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Farewell, Argentina

Farewell, Argentina

I haven’t written in a while, and I have some time to kill on a Bolivian bus, so this may be a bit long, but I feel like I’ve had a lot happen since the last post. I spent a few more days in Mendoza after Dad and Sarah left but I laid low for the most part. I stayed in Mora International Hostel , which had a cool open air layout. The downside of that is the inability to keep mosquitoes out. Add to that the fact that our room had no AC, so keeping windows open was necessary, and you get into a tricky situation. There’s not a much worse alarm clock than a mosquito biting you in bed. And I’ve always had blood that, to mosquitoes, is some sort of combination of honey and crack, so it was open season. No Zika contracted…yet. I went to the bus station the day before leaving to buy my ticket for the 20-hour journey to Salta. The lady showed me the options, and pointed out one bus that was offering a promo price. I always jump at a deal, not worrying to much about the quality of the bus at the time. This would be my third overnight bus, and I’ve had both good and bad experiences on the other two, so I never know exactly what to expect. But I walk on this bus and the entire bus is filled with luxury leather recliners. I’m talking an actual comfortable seat that belonged more in a home theater than an airplane. It damn near brought a tear to my eye. It may seem simple, but it’s hard for me to describe what kind of morale boost it provides when you get a little unexpected gift like that. So, I rode in style and got a decent night’s sleep as I continued to head northward.

Salta

Wide-eyed and full on average bus food (nice seating doesn’t mean complete first-class service), I checked in to La Covacha close to Salta’s city center. That afternoon, I just killed some time walking around the city’s main square. Here is where you begin to see the Spanish influence in Northern Argentina, as all the cities are founded around a central plaza, all featuring the main church on one side and the cabildo (city council) on another side. But the most interesting feature on this square was the MaaM (Museum of High Mountain Archaeology). It’s a small museum, but it is one of two museums in South America that share a common display. High in the peaks of the Andes near Salta, the Incas would perform rituals where they would sacrifice their best-looking children for the gods, and bury them on the mountain tops alive after a wedding ceremony. This museum actually has the mummified remains of three children (which were preserved well due to temperature and climate on the mountain) on display in their natural state. Definitely a bit creepy, but very interesting to see. And maybe the one time in history where it pays to be a little on the ugly side.

Salta is also the home of some incredible local quick eats. The empanadas were good as expected (probably the best I’ve had in Argentina), but their tamales were the true hidden gem. Corn (so it’s healthy) flour stuffed with meat, onions, and more wrapped and cook in corn husks – just a little small helping of greatness. They are certainly one of the foods I’m going to bring back to the States and figure out how to make at home. The last night, when I had no real plans, the owners of the hostel invited me to join their family in an asado on the rooftop terrace. Well…actually…a girl that was staying in my room invited me and at that point they kind of had to go along, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless. And as usual, it was an absolute feast. A potato salad and mixed greens accompanied serving after serving of grilled meat and plenty of red wine. Near the end of the night, the conversation switched to the women’s rights protest in Buenos Aires over their ability to sunbathe topless. As more wine was consumed, the speed of their speech increased as well, so I didn’t understand all of it. But ‘tetas’ is easy enough to translate and hand gestures universal, so I picked up on enough context. Everyone seemed to be pretty pro-sunbathing. I’ve always been a women’s rights activist and it won’t stop now.

Cafayate

The next day, I called a bit of an audible on my original plan due to some recommendations, and headed 4 hours back south to Argentina’s second biggest wine region, Cafayate. The drive down through Quebrada de las Conchas is known to be very scenic, but what they didn’t tell me was it was full of hairpin turns and the buses are still intent on making good time. This trip has had its highs and lows, and losing my lunch in a coach bus bathroom qualifies as the latter without a doubt. As I try to always look on the bright side, I just see it as making more room for empanadas, tamales, and vino.

I checked into Casa de Huesped, which was a simple hostel but had a really cool layout. Their outdoor seating area, featuring breakfast tables and a few hammocks, laid underneath grape vines which the hostel uses to make their own homemade wines. The next day I set out to do some tastings at some of the local vineyards. I hit 4 in total, with El Esteco being my favorite, but these 4 kept me much more sober than the three in Mendoza…these were actual tastings instead of full-glass samples. I enjoyed the wines and vineyards of Cafayate, but I still prefer the ones we visited in Mendoza if I had to compare the two. For starters, I prefer red wines, and Cafayate’s specialty is the torrontes grape, which produces a white wine anywhere from semi-sweet to dessert-levels of sugar. Secondly, the Mendoza wineries were more equipped to give tours and happily showed off their craft and knowledge, whereas the Cafayate wineries seemed to give the tours out of necessity, almost reluctantly, than out of desire. One advantage Cafayate had was its surrounding scenery. The town sits next to the base of the mountains, which allows for a great visual while sampling. All that said, I’m definitely glad I came and would recommend it for wine lovers and amateurs alike. Accomplishing what I wanted to, I left after two days to head back north on plan, bound for the northwestern most province in Argentina, Jujuy.

Jujuy

With Carnaval approaching, I knew I wanted to be in Jujuy to celebrate due to its reputation in Argentina. There are several towns in Jujuy that offer Carnaval celebrations, but I settled on Tilcara as it seemed to be the most popular from what I gathered. This time of year, people from around the country storm this otherwise small town, and it becomes very crowded. Online, I could only book a hostel through Saturday morning (the main party being Saturday) so I figured I’d just figure out that day as it got closer. On Wednesday and Thursday I went on a few hikes around town. I went to Pucara de Tilcara, which is a collection of ruins dating back to the 12th century, and were rediscovered in 1908, with a lady from Buenos Aires also traveling solo. It was cool to explore the ruins, but I did find it a bit odd that the highest point on the mountains was a monument, dedicated not to the ancient settlers, but to the archaeologists instead.  The next day I hiked solo to Garganta Del Diablo, a rock formation created millions of years ago by shifting tectonic plates, with a waterfall at its peak. Although my favorite view was on the way down, looking across the valley at the multi-colored mountains (due to the different mineral types formed over the years).

Over Thursday and going into Friday, I experienced probably my first bout of real homesickness. Not to the extreme of ‘get me out of here now’ but I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I was just kind of in a funk. It had probably been two weeks since I had spoken more than a sentence or two in English, and that wears on you. Due to some indecisiveness on my part, I had little success finding a place to stay Saturday night, and had started to plan to leave for Bolivia Saturday morning (thus missing the party and the reason I was there). Just a bit of a cold streak if you will. But as things tend to do, I got a little momentum on my side going into the weekend. On Friday afternoon, a girl at the hostel told me she saw another hostel with availability for Saturday night, so I was able to book that and stay as originally planned. A good crew checked into the hostel Friday night, and we had a blast at a local peña, a restaurant and concert in one with folkloric music, including some sort of horn that was 8 feet long. Plenty of cerveza and dancing to go around.

I checked out on Saturday morning to go to my other hostel, and Jan, a French guy from my previous hostel, joined me. He had to run around to chase down his friend so I was kind of just hanging out when a few of the others at the hostel invited me to join them at the party. I couldn’t turn that down…sorry Jan. We got there as it was just getting ramped up. It was situated in an open field with some big speakers and a bunch of vendors. Before long it was shoulder to shoulder and all hell broke loose. The best way I can describe it is I got to act like a kid again. It’s an all-out war, with the weapons being paint, spray foam, and handfuls and handfuls of powder. I’ve said it before but I think it’s important that regardless of how old we are, we still find time to let loose and play. This hit the spot. I don’t know anything about Brazilian carneval, but this would be tough to top.

Now all I had to do was take a bus to the Bolivian border, buy my visa, and then take the 2nd bus to Tupiza, about 2 hours north. Easy enough, right? I knew beforehand that this could be tricky for a few reasons. First, Bolivia is one of the few countries in South America where people from the US need to pay to enter (reciprocity for us charging Bolivians) and second, a yellow fever vaccine, which I don’t have, is technically required. I knew you could pay the fee at the border and didn’t have to do it beforehand. The tough thing is you must pay in USD and have exactly $160 because they aren’t giving you change. I did some reading and people said there was an ATM at the border that could give out dollars. Cool…just need to find that ATM. So, I’m going through the process, filling out the paperwork, and I get to the grumpy lady that wants the money. I tell her I don’t have it, I need to find the ATM, and here comes a lot of confusion. She doesn’t really understand me, I don’t really understand her, she has my passport and tells me I need to pay before I get it back, I tell her I completely understand I just need to find that ATM, she mutters something else. Eventually someone else in line says go ahead into Bolivia and get some money and come back. Looking back, I’m sure I was in the country 100% illegally (allegedly). So I wander in, without passport, to go find an ATM. Of course, the one in town only gives out Bolivian pesos, so then I need to find an exchange house to rip me off and convert them into USD. I go back to the office, cash in hand, and there’s someone else working there. Great. I tell him my passport is here and I need to pay for my visa and he starts looking for it, nervously, without any success. To make a long story just a tiny bit shorter, I end up jumping back and forth between two offices a few times, recompleting paperwork, and getting a new stamp because my previous one was annulled (which I’m sure will make me stand out to every future immigration officer I meet). Almost four hours after when I arrived at the border, I legally entered Bolivia again and got on my way. Stressed out, I went to buy a beer from a street vendor and it was about 65 cents. Then I remembered why I’m in Bolivia. Should be a fun few weeks.

But with that I say goodbye to Argentina. A country in which I’ve spent 5.5 of the last 7 months, and they’ve been a blast. Many Argentines that I met said I’ve seen more of the country than they have, and I just look back and appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to accomplish that.

Two Feelings of Home

Two Feelings of Home

Back to Buenos Aires

When my flight touched down in BA, I almost felt like I came home. Not quite the same, but after about a month straight of figuring out a new city every three days, it felt so comforting to arrive to a place where I knew where I needed to go and what I needed to do. I had a few days before Dad and Sarah arrived, so I used that time to catch up with old friends who I hadn't seen in a few months. My friend George put me up in a spare bedroom of his which was just what I needed. He also had two lovely ladies from Canada staying with him who kept great company (and made great finger foods for the happy hours). Thursday I met up with a few friends from my TEGOBA group for some shawarma and coffee. On Friday I met up with Candela and we went to a Mundo Lingo event, the language exchange at local bars. I had a great time and it reminded me that I should've attended more often when I was in BA before; it's such a great way to practice language, but in a setting where everyone else is open and willing to do the same. On Saturday, I grabbed beers with my old roommate Nestor, the one person in Buenos Aires who had to put up with me more than anyone else. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see everyone I would've liked to, but if any of y'all are ever in the States, my door is always open.

I welcomed Dad and Sarah Sunday morning, fresh off their long, miserable first-class flight spent eating 4 course meals and drinking champagne. Poor kids :) It was wonderful to see family in a foreign land and I had a great time introducing them to my second home. We stayed at a really nice hotel in San Telmo, where I slept in a huge bed for the first time in a while. They got to see some of the Argentinean culture: exploring the San Telmo market, taking a tango lesson and seeing a full tango show, and being amused at how late they eat dinner. They got to sample the food (steak, empanadas, choripan, provoleta) and were even adventurous enough to try mollejas (sweetbreads, or, more familiarly, gizzards). I don't believe they'll be repeat mollejas consumers. And they were able to see the beautiful architecture of Buenos Aires, and appreciate it much more than I could. Although once the two construction nerds start talking about the different concrete techniques, they start to lose me.

Mendoza

Wednesday morning, I said goodbye to Buenos Aires (at least for the foreseeable future) and we hopped on a plane together to Mendoza. We arrived at Casa Glebinias in Lujan de Cuyo, a nice wine region 20 minutes outside of the city center of Mendoza. It's a beautiful boutique hotel with an on-site restaurant, wine cellar, and pool. Not what I'm used to, but really nice. The first day we were responsible and only went to one restaurant before we came back to get ready for 1884, Francis Mallman's top-class steakhouse. Incredible meal. The next day was our full wine day, where we went to the first winery, Vina Cobos, at 11. We learned quickly that the "pours" at these wine tastings are more like "glasses". Not that we were complaining, but I was probably down 2.5 glasses of wine after the first winery at about noon. We went to a lunch/wine pairing at Bodega Lagarde, where they did a 6-course meal with a wine pairing for each course. Here they didn't even bother asking if you wanted more; they treated an empty glass as a nuisance, and they knew the solution. Really good meal, really good wine, really bad prep for going to our third winery. We certainly had a nice time at Carmelo Patti, but I'd be lying if I told you I had any notes (or memories) of the different wine varietals the little old Italian man offered us. So, Pro Tip for anyone planning a Mendoza vacation: two wineries per day is probably a safe bet. Not long after arriving back at our hotel did we cancel our dinner reservations and settle for a nice pool-side "nap". Friday was our day to take a driving tour of the Andes, all the way to the entrance to Aconcagua National Park. As tends to happen with these massive mountains, there was a collection of clouds surrounding the peaks which skews your view, but it was nice for us to see a different side of Mendoza province, and our driver Gino gave us some nice history of the region, the country, politics, and everything in between.

They flew back home early Saturday morning and I've moved to a hostel in the Mendoza city center for a few days. I really enjoyed having them here, having them experience a world and a culture much different from what they're used to. It was a nice refresher, a pleasant reminder of home, that should hold me over nicely the last few months until I return to the states for good.

The Other Deep South: Patagonia

The Other Deep South: Patagonia

I make some really stupid decisions sometimes. I'm just fortunate that it hasn't come back to bite me yet, but more on that later.

Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas

Leaving El Calafate, I arrived to Puerto Natales in the evening. Puerto Natales is a nice small city on the water that serves as the launching point into Torres Del Paine National Park, and not much else. Many people do multi-day hikes (5 or 8 days) but I elected to just a few day trips to the park instead (50% due to lack of camping equipment, 50% due to waiting too late to reserve camping spots). I arrived to my hostel, Hostel San Agustin, and was greeted by the hosts, three older local women with very limited English. They were nice ladies but real sticklers for the rules; and treated everyone there like they would their child.  I witnessed one scold a German couple for trying to get seconds on yogurt for their cereal (probably to help wash down the stale bread), yelling "this is not a buffet!". Not a long-term model for success in my opinion but to each their own. I went off to the local market to get some stuff for sandwiches, and due to metric conversion error, I ordered entirely too much below average ham. So, I got to enjoy that for 5 meals over the next 3 days. The next day I went on a full-day van tour of the park, which allowed me to see most of the highlights in a relatively short span. I realized fairly quickly that I was the only gringo and English speaker on the trip, including the guide. He spoke clearly enough for me to get about 50% of his message. That's enough for context which is sufficient. But the park was the real star of the day. Absolutely gorgeous - you can tell immediately why it's such a popular destination for trekkers and tourists alike. Massive granite towers falling sharply to power waterfalls leading down to the distinctly blue glacial lakes - a powerful experience. Also, the weather pleasantly held out for us, which isn't a gimme around these parts. On the way back to Puerto Natales, we also stopped at Mylodon Cave, a massive cave turned archaeological site where the skins of the now-extinct mylodon were found, which led to a large-scale excavation and lots of new information about extinct species from 10000 years ago. The cave now isn't really anything mind-blowing, but I had previously read about the cave in Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia, so it was cool to see in person. The next day I got to the bus station, backpack filled with the appropriate supplies for a day hike to the base of the famous towers, to catch the 8:30 bus to the national park. That's roughly when I figured out the bus actually only leaves at 7:30 AM and it was long gone. I had (incorrectly) assumed that they started at 7:30 and ran every hour. This was probably the most frustrated I've been to-date, simply because there was no one to blame but myself. Resigned to my fate, I went back to the hostel to regroup. As previously mentioned, the town is really a gateway to the park and doesn't offer much itself, so my options were limited. I used the newly-freed time in my schedule to catch up on some photos that needed to be uploaded, some emails that needed to be sent out, and a nap that needed to be taken. I also caught a local museum dedicated to the natives of the area, which was a cool exhibit and pleasant surprise. The next morning I left Puerto Natales to head to Punta Arenas, Chile's first major Patagonian sea port on the Strait of Magellan.

In Punta Arenas, I got to El Fin Del Mundo hostel to a more welcoming environment in a much larger city. A lot of people visit the Penguin colonies from Punta Arenas, but knowing I'd do a similar excursion from my next stop in Ushuaia, I passed and had a relatively relaxed 3 days. I took an early morning hike to the national park (I was the first person there) which had incredible views over the city to the waterway. I saw a ton of wild rabbits but my quest to find wild foxes or pumas continue to come up empty, sadly. I also met an Australian and a German with whom I could have a completely respectful and level-headed political discussion. It's refreshing to know those are still possible nowadays.

Ushuaia

To get to Ushuaia, there was a 12-hour bus-ride. It wasn't too painful because it was broken up by a ferry ride across the Strait of Magellan, where we were able to get off the bus and stretch our legs a bit. It was also my last border crossing for a while (Thank God...because they always seemingly take way longer than necessary for the actual security measures that are performed). I stayed in an AirBnb, since the selection of decent hostels in town are limited, and it turned out to be a great decision. Javier was a very gracious host from his home in the hills above the city, I got some good Spanish practice, learned about his upcoming venture to take his rebuilt VW bus from Ushuaia to Alaska, and hang out with two really cool pups - a younger golden retriever named Amber and a 15-year-old warrior named Darkie. Darkie, almost completely blind and deaf, had seen better days but still gets around pretty good, even if at a much slower pace.

 

My first day took me to Tierra Del Fuego National Park for a hike along the Beagle Channel. The hike was cool, taking you through the forest and along the coast. The forests are a lot different down here, being comparatively very young (only ~10000 years since the last glacial period) and only feature plants that have adapted to the extreme climate. That said, it ended up costing over 40 bucks including the shuttle and park entry, so probably not worth it from a value perspective. I did get to be a super tourist and have my passport stamped from the End of the World (for a small fee, of course) so I’m still happy I went.

The following day I set off towards the Martial Glacier, a hike you can, or should be able to, reach from the city by foot. I didn't quite reach the glacier, per se. To make a long story short, I got lost and went in the completely wrong direction once I got up into the mountains. I'm not sure why it took me an hour to realize there was no one else on the path towards a relatively popular tourist destination, but by that point it was too late. To put a positive spin on it...well for one I didn't die. Secondly, I've seen several much more impressive glaciers in the last month, so going on my own unique path through muddy and abandoned cross-country ski slopes was probably a much cooler adventure. A few hours later when I got back to the internet I saw a map and saw where my route went wrong. It could've been easily avoided had I done a bit more planning beforehand. Where winging it goes wrong, I guess. No real worries though.

Monday was the highlight of Ushuaia and what I had been looking forward to for days now: my trip to Isla Martillo to visit the Penguin Colony. I avoided looking at pictures to keep myself pleasantly surprised and pleasantly surprised I was. We started at Estancia Harberton, where we looked around their museum of full skeletons of all kinds of marine birds and mammals. We also got a tour led by a local biologist. She told me that Killer Whales are really dolphins and after that my mind was so blown I couldn't really focus on the rest of her talk. After getting off our small boat that took us to the island from the estancia, it was impossible not to smile. Penguins EVERYWHERE. The guide estimates that there are 5,000 couples (not including this year's offspring) and, due to the years of tours, our presence didn’t bother them a bit. This allowed for some great photo and video opportunities, and the ability to get within a few feet of these little balls of joy. I'd say the one downside was the pesky "rules", like no petting, no hugging, no taking any back as souvenirs. Talk about the no-fun police. But all-in-all, an amazing experience. The tour company I used (Piratour) is the only one authorized to lead hikes on the island, where other companies must stay and take pictures from the boat. So as we were leaving and another rival company's boat pulled up as close as they could for pictures, I looked down my nose and laughed as pompously as you might expect, extremely happy with my decision to pay the extra bucks for this tour.

My final day I went to the Ushuaia Prison museum, where Argentina used to keep its most violent criminals in a penal colony, similar to how Britain used Australia. It was a nice activity for a cold and windy day, and it's very well documented in English. They even maintained one wing completely as it was when the prison was open, which serves as a healthy crime deterrent.

Now back to my really dumb decision making. For some reason, I got it in my head I was going to walk to the airport from my AirBnb. Even looking on the map it seemed a bit far but I figured I had a few hours this morning and could get some exercise while saving on cab fare. Dumb. Just really dumb. For some reason, I chose to ignore the maps navigation that suggested it was more like a two-hour walk, or the fact that I would be carrying between 40-50 pounds of luggage on my back, or the fact that it was up and down dirt road hills. An hour into the march, when I realized I was still nowhere close, I started to panic a bit. But I was too far away from the downtown area to find a cab at this point. I stuck my thumb out while walking, which every single car seemed to treat as me offering them congratulations on their driving, because no one even thought about stopping for this friendly gringo. I was positive I was going to miss my flight at this point, but thank God, the Ushuaia airport is tiny and I got their five minutes before the hour cutoff. I've had enough time on this plane to cool off (both figuratively and literally as my sweat-stained shirts start to dry) but I was self-loathing for a while there. Lesson learned, I guess.

I'm typing this on my plane back to Buenos Aires, where my journey first started. It will be great to see old friends, and then in 4 days, welcome Dad and Sarah to South America. Really excited to see some familiar faces.

El Chalten and El Calafate

El Chalten and El Calafate

Well, I survived the 24-hour bus ride. To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I got lucky and the bus was only about half full; the seat next to me was open and gave me the proper space to stretch out. The ride was also baby-free which was a nice touch. I was able to get almost a full 8 hours of sleep, and with Netflix downloads (life saving for me these days), podcasts, and my book, I passed the time without too much heartache. The bus company (Marga/Taqsa) even gave me a halfway decent dinner…or my standards have just fallen. They first brought me a tray with a slice of ham, a slice of cheese, a dinner roll, and a container of orange jello. I was about halfway through that delicacy when he brought up a warm aluminum container filled with chicken and rice. I have no doubt the chicken was frozen at some point but it was a nice surprise nonetheless.

I arrived in El Chalten mid-afternoon. El Chalten is a tiny and relatively young town, only founded in 1985, and driven completely off tourism. It sits in a small valley surrounded by mountains, which creates a perfect path for hurricane-like wind gusts, which can be a bit frustrating as you’re carrying both of your packs and trying not to fall over. After checking in at Rancho Grande hostel, I got out and did a quick 90-minute hike to a small waterfall, and started walking back just as it began to rain a bit. This wasn’t a great sign as if you have bad weather, El Chalten becomes much less interesting. If you can’t hike, there’s not much else to do besides eat and drink. That night I met up with my friend Nacho who I met in Bariloche, and one of his friends who were also in town, at a local restaurant. We split a massive picada plate (think charcuterie), which included my first helpings of ostrich and wild boar. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. After a beer and a bottle of wine, we split up and I walked home in the now-much-stronger rain storm.

I woke up the next morning to surprisingly clear skies. A well-timed break in the weather, since this is the day I had planned to hike the most well-known trail in town – the hike to Mt. Fitz Roy. On just a granola bar for breakfast (which I’ll explain later), I set out on the four-hour hike. The first hour or so was a little tough, but when you reach the peak of the first hill, you have an amazing view of the mountain peaks towering over the valley below, and for the next few hours, you walk with constantly beautiful sights. The last hour was the toughest part, an even steeper climb over rocks, but absolutely worth it. Probably my favorite hike so far, with absolutely stunning views, and the finish didn’t disappoint. After a 30-minute break at the top, and refilling my water bottle with fresh glacier water that would make Bobby Boucher proud, I headed back towards town. The following day, I had another day of decent weather and hiked towards Cerro Torre, a slightly less taxing hike towards the other tall peak in the area, with another glacial lake at its base. I hiked with Isaac from Holland, and he worked up the stones to go for a dip in the lake. Crazy Dutch…When we got back, we went to a local happy hour, where a 5 piece Argentinean folk band surprised us with a live performance.

The one challenging aspect of this town was the complete lack of ability to get cash. I heard it was a pain but was cutting it to close to my bus departure in El Bolson to fix it, I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I was wrong. They had 2 ATMs in town; one doesn’t accept cards with chips (is the alternative even a thing anymore?) and the other one regularly runs out of money. I went down at 8 on Monday morning when the bank opened (or was supposed to), and waited till 9 before accepting that maybe the teller just wasn’t planning on showing up that day. Without a withdrawal, I had barely enough cash (when combining Argentinean and Chilean pesos with my $20 remaining in USD) to pay for my hostel and bus ticket out of town, so I was skimping on food hard. I found one restaurant that took credit card, so my plan was just to eat a big dinner there every night. Of course, on my last night in town, I was able to withdraw a little money from the ATM, and later found out my hostel did accept credit cards, so all the worry was for naught.

I took the 2-hour bus ride to El Calafate, and the first thing I did after checking in at iKeuKen hostel was find a farmacia for my cold. Heavy dose of Sudafed in hand, I went to Laguna Nimez, a wildlife reserve right on the coast of Lago Argentina. Upon entry, the guy at reception told me to watch out between stations 7 and 10 as the birds of prey were nesting and they could get protective. I figured he was just saying this to add a little excitement to a bird sanctuary. It’s rare, he said. Wrong. Not until station 13, but I swear to god this bastard dive bombed me. I’m glad no one was around to hear the pitch of scream I let out, but it was an effective enough deterrent to save my eyeballs from certain gouging.

The other highlight here, and main reason people come, was the visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the world, and one of the only glaciers in the region that is expanding in size rather than shrinking. It was amazing, and one of those things where pictures don’t really do it justice. Hard to capture the sheer size, and the best part to me is sitting and listing to the thunderous cracks and crumbling of the ice as it falls 70 meters to the lake below.  It’s awe-inspiring, if not a little haunting. I capped off the afternoon in the café on-site, where they will serve you whiskey over a chunk of glacier ice, and it was 5 o’clock somewhere, so I partook. I ended the evening by meeting up with some old friends with Valparaiso over a few beers, and am about to get on the 5-hour bus towards Puerto Natales, Chile, the base to reach Torres Del Paine National Park. Hope the weather holds off.

Bariloche and El Bolson

Bariloche and El Bolson

After an easy 7-hour bus ride to Bariloche (I never thought I would just shrug off 7 hours on a coach bus but it’s not too bad with Netflix letting you download content now), I had one day to simply relax and get situated in the hostel as the weather was a bit rainy. I woke up the next day and set off to hike Cerro Campanario, an uphill but relatively short hike to, in my opinion, the best view point in Bariloche. Here, you can see all the surrounding lakes and mountains in the region, and fortunately for me the sky cleared just as I reached the top.

The next day, I went with 3 others from the hostel on the trek towards Refugio Frey. It’s a refuge at the top of the mountain where people can sleep, use as a base for their campsite, or simply grab food before the hike back down. The hike up was just over 3 hours, and was pretty mild for most of the way. The weather at this point was fantastic – I was able to rock just a t-shirt. We got to the top and enjoyed a better-than-expected ham and cheese sandwich, and watched a few psychos rock climbing up a ridiculous rock face at the very peak before starting the walk back down. I enjoy the random and sometimes ridiculous conversations that spur up on these longer hikes. For example, out of one guy’s refusal to believe in the marketing hype of trekking shoes (he wears his Vans to hike), we created the concept for a new product line: Vans Extreme, a potential rebellious outdoor shoe line. The working slogan: ‘F*ck trekking shoes. F*ck everything. Vans Extreme.” The nonsense you come up with to fill 6 hours of quiet without Wi-Fi is good for the soul, even if it doesn’t lead to profitable business ventures. Also, learned the basic rules to the Irish national sport of hurling around the dinner table one night.

The hostel here (Penthouse 1004) was fantastic as well. When you secure the top floor of an apartment building with a balcony overlooking the lake, it’s kind of hard to screw up. But they built out the space great as well. Huge and well-stocked double kitchen, great common area for socializing, and nice private bathrooms. Well worth the 5 extra bucks it’d cost you over some of the other hostels in town.

The next day I took a 2-hour bus ride to El Bolson, a smaller town to the south. I sort of planned for this leg to be a more relaxed leg, in between bigger hiking stops, and it was truly the perfect spot for it. The hostel here (La Casona de Odile) was recommended to me by someone I met at a previous spot with the caveat “it’s the kind of place that makes you not want to leave the hostel” and she was right. It has a ranch feel to it with several guest houses on a huge plot of land 3 miles outside of town that backs up to the river. Also featured: a wild lavender garden, an organic farm, hammocks everywhere, 2 dogs, 2 cats, 1 horse, and a new restaurant/bar on site with homemade beer and live music every night. Just an incredibly well-thought out and executed hostel. Everybody would be well-served to spend a long weekend here and unwind.

I did have one day out of the place, where I took a bus down to Lago Puelo National Park, hiked up to a great viewpoint and through the botanical garden, and finished with a meal along probably the bluest lake I’ve ever seen. I also saw what I believe to be the biggest wild pig I've ever seen, and immediately started scouting my possible escape routes. But we came to an understanding, he just wanted to eat and I was cool with that. Beautiful park with plenty of activities if you’re looking for a nice day trip from El Bolson.

 I’ve had a really nice 6 day run in this region, and for the most part, I’ve had incredible weather (sunny and low 70s). Now the real adventure begins – in 2 hours I board a 24-hour bus ride down to El Chalten in the heart of Patagonia. There’s no way to spin it…this bus ride is going to suck. Terribly. But hopefully, with the aid of too much melatonin, I can get some decent sleep and wake up tomorrow refreshed and ready to go.

First Half Reflections

First Half Reflections

Here I am, back in the comfortable confines of my Atlanta home(s), for a quick hiatus in my travels. I’ve had such a fun and long overdue two week stretch catching up with friends and celebrating Christmas a few weeks early with family. Now, with just a few days left before I fly back down south, I wanted to take some time and reflect on the last few months, and try to review what I learned, loved, missed, and regret.

I can start with the language. It ended up being more challenging than I thought for a few reasons. First, I probably thought I was better than I truly was when I left in August. Apparently, a few months on Duolingo 10 years after studying Spanish in high school wasn't adequate. Who knew? Secondly, Argentine Spanish (both dialect and accent) were more different than I expected. And lastly, understanding spoken Spanish is just hard for me. Unless I’m asking people to speak at an unnaturally slow pace, there’s a good chance they’ll be met with a confused look. One thing this trip has taught me is that I need to be a much more active listener. No multitasking when you have to dissect every word. I fully admit I wasn’t a perfect Spanish student over the last few months. I could’ve refused to speak English to everyone I encountered, and forced myself into the uncomfortable situations that make you grow more often. But when you’re living in a foreign land, there is a certain comfort to having a nuanced conversation in your native tongue. I think I found a healthy balance, while acknowledging that I possibly could’ve done more. I spent time every day studying at home, and while effective, being in a school setting may have been more productive. I took a few weeks’ worth of classes but at $200/week, I couldn’t really afford to continue that through my whole stay. I learned of free classes led by local schools a few weeks before I left, or in other words, a few months too late. Oh well…I’ll know for next time. So, in summary…sure I’d love to be fluent after 4 months. But that wasn’t a realistic goal. I’m comfortable with where I’m at right now, and look forward to building on the skill. The challenge is part of what makes this fun.

The other biggest challenge of moving to a new place is finding a new social circle. I never really moved as a child, and attended a college where my brother was already well established and several close friends came along with me. For the first time in my life, I had to start from scratch. And for someone that has some introvertistic (Spellcheck tells me this isn’t a word but I’m going with it) tendencies, it’s a much-needed exercise. Overall, I’d say I was successful. You’d think trying to make new friends while knowing you’ll be leaving soon would be tricky, and it was, but I just tried to have as much fun as I could and learn as much as I could with the little time I had. And I met some amazing people. The cool thing about traveling is you don’t necessarily meet people with whom you have everything in common. And from that lack of commonality comes a different perspective. In fact, for me and most of my friends, the trait we shared was a desire to see the world, seek new horizons, and learn from one another. This trip also reinforced my belief that people are inherently good. I constantly came to people looking for help, and I was given what I needed time and time again. And while there’s a good chance I’ll never see a lot of these people again (although I hope that’s not the case), the generosity and compassion of my newfound friends will not be soon forgotten.

Another reason I wanted to go to South America is I wanted to experience a life different from what I was accustomed. I’ve said this before but as a straight, white, upper middle class male in America, I think I’m a part of every majority group possible. I’ve always considered myself an empathetic person, but moving to a foreign land where suddenly, you’re the one that sticks out, has definitely given me new perspective. Not to say I faced any true plight, but it was still a valuable experience to see and I encourage everyone who can to put themselves in awkward or uncomfortable positions. The other thing living in South America taught me was that I took certain luxuries of living in a steady first-world country for granted. For example, the quality (or availability) of appliances makes life a little bit tougher. I felt like an idiot when I had to google how to hand-wash clothes. You can’t program your oven to stay at a certain temperature in 5 degree increments. And your heater isn’t controlled by a thermostat…it’s simply either plugged in or it’s not. I just try to remind myself that, while the US isn’t perfect, comparatively, we have it pretty good. With that said, they definitely have some things figured out down there. Buenos Aires has a ton of green space in the city and the citizens take full advantage of it. they have perfected the production of expensive ice cream and cheap red wine, and their mass transit options put MARTA to shame (living car-free was a great feeling).

Living without a job is probably as cool as it sounds. It’s amazing to be able to set your own schedule and be as selfish as you want with your daily plan. Life is generally less stressful when the only deadline you need to worry about is making sure you check off all the cool stuff on your to-do list before you move on to the next city. It does have some downsides though. I mean not getting a paycheck is not ideal, and I did sometimes find myself lacking a purpose. One takeaway is that even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I couldn’t go lay on a beach forever. I’d still need to find a place where I can contribute and make a difference. So eventually I’ll work again…still trying to figure out what that may look like, but luckily, I have some time.

The second half of my trip will be quite a bit different from the first. In contrast to the first leg where I stayed in Buenos Aires and set up shop, I plan to spend the next few months traveling around more, staying for a week or two per place as opposed to months. I’ll sacrifice the ability to get an in-depth understanding for a city, while gaining the opportunity to see a lot more of the continent. My rough itinerary has me spending time on Chilean beaches through New Years, in Patagonia for January, followed by moving north through smaller cities in Argentina, into Bolivia, northern Chile, Peru and possibly beyond. The timeline will be determined mainly by how my bank account looks, so fortunately I’ve become talented at living frugally. Hopefully this wasn’t too much rambling, but I wanted to provide some insight into what my life was like. As always, open to questions or comments, and I welcome any visitors that want to take a break from the daily grind and come down South.

Ramblings and Current State of Mind

Ramblings and Current State of Mind

It's been a while since I last posted, and in lieu of a post with a central theme, I thought I'd just give a brain dump on where I'm at mentally and emotionally as the first leg of my trip starts to wind down.

I've spent lots of time following the election and the aftermath over the last week, and part of me sympathizes for friends and family back home who have a harder time getting away from the wall-to-wall coverage than I do. On election night, I watched along on CNN (which they broadcast in English), and stayed up til about 5:30 local time until his speech was wrapped up and I had read an excessive amount of election coverage breakdown. In fact it was the first time I've seen the sun rise sober in a long long time. At one point, I had planned to write a long post based solely on politics/division/views from abroad/etc, but instead I'll mention a few quick things to ponder. 

Even though I'm out of the US, I still feel fairly connected to US through social media and the like, and the split in our country truly worries me. Whether it's race, class, income level, or level of education, sides seem to be as far apart as I can remember in my young life (I can still call myself young for 27 more days). Across the board, regardless of affiliation, there's an increased level of defensiveness and a troubling lack of empathy. And while I don't think Fox News or MSNBC are going to be changing their programming strategy anytime soon, we can all make an effort to empathize and understand those who disagree with us. One method I'm using to do this, and one which I can highly recommend, is a series of podcasts called 'Intelligence Squared US Debates'. They have several years worth of topics on a wide variety of subject, and they bring in well-educated and (mostly) civil people to debate their side. It's a great way to get an introduction to subjects about which you may not think you know enough, and it's fairly heavily moderated so you can actually hear debate on policy, which we've been so sorely lacking recently. Give it a shot with an open-mind and let me know what you think. 

Outside of that, I'm getting very close to the end of my stay in Buenos Aires, having 2 weeks until my feet will land on US soil. This whole time I've been so excited to meet new people, develop relationships, and so on. But as I get closer to the departure date, my mindset has started to change. I'm not sure I can even eloquently describe it but it is slowly starting to become me getting ready to leave versus living life day by day. I suppose it's a feeling people feel every time you move but as someone who has lived in Atlanta the vast majority of their life, it's not one I have often faced. My goal over the net two weeks is simply to have as much fun as I can, mark some final things off the Buenos Aires to-do list, and soak in the experiences unique to this place which I'm sure I will miss soon after I get off the plane. That being said, I am excited to see friends and family soon. The comforts of home will be welcomed, if not the cold weather.

Hasta pronto!

My First Experience with Argentine Futbol

My First Experience with Argentine Futbol

Getting to an Argentine soccer match has been near the top of my to-do list since I got to Buenos Aires. However, due to some security concerns, it has become seemingly harder for tourists (or anyone that is not a fan/club member of the home team) to get into games for Boca or River Plate, 2 of the more popular teams in the country. Luckily, I continue to run into great people willing to help. Two friends, Bianca and Nahuel, whom I met at the running group mentioned in my last post, invited me to join them at the Racing Club match last Saturday as they faced Arsenal. Racing Club is one of the biggest and most popular clubs in Argentina, and their stadium is located on the outskirts of the capital of Buenos Aires. A few legs on buses later and I was there. I met up with them and Nahuel's brother and we were ready to go.

We got there over two hours early due to notice online that they would stop selling tickets at that time (which turned out to be false). After we bought tickets (About $22 USD), we had some time to kill, and there's no better way to pass time then a little cerveza in a nearby park. The tailgating scene didn't really line up to SEC football Saturdays, but it was a perfect day outside so it could've been worse. 

Even though our tickets were the cheapest option, they got us to to the best section in the house: right next to the hooligan's section. The flags, the banners, the chants, the screams, the jumping, the yelling, I got to see it all. I'll be damned if they didn't sing or chant for almost the entire game...impressive stamina. I just wish I would've studied up and learned a few songs beforehand. We (yes I'm already speaking of them with 'we') won 1-0 over Arsenal in a game controlled by the home side. Considering that Racing are undefeated with me an attendance, I'd be surprised if some sort of marketing deal doesn't arise for me. 

Let's Go, Racing!

My First Hash

My First Hash

Not drug-related, I promise.

Hash House Harriers

I was googling around for a running club in Buenos Aires to have another way to meet new people and give me some added motivation, when I saw a recommendation for some group called the Hash House Harriers. I started doing some research on the group, and saw their motto: "A drinking group with a running problem" - I figured I'd fit right in. I found their corresponding Facebook group and reached out, seeing if there was anything I needed to know. The response:  

Do you like to run (doesn't have to be fast, and you can walk if you need to, nobody minds), can you follow a trail of flour, and can you drink beer - Oh, and you must be able to enjoy a good laugh, and great company

Say no more. I'm actually fairly proud of myself for making it...old Ryan wouldn't have made the trip for a few reasons. Each run is hosted/planned by a different Hare every time, and this time it was hosted in a bit of a suburb outside of the city. For me, that meant a 20 minute bus ride followed by a 40 minute train ride to get there. To add to it, when I woke up at 8 to start getting ready, it was raining pretty steadily. I did a quick check to confirm it wasn't cancelled (it wasn't, they rarely are, apparently), packed my bag, and headed out. 

Before the run started, all of the visitors and virgins (first-timers) introduced themselves to the group, and luckily, I wasn't the only one. Typically the person planning the path will go out ahead of the group and drop flour on the ground marking the route, but rain makes that ineffective. Therefore, this was a "live hash" where the leader runs with the group. This means one thing...you better keep up. 

One thing I didn't know before we took off - how long the run would be. I found at at the halfway point, after running for probably 3 miles and doing my damnedest to keep up with the fast group, that this group usually runs about 10 Km...which is excellent news for the guy who has been running 3 miles at a time recently. It was all doable as there were a few breaks to let the back group catch up, and the one beer stop halfway through. I joined the back group on the second half because I'm aware of Einstein's definition of insanity. We got a tiny bit lost but we eventually made it back to the house with ice cold beer awaiting. 

After each run, they have call outs for virgins, visitors, the leaders, and anyone else who may have broken a rule (some of which seem made up on the spot), where everyone in the middle drinks while the others sing and shout. It had the feel of an English pub during a soccer match. And of course, when the run was over and we were wrapping up, the sun was shining bright. 

All in all, it was a great experience, and I hope to catch at least one more run with the group before I leave. There are hash groups all over the world, so it gives one a great way to meet some friendly faces in a new place, as well as developing running friendships in your home city. I continue to be amazed at the warmth shown to me by strangers. There have been so many times in this journey when I've gone into a group knowing absolutely no one, and time and time again, I'm greeted with warm smiles and great conversation. Definitely something to keep in mind if you're ever on the other side of that scenario: be as welcoming as you can to strangers...it will mean much more to them than you realize. 

Argentine Asado

Argentine Asado

From what I've seen, potentially nothing is more authentically Argentine than a Sunday asado. An asado is a gathering of friends and family with its key component being meat roasting over a fire.  They love their beef here, and for good reason. I mean the country has more cows than people. Along with ample amounts of slow-roasted dead cow and pig, you'll find baguettes for making sandwiches, provoleta, picadas, and usually a nice Argentine malbec to wash it all down. For many around the country, it's a weekly tradition - rain or shine, and something they take very seriously. 

National Asado Championship

Yesterday, the city of Buenos Aires hosted the first official Asado Championship in the city center. There were representatives from each of the 23 provinces as well as from the capital city of Buenos Aires. Blessed with a beautifully sunny 70 degree day, the festival was packed with thousands of people. Along with the competition, they had street vendors, live music, and many different grilled meat options for consumption. I went with a tapa de asado sandwich (meat, bread and sauce - straight to the point). The team from the province of Mendoza emerged victorious, but, honestly, no one loses on a day like that.

And now I'm hungry.  

A Milestone

A Milestone

Halfway to the Halfway Point

As October starts, it means I've been abroad for two months and I have two months left until my first trip back to the States. It's weird because you want to say time flies, and at times it does. But at the same time, when I reflect back to my first week here, it seems like forever ago. I imagine it's because it has been more than just a two month span; my knowledge and comfort level of the city, lifestyle and culture has grown considerably. I don't feel as lost when hopping on a bus or train. I don't feel as timid when asking for help. And I continue to look forward to additional progress.

I love it down here and don't regret a single thing, but there are certainly times when I miss home, and this weekend had plenty of them. The Ryder Cup was amazing, but it would've been better celebrating with other Americans, chest-bumping and drinking Budweiser. I love seeing photos of the annual Appleton beach trip, but I hate not joining in on the laughs. Or even the simpler things like seeing a dog that looks enough like Chloe, or speaking with someone back home who needs a hug and not being able to give it to them. I embrace every new day I have here, but I will also try not to take for granted the special parts of life back home.

On that note, I've purchased my plane ticket back to the US for my halftime break. I'm flying back on 11/29 and will stay through 12/14 before embarking on the second half of my journey. 4 of those days will be spent in New Orleans, because apparently one trip this year wasn't hard enough on my liver. Outside of that, I hopefully will get a chance to see many friends back home along with plenty of good old-fashioned family time. 

Chau!

La Boca, TEGOBA, and Politics

La Boca, TEGOBA, and Politics

La Boca

The Buenos Aires government has a really nice offering of free walking tours around the various barrios of BA, and I finally rolled out of bed early enough to make it to my first one last Wednesday. Well, kind of...I got there 15 minutes late but it's completely the bus's fault and not mine at all. Luckily, it's easy to track down a tour guide in a bright yellow jacket surrounded by Gringos (they hadn't gotten too far). 

La Boca is very different from many of the other barrios around Buenos Aires, at least ones that tourists might visit. It started as a shipyard many years ago, mainly due to the location on the mouth of the Riachuelo River. In the mid-1900s, upon his return from Europe to Buenos Aires, artist Benito Quinquela Martin devoted his time and money to improve his boyhood home of La Boca. He added vibrant colors to many of the buildings, as well as built a school and a dental hospital for the children of the neighborhood. Due to his paintings, La Boca is easily identified by the colorful buildings and outdoor murals. It's also home to Argentina's most famous soccer team, Boca Juniors. We walked by the stadium, but it's hard to really get a good look. I definitely plan to return for a game if possible. Today, La Boca is a very working-class neighborhood with a lot of petty crime. It wouldn't be a place where any tourists or expats would want to live, but it's a nice visit during the day to see a different side of Buenos Aires

Another Weekend of Late Nights

Friday I met up with TEGOBA (The English Group of Buenos Aires). I was introduced to them by a friend from my Tuesday group, which has some overlap. It was nice to meet some new people (especially several local Argentines who have been going to the group for years as a way to socialize and keep their English fresh). We met at a local cafe, went for dinner around 11, and stayed out til 2:30 or 3. They were a really fun group, and I look forward to meeting with them again. Saturday was another night on the town with my roommate, and when we left the bar the sun was coming up. Obviously this means I logged about 30 total minutes on Sunday not laying in my bed. Everyone needs an occasional rest day.

A Few Things To Come

A question I am asked often - "Trump or Clinton". I usually simply laugh, to keep from crying. But I've had a few discussions with Nestor about American politics, and I'm excited to let him see the circus firsthand as we watch the debate tonight. It will be interesting to hear his first impressions. 

I'm also in dire need of a haircut. I've held on as long as I can, but it's getting a wee bit mullet-y for my tastes. Since my listening comprehension in Spanish is still a struggle, I have a few options - A) I can walk in with a picture of what I want, or B) I can just tell them to surprise me. Leaning option B. If I see her pull out the trimmers I'll get nervous. Updates to come later this week. 

Lights, Beer, and Football

Lights, Beer, and Football

I've been slacking a bit on my posting frequency; I shoot for at least once per week but I let it slip a bit. IT WON'T HAPPEN AGAIN.

Church Rave

Last Saturday, I had an a true Buenos Aires night out. My roommate is pretty big into electronic music so I went with him and two other people from our old hostel to a rave in an old abandoned church turned bar. In typical BA fashion, the doors didn't even open until 2 AM, and we got home around 6:30 in the morning. Four hours of DJs and strobe lights would've been hell on an epileptic, but it was an absolute blast. As expected, I was completely worthless the next day; I have no idea how porteños do this on a regular basis. Years and years of practice I reckon. I suppose I'll have to remain dedicated to the cause, ya know, for personal growth and what not. 

High Quality Cold Beer

I had several different people recommend I check out Antares, an Argentinean craft brewery with a few locations in town. I finally checked it off my list last Thursday. The last time I walked past their Palermo location, it was packed with a line out the door. One of my teachers told me we needed to get their right as it opened to get a seat, so my buddy Clinton and I did. It wasn't quite that dramatic but it filled up shortly thereafter. I've drunk my fair share of Heineken, Stella, and Quilmes (Argentina's version of Bud Light/Coors Light/Miller Lite) so I was looking forward to enjoying some beer with some depth to it. Combine that with some quality bar food for a good price and it's safe to say I will return. 

Tigre

The following afternoon I took the train to Tigre, a suburb of Buenos Aires set along the convergence of three rivers. It's an effortless hour-long train ride from BA, which makes it an easy and pleasant day trip. With the weather finally starting to look up, I thought it'd be a great way to spend a Friday. The clouds wouldn't retreat for an extended period of time, so I decided to hold off on the river cruise for a subsequent trip, but I was able to check out the market, take some great pictures, and enjoy some beer and ice cream along the river. I'll certainly visit again, and would recommend it for anyone visiting Buenos Aires as well. 

Finally Found the Football Bar

Another Saturday, another opportunity to find The Alamo, the ever-elusive football bar. After realizing that the bar had just changed names, I locked down the coordinates and set out on my quest. I arrived just in time for the start of the 3:30 CBS kickoff, and watched it in between a Bammer and an Ole Miss fan, which made things fun. The bartender explained why they changed names; apparently they have do it it relatively often as they attempt to "bend" the rules set upon them by the Buenos Aires government, and need to avoid repeat fines and getting shut down. You gotta respect the hustle. I convinced them to change one TV to the Auburn game and boy, what a joy that was! Looks like I'm in for another season filled with disappointment. I've decided I'll just find out whatever Argentine soccer team is the best and start rooting for them. I have no shame - I just need to see some wins this fall. 

I've just spent today streaming some NFL games and nursing the wounds that come along with staying at a bar for 8 hours. But I had fun and met some cool people, so I continue to have a lot to be thankful for. 

 

My New Home

My New Home

Home Sweet Home

Yes, last Thursday, my roommate Nestor and I finally moved into our apartment, which we will have for the next three months. While the previous AirBnb I inhabited was great, and the host was very helpful, it's nice to have a place to actually call your own. Settled in the cozy Palermo neighborhood (closer to the Recoleta side), it's a nice two bedroom apartment on the top floor of a 4 story apartment building. We have a really large balcony that will be perfect once it finally warms up (and God I hope that's soon...I hate the damn cold rain). It's not completely perfect...there are a few features I wish we had. There's no washing machine, so I recently googled how to hand-wash clothes (For those wondering....it's wash/rinse/dry). While the kitchen is nice, it's missing a microwave. And the shower leaves a little to be desired. But all in all, we found a nice, clean place, capable of hosting a few fiestas, in a safe neighborhood with plenty to keep us busy.

School's Out

Friday was my last day of school, at least for now. I've got a good bit of material that I can work on reviewing over the next few weeks and can go back for one-off lessons if I feel like I need to. They even presented me a fancy certificate (all in Spanish, big words, some sort of sick joke).  All in all, I'm pretty happy with the decision to take the classes. I learned some things that would've been much more difficult on my own, and it probably accelerated the process a little as well.  

Quest For Football

And finally, Saturday came and college football season was here again. I had heard there was one expat bar here that showed football (both college and pro). I was a little bit skeptical, and i'm very particular about how I watch my Tigers, so I decided to head over for some of the late afternoon games and if I didn't' like it I could leave and stream it at my house.  Well I get to where Google maps says it is and it's not there; it's a different bar name. I search again and there's another bar with a similar name a few miles away so I take a bus over there, to find the place closed. Obviously not it. There's another bar labeled as an American bar somewhat close (Sugar Bar) so I decide to give it a shot. When I walked in, they had baseball on the TV which gave me some hope since they were showing US sports. But when I asked them to change it to some football, they said they couldn't get it. At the very least, this 'American' bar sold Budweiser on tap, so I took down a couple of those with my burger for old time's sake. After dinner, I gave up and returned to my apartment to watch the game. 

I caught up with one of my friends who originally told me about the bar this week, and apparently it was the first bar I stood outside of, they had just changed their name. Thanks for the heads up. I guess next time I'll learn to actually walk in. I'll give it another shot this weekend. 

Just as the weather is starting to get nicer, I've come down with a nasty cold. I need to rest up and get better before Saturday comes...

 

 

A little dancing...well...a lot of dancing

A little dancing...well...a lot of dancing

For me, at least. Last Thursday I met up with my friend Monica, another member of the weekly expat chat, and her 4 international students. We went for some dancing lessons at La Viruta, a local milonga. We started with the beginner tango class, which was similar to the one I took part in a few weeks ago. And I do fine, until the teacher yells at me to stop looking at my feet. THAT WASN'T PART OF THE ORIGINAL AGREEMENT, JULIO. After tango was over, we took a short break, where I drank a beer and the rest drank coffee or coke (I forgot this was an actual school event for them ...oops). After the break started the salsa lesson, which requires just as much coordination, but with a faster rhythm as well. Ideal. Looked like a fool for a while but it was fun to get out and move a little bit. As my stepmom Debbie used to say, "You're either the one having fun, or the one watching somebody else have fun". 

The weekend was fairly low-key; it poured rain Saturday which brought in the cold weather so I hibernated for most of the time. Monday, I met up with Mary, a girl I met in Santiago and has made her way down to BA. We, along with a few others from her hostel and some other Argentinean friends, went to a show by La Bomba del Tiempo. You may have seen the video on Instagram, but they're an 18-man percussion group. They're self-directed, each member rotating in as leader, and it's led entirely by a large collection of hand signals. Not sure if it was the beer talking or what, but by the end, I was pretty sure I knew most of the signals and could've joined them on stage. Next time. We went to a bar down the street afterwards (I'm still not sure how it was chosen) to grab one last beer or four. Luckily as we walked in, the band was just starting. What band, you ask? Well, a 3-piece Israeli polka band, of course. After a while we moved up front to get a good look, eventually joining in on whatever dance they were jigging to (I just spun around in circles a lot). And their was free pizza too. Good times. 

Nestor and I found an apartment finally, and we move in tomorrow. It's been a good stay at Tomas' house, but it'll be nice going somewhere I know I'll be a bit longer term. I'll be sure to give an update about the place when I get settled in. 

Getting out and about

Getting out and about

I've had a nice week since the last time I updated so I'll try and hit the true highlights, while trying to avoid telling everyone about every time I aimlessly walk around the city. Tomas, the guy who lives at my AirBnb, returned to the city on Friday (he works in the country during the week). He kindly invited me to join him and his friends for dinner that night. Dinner was great – one of the weirdest collections of foods I’ve seen at a dinner table in one sitting – chicken tenders, meat and cheese plate, guacamole, sushi, sardines…I think the avocados make it a healthy meal, right? Tomas’ English is pretty strong; the other three guys, less so (a common theme for me nowadays, as expected). So I did a lot of listening, but I picked up on the highlights, including one of the guys Martin expecting a new child and moving to Chile. Which probably explains why he brought 4 really nice bottles of wine. It was my pleasure to celebrate on his future child’s behalf. After I had my first experience with Fernet Branca, a liquor popular amongst Argentinian youngsters, we called it a night around 3.

I’m starting to get back into a workout routine, but without a gym, I’m having to get a bit more creative. The running part is easy -  there are tons of parks nearby my AirBnb for me to burn off the extra empanada. Strength training is a bit trickier. I’ve found a park nearby that has a pull up bar and a few other apparatuses so that is now where I work on my form. Now you may be thinking the same thing I think regularly…that I’m not exactly what you picture when you think ‘guy who works out in public parks’. But you make do with what you have. I’ve found that letting out a good grunt occasionally helps earn people’s respect.

Last night I attended my first Mundo Lingo event in town. Mundo Lingo is an organization which puts together language exchanges for people from all different backgrounds to come together and practice speaking in their non-native tongue (and where the flags in the picture come from). It’s a bit like speed-dating, except the first priority isn’t se..err...finding true love. I had a halfway respectable chat with a Colombian hombre in Spanish for a while and enjoyed a few brews. Ended up weaseling into a conversation in English (whatever, it was a moment of weakness, sue me) between some American kids who just came down for an exchange program and a few Argentinians working on their English. One of the girls in the group encouraged me to finally stop being a coward and helped me take my first bus ride in the city (didn’t have a ton of other options anyways as the subway had stopped running). But it was harmless and it was nice to check it off my to-do list.

And finally today, I met up with Graciela. She’s great. Graciela is a woman I met at my weekly Expat group meeting (at Starbucks no less, how very Expat of them). She’s probably in her mid-60s, and was born in BA but moved to San Francisco for many years before moving back here in 2005. I was mentioning to her at our last meeting how I couldn’t get anyone to break my 500 peso bills, which is all the ATM was giving out, and she offered to go with me to her bank to help me break them. She said while we’re at it, I can show you around my neighborhood to see some other banks that would give out lower denomination bills. It turned into a 3-hour crash course in how to be a more effective gringo in BA. I learned not to buy fruits, veggies, and meat at supermarkets. She showed me the best supermarket to go to (the one I’ve been using is “crap”, apparently). But we walked probably 50 blocks, had a lovely chat, and I learned a ton. I’ve now deemed her my adopted Argentinian mother (not to her face…yet). She always warns me about very motherly things, like how to not get pick-pocketed, or to not eat the Chinese food with extra MSG. She’s actually going back to the states in a few weeks, but it’s so nice having someone with experience here and is so willing to help.

I’m researching on the easiest way to add a comments section to the blog, but until then, I welcome anyone’s feedback – comments, questions, things you’d like to hear more about, things you’d rather never hear again, etc. Email me at jryanappleton@gmail.com or any of the social media networks. I’d love to hear from you!

Chau!

Mini Vacation is over

Mini Vacation is over

As of yesterday, Ken has left to return to the real world, which sort of marks the official start of my solo voyage. It really was great to have a friend along the way as I got settled, greatly reduced the number of panic attacks I'm sure. Weekend was great. Ken and I befriended several South American bros from the hostel, pregamed til about 3 in the morning then went to get hogwild in da club. We needed to stop at the ATMs to get some cash, which as it turns out, is a real problem in this country. They run out of pesos a lot. Of course that night was no different. I borrowed enough from my Chilean buddy NoNo to get cover, hoping to buy drinks with cards inside. They didn't take cards (which honestly was probably a good thing at this point), so we took a lap or two to check the place out then went back to the hostel. The night ended probably around 5:30 or so, which is fairly normal down here. I'm not built for that type of schedule without an adjustment period. I felt the consequences of that night for several days, but it was a hell of a good time. And as a nice cherry on top, one of my new friends from the hostel needs a place for the same time as I do, so we can look for a shared spot, save some cash, and actually have some camaraderie at home. As Michael Scott says...it's a win/win/win situation. 

On Monday night before Ken left, we took in a complete Argentinean tango experience. We started it off with a quick 30 minute group tango lesson to learn a few basic steps. The instructors were great, but I could tell by the end of the 30 minutes he was pretty nervous of how quickly I picked everything up. Understandable. This was followed by a candlelight dinner (very romantic) where I finally took a break from eating beef. The night was capped off by a 90 minute professional tango show with live music, singing, and dancing. A good send off for Ken and a great introduction to the tango culture for me. 

As of yesterday, I've moved into an AirBnb and out of my hostel for 2 weeks until Nestor and I find a place for longer term. You really take things for granted like sleeping in a queen bed without 5 roommates until it's gone. It's so refreshing to have some space to spread out and sleep comfortably. The guy who owns the joint is out of town on business, so his parents, who are staying here for two days, let me in and welcomed me with open arms. While their son speaks good English, they aren't as fluent. But they're such nice people. We'd speak in Spanish, and I'd get the gist of our conversations. But two things were consistent: 1) every time the mother would come home, she'd give me a big 'HELLO!' in her best English and 2) our talks would always end in a smile. Somehow a language barrier has the ability to bring out the true kindness in people. When communication isn't easy, it forces you to become a better listener and put forth the effort that you may otherwise not give in a common conversation. The experience is certainly impactful for me, and hopefully I can make an impact on others as well.