Tuesday, April 27, 2010


So after I spent 5 days with my friend Lautaro in San Telmo Buenos Aires, I switched places in Buenos Aires for a few days to stay with a friend I had met here on my first trip down.

I switched neighborhoods to Recoleta/Palermo to stay with Brian, from Colombia & New Jersey, who is studying at one of the Universities here.

Not much to report except that I passed the next few days with more walking around in new areas. One night, we went out to a disco with some of his friends. If you ever heard nightlife down here doesn't kick in until late, your right. We got there at 1230, and the place wasn't too populated. By about 2 or 230, it started to get pretty busy. We took off at about 5am, and there were still lots of people there. I might also reiterate that this was a Wednesday night. When they say that Buenos Aires is the city that never sleeps, I'll have to agree with that. The place was populated with poor students, rich couples, and everything in between, a very interesting mix.

Anyways, I got sick of staying with people for 11 consecutive days, so I switched to a hostel, where I have been for 5 nights.

Friday night I went to a restaurant meeting with one of the Rotaract clubs here. There are 14 clubs, so there really are alot of people involved in it down here. After the meeting, I went out of a few drinks near Recoleta Cemetery with a few of them.

Saturday, there was this big Rotary & Rotaract conference I decided to go to, which I though would be a good opportunity to meet lots of people. I did end up meeting quite a few people, and several took down my information to let me know when there would be meetings and gatherings later in the week.

I didn't get the memo that I should have worn something nice to this, haha:

There were a ton of people at this conference, considering as much because there are something like 45 Rotary clubs in the city limits alone, one of which has 350 people. So I tried my best to just walk around and meet people.

They had some people in their 20s talk about how they were being sent to Germany by the Rotary clubs here for some sort of inter exchange program. Most of the students had travelled all over the world and that's all they talked about in their presentations, and I kind of felt like I was in some sort of uppity parent sponsored travel club. I thought them might talk more about volunteer programs and that kind of thing. Anyways, the program is a good idea, the conference was good, and I met alot of people.

I then got invited to go to some more Tango lessons on the following Monday night. Let me say, even for this being my second set of lessons, graceful walking has never been so hard. You need to feel the music, relax, and just do some simple walking moves. Anyways, it was fun, I'm not trying to be a pro or anything at the tango, so that might be it for my up and coming career.

Tuesday, I went with Lautauro to play some Ultimate frisbee. It was basically a training session for one of the four teams in Buenos Aires. All of the whopping 6 or 7 other people there were really nice, there was even a guy from Michigan who had been living in BA for 10 years. So both Lautaro & I sucked and had never played, but there was a trainer there that taught us throwing techniques. Then, we ran alot, and did alot of stretching. And I realized I should probably try to excercise more instead of just doing alot of walking, cause today I am ridiculously sore.

Don't take the Subway (Subte)

Ok, the title isn't REALLY true.

But after spending over 2 weeks in total so far in Buenos Aires, I have had the pleasure of taking this subway system during morning and evening commute at least 6 or 7 times.

And wow, it is just ridiculous.

I've learned to try to get a spot on the yellow area of the train platform, that area you aren't supposed to stand because it is really close to the train.

Here's what happens:

-Train Approaches. You see the train is PACKED, and there can not possibly be room for any more people.

-You get yourself ready, and hope that the door stops near you.

-Door opens. You realize there isn't any space in the train. Literally. Everyone is standing. Take a deep breath because your gonna make it in.

-3 people get out. You smash your body just inside the door, enough to not get crushed when it closes, helped by all the people pushing you from behind to try and squeeze that last body in. 6 people or more get in.

-Then comes the reaaallllly uncomfortable part. Typically, the front of my body, and thank god for my messenger bag as a buffer, is pressed up against someones backside. The same goes for someone behind me. One either side of me, my arms are smashing into people. I try to cock my head to one side so my face isn't in someones hair. You really get to know your neighbors.

-When you get to estacion Diagonal Norte to transfer to another line, the car floods out like sheep. Repeat above for the second train ride.

When people need to get off, they push their way through to the train to the doors through nonexistent space, and you get smashed into someone else even more because of this. It's like a rock concert but more tranquil. Typically, during the ride, you don't even need to hold onto something to brace yourself, because you have so many bodies doing that job. One time, I did put my hand onto the ceiling to brace myself...I didn't have space to lower my elbow the entire train ride.

Looking on the bright side, at least they are using public transportation!!! It costs a little less than 30 cents a ride for me (1.10 pesos!).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back in Buenos Aires

Been back here in Buenos Aires for a week now.

I met alot of people my first time around up here, so about 10 minutes after I booked the plane ticket from Ushuaia, I already had a place to stay. I stayed with my friend Lautaro for about 4 nights, from Saturday evening to Wednesday afternoon. It just so happened that he had another couchsurfer there, a girl from Sao Paulo, so the three of us again had a great mix of people going on.

Lautaro took us to a Gaucho fair on the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Sunday. Basically, lots and lots of local arts, crafts, foods, etc. Plus they had some live Gaucho music going on. We dropped into a building, the "Federacion Gaucha Portena". Here we grabbed a bite to eat and a cheap bottle of table wine, which we mixed with soda(they call carbonated water soda). I've done this wine/carbonated water thing with at least 3 or 4 other people, so it seems to be fairly common, but it is usually done with cheaper table wine. Anyways, there were just normal people inside dancing away to some great music.

Table wine & Carbonated water:

Inside the Goucha Portena Hall:

A part of the Fair:

So after this, we went to the gaucho games part the fair. The game was simple, the Gaucho's take turns on their horses going full speed down the street and trying to stick a tiny knife through what is basically a tiny silver keychain ring. I'm gonna say the success rate was close to 10%, but it was fun watching them zoom down the street on their horses.

Go Gaucho:

Small horses require small dogs:

My first time around Buenos Aires, I saw alot of stuff, but the city is so big that there is always more to see. Unlike some other cities I've been to, you can just walk, and walk, while still feeling safe, and enjoy the impressive architecture, numerous plazas, and sprawling statue filled parks. Since Lautauro of course had to work, and there was one key between me and Selia from Sao Paulo, we basically toured the city together for two days. It was actually quite fun because I probably saw some things I would have passed on by myself, but by the end of day two, I was pretty tired of trying to understand her Spanish in a heavy Portuguese accent, my brain just couldn't take it. We did do some pretty cool things over a few days, including going to some free tango lessons on a Monday night (at which I am absurdly pathetic), had lunch with someone she knew from Ireland who was working in Buenos Aires, and went to some big concert with a bunch of people playing keyboards and drums. Plus, we were lost half the time, so we got to know the Buenos Aires transportation bible, the 'Guia T', really well, whilst trying to take busses everywhere.

Had to take a picture trying to figure out which bus to take:

Statues, plazas, & parks everywhere:

I went to Recoleta Cemetery one day. Can't say I like cemeteries, but wow, talk about having alot of important and famous people buried in one place, presidents, generals, poets, writers, doctors, scientists, even Evita. On top of that, the cemetery is like a maze, with narrow streets lined by ridiculously ornate houses for the coffins, covering all different types of architecture, some new, some totally neglected and crumbling. I spent only about an hour and a half meandering the place before I got tired of being surrounded by dead people, ew.


Eva Peron:

Past President:

That's it for today folks, stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ushuaia Part 2

Rather than talk about all the places I went near Ushuaia, I'll let the pictures do the talking. But first, a video from Buenos Aires:

This was a fair in the outer limits of Buenos Aires with hundreds of typical foods, crafts, etc. Plus, this crazy gaucho (cowboy) game, where they go full speed and try to stick a knife through a ridiculously tiny keychain ring.


They look alot like penguins, but nope:

A view of Ushuaia:


Ushuaia waterfront:

Colony of Sea Lions:

Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in the Beagle Straight:

Bridges Island:

The glacier behind Ushuaia:

A view from Parque Tierra del Fuego. It is in Argentina, but the mountains on the other side belong to Chile:

Another ecosystem in the park:

Woodpecker in the Park:

Another type of forest in the park:

A Peat Bog in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego. This park is the only place in Argentina where sea meets mountains and forests, and thus creates alot of unique ecosystems:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spanish at week 10

My Spanish is definitely coming along. I no longer really have problems communicating. Hearing of course is still a huge problem, but most times I get the gist of what they say without understanding all the words. Case in point...Last time I was here in Buenos Aires with my host, he spoke in English 80% of the time. Now, only 10 or 20 % is in English when I don't know specific words.

I’m also learning about how I learn best. For example, I’ve been doing a lot of good old studying. Read a newspaper, write words down in Spanish and translate to English, read over and over again until I remember, which can take 10 or 20 times.

But it is interesting that I can remember exactly where I learned many words… whenever I say the word I think of where I learned it.

For example, in Lima, I asked my host the difference between ‘dejar’ and ‘salir’, to leave, and I remember him placing a pencil on the ground and saying ‘dejar’.

In Montevideo, Gonzalo’s dad Gerardo owns a machine shop. I asked him what he did. He told me he had a ‘taller’ like 8 times before I understood it. Plus, he said it with the Castellano (Argentinian/Uruguayan’ ‘sh’ sound, so whenever I say that, I say it with a ‘sh’.
In Punta Arenas, the grandma at the hostel was hacking up a lamb. I asked her how to say lamb. 10 minutes later, I forgot, and asked again. That night, I forgot, and asked a 3rd time, wrote it down, and now I remember it. Cordero.

In Bariloche, I had to tie my shoe while walking with my host Fabian, and asked how to say it. For some reason, I remembered the verb ‘atar’ instantly from thereon. I also remember learning the word ‘orno’ while cooking with them.

In Ushuaia, I did a bunch of cooking with my host. I was going to make a pie one day. I tried to describe the word ‘pie crust’ (the only similar word I could think of was ‘pan’ for bread), and she had to tell me like a 15 times it is called the ‘masa’ before I started to remember. I never made the pie, but had a hell of a time translating the recipe for her.

Well, there are actually many more words, but those are just some examples. Most of all, I learned I need to ask questions every time I don’t know a word, no matter who it is or where I am, even if it is the gas station clerk and I don’t know how to say ‘gum’ (chicle, which I learned from Gonzalo in Montevideo).

My host Lautauro (for the 2nd time in BA), sporting his 3 peso cooking bib from the Chinese grocery store:

Carrousel in Buenos Aires:

A Toy Mate cup:

Desserts from the state Tucuman.

With Lautaro & Selia from Sao Paulo, Brazil (Photo taken by an Austrian, ha):

Chicago: (Soccer team...)

In San Telmo:

Take A Guess, starts with an M:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ushuaia, Part 1

If I had stayed in a hostel, my time in Ushuaia still would have been awesome. But wow, the family I stayed with made it such an amazing & unique experience.

Ushuaia is set at the foot of a series of mountains, with the houses rising up into it. There are a bunch of different peaks you can see from everywhere in town. It is also set on the Beagle straight, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific. On the other side of the straight, you can see a mountain range and a large island, the last piece of land before the ocean begins, belonging to Chile. While I was there, all the mountains were capped with snow, the trees were in full fall colors…reds, yellows, and oranges. It feels like a ski resort town, in fact, there is some decent skiing there. It is indeed the southernmost ‘city’ in the world. There is a settlement of about 2,000 people across the straight, called Puerto Williams, but they get most of their services from Ushuaia. I was surprised by the climate. It was about 50 degrees most of the time I was there. Typically, all year it never goes above about 60 or 65, but the winter didn’t seem as chill as Chicago’s, for example. For being so close to Antarctica, I was surprised at how pleasant it was.

Anyways, because of the couchsurfing family I stayed with there, my experience was incredibly fantastic and unique. The family had a full blown woodworked house, pressed up in the absolute last row of houses against the mountains. They moved there in 1984 from Cordoba, and built it when their street did not even exist. At that time, Ushuaia had about 17,000 people, whereas now there are about 80,000 people. They had no running water or electricity, and used natural gas tanks. It felt like a ski lodge to me…they left a lot of the wood beams within the house with the bark on them, and it was full of homely things. The house had a view of all of Ushuaia & the Beagle straight in the front, and of course the mountains were basically in the backyard. They had large windows all throughout to allow the most natural light in, and of course view the spectactular sunrises & sunsets.

Part of the view from the front window:

The house:

I got in after a 12 hour bus ride from Punta Arenas at about 7pm, and took a short taxi ride to their place. Cecilia greeted me outside, and I met the dad and one of their sons, and we shared some tea. Cecilia was like the kindest person you could ever meet, the dad (Carlos) was really friendly too. She is a phsychiatrist, he an architect (his business is booming now). I think she was the kindest host I’ve ever had haha, I felt like she was treating me like a son (well, she was 55 or 56, so….). Things like making sure I had gloves for my boat trip, enough change for the bus when I landed in Buenos Aires, etc, were really nice. I talked a lot with the dad about sports and buildings, but he also liked to talk about travelling.

Anyways, Cecilia loved telling me stories about Ushuaia. About how they had to buy the land they built their house on from the government years after they built the house (and the disputes between the two), how they essentially developed their neighborhood from when there was only 2 or 3 other houses, watched electricity and lights go up, and saw their neighbors build a wall next to their house that obstructed their view of the glacier (she said she cried for 2 years after this).

So the first night they cooked a nice meal at the typical hour of 1030pm. The second night, I volunteered to cook and again made Chili. As in Bariloche, they had no clue what it was. Admittedly, my chili sucks, but they don’t know the difference between good and bad chili…I mean, mine tastes decent (albeit lacking spices), but is NOTHING special. I’m talking ground beef, red/green peppers, onion, canned beans and tomatoes, garlic, and whatever spices I could find in their house. I made 2 batches, because the son is a vegetarian.

The fourth night, I helped Cecilia cook dinner, which was great because I learned a few things here and there. She threw a shank of lamb in a saute and cooked it with onions, pretty basic. Then, I was amazed at this eggplant sauce she made… with just a little garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and blender. She threw the whole eggplant on top of the stove burner for like 20 minutes, until the juices spilled out after it was cooked….scooped all the meat out, and blended it up with everything else. I’m definitely going to make this when I get back. We put it on the lamb and sandwiches. The she made sliced potatoes in the oven, which admittedly, were really crisp, not sure if that’s what she was going for….Of course, we enjoyed all this with some nice Argentinian wine.

Cooking an eggplant sauce. New way to cook an eggplant, haha.

For lunch the day I left, I helped make empanadas. So now, I am officially a professional at this. I’ll definitely be making them when I get back. This time, we fried them in grasa (oil)… as opposed to using the oven in Bariloche…delicious.

Let’s see, the second day I went with a walk with Cecilia in the woods behind their house. It was cool because she pointed out all these different berries and we ate some… I’m proud to report I am still alive. She was a nature type person so she was pointing out all the plants and different types of forests. We also walked through some neighborhoods, and she pointed out who lived in which houses, and gave me a lot of history of Ushuaia. The next day, in the afternoon, we took a mega hike up to the glacier. She was like superwoman in her 50s, threw on her hiking boots, jackets, and trudged up the 45 degree hill few hours with me, explaining stuff about the glacier and forests the whole time.

They also showed me videos of their other son, who is a trekking guide. He went to Antarctica as a porter with a Spanish television show, and the footage was pretty amazing. Trips to Antarctica start at around $4,000 if you are considering it…

That’s my novel about my hosts. I’ll do something on Ushuaia later.

The family at dinner:

The eggplant is ready. Yum.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Torres del Paine, Chile

So while I was in Punta Arenas, I wanted to go check out the penguin colonies I read about. Like most things around Punta Arenas, you pretty much need a tour if you don’t have a car. So I went to the agency, which I loathe doing, but anyways, they told me most of the penguins had left the area by the end of March. The alternative tours were to go to an old fort on the coast 30 mi away or take a full day tour of Torres del Paine national park. Originally I never planned to go the park cause I figured I can’t see everything (and every gringo I met went there), but it just worked out. In the end, although pricey, it was worth it as usual.

Anyways, they picked me up at 6am, and we drove 3 hours first to the town of Puerto Natales, set on a beautiful lake in the mountains. The town isn't much, though. Then, after another hour of driving, we arrived at the park, with a whopping entrance fee of $30 for non Chileans. It was dirt roads for the next 10 hours or so.

The view from the waterfront in Puerto Natales:

First we went to this huge cave that had been created by the recession of a glacier and subsequent crashing of waves when the lake formed, thousands of years ago. There was lots of fossilized evidence of this giant prehistoric creature there. Humans probably didn’t inhabit it that much because they liked smaller caves.

The cave:

We proceeded for a few hours, stopping here and there, and went to a beach, where we broke and were able to walk independently finally. First we walked along the beach, bordering a lake with a glacier in the distance (and the torres del paine mountains in the foreground) and large ice cubes floating around. Then, through a small hilly island peninsula that gave us some more cool views. It was pretty cold and windy, but nothing like a Chicago winter. I guess Patagonia can’t compete with that.

Spend the rest of the day driving amongst the dirt roads, stopping, seeing incredible views of mountains and lakes, catching some wild llamas here and there, large wild birds occasionally, waterfalls, and in general pretty impressive scenery. Got back at midnight, crashed promptly, and woke up the next morning to the guy in the room next door dying (the outcome to that was not discovered before I left Punta Arenas).

The beach:

Some nice ice cubes:

The towers in torres del paine:

Plenty of these guys grazing in the mountains: