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!