends of a friend over for dinner (just in from the U.S. - welcome newbies!) during which we also made and decorated sugar cookies, quite possibly the most Christmas-y thing I'll do this year despite the fact that we had chocolate frosting, dulce de leche, and green sprinkles as our only decoration options. We did the best we could. (Amy holding "Christmas cactus man," Jameson working on his mad design skillz, Natalie in the mirror):

In addition to all the other stuff plus a full work week, I also had about six must-dos (special shout-out to my Mom for letting me off the hook on one of them) that all seemed to take at least 2-4 hours which included picking up a now-out-of-town-friend's paycheck, paying off the beach house, going back to Caballito for my bed (and then hoofing it up 6 flights of stairs, fun times), having a going-away dinner for yet another friend, and seeking out the various bits of gear I felt I needed for the upcoming vacation. Which leads me to... the pants.

It's ironic that I would finally give in to a quintessential Pacific Northwest fashion trend way down here in the southern hemisphere, but I quite literally do not own a single pair of pants (I'm a dress girl and even hike in chacos and a skirt) and I am about to go closer to Antarctica than I'll ever be again in my life. So, yesterday I broke down and bought.... wait for it.... absurdly expensive, brand-name, water-proof, wicking, zip-off pants. Observe: (Clare there is something special in this photo just for you)

They might look non-offensive, but one friend already threatened to withdraw from our relationship now that I own pants-that-zip-off-to-become-shorts. Also did I mention they are insanely expensive?? At least if I had bought them in the U.S. I would be a normal size; here the woman's XL didn't fit me and I had to go for a men's L. Ouch. But, they're high quality and will now last me through many days of PNW hiking and camping, where I will finally fit right in with the other nerds.

Beth and I leave tomorrow for El Calafate and on Saturday we'll be trekking the Perito Moreno glacier. Christmas Eve will find us white-water rafting down the Argentinean/Chilean border, and beyond that we're going to fill in the gaps as we go. I have made the scary decision to take my video camera with me, and my New Year's resolution is to learn to edit them together, for reals this time.

I will try to blog from the road but if I don't get to it I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas/Happy Chanukah/Bah Humbug.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"A Cycle of Giving"

Over the last few weeks I've been browsing for appropriate gifts to send home to my immediate family members, weighing a lot of factors such as: Will this be useful/appreciated? Is it the right size/style? Will they think I'm bananas for sending this to them? Will it fit in a postal box size 3?? I think I have to kiss that box away after the gifts I got yesterday but we'll see.

I'm also about to spend a substantial portion of money on myself. This Wednesday I meet with the landlord of the beach apartment to pay the next 2/3 of February's rent, and then Friday I leave for an excursion-and-nice-hotel-filled vacation. While I'm white water rafting down the border of Chile, I hope I pause for a moment to thank my lucky stars that this is, in fact, the incredible life I lead.

Part of leading a great life means having the resources to help others. I don't do as much as I should or could in the way of charitable donations of time and money, but I do try to support several organizations that are important to me throughout the year. I am most consistent with Kiva, a microfinance system that allows you to choose which projects to fund and then reinvest that money once the loan is paid off. During the holidays, though, when everyone who has money to spend on gifts should have some money to share with a charity, I always choose Heifer International.
Every Christmas, in addition to agonizing over finding the Perfect Gift for everyone in my family, I also make a donation to Heifer International in their honor. Three years ago I bought a sheep (pictured above, too cute not to buy); Two years ago I bought flocks of ducks and chickens (also unavoidably adorabe); last year I bought bees (in bee solidarity against CCD and as a celebration of finally getting over my fear of these amazing creatures). This year, I bought trees (for obvious reasons since everyone knows I am a tree hugger; sorry for the spoiler, family).

I just can't say enough good things about Heifer. I am often skeptical about international aid programs because so often I hear from friends who have lived and worked abroad in developing nations that a lot of this aid goes to lining people's pockets and never makes it to the people it was intended to serve.
Heifer is different because it doesn't send money; it builds community. Their primary focus is on providing regionally appropriate animals (also trees and seeds) to people in developing nations. But, these animals come with training: how to care for them, how to sell their products at market, and how to help restore their land to create a profitable but sustainable future for their families and a better world for all. I'm tearing up just writing this, it's so fantastically well-rounded!
And as if I couldn't love them any more, one of the principles of Heifer is that you must pay it forward (hence "a cycle of giving"). So, if your family was given a flock of ducks and they thrive and procreate, you must then give a few baby ducks to a neighbor, and pass along all the same training you received. They have other admirable initiatives as well, such as gender equality, microfinance, and HIV/AIDS education. Plus, they like puns and alliteration, so my English nerd is also stoked. For example, the two photos I posted were captioned "Shear joy" and "Light up a life with a llama." Awesome.
If you already have an organization that you support during the holidays or all year round, that's great and I salute you. But if you are looking for a worthy organization to share some of your own lucky stars with (or feel like you want to after reading this), I highly recommend trying on for size the warm fuzzy feeling that donating to Heifer provokes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Three announcements (one with a photo!)

**Update: unfortunately I've been getting a lot of spam comments (if you've noticed any 'deleted by author' those are 95% spam) so I've turned on word verification for comments. Don't let this discourage you, but rather try to find humor in the random, wacky letter combinations they come up with!**

I know I promised a post filled with exciting details of the last month or so, but that is not for today (it is coming though, I swear). Instead I have some housecleaning announcements to make, and like all good things it comes in three parts.

1) I need to give a heartfelt shout-out to two Yanqui friends I had to say goodbye to not only on the same day but in the SAME HOUR on Tuesday. Renée and Bradly, you are both missed. And, you better come back!

2) I'm moving. I won't go into details about why in consideration for the parties involved (myself included) but what I can tell you is that I'm quite excited for the new situation. I move on Sunday from Caballito, a neighborhood I have loved and to which I will dedicate an Ode To post soon, to Barrio Norte, a very hip and happening (and SAFE, Mom) spot where I will have a balcony and a big kitchen. Amy, I am so looking forward to our honeymoon period that we can hopefully extend several times by my coming and going in December and then again in February!

3) I'm going on vacation over Christmas. Yay! I am going with a girl named Beth and we leave Friday, December 18 to fly to El Calafate. On Saturday we will hike the Perito Moreno glacier. (Yes I am worried about being out of shape, yes I am worried that I have zero outdoor gear, no I am not going to let either of those things bring me down.)

Then we have from Sunday to Tuesday to figure out how to get to Bariloche. It's about 24 hours away but we are considering a few options. The place we are staying looks amazing and we're even getting a free night and a free bottle of champagne! This is where we will spend Christmas:

It will be my first Christmas away from my family but at least I'll be with a friend at a beautiful resort. The hotel has a big dinner and then I guess it's customary in Argentina if you are young-ish (or just really energetic) to go out dancing until dawn, so we might try that on for size.

We come back Sunday December 27 and I plan on working all that week to make up for taking the week before off. I'm also looking forward to spending New Year's Eve with some local friends, apparently that works a lot like Christmas in that it is family time until 2 am and then it's out dancing until the next day.

I hope you are all well. Merry cold holiday season to those of you in the Northern hemisphere!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Robbed at long last

I've managed to make it a long time without getting robbed. In the U.S. my apartment was broken into on 9/11/1 - one of the lowest crime rate days in U.S. history - and my car stereo and CDs were stolen out of a shady parking lot near the stadiums in Seattle, but I wasn't there in person when either of those happened.

It's not for lack of trying on the theives' parts down here. Practically every time I got on the subway in Santiago, Chile someone had their hand in my bag. And, you might remember the scary incident in Mendoza, Argentina when two punk kids ripped my messenger bag off me while I was biking which made me wipe out in the middle of a highway. But, they dropped the bag. Every time someone tries to rob me, they come up short. Until last night.

I was walking from a bar to a restaurant in a nice enough area of town with a girlfriend from the U.S. when a short man ran at us. He got to Amy first but I put myself in between them as fast as I could and we were both yelling and getting defensive, ready to take this little man down. By this point he was closer to me and had his hand on my bag which I was not about to let go of, until I saw he had crazy, desperate eyes and a 3 inch blade raised and ready to jab into my right shoulder. I let go immediately and he went running down the train tracks we had been crossing.

A half block up we saw a cop and I started walking toward him and yelling, hey, we just got robbed! No one paid us any attention, except to glance curiously at us. The cop sort of slowly wandered over to us and asked a few questions, were we ok, what did the guy look like. Then he took his time - a full 10 minutes - searching the dark tracks while we stood uneasily waiting for him to come back. I mean, we had just been robbed in that exact same spot. But a lot of times they'll ditch the bag and anything else except the money, and if he came back holding my purse I wanted it, so we waited.

Eventually he did come back with another man in tow. He had wrestled up some poor, illegal immigrant from wherever he was camped and asked us if this was the guy. "No, no, that's not him" we said several times before this scared young kid finally got that we were not accusing him of a crime. He had a dark red mark above his right eye, and I really hope that it was a birthmark or an old sore as Amy speculated and not a recent pistol whip on my behalf.

The policeman finally let him go and I thanked him for trying. He asked if I wanted to make a 'denouncement.' I said, is it really worth it? He seemed to think it was but then when I asked how long it would take he said, "You'll be at the police station until about 4 am." It was only 11. I politely declined, opting to keep our dinner plans and maybe come out of it with a semi pleasant evening instead, and he walked with us a block before we caught a cab.

During that block he started to try to lecture us on the importance of safety. "You have to be careful... if you had just taken a cab..." I cut him off right away. I thanked him again for his help but told him I didn't need a lecture. I am always safe. We were in a well-lit area with a ton of people around, early on a Friday night. I wasn't alone and I wasn't calling attention to myself. I live here and I speak the language, and I'm not going to take a cab every time I need to walk a few blocks just to avoid any potential danger. I'm a woman, not an idiot, and there's nothing I hate more than being treated like some sort of delicate flower that needs constant protection.

I also hate it when people tell me I need to be careful here, because it's not that Buenos Aires is dangerous; LIFE IS DANGEROUS. I happened to be crossing train tracks in a nice part of town, but the exact same thing could have happened in literally any other spot in the world. BsAs is a huge city, and as such it has more theives due to sheer population. But I actually feel a lot safer here than I do in New York, for instance.

I wasn't really that upset. Amy was more angry than I was. I didn't cry and even during the actual ordeal and immediately after my heart barely raced. (Clearly I'm the kind of person you want around in an emergency - cool under pressure, baby!) But I wasn't upset because I knew it could have been worse, we reacted the best way we could, and I had almost nothing of value in the bag, unlike Amy who had just been paid, so really it was lucky they got my bag. She bought me dinner as a consolation prize, plus I had no cash so she sort of had no choice.

And, just because I'm very type A and wanted to write it down, here is a list of everything the bastard got.

A beautiful black leather handbag that I just bought
My umbrella that I've been trying to lose for 2 years ever since I bought it to replace the last umbrella that I loved and always resented it as inferior
My trusty Guia-T guide to the buses in Buenos Aires
A half-full bottle of water
A purple clutch I bought in Philadelphia 3 years ago and was the best purse EVER
Inside the clutch:
My crappy red cell phone I managed to keep in working condition since Chile, plus all the numbers stored inside it
My keys, with an elephant keychain Casey brought me from Africa and a flashlight keychain I've had for years
My favorite pen, I have no idea where it came from but it was very ergonomically pleasing
An easily replaceable chapstick they sell in every pharmacy here
An assortment of bobby and safety pins
A sweet black wallet I bought at Nordstrom's and was the best wallet EVER
Inside the wallet:
My WA state driver's license that I hated
My AAA card
90 pesos in bills (less than $30)
4 pesos in coins (almost more valuable than the 90 pesos, coins are to be hoarded here)
A variety of receipts and business cards that for some reason I found important

A few things I was NOT carrying:
A debit or credit card
my passport (which I never, ever leave the house with if I don't have to travel)
My camera (or video camera; see?? This is is why I've been so nervous to go out with it!)
My sunglasses or their cool case, having taken them out just before leaving to make room for the umbrella

You may think it's odd that I am able to recall such a specific list of items, but the reason is because I had randomly decided to clean out both purses and my wallet the night before. So I had a good mental inventory of what was lost, which is nice because otherwise I would be wracking my brain thinking, "but what else??"

So, yeah. It sucked. But, it's also not that big a deal. PLEASE, unless you are my mother who is obligated to do so, do not post comments telling me to "be careful." If I weren't a careful person, this would have happened a lot more often to me in the past.

Coming soon - an upbeat post filled with fun updates such as the rockin' Manu Chao concert, a killer wine debut party, and sooner rather than later, my very first edited video segment.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Two Months in Buenos Aires

Today, December 1, marks my two-month anniversary of being in Argentina. It's a beautiful sunny day and my legs are covered in red, swollen mosquito bites - summer must be close!

Music in the Air

What better way to celebrate my two-month marker than by going to see one of my favorite musicians of all time in concert? That's right, Manu Chao (and his band Radio Bemba) is in town and he added tonight's concert especially for me at the last minute. (Actually it was added as a 20 year celebration of something, possibly the fall of the Berlin wall but it's fuzzy as things tend to be down here; it's being broadcast live over a local radio station, too!)

I'm going with 4 American girls and a Brasilian dude and I'm so excited. I've always wanted to see him live in concert and the stadium where he is playing is just one neighborhood over from mine. What are the odds?

End of a Cycle

Renée and I were talking about how life abroad passes in shifts which seem to be on a cycle of 8 weeks. So, cycle #1 is over, in which I had very little Apex work and I had Renée here to entertain me.

Cycle #2 will be until February 1, until which time I will be busting my butt to get my work project up and running and Renée will be in California with her family for the first time in almost 2 years. (Which means there is an opening for entertaining me until then, fyi.)

And Cycle #3 will include a month at the beach and then March... who knows what March might hold?? I'm looking forward to finding out, but all in good time. First I have to get through three months of torturously humid summer.

Malditos Mosquitos

It's interesting how I feel guilty about killing the most minor of insects, even if I do it accidentally, yet when I see a mosquito I turn into a deadly stalker and will not rest until he is thoroughly smashed. Never once have I sympathized with a mosquito. They embody all that is evil and MUST. BE. DESTROYED. When I'm awake I try to tackle the job on my own and have gotten very skilled at the mid-air-between-my-bare-hands kill, but when I'm asleep I use a plug-in Raid liquid (aka pesticide, probably) that keeps the buggers at bay.

If I were of a normal state of mind I would think, huh, maybe it's not healthy to sleep in a room that is spewing poision every night, all night long? But, my friends, this is no normal state of mind. It's mosquito warfare and they are winning.

**UPDATE: I checked and it uses a chemical called prallethrin. Couldn't find much except this abstract. I'm pretty sure mosquitos are more immediately damaging to my health (plus I'd like to avoid both malaria and dengue fever) than any potential alteration to my "plasma biochemical profile" (hey smart genetics friends, what does that even mean?), I'm going to keep using it. Plus the amount of liquid it expels is minuscule, she justified to herself convincingly.

En Fin

Christmas is just around the corner and I still don't know what I'm doing but I will likely take a trip somewhere. I'll be sure to post Manu Chao updates and I have some pictures to share soon. I also plan on learning how to finally edit my videos together as one of my mom's Christmas gifts, so there's that to look forward to (or not, I think I'm a pretty miserable cinematographer but we'll see).

I hope you are all well!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy-ish Thanksgiving

I had been looking forward to this Thanksgiving since last Thanksgiving. As is so often the case, I built up this one night in my head so that it never could have lived up to my expectations. Which is not to say it wasn't a successful dinner - for the most part, it was. Let's start with the bad.

First I burned the pumpkin pie crust trying to get the filling to cook. I did everything I could - reduced the temperature a bit, covered just the crust's edges with foil - but the bottom and the sides still got burned and the pie just wasn't as good as the test run last week. Luckily by the time we got to the pie everyone was too stuffed to eat it. But let it be said it was FRESH! Also in the picture is a can of candied yams I happened to find at a grocery store here, which the yam eaters were happy about (we were never a sweet potato family so it's not a tradition of mine).

Second, the mashed potatoes tasted good but had the consistency of glue. I think it had to do with the sour cream substitution I used (since sour cream does not exist here) and then beating them with a hand mixer instead of good old fashioned mashing. Ironically, this was the only dish that did NOT have leftovers. They must have been good under gravy, which luckily did turn out well.

Third, I had originally planned on cooking a 10-11 pound turkey. Sol's boyfriend George took charge of the task of securing said turkey, and told me he reserved a 15.5 pounder. I only found out AFTER dinner that Sol and George kept the truth from me that the turkey was, in fact, nearly 19 pounds, but they decided not to tell me since I was already stressed out about it being too big. Somehow I managed not to give us all food poisoning since there was no helpful pop-out thermometer to tell me it was, in fact, done.

Everyone sung its praises and one American girl told me it was possibly the best she'd ever had, so despite not having American bacon to cover it with (which was still probably the most popular snack food I offered), real maple syrup to baste it with, or fresh sage to season it with, the turkey was a success. Here's the beast with the always-popular bacon cover:

Fourth, almost everyone was late. Ironically the Argentineans were more on time than the Americans. After 10 hours of cooking, two days of prep, and months of planning, I couldn't help feeling sort of disrespected by late arrivals. It's not like it was an early dinner party either, I told people to come at 8. But, I breathed through it, reminded myself that everyone had a good excuse and it wasn't meant as a personal offense against me, drank some wine, and kept basting the enormous turkey. I'd like to point out that the kitchen is miraculously clean for it being so close to dinner time in this self-portrait.

Ok, on to the good. It was a hot day but there was nearly no humidity so the apartment stayed cool and my 10 hours in the kitchen weren't insufferable. The blueberry sauce turned out really well, as did the green bean casserole and the stuffing. And, the gravy - always my biggest stressor! - was quite tasty. I made too much Waldorf salad but that too was delicious. Here is a shot of my meager effort to de-seed the grapes for the salad.

People were grateful to have been invited. The Americans were glad to have a place to celebrate and reveled in the authenticity of the traditional food, while the Argentineans were happy to experience a new holiday and get a delicious meal out of it at the same time.

Overall it was a fine Thanksgiving - no disasters like you see in the movies, nothing caught fire, nothing was inedible - but it lacked the magic of last year's. I appreciated my Mom telling me on the phone later (waaay later, 3 am my time) that she has prepared many a holiday meal that she would have rather thrown at her guests than served to them. The good news is, next year I will have no expectations whatsoever so it will probably be my best Thanksgiving ever!

For now I'm off to heat up the last of the green beans and stuffing, plus some turkey and blueberry sauce for good measure, before heading off to watch my neighborhood's "soccer" aka futbol team play in the local stadium. It seems like a sort of symbolic transition from American traditions to Argentinean ones.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanks and an explanation

Thank you so much to everyone who commented on my last post (after I admittedly badgered you into it). I know I have 40-60 people visiting my blog each day, but I have no idea WHO those people are, and sometimes it makes me a little crazy. So, thank you to those of you who revealed yourselves!

I think there might be a misconception about why comments are so important to me, so I'd like to try to explain myself.

Although I do revel in the thought of strangers reading and enjoying my blog, and it gives me a certain sense of (satisfaction? accomplishment? ego?) seeing increased traffic to my site, that's really not why I write. I certainly have no commerical aspirations; if I did, I'd have to make this blog a lot more concise/interesting/relevant. So, people who don't know me are more than welcome and I love to read their comments as well, but high readership is not my real objective.

I write for two primary reasons. The first is to create a journaled account of a time and space in my life. I'm traditionally a very bad journaler, so having this flexible place dedicated to documenting whatever it is I think might be interesting to me to read in 10, 20, 30 years is great, especially since I can type it out. I'm a much faster typer and as my family and close friends will attest, my handwriting is interesting but often illegible, even to me.

Okay, here's an ugly confession. I'm a very practical person and to keep myself from being sad about not seeing the people I love, I focus on what's present. It might sound harsh, but 95% of the time I don't think about what's outside my current life and location. I do the same when I'm in Seattle, Philadelphia, Buenos Aires, you name it. It's a defense mechanism and it works really well. If it didn't, I couldn't maintain this transient lifestyle. It's not all magic and puppies when you constantly uproot yourself; among the priviledges of experiencing another life and culture are sacrifices and really lonely days. So why do I do it, you might ask? Man, I hate that question! I just don't have a good answer for it. I do it because I am compelled to.

All of this brings us to the second reason I write, which is to maintain a sort of lifeline with the people I care about. I can't belive how cheesy that sounds and I tried to rewrite it several times to make it a little less so but it's the truth.

I try to stay in contact with people individually but there's always the blog to come to if someone is missing me or wanting to know what's going on. At least, I tell myself that people use it that way, and that unto itself is a comfort.

But when a week goes by, two weeks, three weeks, with no comments and not that many people reaching out in other ways, well... it makes me sad, sometimes, because I know as much as I'm willfully trying not to think about people at home to avoid depression, people at home are not thinking about me simply because I'm not present. I'm a very reliable person but the life I've had for the past several years has made me a very unreliable friend in terms of geography. I can't blame people for thinking of me that way, but it does make me insecure. I mean, obviously! There are probably (hopefully??) people reading this right now saying, "can she really be thinking that?" I've had people tell me that they don't reach out since they assume I'm having an amazing time and that there's no way our friendship/relationship could ever be put in jeopardy by a little space, but being so isolated it's hard to remember that sometimes.

So, that's it. My big, dark secret is that yes, I get lonely, yes, I miss everyone, and yes, I crave contact from people in whatever form. Even if you aren't the commenting type, please do know that the smallest gesture, no matter what the form, means a lot.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pumpkin pie from scratch

For the readers who noticed I stopped doing a blog a day in November (did anyone notice??) I would like to say that although I was fully prepared to finish the month out, it seemed like overkill. No one was commenting and it was perhaps just too much information to take in. So, I called it quits. And now on to today's blog.

Thanksgiving is one week from tomorrow. I have a guest list of approximately 13 people and I plan on making 8 dishes. There has been a change of plan and now we are doing Thanksgiving at our apartment, which means using this kitchen:

This will be the third Thanksgiving I have prepared on Thanksgiving day (not to mention 3 others I've done at random times of the year just for the hell of it) and the second from this country, so I'm confident in my ability to pull it off even in a minuscule kitchen and with almost no culinary supplies.

What I wasn't confident about, however, was the pumpkin pie. You see, I've only made two or three pumpkin pies before, always using canned pumpkin, and I don't remember them turning out especially well. Also, canned pumpkin is not available here. Last year Katharine brought a can with her, and although Renée's friend Jen is coming this week, I thought to myself several weeks ago, "Why not try it from scratch?" (What I cannot make from scratch and what Jen will bring because there is simply NO substitute is a can of French's fried onions. Mmmmm, green bean casserole.)

Of course, this wasn't something I could try the day before and have it be a disaster, so last night I set about making my very first pumpkin pie from scratch. (I have to say, it's a much different experience baking a winter pie in a summer dress with 90% humidity making me feel gross and sticky.)

I have my Aunt Kathy's perfect pie crust recipe memorized so that wasn't a problem. I couldn't find a rolling pin at the store where I bought the pie dish so I made do:

Then it was on to the filling itself. I boiled, drained, and pureed about 4 cups of fresh pumpkin. Although I consulted several recipes I didn't follow any one and improvised to my own tastes while accounting for Argentinean ingredients. For instance, condensed milk only comes sweetened down here and I don't like very sweet pies, so I didn't add any sugar. I also really, really like a cinnamony pie so I added about twice as much cinnamon and nutmeg as most recipes called for (I did not have cloves, allspice, or ginger). I used 2 eggs instead of 3 or 4 since I like a nice dense pie, and mixed everything together:

I love that color! The filling looked and tasted delicious and had the right consistency. I even managed to make pretty pie edges which is a constant shortcoming of mine (which might have also influenced why my Halloween empanadas fell short since the concept is the same). It looked good to me, pre-oven:

Of course, then there was the matter of the oven itself. You might recall that since I can't turn the oven on I don't use it, but the pie left me no choice. Sol was on her way out the door but gave me a tutorial on turning the oven on and then turning it back on when it goes off, which it did several times. Every time I was able to turn it back on and I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself. Don't laugh.

Most recipes recommended baking for 15 minutes at 425 farenheit (210 celsius) and then 40-50 minutes at 350, but guess what, folks? Ovens here don't have temperature settings in farenheit OR celsius. It's just a nob with varying sizes of circles indicating 'hot' and 'less hot.' So, I baked for 15 minutes on 'hot' and then a full hour on 'less hot' after checking it several times. When I finally took it out, it looked perfect:
Renée came over for dinner and sangria and, after letting my orange masterpiece cool for several hours, we finally cut into it. The vanilla ice cream came from the heladería next to my apartment and the pie came from heaven itself:

My first bite was so satisfying. It was a perfect, American-style pumpkin pie and my nervous little heart swelled with pride for the second time in one night. I am not much of a baker and I hate using recipes (greatly contributing to my not being a good baker). This will be the first Thanksgiving where I make the dessert so it was sort of like the last Thanksgiving "first" I had to face.

Renée admitted to me that she was sure she'd enjoy it but never expected it to taste so much like the pies her sister makes. "No offense but I thought it would taste more... earthy" she confessed as she took a second slice.

One thing I definitely could have done - a constant issue with my pies and quiches - is make the crust thinner. Limited counterspace, no rolling pin, and a decisive lack of patience all contributed to a thick crust. I also forgot to brush the edges with egg whites but they were still flaky and delicious. For Thanksgiving I'll be sure to remember both of these things.

So, I'm one step closer to being ready for the much anticipated holiday. I would love to hear your Thanksgiving plans and what, if anything, you will be cooking. (Read: a thinly-veiled request for comments. Stop being a lurker and write something if you're a regular reader! Post anonymously if you want! It's painless and gratifying!)

Sooner or later we're going to have to figure out how and where to SEAT 13 people... but there's more than a week for such plans so, fiddle-dee-dee. I'll think about it tomorrow.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Crazy, stormy afternoon

This afternoon as I was in the middle of an extraordinarily productive work day, mother nature decided she had other plans for me and brought forth the largest storm I have witnessed yet here. It rained so hard it leaked through the windows, thunder rattled the building and lightning struck near enough to take out power on my entire block and possibly more. There was no way I was venturing out in that mess so I settled in for a nap, hoping the lights would be on when I awoke. They were not.

Tonight I am going to dinner for the Festival of India sponsored by the Indian embassy. I got ready in the dark and set out in search of internet to wrap up some work things and post a quick blog.

Walking out of my building onto the street I saw that our neighboring kiosk was filled with candles and the ice cream shop next to it had storm lanterns to illuminate the store, but I'm guessing a lot of that ice cream will be lost. Everyone was out and about with candles and flashlights, and you know what? They all still seemed to be in a pretty good mood. I really appreciate that even in less than ideal circumstances like a packed bus on a sweltering day or in the middle of a power outage with no end in sight, Argentineans will still "exchange exasperated smiles" as I heard one person put it instead of getting cranky and violent with each other.

Luckily it stopped raining but the humidity is still at about 90%. Here we go!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Internet Obsession

For someone who spends all day working on my computer, I somehow manage to spend even more hours of the day trolling the internet. It's not healthy I tell you. I obsessively check certain sites and blogs over and over for updates and I'm an active participant on several websites.

One such website is called BAExpats which is a public forum for all of us English-speakers (and even a few Argentineans) to ask questions, post events, vent problems, and generally have an outlet to get in contact with others in similar positions. I recently noted a significant increase in the number of hits to my blog per day and then noticed that BAExpats has been listing my blog under their "Daily URL" section. So, thanks for the shout-out, and welcome expats! Please leave comments and let me know you are reading; anonymous posters welcome. I can't wait to meet a bunch of you this Sunday at Captain Dave's. (Non-expat readers: be jealous of where Captain Dave lives and that you can't attend his amazing events. Photos to come on Sunday or Monday's blog.)

Even with all of these internet outlets I still find time to fill online, so today I started doing something I've meant to do for a long time: re-read my blog. I started from the very first post back in November 2007 and am currently up to March 2008. I'm proud to say that I have found just one grammatical error, the use of "farther" where it should have been "further" (I only very recently learned the rule for that one). Overall I've been entertained by my writing, thus far suffering none of the embarrassment that sometimes is the result of time/perspective. It's been a fun trip down memory lane and I look forward to reading more. I'll let you know if I find anything cringe-worthy past March.

Now I am going to put an end to today's obsessive internet use/too much at-home time and eat sushi with Renée. In the restaurant, not delivery. I should just be ending my first aerial silk class, but what can I say, a convenient excuse came up and I am chicken about starting! Next up is Saturday's class, which I have very, very good intentions of attending.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Photos! High School! Beach House!

As promised, I spent a good portion of the morning uploading and captioning photos from my jaunt to Uruguay. To check them out click on the Picasa link to the right (you might have to scroll down a bit to get to it). Or, just click here. Thanks for your patience, and enjoy.

My high school was and continues to be awesome

Yesterday one of my coworkers sent me this amazing video and I have been busy spreading it around since then. I actually have very fond memories of this era in my life and consider myself lucky to have attended such a cool school. I mean, come on, Weezer played a concert in our cafeteria when I was a freshman.

Anyway, the video is a combination of my all-time favorite "going out song" and the still-impressive artistic endeavors of Shorecrest High School's creative students. "Hey Shorecrest, how do you feel? We feel AWESOME, oh we feel so awesome UH!" I just can't stop smiling at this.

Here's the actual Youtube link. (Side note: although I am totally stoked on this video and love the song, did the administrators fail to listen to the lyrics or research Outkast at all? Or are they really just that much cooler/relaxed than in my day?)

A Month at the beach

In other news, I recently placed a deposit on a beachfront apartment for the month of February. As one porteño put it, being in Buenos Aires in the summer is like having a fat, sweaty man on top of you all the time. Lovely. I have been bracing myself for the inevitable 100 degree days + 95% humidity, and I was mostly resigned to and ready for it. At a certain point I realized, however, that there's no good reason not to escape at least some of it.

I did a lot of asking around (there are a ton of beach destinations in Argentina and picking the right one for your style and needs is very important) before I found the perfect spot for me in Villa Gesell, a relatively chill spot compared to the soul-crushing crowds of Mar del Plata. It's an apartment that is literally on the beach - open the door and step onto sand. It's about 12 blocks from the center, so I can get into town easily but will also be somewhat removed from the crowds. It sleeps 4 so I expect plenty of visitors. Here are some pictures, but they aren't entirely accurate since it's getting a remodel in December.

This is the living room/dining room. The sofa opens into two single beds.

This is the view from the bedroom (all the rooms have beach-facing views).

Elizabeth the acrobat. No, really.

In other, other news, I am starting aerial silk acrobatic classes soon. More information and probably some hilarious/awkward/falling on my head stories as they emerge.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back in Buenos Aires and final thoughts on Uruguay

(*Note: I am under the gun to publish this by midnight and promise to post photos here and to Picasa tomorrow. Really, truly! Complete with interesting captions!)

I arrived safely back in Capital Federal today. My very friendly 70-year-old cab driver expressed relief that I did not want to go into the center, explaining that due to yet another subte (metro) strike and various protests, it was taking about an hour to go just a few blocks. "Yep," I thought, "I'm back all right." Then we had an amiable conversation about how Argentina's education system needs to improve if the politics are ever going to change. Amen, brother! An educated people is a dangerous one for corrupt politicians. I wonder why the education systems in so many countries with a history of corrupt politics doesn't improve...?

Anyway, my trip to Uruguay was overall very good, very relaxing, and a nice change of pace for a few days. After Punta del Este I was half convinced I could live in Uruguay happily for ever and ever, but Montevideo was a bit of a letdown, largely due to the dominance of rundown 1960s and 70s architecture. Even the historic part of town is filled with these depressing structures, with old-style buildings of character only dotting the landscape.

One thing I will give downtown Montevideo is its abundance of plazas. Within a 10 minute walk you can get to 5 different plazas right in the center of town. Also, during my cab ride to the airport today I was able to observe that their beaches are shockingly nice and sandy and the water surprisingly blue for being so near a city.

U.S. and Uruguay: Kindred Spirits?

I rarely consider myself a 'comparer,' i.e. someone who MUST compare everything to something familiar in order classify and compartmentalize one's experiences without giving anything the benefit of being unique, but I couldn't help but notice some interesting similarities between the U.S. and Uruguay.

First, people in Uruguay are really nice. Really, really nice. Too nice, according to Sol. And, this extends to customer service. Argentina has a lot going for it but customer service is not generally one of those things. And even people on the streets are friendly. People smiled at me without me smiling first. And, although it probably gave my mom a heart attack thinking about me hitchhiking, Uruguay seems like the safest place around, largely due to its relatively booming economy and the general attitude of the inhabitants, i.e. "We're so sweet it gives you a toothache!" kind of nice. (Mom I swear I never hitchhike when alone.)

Second, things are bigger here. Namely, cars and people. I saw some pretty huge cars, which you don't see elsewhere in the Southern Cone, and I also saw some really fat people. I'm not talking a little bit overweight; I'm talking really, truly, Biggest Loser-esque large. I don't think I've ever seen such obesity in Chile or Argentina, though they seemed to have similar diets. (Special note to any Chilean residers, specifically Valparaiso: Uruguay has its own version of chorrillana! Looking at those pictures makes me sick to my stomach, not to mention thinking about how many of them I ate while there... Anyway, it's called revuelto gramajo. I saw someone eating it and couldn't help but laugh.)

Also in the vein of bigger (I'm not sure if this applies everywhere or just to Montevideo), on my way to the airport we passed suburbia. Miles of miles of new, beautiful, huge waterfront properties and behind them block after block of equally lovely homes without any sort of commerical activity. Suburban sprawl is a rareity anywhere outside the U.S. as far as I'm aware, but Montevideo seems to have latched on to this wholly unsustainable concept.

Finally, Uruguay is currently engaged in a fierce anti-tobacco campaign. While Argentina has a 'live and let live (or die from lung cancer, whatever)' policy, Uruguay and its inhabitants are out in full force with a strong campaign against smoking. I saw ads on TV and in newspapers, stickers adhered to every possible surface, and no fewer than 3 stands within a 10-block radius surrounded by groups of 3-5 people handing out information about the dangers of smoking and providing resource options to those who want to quit. Also, smoking in most public places has been officially made illegal, including in taxi cabs. Uruguay, you could do without the suburbs but I salute your anti-smoking efforts!

In general I'm happy to live here and not there, though I'm also happy that it's just a short flight or ferry ride away when I want to spend a relaxing and friendly few days outside Capital Federal (and when I need to renew my visa, of course).

Monday, November 09, 2009

Montevideo, Uruguay

(Warning: I am on a crappy computer set to South America keyboard standards so I don´t promise perfection with this one.)

Here I am in Uruguay´s capital city, Montevideo. This morning Sol and I caught a bus from Punta del Este to Montevideo where she returned to Buenos Aires and I stayed on for a day in this nation´s ¨big city.¨ After taking a quick cab from the bus station to my hostel in Pocitos, I dropped my things and hopped on a bus back into the center to tour Old City, or ciudad vieja. I got off at Plaza Cagancha on the main avenue, 18 de julio, and proceeded to walk toward the water from there. I passed through the main plaza, Plaza Independencia, and continued right along to Plaza Zabala and Mercado del Puerto, a touristy spot near the water to eat lunch (much like Santiago´s or Chile´s Mercado Central). Eat lunch I did! I ordered a glass of white wine which was literally filled to the brim, plus a plate of onions, red pepper and panceta from the grill and mojellas to boot. Turns out I love sweet breads! Covered in lemon juice, yum.

The glass of white wine plus the extremely friendly waiter did me right and I was ready to keep walking. I steered myself toward the nearest rambla, or waterfront avenue, and walked a bit. The problem was I got really bored, really quickly. The guy at the hostel told me it was about and hour and a half´s walk from Pocitos to the center via the waterfront and after 5 minutes I was done. I plan to drink mate later along las ramblas near my hostel but there really wasn´t much to see except buildings in the distance and polluted water up close. Also, all that wine had gone to my bladder and I really needed to find a bathroom. So, I did what any self-respecting solo tourist would do: I found the nearest bar, ordered a drink, and used the facilities.

Without meaning to I ordered a very typical Uruguayan drink called medio y medio (half and half) which is half something delicious and liquor-y and half something... not? I honestly have no idea but for 20 Uruguayan pesos (about one dollar) it seemed like a steal, not to mention they gave me a plate of peanuts to enjoy with it. I was in that perfect ¨The world is amazing and here I am travelling it all by myself and drinking along the way!¨mood and it was the kind of bar I was happy to have found. Of course I couldn´t stay long and expect that feeling to hold so once I took the last sip I headed toward 18 de julio again in search of an artesan´s fair I´d seen earlier but skipped since I didn´t know what kind of timeframe I was looking at.

At the fair I talked to a really nice if not low-brow Uruguayan lady who called me negra (literally ¨blacky¨ but I´m not sure what the implication is here, surely she wasn´t referring to my sunburn??) and told me I was a beautiful tourist while showing me the different types of real and fake leather accoutrement she sold. I ended up buying a magnet for Sol who collects them and was on my way.

By this time I needed to use the facilities again and I thought, why not another medio y medio? This proved harder than the first unintentional one. I went into two bars that didn´t serve it before finding one that said it did. The waitress then brought me a full bottle of wine called, sure enough, medio y medio. I assured her I coudn´t possibly drink a full bottle of wine and told her a little about what I was looking for - sweet, served over ice, about the size of a shot? Finally she got it and I had my drink, twice as big and three times as expensive as the first one.

That pretty much catches you up. I´ve just come from the last bar to this really, really bad internet cafe to write today´s blog. Soon I will get back on a bus, go to the hostel, get my mate makings, and head to the waterfront to watch another sunset. Tomorrow I fly at 1 pm and since the flight is so short and Uruguay is an hour ahead, I land at 12:50. I love time changes like that.

I promise tomorrow´s blog will be filled with interesting photos. I tried to upload some to yesterday´s but blogger wouldn´t let me. Don´t abandon me because I´m so text heavy!

I hope this finds all readers well, and for heaven´s sake, please leave a comment - It makes me feel so popular.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Punta del Este, Uruguay

Yesterday's trip to Uruguay couldn't have been easier. The flight itself was less than 30 minutes long and as soon as we got out of the Montevideo airport there was a bus waiting to take us the 1.5 hours to Punta del Este. We arrived in time to sit on the beach to drink a mate and watch the sunset. Gorgeous but windy.

Then it was off to our hostel further east near the hip spot La Barra which required another bus ride. The driver was very nice and told us where to get off, but thank heavens we were together because the hostel was not exactly one block off the highway as its website suggested it would be. After about 5 blocks of walking down a pitch black sandy road in the middle of nowhere (don't worry, it's really safe here), we finally got to the hostel. It was nice but not nice enough to stay both nights so tonight we transfered to their other hostel in the center of town so that we're a stone's throw from the bus station for tomorrow morning's ride to Montevideo.

We didn't do much last night but still managed to sleep in until almost 11 this morning. We got going pretty quickly and shortly found ourselves walking on the beach on a gorgeous day. Apparently it rained all last week so our timing was perfect. We decided not to walk the 3 km to La Barra where Sol needed to do some reconnaissance work for a potential Wine Tour Urbano here in January (yes, that website and the event is all Sol's doing), so we went back to the highway and, since Uruguay is tiny and safe we decided to hacer dedo aka hitchhike (literally translated as "make finger") into town. Before we knew it a nice German man smoking a cigar had stopped in his huge Toyota truck (what is up with all the Toyotas in Uruguay?) and took us the short distance in style.

It's still low season here so there isn't much going on so far. A lot of places are just getting ready to open for the season. But, in January and February, Punta del Este is the place to see and be seen. It's actually similar to how I imagine Miami. Observe:
I'm really glad to have gotten the chance to know it when it was still empty, because if and when I come back in January to help Sol with WTU it is going to be a sh*tshow.

Once Sol had walked the short distance of La Barra's main strip we sat down to drink a smoothie and have a snack. Then it was back to the beach where we had more mate and dozed in the sun. Good thinking... we're both ridiculously sunburned.

After the burn we checked into our new hostel, bought some sunscreen, and then took some touristy photos by this weird but famous statue of fingers coming out of the sand.

After that we hopped on another bus, this time to CasaPueblo, a house/museum of famous Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. It reminded us both a lot of Gaudi's La Pedrera in Barcelona, except it was his homage to women and the sun, the former because I guess he loved women and the latter because it is an amazing place to watch the sunset. It was probably the most amazing sunset I've ever seen, and they play music and read a beautiful ode to the sun that he wrote from the house. Of course it was also filled with jerks talking over it whom Sol and I shushed, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Once the sunset was over we decided not to walk the 2 km back to the highway just to flag down a bus that might take up to an hour to arrive (all in the dark) so I stuck my thumb out again and a young Brasilian couple stopped this time. They took us all the way to the center of Punta del Este and were super nice. I also learned that Sol speaks Portuguese, go figure. Since then we've been lazing around the hostel, admiring our sunburns and trying to work up the hunger and the desire to go out to eat chivitos, Uruguay's most famous dish. I think the desire is upon us, though! More tomorrow from Montevideo.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Uruguay bound

Sol and I are leaving for Uruguay in just a few minutes so I need to write this blog fast. We went last year with our friend Flor to Colonia, and this time we are hitting up Montevideo and Punta del Este.

It's a fascinating little country and I'm looking forward to a few days of a relaxed pace after 5 weeks in the big, busy city. Fun fact: At just under 4 million residents, Uruguay is, by far, the smallest country to ever compete in and win the World Cup. The next smallest country to have won is Argentina, with 40 million! Uruguay won the first ever World Cup in 1930. They were also the host country that year.

I am going to try very hard to blog each day I'm gone, even if they're short!

Uruguay, here we come.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Scheduling adjustments and a cultural observation

First and foremost, I want to wish a very happy birthday to my dad, the most wonderful father a girl could ask for! Dad, I wish I could be there to celebrate with you.

Ok, on to the scheduling question... one thing that's interesting for me about living in another culture are the scheduling differences. In Argentina (as in many Spanish-speaking countries), everything happens later here. (Everything, that is, except the construction; we were treated to another jackhammer session, this time at 8 am).

I quickly adapted to the local schedule and regularly eat lunch between 2-4, dinner between 9-12, and I find it nearly impossible to go to sleep before 2 am no matter what day of the week. The difference is, locals will go to bed at that time and still wake up at 8 am, whereas I have consistently been rolling out between 10 and 11. This means I generally work until about 7 pm at night, which is perfect since dinner isn’t for a few more hours.

The real killer is when I go out late at night, and by late I don’t mean 2 am. I mean 7 am. U.S. citizens have a reputation of being binge drinkers, getting tanked early in the night so that by the time the bars close at 1:30 in most cities, the maximum amount of liquor possible has been consumed.

It’s not that way in most other countries of the world, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that nightlife is able to continue into the wee hours of the morning elsewhere. There is no deadline, no time limit, and as a result, absolutely no rush to drink. So, in one full night here, I might have three drinks by the time I stagger out into the daylight six or eight hours later, hungover from exhaustion and not from alcohol. Conversely, in Seattle or Philadelphia, where there is that urgency and also the culture of buying each another drinks (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a drink handed to me when it was the last thing I wanted), I might have five or six in two or three hours.

Does anyone else have thoughts on this particular cultural difference and its origins/outcomes, or general observations?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Construction Refugees

As I’ve said before, my apartment is stellar. It's big and modern and cool with a crossbreeze on hot days and I love the location and Sol is a great roommate and I could go on and on. It was recently made even more comfortable by the purchase of a queen-size bed to replace my very cozy but very small single bed. There are, however, two main annoyances.

First, and by far the lesser annoyance, are the mosquitos. These little buggers are a major problem in Argentina. They. Are. Everywhere. The weird thing is, they seem to always come one at a time. Every single night I turn off my light and wait for the inevitable ‘bzzz’ next to my ear. As soon as I hear it I jump out of bed, throw on the light, and smash the holy living hell out of that night’s mosquito, hopefully before he got to me first. But, why only one? Do they eat each other? Or do they have some sort of "one at a time" mosquito code? It's a mystery I'd love to know more about.

Second, and infinitely worse (since I am unable to kill it), there is the unending theme of construction. There are THREE construction projects going on underneath, above, and next to us. One is a new building under construction from 7 or 8 am to 7 or 8 pm, another is the remodel of the apartment above us, and the other is a bank on the ground floor which literally goes on 24 hours a day. For the past three days the new building has been jackhammering from early in the morning to late afternoon, and it shakes the house and us out of bed. It's pretty awful and gives me new sympathy for torture victims (I don't say this snidely; I know that loud and unending noises are used as a method of torture and I really, really can't imagine being unable to escape it).

The good news is, we're in it together. Yesterday morning when Sol walked into the kitchen and asked me if I wanted to kill someone, we both laughed and made a mate. This morning we'd had enough, and Sol called her mom to ask if we could be her refugees for the day. What a pleasant idea! I took a 2 hour nap, awoke to a delicious lunch, and now I'm sitting in the backyard on a warm day with a cool breeze and the smell of jasmine surrounding me. Which leads me to today's observation.

I need to start taking my camera everywhere I go. I always see such interesting things. It would also make the blog a lot more exciting, I think. For instance, right now Sol's mom Lidia is mowing the lawn. Unto itself, this is is not that interesting, but it showed me a fun new fact about Argentina: the lawn mowers here are run on electricity! She has this long power cord going from the outside bathroom to the lawnmower. It's kind of rad, but makes me wonder: how many times have people mowed over the cord?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Random thoughts during NaBloPoMo

Apparently November is blogging month, which is called NaBloPoMo. Despite the ridiculous name, I'm going to try to post a blog a day (although I missed November 1) for the rest of the month. Here's a random compilation of items, just because none of them made a blog unto themselves. Not in my long-winded world, at least.

Eating ñoquis

First and foremost I'd like to share with everyone my favorite monthly tradition here in Argentina, which is the practice of eating handmade gnocchi pasta on the 29th of every month. Why do they do it? No one knows! What I do know is that on October 29th my friend Renée and I both indulged in this practice and were very happy about it. I'm already looking forward to November 29.

Wine is better when it's luxury
Sol works with a lot of people in the wine community and took me with her to a Luxury Wine Fair at a five-star hotel the other night. We got dressed up, got in for free (others paid 150 pesos, yikes!), and were exposed to virtually every winery in Argentina pouring liberal samples of whatever you wanted. There must have been 1,000 wines to choose from. Of course, this was a lot more fun for me since it was all new, whereas Sol knew just about everyone. Side note: the wine industry here is almost entirely composed of men, and almost all of them are good looking. Already looking forward to the next event...

I'm worthless when it comes to local technology

Argentina (all of South America, I think) is run entirely on gas appliances that require a direct use of fire to get them going. Although I can start the stovetop burners myself, I am incapable of starting the oven or turning on our calefont (water heater) if it goes out. So, I don't use the oven and the calefont luckily has not gone out when Sol wasn't here to take care of it for me. However, I couldn't do either of these things when I lived alone last year either, and I actually went 3 days without hot water until I finally asked a neighbor to restart it for me (it was hot so I was taking cold showers, but still). I'd like to think it's a testament to my capacity to do without certain things, but really it's just sort of pathetic.

Baby wipes are amazing

I bought a pack of 80 baby wipes for about U.S. $2 and it was an incredible investment. I wipe down my feet every night before getting into bed (in such a big, dirty city I can't keep them clean even with socks on), I made my grey keyboard white again, and it's an easy way to clean a sink or a toilet. They are also great portable showers when on a trip such as our Inca Trail excursion last year, in which Robyn and Matt wisely packed a ton in and for which I was very, very grateful.


Sol and I are going to Montevideo and Punta del Este in Uruguay this weekend. She has some work to do there and I have nothing better to do than tag along for a fun trip. Will be sure to blog from abroad! (I can call that going abroad from Argentina, right? Blog from abroad, abroad?)

Go Phillies!

You've done 1/3 of what you need to do to win it. Tonight try to make it 2/3.

Either Blogger or my Dell Studio 1555 hates me

Should formatting, copying and pasting, and other basic functions really be so hard? Or am I really that inept?

See you again tomorrow!