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Santiago, Part II

Santiago, Part II

Well, my return to Santiago was a successful one. I stayed in a different hostel than the first time around (Kombi Hostel) which turned out to be a great decision. The staff was just fine, the showers were inconsistent, but the location was right in the heart of the nightlife district and I met some incredible people in my 3 days there. 
I had a few sights to see left on my list from the last time I came. I went and saw a few museums (Pablo Nerudo's Santiago home, the National History museum),both of which were good, and help highlight how truly different The last 500 years in South America are vastly different from our history up north. The fact that there are tons of people still alive who remember what it's like to have a dictator take power by force is eye-opening, and makes our political "crisis" seem tame. I also finally got to check out the Central Seafood Market and get a massive bowl of fresh ceviche for $6, which was incredible. 
But I'd say the highlight overall was our day trip to Cajon de Maipu on Saturday. I hadn't planned on going, in fact I hadn't even heard of the place until the day before, but the beauty of not having a schedule is the ability to call audibles and change plans on the fly. I went with my buddy Will that I met in the hostel and three of his friends, well now I guess I can say my friends. We took the Metro -> Metro -> Bus route on public transport, about an hour and a half worth of travel, to this area on the outskirts of Santiago. We stopped to have a few empanadas for lunch and then arrived at Concada de Los Animas, a natural park of sorts. We ziplined twice over the river and then walked down to the riverbank. It was running to fast to swim (and it was more brown than I'd prefer) but cool to see nonetheless. Would've been perfect for someone who knew what they were doing in a kayak. After we left there, we simply started walking down the road and exploring. We found a shop that sold chocolate and massive hand-made wooden artifacts. Great combo. We stopped at a few random swimming pools to see if we could negotiate our way into a quick dip to cool off, with no success. And I was finally able to try Mote con huesillo, a sweet peach flavored juice served over a cup of wheat (a texture kind of similar to Golden Crisp cereal). Very sweet but pretty refreshing in these hot December days (still feels weird to say). And not to mention my three new friends didn't speak much English, so a great couple days of productive, yet tiring, Spanish practice. It's these little random adventures that I love, and it's why I try to say no as little as possible.
I got into Valparaiso on the Chilean coast 2 days ago. The city is absolutely gorgeous right on the bay, maybe my favorite city so far just from a scenic perspective. I'll stay here through Christmas and New Years before heading south. And I'm going for my first ever surfing lesson today. A day without broken bones that leaves me with a little bit of dignity will be considered a success. 

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!

A Trip to Montevideo

A Trip to Montevideo

Tourist Visa Renewal

Argentina is nice enough to allow anyone from the US to come here for free now. Your passport stamp acts as your tourist visa and it's good for up to 90 days. When an expat like me decides to stay longer than 90 days, one has a few options:

  1. Leave
  2. Do nothing and pay a fine once you actually leave (a surprisingly common way to handle it)
  3. Go to the immigration office and pay a fee to get it extended
  4. Visit another country and then get a new stamp (and thus 90 more days) upon return

I elected to go with option 4. I would prefer my status to be legal in this country, even if they don't have an active deportation force. And if I'm going to spend money to renew my visa, I'd much rather see a new place doing so rather than just seeing the inside of a government office. A lot of people who take this route just go to Colonia, Uruguay. It's an hour-long ferry ride from Buenos Aires so it's an easy half-day turnaround. But from all accounts, it's a quaint town with not a ton to see. So I went the extra length to Montevideo and turned it into a mini-vacation (from my vacation). 

From Buenos Aires to Montevideo

There are a few ways to get from BA to MVD. It's a real short flight, but it isn't the cheapest option. There is a ferry that goes straight there, offered by Buquebus, but it's 5 straight hours on an old converted cruise ship across choppy waters. Hard pass. So I elected for Colonia Express, which offers a hybrid trip (ferry to Colonia and bus to Montevideo). The boat ride was easy enough, and included a free cup of shitty coffee. At least I think it was free? If not, oops. The bus took us through desolate areas of farmland (much like Argentina, Uruguayan people are outnumbered by cows) and into Montevideo in about 2.5 hours. 

Laid-Back Vibes

I thoroughly enjoyed my 2 days in the city and I hope to spend more time there at some point in the future. I think part of the enjoyment was its sharp contrast to Buenos Aires, so it truly did feel like a vacation for me. It's much less populated, the people seemed to be friendlier, and it sits right on the water, which has a way of calming anyone down.

I checked into my hostel (Buenas Vibras on Maldonado), which was a really pleasant stay. Ordinary rooms with bunk beds as you'd expect, but probably the nicest hostel bathrooms I've come across, and all of the staff were great. There weren't many other guests there (probably as it was Sunday - Tuesday), so I hung out with the staff and watched a few movies after sundown. I would highly recommend staying at Buenas Vibras if you're looking for a budget option with an upscale feel. 

Two days gave me enough time to get a feel of the city and a little bit of the culture. For one, I thought the porteños of Buenos Aires liked mate until I arrived into Uruguay. They take it to a completely different level. I'd estimate 95% of the people I saw in public had their mate and thermos with them. And as a Uruguayan explained it to me, it's not just that they're passionate about the drink (or that their coffee is awful across the country). They view it as always having something to offer and share with another, whether it's a friend or a stranger.  I tried their famous sandwich, the Chivito. It's more or less a massive steak sandwich topped with ham, egg, cheese, and anything else you can imagine. I also bought a small bottle of the preferred liquor - grappamiel - a spirit made from grapes and grains. Somewhat similar to whiskey, and then infused with honey, served over ice with a lemon. Pretty refreshing and a nice good bedtime kick. 

Honestly, my favorite part of the trip may have been the free walking tour. Sometimes these things aren't worth your time, but I would highly recommend this one to anyone stopping in Montevideo for a few days. The guide, Valentino, was very well educated, spoke four languages, and was very interactive with the guests (maybe because he was working off tips). The tour gave some history of the monuments in the Old City, which gives some context instead of you simply taking a picture and moving on. But more importantly, he gave a lot of insight into the culture and how it developed due to their circumstances. For example, Uruguay is entirely a country of immigrants now (all native tribes are either no longer or moved), which explains why the people are more welcoming to tourists and/or outsiders. Also cool to hear how they balance their liberal laws, like legalizing marijuana and gay marriage, with keeping their much more religious and conservative neighbors Brazil and Argentina happy. 

All in all, I'm very glad I took the few extra hours to come to Uruguay's capital in lieu of a quick visa run to Colonia. I saw a much more interesting city and learned a bit along the way. Now that I'm back in the big city, I'm prepping for the Halloween Run 5k on Saturday night. It will be my first race that doesn't involve drinking before and during competition, so I'm excited to see how it goes. 


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 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 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.